Phoenix 2009

This painting dates back to 2009. I’d just completed a series of paintings based on the songs of Mogwai when I was struck down with an illness that required medication. I’d never taken anything like it before and for the first week or so it felt like the top of my skull was trying to lift off. During the night was when things got really trippy, when I enjoyed the most extraordinarily vivid dreams involving the repeating motif of swirling flames within a deep galactic ocean. It was truly spectacular and when I woke in the dark from these experiences I felt like William Blake having one of his visions. Once I’d recovered from my illness I knew I was going to have to at least try and capture that vision somehow in an artwork, but I could not avoid the fact that it would end up being ‘abstract’… and I have to confess that I don’t really like abstract art. When I first saw the incredible photographs taken by the Hubble telescope, I remember thinking that this must surely cancel out all abstract art. How is some pretentious paint dauber ever going to top the spectacle of the glowing heart of a giant nebula? So I approached this with some trepidation, so much so that I felt I couldn’t risk wasting a large canvas on such a suspect venture, and used a small A3-scale canvas panel, which I wouldn’t miss if it turned out crap and I had to bin it. I called it ‘Phoenix’, partly inspired by the title given to a posthumous collection of D.H. Lawrence’s writings (as I saw something of ‘the plumed serpent’ in what I’d created) and partly due to my lifelong fascination with the myth of the bird that dies and rises again from its own ashes (as evidenced by the tattoo on my left arm). I’d undergone a kind of ‘spiritual rebirth’ at the time I made this painting, and the association seemed unavoidable. During the subsequent 6 years I’ve done a lot of paintings, many of which have been given away, painted over or destroyed, but somehow this one has endured. I like it, for reasons I can’t fully explain. There’s something about the freedom of working without any preconceived notion of what you want to ‘say’ that liberates the muse from the shackles of realistic depiction, but there’s also a nagging voice in my head that reminds me any twat could do this sort of painting and it has no value. Part of me would like to do more painting like this, even if it’s just for my own amusement and no-one ever sees it, but there’s always that voice, ready to scold me for getting above myself, again. Sigh… it’s the eternal artist’s “struggle”.


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