There was a time when artists were employed to set up altars to the gods of Life in civilizations that were temples, and deep within us we artists must endeavour to remember the services we were once able to give to humanity and to man’s deepest experiences of reality. To understand this, is to understand why we feel exiles. Beneath our technological civilization, there still flows a living river of human consciousness within which is concentrated in continuity the life of the kingdom of animals, plants, stars, the earth and the sea, and the life of our ancestors, the flowing generations of men and women: the sensitive and solitary ones, the secret inarticulate longing before the mystery of life. The artist is a vehicle of the continuity of that life and his instrument is the myth and the archetypal image.
There is a growing awareness that modern culture is approaching a severe crisis and that sooner or later it will have to undergo a ruthless revaluation. The revaluation must reveal the cause of the disorientation of contemporary culture which for so long now has been made a virtue of, or has been accepted without intelligent criticism or questioning.
Photograph taken in Morley, West Yorkshire, November 2018.
I first had a go at a mock-up cover for this book back in 2016. I got the urge to have another go, but this time reconsidering the design of the entire book. Once again, I’ve used my 2014 drawing ‘Babies’, which itself is completely inspired by the Pulp song that’s one of my personal favourites and so evocative of my own teenage experiences. This time the design conceit was to make the whole book like a teenage schoolkid’s exercise book, with all the lyrics hand-scrawled and accompanied by ink drawings from my own extensive back-catalogue. I’ve mocked up a few pages as examples:
Of course, Faber & Faber would never publish anything like this, though I think it would be a more interesting book than just presenting his lyrics as if they were poems. I know Jarvis winds a few people up, but of all the characters to appear out of the ‘Britpop’ era, he is – as a fellow Yorkshireman and a Kes fan – one of the few I’ve got any time for.
I climbed through woods in the hour-before-dawn dark.
Evil air, a frost-making stillness,
Not a leaf, not a bird—
A world cast in frost. I came out above the wood
Where my breath left tortuous statues in the iron light.
But the valleys were draining the darkness
Till the mooring—blackening dregs of the brightening grey—
Halved the sky ahead. And I saw the horses:
Huge in the dense grey—ten together—
Megalith-still. They breathed, making no move,
with draped manes and tilted hind-hooves,
Making no sound.
I passed: not one snorted or jerked its head.
Grey silent fragments
Of a grey silent world.
I listened in emptiness on the moor-ridge.
The curlew’s tear turned its edge on the silence.
Slowly detail leafed from the darkness. Then the sun
Orange, red, red erupted
Silently, and splitting to its core tore and flung cloud,
Shook the gulf open, showed blue,
And the big planets hanging—
Stumbling in the fever of a dream, down towards
The dark woods, from the kindling tops,
And came to the horses.
There, still they stood,
But now steaming and glistening under the flow of light,
Their draped stone manes, their tilted hind-hooves
Stirring under a thaw while all around them
The frost showed its fires. But still they made no sound.
Not one snorted or stamped,
Their hung heads patient as the horizons,
High over valleys in the red levelling rays—
In din of crowded streets, going among the years, the faces,
May I still meet my memory in so lonely a place
Between the streams and red clouds, hearing the curlews,
Hearing the horizons endure.
Last weekend I made a visit back to my childhood home in Leeds. These fields are part of what Guardian writers would call the ‘edgelands’, but for us it was ‘The Pit Hills’, a former colliery site and farmer’s fields that have been left fallow and undeveloped for decades. I was walking through them in the fading late afternoon light when I saw these two horses, tethered and cropping in the grass. It was a scene straight out of Ted Hughes‘ poetry, specifically ‘The Horses’, which was one of his significant early poems, and one I’ve long hoped to render as a painting. It was over these same fields that I saw the kestrel that inspired my 2018 painting ‘Against The Sky’. This unprepossessing few acres of land has a hold over my imagination in a way I can’t explain, and have long since given up trying to. Something about them, perhaps the lingering traces of the real wildness that was there before the motorway and the housing estates, is important to me, and long may they be left alone, abandoned, wind-haunted and modestly mysterious.
The second cause of failure to enact good stems from conflict of intention. High intelligence leads to multiplicity of interest and a sharpened capacity to foresee the consequences of any action. Will is lost in a labyrinth of hypothesis.
― John Fowles, The Áristos
Photograph taken in Hyde Park, Leeds, November 2018.