Arcadia is a 2018 film from Paul Wright. Using found footage from a variety of sources, it’s an attempt to take a kind of x-ray of the British psyche as it’s been shaped by the evolutionary changes of the last century. Some find the flickers in the dream machine editing and hectic collision of images annoying, but I like it. It stirs echoes in me of how I felt about Britain as I was growing up, an experience heightened by the fact that there seems to be scant footage from after the year 2000, emphasising the impression I’ve long felt that the past is more tangible than the present we now live in.
The film is greatly improved by the soundtrack, courtesy of Adrian Utley and Will Gregory, which sets and sustains the tone of a familiar and reassuring eeriness, and the sense that this country is far stranger than we appreciate. It’s on BBC iPlayer for another few weeks, so don’t dick about.
Further to previous posts (here and here), this is how far I’d got with my current painting, as of yesterday evening. The sky is now virtually finished, I’ve just got some finishing touches to apply, and then it’s on to the waves, gradually working down the surface of the painting. Having never done a seascape before, I’m ejoying the creative challenge, and learning that in such a wide and long-distance perspective there is no room for error, and nothing to put in the foreground to hide your mistakes. But, as Miles Davis said, “there are no mistakes.” Sometimes the painting itself will determine the course of events and in such moments the artist is advised to just get out of the way and let it happen.
This is my 2013 drawing of Warren Ellis, the musician. Absolutely not be confused with Warren Ellis, the writer. Ellis is an integral member of Dirty Three and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, and in more recent years has raised his own profile, not through any media stunts or attention-seeking, but through the sheer force of his own personality. I’ve just finished reading his book Nina Simone’s Gum, which redefines the concept of what a “unique proposition” really means, detailing a monomaniacal obsession he’s long harboured with a piece of chewing gum once masticated by Ms Simone, left stuck to the piano she used during her legendary performance at the Nick Cave-curated Meltdown festival in 1999. Iain Sinclair and Brian Catling used to determine the validity of a creative project by applying the question: “is it mad enough?” Well, this more that qualifies, as Ellis seeks out people to join him in his obsession and his reverence for a two decade old lump of ossified gum. What, I wonder, would T.S. Eliot have made of his former publishers putting out a lavish hardback book that details every step of the process that resulted in a lovingly-created cast of the piece of gum sitting on a plinth in an art exhibition in Copenhagen? In the book Ellis states that the idea of writing a memoir would bore him to death, and yet the short autobiographical passages about his youth when he first started playing music are very interesting, as that’s clearly where the fire was first lit and blazes bright to this day. The evidence:
This is one of my best landscapes, depciting a place about 15 minutes walk from our house. This was one of those winter mornings when the light is like that which falls on a newly-formed world, unadulterated by the discharges of “civilization.” My inner Millais was in full-effect on this one, hence the specifically-selected title, which came courtesy of some old favourites:
After all, there’s no turning back the clock now. One can’t be forever dwelling on what might have been. One should realize one has as good as most, perhaps better, and be grateful.
– Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day
Another personal favourite from my own back catalogue. Prints are available, while the original hangs in our living room. When I get home from another exhausting day at work, I come in the door and this is the first thing I see. It has a calming influence.
I’ve gone on about Kes / A Kestrel For A Knave enough times by now to feel I no longer need to explain myself. Suffice to say that they are my spirit animal, and always seem to make their presence felt when I need my perspectives realigned. What I will say about this painting is that it was made on the same canvas where I made my disastrous landscape that featured in the Sky Arts programme from 2017. An interesting experience, but not one I’d be inclined to repeat, and how satisfying it was to sand off that shambles of an art job and make something much more aligned to my sensibilities, with no pressure to “deliver” in 4 hours, and without the gaze of strangers over your shoulder. This painting now hangs on a wall, somewhere in the East Midlands.
Further to last week’s first post regarding this painting, here’s a progress update. My photography skills being what they are (why do you think I paint instead?), this picture does not do justice to the subtlety of the technique applied, the delicate shifts in tone and colour, nor the depth and density of the darkness. All being well, I’ll be finished by early October.
With apologies to John Everett Millais – as it’s a play on his ‘Lingering Autumn’ painting – this is the top of Hawthorn Lane in Tile Hill, Coventry, the housing estate that George Shaw grew up on and that has been the inspiration for his artistic career since the mid-1990’s. I had cause to visit there about six years ago, and it was a truly surreal experience to walk around a place I had seen painted so many times, by someone who had obsessed about it for decades. It was like walking around inside someone’s head. To the best of my knowledge, he’s never painted this particular spot, so I gave it a go, using a technique of diluted acrylic paint and ink pens that goes back to my days in comics. I sent the original and it’s companion piece:
‘A Sort of Homecoming’ to George, who responded with rare generosity. Only when I had been to Tile Hill did I realise that it is very similar to the estate I grew up on in south Leeds, and that I could have been painting the knackered old garages and muddy paths I knew so well, years before George got started on his project. But it was his particular genius to realise that these places are just as valid subjects for art as the usual and rather obvious places we typically see painted, and to depict them with Pre-Raphaelite passion and intensity which gives them an eerie kind of power. They’re haunting, and loaded with poignance, and I know more than a few people who find his paintings hard to look at, as they are so familiar and bring such a rush of memory and associated emotions that it’s overwhelming. That, to me, is what art should do, and any less than that means that for the artist involved, their work is not yet done.
We are all born mad. Some remain so.
So said Samuel Beckett, whose sombre wisdom hovers spectrally behind a current project I’m working on, destined to be an Exile In The Margins release in 2022. The above image is a small taster of what’s to come, though it barely hints at the full madness involved. There will never have been a book quite like it before.