A new departure for me. After 12+ years of painting solely on larger-scale canvas panels, I’m not abandoning that practice but as an adjunct I’m also going to start making smaller works on watercolour paper. Partly as a way of being more productive, as the larger paintings take months to finish, but also to enjoy the challenge of different materials. These are just the initial pencils but, all being well, the finished piece could be the cover of a new book I’m working on. Updates to follow.
William Blake had his ‘tyger’, and this is mine. Painted in 2016, my reliably kack photograph skills ensure justice is really not done to the original, which gives the impression the beast is actually in the room with you. I used it as the basis for this mock-up cover:
for a book which was very much the inspiration for the painting, which I still have and should probably offer up for sale at some point.
A drawing from around 2011. It’s the same burnt-out wreck depicted in my 2011 painting ‘How To Be A Werewolf‘ from the Project Mogwai series. I’ve always found such things fascinating. Who did this? Why? The answer is usually fairly mundane and predictable, but my imagination likes to conjure something more mysterious. As Ken Kesey said: “We need mystery more than we need answers.”
I’ve both painted and drawn this image, and I can no longer recall which came first. Arnos Vale cemetery in Bristol is a gothic fantasia of winding paths through hundreds of ancient collapsing graves, of which this was just one example. Would have made an ideal Joy Division bootleg album cover circa 1981.
A drawing from 2016, that was originally planned as a painting. Experience had taught me that working all the fine detail on those feathers would have driven me insane, so drawing it instead meant I only went slightly mad.
A 2015 painting, which hung for a while in our living room, and is now in the possession of Martin Jones, Obergruppenführer of Exile In The Margins and my collaborator on the Black Water project, together with several more still in the works. I could take you to deepest darkest Pembrokeshire, to this very place that I painted, which lies well off the beaten track, in a wood atop a cliff where an abandoned farmhouse stands and the meandering streambed is strewn with sheep’s bones. I can see why Graham Sutherland found this place so inspiring.
My 2016 painting ‘A Sort Of Homecoming’. Acrylic and ink on watercolour paper. It depicts a location on the Tile Hill estate in Coventry, the one memorialised by former resident George Shaw, who’s been painting it for over 25 years now. Regular readers will know that seeing George’s paintings in late 2008 completely changed the direction of my own art, forcing me to finally learn how to paint and to then apply it to something that had all the passion and intensity of George’s best work. I was, for several years, utterly obsessed with his paintings, and occassionaly lapsed into blind emulation of his example, which was useful in terms of learning my craft, but at some stage I was going to have to crawl out from under the shadow of his influence and find my own obsessions. There is much common ground though, as I also grew up on a council estate on the far fringes of a large city (Leeds), and when I finally got to visit Tile Hill in 2015, I was not really surprised at how similar it was to the place I was raised in. The same streets, the same houses, the same pubs, the same rows of knackered garages, and the same pockets of woodland and wasteland. I took many photographs while I was there, mainly of scenes I knew from George’s paintings, but also several that looked like they should be painted by George, including the one above. This is the path that leads to where a row of collapsing garages once stood, representing a gateway into the “Narnia” of Tile Hill Wood. Not long after, I saw that George had made a watercolour – ‘I Woz Ere #1’ – of the exact same scene:
Anyway. I sent the original of ‘A Sort of Homecoming’ to George, and had forgotten all about it until I found it in my archives the other day. I will never forget that period after first discovering his work, when I realised I was going to have to pretty much abandon everything I’d done up to that point and start over. Tabula rasa. Year Zero. I’ll always be grateful for his example and influence, but these days I feel free to do only that which I can do, and sometimes that might be a landscape of the place I grew up. The main lesson I got from George was that “we may be done with the past, but is the past done with us?”
Regular readers will know I’m involved in a publishing venture called Exile In The Margins. It’s primarily the moonchild of Martin Jones and in our working relationship, I am very much the Renfield to his Dracula, but instead of eating birds and spiders, my contribution is the art and design for the several titles published to date. To date we have three books available:
You’ve heard of nature writing. This is against nature writing. A dark romance from the nightside edgelands. Sex and death and the spirit of dark and lonely water. Fully illustrated & designed by yours truly.
Edgar Allen Poe and Philip Larkin have a punch-up on Withernsea beach, whilst T.S. Eliot watches from the safety of the prom, taking notes. A prose fugue, a poetic miasma, a magickal working along the tideline, using bladderwrack and chip wrap as ritual objects. Cover art by yours truly.
A prose ‘working’ in the Crowleyean sense, an evocation of the spirits – benign and malevolent – that haunt the arcades and promenades of Britain’s seaside towns. Scrying in the Fun House mirror. Decoding angel language from bingo cards. Ectoplasmic candy floss snagged under the pier. Brylcreem, gasoline and Vaseline. Sticky fingers and bloody knuckles. Hot blood and cold chips. Wish you weren’t here.
As an added incentive to the curious reader, I’ve produced a series of art postcards, each an original painting in the vein of the example above, to be included with every book purchase.
Exile In The Margins is dedicated to following the logic of our imaginations and publishing books that you really wouldn’t see anywhere else. Martin & I were both formed in the crucible of 80’s and 90’s alternative culture, the pre-internet era of self-published zines and comics, dubbed VHS tapes, C90 compilations of weird music, scabby paperbacks and all the other strange detritus that the mainstream couldn’t absorb. This venture is our attempt to recapture some of that old black magic, before the internet created a monolcuture of irrelevance that dims the fires of awe. We have several more titles planned for release over the next year or so, including an art pamphlet celebrating the peculiar visions of a reclusive English surrealist; another collaboration between Martin and myself, where I fully illustrate the dark fantasies of a long forgotten British serial killer who haunted glam rock London; and my own novella about the rise and fall of the greatest band you’ve never heard.
Stay Turned for more details here, or via the Exile In The Margins Instagram.