Monday, 7 September 2015

Slippery People - which way is up?

It's a quarter of a year since I wrote anything in this blog. Since then it's been a good summer. I came off the drugs bit by bit and had a good holiday, followed by a lazy summer in Bize. My painting has stalled. As a result of the back and as a result of lack of courage. I want to get on with the oil/portrait series that has been underway for a while now, but around me are a stack of unfinished canvases. The only thing I've finished in the last few months is this one:
Slippery People
Acrylic on Canvas
Definitely not a portrait. I called it Duck Theory at first. (That's how it appears on my website.) And I can remember why I called it that, but don't think that was a good reason. I now prefer the alternative title "Slippery People" - another Talking Heads title. I've done a few of them over the years. I don't like pictures without titles. "Untitled 14" annoys the crap out of me, as do pretentious bollocks titles people attach to abstracts: "The darkness of the southern wind". All abstracts relate to SOMETHING. A title might give a clue or mislead, but it makes an interesting talking point. Using son lyrics/titles for me at least honestly reflects something about process - I always paint to music. And songs and rhythm influence what I paint - movement, colour.... Also, I now think it may be better this way up, landscape rather than portrait - which is how it was originally. But what the hell, if you buy it you can hang it any way you like and call it whatever you like. You pays your money...

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Getting Better, Back Pain is Strictly for the Birds

I had my back operated on exactly a month ago, and have slowly been reducing the pain meds. Straight after it was awful, and in addition to the drugs I had a nurse coming every day for 10 days giving me cortisone shots in my arse. Things are getting better now, and I am walking around (mainly with a stick to help me not fall over). In the last few days I have stopped taking the diazepam - it was pretty ok at the beginning being off my head with drugs whilst avoiding the pain, but the time came to finish - I wanted my brain back. I'd like to start painting but, my "studio" - space on top floor - is unusable because whilst I was lying flat on my back downstairs we had insulation put in, and all my stuff has been moved around. I unfortunately need help moving things around to let me paint again - unless I want to end up back in hospital. My wife has promised to help, but she's a busy lady.

In the meantime all I can show you is some crazy drugged up bird drawings I did on my iPad whilst lying on the sofa - the last one, as you can see was when I was at my most drugged up:

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Art Scams and Silly Emails

I've written about this before, and there are some relayed resources about art scams on the internet for example: http://www.artscams.com,, and scams range from people trying to "Buy" works of art that seem to involve you repaying them for their "Overpaid" postage, to people trying to sell you space on their gallery walls for ridiculous amounts of money, or pages in their books or their non-existent "consultancy" support.

But I have to say the most inexplicable and stupid email I've received today was this:

On 22 Mar 2015, at 14:59, derek thomas <> wrote:

Hi,Am Derek Thomas, i will like to place an order from your store for my daughter wedding gift,but i will be glad if you can list some of the artwork you have for sale with the prices,also my only method of payment is by Bank Check.So, i will be glad if you can email me for more details like the names and the prices you have for sale,once again my only payment method is by Bank Check for serious seller.      Waiting for your reply.        Thank          D.Thomas

I'm quite happy to give his email address - because I tried it and it doesn't work, which is off, because this prevented me from sending him my latest list/email telling him to fuck himself, and to add the most bizarre fact - the email address appeared not to be addressed to me at all but to: "john@powe******".

I don't know who he is but I wonder if he got an email too? I haven't included his full email address above because I assume that he, too, is an innocent victim.

Given the amount of pain killing drugs I am currently on I'd say I imagined the whole thing if I didn't have the email in front of me. Ah well. A picture:

Just a quick update, I have now received an email from someone with a similar bad scam:

Greetings .Am Sally Michael,Am interested in buying artworks from your esteemed organization for my new apartment and you still have for sale and i will be glad if you can Send me recent art work you have for sale with the asking prices,also my method of payment is by (BANK CHECK) as means of payment.Kindly email me some of the artwork you have in stock with the name and prices now.Looking forward to an early response.Regards,Sally Michael

I have emailed he to ask if she is related to Derek Thomas...

Friday, 20 March 2015


I am doomed, you are doomed. 

Let me be clear, you are doomed because I have learned how to do blog entries straight from my phone. Which will mean, I would guess, more frequent blogging, but shorter entries in general. Well to be fair I haven't written too many essays recently any way.

I am doom because of my back. I "put my back out" a month or so ago. Lugging wood for our lovely house- warming wood burner. Except it turns out the damage is a little bit more severe (understatement). Four slipped disc plus one herniated disc sticking out 14 mm straight into the nerve in my back. I'd borrow the model the doctor showed me if I could to illustrate this but there you go. In all it means while I await surgery I am taking a vast quantity of necessary pain killers and am thus mostly smashed. My painting series of oil portraits is on hold as I have the concentration level of a goldfish, but am tring to splash a few bits of non sense de on canvas and silly ipad drawings. also watching an incredible quantity of shit TV. 

Worst of all I have spent the last 3 months organising my dad's memorial - which takes place next Wednesday. And I won't be there. As my doctor said yesterday, I am stuck in Bize-Minervois for the next few months. There are worse places to be be,  current morning diet below. 

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Je Suis Charlie/Russia's Favourite Love Machine

Je Suis Charlie

These are bad times. Too much violence and death. Je suis Charlie. Nous sommes tous Charlie. We are all Charlie. I don't understand some people, some humans, at all. The need to protect your religion, your beliefs, by killing others who don't agree with you, or make fun of you. The hatred towards others with different beliefs or ideas or convictions. I don't get it at all. I know it's not new, and I know it's not confined to extreme Islamic fundamentalists. The numbers of murders and massacres in the name of Christianity throughout history is enormous, massacres of Jews and others in Nazi Germany, genocide in Ruanda, massacres throughout time. Murder. Killing other people because they aren't the same as you. Killing - for what? I don't get it. Anyone who believes that killing someone for their beliefs id not just wrong - they are dangerous. People who spread hatred are just WRONG. I am intolerant of intolerance. My beliefs aren't the same as yours? I won't kill you. Don't kill me. Please. Never forget to be polite.

Russia's Favourite Love Machine

If you like history and you have never heard Hardcore History - Dan Carlin's amazing series of Podcasts - you really should. History and story-telling at its best. Dan Carlin would be pleased that his latest epic around the first world war has got me reading more around the subject. As well as the rise of Socialism in France I have been also reading about Rasputin: much more interesting than Boney M would have you believe. Despite the wonderfulness of the song it seems to be unlikely that he actually was the "lover of the Russian Queen", as Alexandria appears to have been a bit of a prude. A neurotic prude at that, married to Tsar Nicholas 2nd who clearly wasn't the brightest guy in Russia. And although Rasputin had a strong influence over the Tsar and Tsarina in many ways, some claim he was unable to influence some of their most awful behaviour, particularly towards the Jews. It has been argued that Rasputin sought to influence the Tsar to stop the pogroms in Russia that resulted in the massacre of hundreds of Jews, and argued against the Tsar's crackdowns after the 1905 failed revolution. But no question, he was a strange man with strange beliefs and behaviour. He lived on one hand a debauched life having as much sex and booze as one could ask for, and on the other hand the life of a penitent, being beaten with twigs for his wicked ways. But he had clear mesmeric qualities that enabled him to have some sort of power over people, and was able to "miraculously" help the son of the Tsar and Tsarina overcome some of the awful effects of his haemophilia - probably by a combination of hypnosis and the prevention of doctors giving the child the fashionable new cure-all - aspirin. Whatever, all this reading and podcasting made me (of course) look up pictures of Rasputin on the internet - and there are quite a few, including photos of Rasputin on his death bed (after his assassination). So the next step was a portrait. How could I get that down? Well,  see below. Not the best reproduction of the painting, but here it is.

65x54cm Oil on Canvas

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

It's not you...

Here's a new painting I have called "It's not you, it's me".

Don't read too much into the title, it's from a Norah Jones/Little Willies song.

It's not you it's me
Mixed Media on Canvas 50x60cm
Anyway, I'm still going. Painting, spraying, scratching, splashing...

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Cave 5 - In defence of Abstraction

First here's a new painting:

Cave 5
Acrylic and oil bars on canvas

Below there's an edited version of something I wrote originally a couple of years ago on abstraction.

In favour of abstraction

The arguments made by those who do not like abstract art cover a wide range. They range from the less well-argued “It’s shit, anyone can do it” to the smug argument that it was a movement invented by American art-dealers and galleries who needed a quick turnover of paintings, somewhere in the middle of this is the argument that “it’s finished” , played out.

In 1940, as the second world war was in full swing and the world was just becoming aware of the horrors of the holocaust, Wyndham Lewis argued that abstract art had “died of boredom”. This is a an anti-abstract quote often thrown out by those who like to attack abstract art, whilst noting and citing Lewis’ early abstract work to back up their argument. But it is no coincidence that Wyndham Lewis was politically to the far right. So far to the right in fact he had written the book ‘Hitler’ in 1931, portraying Hitler as a great man. It is also no coincidence that at this point in time artistically he was heading towards the end of his career (he was blind by 1950) and his days as a modernist and a vorticist were far behind him in his pre-first world war days.

So, given the political and personal contexts, can his view be taken seriously? Wyndham Lewis was siding with Hitler, who derided abstraction as ‘decadent’, and with the establishment in arguing that abstraction was over, and ‘nature has won’.

Art for Art’s sake

Anyone with a modicum of knowledge of art history can see that ideas of what is accepted as ‘a work of art’ have changed continually for hundreds of years. Look up ‘What is Art?’ on the internet, and you are certain to come across the following statement: Both the notion of "art" and the idea of the "artist" are relatively modern terms.”

it is unsure upon what this widely reproduced statement is based. The assertion seems to intimate that the caveman who did the best pictures on the walls of his cave was not appreciated by his contemporaries. But this seems to be contrary to our common experiences of human behaviour, and contrary to reported behaviour of ‘primitive’ communities, who highly value and prize their musicians, dancers, story-tellers, and decorative artists. The concept of the ‘artist’ – the prized member of the community who has the ability to create something appreciated by others in that community, has existed as long as man has been able to create.

It is sure that the desire for these ‘artists’ (let’s call them that) to create something new and original has existed for just as long. (A) society recognises the talent of someone who can reproduce something pleasing, but really prizes the talents of the artist who can create something new. Whether it be a painting, a song, a poem, a novel or a movie: the artist that creates something original and good is highly prized and often lauded as a genius. Such as Picasso, the Beatles, TS Eliot or Orson Welles.

For almost as long as there have been artists there have been art critics. Thousands of years ago they would have been the caveman who said “hey, go and look at Ug’s paintings in cave 4, they’re really cool”, (or something like that) and their role has become more important as years (and generations) have gone by. One of their key roles has been as the art establishment: the people who decide what is good, and what is good ‘now’. For example, advisers to the Medicis in 16th century Italy, or the people who chose the exhibitions at the salons in Paris in the 19th century and earlier.

But whilst there the art establishment existed the practicing artist has had a problem: to survive, to earn a living as an artist, an artist needs to create for the establishment – whether it’s a portrait of the queen, or a new pop song performed by Kylie. But to be a REALLY successful artist-genius, a Picasso, an Eliot, a Lennon or McCartney, the artist knows they have to create something NEW.

Historically, when artists (usually younger artists) have found their new works being stopped and stifled by the establishment, they have grouped together (in a human tribal way) and formed a movement, or a group. In music terms this has lead to movements such as Jazz or Punk, in the visual arts this has lead to impressionism, vorticism (hi there Wyndham), da da-ism – and of course abstraction and its many sub-genres: abstract expressionism, cubism, etc.

*   *   *

In his 1891 essay "The Soul of Man Under Socialism", Oscar Wilde wrote: “A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. Its beauty comes from the fact that the author is what he is. It has nothing to do with the fact that other people want what they want. Indeed, the moment that an artist takes notice of what other people want, and tries to supply the demand, he ceases to be an artist, and becomes a dull or an amusing craftsman, an honest or dishonest tradesman. He has no further claim to be considered as an artist.
Abstract expressionism stemmed from the desire to completely remove nature from art. From a desire to completely rethink the visual world, to remove entirely the link with the natural world. After two world wars which had killed tens of millions of people, many artists began to feel the ‘natural’ world could not provide them with the visual inspiration they needed to paint.

Painters like De Kooning and Pollock in the USA (the new centre of culture – and everything else) created paintings that had no natural visual reference at all. They were paintings about ideas, emotions, colours, space. And the natural extension of this: they were paintings, sometimes, about painting.

For example, Jackson Pollock wanted an end to the viewer's search for representational elements in his paintings, and so he abandoned titles and started numbering the paintings instead. Of this, Pollock commented: "...look passively and try to receive what the painting has to offer and not bring a subject matter or preconceived idea of what they are to be looking for." Pollock's wife, Lee Krasner, said Pollock "used to give his pictures conventional titles... but now he simply numbers them. Numbers are neutral. They make people look at a picture for what it is - pure painting."

Abstract painting can be about anything. The key thing about abstract painting (this should be obvious) is that it isn’t representational – although it is amazing the amount of things people see within a painting that is not consciously put there (or maybe it is) by the artist. Abstract painting opens the door to endless possibilities: and it is this that causes problems. It causes problems for those who like representational work exclusively, because the abstract painting challenges their boundaries, whilst conversely it challenges the ‘post-modernist’ who believes abstract painting is ‘played out’ and offers nothing new.

It is not enough for an artist to defend abstract work by attacking the viewer, however. It is not the viewer’s ‘fault’ (necessarily) if they don’t “get it”. Abstract painting is not “tabsaco spilled over mustard.. voila” , otherwise the criticism would be correct: your five year old child COULD do it. What’s difficult about abstract painting is not the paintings themselves, but the idea of the paintings: the idea: why do they work? Why is a Jackson Pollock painting so much better than a lot of splodges on a canvas created by a five year old? (At this point those who don’t agree with that statement should leave the room). I can only surmise that there is a connection to those simple, easy to recognize issues in representational art: talent and skill. An artist like Pollock understands use of colour, texture, space – his/her training and natural talent enables them to make and reject choices in creation that the five year old simply cannot.

If you reject this thesis on the basis “it’s all crap”, I can’t argue with you – I can merely encourage you to be patient, open-minded and spend some time looking at some of the greatest abstract works. If you can get to MOMA in New York, that might help. Also, stop looking for things, as Pollock asked: just look at the painting for what it is: a painting.

If you reject this thesis because “it’s out of date” I can offer a different argument: a different perspective. An artist recently told me that there had been no new art movement in the last 30 years, and that everything that was being done now was a re-hash of everything done before. In some ways this is true: but does it make it less valid? If one removes the flashy-tinted spectacles of fashion, it remains a fact: what is good is good. To reject art out of hand simply because it is ‘old’ is ridiculous – and is to put oneself in a cultural vacuum. Further to reject all art because “it has all been done before” is again short, or maybe narrow, sighted. It is true that there is nothing particularly new about any art now being created. Nothing being created in art schools now is radically different from what was being made 30 years ago. But does it make it less valid? Not if it’s good: and the same goes for art influenced by work created 50 years ago, or 100 years ago, 500 years ago – or whenever.

Something new will come along, but in the meantime, there is nothing wrong with exploring what we have, and what we have got, and what we can do? Has every abstract painting been done? Has every pop song been written? Has every horror film been made? Abstract painting is a genre that still survives, and still leaves room for exploration and development. Whether it is done on canvas, on paper, on wood, or on giant tents: there’s still room for development and progress within that one genre: and still validity. To suggest it is ‘finished’, or ‘boring’ intimates a position adopted for a purpose, rather than an aesthetic appreciation or criticism.

In the 1950s and 60s the critic Clement Greenberg and his cohorts in New York’, promoted and exhibited (and sold) abstract expressionist artists’ works. Their views were (and often still are) considered vitally important in the development of this movement. And it is this that has led to modern day criticism: “The galleries like abstract impressionism because artists can churn them out”. But this critique surely comes from the same home as that originally occupied by the abstract expressionists themselves – the home of protest and of whatever new “modernism” there is. Even “post-modernism” now seems old hat.

We are now in a time of such fast technological, social and cultural change it is clear that the “art world” (such as it is) doesn’t know how to react. Things move so fast culturally that the next “new thing” is part of the mainstream before you can blink. Indeed, it is the mainstream that is demanding “the next new thing”. The commercial art world that has dominated the establishment for the last 20 or so years likes to think of itself as at the head of any artistic movement: which by definition it can’t be.

Let me explain: when you think of the most modern of modern art – performances, situations, sharks cut in half or whatever –  where do you see it? Is it in a little gallery in the back end of beyond that someone might stumble upon? No – it’s at Saatchi’s or at the Tate. The establishment is dominating modern art development to the point where the place for hip art critics to hang out is the degree show at the Royal College of Art, where nothing new seems to have been noticed for 25 years. The art establishment is eating itself, striving only to be new, and to be hip – completely missing some of the key points about where we are now in this development of art, and where (you knew we’d get there) where abstract art fits in with this.

“Abstract art’s appeal is intellectual rather than intuitive” Conrad Keely

In June 1970, the French writer Jean Clay observed: "It is clear that we are witnessing the death throes of the cultural system maintained by the bourgeoisie in its galleries and its museums."
So after all that, all that matters is - is it any good?