How long?

We live in a world run by rich people for rich people. That, to me, is a self-evident truth. They take our lives in labour hours, then spend their time clawing back the pittance that they pay us by encouraging us to consume – endlessly consume.

And it is so easy to get caught up in it; to forget the tricks they use and the language they engage to make us see past the truth.

For instance, I saw an advert recently with Ewan McGregor – an actor I greatly admire – where he openly disparages empty consumption. In essence he says that when we are in our last moments of life, we won’t be reflecting on the phone we didn’t buy or the TV we didn’t own or the beer we didn’t drink. And at this stage I’m with him! Yes Ewan.

Then he goes on to say that it isn’t the things we didn’t own it will be the places we didn’t go. And just for a second, I thought: My God I haven’t travelled enough! What have I been doing with my time??! I should have visited more places…

Just for a moment though, because then I realised that he was simply selling travel as a consumer item! Travel as just another form of consumption! Of course, that isn’t necessarily how travel should be, we can escape that outcome, partly by how we travel, and partly by the mindset that leads us to our journey. But… That is not what Ewan was conveying – he was selling travel. Travel as a product.

Is anyone else wearied by this? By this constant resorting to sales? I’ve written about this before, because I am whole heartedly sick of it. Not buying things we really want or travelling to places we really want to see, but the mindless buying, the ticking things off our experiential bucket list without feeling truly enriched.

I’m also tired of being exploited and gouged by sellers. As items become smaller – who remembers when you used to receive more for less? – we pay more and more. I guarantee that your favourite chocolate bar was at least twice its present size not so long ago. Now, they’ll say it’s for health reasons, but we all know that isn’t true.

Petrol and diesel prices keep going through the roof too. Not because of supply and demand, but because the oil companies are getting greedier. They are operating in a one-sided market with governments unwilling to challenge them, or any corporation for that matter. It all stinks.

Then I got to thinking. How long would this system be able to continue to go on using us up and making us pay for the privilege if we ALL downed tools. If we all stopped travelling, if we all stopped going to work, if we all stopped buying. How long would the system last before those exploiting us began to panic? How long before change began?

It’s a genuine question. We do have this power, we just don’t see it, and we’ve also learned to fear our own power. In the General Strike of 1926 in the UK the Unions tried to get the government to stop the slide in pay and conditions that was impacting on millions of workers. Nearly 2 million people downed tools and joined the effort.

It failed in the end because the government enlisted middle class volunteers and the armed forces to step into mostly heavy industrial jobs. After nine days the Unions admitted defeat and the strike ended. This is a very simplified account, of course, but it got me to thinking.

How long would it take if we all stood together? I really do not know, but I wonder… How long? 

Resister Virtual Exhibition 2022

WELCOME to this virtual exhibition of resister creativity! I was going to try to pull it all together with some clever theme or other but the truth is the links are resistance and creativity, so I will ‘resist’ the urge to launch into a verbose and quite unnecessary introduction. What I will say is that the talent on show is as wonderful as it is diverse.

They are not arranged in any specific order and I have also chosen to let the artists and creators speak for themselves. Sometimes they have a lot to say about themselves and their work, sometimes very little. Artists and creators are as layered and textured as the beauty they produce. Art and wonder are thankfully broad churches that have something for us all

In this exhibition you will find rug making, photography, paintings, jewellery and creative writing. Please take your time and relish each fabulous piece.

First up is LAURA MOUNTAINSPRING with a series of lovely paintings in varying media

Self portrait 24″ by 30″ acrylic   Eyes

“White Rabbit” acrylic geometric 36″ by 40″

“Go ask Alice” 30″ by 40″ acrylic sunflowers

Archie”  16″ by 20″ oil of my daughters cat

Next we have some beautiful rug making by PAMELA JOHNSON

“Sophie Girl “. I just lost her at 15 years old. This piece is hand hooked on linen with hand dyed wool cut into thin strips. Traditional Rughooking is my guilty pleasure. Hope you like it.

Here’s my rabbit. It’s ultra punch needle with 3 strands of embroidery threads on weavers cloth. 

REBEKAH DONOHUE shows us some stunning jewellery and bead work

The first up is a piece named “the Crone”. I did all the bead weaving around a natural turquoise carving I found.

The second piece is a free-form woven bag that is functional. I use it as a wall hanging.

The third piece is created with antique african trade beads and is a statement piece.

The final piece is a wall hanging made up of antique beads, most prominently the antique 5 layer Chevron beads which are very large and above average in size.

ANN MODRCIN presents two mixed media pieces

I am Ann, a newly retired physician. My new endeavours include Art, among other things. Our country needs a break from hatred and insanity. I feel that art in all forms can bring people together, provide hope, and even build bridges.

Mixed media (ink, charcoal, colored pencil, Keta Dye) on scrap wood. Most of my subjects are women, mostly Asian-ish or mixed, though my husband sees “Chinese Ann”, “Muslim Ann”, “Mixed Ann”, etc, rather than Scandi Ann… The women are all powerful, reflecting the need to raise our girls to be powerful, and unapologetically so, and keep our women strong and confident.

My last major project before I retired was to feature children with disabilities in a Photo Gallery Wall, being their usual wonderful selves, with the goal of promoting unity with all children. The Gallery publicly stressed inclusion and let visitors to the hospital truly SEE these kids. Not as kids with differences, but as kids that are, well, just kids.


Here we have some magnificent portraits by KATHY ZYDUCK

I’m an artist. I’m not good at talking about myself.  I do art nouveau/ rock and roll mashups and portraits.  

A POWERFUL Painting next by BARRY LEE

The Three Sisters, Corn, Beans, and Squash… the basic food mainstay in traditional Native American Culture. The teaching is Corn grows tall giving pole beans a place to climb and flourish while Squash with it’s broad leaves maintain soil integrity to keep the moisture close for its other two sisters. We are all related and The Three Sister’s teach us to care and depend on each other. In my painting (22×28 acrylic on canvas) Corn is dressed in Cherokee tear dress, Beans in Iroquois regalia, and Squash in Lenape regalia.

There are no faces, because of the traditional story of the faceless girl. It teaches humility

This highly festive and colourful piece by PAULINE SHENTON

Being an Easter Bunny is hard work. Then you often have leftover egg paints to deal with…falling into the bucket seems to have solved it this time! Plus I found a new friend

An entrancing poem by LEIGH CAMPBELL

INDIAN LOVE

The moon casts her blue eyes upon his body.. as the breeze of another cool night blows invisible. Tomorrow he will awake to the voice, and the feeling of knowing Indian love.

Tonight he is content with peaceful knowledge, his thoughts appearing so purposely real… The sun daylight streaks through, heat invisible rays of brilliance nudge his dreaming body.

Stirring he will stretch upward, waking his Indian love, that is swelling in his heart, pulsating with knowledge. Knowing that soon his life could be open to real expressions of its meaning, silently using his voice…

As winged creatures sing their songs, so does his voice beautifying all direction, surrounding with the Indian love. Brothers of man attend to him, they know he is real and that the magic he possesses, can become invisible.

He will wait for the beauty, the power of her body, now is the time…not to question, but accept true knowledge..

Eyes, cleared with innocence, seek higher knowledge, only to view and see through all that is real. Whispers on the wind, speak lightly of invisible emotions, he has a quietness in his voice. Embrace the world with a secure feeling of Indian love, just as he once circled her being, her body.

Spirits glide along the sun face, are they real? speechless as they pass, could he hear the voice? He is yearning deep inside, desiring her knowledge of life and the secrets she carries in her body.

Ways to turn, ways to learn, forever invisible Man can seek woman only to discover Indian love…. Indian love.

The meaning of Indian love prevails, a real acceptance of knowledge.. Invisible to blind eyes, a mystical body, a spiritual voice…

By: Leigh Campbell (R.M.C 1977)

A series of great realist oil paintings by OLIVER GIBSON

I am a self taught oil painter from Berlin, Germany. The only medium I ever use is linseed oil. Mostly covering realism. Ironically one of my strongest artistic influences is Salvador Dali.

  1. Enterprise in orbit (oil on canvas 40 x 30cm, linseed oil)
  2. Fisherman Study (oil on paper, A4, linseed oil)
  3. Phoenix the dog (oil on paper, 40 x 30cm, linseed oil)
  4. Sunset at lake (oil on canvas, 40 x 30cm, linseed oil)
  5. Fisher shack (oil on canvas, 40 x 30cm, linseed)

Soulful paintings now by CINDY FERRY

I am new at this, but very happy with how these turned out, so I am taking the leap!

DANIEL FREY raises the political pulse next with this amazing digital artwork

Title: Good Trouble

Medium: Digital

Daniel Frey, aka Toby is a writer-producer in Hollywood, California.

This photograph of New York by LESLIE BIALLER is just something else

“New York is thought of as a monochrome city, but you can make it glow if you want. This shot is looking west from near Third Avenue on E. 40th St. Sort of the border between the Midtown East and Murray Hill districts. I’ll let the realtors decide.”

From digital through photography to watercolour with this wonderful piece by DONNA ATWOOD

This was painted in watercolour for a client who sent me a photo. The owner trains guide dogs for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. I’ve been painting pets for 7 years.

From pets to the wild now with DEB DICKER

My name is Deb Dicker
I’m a Canadian artist working in mixed media.
I’m also a photographer.
A mom of 2 a gramma of 2.

My work is mainly shown at the Art Emporium in Port Stanley ON.
These pieces were inspired by Alaska

A very dramatic and deeply personal series next by ALY JONES

The attached images are a series that cover the stages in the recovery after rape/sexual assault.

The walls close in until you face it and allow yourself to feel the emotions.

A sweet artistic reminiscence next by CARLA SOTELO

These are oldies but goodies… from back in my college days.  I discarded most of my student work, but these were among the ones I kept.  I ended up doing my graduate work in ceramic tiles.  I have had 3 MG sports cars in my life.  They’re really fun to drive.  It feels  like you are driving a roller coaster, especially in the hills surrounding Los Angeles where I lived most of my life.  I recently moved to Florida because I bought a farm, so I sold my MG collection so they could stay in California.  They’re no use to me here… I need farm equipment!

The MG drawing is Marker Rendering on paper 20X30″

The skull drawing is pencil on paper probably also 20X30″

For lovers of Vincent van Gogh a masterful painting by LES SCHREIBER

This is a piece I did from a trip to Amsterdam in the summer of 2019. We were there during Gay Pride Week, and to say it was an experience, would be an understatement. I had just come out of an institution, on the Amstel River in Amsterdam: Mulligans Irish Music Bar. (You can see it behind one of the canal houseboats, recognizable by the Irish flag.) I decided I wanted to do it in an obvious “Van Gogh” style, since I was in Amsterdam. Being OCD, what was really bothering me, were the “crooked houses” that surrounded the bar. They are well known in area. I kept wanting to straighten them. Ha Ha, but I fought my impulses and finally put them down the way they appeared in the many photos I took of the area.

Finally, a few pieces by myself RADICAL RHYMES

I wasn’t going to exhibit my own work in this fabulous show, but I was persuaded by some very kind people that I should… You know my style, I’m a colour obsessed expressionist in love with the work of Vincent, Frida and Paul Cezanne. This first piece I’ve included because of the importance of Tupac’s words, especially now, that we readily ignore the poor while we propagate war. This portrait in blue is a message to all billionaires, oligarchs and tyrants. It’s you we need to bring into the light, we can’t ignore your exploitation and greed…

To finish on a lighter note… I have embarked on a series of fun expressionist paintings that I’m calling the Animal Farm series. I hope they raise a smile

WELL, here we are at the end… I hope you have enjoyed this exhibition, it has been my pleasure to present it to you.

A HUGE thank you to all the contributors, and thank YOU for taking the time to view and enjoy their marvellous work. Art always requires an audience!

RESIST!

CREATE!

Breathless

Yesterday we went to the national museum in Cardiff. It wasn’t the first time and I hope it won’t be the last. I haven’t been there since the pandemic hit, so to have to book in, follow the one way system, and try to maintain social distancing with some people who just won’t respect it, all felt a bit strange.

However, the trip was most definitely worth the effort and the necessary inconveniences. There were works by Cezanne, Pissarro, Monet, Manet and Lowry to name a few. I came away with a postcard of a Cezanne stilllife, although that wasn’t what really captured me.

The first painting that really brought me up short was a Renoir. A 12 foot high portrait of a lady in a blue dress and bonnet. The scale and the vibrancy stopped me dead and I found myself stepping back and admiring it for a while, engaged and disengaged – assessing and appreciating in equal measure.

Of course, while i was lost in it, two people stood right in front of me, which initially annoyed me. Then I reminded myself that they weren’t being deliberately rude, merely thoughtless, which may have been induced by the wondrous painting of course.

Anyway, I thought that Renoir’s work would be the highlight for me, gilded by the wonderful Cezanne painting.

I was wrong.

In the corner, tucked away, was a wheat field painting by Vincent. If I’d been stunned by the Renoir, the impact of this work was seismic.

it was painted near the end of his life, and in a letter to his brother, he described the motivation for it. The loneliness and despair, the desperation he was experiencing. It was all there.

The ferocity of it is alarming. Thick impasto brushstrokes frame the key features of it as if they were indeed individually framed. It is painted as if with toothpaste in places.

In the foreground it is clear that he didn’t even paint it, he squeezed the paint onto the canvas as it came out. The lashing rain is conveyed through lines drawn througnh the paint, possibly with a palette knife.

At the heart of the piece there are three crows caught up in the maelstrom. They are forbidding, scary, ominous. The painting resonates with despair. It needs no interpretation.

I was breathless. To be so close to his work, to feel it as if I was there with him in that place was completely overwhelming. It is a moment I will never forget.

I’ve been in the dark myself this past week. Last Monday I truly felt lost, and I feared for my life. Again, it wasn’t be the first time, I am not foolish enough to think it will be the last. My life has been spent with the safety net of self destruction always beneath me, that won’t change now.

But in that moment, in that place, with that work, I suddenly felt less alone, less hopeless. Vincent reached me, and like many before me, I sincerely wish I could have reached him.

Stream of consciousness

This is a first for me. Normally, I have an idea or topic, something I need to say or to exorcise with words. But not today. Today for whatever reason there is nothing specific, nothing I am aching or driven to articulate.

So, I’m breaking with tradition and writing with no destination in mind. No subject or object, just the purest form of expression, a stream of consciousness.

It’s actually a combination of fear and excitement, a sense of hopelessness and freedom. What to say? Words without a safety net!

When I was a lecturer I bore a secret terror, the terror of the freeze. It was so profound that I had to supress it, so scary that I had to pretend that it wasn’t there at all. The freeze. It was always really there lurking deep in my subconscious, waiting to pounce, to eat me alive.

To walk into that lecture theatre, to be the centre of attention, and to simply, freeze. To go completely blank. At the start, I would over prepare. I would write each lecture out in full, as an essay, then I would laboriously transfer it onto cue cards. By the end I only had bullet point slides (powerpoint) with no other visual aids.

One of my colleagues was so traumatised by my lack of materials that it almost sent her into a panic attack. How could I do it? How could I risk the freeze?

Before I reached breaking point, I wanted to run the gauntlet, skirt the edge, stand on the precipice. Taunt the terror of humiliation. Looking back I really have no idea why… Perhaps it was the self destructive component of the bipolar.

Then, one day, the precipice finally beckoned. I strolled into the hall at 9 am to face 200 students for a daunting 2 hour session. For some reason the university had decided to go to 2 hour lectures for first years. Actually, I know why, it was because stidents were asking for more contact time with staff, so instead of more tutorials they opted for longer lectures, which nobody wanted…

Anyway, I digress, back to the day of the potential freeze.

i wandered in, said a cursory good morning, turned on the computer to get my slides on the big screen, and… nothing. It was dead. Defunct. I spent a few minutes tinkering then called IT, but they couldn’t get to me for at least an hour. I was on my own.

Taking a deep breath, I went back in, made a joke about technology, picked up my whiteboard markers and started the session. What happened? Did I succumb to the freeze?

Well, no.

As it happens, it was one of the best lectures I’ve ever given. The students interacted, they told me how awful my writing was, they laughed at my cartoon depictions of the key writers and thinkers, and we all enjoyed it.

Faced with the worst case scenario i learned that I didn’t need the crutch of the slides, that I was i infinitely well prepared, and that the interactive style I’d always employed was not only a life raft, it was a transport to more fun and engaging sessions.

Of course, it wasn’t enough in the end, the anxiety and depression led me off a cliff, but that session did delay the inevitable, and it made the time left more authentic and bearable.

And today I’ve learned something else, that a stream of consciousness can lead you somewhere interesting after all!

A stand-off!

The memory is a strange thing. I was reminded this week of a colleague that I used to work with as a young lecturer. Actually he was the first person to encourage me to think about an academic career, and I will always be grateful for that confidence.

Some of it came from shared experience I believe. Like me, he heralded from a very poor background, and, though I couldn’t say anything substantive about his past, it was clear that he’d also suffered significant damage. In him it came out as a general distrust and sometimes aggression.

I think it’s fair to say that he wasn’t popular with his peers, though he never really courted that in any case. Mainly he was a loner and he liked it that way. But what I couldn’t understand was the way in which left wing academics would use structural arguments in explaining criminality in poor and working class circles, but would individualise problematic behaviour they personally encountered. So, he wasn’t from a difficult background, he just wasn’t a nice guy.

Anyway, regardless of all that I liked him.

For some reason an incident with him came to mind that was quite important to me recently. It was during my first year as a lecturer. My supervisor had just left and I’d been asked to take on his courses. As a second year part-time PhD student thid was a big responsibility and I was not a confident character.

Unfortunately, at exactly the same time the university had appointed a new external examiner. His role was to valdiate the courses and confirm the standard of assessment. He was a man on a mission, determined to shape things to his own satisfaction.

When I received his report on my stuff I was horrified. He didn’t like the structure of the course or the way I’d assessed it. Immediately, I internalised it, assumed that it was just me, but it wasn’t. He hated everything and wanted it all to change. This was the period that I got into video gaming in order to deal with the feelings it raised!

A very senior colleague advised me not to panic, and not to give in to bullies. She also suggested i go through the process and let the external examiner go too far. She said he would over extend himself and the university would have to remove him.

That helped a bit, but I still felt so anxious, especially as we had to attend a meeting with him as a teaching group to go through his complaints and issues. I remember waiting outside that room agonising about the ordeal to come.

That was when my friend and colleague stepped up. He told me to calm down and follow his lead. I had no idea what was to come!

I was among the first to go through it. He attacked my content and told me my grading was incorrect, and I fell into the trap. Instead of standing my ground and defending my position (a strong one, as I was mostly teaching the course my supervisor bequeathed me) I was agitated, defensive. I ceded too much.

When he turned his sights on my friend I expected something similar, but nothing prepared me for what happened. Rather than anxiety he exuded a calm dismissiveness. He sat there with his hands behind his head, leaning back in his chair, his face an impassive mask.

As the examiner went through his list, my colleague just stared at him indifferently. When he didn’t reply, the exernal yelled: ‘There are discrepancies!’ To which my friend replied – ‘Yes, because you don’t agree with me, and I don’t agree with you…’

At every turn the examiner was stonewalled, and as he became angrier, my friend became cooler, ever more contemptuous. The former was almost spitting flames by the end and I watched in complete incredulity.

Ultimately, he screamed ‘I left extensive comments on every script!’. To this my friend merely smiled and took a big pile of essays from his bag. Then he went through them one by one…

‘Poorly structured. Rambling. Over use of quotation. Derivative,’ he put the pile aside, leaned forward and said, ‘these are extensive comments are they?’

What happened then is a blur now, but I recall that the external was incandescent with rage. Again, as he got more incensed the target of his rage just got calmer. It was an object lesson for me. And as we left the room, with our course leader trying to placate the man, my friend just winked and said it was time for a coffee.

As it turned out, the senior manager was right. He did over-extend himself. He demanded that the whole institution change to fit his image and was replaced. But I learned something from that experience that I was only ever able to apply very patchily. However, regardless of the practicalities, it was certainly something to behold!

A true story

This story begins in a small town in Cornwall. The key character is a young boy born out of wedlock to a single mother at a time when such things were just not accepted. The only thing he really knew about his mysterious father was that he was a senior naval officer – this was undoubtedly a lie. However, it fuelled his desire to join the Royal Navy, which he did at the age of 14; like a lot of lads during the war he lied about his age to get in.

Bored with small town life he went to sea to explore the world, and what better choice than the the navy? By the time he came home four years later he’d been to more countries than he could recall. He’d made a huge number of friends, tamed a pet monkey, seen military action afloat, and learned to fight and drink.

At this point his mother was seeing a local man she would shortly marry, a union that would see the births of a beloved half-brother and sister. A mature young man, he would take the responsibility of older brother incredibly seriously. He became both a guide and a protector.

But the secret of his own paternity would haunt him throughout his life, and he suspected that his step-father (who he adored) was actually his real father. The problem for his mother was that she couldn’t admit the truth because William would have been 15 at the time of conception. Better a smokey fictional character than an underage reality. Sadly, she took the secret to her grave.

Meanwhile the young man went from strength to strength. He was smart, committed, disciplined and he was soon promoted to be the youngest Killick in port. He was doing what he loved and was extremely good at it.

it was during this time that he met a young woman through an Australian pen pal. She gave him the contact details of a woman in London and they hit it off immediately. She loved Cornwall so much that she vowed never to leave it. Their relationship lasted a lifetime and produced three children, two girls and a boy. The couple lived between London and Cornwall and all was going beautifully for them…

Then one night – off the coast of Gibraltar – his ship was caught in a terrible storm. In the process of climbing the metal stairs down into the bowels of the vessel he was thrown down several flights. Bruised amd battered, he carried on in his duty until he physically collapsed.

It turned out that a broken rib had punctured his lung and it had to be removed. At the age of 27 he lost his career and was handed a ten year life expectancy. It was devastating.

Supported by his family he tried to adapt to life outside the service, but though he found good jobs and lovely homes, nothing seemed to stick. In his despair (aided by an addictive personality, possibly underlined by bipolar, an unfortunate family inheritance) he sank into the bottle for 16 difficult years.

Eventually, he managed to find a job in the civil service, and alongside his drinking, he took on a shop steward role in the union. This gave him another focus for his addictive tendencies but it didn’t solve the alcoholism. He caused his family terrible embarrassment, burned through large amounts of money and nearly died in two horrendous car accidents.

On top of this, his oldest daughter developed chronic rheumatoid arthritis at 13 and this changed everything for the family. They moved from their own cottage to a poorly thought of council estate, and just when things couldn’t get any tougher they had a baby boy 20 years after their first child.

In the end, it took a kindly GP to underline what was happening. That his family were in dire poverty, his wife was at her wits end, that his oldest daughter was getting iller every day, and that his 3 year old son was on tranquilizers.

He chose that very day to get himself clean. A month of withdrawls and hallucinations followed. But he fought through them. He worked harder and gained a promotion, he put more effort into his family, and, crucially, he joined Alcoholics Anonymous.

This gave him a new focus. Before long he took on the leadership of his local meeting. He would go out, day or night, answer the phone no matter what the hour. He saved so many people from their fate, though he never, ever, felt that he’d done enough.

He gradually became unable to work, so he retired early and spent his time helping people and exploring the local area. He helped his son play sport and ferried him around all over the county. He tried to make up for the hard years but he was never fully forgiven by some of his family. Nevertheless, he was a good man.

He passed away on Christmas Eve many years ago. I was 16 when he died and I miss him more every year. He was a troubled man, but a good one, he was important to me because he was my dad.

Tastes change, thank goodness…

Jean Michel-Basquiat

How strange it is to reflect back on our old ways of thinking, and to remember what used to excite or exercise our tastes. When I was younger I used to really dislike abstract things, to the point where I would get irrationally angry about them.

Mostly I’m talking about art, although this also applied to books and their authors. How ridiculous, I used to think, to bother putting finger to keyboard, or pen to paper, and not want to communicate clearly with your audience!

To be fair, I still think this to a degree. If you have ever tried to get first year undergrads to read and properly digest a passage from Talcot Parsons, you will have some sympathy with this perspective.

Sometimes what authors are describing, examining or exploring is just difficult and there are no ways of making it any simpler. At other times they are being obscure, either because they do not fully understand the concepts themselves, or, they are working overtime to appear clever. The third option, of course, is that they are poor writers… and that is also common.

However, as I have aged my tolerance for abstraction in the written word has increased. Now, I approach a book with less rigidity, less certainty of my own line. Rereading the Gormeghast series, for example, I can see the nuances, the textured meanings and I can enjoy and profit from them.

And the same is also true of art.

When I was young I would see a Picasso and be triggered by it. What a waste of talent! Why did he resort to cubism when he was capable of such realistic beauty? I would rail about it to anyone who would listen. Thankfully, they were few!

Works by Rothko and Pollack I would dismiss out of hand. Anyone could do that, I used to complain, completely overlooking their purpose and message. To my shame I even hated Starry Night. My callow eyes only saw uncultured swirls and blocked in buildings. I was intransigent, incapable of patience, of prying beauty and meaning out of things I didn’t immediately appreciate.

Then I remembered the quote by Whistler. It was a direction to avoid rubbishing art, but instead to outline one’s own tastes. To say, in short, not that a work is bad but that we don’t like it. When I read this as a younger man I thought it was an excuse for poor work.

But…

As I grew older I realised the truth in it. Inspecting it allowed me to look at things afresh, to see things with different eyes. It forced me to ask questions about my tastes and where they came from. Was I truly expressing my own opinions or merely the captive of artistic conservatism?

Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that as a young artist I’d been bound up by my fears and insecurities, that I’d been trying to achieve the perfection that only realism could provide. If what I drew or painted looked exactly like the subject then I would be free of criticism. And as a viewer I could join the crowd and  overlook what challenged me or made me expand my horizons.

These days I am free of those ideas, those social chains that pull many of us down. As a consequence I see more beauty than I did before, I have a fund of experiences that I wouldn’t have if my thoughts and tastes hadn’t changed.

That doesn’t mean that I like everything I see or read, nor does it mean that I am bamboozled by nonsense (hopefully!). There are some ‘artists’ that I believe are actually poking fun at us, they are pushing the boundaries of what they can get away with. I still hate that! But I do believe that we grow and change and that we also have control of this to a greater or lesser extent.

In opening myself to examining my tastes I have seen more, felt more, and learned so much more about myself, my true likes and dislikes and my environment. The examined life is hard but it IS worth living.

Kid’s Stuff?

Aslan

know that I am not the only one… admit it, you do it too. You revisit things from your childhood to escape from whatever is troubling you. Books and films/movies are my escape route of choice.

Today has been a tough one. I am anxious and stressed and the dysmorphia kicked in with a bang this morning. The first thing I had to do was go to the postoffice to send off a commissioned piece and the prize for a competition I ran on Twitter. But going out is never easy when you feel like this.

What do I mean?

Well, imagine this. You feel terribly ugly. The worst you can feel about your looks. It’s so bad that you honestly perceive that everyone is staring at you. Rationally, you know it’s not true, but your head and heart conspire to refute what reason dictates. Then you feel guilty for being so negatively narcissistic. No-one’s looking at you, you’re too ordinary, too unimportant for that. Talk about a paradox!

Eventually I managed to get myself through the front door, but not before  checking what was outside. It’s only been the past couple of years that I’ve realised this was due to years 3-10 where I was stuck in certain rooms of our house while a German Shepherd patrolled the place looking for another opportunity to savage me.

Despite that I made it to the postoffice (some days I fail) and then had to bolster myself enough to make small talk, which is thankfully not too difficult thankfully because the ladies there are so lovely. But then I worry that I’m holding up the queue. And that sense of being an alien amongst people intensifies so much that I want the ground to swallow me up. It’s truly an ordeal, just to do something so banal, so seriously everyday.

I got through it unscathed, but for some reason the ridiculous sense of achievement wasn’t there today. I felt drained, so painting wasn’t an option, and even though it’s the place that gives me peace and purpose, that just wasn’t going to work; not today.

And that’s when I realised I needed some kid’s stuff. I broke out The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe film, and hunkered down to watch it. It takes me back to my first reading of the book. I was eight, sitting in the garden, while the dog was locked away inside. The sun was shining and I felt safe.

Next came The Witches, the original mind you, with Anjelica Huston. It still holds up! She is just as terrifying and the special effects haven’t aged too badly, at least in my humble opinion. Roald Dahl. How many of us owe that man a debt of gratitude? Danny Champion of the World, Fantastic Mr. Fox, James and the Giant Peach… All of them were props that held up my early life.

Finally, I put on the Wizard of Oz and the Box of Delights. A whole day lost to kid’s stuff, but it was exactly what I needed.

Sometimes now I find it hard to believe that I worked as a lecturer, and that I was good at it too. That I stood in front of up to 300 students and held the floor, at times for two hour slots. Who was that person?

Well, it was me. But only a part of me. A part that began to wither away, a mask I couldn’t keep on. A part that left me exhilarated at some points, and exhausted at others. The anxiety, the depression (bipolar) and the dysmorphia were always lurking waiting to pounce. Ultimately, they ripped away the mask and left me bare.

However, while the vulnerabilities are real and they work hard to destroy what’s left, I’m determined not to let them win, to keep going, to write, to create, to paint. And when things get too much even for those joys to see me through, then… well then I have escape routes into the past, to a time before I even knew that I needed a disguise.

Kid’s stuff? Not really…

The Politics of Disappointment

Disappointment is a human inevitability. If we strive for things, material, experiential or based in achievement, we are bound to be disappointed. As a youngster I was all too famlliar with this concept.

As I’ve written before, my mum taught me to read at three, largely so that I could occupy myself. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to care for me, far from it, it was just that she had to look after my chronically ill sister. But while she wasn’t really able to guide my education it didn’t stop her  dissatisfaction at my lack of attainment.

Every year I would trudge home with my school report dreading the usual reaction. A sigh, a shake of the head and a huge wave of disapproval high enough to drown me. Sometimes I lost the report on the way… Thankfully, we both evolved so that at least I was able to assuage her disappointment, even if I couldn’t address my own.

What I’ve seen around over me over the years – and it’s getting worse – is a desire for template living, to set up an ‘ideal life’ and to break every bone and sinew to create it.

My timeline on social media is dominated by the work of poets, writers and artists. But make-up artists also make regular appearances, as do more general lifestyle gurus.

What I see there are people desperate to show that they’ve ‘made it’ while desperately trying to ‘make it’. They share videos of themselves offering advice on every aspect of life, shoving their success down the throats of others, boasting about six figure salaries as they flex their pecs or pout through artificially plumped lips.

As far as I can see they are promoting template living and actively stimulating disappointment in the process. They peddle an existence that we should all want to live, or so it seems.

The truth is that the template is not intrinsic, nor is much of what we see actually real. Regardless of how many crunches they do their abs will thicken and loosen, their faces will sag and age, and the perfect families will only disappoint them in the end. Maybe the money will run out, or, they may find that it cannot buy true happiness after all.

So, what am I saying? Is this an anti-aspirational piece?  Absolutely, categorically not. I have aspirations, goals, dreams. I try to earn a living and stay reasonably fit. I also have dreams for my sons.

No, it’s not about lacking goals. It’s not about not caring for the self. It’s really about shedding social templates. Certainly the templates presented in our societies should be shrugged off because they are unattainable, unhealthy and ultimately doomed to disappoint.

Life always disrupts blueprints. I didn’t think my mum would die in an old people’s home but she fell foul of another family member’s wishes. I didn’t think that Trump or Boris Johnson could ever become political leaders. I truly didn’t! Cosmological horrors happen because that’s just life.

Consequently, I believe that we should create our own life plans, think hard about what we want and what we aim to achieve and that those plans should be intrinsic, not extrinsic. Be an author because you love to write, paint because it brings you joy, because you just have to. Explore science because of your innate curiosity about the universe.

Will that stave off disappointment? Of course not, we’ve already said that it’s unavoidable, but at least the disillusionment will be yours, you can own it. It won’t be borne out of trying to follow patterns laid down by consumer societies selling ‘ideals’ that ultimatetly lead you nowhere.

I always think about the story of an aged mathematician who’d spent his life trying to solve an incredibly hard equation. Years and years of hard work only to continually fail. Then one day he attended a conference only to find that a young man had already solved it. He could have been angry, sulky, unsupportive, but he chose to be delighted.

No doubt he’d played his part because the younger man would have known of his work, he undoubtedly built upon it. Yet despite his inability to solve it he was happy nonetheless.

How many of us would react in this way? I suspect very few. He wasn’t driven by a desire for glory or wealth, his goal was intrinsic and self-directed. His disappointment at not solving it himself was overwhelmed by the pleasure of seeing it resolved.

In my opinion, this is a better, personalised template that could ameliorate the worst ravages of disappointment. Or maybe I’m wrong? If so, I’ll only be mildly disappointed.

The Art of the Story

What do I like most about art? This is the question I’ve been wrestling with for a while now. Is it the textures or colours? I do love expressionism most, so bright colours really do capture my attention. They don’t have to be vibrant -though I love the work of Vlaminck or Levitan – because I absolutely adore the more muted oranges and purples of Cezanne.

Moreover, I follow artists that only or primarily work in monochrome. Kathe Kollwitz always brings me up short. The darkness and starkness are so incredibly arresting that they almost always move me to tears.

If it isn’t colour, could it be form? The strength of the shapes, or the use of light or shade. I do admire the bold outlines of Kirchner, but then I equally prize the haziness of impressionism. A monet or Pisarro are just as beautiful in my view.

Could it be composition? The golden ratio employed by Botticelli in the Birth of Venus has always fascinated me. It is, and remains one of my favourite paintings. But then I also adore the less structured work of Kandinsky, or that of Basquiat.

Could it be the subject matter? Portraits are undoubtedly my favoured subject matter to paint, whether that be people or animals. But who could dislike what Constable or Turner produced? The watercolour study of Stonehenge by the former is devastatingly beautiful. Landscape after landscape I could name amongst my list of greatest artworks, leading back once again to Cezanne.

But no, it isn’t any of these things. For me it’s about the story. Does the painting tell a story, and not just those with deliberate themes like brueghel, but even those that focus on a single subject or object. When I look at a portrait, does it speak to me? Is there a narrative written on the face? In the lines? In the eyes?

When I look at a landscape does it draw me in? Is there something unique or different about it? Does it carry a message or create an impression? Does it force me into an interpretation? Is the artist doing more than simply replicating a scene? Similarly, in a still life, have the objects been chosen to convey something beyond their simple assemblage?

In the end, for me, it’s all about stories because we are a story-driven species. We live and learn, connect with one another through the telling of tales. Art is a true artform when the artist is trying to say something to the viewer. That’s why I personally prefer expressionism to other styles, because replication often doesn’t say anything about the artist beyond profiency.

Art of the story or the story in a piece of art. The work that excites me most has both.