Friday, 26 October 2012

My new exhibition

It's a very happy evening for me as my pictures are newly installed in the Highlander pub in Hitchin. I've been busy getting everything together, making labels and flyers and getting things framed. Now it's all in place and I can relax.
The Highlander is a really lovely pub, run by Eric (who's French) and Charlotte. Eric cooks fantastic food with rustic dishes from (I think) the Alps a speciality. I'm very lucky to have my pictures up on the walls there.
The pictures will be there for at least three months, so if you're in the area, do drop in.
I love seeing my pics on other people's walls, with different lights shining on them and different views through the windows.
Only the huge painting of the two old ladies dressed as clowns was too big to find a spot and had to be brought home again. I might do some new work to fill in one or two little spaces that are left.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Rolling Stones: Crossfire Hurricane

Last night I 'went' to the premiere of the new Rolling Stones documentary, Crossfire Hurricane. Alas, I didn't actually go to Leicester Square to see Mick and the boys strutting up the red carpet, Keith apparently wondering why they were there. I was sitting in the cinema in Stevenage where the whole event was beamed live (and to another 300 cinemas round the world as well). It was good fun. Lauren Laverne was our host and nabbed people of interest and glamour as they went up the carpet. I have to say the celebs were rather thin on the ground: Liam Gallagher was the 'highlight', mumbling rather resentfully that he'd met the others but not Keith (who is the one, you imagine, he has modelled himself on but who has perhaps chosen to steer clear...). Otherwise, there was Anthea Turner and Grant Bovey (seriously), Colin Firth (who has never done it for me, wet or dry) and, erm, that was about it.
However, the film itself was absolutely brilliant. It's made up entirely of pre-existing footage, with new interviews with the Stones making a commentary. I only got into the Rolling Stones recently -- I've no idea why it took me so long as I was a fanatical fan of punk as a teenager (albeit one who remained 'normal' on the outside -- inside I was raging, spitting, pogo-ing, all the while neatly dressed and with a nice bob. I read the NME in secret).
This is me in 1979, at the height of my punk phase (loving The Gang of Four, Television, Tom Robinson, Stiff Little Fingers, the Buzzcocks and other more obscure stuff I got off the John Peel Show). I appear to be wearing a badge the size of a saucer, which I think is probably a Rock Against Racism badge, and also two small TRB badges. All this is to say that when I finally got into the Stones, about a year ago, I discovered that all the things I most loved about punk had been lifted note for note from the Stones. It was really musical theft.

     I've been reading up on the Stones and have read Keith's autobiography as well as Stanley Booth's and Robert Greenfield's great books about touring America with the Stones. And I've watched Gimme Shelter (a documentary film about Altamont) and also Performance, in which Mick stars with Anita Pallenberg (just couldn't see it as a 'modern classic' though). And I've gorged on the music. The film last night was an amalgamation of all of those elements, brilliantly edited together into a really powerful wave of imagery and sound. The amazing energy that the Stones unleashed in their fans was terrifying -- far more destructive than punk, really. It was completely anarchic and primal. I think the band themselves were frightened by their own power, but then they got on top of it and used it, distancing themselves from reality in various ways. If they hadn't, they probably would have gone insane or died, like Brian Jones. I absolutely love Mick Jagger, especially in his early incarnations. He personifies male beauty to me.

Monday, 15 October 2012


Peter Blake's watercolour of the Queen -- it looked like oil paint. Lovely work
I headed back into London again yesterday, to visit Frieze -- this time with the rest of the family, which made me much less prone to introspection (after my rather miserable post about my visit to the Sketchbook Project on Saturday, I felt guilty when, later, I found two email messages saying my book had been viewed -- I think these must have been when it was randomly picked off the shelves by the staff as it wasn't searchable. So at least it isn't lost, and I feel a bit pathetic for making such a fuss. Really grateful for the supportive messages from blogfriends -- thank you!). Now back to Frieze.
Frieze is a place where chaps can wear their colourful trousers without fear of ridicule.
The people are as interesting to look at as the artworks, often more so. There is beauty, intensity...
...and the flash of golden shoes.
I was going to write that you can't be a Situationist if you've got it on your t-shirt. Or, rather, that wearing the name on your t-shirt doesn't quite match up to being a member of Pussy Riot or tearing up cobblestones in Paris in '68. But having found this further explanation of Situationism -- "any method of making one or more individuals critically analyze their everyday life, and to recognize and pursue their true desires in their lives. The experimental direction of Situationist activity consists of setting up temporary environments that are favorable to the fulfillment of such desires" -- I decided that perhaps Frieze is just such a 'situation' since it's a temporary environment that provokes an intense desire in me to pull my finger out and try harder to get somewhere with my art. It's very hard not to be envious of the whole world of international gallerists, of the girls with their iPads and coloured tights sitting in the booths, the few anointed objects chosen for display (one booth had nothing but small pebbles on show -- I'm sure it costs thousands to take a stand here), the feeling that they are tolerating the plebs being let in by studiously ignoring them. What I wouldn't give to have my art up in one of those booths one day -- but I think it's about as likely to happen as an art gallery being built on the moon. This isn't (just) sour grapes, I honestly think you have to be part of the system, which starts with the art schools. I will have to become an Outsider Artist, but I don't think I'm mad enough. Yet.
Here's how to add value to charity shop glass...
I haven't included photos of very much of the art, even though you're allowed to take photos there. I'm not sure of the copyright situation. There was a lot of stuff I admired -- new work by Wilhelm Sasnal, a return (it seemed) to figurative painting (I liked Latvian artist Janis Avotins' blurry figures very much and Maureen Gallace's cool roses, also Jonas Wood's slightly Hockney-like Californian interiors).
Detail of Fiona Tan's wall of other people's photos (also below)
Zhang Huan's huge, exquisite work, 'Our Parents', was made using ash (on linen). I've included the photo of the two silly men posing in front of it to give a sense of the scale.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Sketchbooks and circles

I was really looking forward to my visit to London to see the sketchbooks on tour with the Brooklyn Sketchbook Project. In the event, it wasn't as satisfying as I'd hoped -- I don't want to come down too hard on the Project because I love the spirit of it as it comes across on their website, but in the flesh it didn't seem to work quite as well.
     I liked the Canada Water Library building, where the sketchbooks were on display. It felt as though the curving staircase might lead to heaven:
Lots of people arrived, as I did, shortly after the library opened at 11am, but the Sketchbook Project people weren't expecting to get started until 1pm. They very kindly let us go in and they handed out some handfuls of sketchbooks for us to look at whilst they got their systems up and running. This turned out to be the best bit of the experience, because all one wants to do is leaf through the sketchbooks more or less indiscriminately, enjoying the strong sense of connection to the sketchbook-creator that you get from holding their work in your hands. Some of the sketchbooks were lovely. I felt that the ones that developed a coherent idea worked best.
Then, after a while, the Project people gathered up all these loose sketchbooks and took them back behind their desk. We now had to queue up at one laptop to register for a library card and then move along to another laptop to get access to a particular sketchbook. This didn't work for me. First of all I thought I'd get my own sketchbook out, just to check that it was holding up (it has some loose elements in a little bag inside) and also, more importantly really, to 'reconnect' with it. I spent so much time on it and put a lot of personal stuff into it, and it was quite hard parting with it last year. Alas, my book couldn't be found and didn't come up on their search system. I was very sad about this, perhaps out of proportion to the actuality. I felt my book and its emotional content were adrift, lost. I had to try to get over that feeling quickly as it was disproportionate to the actual situation. I ordered up a different sketchbook to look at but they never called me up to get it. The system of ordering up a book to look at just didn't work in my view -- surely most people don't want to look at specific books but just to peruse as many different books as possible. There were thousands of books neatly shelved behind the desk, but you couldn't get at them. No wonder my book has only been looked at three times -- it's like a lucky dip where the prizes are grains of rice. I confess I got quite down while I was there -- there was such a strong contrast between the lovely promise of all those sketchbooks and the arid reality of queuing to ask to see just one random book at a time (or I think you could ask to see two at a time but I didn't see any!).
I went out of the library and felt better immediately. Kids were whizzing round on their bikes outside. I decided to go to the Barbican to see the photography exhibition. It showcases the work of twelve photographers who were working in the Sixties and Seventies. I liked William Eggleston's work the best.
While I was chawing through a bagel down in the Barbican foodhall, the skies darkened and it began to rain. The beautiful lights in the foodhall shone out.
Then I rushed to the ICA to see The Queen of Versailles, spotting a man taking a stroll along a crane on the way:
I recommend the film, a documentary about David and Jackie Siegel, multimillionaires in Florida who were building the biggest house in America when the 2008 crash pulled them up short. As a study of the emptiness of wealth, it was fascinating -- the scene where the family opened their Christmas presents was very saddening, not to mention the fate of the family's pet lizard.
     All in all, it wasn't the best day I've had in London (it didn't help that about a third of the entire Tube system was closed) but, as always, I tried to get as much out of it as possible. I like this rather Richter-like photo that I got by accident:
It was a day full of circles:
Canada Water tube station
Huge structure at the bottom of a building site in the City -- you can't see the scale of this. It was like the Coliseum.
Barbican fountains

Then it was time to draw a line under the day, catch the Tube and head home.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Private View

my pictures on someone else's wall!
This evening it was the private view for the Open Exhibition at Letchworth Arts Centre, and my family were kind enough to come with me. It's such a novelty to see my work up on walls that don't belong to me. There were my two pictures of celebrities in cars up on the wall. A quick check: yes, they got my name right on the labels!
     There was a great prize of a week's summer school at Sir John Soane's Museum, which I would have loved to win. I was shortlisted, which made me very happy, even if I didn't actually win the prize. The gentleman who made the announcement did call me 'John Housham' (then corrected himself) -- my kids are now calling me John, to their delight. Obviously this is to be an ongoing curse. First Mavis, now John. But I was very thrilled to get a mention at all.