Wednesday, 31 August 2011


After two days working with pliers, wire cutters and steel wire that was specifically designed to discourage close contact, I'm starting to wonder at what point this seemed like a good idea.

I  knew at the outset it was going to involve a certain amount of laceration but since the whole point was to pay my respects to men and boys who fought through forests of barbed wire whilst being shot at I could hardly make a fuss over a few scratches.

What I hadn't allowed for was the way it gets into your head.

Every time a length of wire coils round and snags my clothes, catches my gloves or bites into me it creates a curious sense of panic, a bit like claustrophobia.

Once it's got you, this stuff doesn't let go.

When it snags the tape and paper mannequin it tears it up like flesh, and there are parts of it that are now bloodstained from where it got the better of me.

Even the method of tying the strands together where they cross involves using two pairs of pliers and a circular coil of thin wire to stitch them together, the same way they sew up wounds in hospitals.

Having virtually finished the wire binding, I then have to cut through his legs to replace the wood and paper of his feet with reinforced concrete.
This will give him a firm base to stand on, and support the rest of the figure without it bending under its own weight.

Ok so far.

Sawing through the paper 'muscle' and on through the wooden 'bone'  feels uncomfortably like some bizarre field amputation.

I am now completely weirded out by the whole thing and beginning to wish I had never started it.

Knowing it's likely to rain I cover the now prone figure with a tarpaulin and give my hands a chance to recover.

Every time I glance out the window I can see it in the garden, looking like a dead body waiting to be collected.

The next project is going to have to be really really happy to balance this...  

Monday, 15 August 2011

Over The Top

Between 1914 and 1918 my grandmother collected every copy of the Bystander magazine for the humorous cartoons by Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather, a serving officer in the trenches of the First World War.
I still have them.
They were my first experience of comic illustration, and I believe they were in no small part responsible for me wanting to make pictures for a living.

However, there is also a dark side to them.

Humour and tragedy are close companions, and the idea of this chap being appointed as the official cartoonist to the British, and later American armies struck me as both brilliant and appalling.

How could you look for gags in a situation that was killing 3000 men a week?

Somehow he did, all in the name of keeping up morale.

Hats off all round, I say...

For as long as I can remember the whole story of The Great War has held a ghastly fascination for me, to the point where I wonder if it's all getting a touch obsessive and unhealthy.

For almost as long I've wanted to create something as what? - a tribute, memorial, personal show of respect, atonement?

Apart from a couple of exceptions, paintings of the subject just don't seem to work, maybe because photography has already produced so many iconic images.

Poetry is forever connected to the war poets themselves, and formal statues are so, well, static.

About four years ago I started on a lifesized figure made of barbed wire.

It began with a wooden skeleton  fleshed out with newspaper and tape to get the proportions and stance right.

This is then wrapped with the barbed wire, held together by clips where the wires cross.

It's taken this long partly because it's so damned painful to work on.
The wire snakes around and catches on everything, the clips wreck your fingers and just moving him results in bloodshed.
In a small way it seems appropriate.

When he is finished I shall burn him to get rid of the mannequin, and after that he's going on a journey.
Sometimes the only way to deal with a compulsion is to let it have it's head and go with it.

Either way, this is by far the hardest, most physically demanding and troubling thing I've ever tried to make and it's taken so long to make that I've grown accustomed to having him around.

Mind you, it doesn't half give people a jolt when they come across him unexpectedly...

More to follow...

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Art, tsk!

What do you think of when you hear the title 'Artist'?
Do you picture a free spirit, bravely defying convention to pursue their vision?
Someone who was not born to follow the normal pattern; someone who, by definition, is meant to challenge the rules that yolk the rest of mankind to the dungcart of mediocrity?
Why is it then, that most of the ones I've bumped into seem hell bent on turning their dreams into 'product' that gets handed over to self important shopkeepers who take 60% or more, which in turn puts the work out of the reach of vast numbers of people who might actually love what they've created?!

And the worst of it is these brilliant, capable souls are so conditioned to it they're actually grateful for the opportunity to earn bugger all and be exploited from here to wednesday.


I'm not mucking about here, these are actual quotes from really talented, hard working artists that I've listened to:
"I've never met a gallery that wasn't completely up it's own arse"

"The last five cheques bounced, but he's promised to sort it out soon"

"I didn't like to ask about the money, but I'm sure it'll be alright"


You're creative people, so think creatively.

You dream, you believe, you struggle, you achieve.

Now what?

Do you:

a. flog the results of your labours for a fraction of it's true worth, and accept that all that effort is then gone forever?
(rhetorical question, the answer is no no no no no - and.....NO)

b. find a way to make your work earn it's keep over and over again
(go on, have a guess at the answer....)

Ok, so by now you've gathered that I'm not going down that route.

Money where the mouth is time.

I'm going to make regular money from my paintings without paying anyone anything.

I'm not going to sell any of them. They are my collateral, my shopwindow and my advertisement.

Along the way I'm going to have a blast, build a following and best of all KEEP CONTROL OF THE WHOLE THING.

The difference is I'm not selling paintings, I'm selling me.

Today I made eight phonecalls to people who have never heard of me.

Five of them were interested in what I was offering, and I shall follow them up over the next few days along with as many other people I can get to press ear to plastic.

Watch this space...

Right, off to put on my lederhosen, a quick chorus of 'Tomorrow Belongs to Me' and cocoa in the bunker.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Hammer Time

Right, making progress now.

Spent the weekend getting stuck into painting and preparing for the launch of all this stuff onto an unsuspecting world.

More info soon, you have been warned....

Finally, finally getting into my stride with this one, so progress should now be reasonably swift.
It's so frustrating when I get stuck after an initial burst of "Wow! I can do this!' only to  stall like a dancing dad who's spotted his reflection in the glitterball.

All I can do is adjust the medallion, close the eyes, go for the White Man's Overbite and keep throwing the moves until it all comes right again.

That's why artists have to paint alone.

Very keen to get this one finished now to see what Ruth and her friends make of it.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011


Blimey, it's been a while...

Still, never mind, on we go...

Ruth lives across the road from me, and it's fair to say that she has a network of supportive, involved people that enjoy her company and keep a caring eye on her.

Ruth commands respect.

Ruth is one of the lucky ones.

We talk about art, drink tea and  make each other laugh.

She writes the time of future visits on her hand with a big black marker pen to remind herself, which makes  her look like a vandalised underpass from the wrists down.

Ruth has made me think about all the old, proud, smart people out there who get overlooked and disregarded.

People who get assessed, categorised and cared for in a way that would make me want to start fires and tunnel my way out.

It's not the system, or the relatives, or the carers, it's all of us who turn a blind eye and put our own into geriatric landfill sites that have more than a passing resemblance to orphanages.

Anyway, this is what I'm trying to make into a painting, which is proving to be really, really difficult.

Ruth says it's a privilege to have me paint her, but actually, it's the other way round.