Friday 29 July 2011

The great odds-and-sods drawer of life

In the manner of some deeply personal confession, I am about to reveal to you the contents of one of my drawers…

Well, at least this was what was in the very bottom once I’d removed several layers of similarly random objects. 

For some reason I think it makes quite an interesting image.  It’s one of those drawers, you know, the type we all have - the one with no name.  Perhaps it’s in the kitchen, or maybe in a study or spare room.  In an effort to label it here I’ll call it the great odds-and-sods drawer, into which go all those things that just don’t fit in anywhere else but which, for reasons not entirely understood, have been kept for years.

Amongst other things, you will find here:

- One cork from a celebratory bottle of champagne (I think someone once told me it was good luck to hang onto them.  But surely life is not long enough, nor is the drawer deep enough, to keep the cork from every bottle we’ve ever popped?)
- A tiny purse (only big enough to hold two 2 pence pieces, so pretty useless for non-Liliputians)
- Blunt scissors (file alongside chocolate teapots)
- The squeegee from a screen printing kit (the most important bit of the kit, the screen, is nowhere to be found.  I’ve no ambition to be a window-cleaner, so why was this kept?)
- One spare shower head (doesn’t fit…)
- Magnifying glass (I love this and use it frequently so it really shouldn’t be in here)
- Enough hair to stuff a small toy (but how do hairs get into a drawer? What’s more, they’re the wrong colour - whose are they?)
- Half a candle (that long white thing at the back is not a sex toy, just in case you were wondering.)

So I’ve moved things around, bagged them up and boxed like with like but there’s still a requirement for a specific container labelled ‘weird homeless things’ to house the strange piece of plumbing, curly wire and peculiar unidentifiable objects.  At the same time I know that if we ever do need one of these items,  I’d forget we had it or where it was and go out and get another one anyway.  So that renders the drawer pretty much useless…

It could make quite a good art installation, though.  There’s something about the juxtaposition of the unconnected inanimate objects, don’t you think..?

Monday 25 July 2011

A short commercial break

Two things that have been around for a long time:  Rice Krispies and the Rolling Stones...

Sunday 24 July 2011

Bear faced cheek

If you were to look in through the window of my shedio* at various times during the last few years when I’m at work, you might seriously wonder what I’m doing in there.

I’m only ever there alone but you may catch me smiling, frowning, grinning inanely, looking bewildered, sad, angry, surprised… even scared.  No, I don’t have an imaginary friend and as far as I’m aware the shedio is not haunted.  Nor am I listening to some annoying radio show inducing the pulling of faces, or reacting to the sight of a large spider I’d inadvertently squashed under my paint box.  I just find there’s only one way to draw a good facial expression that conveys an emotion, and that is to try it out myself. 

Something I haven’t written about on here before is that in the last few years I’ve been illustrating children’s picture books. The subject could easily inspire a whole blog of its own so I won’t go on about that specifically, but nailing a facial expression is something that applies to so much art and illustration generally anyway.  One interesting thing about working in children’s books is that animals are frequently used as main characters, so you need to transfer all those human facial nuances to an imagined creature as well, and really think about the common elements you can use.  Body language is a key thing too, but the face is where the feeling or temperament you want to express is somehow crystalised.  In the books I’ve illustrated there is a strong focus on conveying mood and emotion.  I’ve only one dimension and a paintbrush stroke to work with, but it’s the curve of a mouth and the positioning of an eyebrow that becomes all important and requires a surprising amount of consideration (plus a bit of personal modelling).

Anyway I was just revisiting some paintings of this recent character and as I looked at his face I realised I had pulled every one of those expressions alone in my shedio. It must have been ridiculous, and maybe rather worrying, to witness.   Aside from the fact that I’m not a hairy bear (thanks to some strategic epilation) I probably looked pretty much like him just prior to drawing all these poses.

all images copyright C

* shedio: shed converted into studio

Sunday 17 July 2011

Beautiful books

Here at Sun Dried Sparrows Towers, ‘Operation De-clutter’ is underway.  It seems as if every available flat surface has been used up to put things on and the floor is now fast becoming a storage space, to the point where I'm starting to forget what colour the carpet is, or if we even have one….   So the time has come to have a big sort out of all the things that have accumulated in this tiny house over the last few years and to make more room for ourselves.

As well as being a practical necessity, I find it very therapeutic to get rid of excessive clutter, but an added bonus is that I realise how much I value the things I decide to keep.  Amongst these are my favourite beautiful books.

And one of these is ‘City Of Spades’ by Colin MacInnes, which now joins its bookshelf companions, ‘Absolute Beginners’ and ‘Mr Love and Justice’.  I was so pleased and grateful to have been given this recently.  As I’ve only just started reading it I can’t provide a full review yet, but it already earns its place amongst a select few – the  lovely, special, old paperbacks that I value for so much more than just their content.  Like the other two in the series (which I’ve written about previously on here) it’s a 1964 edition Penguin with a classic orange spine and a Peter Blake cover illustration.  Its pages are tanned and creased, its cover a little bent at the corners, the bottom of its spine worn from all the times it has no doubt been removed from and then returned to various book shelves.  Who knows how many homes it has had, how many thumbs have flicked through its pages, how much it has been loved and discussed, how many people it has perhaps inspired or influenced, how many emotions it has charged?   I’ll never know.  I can only imagine.  Perhaps that’s part of the appeal.

These beautiful, characterful books are travelling no further.  They’re staying here now, where they can join me in the remaining chapters of my own life.

Wednesday 13 July 2011

1977 and all that

Thirty-four years ago (well, almost), on July 16th 1977, Tommy Vance introduced his show on Capital Radio with these words:

“The following programme is dedicated to the belief that there’s always two sides to a story.  All the music that you will hear has been chosen by Johnny Rotten and is from his personal collection.”

The show was entitled, ‘The Johnny Rotten Show: The Punk and his Music’ and, in that respect it did what it said on the tin, but if anybody was expecting to hear an hour and a half of New York Dolls, Stooges and Ramones they were going to be surprised.  It debunked the myth that people in bands only listen to the type of music that they play themselves, or that they had ever been into anything very different from their own niche before they found it.  Certainly, from my limited knowledge of John Lydon at that time through articles in the music press which only covered the obvious angles, I would never have guessed that he might choose Tim Buckley’s ‘Sweet Surrender’ as the first song to be played here.

From then on, his selection continued to intrigue.  The next track was ‘Life Is Just Beginning’ by the Creation.  I don’t think anyone really cared about these mod/psychsters or their ilk in the mid-70s; it was too soon to look back and value them retrospectively, too late to still be into them.  But hearing them in this context they could be appreciated simply on their own merits.  It wasn’t widely known at the time but the Pistols also used to play ‘Through My Eyes’, the B-side of this Creation single, during their early rehearsals.

When asked by Tommy Vance if there was one record above all others that gave him any musical influences, John’s reply was, “Oh god, no!  None at all!  I couldn’t tell you anything like that.  I’ve liked music since the first day I began living.  I just like all music.”    The subsequent choices confirmed his eclectic tastes: Bobby Byrd, Neil Young, Captain Beefheart, Kevin Coyne, Augustus Pablo, Nico, Third Ear Band, Peter Tosh, John Cale, Can, David Bowie, Culture and even Gary Glitter (amongst others). 

The interview between tracks was revealing too.  I don’t think anybody would question the fact now that Lydon is highly articulate and intelligent, but back then the idea promoted by the tabloids was that all punks were yobs whose only noteworthy utterances were of the profane variety.   Here he spoke of his dismay at the fact that, even then, punk was becoming boring:  “…you can predict what their next song is gonna be, and as soon as they start up you can sing along with the words.  Without ever hearing it before, which ain’t so funny.  That’s a real bad night out and you do feel cheated… there should be loads of different things.”

This was the first time I had any idea that somebody at the core of a movement which meant so much to me could actually feel that way about it.  It shattered my preconceptions that somehow you have to have a kind of blind loyalty to any one thing just because it’s what people associate you with.  I realise now what a healthy attitude that is, that there need not be any limits, particularly self-imposed ones.  It was a bit of a shock at the time though – I had never before even heard of half the stuff he played and I wasn’t sure if it was ok to like it – but in the case of most of his choices (albeit not all) I just did.  And you can’t kid yourself about what about you do or don’t like.

So on that note I’ll wrap this up and follow John’s suggestion from that radio interview: “Just play the records.  They’ll speak for themselves.  That’s my idea of fun…”

I hope you enjoy this very small and diverse selection from his choice.

Thursday 7 July 2011

Dem bones...

The other day I mentioned to someone that, when we were children, my older sister had a pickled bat in her bedroom.  Now I know that sounds totally wacky out of context but, for my teenage sibling who excelled at Biology, the obvious thing to do with a dead (but otherwise perfect) pipistrelle that had been found in the garden was to preserve it in formaldehyde and keep it in a jam-jar in her room.  It then formed part of a display that would have been at home in any scientific laboratory or natural history museum. If my memory serves me well the pickled numbers included a fish eye and a chicken’s foot, which were given space alongside various dried butterflies, a sheep’s skull and a tank full of (thankfully alive) African aquatic toads.  It may sound like something out of the set of a horror B movie or even some strange herbal medicine emporium but as she was my big sis it seemed normal to me, and nurtured a keen early interest in all things natural.

Well, if only I had realised the value of drawing such things from life then rather than just drawing characters from my imagination, I could have sneaked into her room and filled a sketchbook with studies of these fascinating objects too.  But I think perhaps it did spark a rather subtle fascination for bones.  Now, I’ve no desire to see or find any human bones, although I did like looking at the repro human skeleton we had hanging up in the art-room at school, but I do rather like it when I’ve been digging in the garden and come across a tiny bone from a small rodent or perhaps a bird.  They are so fragile and yet so strong, so insubstantial looking and yet so robust.  When you look at a bird’s skull, a casing so fine that it seems more delicate even than eggshell and the connecting bones as thin as a thread of cotton, it is a wonder that the bird itself could ever have been so strong and so unbreakable to get through its life at all. 

It’s with some embarrassment that I recall using bones to make my own jewellery.  It seemed right at the time – listening to music that was part tribal, part goth (Southern Death Cult being favourite) – to accessorise with perhaps strange ancient or ethnic objects, especially anything that could be found for free.  So, my mum boiled up some chicken bones from a roast dinner, and a friend from college brought in some of his dog’s old teeth, and I strung them together with some wooden beads.  This is a drawing I did at the time of the necklace I wore daily (usually teamed up with some earrings I’d made from the smaller bones).

And here are a couple of birds’ skulls that I found in recent years.  Proof that my fascination with natural history has remained is evident in the fact that I felt compelled to keep them (although not in my bedroom).   I think the small one is from a goldfinch and the larger one from a starling.  Whilst I would always prefer to see these wonderful birds alive and well in my garden every day, I sometimes look at these skulls just to remind myself of how amazing these delicate little creatures are underneath their beautiful feathers.  And if I were ever to find a dead bat in the garden, I might just be tempted to pickle it as well.

Saturday 2 July 2011

Younger than yesterday

(Yes, my dad is wearing socks with sandals...)

I never thought I’d be able to say that I have anything in common with Lindsay Lohan but it turns out that there is just one thing.  And it’s today!

Birthdays are inclined to make you think about the ageing process and – as you can see - this one is no exception, but the word ‘ageing’ has such negative connotations and I really want to say something positive about it.  It’s a shame that modern western society seems to have a bit of a downer on getting old.  It’s brilliant to be young, oh yeah, and I’m very happy for those who still are.  But that doesn’t mean that it’s therefore bad not to be!  Many ancient cultures encouraged an attitude of pride towards being an ‘elder’, and perhaps some indigenous groups still do.  Sometimes I look around at much older people and feel myself almost automatically discounting them – it’s awful and I don’t mean to but I assume it’s just the way we’re programmed to think – then I remind myself of all the folks who have done (or are still doing) amazing, inspiring things and who are now, ahem, getting on a bit.  You know, like David Bowie, who’s now 64, Peter Blake, just turned 79 - or Honor Blackman at a youthful 85 and Debbie Harry, who was 66 yesterday.  Life will always have shitty bits in it so why not welcome a time of maturity when you can (hopefully) let go of at least some of your angst – all that obsessing about what people think of you and who said what to whom and a preoccupation with trying to look like somebody else’s idea of ‘perfect’…  It’s SO nice when all that goes.  I really don’t want to soap-box here but I’m sure you know what I mean.

I admit that it does seem a little easier these days at least for some to still be considered cool  into older age.  Those in their forties, fifties and sixties onwards have already established a legacy of great rock’n’roll and art, for instance, which is lapped up and, happily, willingly acknowledged by subsequent generations of teenagers.  I think that is something which has only emerged in the last few decades as it wasn’t so long ago that Alex Harvey was described in a music paper, with some degree of wonder, as “.. still rocking at forty!”  Yeah, their exclamation mark.  I don’t know about you, but forty seems like no real age to me and the idea that somebody could still be rocking at it (and not in a rocking chair, wearing slippers and sipping cocoa) is not exactly headline material in my books. 

Anyway…. whilst I might often crave firmer flesh, more energy and fewer responsibilities, and wish myself back to a day when every time I bent down I didn’t let out an involuntary grunt (you wondered what I was going to say then, didn’t you?), when it comes down to it I think I really quite like being this age.  I feel like I know who I am a little more clearly now.  Besides, if I’d been any younger in 1978 I’d never have been allowed into that Siouxsie & the Banshees gig….

Of course if I still feel the same way in ten years’ time I’ll let you know.

Meanwhile, here’s a brilliant single from 1975 (those chords, that voice!).  A great film I'd originally included here is no longer available from Youtube so it's just the audio version now.  By the way, Peter Hammill will be 63 this year…

 Rikki Nadir (aka Peter Hammill): Birthday Special (1975)

Friday 1 July 2011

Addendum: Hysteria in the making

If you’ve just read my last post ‘The first gig you ever went to…?’ then you may understand my excitement at having been sent a scan of the actual editorial piece from the local paper that I referred to.  HUGE thanks to good friend Pete (to whom I would willingly award my home-made Jam badge if only I still had it) for unearthing a photocopy of this from all those years ago.  I never thought I’d see it again and I’m glad my memory hadn’t distorted it too much!

I don’t need to add any more – this just says it all.  Click on it and enlarge to get the full effect!

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