Portrait of the Artist as a Failed Painter (2012) – 20×20 at Access Space, Sheffield, UK

It’s a long time since I painted. Probably 30 years. I did quite a lot in my youth, using oils, acrylics and also oil pastels. In fact, I’ve worked in most media, including video, audio, performance, sculpture, print, drawing and works on paper. Oh yes, and a whole bunch of digital stuff. My entry for the 2009 Access Space 20×20 exhibition was created on computer, printed on paper, stitched together and glued onto the 20 inch square board. It was a photomontage so couldn’t really be produced any other way. The effect was great but the object itself was unsatisfyingly bland. This time, I wanted to make something a bit more “real”. The design was again created on computer, but I decided to paint it onto the board to give it some texture and to add a bit more humour.

Easily said.

I had a brilliant idea (I like to think) of actually painting the monochrome design onto a glow-in-the-dark background. However, the spray paint I ordered just did not go on like I hoped (and yes I did follow the instructions), and was far too expensive for another coat. So, I abandoned the glow-paint, but on my second attempt the black acrylic paint I bought peeled off once I started taping over it, and the masking tape did not give a perfect enough edge either.

I should have known better, of course. If you want a high-quality finish there is no substitute for high-quality materials and a lot of experience of exactly how each medium behaves. All I had was a “brilliant” idea, a wing and a prayer. I’m not really a painter, and now I have the photographic evidence to prove it.

Portrait of the Artist as a Failed Painter (2012)

So, I decided to abandon paint for a more recycled approach, but I still wanted to avoid the print-and-stick approach. Stay tuned for details of the finished work, but in the meantime you can see it for real, along with a great many more 20x20s, at Access Space, Sheffield, UK. The exhibition is free and runs from 15 September – 17 November, with an opening preview event on Friday 14th September.

Access Space is a free, open-access digital media and arts lab in Sheffield, UK, and I am both a regular participant and official “Contributor” to their activities. You can also sign up to their Friends scheme here, to donate a small amount regularly.

Dr. Stranglehold and Mr. Pride or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Myself

Vanity is a strange love. I have made several videos of other artists at work but only just made one of myself. There are good reasons for this, of course, primarily that my work is mostly made on-screen and not very interesting to watch. But pride and prejudice come into it too. Many people do not like to be observed at work and I know why. We are afraid that our methods or competence will be judged unfavourably. Also, many people do not like their physical appearance, even if it is demonstrably appealing to others.

One major exception is Jean Marc Calvet whom I met and filmed last year at the Sheffield Doc/Fest.

He is a larger than life character that was happy to be filmed and could not have been more accommodating to me.

My retrospective project requires me to look at myself a lot, and it’s very revealing. I’ve already discovered two major themes in my work that I had never actually acknowledged, but are very apparent with some perspective. More about that soon.

Here are some stills from a timelapse shoot of me at work creating a new piece of art for the 20×20 exhibition at Access Space, Sheffield, UK. It’s hardly a flattering portrayal of an artist at work and I wonder when I got so bald and fat? I don’t feel that scruffy either, although I wouldn’t go out dressed like that. I will go as far as Key News, the convenience shop across the road, just visible through the window.

There will be an edit of the video and it’s quite entertaining to watch. The successful completion of the work is preceded by two complete failures. However, what you won’t see is my frustrated stomping around the flat looking for a craft knife. I must have bought a dozen over the years but I could not find a single one. I look quite methodical and productive in the video as timelapse capture irons out the um-ing and ah-ing and often doesn’t show up the mistakes. Believe me though, I don’t usually work in this way and my methods require some finessing.

The 20×20 show is an annual event at Access Space and opens with a preview on 14th September from 17.30. It attracts 50-plus artists in an open call, and the only restriction is that the work must be 20 inches square. I aways try to do something with a certain technical ambition, and although I’m delighted with my finished work, I am happy to reveal my failures too. Details to follow. Standby by for 20×20: The Disaster Movie

Hard Shoulder and The Soft Machine

Broken down on the road to nowhere, getting nowhere fast.
I’ll take the high road, you take the low road, I’ll get nowhere last.
Richard Bolam, 199-something

I would recommend a retrospective to anyone. Not just artists, everyone. A review of your work and life so far. I also recommend that you do it yourself, not just in the punk DIY sense, but because you can choose to leave out details that are of no interest to anyone, and events that you would rather not revisit.

Disingenuous maybe, but there’s plenty I read in “William Burroughs: El Hombre Invisible”, the biography by Barry Miles (1992), that I would rather not have known. As I recall one TV critic wrote about Magnus Magnusson’s series revealing the truth behind certain popular myths, “turning charming legend into boring fact” [citation needed].

I think it’s quite common for artists to quickly leave things behind and move onto their next project. Here is a CD of musc I made in 2000 under one of my many alter-egos, Hard Shoulder. It’s called “Take That and Shove It” after that seminal boy-band offering “Take That and Party” (1992) and is a milestone from my nihilistic period. Listening to it now, I still really like two of the tracks and would like to re-record them. For completeness I’ve published all four on Soundcloud and there is a PDF of the catalogue entry for it here. This touches on a time in my life I would rather not repeat, and there are details and events that will be forever suppressed. Writer Anthony Burgess (1917 – 1993) was infamous for getting details about his life incorrect in his two-volume autobiography [citation needed]. He claimed that it was more “accurate” to relate those events as he remembered them, not necessarily as they happened.

This 2008 Guardian article still refers to “A Clockwork Orange” (Stanley Kubrik, 1971) as still being banned but I’ve seen it several times on terrestrial TV in recent years and I bought the book years before that. I couldn’t believe my glassies, maybe it was written by some starry old veck.

The truth is overrated, memory is unreliable and some things are better left behind. The CD pictured here is no longer readable and I had to retrieve the music from an old archive. However, something inside required me to scan the actual CD, not just any CD. I’m happy to play fast and loose with some things, but not everything.

“For a creative writer possession of the “truth” is less important than emotional sincerity.” George Orwell (1903 – 1950)

A chip(board) off the old Bloc

The flyer from the 200sqr show at Bloc Projects in 2002.

It’s hard to believe that Bloc Studios / Bloc Projects has been going for 10 years. Bloc existed as artists’ studios elsewhere before, but it was the move to Granton Works, Sheffield, UK that transformed it into one of the most interesting artists’ communities in the country. I had a studio for a while but gave it up as I did not use it enough, but I am now an Associate Member.

Information about renting studios is here, and Associate Membership here.

Below is a piece of work I made for the first group show there  in 2002, where Richard Bartle, the prime mover behind the whole project, issued everyone with a piece of chipboard 200mm x 200mm, and that was our starting point. It’s called “ChipBoard™” and there is more information about my work in this PDF and Issue 03 of Retrospective, featuring this work, can be  viewed and/or downloaded here.

More information about this show, Bloc Studios and Bloc Projects is here: