Thursday, November 26, 2009

Something for the Weekend

Memory & Migration was an event ..

There were evolving narratives, continually flickering images, static membranes and interactive drawing boards ..

Artists as diverse as Saira Lloyd, Chris Lewis-Jones, Simon Withers, Yelena Popova, Gareth Jones and others installed works for the topical and cohesive theme ..

Oh .. and there was me performing a new piece written especially for the happening ..

The audience enjoyed fine art work around every corner .. themselves a wonderfully receptive group who brought their own memories in interpretation of the performance ..

This weekend is special in many ways .. but here’s a couple other ideas too .. As part of the Farrago Festival of Words 2009, old acquaintance John Paul O'Neil will be hosting the Annual National Poetry Slam - at which I shall be performing, luvvies ..

I was a contestant in their very first Poetry Slam in 1994 along with two others – a poetry team! Interestingly, although I have been a judge, I have not entered a Slam since .. You'll love the garage, house, beatbox, rap, hip-hop and rhyme, the jazz and the soul its just like the last one: a guaranteed good time !

Don’t forget .. if you can’t make it to London, Banks’ Mills in Derby is holding their pre-holidays Open Weekend ..

A chance to peruse the works of dozens of great artists, from fine painters and sculptors to poets and photographers, alongside a selection of talent from web designers to craft makers ..

And of course, don’t forget to watch for Cruiser : Memory and Migration 2 at Deda in Derby January 24th a collection of work forming the basis of the Nottingham show will be exhibited and I will perform Memory Man at the preview ..

.. you can find out more about Cruiser and Artists Travelling Hopefully at :

Or, by looking here ..

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Last month’s Leicester WORD! was an electrifying poetry-shock live session at the now usual spot in the Y Theatre .. I performed my nearly infamous Pop Star piece .. oh, the requests keep rolling in ..

Steve Tasane of Apples and Snakes Poetry Organisation based in London stopped up for a chat and to perform an eclectic piece of his own ..

There was video .. music .. contests with prizes .. and even little birthday cakes for everyone, to mark the first anniversary of the move to the Y ..

Hosted by one of the most daring and vital women in the East Midlands, Lydia Towsey ..
Photo by Nick Rawle.

WORD! takes place on the first Tuesday evening of every month ..

It’s jazzy and soulful and rock
With country in places
You’ll love the garage burning down the house
The rap the beat box and hip hopping rhyme
'cause every Leicester WORD!
Is a guaranteed good time

Monday, October 12, 2009

Cruiser - Memory & Migration

Here's the poster for the upcoming 'Cruiser' exhibition at Old Knows Studios in Nottingham .. A host of great artists and some fabulous new ideas for a terrific new concept .. All good .. All happening .. All the news .. All be there .. I will be performing a specially written piece, and there will be goodies on hand ..

And .. a preview of the 'Cruiser' concept ..

Hope to see you - Saturday, October 24th, 1-4pm .. 3rd floor - Old Knows Factory Studios, St Anne Hill Road, Nottingham NG3 4GP ..

But if for some reason you can't make it to the preview you can still drop in to see the visual art pieces and by appointment, talk to the artists .. Thanks .. Cruiser 7 ..

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Writing on the Walsall

It has been another busy summer of exhibitions and shows in the Midlands, with the New Art Gallery, Walsall, topping the list of brilliant spaces to present work by up and coming talent like Ania Bas and Karen Tam and firmly established artists such as Andy Warhol, Helen Chadwick and Damien Hirst ..

A hidden gem in the crowded outskirts of Birmingham, this structure towers above the town at the top of the pedestrianised shopping district ..

This bronze hand and saddle sculpture points the way up the hill to the where the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse painting of Gordon Cheung currently fills a wall of the third floor main exhibition hall ..

As the catalogue states:

Gordon Cheung "creates hallucinogenic visions inspired by a wide range of sources including science fiction, the literature of authors like J G Ballard and Philip K Dick, 18th century romantic painting, cartoons and current affairs. Uniquely, he prepares his canvases using a collage of stock listings from the Financial Times, which he regards as a metaphor for the data-saturated and wealth-obsessed era in which we live. These compelling works reflect on such contemporary issues as the war on terror, religion, economics, globalisation, the digital age and technology."

Unfortunately, these phone photos don’t do justice to the magnificent scale or detail of the work .. See the link to Gordon's site on this page ..

The series of laser-etched wood carvings based on themes in the “Revelation of St John the Divine” are stunning in their intricacy and clarity of archetypal imagery as though lifted from medieval Biblical plates or the engravings of William Blake ..

This detail shows the ‘Whore of Babylon’ riding ‘The Beast’ and pouring the cup of wrath on the nations .. look closely at all the pictures and you can see the Financial Times stock listings in the background – linking these images and artist’s interpretations of the “end of the world” to the disaster of 9/11 and the on-going credit crisis ..

Additionally, there is a video of Cheung’s apparent obsession with rodeo riders and several other massive paintings that feature the recurring images of stags, bears and Scooby Doo-style ghosts, including a couple large works with the often repeated theme of a palm tree and rainbow (see my own piece The Sun Between Two Palms on the right of this page for a similar thematic design) ..

A series of Cheung’s portraits based on iconographic photos of famous billionaires and dead artists arranged in a grid along one wall reminded me of the George Michael song lyric, “.. if Jesus Christ is alive and well, then how come John Lennon and Elvis are dead ..” ..

Another interesting display at the New Gallery through this autumn is by the installation artist Neil Rock .. his large twisted silicone splatters are reminiscent of the gooey creatures in sci-fi films like ‘Alien’ and ‘The Thing’ ..

This is Rock’s first major solo exhibition in a UK public gallery and features all new work, including the eye-catching turquiose and white pigmented ‘Fanestra’ ..

A minor but well presented exhibition of work by Derby University 2nd year students at the financially troubled Friar Gate Studios was an excellent start to the season .. Ushered through the students’ work by Pride Gallery curator Carol Ann Harries-Wood (herself a student at the university), I was fascinated and impressed by the level of work on show, and her knowledge of each piece ..

And, here’s a little reminder of what was going on last year at this time .. the Cyril Seaton touring show at the Old Gaol in Nottingham .. me with Gareth and Simon - fellow Cruisers I will be exhibiting with at the upcoming 'Memory, Identity and Migration' show at Old Knows Studio ..

Hopefully, I will have some of my own more recent work to show here soon .. keep dropping back, or click the RSS feed to stay in touch .. and Thanks for visiting my Blog ..

In Conversation: Gordon Cheung 2:00pm - 3:00pm Saturday 3 October
Neal Rock: 7 August - 1 November 2009

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Cold Memories

A few months ago I was invited to submit a piece of work for a small exhibition at the Old Knows Studios in Nottingham entitled ‘Cold War’. A group of local artists were invited to interpret the theme loosely and produce something that collectively would make a statement toward the randomly selected title of title of the show. Here’s what I thought of and exhibited:

It is a painting of a list of names, stencilled as though in newspaper typeface, of people assassinated for their beliefs. I chose this medium to suggest the ‘cold’ blunt reality of death in the face of terror and the systematically organised killing of people who attempt to make a difference in this world .. and to make reference to the way these events are reported.

Through the media and textual analysis we develop an apathetic sense of indifference, or a resigned acceptance of what then become apparently inconsequential acts of violence too often repeated, eventually losing their individual significance .. I hoped this piece would highlight the considerable number of recognizably named people whose lives have been taken for having spoken out against the ‘powers that be’ regardless of personal political persuasion ..

I created the second piece using the same method, but in seven glorious colours, to suggest a hopeful acknowledgement of a shared vision – a movement for improvement in people’s lives, a dream that one-day peace, love and understanding might envelop the world like a rainbow after the storm ..

There is war against terror and a war against those who would provoke and promote that terror, but there is also hope that eventually justice will be done .. however, mainly war is always cold, like the feel of death .. hence, a ‘Cold War’.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Last of the Sabbatical Vine

Edinburgh in the spring is for lovers .. and lovers of all things cultural ..

Edinburgh is a city of fantasy and creativity, but it never forgets itself – it is built on solid foundations; a history of artists and pioneers, writers and warriors, architects and financiers who brought life to the Scottish dream; a vision of hope rising in the surreal depictions of past revelations of mystical charm and a self-imposed identity of strict determination ..

There are literally dozens of galleries both large and small scattered throughout this picturesque city .. On nearly every corner and down every alley there are renovations taking place to reinvigorate the old world charm of Edinburgh city centre, making fashionable the archaic crumbling facades, providing a focal point for the energy and enthusiasm of an influx of new artists amongst the often surprising and sweeping vistas ..

The National Gallery Complex houses a collection of Scottish masterpieces by the likes of Raeburn and Wilkie, as well as a vast archive of work from artists such as: Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt, Monet and Van Gogh .. The international exhibition currently showing is a comprehensive selection of work from JMW Turner’s Italian paintings ..

Designed as several buildings in Grecian style with Doric and Corinthian columns rising above a severe modernist promenade of restaurants and boutiques, the museums are set against a backdrop of parkland at the base of the ancient stone walls of Edinburgh Castle ..

Traversing The Royal Mile, it’s practically impossible to avoid the melodic wail of bagpipes seemingly spaced at regular intervals .. the high-pitched harmonics pierce the ears along every bustling avenue, pipers squeezing out an identical repertoire of ‘Scotland the Brave’ and ‘A Scottish Soldier’ to the massed tourists who clamber for photos of the men in traditional kilted Highland dress .. No, I didn’t ask what he was wearing under it!

I made my way through the crowded thoroughfare of Princes Street, past hordes of ice cream lovers licking scoops of tutti frutti in the sweltering sunshine, and found an oasis of calm meandering the peaceful scenic river walk toward the Dean Gallery and their outstanding collection of Dada and Surrealist works ..

After a perusal of paintings by 4 post-war Scottish artists, including John Bellany and Wilhemena Barns-Graham, I wandered the grounds and surveyed the sculptures of Sir Eduardo Paolozzi .. Here’s me with my old friend, his bronze Master of the Universe ..

Across the street is the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art; another magnificent Greek-columned portico temple of art .. Although there was a terrific exhibition of work by Vija Celmins, Andy Warhol and others, I specifically made this journey to view the extensive display of works by Damien Hirst, and was not disappointed ..

The butterfly paintings were awe-inspiring; the dead insects captured in glorious colour against backgrounds of glossy black and flat white .. the pharmaceutical signage of pills and potions printed on back-lit plexiglass, one of his large circular paintings, called a 'tonto', created by dripping paint onto the canvas while it rotated on a spinning wheel – much like a child’s plaything, and of course Away From the Flock, one of the early “animals in formaldehyde” pieces which helped establish Hirst’s reputation as a revolutionary and radical artist whose themes deal with death and the imagination of God ..

It isn’t difficult to imagine that the great creator had a hand in building this fine city, and although the modern street plan was laid out hundreds of years ago there are many dynamic and contemporaneous features that continue to add vibrancy and a sense of growth to this marvellous metropolis ..

Stopping into the Carlton Ritz I quaffed a cocktail and headed out into the gloaming for an evening of musical mayhem at The Jazz Bar – one of my favourite regular haunts in this city of spirits .. or should that be, this spirited city? ..

The sun hasn’t yet set on this empire of imagination .. it still resonates in the theatres and galleries, from the romantic settings shared by loving couples beneath the towering Scott Monument to forceful orators in the halls of the Scottish Assembly, from jugglers and tricksters tempting laughter and remarkable feats of derring-do on the labyrinthine streets to the earthy wooden-floored pubs and chic cosmopolitan shopping arcades ..

In my own time I will return again to this eternal city, knowing that Edinburgh will continue to hold a special sense of wonder for me and its many visitors from all corners of the globe.

Friday, April 17, 2009

London Lives

London is teeming with culture, and last week I had the pleasure of accompanying a special friend to peruse the galleries .. share a cappuccino in a lovely street cafe ..stroll along the Embankment and down Tooley Street past the old dungeon .. spend a bit of time carousing around the slowly revolving Millennium Wheel and past the reproduction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre ..

Yes, I played the visiting tourist in the capital city I lived in for 6 years through the 90s .. It was a time of personal growth and discovery – attending university, writing and honing my performance poetry skills on the Soho to Deptford circuit, regularly attending gigs at the 100 Club and dancing to Latin beats in Camden Lock .. I loved my life in London during those heady days of Britpop, YBAs and endless tube delays ..

The brief layover this past week included sipping wine on top of Tate Modern after admiring Rodin’s ‘Kiss’ and visiting the National Portrait Gallery to view the Gerhard Richter exhibition .. It was a joy to return for this extraordinary, yet ultimately bland collection of paintings .. including this excellent small portrait of the artist’s daughter ‘Ella’ ..

According to the NPG website introduction, Richter has said, “I don't think the painter need either see or know the sitter. A portrait must not express anything of the sitter's 'soul', essence or character. Nor must a painter 'see' a sitter in any specific, personal way” Intentionally blurring the image, Richter asserts no new idea and does not distract the viewer by imposing meaning on his subject. He avoids explanation and reason – leaving us with a subject and object based on formless feature, forcing the viewer into an investigation of elements of style and an examination of the relationship between photograph as evidence and painting as composition and content ..

In the painting “Helga Matura with her FiancĂ©” (below) we see a stark contrast between the woman and the man in the painting .. she appears composed, adult and confident, he presents as a young and reticent child, almost cowering beneath the feminine stature of his bride-to-be .. but, what does this tell us about the people in the painting – or of the photograph which was the source object? Is it all a misleading experiment in vague imagery designed to create tension and unease? We don’t know these people – and we know no more about them after seeing the painting ..

This ‘imprecise representation’ denies the spectator an involvement with the image. This distance between subject and observer creates a space where any interpretation of meaning is possible, yet ideas and narratives are impossible to validate. It is that very expression of intent Richter wants to escape .. As he was quoted as saying in The Independent, 2nd March 2009, "The intention: to invent nothing – no idea, no composition, no object, no form – and to receive everything: composition, object, form, idea... By painting from photographs I was relieved of the need to choose or construct a subject."

A particular subject chosen especially for their public persona is revealed in this painting of Gilbert and George from 1975. Interestingly, one of the most precise figures of his early work in this show. This work is more definable and attempts to juxtapose the identities of the individuals with their collaborative work as one creative entity. It works because we know the subjects, and we can understand the point, or meaning of the representation ..

That said, I would rather have been seeing a Gilbert and George exhibit .. Richter left me disinterested and uninvolved. His work is vague and nondescript with its fashionable apathetic mannerism. The portraits intentionally say little about their subjects, and that lack of communication of ideas and purpose creates nothing new for the audience. Technically, there are many better painters, and his disengagement with meaning flies in the face of human instinct and depth of thought ..

I hope to return to this fabulous city soon – for poetry and dinner with old friends .. but for now, it’s back to Scotland and another capital that awaits ..

photos of Richter paintings: NPG, London

Friday, March 20, 2009

Signs, Shrines, Towers and Tributes

As mere mortals occupying a brief moment in the history of the earth, collectively and individually we search for significance in the shapes of the natural world about us ..

Symbols and signs that exhibit distinct geometric patterns, whether real or imagined, are a necessary part of our interpretation of revelation and social construction .. In the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, this ancient stone shares etchings that I use in my own work - yes, I designed this piece long before I saw the rough-hewn Pictish rock ..

Leaving our mark and creating relevance from observed forms imposes our thoughts and dreams of permanence on this transitory existence ..

The Lionesque shape that is Arthur’s Seat has inspired many artists to draw on this familiar form to suggest a strong, brave warrior trait in the ‘Scottish character’ .. Yes, possibly an out-moded way of defining identity, but most people still assign specific stereotypical traits to ‘national character’ ..

In fact the ‘national character’ is exactly that – a politically reinforced sense of shared attributes that artificially bind a disparate group of people to develop allegiance to a creed ..

Ever since Ruth Benedict and other anthropologists approached this area of study for the US military during WW2 .. anthropology suffered a setback in universal acceptance of objectivity and the research into shared traits was denigrated as potentially racist and presumptive ..
.. however, we all recognise certain ‘home truths’ in regional culture, and exploit those similarities brought about by collective history to maintain links with the past ..

We design crests and shields to commemorate battles and other historical events .. we sculpt statues to honour heroic figures and manufacture flags to symbolise unified territories while perpetuating and propagating knowledge of a cohesive identity .. I carry this particular clan crest on my key ring – the family motto in Latin “pro libertate” translates as ‘for freedom’, or ‘liberty’ .. and has always been a significant feature of my own personality ..

We create headstones as burial markers to acknowledge the presence of a previous life and give notice that life has a beginning and a definite ending .. like this gravestone that carries an inscription for my grandmother and grandad who now occupy the same space high on a hill in the largest municipal cemetery in the UK .. I found it interesting that the woman who maintained the records was chilled by the thought of me driving to the furthest boundaries of the burial park at dusk - to wander amongst so many dead ancestors as the gloaming approached .. I told her I was only going to visit my gran ..

We build tombs to stand for all time as recognition of the importance of remembrance, giving weight to shape in a hopeful gesture of the connectedness of eternity, and we pass along these memories in the vain hope that succeeding generations will consider our lives as having had some value ..

On 11th September 1297, the Scots under the command of William ‘Guardian of Scotland’ Wallace, defeated the English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge .. helping to shape the destiny of this land, instilling a sense of loyalty and character into tribal factions, and giving reason to others to memorialise and celebrate his life ..

Thomas Rochead designed the National Monument to William Wallace at Abbey Craig in the Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire in 1861 .. this magnificent and unique Victorian Gothic sandstone structure is over 220 feet high .. needless to say the view from the ‘crown’ is one of the finest in the world .. you can see the likeness of Wallace sculpted by DW Stevenson on the corner ..

On November 30th (St Andrew’s day) 1893, a replica bronze by Stevenson of his statue of the great liberationist was presented to the city of Baltimore by William Wallace Spence .. I took my dad to see it when he visited Maryland .. the iconic image, 17 feet tall excluding pedestal, was placed on a hill overlooking the lake in Druid Park ..

One of the greatest and most symbolic of natural phenomena, a signifier of death and rebirth – a covenant of new beginnings and hope, can frequently be witnessed in ‘God’s Own Country’ ..

I captured this exemplar rainbow recently, over the town of Greenock in the west of Scotland, as the morning mist lifted to reveal a dark past creeping from the shadows with the promise of a brighter future .. a history and culture I share, and a dream I look forward to helping make real ..