Its come welling
In the back place
A colour of promise
A scent of anticipation
As our senses tighten
Against the long stretch
Of tomorrows winter.
It was a privilege and a pleasure to be one of the five artists asked to speak about their artwork at the Tullie House museum in Carlisle today. The invite came as a result of having a painting in the Outside In north-west region exhibition currently showing there. The exhibition itself is stunning with the works on show brimful of life, vibrancy and a honesty at times perhaps lacking in the mainstream art world. The painting of mine on show isn’t the one above but the exhibition is on until May if you can get along!
I was down at the local timber yard the other week getting some fence posts. Before leaving, I asked the lady who runs the outfit whether she had any spare offcuts for firewood. She directed me to a place around the corner where a number of sacks laden with timber pieces lay sadly propped. She said I could take one of those if I liked. They were just waste anyway. So off I went with posts and a bag full of whatever. Later I was chopping some of the wood up for kindling when, at the bottom of this sack, lay five blocks of pine. They had obviously been chopped off as waste from a job, and discarded to be burnt. These were/are lovely bits of wood, rich in grain and colour. I lay them out and over the next few days contemplated, albeit not too consciously what I could do with them. I picked them up, felt them, looked at them, arranged them in various configurations and decided that I would design a sculpture with them. I sanded the blocks and oiled them with teak oil before joining two together to form symbolic figures meeting over a table. I think of the piece as an exploration of how we see and experience relationship and the space/coming together dynamic that drives all meetings. Its called Communion. I may never do another sculpture but at least I’ve done one!
Sketch by Keith Fitton
So David Bowie is back at number one. His first album for a decade, “The Next Day” has galloped to the top of the charts, and the musical innovator and fashion icon is once again hot property. It takes me back to a cold February night in 1969 and the historic (now sold to a private developer and made into a hotel!) Free Trade Hall in Manchester. Together with a few of my pals from the Rossendale valley we were really there to see Tyrannasourus Rex, whom had just released “Prophets Seers and Sages…. .. the Angels of the Ages”, their second LP. At that time they were an acoustic duo feted by John Peel, with Marc Bolan on guitar and Steve Peregrine Took on bongos. Peel was present at the concert, there to spin records and host the show. The opening act we had never heard of. Introduced by Peel, he entered the stage accompanied by the loudest music I have ever heard at any gig, bar none. It was a wall of deafening white noise. Dressed in a tutu suit, David Bowie then delivered a stunning mime performance. Whilst he uttered not a word, his theatricality was undeniable. An unforgettable first impression. Then the records; the classic “Hunky Dory” filled with mythical storytelling, fantastic musicianship, sensitivity and craft, it was a record to listen to in a darkened room, or in the back room of a pub, drinking beer and playing darts with your mates. And on and on through the Berlin trilogy, the concept albums, the dance music inspired pieces, the art-nouveau creations and so on to “The Next Day”. Here we have a graceful artist, actor, musician, actor who sails above the ordinary, beyond cliche, or trend. He is a one-off, quintessential English gem. A true national treasure. Let’s dance.
I recently listened to a keynote speech by Dr John Izzo, an American thinker, speaker and organisational consultant that ‘s getting pinged around the blogging world at the moment. Its a talk about the challenge to the baby boom generation. He describes us as as the lucky ones, born just after one bad load of shit (the world wars) and just before the next load (terrorism, the meltdown of global capitalism, over-population ………….). Here it is. Now in this aspect, of course he is right. We have been very fortunate. As a matter of fact I can’t think of many other times in world history when such a flowering of economic prosperity, consciousness and cultural growth all coincided. Maybe the Renaissance. Then again, maybe not. Thinking about it, Harold Macmillan was right. In many ways we really had “never had it so good”.
Izzo then describes the challenge to the baby boomers. We have a small window of opportunity to use this good fortune to help the next generations out, to leave a legacy. After all weren’t we the ones that bellowed about creating a better world than the generations before us. We had the education, the tools of wisdom, the expanded consciousness and the moral high ground. Do we want to be remembered as the generation that creamed our own pockets (fat wages, pensions), raped what was left of the earth’s resources (heating, cars, air travel), waged war on those that didn’t share our beliefs (Iraq, Afghanistan,) or, perhaps there’s still a chance to do something radically different, to leave a better world behind?
Izzo doesn’t give, at least in this talk, much of a sense of how we do that, but it’s an interesting question he raises, albeit in a typical American quasi-preaching (he used to be a minister), gung-ho, call to arms kind of way. In fact its become something of a fashionable swipe. Let’s blame the baby boomers.
But just hang on. Life is rarely this simple. After all we were the generation that broke out of the stifling gloom of fifties England, lifted the lid on racial and sexual discrimination, raised consciousness of environmental issues, brought an increased awareness of spirituality, created vast cultural growth in all aspects of the visual and media arts including music and oh yes – we won the World Cup!
Besides there’s a fundamental error in thinking that we, the human species, can alter things that much. We are only a tiny speck in the unlimited universe. Why should we think we can sort out the mess we have made? It is the ultimate expression of human self-delusion to believe we are able to save the world from the awaiting disaster. War, perhaps, famine, maybe, disease possibly – but human will. No way hozay. Obsessed with vanity to the point of building our own ark. That’s not going to happen. The end of the world is nigh. And you know what – it maybe won’t be the end. Perhaps we are living in a film going backwards. Spinning destined towards our beginnings, in the vastness of galaxies unimagined. Or maybe we’ll just hand the baton on to the next breed of sun-worshippers. But whatever we do – it won’t be the fault of the sixties generation.
The thing is – we can’t help it. As a species there are many things about the way we behave that might want us to hang our heads in shame. A wanton disregard for the welfare of each other, the planet and a love of conflict have plagued our history. Of that there is no doubt. But one of the unifying things has been the need of mankind to make a mark to celebrate aspects of life.. Whether it be on the wall of a cave, the shimmer of a papyrus roll, the plaster ceiling of a Vatican chapel, a cheap canvas from The Works, the wall of a London building, a sketchbook, a piece of wood……… something impels us to create a visual impression of the way we see and experience the world. Some may call this art. But the thing is – as soon as you name it, you draw a line between those who can do it and those that can’t. The very way we speak about art emphasises that false distinction. It becomes something to be revered, either from a point of view of cultural snobbishness, or decried, as much of contemporary art in recent times has been. And all of this, matters as much as the breath on a frosty windowpane for what matters is the work itself, not what we think about it. Banksy’s work is valued by many simply because they have heard of him. He has become a “celebrity” artist, in this media-governed world we inhabit. His work is valued by some others because of its financial worth, to the point where the wall upon which it is painted is cut out and mounted, ready to be shipped to the highest bidder. So when I am asked to put a price on the head of one of my paintings, due to be exhibited soon at the Tullie Museum in Carlisle, its hard. Do I say not for sale, or do I bite the bullet and come up with a price, and if so how much?