Thursday, 23 July 2020

Venus - Paean To A Pencil

First fresh book out of the studio here for 3 years apparently! (*Reviews all the unpublished drafts sitting back here in the virtual basement... Ah, yes. That'll be why...)

I can't remember when I wrote this. I think it was kicking around for a good length of time before I started to cut the text. It's been performed a couple of times at spoken word events, but the intention for yonks has been to publish it as an artist book, and I'd started handcutting the text as full page intaglio plates a few years ago. It's taken a while. People who know me well might recognise the pattern... But nothing is immutable or definitive. Even this publication has seen changes on the fly as I've finished cutting the plates. The illustrations came easily once I'd got the format sorted. The materials - especially the 'Izal' shiny toilet roll, I've kept stored for possibly well over 20 years, with the full intention to use them for exactly this sort of project.

The poem comes from a story attributed to the origins of Jean Genet's "Our Lady Of The Flowers", which I came across around the end of the '90's, and centres around the dichotomous nature of dependency and release embodied by the possession of such a mundane object as a pencil, affected by its use in the context of confinement. Temporary release is merely respite. The title 'Venus', is an allusion to both a well-known brand of pencil and the ancient Roman goddess of love, morally corrupted in Genet's novel by the inversion of values, virtues and sins.

"Our Lady of the Flowers" was Jean Genet's first novel. Written in 1942/43 during his incarceration for persistent vagrancy, petty theft and 'lewd acts', Genet wrote the novel in pencil on sheets of brown paper, provided by prison authorities for the purpose of making bags. According to Sartre in his foreword to the book, a prison guard discovered the first manuscript that the prisoner Genet had made from his "unauthorized" use of the paper, confiscated the script and burned it. Undaunted, Genet rewrote the book from scratch. The second version survived and Genet took it with him when he was released.

Genet's novel tells the story of Divine, a drag queen who lives in an attic room overlooking Montmartre cemetery, which she shares with various lovers, the most important of whom is a pimp called Darling Daintyfoot. One day Darling brings home a young hoodlum and murderer, dubbed Our Lady of the Flowers. Our Lady is eventually arrested, tried and executed. As their tales unfold, Genet performs a transvaluation of all values, making betrayal the highest moral value, and murder an act of virtue.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Silence, Not Silence

Silence, not-silence. Because nature, we're told does not like a vacuum. So there's always something crashing into something else somewhere. Exploding, being pulled apart or crushed by gravity. Nature is, by nature rowdy, raucous. Even these words raining upon this page are not silent. Pitter-patted out by keyboard tapping and pencil blustering across the page. Every glittering crackle of the ground underfoot, every release of gas, breath, fart, plop. We have ignition! Not silence. 4 minutes and 33 seconds of the universe on tick over...

3 a.m. to 4 a.m. deserted street silence. Sodium neon breeze murmur in the trees, leaf-rustle, hustling trainer footfall, clip-clop heels stuttering homeward gaggle-giggle, barking vixen yapping, 22? 23? Heel skips in the groove with the weight of laughter with plenty of reverb.

Muted unmuted. Colours are filtered and only the orange part of the spectrum makes it through the night alive. Even the fatty piss-stain moon slides by jaded, smoked and insolent, tie haggard around its neck, cigarette sagging in its lips, one eye squinting a tut with a shrug and a grunt. Stacks another shot glass on the shelf above the bar.

Barking signage and street frontage gagged on nicotine and tannins. Key change up a gear, bin lorry percussion unit.

Just think about those sounds for a minute... 
Garbage truck jazz.

Two streets in the distance, duelling.
Single after-market exhaust, accelerant,
two geezers in the kabab shop, protestant.
Three, four. Blues in the night are actually an acid brown-black.
Burnt caramel. Umbrage taken.

Vocal melee red-shifted, receding into distance, melting out of focus, resolving into - dunno, I wasn't there, I just heard. A generator above the cab, air con in the alleyway. The sound of a bottle falling into the road.

Under the covers, burrowed into the bedding, a private film club. 37 degrees celsius, circadian rhythms, liminal and subliminal unfold and refold. There is a large spiral shell on the beach. Big as a cathedral. I walk in. The entire interior is smooth polished mother-of-pearl. But I know the meaning of nacre. I've been here before.

At a table near the door is my mum, selling pamphlets and collecting alms. She tries to speak and advise me, but her voice is the sound of Aglaope, and rather than succour, I am suckered. Her pamphlets are nothing but platitudes, placebos and propaganda. "Save your art for a hobby" she says.

A gentle sizzle of rain begins around four to usher in tomorrow, the next day, uncertainty, a deadline... The tide settles as it turns. Something turns, cavitating in the water. Light ripped on the ripples. Thirty three and a third r.p.m.

The alarm beeps on entry while a pin is pushed in. Its punctuation vanishing without a trace. Ticker, ticker parade of fluorescence blossoming into life. There is nothing innocent about fluorescent lighting. It is mean, and industrial, functional, soul-sapping cold. A fridge light is more welcoming. A microwave is more human.

Foxes in the garbage, gulls and crows bicker about the dawn. East coast mainline, motorway harmonics. Dawn is a rabble clattering into the room with the radio suffused in condensation, coffee, toast.

Aroma of a freshly ironed shirt, citrus shower gel and spicy deodorant. That's De-odorant... and a quick, sneaky cigarette in the car, another on the walk to the station. The day is broken before it's even started.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

The NME - New Musical Extinguisher

You know those nights when you've had a quality time at the pub with a couple of excellent buddies? You're not staggeringly drunk, but pleasantly basking in the warm glow of a good single malt, and grinning inanely at everything on the way home, when you spot a brilliant object in a skip and spontaneously drag it out, sling it over your shoulder and scuttle home. Next morning you're staring at it wondering what the fuck you were thinking...?

For all you fire extinguisher nerds - this is a 1965 Nu Swift pressurised water extinguisher, currently tuned to D4...

This piece is the culmination of disparate circumstances. The arrival of a brand new and rather excellent power tool, recent performances with other people, conversations with the lads from TVIAPB, the discovery of interesting and challenging cross-over artists playing with multiple disciplines and performances... and the never ending desire for new toys, new sounds...

Currently playing around with this thing. Looking for some more acoustic vibes - bows//drones//chimes//new ideas//themes//and stuff in the studio. It's delightfully flexible - way more so than the old Bikesichord. It doesn't have pick-ups installed yet, but that might happen in the future at some point. Right now, it resonates like a bell at certain points and tones, and a mike in the top played through a couple of effects pedals is plenty to be going on with.

Check out my Soundcloud for previous recordings, YouTube for performances and keep an ear peeled for new performance related gubbins.



Monday, 10 July 2017

Woodpeckers' Wildlife Mural - Devonshire Infants School - 2016

Back in November 2015, I wrote about the Woodlands Hall mural that I partially restored for Devonshire Infants School.

Well they came back for more - which is nice. The school has had a new building built to serve ass a meeting room, lunch room and additional teaching space. The main wall is some twenty something metres long and they were looking for a mural that would connect with the school's 'wildlife' themes. The classes are recognised by their wildlife names; badgers, foxes, mice etc. As you walk through the school, both the wildlife and art themes really hit you.

A while back on a family trip, we'd stopped at Ockham Bites cafe just off the A3//M25. It's a funky weird little place. Run by Surrey Wildlife trust and jolly convenient if your doggy and//or children needs a pee break. There's also an historical Semaphore Tower... a bit like one of Terry Pratchett's 'Clacks' towers...

The Semaphore Tower located on Chatley Heath was once part of a chain used to pass messages between the Admiralty in Whitehall and the Royal Naval Dockyard in Portsmouth. It was built in 1822 and is now the only restored surviving tower in a line of signalling stations that stretched from London to Portsmouth. The Tower is open to the public once a month between March and September.

However, there is also a really rather excellent tea room which has one of the best wildlife murals I've seen. By the award winning artist Helen Shackleton, the mural depicts the huge variety of wildlife around the area. That might come as something as a surprise given its proximity to two major motorway routes.

Ockham cafe mural by Helen Shackleton
Ockham cafe mural by Helen Shackleton

The style and composition were definitely cues for the mural at Devonshire Inf Sch.where I needed to include a range of creatures and environments in a coherent composition across a broad span of wall. I wanted to really go to town on this one and stretch my skills with regard to figurative painting. I know it will surprise some people to learn that I can actually paint properly, and here's the proof. 

The school were kind enough to nominate me for an award for the Woodpeckers mural too! Which was nice.

Eric Rimmington - Trafalgar House

One of the fastest turnaround murals I've been commissioned to do - less than 24 hours notice from first contact to starting to paint with a very particular brief, with a super tight deadline... and at a 45% discount on my standard rate to meet the budget... I do this to myself, why?

The Trafalgar building in Fountain Street is a former Naval officers club now in the process of being converted into student accommodation. The street level is a Wetherspoons pub that has on its back wall a post-war mural painted in 1949 by the artist Eric Rimmington who studied in Portsmouth as an ex-serviceman in the 1940's. Following his studies at the Slade School in London, Rimmington became well known as a masterful still life painter, often incorporating and combining aspects of both still life and landscape or seascape into his paintings.

The mural he painted in The Trafalgar was fought for and conserved by the Portsmouth Society, and is now listed as a scheduled part of the architecture, meaning that it cannot be taken down or removed. You can read the artists personal account of his mural HERE.

Trafalgar House Mural - Eric Rimmington 1949
Trafalgar House Mural - Eric Rimmington 1949

For my mural, upstairs in the students refectory, I wanted to echo various aspects of Eric Rimmingtons' mural. His panorama of Portsmouth and Southsea is divided into three sections with his portraits of local working class men and women viewing their 'historical landscape' from the platform of an imaginary railway station with stairs leading down [from the past] and up [to the future].

I've incorporated the full panorama of Portsmouth's landscape and the Solent in an almost 360 degree view from Fort Cumberland at Eastney to the Defra defence research establishment on Portsdown Hill, including the Solent Forts, the bandstand, Southsea Common, the Skatepark, Clarence Pier, the Square and Round Towers and the Spinnaker.

The monochromatic sepia tones evoke earlier ages, while the students sitting in the room themselves take the role of Rimmington's ordinary, everyday people observing the scene and the broad historical landscape in which they sit.

Southsea Pier, Solent Fort, Isle of Wight
Southsea Castle, Skate Park, Bandstand, Solent Fort

Southsea Castle, Skate Park, Bandstand
Fort Cumberland to the Castle

The Solent and Isle of Wight over the Southsea Common

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Not Waving, But Drowning

In May/June a side project that I'm super proud to be part of - The Vulture Is A Patient Bird, was privileged to perform at a film//poetry event at The Loft in Southsea. "Not Waving, But Drowning" was organised by The Front Room

TVIAP  scripted this piece from quotes and inspiration related to work place cultures. As a group, we take a perverse pleasure in producing something unexpected. This ethos and our working methods means improvisation, synchronicity, spontaneity and a reliance on the resources to hand have a profound affect on the performances.

What you have here is the backdrop film I put together for the performance. This video component was filmed and edited entirely by me on 'Shotcut' - a freebie video editing software from For the upload, this video is soundtracked by a live 'demo'/rehearsal version of the performance. The live performance was powerful, witty and great fun and it went down a storm. Yes, I was going to video the live performance, but forgot to press the record button on the camera... I'm learning, ok?

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The Vulture Is Waving, Not Drowning

SO, before we get to the excitement of my lil' solo show, we have the excitement of another performance with The Front Room.

Our little unit, known as 'The Vulture Is A Patient Bird', will be creating some noise and spectacle at a film/poetry night presented by Big Adventures/The Front Room at the Loft - the bar above The Kings public house on Albert Road, Southsea. There are some outstanding acts and artists on the programme. It's definitely worth your while checking out Elephants Footprint. Earlier that day, Thursday 27th April, they'll be presenting a Poetry Film Workshop (free and open to the public) University of Portsmouth, Eldon building. 2.30pm – 4.30pm

We, The Vulture, did a wee 'taster' on Easter Sunday as part of the Trash Arts 10th anniversary event at the Edge Of The Wedge. Which was nice.

Once these gigs are out of the way, I'll post the videos up on that there YouTubes for your entertainment and edification.