Saturday, 19 January 2019

Art For Art's Sake, 5 Variation (print/acrylic) / Street Gallery vs The Internet

The internet as a projection screen....contemporary equivalent of Paolozzi showing slides of his 'Bunk' images at the ICA in 1952...

...compared to the SG (street gallery) - is one better than the other?

The supposed kudos of a SG show - based on the Fine Art tradition, which Internet Art supposedly challenges but can never overthrow because the old SG/FA deal is where the money is! Where the credibility stems from! Except that...unless you're already Known it's almost guaranteed to be no more than a lot of work (hanging), expenses (printing, paying the gallery) and no had a show! In a proper Gallery!

A succession of 'slides' then, on the internet, but not controlled by the projector; instead, the viewer chooses both their space (social platform) and the way they see the art, the speed at which they does the swipe of a finger differ from the motion of legs in a SG? 

The SG experience is more art is viewed in any position, at any time...lying down, standing at a bus stop, sitting comfortably, in the office (even!)...the SG offers art 'in the flesh', an incredible experience, yet how many people do you see actually examining a work of art? Really getting in close (don't cross the barrier and set off the alarm!) study a detail...very few.

Here art detail can be examined at the spread of two fingers...that is, should it first appear interesting. Theoretically, you paid your money for a SG show and should therefore spend more time with each piece, yet shows can be so big, so much work to see, so many rooms! So you walk, looking out for something that catches your eye...

Swiping through art presents a slightly different but related challenge. It's easy to swipe, too easy...a piece must really grab you to warrant the stillness of the finger....

And yet here, on the internet, we see democracy in action. We artists are confronted with exactly the same conundrum as those showing in SGs, namely how much should public reaction influence future works? Assuming the artist has not trapped themselves in one style already, do they create more of what proves popular? Or follow their creative whim? This issue is more relevant to the internet artist than the SG one, the latter only being able to gauge the popularity of a piece if it should sell, whilst the former can see how many 'likes' it gets.

Art on the internet is they used to say of news in print; it's wrapped in tomorrow's fish'n'chips, or in the case of art on a social platform, forgotten by tomorrow, usually. Perhaps a site like this is a stab at permanence. 

Thanks for calling in.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

A-Bomb test/ Bruce Conner film / The Californian Dreaming & Jeff Nuttall's Bomb Culture

It's Monday morning and I'm watching a goat being tethered to the deck of a naval vessel. It will soon be blasted by heat and radiation from and atomic bomb in the name of developing protective clothing.  To get some perspective before I feel too sorry for the animal I remind myself of what happened to people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

A-bomb test footage is as compelling as it is terrifying...watching that vast plume unfurl atop of the stem to form the famous mushroom evokes awe and horror. Ironically, it's the act of creation that lead me to visions of the ultimate destructive weapon. I was looking into Wallace Berman's Semina magazine, specifically the price of the facsimile set published a few years ago. Disappointingly it was still way beyond my pocket. 

A good substitution for that is Semina Culture - Wallace Berman And His Circle, which I featured in a post on my other blog back in 2015. At least it's affordable. Bruce Conner's name came up in a review of the show that I came across, which prompted me to look into him again. I learnt that he made a film from footage of the Project Crossroads nuclear test called Crossroads (1976). Sadly, it's not available in full on the internet. 

These investigations sent me back to the book, Welcome to Painterland: Bruce Conner and the Rat Bastard Protective Association by Anastasia Aukeman, which has been on the shelf for a few years. I decided to read it properly as opposed to dipping in and admiring art by Conners and others on the Painterland scene. I can't help but feel a little envious of an art scene set in California, such is the mythical allure of the county, especially for someone raised in soggy Britain. 

I used to daydream over the West Coast Jazz scene for the same reason, wondering if anything could be finer than the combination of sun, sand and Shelly Manne playing in a club nearby. Then there was the City Lights bookshop in San Francisco, which published Norman Mailer's The White Negro in 1957. In it, Mailer describes 'the collective condition' as living 'with instant death by atomic war'. So much angst for his 'American existentialist - the hipster'.

The White Negro is quoted in Jeff Nuttall's classic, Bomb Culture, chiming, title-wise, with Mailer's view that this young generation lived under the potentially devastating cloud of that terrible 'mushroom'. The book (pictured) has been with me for over 30 years, which is miraculous considering how often I recycle books and testimony to it's place in my heart. Although (or because) it's written in a 'hipster' prose (part Kerouac improv) style, close scrutiny reveals many fascinating personal insights in the era and underground culture of Britain, specifically London. Of course, it's that very style which endears it to me over a journalistic, historical account, which may be better for facts but cannot convey the atmosphere.

All three books are worthy additions to your collection should you be interested in how writers and artists not only survived but thrived in the years after the war and the horror of A-Bombs being dropped. Perhaps it's not stretching things too far to suggest that what was perceived as a very real future death threat sharpened some minds to the point of ensuring that the moment was to be seized because the future wasn't guaranteed.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Collage: A Justification/Explanation/Liberation

Urgent! You Must Help! RTomens, 2014

Why collage? Can you validate the style?

A composer doesn't invent instruments. He knows how they sound and arranges those sounds to create his musical 'picture'. Likewise, when I cut out an image it's form/content are inherent but can be manipulated or arranged with others. Nobody criticises the role of the composer yet collage is often not taken as seriously as pure painting. 

Painting involves basic skills, not necessarily classical painterly skills. But let's not open the can of worms marked 'Skills' right now. To construct world from ready made images requires imagination and, to an extent, skill. To see a possible world constructed from components not made to sit with each other is magical. Collage is, like any other style, open to cliché. You will have seen content and styles repeated endlessly with only slight variation. Let's not open the can marked 'Originality' right now either. 

My lack of formal training used to worry me or, I should say, create feelings of insecurity...inferiority. It took many years but these days I'm free of that. Collage was, decades ago, a natural style in which to work since it involved none of the traditional skills. I still feel proud of some work from the late-70s. When I dig it out, it reminds me of the spirit of liberation I any others felt at a time when it felt possible to do anything; form a band, label, fanzine etc. We no longer needed permission or, more importantly, the blessing of traditional power brokers. 

That spirit lives in me today.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Abstraction / The Agony Of Not Knowing & all that Jazz

The Agony Of Not Knowing, RTomens, 2019

Form itself, even if completely abstract ... has its own inner sound
- Wassily Kandinsky

Much has been made of the connection between abstract art and Jazz, from the roots of both in the early-20s to Be-Bop and the Expressionist school of the 50s. You don't need a Masters degree in either Jazz or Art history to see why...the free-form, improvisational approach to art and sound. 

Despite the wildest flights of Charlie 'Bird' Park during the Be-Bop revolution it would take Jazz another decade to totally free itself of 'the rules', by which time the Abstract Expressionist big bang had trailed off to a whimper, succeeded by splinter groups either going off-canvas with Happenings, hardening edges, exploring pop culture etc.

Abstraction, as Kandinsky said, does have 'its own inner sound'. As I painted today, I listened to both that and Joe Harriott, both somehow mingling in my head, or rather, my head tuned in to both, channel-to-channel, as if twisting a radio dial from one station to the other and back. So it goes when I make art with music playing, which is always the case. 

I'd like to say Harriott spurred me on but it's not quite that straight forward. Music does inspire me whilst I work; some, such as Harriott's Abstract album, almost informs what I'm doing, as if the sound waves seep into the ears and down the arms to the hand.

I mindful of sounding rather...pretentious? But I'm not making grand claims here, only speculating on the effect of music on painting. Besides, in relation to pop culture, it doesn't take much to garner accusations of 'pretentiousness'...reading a certain novel, perhaps, watching a type of film...and of course, listening to Jazz. If simply listening to Jazz doesn't raise hackles, making any statements about it's importance may do. Important to the listener, that is. Let's not enter the murky waters of placing Jazz on a higher plain than other genres.

I'm old-fashioned, perhaps, in that Jazz and other musics do represent more to me than mere entertainment, light relief from the tyranny of everyday concerns. How music does what it does is another matter...the mystery of sound and it's impact on the mind. 

Why the impulse to create non-representational, non-figurative images came about today I do no know. Perhaps it was a yearning for 'freedom', the same yearning that can be heard in, say, the music of Charlie Mingus and the Free school of the 60s. Not that I'm oppressed, merely plagued by all the common psychological ailments of someone struggling to stay sane and content in the post-industrial world. 

Making art is one means of staying sane. I'm sure making Jazz had the same benefit for those who blew their blues away.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Nova Express/Burroughs/Joe Tilson/Last Words

The William Burroughs art world connection. I'm sure there are quite a few, Basquiat springs to mind... here are two pages from the Marlborough gallery catalogue for Jo Tilson's Pages (1970). I can't recall when I cottoned on to it's existence but as soon as I did I had to get a copy. It's cheap online if you look around. Although it's not in colour what makes it interesting are the pages which accompany the artworks, explaining their inspiration. You can also flick through it online here.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Print/Paint: The Patriot / Back in the routine

The Patriot, RTomens, 2019

Greetings! Back in the routine after all that holiday stuff. I like the routine, actually, as mad as that may sound. Well, mine isn't dominated by Work since I'm only in the office three days a week. So you could say I'm semi-retired. I think some structure is good; it focuses the mind more. 

For now, Happy New Year, thanks for visiting.

Friday, 28 December 2018

The Laboratory of Daily Life & Art At School

The Laboratory of Daily Life, RTomens, 2018

Today I watched an artist on YouTube say he didn't like the word 'art', which took me by surprise because I thought, in my stupidity, that I was the only person to shy away from the word, or rather, say it hesitantly, you know? As if I could be the only one to feel that way. I can't recall his name but he was getting on, easily in his 70s, a painter. I watch painters now and again. They're an unusual breed. No, I mean, unusual to me, who cannot, does not want to stay with one medium. 

I'm sure if I stuck with one medium for the rest of my life I might improve at using it but no, that would be akin to only listening to one type of music, or reading one genre of literature, or watching one genre of film, or...etc.

This piece involves a few media, as you can tell and a few processes to create something I was content to walk away from, metaphorically, since it was never stood on a easel to start with. I'm drawing more, these days, as if, perhaps, revisiting the roots of my a*t life, the roots of every a*t life, draw, scrawl, doodle. My art teacher at secondary school told us to really look at what was around us. He would. How else were we going to reproduce it on paper? I wish he'd told us to ignore the world around us and just splash, stamp, scrawl, smudge paper, print, whatever onto paper. That would have been more progressive, wouldn't it?

Well, I didn't listen anyway. Why should I treat his words any differently to those of all the other teachers? Perhaps because the Art lessons were, along with English, the only ones I came close to enjoying. Note 'close'. Actual enjoyment of anything other than chatting up girls never happened. My greatest achievement at school was being the first to wear Oxford Bags (trousers, ask your granddad!) and for my efforts being mercilessly ribbed about my 'turnips'. 

In the Laboratory of Life, learning-wise, I was the equivalent of no more than a speck on the microscope. 

Thanks for visiting - TTFN!

Friday, 21 December 2018

Portrait Of?

Untitled, RTomens, 2018

A portrait, but of whom? The subject sat perfectly still...decades ago...captured in time by the lens...long since dead, unknown sitter, or rather, known to me for the brief time in which I acquainted myself with his name before forgetting a few minutes later, once my 'portrait' was underway. Here he is reborn...reinvented in a way that renders him beyond recognition...a mutation of his former self...

Thursday, 20 December 2018

The Facebook safe space AI bot strikes

I've been punished by Facebook's AI big brother bot for posting the above picture, as I've done for the last few years at Christmas without being blocked for 24hrs as has happened now. OK, it's not the cheeriest of seasonal images, but if you don't like it, if it bothers you, tough! Or would you rather the public realm was one big Safe Space in which you can bask, surrounded by candyfloss politics with which you totally agree? I mean, even an image which, despite it's intention, might make you cry?

AI, Artificial Intelligence, seems a totally appropriate name for the tool that unjustly punished me. If a classic piece of anti-Nazi art is 'wrong', you have to wonder how 'intelligent' the technology really is. It obviously beeps loudly (with a red flashing light) at any sign of a swastika. Duh. That the artist, John Heartfield, was fiercely relentless in his brilliant visual attacks on the Nazi regime is neither here nor there, eh? Lawd help us.

Digital art depicting cute little girls with big eyes offends me greatly. Would I have it banned? No. Would I report an FB friend for continually posting pictures of their cat? No. If you think those are trivial matters, I disagree. Possessing a finely-tuned aesthetic sensibility you're prone to more offensive material than anyone else in the world. From art to aural assault via supermarket music (this time of year, Xmas songs - lovely!). Just as I accept that others have no taste, so I believe in allowing free expression. 

To deny people free speech is to deny the reality of the world; yes, even the ugly reality. Give 'em enough rope! How else will we know what people really think? It's Political Cleansing which has contributed towards the rise of the Right and Far-Right. "Oh, dear, look at those nasty people! I didn't think there were so many! Ban them! Stop them speaking!" Result: Brexit, Trump and an increase in Right-wing power worldwide. The Left/soft-liberal attitude is akin to someone ignoring persistent pains before finally going to the doctor to discover they have a serious illness. Guess what, beliefs that don't tally with yours won't go away if you try to either deny their existence or silence them. 

It's ironic that an image made against an oppressive regime that crushed free speech should be deemed a 'crime' against the FB community.