Supreme: Failure teaches success

 

I found this book in a Japanese shop on Dominion Road. I think it is intended to be inspirational, though it seems a different notion of inspiration than the American version.

the text reads:

Trouble brings experience and experience brings wisdom.

Failure teaches success

Supreme

If present unhappiness is compared with big unhappiness, feelings become easy a little. Moreover, present unhappiness will bring happiness in the future.

 

In lieu of making any new years resolutions, or even bothering to stay up and drink too much I have started drawing in it, inspired by its notion of failure as the path to success.

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I’m dreaming of Flower Power

Animals and their relationship to humans is still on my mind. I have also been thinking a bit about the flower power movement of the late sixties/ early seventies. This was sparked by a very brief aside in Barry Schwabsky’s introductory essay to Vitamin P: New Perspectives In Painting. In defining the advent of post modernism and its repercussions for painting Schwabsky posits the flower power movement as one of a number of responses to emerge from the crisis of the failure of the modernism. He mentions it in passing, as a possible movement passed over in favour of the self-conscious rigor of what became known as postmodernity.

It has got me thinking that maybe we have missed something that we could well do with in the materialistic twenty-first century. Of course the environmental movement that was part of flower power continued and has finally forced its way into the mainstream, but it is a capitalistic environmental model, to suit the capitalistic times.

It is an ideological loss that I am concerned with. And I am not even sure that it was quite a brave new world(view). Maybe it was just a bunch of kids from the newly emerged leisure class discovering drugs. But still, the hope that we can be more than consumers who own stuff is worth looking back at.

If I understand it correctly, at its most basic, the flower power movement was an attempt to deliberately reposition humanity both in relation the natural world, in both in terms of environmental awareness and in relation to the constructs of culture such as gender imbalance, wealth disparity and the cultural violence of war.  This moment of self-awareness of our role in relation to human and  non-human others seems to me to have everything to do with the predicament of the domestic animal that I was discussing previously.

Art is maybe a reasonably fang-less way to address such concerns, but it seems to me relevant to bring these two things together and see what sort of post pop moment they can find together. I am feeling my way here, these are my first studio experiments. (or at least some of the more successful ones – there have been a few where, unlike my earlier post, bad has not been good)

flower pony trial 1
watercolour pony 2
ink and acrylic, 295 x 390mm

there is no retirement village for obsolete warhorses

sock pony 2011
sock pony 2011

I have finally finished a few of my sock ponies; it has been a long road. I have been meticulously painting the expanding foam, a tedious and awkward process that has allowed me ample time to reflect on the ironic inverse proportion of labour involved.  The making is quick and haphazard, involving a sock, a stick, a can of expanding foam and a handy bit of lawn. The painting is slow and careful and involves masking and colour mixing and multiple layers of gesso and paint. All for what? So they look like they just happen to be coloured that way. So they look like a pop inversion of the cool grunge-lo-fi thing. So they look like plastic fresh off the shelf.

Now that I have finished a few of them and have had time to look up from my third coat of ultra gloss orange paint I have been thinking further about what they have turned out to be. I have been reflecting on my continued interest in hobbyhorses; I have been drawing them and making them for some years now (see my archive ponies and horses).

My interest in them is twofold – on the one hand the hobbyhorse is a conveniently abbreviated shorthand for the horse, the manifestation of desire for the ideal horse rather than the actual horse with its messy physicality. On the other hand they are discomfortingly close in appearance to the head on a pike, the archaic King’s public warning against transgression. A warning the horse and myriad other beasts could well have heeded before signing up for a domesticated world; there is no retirement village for obsolete warhorses and no guarantee of grassy pastures for those who trade their service, or the meat on their bones, for a place in the new kingdom.

I am quite interested in this relationship between humans and domestic animals. Some time ago at a party a vegan acquaintance was passionately extoling to me the injustices of honey harvesting as I discretely fanged into a mince savoury, thinking to myself what a disaster it would be for our farmyard friends if the story got out and everyone became vegan. What would become of them? Maybe we would be too gracious to kill them, but the economy of needing to plant a lot of beans would undoubtedly preclude us allowing them to breed. They would, in a single generation, become obsolete, a few lonely individuals relegated to zoo-parks as relics of the folly of our forebears.

The way I look at it animals can be roughly divided into three groups – the untameable, the edible and the friendly. The untameable have said no thanks mister, we will look after ourselves. The edible – pigs, cows, chickens sheep et al – have opted for evolution over lifespan. The third group, the companions, have opted for lifestyle over genetic dignity. At this point in history it does seem that the domestic animals have taken the winning punt, those we have no economic or sentimental use for are becoming scarce. As for the domestic beasts – as long as we are eating meat and drinking milk they are off the endangered list – but at what cost? Certainly at the cost of physiological independence, these animals have co-existed with humans for so long they have lost the ability to survive outside of our husbandry. Some have even lost the ability to support their mature body weight (meat chickens, so I hear).   The trade-off for consumables is life span and, depending on how animals think about this, which is difficult to gauge, life quality versus plenitude of food and guaranteed species continuation.

For the companion, such as the dog, the contemporary horse and to some extent the cat (though the cat always seems to have a bet each way and is happy to step back into the wild as required) the stakes are somewhat different. Longevity and luxury are the goal and it seems autonomy and dignity are the sacrifices. There is the risk of being breed into increasingly obscene and unsustainable body shapes. But on the up-side is the more unsustainable your body shape the more pampering you are likely to be showered with, so it is not all bad. In fact it is probably great. Being one of those handbag-dogs would be heavenly, even if you could not breath through your nose and had to wear a silly little jacket.

My dirty little secret

I am compelled to confess, to the ever-listening ear of the Internet, the most frequented of confessionals, that I prefer, deeply, wildly and guiltily the frenetic moment of the rock gig to the to the rarefied pleasure of the art event. Which is just fine if you are not an artist, but is I feel, a light slur on my sensibilities as an artist.

To be brutally honest I usually go to art events to talk to my friends or to bask in the worthiness of having made the effort to attend the opening rather than going to the show later in the week. Or because I felt like a glass of wine.

What is the attraction of the rock gig? The energy, the noise. Young musicians bursting with attitude, reinventing the world all over again, just for themselves.   Old musicians who really, really know it. All the people not caring if it is or isn’t art.  Maybe it is largely that I am not a musician or a critic, I have no way of judging it so I just go with it. I enjoy it when it is good, and strangely I kind of enjoy it when it is bad as well. It is like an alternative commentary on the state of play in the world.

 

I have been heartened however, to find on reading Dave Hickey’s book ‘Air Guitar’ (Art issues. Press 1997) that he has dedicated an essay to ‘ The Delicacy of Rock-and –Roll’. At the conclusion of this essay he compares the age of Jazz with the age of Rock

Both ages make art that succeeds by failing, but each exploits failure in different ways. Jazz presumes that it would be nice if the four of us – simpatico dudes that we are – while playing this complicated song together, might somehow be free and autonomous as well. Tragically, this never quite works out. At best, we can only be free one or two at a time – while the other dudes hold onto the wire. Which is not to say that no one has tried to dispense with wires. Many have, and sometimes it works – but it doesn’t feel like jazz when it does. The music simply drifts away into the stratosphere of formal dialectic, beyond out social concerns.

Rock- and-roll, on the other hand, presumes that the four of us – damaged and anti-social as we are – might possibly get it to- fucking–gether, man, and play this simple song. And play it right, okay? Just this once, in tune and on the beat. But we cant. The song’s too simple and we’re too complicated and too excited. We try like hell, but the guitars distort, the intonation bends, and the beat just moves, imperceptibly, against our formal expectations, whether we want it to or not. Just because we’re breathing, man. Thus, in the process of trying to play this very simple song together, we create this hurricane of noise, this infinitely complicated, fractal filigree of delicate distinctions.

 

Top gig for this ‘complicated, fractal filigree of delicate distinctions’ was Animal Collective at the Kings Arms a few years back.

Top recent gigs – Gorillaz, Massive Attack and Leonard Cohen (though I am not sure that counts as a rock gig)

 

People I would really like to see – Tom Waits, Radiohead, the White Stripes

 

Gigs I should not have missed – Johnny Cash, David Byrne

 

 

 

 

Some days I am a rabbit, other days I am a pig or a cat or just stranger with pointed fangs.

For the most part the relationship I have with my drawings is one of interested distance. The drawings emerge doing their own thing and I attend to them with care and respect for their autonomy. Strangely, sometimes they turn out to be drawings of me. Self-portraits if you like. It is always sightly disconcerting to realise I have just drawn myself, usually in the guise of some sort of creature involved in some sort of psychologically revealing activity.

It is not that often that I draw myself; I am not so narcissistic as all that. These were drawn over a period of a few years.

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Crochet Carrot

Crochet Carrot, 2011

If a rabbit had a toy what would it be? A crochet carrot I think. After drawing many crochet carrots clutched by bunnies I learnt to crochet and made one. It turned out just like I imagine a crochet carrot looking and feeling as I am drawing it.  Spookily just like it, easily, first try, as if I had practiced it each time I drew it.

Crocheting is a bit like drawing in that you just sort of imagine it as you go along, starting at the top. If you go a bit wrong you just undo that bit and do it again. Except with crochet you can’t go back and rub out that bit at the top; but then, in my experience, that is never a good idea with drawing either.  Even if the top bit is wrong it is likely that if you go back and re-draw the result will be more correct but infinitely less interesting, and ultimately it turns out that the first one, that you erased, was actually the right one and you regret that you did not recognise it.

The crochet carrot was never wrong however. It was always right. I am ridiculously pleased with it. Not that I think it is great art; it just makes me happy.

This is how i first imagined it.

Little Sister 2, initial drawing circa 2006

 

On Giving and Receiving, 2007

 

What is it with bunnies and carrots?

Summer of the Blue Bikini

At the opening of Come on You Little Rabbit, my first exhibition of bunny paintings, two women approached me to ask about the carrots. They were mother and daughter; the younger woman was in her early twenties and looking somewhat embarrassed. The mother explained that were discussing the possible meanings of the carrots and that she had suggested that they might have sexual connotations. The daughter countered that now that was a terrible thing to think, the carrot symbolised food and nurture for the rabbit. I suggested that the mother should trust her intuition. The girl looked at me as if I too, was terrible. She left shortly afterwards and unsurprisingly did not buy a painting. But she should have; it would have done her good.

Grace

self-portrait with carrot

thinking about it, the very first drawings with carrots were not bunny drawings at all; it was these self-portraits. I did them in 2004, they were my first move away from the painting machine work I was doing at the time. They are shown here at the Whitespace gallery in Newmarket.

Self-portrait with Carrot