Monday, 24 October 2016

'Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?'

Recently a friend told me that I should be exhibiting what I'm producing, and the same day someone else said that I should put my images on a site that allows people to choose an image and then apply it to a tshirt or an iphone cover. I appreciate their ideas and support. I may have another exhibition eventually, but I'm intrigued by what's behind these suggestions, as they're so far way from where I am.

My priority is making the images, seeing what's going to happen next. I don't care what happens to them after they've appeared, as long as they get to go out into the world. As long as they have a chance to come into contact with another human, who may or may not resonate at the meeting. If someone sees an image and something happens for them, my job is done. And if someone sees an image and nothing happens for them, my job is also done. My responsibility is to follow my own trail, make the image, and put it out.

If there was no internet it would be different. I would have to exhibit in order for it to be possible for the images to find people. But every time I put an image onto facebook there are potentially at least 200 people or so who might see it. That's 190 people more than is strictly necessary.

I'm not trying to make Art. I'm not trying to contribute to the history of 'special' people whom society has othered whilst removing ordinary people's fundamental need and secret longing to create things. I'm not hoping to be recognised, or to have a gallery ask to represent me. I'm not trying to persuade the world to hand over its money and give me enough of it so that I can pay my bills.

I could do that. I could do that if I was prepared to change what I want to do to fit what the people with money want. I could do that if I didn't mind spending a large proportion of the time I could be making art promoting it, carrying it to places, writing up invoices, making mounts and framing. But I'm not prepared to do that right now. I'm done with making creative products to fit other people's agendas, and I'm done with doing what I'm told. I'm done with organising and administration. And I'm done with gatekeepers.

The amount of money I would make if I did all of these things would never come close to paying my bills anyway. And even if it did, if suddenly someone somewhere decided to promote me because they thought they could make themselves some money by taking me on and it 'worked', I would then still spend most of my time not making art, and would probably gradually lose sight of the trail completely, overwhelmed by the comments of the gatekeepers, the market, and current fashions.

The trail goes down deep into myself and, if it stays true, can occasionally tap into streams that are not limited by my personal experience. This, to me, is a pursuit worthy of my attention. A worthwhile use of my one precious life.

The Summer Day

Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
from New and Selected Poems, 1992
Beacon Press, Boston, MA


Sunday, 18 September 2016

'this completely other world I’m inhabiting that no one else knows about.'

'When I’m not writing I feel an awareness that something’s missing. If I go a long time, it becomes worse. I become depressed. There’s something vital that’s not happening. A certain slow damage starts to occur. I can coast along awhile without it, but then my limbs go numb. Something bad is happening to me, and I know it. The longer I wait, the harder it is to start again.

When I’m writing, especially if it’s going well, I’m living in two different dimensions: this life I’m living now, which I enjoy very much, and this completely other world I’m inhabiting that no one else knows about.'


Friday, 26 August 2016

arising from and falling back into the earth...

Last night I went to see The Bhumi Collective, a 'multi-disciplinary theatrical performance by a collective of Singaporean and British theatre, dance and music makers based in London'  (bhumi is Sanskrit for 'earth').

I'm excited beyond measure, on all sorts of levels. Mainly, I think, because it so beautifully explores the mixing of many things that history, culture and tradition so often try to keep separate. It made me think about this in relation to some of the themes that seem to be trying to emerge through my images.

Humans as not distinct  from the earth.

Humans as not distinct from other creatures.

Watching Soultari Amin Farid made me think of another thing that's been happening in the images that I had only dimly noticed...the merging of gender distinctions.

South Indian, Balinese, Indonesian and I assume Malay aesthetic traditions have an entirely different take on what is appropriate and possible in relation to both adornment and movement. Men's eyes can be outlined in black; kings, mythical figures, and dancers may be heavily adorned with coloured silks, sashes or jewellery; movement and gesture flow and undulate in ways that cross all traditional AngloEuropeanAmerican gender boundaries.

In the piece, when Soultari Amin Farid is teaching the other dancers aspects of Malay dance, he outlines very clear traditions in relation to male and female cultural roles. But when he himself dances, I see everything mixing up in ways that free the human spirit from all such restrictions...

Going again tonight, hopefully to draw....

Saturday, 20 August 2016

'in retrospect, it was this built-in futility that gave it its edge...'

'One evening, after one false start too many, I just gave up. Sitting in a bar, feeling a bit burned out by work and by life in general, I just started drawing on the backs of business cards for no reason. I didn't really need a reason. I just did it because it was there, because it amused me in a kind of random, arbitrary way.

Of course it was stupid. Of course it was not commercial. Of course it wasn't going to go anywhere. Of course it was a complete and utter waste of time. But in retrospect, it was this build-in futility that gave it its edge. Because it was the exact opposite of all the 'Big Plans' my peers and I were used to making. It was so liberating not to have to think about all that, for a change.

It was so liberating to be doing something that didn't have to have some sort of commercial angle, for a change.

It was so liberating to be doing something that didn't have to impress anybody, for a change.

It was so liberating to be free of ambition, for a change.

It was so liberating to be doing something that wasn't a career move, for a change.

It was so liberating to have something that belonged just to me and no-one else, for a change.

It was so liberating to feel complete sovereignty, for a change. To feel complete freedom, for a change. To have something that didn't require somebody else's money, or somebody else's approval, for a change.

And of course, it was then, and only then, that the outside world started to pay attention.'

Friday, 19 August 2016


I made these last two in January 2015, before I discovered that there's a long tradition of circular playing cards in India.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

to make a pilgrimage of our labours....

To have what William Blake called ‘a firm persuasion’ in our work -- to feel that what we do is right for ourselves and good for the world at exactly the same time — is one of the great triumphs of human existence... To have a firm persuasion - to set out boldly; to look back and delight in error as a way of having rediscovered the way, to find a mature generosity through what we thought at first, was only for personal gain, to see humiliation not as a punishment but as the daily test of our sincerity: is to make a pilgrimage of our labors, to understand that the consummation of work lies not only in what we have done, but who we have become while accomplishing the task and finding the way as we do it... work, at its best, at its most sincere, and in all its heartbreaking forms, is one of the great human gateways to the eternal and the timeless.

Adapted from Crossing The Unknown Sea:
Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity
Riverhead Books © David Whyte

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

on the non-negotiable nature of play

Street art, Kochi, South India

We may think of play as optional, a casual activity. But play is fundamental to evolution. Without play, humans and many other animals would perish.