Sunday, 11 December 2016

'Entering the territory of an image'

'When a piece of work feels finished, we need time to look, to meditate on, and to absorb what has been done. Every image holds a mystery, something outside or beyond the intentions we had for it. A thing once made has an autonomy, a life of its own - we need to get to know it as we would get to know another person; otherwise we will most likely have missed what it contains or speaks of. The power of an image is that it embodies the complexity of what we see, feel and think but cannot literally describe in words. The things we ourselves make reflect our lives, as do our dreams, and to discover what they hold for us, we need to enter their territory. There is a difference here between looking at an image, where we maintain a certain distance, and entering into an image, where we engage with it imaginatively. Entering into an image is as active and creative in its own way as making it. An image invites us to feel things differently, to see other qualities, other aspects of our lives - the familiar transfigured. The images we make and subsequently come to know, do not so much centre around us, as draw us out of ourselves into a wider field of constructions and meanings.

Everything we make is in a sense a living world - we explore it as with a new place we arrive in, asking: 'What is here?...'What is happening?'  As in the process of making, we follow whatever comes up, and what we find will never be entirely what we expect. Exploring the world of an image takes time - time to let it in, get to know it.

Our first account of an image will always be only a tiny fragment of what is there, sometimes even at odds with what we eventually see. But it is always difficult not to get stuck with our original thoughts and intentions and instead allow the image to have its own voice, to surprise us with what it holds. When we start to look, the image may well appear static, fixed. The process of looking is one of letting the life of the image unfold - a sense of movement and interaction within and between its parts.

In looking we need to follow the slightest hunch, let in the faintest impression, accepting wherever our attention is drawn, allowing any fleeting thought or association to take its place within an emerging picture of what is present. We need to 'see lightly', trying not to impose an account of the image artificially, letting a sense of its presence arise and grow in the looking. As we look, we move to and fro between the physical appearance of the image (its sensory impact), and the associations, thoughts, feelings, memories, stories, that arise from it; every aspect of our experience is potentially a support for our looking.....'

Tufnell, M. & Crickmay, C. A Widening Field; Journeys in Body and Imagination  2004


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.


Monday, 8 August 2016

art historical significance?

'First, you should be clear about what you are aiming for: (1) public approval, (2) commercial success, or (3) art-historical significance. These three are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and there is nothing wrong with any of them. But my remarks address only (3).
The best means to art-historical significance is financial independence. Don’t even think about trying to earn a living from your artwork, or else you’ll start producing the artwork that will earn you a living. A trust fund will divert your energies in a different way. The best means to financial independence is a day job in a different field. Waiting tables, driving a cab, office work, and teaching are traditional alternatives for artists, but the digital revolution opens up many others. All of them will free you to make the work you are most deeply driven to make, regardless of whether or not anyone else likes it or buys it. That’s the work that’s most interesting and important to you.'

Though a lot of this makes sense to me and chimes with my own position, I'm completely foxed by the opening paragraph's three reasons to make art.

From where I sit, 'art-historical significance' as a driver for making art seems like the perfect path to complete self-sabotage.

Firstly, you're likely to take yourself far too seriously. Taking yourself too seriously is going to affect what you make, your relationship to yourself, and your relationship to others.

Secondly, you're removing pretty much all possibility of being free to find out what you actually want to make, because you're involved in a kind of people-pleasing where you're always trying to second-guess yourself from the perspective of a (non-existent) outsider.

Thirdly, because you're always looking backwards or around you, comparing yourself to other people and trying to be different, you're likely to be making it very hard to connect with yourself and the world in the present moment of who you actually are and what actually wants to come.  Perhaps you also have to be happy to have no-one engage with your work until after you're dead, which seems like a weird way to live your life.

The possibility of 'art-historical significance' died for me when I first learnt about Malevich's 'white on white', which for some reason I always remembered as 'a white square on a white ground'. I first learnt about this when I was doing an art history A level, and it seemed to me that painting as it had been known in 'Western' cultures completed itself at that moment. People were not going to stop painting, but for me it seemed to me that after that it was very unlikely that anyone was going to be able to paint something that hadn't already been done.

Being ground-breaking and original isn't the only reason to make art, but in Europe and America this idea still has a lot cachet. I don't consciously look for something that's blindingly original, but I do look for something that interests me. And even though there are lots of skillful and interesting paintings around, I don't get excited by them most of the time. I think that I probably make the images that I do just because I want to look at something that's in some way unexpected or ambiguous.

And out in the world beyond the Anglo-Euro-America bubble, all kinds of reasons can be found to make art which are not any of the three things listed in this quote.


Sunday, 7 August 2016

'we think of magic as a myth...'

'We think of magic as a myth, a game, a trick, but it is magic that sustains us, and we must always find new ways to bring it into our lives.' 

Tennessee Williams


Thursday, 4 August 2016

separating ourselves from the supporting network of natural laws

'When we learn to work with our own Inner Nature, and with the natural laws operating around us, we reach the level of Wu Wei. 

Then we work with the natural order of things and operate on the principle of minimal effort. 

Since the natural world follows that principle, it does not make mistakes. 

Mistakes are made–or imagined–by man, the creature with the overloaded Brain who separates himself from the supporting network of natural laws by interfering and trying too hard.'


Wednesday, 3 August 2016

'the very muscles that allow us to raise our arms in gladness are the muscles that allow a gull to fly'

'If there is a fact true of human beings—today, as always—I would suggest it is this: that we want to love and be loved, delight and be delighted, give and be given, in the back-and-forth relatedness that earns us a meaningful place in the pantheon of all being. The very muscles that allow us to raise our arms in gladness are the muscles that allow a gull to fly. I believe that this universal yearning, lifting toward life, is the greatest, most enduring, wonder of all.'


Friday, 29 July 2016

'we are born into a sacred world'

'But say there is no Creator, that Life created itself in great bursts of variation and selection, and filled the sky with midges and birds and filled the seas with—not just fishes—but the most extraordinary collection of creatures too inventive to be imagined, the creeping, chirping things with thin legs or sucking parts. If this is so, then this world is astonishing, irreplaceable, essential, beautiful and fearsome, generative, and beyond human understanding. If the good English word for this combination of characteristics is “sacred,” then that is the word I will use. We are born into a sacred world, and we ourselves are part of its glory....


Thursday, 28 July 2016

'our flaws and weaknesses, while often obstacles to getting our work done, are a source of strength as well.'

'But while talent - not to mention fate, luck and tragedy - all play their role in human destiny, they hardly rank as dependable tools for advancing your own art on a day-to-day basis. Here in the day-to-day world (which is, after all, the only one we live in), the job of getting on with your work turns upon making some basic assumptions about human nature, assumptions that place the power (and hence the responsibility) for your actions in your own hands. Some of these can be stated directly:

ART IS MADE BY ORDINARY PEOPLE. Creatures having only virtues can hardly be imagined making art. It's difficult to picture the Virgin Mary painting landscapes. Or Batman throwing pots. The flawless creature wouldn't need to make art. And so, ironically, the ideal artist is scarcely a theoretical figure at all. If art is made by ordinary people, then you'd have to allow that that ideal artist would be an ordinary person too, with the whole usual mixed bag of traits that real humans possess. This is a giant hint about art, because it suggests that our flaws and weaknesses, while often obstacles to getting our work done, are a source of strength as well. Something about making art has to do with overcoming things, giving us a clear opportunity for doing things in ways we have always known we should do them.'

David Bayles & Ted Orland, Art and Fear

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

a process that works itself

One of the things I'm observing as my content arises is different qualities of line, and I often wonder about the processes of control or otherwise over such qualities. When I'm not thinking at all, doing something like trying out a pen, images appear that wouldn't have come from a different frame of mind.

Below is one such pen-trying-out image. I would never have made this if I'd had any even partial thought of 'maybe selling' or even  'maybe sharing'. Both the line and the use of colour were made pretty much without thought.

The second image below has some of these qualities but not others. It wasn't intended to become an image that might be sold or shared. It was an experiment on canvas, a material which is still new to me, especially when using a pen. But though I had no plan for the image before I started and no idea about how it would turn out,  I was very conscious of the line moving more slowly and carefully on this more permanent material.

I have to acknowledge that I made a whole lot of similarly experimental images in my first years back at painting, and many of them ended up being exhibited and sold. Much of what I currently sell or share follows the same process of experimentation; of trying not to think, hoping to surprise myself etc, and it's only afterwards that I select.

The qualities that most interest me appear much more in the first of the two images above than in the second.

Some people might say that what I'm doing are 'studies'. But studies for what? If if I find that the freer, less intentional drawings have the qualities that I want, and the more conscious ones usually don't, what would I be making studies for?

All of my working is a kind of learning-by-doing. The qualities of materials that I want to learn about can't be understood in any other way. To some extent it doesn't really matter to me at the moment what image arises, or what colours and marks end up on the page. The main thing is just to keep making lines and putting on paint. Something emerges, moves and grows, just in the act of keeping going.


Wednesday, 20 July 2016


It is time.

Crawl up from the underworld.
Depart your long stay in
thick darkness and clay.

Find your roots.

Find your roots.

Follow - straight or
spiralling - to the surface and
into the humid,
star-storied night.

Proceed, slowly, yes,
but with the unyielding intent
to become the amazing thing
that you have never before

Can you feel your soft, tender body
up against the inside of your
dry, tight, skin?

The edge. The tightness.
It tears you apart...

this back-splitting longing to
be larger that that which has
contained you.

I know that dream.

The one about having wings.

So, find that place where you will,
take the last step
as who you have been,
unfold your future,
and cast the old story behind you.

Emerge. Break free.

Surrender to your destiny,
lifting your long struggled forth form
onto a tree trunk,
or a flower stalk.

The moistness.
It is always there -
conception, growth,
birth, life, death.

Notice the eyes.


Let the soft dawning breezes
caress your sensitive nature,
as you unfurl lacy,
iridescent dreams.
So clear.

Now firm in the daylight.
You are seen.


The world is calling to you.

Let yourself be heard.

Trust in what you have been

Trust in what you have been

Take flight -

with this core truth:

Where you land
and what you do
will determine
how well grounded
we are in the future.


Saturday, 16 July 2016


I can draw 'accurately'. But learning to draw accurately always seemed strangely wrong for me. The act of making precise ('exactitude is not truth') , or attempting to make precise, seemed to kill something. That's why I was so excited when my line broke free in India. Something felt different, began to live. Many years later, a friend would look at those Indian drawings and say that they were in some way naive. I was quite taken aback, because for me the line had advanced towards something much more exciting.

I guess people look at Indian folk art and similarly say that the images are naive. For me this misses the point. This is a symbolic world, a world where images can provoke resonance, deep within the viewer. Or they may not. But the image emerges from a complex human/larger world interface (Kapoor's 'content arising') rather than being the result of a concept or a willed intention.

Someone said to me recently, 'Oh, you don't do real things do you'? But for me the images I make are just as much about reality as a portrait or a landscape. I'm working not so much 'from life', as with life, with the experience of things that are living...

The living line of my emergent content seems to deliberately flout exactitude. 'Exactitude?', it seems to say, 'Ha! take this!'.


Friday, 15 July 2016

'this back-splitting longing to be larger than that which has contained you'

It is time.

Crawl up from the underworld.
Depart your long stay in
thick darkness and clay.

Find your roots.

Find your roots.

Follow - straight or
spiralling - to the surface and
into the humid,
star-storied night.

Proceed, slowly, yes,
but with the unyielding intent
to become the amazing thing
that you have never before

Can you feel your soft, tender body
up against the inside of your
dry, tight, skin?

The edge. The tightness.
It tears you apart...

this back-splitting longing to
be larger that that which has
contained you.

I know that dream.


Thursday, 14 July 2016

'much of life is ruined for us by a blanket of familiarity that descends between us and everything that matters'

'For Proust, the great artists deserve acclaim because they show us the world in a way that is fresh, appreciative, and alive… The opposite of art, for Proust, is something he calls habit. For Proust, much of life is ruined for us by a blanket or shroud of familiarity that descends between us and everything that matters. It dulls our senses and stops us appreciating everything, from the beauty of a sunset to our work and our friends.
Children don’t suffer from habit, which is why they get excited by some very key but simple things — like puddles, jumping on the bed, sand, and fresh bread. But we adults get ineluctably spoiled, which is why we seek ever more powerful stimulants, like fame and love.
The trick, in Proust’s eyes, is to recover the powers of appreciation of a child in adulthood, to strip the veil of habit and therefore to start to look upon daily life with a new and more grateful sensitivity.
This, for Proust, is what one group in the population does all the time: artists. Artists are people who strip habit away and return life to its deserved glory.'

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

do it now

'Whatever you're meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible'

Doris Lessing