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.'