Saturday, January 31, 2009

Genesis of The Silkworm


I've spent the last few days working on The Silkworm, the painting for the competition I mentioned a couple of posts ago. Nothing focuses like a deadline and six-ish weeks is not long at all for me.

In the picture the sky is bent like the corner of a room. A humanoid figure is nailed and shackled to the sky and his penis (which looks like a silkworm) is pulled out to a thin thread down and into the top of a winding windmill on the floor. An embryo-worm collection cells is in the sky near his left hand. The rolling landscape of hills is made of green silk. In the sky on the left is a dangling cocoon and below it a silk-moth, but artificially elongated a little, like the skull in The Ambassadors, so it looks like a spatter of liquid or the splayed form of the man (the man, the pseudo-moth) himself.

After reading about the slave life of the wholly artificially cultivated silkmoth, the idea jumped right into my head in one go and I tried my best to stick with the original vision, even if painting a windmill turns out to be one of the most difficult objects anyone could paint! It features parallel lines, slats and lattices and it is all circles and ellipses in one perspective or another.

Each element was modelled, well most. I've got lots of polyester 'silk', and spent a good few hours making and painting a model windmill, then there was the figure himself and the extensive drawing. After two and a half days the plan is complete, and this amazing painting (because all great paintings should be amazing and wonderful and unforgettable) is ready for underpainting on Thursday or Friday.

Tomorrow I'll trace the underdrawing to Money Just Running Out, a painting of coins and butterflies that I've painted twice, learning with each of those bitter defeats. Here's hoping that with the third glorious attempt comes a great glorious victory!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Honesty, Art and Isolation

Good artists tend to be loners, and that is because a degree of social isolation is necessary for truth.

People tend to value honesty in others above other traits, and largely people are honest, and always aim to be honest with other people and to themselves, but there are social constraints that limit honesty. Sometimes it is rude to be too honest, or it is socially inappropriate. Those who always say what they think will be shunned and eventually end up friendless. Even in the most forgiving circumstances, compliments are sometimes necessary that do not reflect the perfectly balanced truth. Even news organisations soon discover that total honesty is not popular, and so end up taking a side. That is because being totally honest is not part of human nature. It seems that the skill to spin is part of being human, and despite ones best intentions to be open and honest with people, deception will inevitably appear.

Yet, good art should be totally honest, true, everlasting and uncompromising. For an artist to produce good art therefore, a certain amount of social rebelliousness is needed, to speak the truth even if it is unpleasant. Such acts will inevitably make enemies of friends. People can't handle the truth. The most powerful insults are truths. Thus the best artists are the ones who insult people the most, the best artists are the ones with the least friends, the most isolated, and the most recalcitrant. The people they encounter may grow to dislike them, yet humanity will appreciate them, and their art will be the best because they speak only the truth.
Not much done recently. I spent most of Tuesday depressed (but not melancholic) and banging my head against walls with nothing coming out, but such relaxing days for me tend to end in exposions of ideas. In the evening I discovered an art competition with the theme of 'silk' and an idea instantly jumped into my head. I am currently constructing a model windmill which will form an essential part of this painting. The glue is drying and while I type this.

I often make models of things to paint, it makes it easier to get the lighting and realism correct. Many artists have (was it Constable or Gainsborough who made landscapes from vegetables?) but here I've discovered something new in that I can add artistry and meaning to the models themselves while they are being made and decorated. Thus I make three dimensional collages then light and photograph them. The 3D spatial visualisation skills that come from modelling are useful for a painter too.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

I dream of a murder, a young Saudi prince stabbed outside a nightclub. The suspect is an Indian, a meek and pleasant new friend that joined me and my two other friends who, when questioned by the rough police, looks like he did it accidentally. He is released back to us, but an angry mob pursues us. I don't run and instead watch the other three run off, over a field to a distant wood with the streaming mob chasing. I explain to one mobster who can't be bothered to run that the Indian did it and that the other two were innocent friends. Later, in the car as three of us journey to hospital to visit a friend I see us, one by one, but to everyone's surprise the Indian is there, unharmed. When the hospital lift doors part I see the fourth member of our party who was beaten and paralysed from the waist down by the mob, the glasses wearing computer nerd.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Yesterday an extraordinary thing happened. At around 11am a hawk swooped down and plucked a blackbird off our back lawn. I've never in my life seen a bird of prey in our suburban neighbourhood, and blackbirds are difficult to catch as our cat will testify. I interpret this as good sign, a sign that opportunities that are normally elusive will be seized.

And today is a day of music. I wrote the theme for a pilot BBCi series on Thursday and started on a new tune for IndieSFX on Friday, and now have three of a planned four finished.

As well as music today I carried home with help from my mother, over a distance of a mile and a quarter a sheet of 12mm M.D.F. measuring 2.4 by 1.2 metres, which I have now sawn into two huge drawing boards. I'll need these for drawing some of my larger paintings. It made me wonder how the Italian renaissance people drew their huge fresco cartoons. I presume that they were drawn on the floor or perhaps tacked to a wall. Perhaps the underdrawing method of painting is simply not suited to very large works...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


A good day at my weekly Art Support group. My exhibition in the Lyceum Theatre in Crewe has been confirmed for June. The group will also hold an exhibition in Nantwich Museum which is excellent news and my friend Mr. Raymond Perez, an artist of considerable experience and repute, asked me if I'd be interested in a joint exhibition at that venue in 2010 and I agreed. By chance, Sandra was painting a swallowtail butterfly which happens to be the subject of two paintings I'm working on too, and "Dali" was an answer on today's Weakest Link. Such events should not be overlooked and instead seen as secret messages of joy to my euphoparanoia which, unlike normal paranoia convinces me that everyone is thinking good things about me. Now, to be more serious. I've done nothing actually creative today apart from some mundane painting so I'll try and do something tonight. Tomorrow I start work on some theme music for a television programme.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I'm mainly planning paintings now. A tiring and difficult task for my complicated compositions. I am tired of not being creative enough so I wrote a poem tonight, dedicated to all those who chat on the Internet. These few words took a lot of work.

My Distant Friend

At night I send
and love... pretend.
Type 'x' and kiss
a distant friend.

It's late at home.
I sit alone.
Not lonely, though.
I type 'hello'.

So on my own
while with my friend,
week days pass by
and cool weekends,
and I feel love,
but just click 'send'.
I read, alone,
and must pretend.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

You Only Paint Twice

You Only Paint Twice is a misleading title because I'm thinking more and more that three is the magic number in painting. When I paint something once, straight off there is about a 66% chance I will be very unhappy with it. A second copy will somehow look worse, as if the first version opened a magic door in a vault of a million tiny doors, and painting the second one rarely finds the same door to push wider. But the third one hones in on the mistakes of the other two and finishes it off. Last year I spent far far too long repainting huge paintings when I should have spent one or two days painting studies first. Dali said twice "No Lazy Masterpieces!" and he was quite right. In my case my laziness made me work ten times harder.

Today I've painted a half size colour study for one of my big pictures of 2009 called The Apocalypse of Finance and today's one day has surely saved three weeks work I could have easily wasted. I'll aim to paint all of my paintings at least twice from now on.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A day of nothing. My first day of nothing of 2009. I've been trying to do some backing for that song below but it's proving difficult so I'll probably forget it, for now at least.

Creating something and implementing that creation are very different, yet I seem to only want to do both at once or neither. With some art forms like films, the creation part takes hardly any time, but making the thing will take years. I can write lots of songs on paper in one day, but recording just one takes many days, so I wonder; is it better to spend time inventing ideas on paper while I've got an active mind? Or spend longer getting the results just right, making a small number of beautifully finished things? I tend to lean towards the former at the moment.

Any artist working in a "slow" format needs to answer those questions. Commercial artists often use market forces to answer. But what if the art is the most important thing? Would it have been better if Leonardo da Vinci had painted more finished paintings at the expense of the designs for inventions he could never have built?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I've been working on The End and The Beginning for the past few days, my first album of songs that has been in progress for many years but is soon to be finished at last. It's sounding good. It's a pity that more people won't hear it.

I wrote one new song last night too, inspired by a friend who said she was feeling light blue last night. It's a gentle old-time country ballad that would suit someone like Roy Orbison or Johnny Cash, or anyone from the 1930's no problem. I might even record this one (I wish my guitar skills were up to it!!). Here are the words.

Light Blue Evening

I'll have a light blue evening.
I'll spend it on my own.
I'll watch the bright white moonrise
from my window at home.

And when I sleep I'll dream of you,
but I won't want to,
it makes me sad.
But when I sleep I'll dream of you
all the same.

So when you ask what I'll be doing,
you'll know what I will say.
I'll have a light blue evening,
and a dark blue day.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

I did some sound effects for a film called Better Things which is released this month. It's film of the month in Sight and Sound magazine so look out for it: www.betterthingsthefilm.com.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Music work today as I start on the tracks for my first album of songs, with vocals by my friend Steven McLachlan who like me will be famous one day! The music is typically 80's retro sounding but there are other tracks too. Some of these date back to 2003 so I really need to get them out there. By chance, 80's retro is back in.

Music and painting are analogous. It's not how good the quality of the recording is, but the content that matters. Each song, like each painting, should evoke a feeling and have a meaning, and a song in my opinion should make it clear what it is about even if you can't understand the words. The opening track of this album for example, My Motorbike, has rock guitars that "zoom" past (in fact the entire song is just two chords; that even beats Status Quo). There is also a "rev it up" section of notes that descend and climb.

I have many techniques for writing lyrics but a common good one is to imagine a scene and describe it. I sometimes write lyrics and music separately, sometimes they both appear together in my head, but I ususally modify each a bit until they both marry.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Art And Masochism

Masochism is an essential precept for the fine artist, and for the successful person in any field. Those who love work will always defeat the lazy. Those who enjoy challenges are more likely to succeed, and those who love challenges that stretch the mind and body to breaking point are destined to succeed fantastically. Those that enjoy the pain of pushing to and beyond breaking point have greatness in their destiny.

I remember reading that Buddha could be bitten my mosquitoes while meditating and not notice. I suspect that he did notice, and in fact wanted to be bitten by the mosquitoes and wanted to endure the pain to prove that he could conquer it. To concentrate more make yourself less comfortable.

Endurance of discomfort builds willpower and concentration, and willpower and concentration are essential qualities of the fine artist. If painting is easy it relaxes the mind and becomes tiresome for the artist. A tiresome artist paints tiresome paintings for a tiresome public, just as a lazy artist paints lazily for a lazy public. The art of success is art wrought from pain by powerful people who push themselves and appreciated by powerful people who push themselves. A powerful painting is wrought of power.

The early years of any artist are years of struggle and it is during those years that the greatest progress is made. The more an artist struggles the more progress is made. Progress is proportional to the depth of pain and pleasure felt during learning. It is no secret at all that people who push themselves soar to greater heights than those who remain contented, and what is pushing but experimentation, exploration of new terrifying areas, targeting and loving the difficult, and aiming with an insane confidence for the painful and the unknown.
Today's song. I've noticed that I write a lot of songs in January, probably spurred on by new commitments. This one is a sentimental 3/4 piano ballad but a little jazzy, a bit like The Millionaire Waltz by Queen. It's called Just In Case It Messes You Up. It's not particularly catchy, but heartfelt.

I can't tell you
that I love you
just in case
it messes you up.

So I'll keep my feelings to myself.

I tell strangers
that I love you.
Can't tell friends
just in case.

So I'll keep my secret in its place.

We've certainly had our ups and downs,
there were times I wasn't sure but now I know,
because every time you speak to me I can feel that magic glow.

(solo)

Might be never.
To my grave.
Held forever
right here in my heart.

I can't tell you I love you just in case,
it messes you up.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Today I painted coins. They came out awful. I could tell from the underdrawing that they would come out awful. This is the second time I've painted them, the first time was this time last year they were awful too. Today's coins are better, but still awful. Now the pain of wasting four full painting days on a painting that is awful is so intense that, when my mood is positive, it becomes transformed a masochistic joy, the joy of discovering something difficult. I am seriously tempted to repaint these coins again and again until I master them. My fears tell me that I could not ever master them and would waste many potentially productive days or even months trying to paint a pile of coins. So I face a choice; to try to fix this painting. To repaint this painting with lessons learned. To paint a new painting and invent something new and easier for the coin parts. The last option is tempting, but I would learn nothing so my masochism will not permit something so easy.

The painting, even with perfectly painted coins would not be as spectacular as I can today imagine, so perhaps a new more difficult option that also, as penance, included the most difficult aspects of the coins would be the most painful option, and therefore the most desirable. As extra penance I carefully and with love finished painting the coins. Now the underpainting to this second version of this painting is complete, even though I'm more likely to saw it up than show it.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Neutrality Room And The Everything Room

I've noticed that within in the last six months my room, once calm and emotionally neutral, has begun to develop curious idiosyncratic additions that I've put here and there at whim. To exploit this idea I've developed the architectural concepts of the neutrality room and the everything room. Both are essential. One is calming and stable and the other exciting and tactile.

The Neutrality Room

The neutrality room is designed to supress emotion and relax the senses. The neutrality room is five metres cubed. It is charcoal grey and has no visible furnture. The floor is covered with carpet tiles and the walls are smooth. An alcove opposite the single door is carved into the wall and houses a bed, foot end on. The walls contain hidden cuboid wardrobes and storage spaces. A cubic shelf inside the bed alcove functions as a bedside table. Lighting is dimmable and located around the top edge of the wall all around the room. For extra lighting perfectly square glass panels measuring fifty centimeters are placed on the walls and glow with a 6500K white light. Hidden speakers play pink noise.

The Everything Room

The everything room by comparison is designed to be changed according to mood and to stimulate emotions. The room is designed to reflect the personality and feelings of the occupant. The volume of the room is similar to the neutrality room but large blocks of the same colour as the walls can be placed around and removed from the walls to change the shape of the room. The floor is deep and soft. Brightly coloured lights are present and can be used to change the colour of the floor and walls, which are naturally a light neutral grey. Bean bags can be used for seating and furniture can be constructed to any design desired from blocks. Any object can be added or removed at whim and the room is cleaned but never tidied. Large touch screens on the walls can show any scene or be decorated with light pens as desired by the occupant. Music from hidden speakers can be changed at will. Shelves are full of ornaments of any sort desired. Hidden aerosols can pump in any smell desired. Fans blow warm and cold air at any angle in any intensity.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The delights of today can be your mystery, and the mysteries of today can be your delight.

Monday, January 05, 2009

A day of contemplation. I've spent all day painting a figure and some tiny butterflies with immense effort yet still frustration. Sometimes it seems that no matter how many times I paint something and no matter how much effort I expend I remain unhappy with it. Last night I worked on the synopsis to a fantastical story about life and death, purpose and belief. I'd like to find the time to write that this year.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Laughter Of Truth

There are definitely two types of laughter; a laughter or truth and a laughter of ridicule. The former is a positive emotion that most people experience as a reaction and the latter is a negative reaction that is usually formed and directed against something. It is true that surrealism has always had a relationship with humour, and it is also true that the relationship has sometimes incorrectly been seen as negative because of the small minority who use the laughter of ridicule against an artwork with which they disagree. However the laughter of truth is not a criticism but a compliment. The finest parts of Monty Python's Flying Circus encourage laughter through truth because that television programme contains great artworks.

Laughter is an inherent part of the human mind and is part of what it means to be human and to learn. The laughter of ridicule is used by males as an dominant aggressive gesture against other males, and the men who make such laughter are usually exposing their own inadequacies because they detect a challenge to their perceived superiority. The laughter of truth is a social reaction designed to create bonds, to affirm understanding and friendship.

Amusement releases endorphins which help create cellular connections and takes place as a form of enlightenment. In the case of a surrealist artwork the laughter indicates a truth and to some extent all good artworks should provoke that amusement. It is often incorrectly perceived that a "strange modern" artwork that provokes laughter is a bad artwork when in fact the reverse is true. All good artworks should contain an element of truth and therefore always contain an element of the laughter of truth. That amusing feeling of truth is the feeling I described as "mimsy" in another treatise.

Like pornography a joke is transient and wears thin quickly because the joy of learning can take place only once. An unexpected truth can create that exact feeling of discovery and joy. It is found in surrealist art, that same as the joy of a new joke, the creation of the laughter of truth. Sooner or later the laughter subsides because the truth is learned, not because the power of the artwork has faded. A truth is eternal but learning is transient.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Agh I cry with the agonies of one thousand artists! Today I painted a beautiful lady with only venetian red, naples yellow deep and black and white. In almost the same immense amount of time I painted an ugly routemaster bus that I can hardly bring myself to look upon. I also made an important discovery today. Successful people reward themselves with pleasure when good things happen. Unsuccessful people console themselves with pleasure. I suspect that the only difference between success and failure is this reward mechanism. Thus; alcohol (which creates an endorphin response) should only be drunk when you achieve a desirable result because drinking to console will train your body to fail. Casual teenage drinkers who drink to escape from their failing lives are in fact failure trainees, and the happier their drinking session the faster their failure will be! This vindicates my new resolution to drink no alcohol except the finest champagne to celebrate rare and ultra-special successes.

Friday, January 02, 2009

A day of distractions. The underpainting of the sky and floor of a new painting called Urban Escape was done this evening. The picture is yellow and lilac, normally difficult colours because violets are very transparent and so not suitable for underpainting. Normally I would either use grey, cobalt turquoise or a red earth and in this case used mars violet, which is actually not violet but a deep blood red, exactly like the maroon parts of black pudding which is coloured by the very same pigment! You could do far worse than paint with black pudding itself. It is one of the most lightfast foods you can paint with!
My first poem of 2009 is about the painting I worked on yesterday.

A Very Lonely Child

A mechanical mind,
in a turquoise night.
Feel the cold black light
in the heart of an atom.

The ceramic dense child
in the hydrogen heart
is a planet too far
from his parents and star.

Flicker shudder and blink
in the ice of this ink.
We stare inward and die.
Calculate but not think.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

I have today spent nearly twelve full hours painting the underpainting to Two Parents Of A Very Lonely Child which includes four elephants, a seagull and a hydrogen atom. I've never painted this long before yet still feel full of energy. My stamina and willpower have never been stronger and my largest regret is the lack of a woman for lovemaking tonight. My paintings start with an opaque underpainting of exactly the right thickness. I rarely use any medium during underpainting. The result must be perfectly smooth and even. If the paint is too thin it will not blend and look blotchy and if it is too thick it smudges and pull when blended. If you were to shrink to about four millimetres tall and walk naked on the surface of the wet underpainting the paint should come half-way up to your toes but when glazing it should be so thin as to just mark the bottom of your feet, yet still leave no footprints due to the richness of the medium. For me, only opaque 100% permanent paints may be used; iron earths for red/yellow/black, chromium oxide for green, and cobalt turquoise which is the only blue opaque enough. Now I will put the picture away for the final touches tomorrow.