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October 26, 2004

Gumption traps

You can fall into many traps when engaged in a creative pursuit. The road is pitted, and you can’t always see where you’re putting your feet.

Faced with the ubiquitous blank canvas [both metaphorically and, in my case, sometimes literally] there are Value Traps, Ego Traps, Anxiety Traps, Boredom Traps and Impatience Traps, to name but a few.

All these hold up the process of creation, and it’s possible to fall foul of more than one trap at a time.

trap, n. 1. a contrivance used for catching and holding animals or people, as a concealed pit or a mechanical device that springs shut suddenly, a pitfall. 2. any device, stratagem, trick, or the like for catching a person unaware.

gumption, n. 1. initiative; aggressiveness; resourcefulness. 2. courage; spunk; guts.

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October 25, 2004

studio fug

Sitting in a café in Bradford, the paintings come thick and fast, I feel the potential, the creative buzz. YES! I can do it, I can do it all, and I will, by god!

But arriving in the studio on a damp Monday morning a fug descends. The creative potential seeps away like so much sand through the desiccated fingers of a weary traveller throwing themselves onto the dusty mirage of an oasis.

When it isn’t possible to paint [in a café in Bradford, on the train back from London] the ideas and motivation abound in buckets. But in the studio, where, clearly, painting is entirely possible, the motivation is difficult to stir.

This is one reason I paint from life. With a model coming in at 10.00am, there is an understandable need for me to do some work. If I painted still life, I could NOT paint still life for days on end.

But why, when I have what is commonly considered an excellent creative environment to work in, do I struggle?

answers in the comments box please…

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October 23, 2004

Why much?

No, I don’t do it for the money, hell I’d’ve stopped long ago if I did. Exactly why I do it is a tricky one. Indeed, from time to time, when it all gets too much, I try to stop – but can’t. So some would say I have to do it.

I don’t have to sell it. I often get this one wrong. Being a misplaced product of the middleclassprotestantworkethic I feel a fundamental need to “do well”. It is hard, on a purely fiscal level, to work on a six foot nude which is wholly uneconomical.

[It’s hard on an artistic level too but that’s a struggle I enjoy]

I have to keep telling myself it’s okay. I have to realise that in fact the most important thing is to do the work, the second most important thing is for the work to be seen, then way down the line comes selling the work.

I want people to want what I do.
I don’t want to do what people want.

Since the artist has split [about 150 years ago] from his alter ego the craftsman, it has been a selfish arrogant pursuit. But a necessary one, because as society is getting more and more tied down to systems [both corrupt and honourable] it is important to have creative people existing outside the system to be able to observe and comment on the one thing the system ignores: the human condition.

Money is the false idol of the systems, so to equate it to Art is wrong. To try to put monetary worth on creativity in no way helps the creativity. Money can provide the freedom for creativity to occur, and that is the test of an artist perhaps. Do you work to live or live to work?

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October 20, 2004


A question I dread: how much is it?

Don’t get me wrong, I want to sell my work - indeed I want it out the studio.

[an artist needs two people in their life, one to inspire them and one to take the work away when it’s finished]

But: How much is it? It’s wonderful when someone likes your work, you just want to give it to them. I don’t do it for money, but I need money to do it, so it would be crazy to give paintings away.

So how much? [very insistent these buyers] well, let me see… it cost so much for the materials, and so much for the model and it did seven sessions, and six days and it was on the easel for four weeks – and, well I sat and looked at it for two days, do I include that? Then I left it alone in the racks for a couple of months, before adding a bit of Prussian Blue [just a bit obviously]. And then there’s my lifetime’s experience to take into consideration and the fact that the picture will last 200 years, 400 if looked after… Now, a plumber charges – what? £60 an hour… and you’ll happily buy a computer for £1500 which will be out of date by the time you’ve worked out how to switch it on. So…


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October 19, 2004

The folding stuff

Trying to gather enough of the folding stuff to put shoes on the feet of the children, by painting alone, is hard. Some would say well-nigh impossible.

Especially when painting seven foot high, five foot wide, larger than life nudes.

So, in the absence of knavery, other means must need be sought to bring home the bacon. These can range from the mildly artistic endeavours of book layout and illustration to teaching and even the occasional piece of writing.

All this means that I’m away from the palette, and I miss it. But on the upside, when I get back to it, there is usually a flurry of activity, a frenzy of painting, you can’t keep a painter from his paint for too long.

[letter arrives from Headmaster questioning the practicalities of sending youths to school in bare feet]

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October 14, 2004

truth is boring

It’s not enough just to do what you do. Art is not a mirror to the world – we can see the world how it is anytime. What art must do is illuminate the world, art should be a lens which distorts the world, exaggerating elements that have gone unnoticed.

The artist's job is to be the eyes of the people and to peek between the gap in the billboards and throw some light onto our lot [and what it lights up might not be pleasant and pretty, but then life ain’t always either].

Expression needs an input as well as an output. It isn’t enough just to do it, it isn’t enough just to be ‘honest’. A lot of art today is just a splurge of emotion with little or no effort to make it work. By work I mean communication. If the piece needs a lengthy explanation to understand it then, in my book [third shelf down five along, next to Infectious Diseases of the Honey Bee], it isn’t working.

Time was there was too much effort and not enough truth, but in those days the artist was a craftsman who was not asked to deliver the truth.

Now all we have is the truth, which quite frankly, is boring [see Big Brother and its ilk]. The artist must needs process the truth and come up with a better version. Ugly, maybe; shocking, almost certainly; but ultimately illuminating.

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October 13, 2004

creative mistakes

“Better to make a creative mistake than a stagnant work in good taste”
Philippe Starck

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October 12, 2004


Half Man Half Biscuit said, amongst many things: “there is nothing better in life than writing on the sole of your slipper with a biro…” and there is some truth in this, it has to be said, for those of you who are old enough to remember both slippers, and those soft spongy soles they sported.

However writing on a blackboard is a beautiful experience. [White boards and squeaky markers that are almost always nearly empty don’t come close.] Trying to emulate the fluidity possible with chalk on a smooth matt black in a painting is nearly impossible. Some [Joseph Beuys in particular] revert to using the real thing, but they are not very permanent unless you have a whole gallery staff in attendance to preserve them for you.

Perhaps part of the attraction of blackboard writing is the impermanence.

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October 11, 2004

The IT factor

A comment people often make when they see art is: “it doesn’t do it for me”.

This of course is not unreasonable, art is largely subjective. But is suggests there is an IT that pictures can possess. This IT might well be a criteria of “Art”.

I believe you only get the IT factor when you are doing what you want to do. Pictures don’t have IT if they are done for reasons other than a personal passion [money mainly it has to be said].

Sadly in this soap-opera-driven society the IT-less pictures sell, not because they are art but because most people don’t know their arts from their elbow.

So what ever it is that you do, do it because you want to, not because someone else wants you to. That is the only true path to art.

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October 04, 2004


Five days later, give or take a day for time travel, and I'm back.

Five days spent standing on some hardwearing carpet tiles in Olympia's main hall [beautiful ceiling by the way, they knew how to rivet steel in those days] watching people walk past my work.

Here’s what you do at an art fair:

Sit for a bit, until the people start to filter through.
Stand up, move away from your work and look mildly interested in the world.
Walk about a bit.
Stand in a different place and look with interest at the edge of another stand.
Walk a bit further, casually.
Stand around.
Sit down and write in a notebook, looking intelligent and purposeful.
Hide notebook as contents is neither intelligent nor purposeful.
Stand up, smile, and dash for a coffee
Walk back slowly to find the portfolios have been rifled through in your [brief] absence – were they waiting for you to go?
Sit down, with your back to your work
Pick up a magazine and look interested
Fall asleep
Wake up to a large man talking at you, making no sense whatsoever
“dyoodo tread?”
- sorry?
“dyoodo tread?”
- er… what did you say?
“dyoodo tread?”
[look pal, I didn’t get it the first two times how d’you expect..] - do you want to buy a picture?
“Yes, dyoodo tread?”
- ah! Trade, yes, this is trade...
Stand around.
Walk about a bit.
Stand and contemplate the lot of the soldier on guard duty.
Stand and look at the lady in the pink stilettos and wonder what other form of masochism she’s into.
Stand and count the rivets in the nearest girder.
[takes practice but it certainly takes the weight off your feet]

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