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May 31, 2008

temps perdu

Going through The Drawers, looking for certain images, I'm constantly reminded of time past, like this, from over ten years ago:

Jo, charcoal on paper, 230mm x 450mm

and because drawings take a long time there are always stories stored away alongside the drawings.

One day I might write them all down.

Posted by john at 05:17 PM | Comments (1)

May 30, 2008

further thoughts on failure

If you can't always recognize success, you can recognize failure. If you have a passion, sadly, failure sticks out a mile as you try to achieve your goal. You have to accept that failure is part of the creative process and yet be ruthless when you encounter it. Expunge anything that isn't working.

"If you're not failing a lot of the time you're not creating a situation where you can get super lucky"
Ira Glass, producer and presenter of American public radio show This American Life.

Posted by john at 11:37 PM | Comments (2)

an experiment in blue & green


Posted by john at 08:26 PM | Comments (0)

May 29, 2008

How many takes does it take?

What makes success? It doesn’t happen at the time. It takes just as much time to make a hit single as it does a miss. Success happens sometime later – or not, as the case may be.


In the 1959 film, Some Like it Hot, Billy Wilder said Marilyn Monroe took 47 takes to get her first line: "It's me, Sugar", correct.


Thomas Edison struggled to get the light bulb off the drawing board, people told him to give up because he had failed so many times. He famously replied: “I've not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”


When Pinter’s play “The Birthday Party” opened in London, in 1958, it was panned by the critics and taken off four days later. Now it is revered as a masterpiece and your man Pinter has the Nobel Prize for Literature. The weekend that his play was taken off he sat in a café and decided to give up writing.

There is no way of knowing what you are doing while you are doing it, or even after you’ve done it, you’ve just got to have the courage of your convictions and leave history to do the rest.

Posted by john at 01:26 PM | Comments (1)

May 28, 2008

Sometimes I wonder...


Been behind the movie camera today, gathering images for the short piece I’m working on.



Long way to go before things start to look like the storyboard.

Posted by john at 08:58 PM | Comments (0)

May 27, 2008

For one night only

Cauliflower and peas, with macaroni cheese,


served hot, at the Poetry Cafe.

Posted by john at 09:24 PM | Comments (0)

May 26, 2008

in, on, by and off the chair



Posted by john at 04:39 PM | Comments (0)

it's that chair again


Posted by john at 12:05 PM | Comments (0)

May 24, 2008

The bending room

Last night I had to get some metal table legs bent. So I went to an old garage complex down by the canal. It was a series of low red-brick sheds with corrugated iron roofs, the ground was hard beaten oil soaked earth and wooden flooring – difficult to tell the difference sometimes. There were yellowing lights in chipped enamel shades suspended on fraying electric cord and dirty skylights letting in the sodium orange of the overhanging streetlights.

The first space was quite clean compared to the others, and I was greeted by a short stocky man with grubby hands and an old faded pale blue boiler suit. Various oil manufacturers had at one time been advertised above his torn breast pockets but now their names were barely legible amidst the muck and grease stains.

The first thing I noticed was a row of old cars gathering dust progressively as they disappeared into the gloom. The first car was bright red, and I recognised it immediately. I had just that afternoon written about it here on my blog. It was a 1920 Packard twin six roadster.

“That’s a 1920’s Packard twin six roadster, isn’t it?” I said with more confidence than my scant knowledge of motor cars could support.

The man nodded and I knew I was now OK, I was accepted. “What can I do for you?” he asked, obligingly, lifting his head slightly.

I explained that I needed the legs bent. He took them from me and without looking at them headed off down a murky passage. I followed and passed other rooms, off to the sides, full of dusty car parts - wings and bonnets in muted shades, stacked on old shelves. In some dim rooms, among oil drums and hoists, well worn men in oily weeds were welding hidden fittings or bent over benches beating noisy panels.


“A lot of people here” I remarked.
“We all worked for the same firm,” your man said, ”then they went bust and we bought them out.”
“Do you specialise?”
“Nah, we all do a bit of everything.”

The conversation took us to a long low room with dark walls and lots of large square tables, each with a strip light hanging over it, like a pool hall in a 1930's black and white movie. The tables all had raised metal rims with differing indentations. I realised these were the bending tables.

He took the metal legs to a far table and slotted them, one at a time, into the indentations, then lent across and bent the top of each 90°. He knew what he was doing. He lifted them out and, still not looking at them, carried them over to a central table, slightly smaller than the others, with what looked like a gas ring in the middle of it. Placing the legs, like the four points of a compass, under the ring he lowered an old brass light fitting onto a central recess in the otherwise flat top. Bending down he squinted across under the ring and, tapping each leg slightly with the large end of a dirty ball-peen hammer, he brought the legs up true.

Funny what you dream about.

Posted by john at 07:39 PM | Comments (1)

May 23, 2008

and whilst stuck...

...shuffle about amongst the internets [as this information stream is oft' referred to by our cousins across the wet bit]


a Packard twin six roadster, in a time when motoring was a feat not a chore.

a car not built by robots


with scant lack of seat belt fixing points


and the size of the steering wheel... this car had to be driven - with no power steering and a chassis that would put a lot of today's high-rise buidings to shame, you needed the leverage just to get round the corner at the end of the street.

full size image here, thanks Shorpy

Posted by john at 09:46 PM | Comments (0)



Posted by john at 09:43 AM | Comments (0)

May 21, 2008

ah - that's how it works


Posted by john at 11:49 PM | Comments (0)

How to avoid denaturation of milk proteins.

There’s nothing like a good cup of tea, especially, as Brian Emsley of the Royal Society of Chemistry remarks, after carrying a heavy bag of shopping in the cold rain.

But what constitutes a good cup of tea? There are some horror stories around, some disturbing habits at the kettle, some frightening behaviour in the House of Tea.

The increasingly common practice of putting a teabag in a mug and adding hot water is a crime. Apart from anything else the resulting infusion is far too hot, especially if the mug in question is some stupid thin china affair. For tea you need a teapot, end of story.


A charming vessel, designed especially for brewing the dried leaves of the shrub camellia sinensis.

The basic idea is to get the leaves immersed in water as near boiling point as makes no odds. A lot of countries, to the East, actually boil the water with the tea in it, but their cause is not ours.

To facilitate this heat factor it’s important to warm the teapot before the tea leaves and boiling water meet. It is also important, heh heh, to take the teapot to the kettle not the other way round. Then - do nothing, let it brew.

There’s always a lot of debate about whether you put the milk in first. Well, it does make a difference, the resulting cup of tea does taste slightly different depending on whether the milk goes into the mug before or after the tea. This is due to the denaturation of proteins at temperatures above 75°C. So a little bit of milk hitting a mug of hot tea gets heated up higher than a lot of cold milk getting hit by hot tea.

As is explained in a scene I wrote some years ago:

I know, I know this is all picky stuff, but when you get people pouring UHT milk [dear god] into a mug with a teabag in and adding water too long off the boil, it ain’t tea, and, after a long walk with heavy shopping in the cold rain, it simply doesn’t do.

UPDATE: oh, yes, tea is also nice served with a sweet biscuit, thanks Paula

Posted by john at 12:32 PM | Comments (1)

May 19, 2008

What does it say?


Favourite among the questions I get asked when people see my work is:

“Who is it?”

To which I usually answer: “Pauline,” as the name of the model is not really relevant, unless it’s a portrait.

Next question is invariably:

“What does it say?”

I use all sorts of text in my pictures, my father’s university notes, old postcards, the odd bit of Beckett perhaps and very often slices of Shakespeare’s prologue to Henry V, which I consider one of his finest pieces.


Posted by john at 09:45 PM | Comments (0)

May 16, 2008


When the going gets tough, the tough hit the sofa.


Ah, yes, stretch out, lie back, shut my eyes and contemplate matters of the universe and beyond. Left to my own devices, that is: not being rudely awakened by a cold telephone call or a window cleaner falling off a ladder, I’ll usually sleep for 20 minutes.

An ageing Salvador Dali had a theory and he would sit in his most comfortable chair, balancing a teaspoon, between thumb and first finger, over an empty tin can. His theory was that a moment’s sleep was a good thing, in fact the shorter the sleep the more the benefit.


Thus as he fell asleep the teaspoon would drop into the tin can and wake him up. [I should perhaps point out that, in his dotage, a lot of people considered Dali to be mad as a box of frogs.]

Posted by john at 08:14 PM | Comments (2)

May 14, 2008


In answer to all your letters and telegrams, here are the ten:

three off the top boards

and seven off the lower boards, of which you can see six here

Posted by john at 10:36 PM | Comments (1)

After three, one… two…


“Nowhere on the Internet will you find a picture of more guys simultaneously jumping off a tree than the 10 shown here”
thanks Shorpy

Posted by john at 09:11 AM | Comments (0)

May 13, 2008

a whole bag full of thinking


Hee hee, give me a couple of 10 grand and we'll knock this thing into shape...

... in the mean time, I'll get on with it as best I can. I should be able to get seven minutes together by the end of June, even if it doesn't have the swirling red-saturated smoke and the three dancers. Hey ho.

Posted by john at 11:15 PM | Comments (0)

That thinking thing

The mind is a big place, huge, bigger than a computer, bigger than the internet – hell, it’s exactly the same size as the universe [which is no coincidence].

It does being big by being able to jump from one thing to the next without taking all the inbetweeny steps. Unlike this switching-engine under the desk. Particularly big leaps are sometimes called creativity.

10:36 am

This morning the universe in my mind is focused on a few square inches of paper in front of me. The paper is the portal, the paper is the medium through which the ideas try and escape.

10:44 am

In the dim cold dark matter of the mind images are conjured up like third magnitude stars and whole worlds evolve, collide and dissolve in moments, while feelings and emotions are shuffled and stirred.

10:58 am

As I draw the images, trying to nail the thoughts to something tangible, other images keep appearing, and a whole heap of possibility occurs, bound only by time and money.

Posted by john at 12:02 PM | Comments (1)

May 12, 2008

The future of literature.

Leave a paperback out in the sun and the wind and the rain for a while and the result is a true palimpsest:


Three pages are creating this jumble of type, as you can see by the three visible page numbers at the bottom. On the top page, page 153, the paper has almost completely rotted away, just leaving the ink.

palimpsest 755.jpg

So when books rot just the ink remains, just the letters, the great libraries of the world will eventually become just a pile of letters. In the future Space People will try to put the letters back into some sort of order and create wonderfully inaccurate stories about our civilization.

Posted by john at 12:38 PM | Comments (0)

May 11, 2008

Local brick

Amongst the rubble of a demolished lunatic asylum the bricks proclaim their makers, silent witnesses of unknown distress.





Posted by john at 06:54 PM | Comments (0)

May 08, 2008

Clickety Stuck

Photoshop’s all very well, but it’s a bit of a bum-numbing clickety-fidget. I mean where are the spatial dynamics? Where’s the movement? The action? It might be a lot of things but Photoshop ain’t physical. At least Final Cut projects exist in time as well as space.

Photoshop’s clever, damn clever, but at what cost? As well as the RSIs currently impinging on my right wrist, what does it do for the eyes, staring full screen at glaring pixels all day long?

I’ve spent the best part of the last two weeks hooked up to the G5, tapping the occasional key, clicking, interminably, on the clicky thing. And I’ve got some acceptable results, I guess. But I feel flat. I feel stuck.


In the painting studio I pace about, barefoot, whilst flinging paint at the panel and talking to the model – hell, sometimes I pace about [barefoot] while talking to the panel and flinging paint at the model, it’s a choice thing.


There’s something happening. There are deals being struck by the minute. There’s some walking about going on. There’s plenty of vim and not a little vigour.

Taking pictures, likewise, I dance and jig and generally wiggle around [while flinging paint at the model, obviously] and it’s a real-time event, of which the pictures are the product.


But sitting with a computer as my companion? Dear God! There’s no connection, no action, no dialogue.

This is no new thing, two centuries ago people were already worrying about the amount of time office workers were spending at their desks, and contraptions were constructed accordingly.


I don’t particularly feel the need to indulge in the above, whatever it is, but I do need to engage in some physically creative endeavour, hands on.

Posted by john at 11:35 PM | Comments (0)

Heaven and Earth

This is what happens when a volcano erupts in the middle of a storm:


more here

Posted by john at 09:21 PM | Comments (0)

May 07, 2008

Copper Man

Been photographing Jim Bond's latest piece.


A full-size man made of riveted copper.


It goes on like this all the way down to the feet.


Posted by john at 05:48 PM | Comments (2)

May 05, 2008

Continuous Grid & Anode Potential Tests

People often ask me what my father did. He was an Electrical Research Engineer. This is the sort of thing he got up to at university:


Photograph showing arrangement of apparatus for Continuous Grid and Anode Potential Tests.

Posted by john at 01:00 PM | Comments (0)

May 03, 2008

Oh...and blots - did I mention blots?


Posted by john at 09:09 PM | Comments (1)

May 02, 2008


As I've mentioned before, every time I leave the studio to make a cup of coffee I see this unfinished piece propped against the wall. And, like Quasimodo on the First Sunday after Easter, today it struck a bell.


Nothing’s that far from anything else. Indeed, by all accounts, we’re all only ever six people away from Kevin Bacon and, apparently, if you lose your pen it’ll be a maximum of nine inches away from where you are.

Or at least where you were when you lost it, providing, I guess, it didn’t slip out of your back pocket during your record breaking attempt of the North Face of the Eiger. Mind you it might still be nine inches away, in one direction – and several thousand feet in quite another direction. But, as usual, I digress.

Theodoric was One of Us, manipulated digital image

The photographs I’m working on at the moment are not entirely dissimilar to a series of mixed media pieces I did a few years ago:

head and text VIII, 200mm x 350mm mixed media on paper

head + blots, 225mm x 300mm, mixed media on paper

And indeed figures and text have been known to feature in the big oils:

figure with vessel, 1980mm x 1220mm, oil on panel

ummm… the same themes can be seen in the films too:

still image from dusttodust, digital video, 5'16"

still image from dusttodust, digital video, 5'16"

I seem to have spent the last umpty years trying to get words and bodies to lie together.

Posted by john at 12:36 PM | Comments (0)

May 01, 2008

Uncas gets a postcard from Aunt Edith, in Somerset


Posted by john at 07:13 PM | Comments (0)

Fame and infamy

There is a difference, and it ain’t that subtle. Marilyn Monroe was famous, Lindsay Lohan is infamous.

What a ridiculous idea that Ms Lohan should try to recreate the iconic photoshoot between Bert Stern and Marilyn, even with Stern once more as the photographer. Marilyn had something - charisma, Lindsay is mainly known for not having something – knickers. I can’t believe how bad these new images are.

Bert Stern was the man behind the iconic image of Lolita


and has subsequently become known for taking the last photographs of Marilyn, in a three day shoot, only a few weeks before her death.


Some of these images quickly reached well deserved fame. Today, even the images he decided weren’t up to scratch have become famous, indeed the orange marker crossing out the print has become integral to the image.


Such is the nature of success that Mr Stern is now famous for images he initially rejected. What a wonderful and weird world we live in.


And I’m not posting images of La Lohan because they are really, really, ugly – but if you want to see for yourself click here.

Posted by john at 12:21 PM | Comments (0)