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September 30, 2008

Wellington Street, LS1

My first studio, in Leeds. Monty and I rented the top floor of a large Victorian building on Wellington Street, in the centre of Leeds.


We built a darkroom at one end, because in those days we shot on film and mainly in black and white, then we put the office on top of it.


Monty in the office

Posted by john at 09:55 AM | Comments (0)

September 28, 2008

Furniture - the story continues...

From drawers we move on to sofas

on the sofa I, oil on panel, 1060mm x 1060mm

many's the time a model has stretched out on the sofa

on the sofa II, oil on panel, 1060mm x 1060mm

and sometimes they would fall asleep, it has to be said

on the sofa III, oil on panel, 1060mm x 1380mm

on the sofa IV, oil on panel, 1060mm x 1380mm

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September 27, 2008

from drawers to drawers ha ha

I’m a drawer – in that I draw. [sorry]

Hands, detail, conte crayon on paper

Drawing, as I have often mentioned on these pages, is about looking and seeing. It is also about knowing – knowing what to look for. That’s why Leonardo, amongst others, cut up dead people.

Leonardo da Vinci, 1452 - 1519

Knowing what goes on under the skin helps you to make sense of the things you see on the surface. After that it is just a case of putting some shadow where shadow falls, thereby tricking the eye into thinking it is seeing something that it isn’t, seeing something solid that is infact flat.

on the sofa, study, conte crayon on paper

Art, on the other hand, is about getting sporty people to run the length of the Tate Gallery. Course it is. Mind you, try that for your A level and you might be disappointed with your result.

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September 26, 2008

more from the drawer


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September 25, 2008

In the little drawers

I’ve got lots of drawers, lots of sets of drawers, lots of chests of drawers. Maybe [if you’re lucky] I’ll get round to photographing them all one day and put them up here as some kind of furniture porn.

In the meantime here are the drawers that sit on my desk.


The bottom drawers are full of small tools, things I use almost everyday. Whilst cleaning the accumulated fluff from the bottom drawer I looked at the pile of stuff and thought I’d do one of those arranged photographs:


Then I thought, why not do the second drawer too while I’m about it:


Ho ho, there you go, everything needed to get a creative fellow through the difficulties of a day in a studio in an old woollen mill in Huddersfield.

I should like to point out that this same collection of devices has been with me for many a year and has also got me through difficult days in old Sunday Schools in Halifax, Triangular houses in Maidstone, Old Farm Houses in Thurstonland, Hunting Lodges in the South of France and Wooden Huts in the Swiss Alps.

Though I have to confess I can’t remember ever have used that green curvy thing, which goes by the, somewhat grammatically awkward, name of a French Curves.

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September 24, 2008

From the dim and distant past


photographs by my brother, Richard

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September 22, 2008

The Green Door

Ever since Davie and Moore wrote the song in 1956 people have been speculatin’ as to just what goes on behind the green door.

One more night without sleeping’ –
Till the morning comes creepin’
Green door
What’s that secret you’re keepin’?
There’s an old piano and
They play it hot behind the
Green door
Don’t know what they’re doin’
But they laugh a lot behind the green door.
Wish they’d let me in
So I could find out what’s
Behind the green door.
Knocked once
Tried to tell them I’d been there
Door slammed
Hospitality’s thin there
Wonder just what’s goin’ on in there
Saw an eyeball peepin’ through a smokey cloud
Behind the green door.

But in 1926 AA Milne knew:
illustration by Ernest H Shepard

Posted by john at 12:40 PM | Comments (0)

September 21, 2008

Lawty at the Whitworth


Went to see some of Sue Lawty’s recent work at the opening of cloth & culture NOW [not, please note, cloth & culture at any other time, but cloth & culture NOW!]

It didn’t help that the exhibition was split between two different areas of the Whitworth Art Gallery, with endless bland Victorian watercolours between the two.

Blaaah… I’m not going to do a crit. of the show – the show is there [go see it] the work has been chosen for one reaon or another, for better or worse, the curator had a vision. Enough.

What was really good was seeing Sue’s work up there large on a big wall with plenty of white space around it. The gallery context might be a cliché but it still rocks as far as most artists are concerned.

call and response, linen, lead, stone, shadow, Sue Lawty 2008

linen detail

lead detail

stone detail

One day, many years ago, a huge smile bounced into my studio in Leeds, wearing a chunky wool sweater, clutching a pair of knitting needles upon which some of the same sweater’s chunky wool was carefully arranged and knotted as if she was still knitting it.

Behind her she dragged a giant woven Maltesers packet, with knitted Maltesers in attendance. She asked if I could take a photograph of the Maltesers packet. We’ve been friends ever since.

Maltesers, Forrest Mars Sr., 60mm x 130mm, plastic and chocolate, 1936

It’s great to see her work progress over the years and it’s really good to see it in a big gallery getting the recognition it deserves.

Posted by john at 02:56 PM | Comments (0)

September 20, 2008

When four worlds meet.

MC Escher painted optical illusions and visual puns. In Three Worlds he was describing the three disparate elements present on the picture surface, which represented three different worlds in real life.


There is the surface of the pond, as depicted by the floating leaves, the underwater world – the fish and the reflected world beyond the pond, the trees.

Staring out of the window this morning I noticed four worlds meeting in the one frame.


There is the surface of the window, as seen by the crack in the glass, the world beyond the window – the jet-streams of giant flying machines heading for far Amerikey, the world in front of the glass – the string hanging down, and the reflected world – the image of the string in the glass [the vertical line that looks like a jet-stream but isn’t].


Once more life imitates art.

Posted by john at 02:25 PM | Comments (1)

September 15, 2008

Which way’s up?

With some people you ask this, somewhat ironic, question and get a sympathetic shrug or at most a feeble laugh and an understanding nod of the head.


But with Alan, via text, you get poetry:

“Gravity has conspired with mass to make us feel inadequate. We are earthbound and small, bound to climb. And arriving at the summit short of breath and expecting to meet God we realise we are alone. Breathing deeply we become elated by our bravery and by the realisation that the top is so desolate and so lovely. This is the narcotic that draws us up.”

Beauty and truth, I guess living in Dublin helps.

Posted by john at 02:34 PM | Comments (3)

September 14, 2008

Contemplating stollage

Sitting here wondering how to support the semi-elliptic office desk I’m building, I contemplate stollage. Great thing stollage, the stuff of massive woodworkings.

Stollage is a word you won’t find around a lot. In fact when coupled with the word “parrot” it’s a googlewhack – that is: it gets only one hit [or at least it did at 15:35 today].

It’s basically an intense collection of numerous jointed timbers that supports a superstructure, like a stage. Not to be confused with rafters, which are numerous jointed timbers that support a roof.


It can also be a pile or stack of unjointed timbers supporting an oil tank or water butt or such. Though this is usally called cribbing, but it isn’t such an unusual word [combined with “parrot” it gets 7270 hits on Google] and should not be confused with cribbage which is a different game altogether.

It’s thought that the ancients used stollage [or cribbing, if you prefer] when erecting their huge monoliths.


They would roll the big stone onto one timber, then by lots of them climbing on the end they would tilt the stone up a bit. Then they would put another timber, slightly bigger than the first, under the stone. Everyone rushed to the other end, see-saw style, and the stone would tilt up again, a bit steeper this time, while bigger timbers were stacked under it. Thus rocking the stone back and forth it’s possible to raise it high off the ground. [Look here for more on this.]

Mind you, when it comes to the desk, I think stollage might be rather over egging the pudding, for one thing they’d struggle getting their legs under it.

Posted by john at 05:42 PM | Comments (0)

September 12, 2008

A Brief History of Art part I

Time was an artist had a shop on the high street next to the butcher's and just up from the candlestick maker. Folk would come into town for a bag of offal, some new nightlights and pop in for a portrait of their firstborn or, as was more often the case, a picture of their crockery.

still life with an upturned roemer, oil on wood. Willem Claeszoon Heda 1638

Your high street artist would set about this with gusto, which is a bit like gesso but not quite so sticky, with the help of a few apprentices. He [for he it usually was] would use skills learnt and passed down over hundreds of years and create a passing likeness to the objects in question, and everyone would go away happy.

Then some bastard invented the camera, and it went tits up from there. Next thing you know artists are shitting in tins and pissing in the snow. Oh, M. Nicéphore Niépce you knew not what you wrought.


Posted by john at 10:24 PM | Comments (0)

September 11, 2008

I know it's only September but...

The print-room management team tells me I've got to start beginning to think about coming up with this year's helping of festive greetings. Here's the story so far:


which gave rise to this:


Posted by john at 04:01 PM | Comments (2)

September 10, 2008

Disco River

The river Holme, which, not unreasonably, flows through Holmfirth – a small river crossing in the midst of the holly forest* – has been decorated with lights, and not just your normal outdoorilluminatesomethinginterestingonanoldbuilding lights, but disco lights. Yay!

Here’s a sample from their array of crazy psychedelic colours [far out, man]






*now largely cut down, it has to be said.

Posted by john at 11:31 PM | Comments (2)

September 09, 2008

spinning torsos and swivel chairs

As ever, with a view to placing comestibles upon the table, the life of a creative artist is liberally sprinkled with a good helping of hands-on practicality, to wit: wood bashing.


In this instance, re-fitting an office in Leeds. Hey, ho, needs must when the devil drives the grocery van.

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

September 08, 2008

dancing torsos

Animators would call it a style sheet, as a photographer I'd call it a contact sheet. Whatever you choose to call it it was the starting point for the moving torsos film


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September 07, 2008

Shelf Central


The McFugger Workshops

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September 05, 2008

The Beast Awakes.

It’s early this year, growling in the basement, angry and scratchy and smelly.

One of the advantages of having a studio in a working woollen mill, as I have mentioned before in this collection of thoughts, is that when the weather gets inclement they kindly pump high pressure steam around the place in big steel pipes.


During the summer the great steam beast sleeps fitfully, keeping just enough of the puff to work the cloth. But when it starts to get cold the furnaces roar and the water boils, and today, as the Earl said when spotting that his son had been at the drinks cabinet again, there’s a nip in the air.


So the beast stirs, the pipes begin to grumble and gurgle against a thin background hiss. Then, as the heat stretches its warm grasp along the cold steel, the pipes start to expand. The mill covers about four acres, which is a lot of pipes, and, remembering the way prisoners talk about their escape plans late at night, sound travels a long way through pipes.

KeeeeerRACK! BANG BANG BANG BANG fffffffshhhhiissssss crick crick CRACK tickticktickticktick BANG tick whiiiiiirrrshhhhhhhhCRACK! Rrrrrrrrrr BANG BANG tick tick click tick tick click. Never a dull moment with steam heating.

Not all the steam makes it to the pipes however.


Posted by john at 10:38 AM | Comments (1)

September 04, 2008

Paint boiling

I could, in a trice, increase my paint boiling facilities by 30%. With this little number:


A snip at only 30 bones. And just think I could have three pans of paint on the go at once. Not to mention the béchamel sauce.

This, in case you didn't know, is the present state of paint boiling possibility:


Posted by john at 09:01 PM | Comments (0)

September 03, 2008

Ninjutsu - or the Way of the Ninja

The ninja’s primary goal is to use the art to gain entry into enemy territory, gather as much information as possible to prepare a strategy and return without ever being detected. It is a natural instinct to deceive to survive. It can be seen everywhere in biological life.

The ninja should always strive for righteousness through acts of justice and reflect on the betterment of his soul for his teacher and parents.

Ninjutsu emphasizes deception. It is best to confuse your enemy by spying, stealth and investigation when planning an effective strategy.

Secrecy was a matter of life and death. Anyone who betrayed the group to which he belonged was killed, along with close relatives.

A ninja must not kill others, hurt innocent people or steal for personal profit or pleasure.

Fitness must be maintained at an optimal level.

Arts such as music, painting, poetry, singing and dancing should be enthusiastically pursued.

The ninja is expected to train intensively in a myriad of areas: weapon skills, unarmed fighting methods, strategic analysis, covert building entry methods, swimming, improvisation, escape and evasion, table tennis, disguise, chemistry, meteorology and geography to name just a few.

Posted by john at 08:43 PM | Comments (1)

more dancing torsos


still from the fluorescent bra sequence

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September 02, 2008

Who done it?


Entitled Science and Charity, this was painted in oil, on canvas, in Barcelona, in 1897, by a young fellow, age 16.


He went by the name of Pablo Diego José Santiago Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno Maria de los Remedios Crispin Crispiniano de la Santisima Trinidad Ruiz Blasco y Picasso.

Not a style of painting he’s best known for. But important. It’s important to note that you have to be able to do it before you can mess with it.

picasso couple.jpg
Le Couple, Picasso 1969

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

September 01, 2008

Turning Torsos

Starting to lay up the dancing torsos for the new dance film



three strips, three figures, all rotating, it's starting to come together.

Long way to go yet though...

Posted by john at 11:24 PM | Comments (0)