Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Today I started a painting which I am growing to hate, but oh my days did I enjoy mixing that oil paint. Even if an artwork fucks up, there is a very very rare peace to be found in its process.

I am led by my head, unless
I am viewing or making art

Weeks ago, after seeing the Tate’s Gauguin exhibition, I wrote,

‘My consciousness is the bane of my life, and then Gauguin.’

It was one of those days in which my brain is so swollen with thoughts that it feels as if it could burst out of my eyeballs any minute. With deep crevices of thought in my brow I walk along the riverside on my way to the Tate Modern and I swear to god I can feel my brain splitting. Self-induced labotomy is one of my greatest fears.

Anyway, in my agony (all the while screaming to myself inside, why can’t you just be!!!??), I arrive at the gallery, buy the expensive ticket and enter the exhibition. With a small shiver of relief, my brain calms down. As I move from piece to piece around the gallery, I am free to wonder through my much tidier mind, which is now contentedly concentrating on visual comprehension. My mind is so goddamn tidy it almost resembles the gallery. To hush my rational lobe I take short notes and write down names of particular works to remember and think about later. Oh sweet sweet peace of mind!

Art offers a lucidity about the world like nothing else (actually music does this too), and this lucidity exists outside common rationality. This is as far as I can go in coming up with any sensible explanation for my enjoyment of art. I cannot scientifically define the lucidity it offers, nor can I rebut this potential criticism: Nothing can go beyond the bounds of human rationality, you moron!

I cannot construct a rational argument against this but I can tell the person who said it (or the voice in my head) to fuck off. For it is NOT a moronic idea. Even I, who is rational-obsessed and who will theorise on absolutely everything worth theorising about (I’m doing it now), have come to understand that art, for the most part, cannot be theorised.

This freaks the shit out of me.

Every day I question the value of art, and each time something a mystic said once in a book by Garcia Marquez taps me on the shoulder of my mind:

She will be sorry if she does not follow her heart.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


And Answer Questions Not Yet Asked
And Carve Thoughts Into My Head Like History
And Keeps My Eyes At The Front Of My Mind (Sometimes They Spin)

Above And Below Is Why I Choose Fine Art

Art is a reconfiguration of thought about the world in the present.

Two notes on this:
First of all, this is a broad statement. The artist must determine how to reconfigure thought (of both the audience and the artist). He must decide what kind of thought he is working with – emotional, psychological, social, political. It is his choice of world, be it internal or external.

Secondly, the ‘in the present’ at the end of the statement may at first seem blinkered – what if the artist wants to paint the future or sculpt the past? Or transcend time all together? Well, the artist can paint the future and sculpt the past all at once if he/she wishes, but the laws of the universe only allow us to do this from the present. The artist, like any human, is perpetually here and now. Thus, the idea of transcending time is ridiculous.

And why would you want to anyway? If it were possible to create a timeless piece of art, it would be a foolish piece of art. It would not be art.
In the Fine Art rotation, I painted memories (above). This was unexpected. Surely I was meant to paint something new and raw and bloody, isn’t that why I came to Chelsea, to London? And yet I realised I was doing all of this. I was reconfiguring thought about my past world in the present. Shedding a different light upon things in the past so that they refracted through my mind and onto the page (cardboard) from a different angle. Suddenly Imogen, my good friend (‘sista’) in Australia looked ghostly, like she come outta tha earth or summin, like she be inna diffrent world, which she is. And the early night sky above her is trying to reach the ground. And there is whitewash plaster behind her, like in One Hundred Years Of Solitude, which we have spoken about together, and can’t you just imagine Remedios The Beauty eating whitewash plaster and sleeping against the warmth of the earth? All this stuff of our history, or of my history coloured by her, caught up in this cardboard box, set in acrylics like sap in a paperbark tree.
Baudelaire declared that ‘in order for an artist to have a world to express, he must first be situated in the world, oppressed or oppressing, resigned or rebellious, a man among men’ (Christopher Isherwood, ‘The Intimate Journals of Charles Baudelaire’, first published 1930)

This idea is unmistakably Orwellian. To create art through experience. Orwell worked as a policeman in Burma and wrote ‘Burmese Days’. He skinned the streets for cigarette ends on ‘a shilling a day’ and published ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’. He fought against Franco and wrote ‘Homage to Catalonia’. 
Orwell wasn’t doing these things for his art, per se. He was doing them as an artist. He reconfigured thought with words, chose worlds that mattered to him, and worked in and for ‘the now’ in quite a literal sense. Orwell saw events that needed to be spoken for. He lived these events and he spoke. Writing with the taste of his times on his tongue. (More on Orwell later)

And then I blush. Am I a phony? I’m not on the streets or at the student protests or in Afghanistan. But then I think, well, I am speaking of my own world, a necessary act in youth. It is important though to listen as well. My task now is to create art with more empathy. This is what I want to achieve by choosing fine art – to explore conceptual depth outside myself. This way I am sure to learn more.

To be man among men, an artist among artists.

...NOT, if I must justify the relevance of this all, among designers, or worse, clients...

Anyway, this idea reminds me of Kafka’s story, ‘Josephine and the Mousepeople’. Kafka is cryptic, to say the least, so when I read him I just come up with my own analogies. For me this story communicates a metaphor for the definition of art and the artist. It is about a singer, Josephine, who lives among a community of mousepeople. The mousepeople cherish her singing, often attending her concerts to hear her music. Paradoxical to this reverence of Josephine is the existence of an uncertainty as to whether her singing is music, or whether it is mere whistling, which all of the mousepeople are able to do.
'Even if hers were only our usual workaday piping, there is first of all this peculiarity to consider, that here is someone making a ceremonial performance out of doing the usual thing. To crack a nut is truly no feat, so no one would ever dare to collect an audience in order to entertain it with nut-cracking. But if all the same one does do that and succeeds in entertaining the public, then it cannot be a matter of simple nut-cracking. Or it is a matter of nut-cracking, but it turns out that we have overlooked the art of cracking nuts because we were too skilled in it and that this newcomer to it first shows us its real nature, even finding it useful in making his effects to be rather less expert in nut-cracking than most of us.'
Apart from conceptualising ‘Fountain’ (the urinal) well before Duchamp, Kafka offers two ideas about the value of the artist:
Either he is…
I.               A brilliant artist
II.             He is an ordinary man who, for some reason or other, happened to place his rather pedestrian work in a new context (perhaps a gallery or a stage). As a result, other ordinary men looked upon his work differently, even though it was more or less the same as theirs.

Ultimately, I think he agrees with both simultaneously: I wrote this quotation down when I read the story to simplify the words visually: 
I’m not sure if it is self-explanatory but this passage sums it up for me. It says,

Art is Not Above Anyone
Art Uses the Language of the People
An Artist Takes, Holds, Loves the Language of the People
Shapes the Language Outside of Normal Experience
Frees It
And Makes It Great
So Others Can See It Properly
It is Not Superhuman
It Does Not Access God
For Who Cares For God When We Have People?

As Lawrence Durrell said in an interview,
'The theme of art is the theme of life itself. This artificial distinction between artists and human beings is precisely what we are all suffering from. An artist is only someone unrolling and digging out and excavating the areas normally accessible to normal people everywhere, and exhibiting them as a sort of scarecrow to show people what can be done with themselves…
I see artists as a great battalion moving through paint, words, music … to sum up in a sort of metaphor the cosmology of a particular moment in which we are living.' (

Art is about communication. It is about accessibility. For me, right now, the choice between studying Modern History in Sydney and studying Fine Art in London seems to have been the right one. If I want to say something, isn’t it more effective to create art in a common space than to write a solemn essay destined for a minuscule minority of Sydney’s scholars, who are being paid to pay attention anyhow?

Joseph Beuys agreed that art is most effective for sending a message. In his Joseph Beuys’ performance piece, ‘How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare’, he attempts to explain his paintings to a dead hare whilst wearing honey and gold leaf on his face and an iron slab on his shoe. According to his elaborations, the piece is about understanding. I see the hare as a symbol of the artist’s audience. He explores ideas of pedagogy and how one must empathise intellectually with another in order to make them understand. The gold and honey represent a transformation of thought and a divergence from rationality necessary to teach the hare.  

Beauys’ idea of social sculpture is a conceptual form of art that offers a practical way to make a difference through mass participation. It uses the language of the people.

A brief example: In 1982 Beuys placed a heap of basalt stones in a rural area of Germany. From above one could discern that the stones made an arrow pointing to a large oak tree. Beuys announced that the stones could only be moved if other oak trees were planted, each with one stone next to them. Over several years 7000 oak trees were planted.
But an artist does not need to be so political.

William Crozier exhibited this year at the Flowers Gallery in Shoreditch. I loved his work when I saw it. He is old and Scottish and many of his paintings are of Scottish landscapes. The childlike simplification of Crozier’s forms creates a sense of common language. Anyone who can see can respond to his colours, and if they cannot see perhaps they experience colour synaesthesically through some other sense. Anyone can understand the emotions he is trying to describe, if they look hard enough, free their minds enough. His Art is not above you, it’s with you.
Like I did, Crozier paints patterns from his mind – patterns that others can recognise.

Right now I am reading a compilation of his essays, ‘Inside the Whale and other essays’, the first being its namesake. This essay is a reflection on the different ways in which modern writers (up until 1940, when it was published) have or have not written with reference to the what’s happening around them. He makes clear that an artist does not need to propagate political ideas or physically become his subject in order to make art as a man among men. He doesn’t need to be tossed around the sea before his opinion matters. Like Henry Miller, whose work Orwell is critiquing, the artist can view and create from inside the whale, as long as the whale is transparent. He is ‘allowing himself to be swallowed’, like Jonah, ‘remaining passive, accepting’ at the same time as understanding and knowing What Goes On.

Arthur Boyd, Jonah Outside the City, 1950
Orwell cites Lawrence Durrell as in this same Jonah school. In the Alexandria Quartet, Durrell speaks about Art from inside the transparent whale:

‘Only there, in the silences of the painter or the writer can reality be reordered, reworked and made to show its significant side’

This statement was the original inspiration for my succinct idea of art. This statement explains why George Orwell did not merely endure experiences, but wrote about them during or after. It is why, as I stepped back from my painting in the rotation, I started to look back as well, only differently. It is why Beuys believed rightly that he could make a difference simply by fashioning stones into an arrow. And this is why Crozier’s colours are so vivid.

Ultimately, I choose Fine Art because it is the most rational. Viscom made me question my own worth (hideous serial boxes decorated with painted faces…what is that?). 3D Spatial and Fashion/Textiles were exciting in a practical sense but less enriching conceptually. This was not because they lacked this conceptual element. I simply felt more inclined to think about my work in a meaningful way in Fine Art.

I think Fine Art will allow me to come up with new ideas and examine old ones in a new light. It will enable me to further my creation of a tangible connection between myself and world, and to overthrow my tendency for running riot in my own head.

Fine Art is just as much of a reality check that I need.

As an endnote, more Kafka:

“Then birds flew up like corks out of a bottle, I followed them with my eyes, saw them climb in a single breath until I no longer thought they were rising but that I was falling…”

Fine Art Rotation


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Painting is Good for the Memory

Like a dream, painting is a record of the artist's memory, both conscious and unconscious. How strange to look back on my (unfinished) painting, based simply on a photograph of an anonymous man on the tube, and find that within it there are signs of what has been occupying my mind.

The horizontal strokes of the under layer were, at the time of painting, quite basically representative of a train. In retrospect, they remind me of my habit of standing at the very edge of the platform as on the edge of a cliff, as the train passes. It's sort of the same feeling - the soul-swelling wind and seeing something dark and moving. At those times my eyes are at the front of my mind and various questions of mortality quiver a little, as the wind makes them cold and the vibrations make them shake. Milliseconds of madness. I've been catching the tube much more often, and this has become a frequent occurrence. The tube, at times, is an intense experience.

This intensity bleeds into some other shapes I make in my mind: well-crafted fear, a wise old fear, cunning and smooth at the edges. The fear of the noise of the tube (why the fuck is it so loud in London?) and the fear or just plain being here with a paintbrush in hand and a makeshift palette, deciding what mark to make and worrying all the time what mark I will make. Here and in the future. Whether it matters at all. And all the while telling my brain to go fuck itself.

In my half-painting, there is definitely fear in the lack of colour, but the loudness of this all really isn't there.

For Luc Tuymans I think that is the point. Max told me to look him up. His colours are muted like the ones in my painting. Often his subject matter is relatively dull as well. This is deliberate. He uses the banal to paint the indescribable. Here is his Still Life (2002) painted for an exhibition about social and political engagement, for which he was expected to make works based on the September 11 attacks. "It is a monument to the inadequacy of language" (Saatchi gallery).

Perhaps there is some vague unintentional link between my unfinished painting and his paintings. His paintings are muted but represent the intense.

More 3D Constructs


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Everyone Should Do Life Drawing

To represent the act of being human and alive.

This prolonged concentration always makes me feel like I have come out of a very long sleep in which I dream of muscles and joints and skin. Then I wake up, get out on the street, and everyone is suddenly naked.

Lines are more discernible and colours are clearer.

It is one of the few times that one is conscious of another more than oneself.

This lack of self-consciousness lingers for minutes, sometimes hours, afterwards. It is exhilarating.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Peace of Art

3D Spatial Drawing 

Went and saw some of the 'design trail'/anti-design fair on Redchurch St. At first I wondered through some white rooms looking at shiny tables and low-rising lounges, cushions painted with computer-generated images, minimalist colours.

I thought, dudeman where is the anti?

It wasn't there and I felt too dirty anyway so I left.

Tonight I was walking again down Redchurch, post-rain. I stopped because of some delicious looking blue light emanating from one of the shop windows, bouncing off large pegged-up paper. It was prints! Fine-lookin' screenprints!  There were fresh ones on the walls and hung on a rack like clothes. Ace. John inside informed me that they had transformed the small gallery space into a printmaking studio for anti-design week. I could see the work and the progress and the people (brownie bits and beer on table next to printing mesh and frame). I picked up the zine they made each month (Barebones).

Unlike the furniture designs in the white rooms, it brought the viewer closer to the creator (shaking hands in fact). It was evidence of designers/artists using the festival as a celebration and performance of creation, not a contribution to the crisp cold commercial orgy that is a lot, but not all, of design.

I didn't feel dirty in there.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Conclusions on Design and First Day Three Dee

My end manifestation of VisCom final project - something involving cereal boxes - confirmed for me that ultimately, despite their impressively clean lines and pressed shirts, designers always have to compromise. Sell out to sell it. Make money to live. Whilst I'm still young I won't bother with this pragmatism. However the two weeks were, above all, enlightening.

I am a little disappointed to learn that essays have been phased out of this course. ACADEMIA IS NOT ARCHAIC.

The first day of 3D spatial was challenging. It was structure over aesthetics, at least in our group. The additional dimension is a bit of a mindfuck, but probably in a good way.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Spontaneity With A Brain (VisCom Rotation)

So far, it has been a much appreciated goad to enrich my work with a conceptual base. To think before and WHILE I create. To master the balance between preconception and immediate action (smart spontaneity). However I still vow never to be a graphic designer.