Mousetrap

The proverb says ‘Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door’— artistically-speaking, I’m still searching for the perfect mousetrap, though I have to say that my current working models are starting to fill up with the curious and the unwary.

At school and even before I used to draw and paint relentlessly, and was always storing up reference materials—scrapbooks, comics, tea-and bubblegum-cards, all sorts of visual material, which has eventually turned into a library. I still draw on this all the time, which I suppose is why my paintings have that patchwork effect—certainly there is reference to visual and literary sources of all types and periods.

If I have to describe the paintings (which mostly I  don’t as they speak for themselves) I usually list the following adjectives; exotic, erotic, classical, contemporary, magical, alchemical, poetic, figurative, like the work of a magpie if it took up painting.

I have a strong belief in drawing—the discipline of communicating ideas, and my works tend to be built on a strong graphic framework. I suppose this is the reason I admire the great comic and strip artists so much—Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko—most of the Marvel artists in fact, as well as Richard Corben, Moebius, and a lot of the Heavy Metal crowd—plus classics like Will Eisner who created ‘The Spirit’, George Herriman who drew’ Krazy Kat’ for 40 years, Winsor McKay whose character ‘Little Nemo’ upped the ante for all artists in the early 20th Century.  I think the best of these stand serious comparison with accredited greats such as Rubens,  Ingres or Rembrandt. William Blake said ‘Drawing is the Probity of Art’, and I believe that, unfashionable though the notion might seem.

It would also be fair to say that my work reprocesses lots of ideas from literature past and present—from cool poets like Arthur Rimbaud or Charles Baudelaire(very fashionable with the Dylan crowd in the ‘60s and again with Patti Smith and the New York New Wave in the ‘80s) to less obviously fashionable writers like Colin Wilson (the original ‘angry young man’)  . I used to scribble myself, but eventually saw sense and gave up, doing the world a considerable service in the process.

Shrewd observers will detect endless references to Popular Music –everything from Delta Blues to Talking Heads, via the Beatles, Captain Beefheart and the Grateful Dead, but this is usually just there for those who get it, and not necessary for general enjoyment of the work. And, of course, Art and Art History are referenced constantly—Cubism, Futurism, Mannerism, Symbolism, all make guest appearances—see Alchemical Cubism, illustrated, for example.

I hope and believe that this makes my canvasses particularly rich and dense. The paintings are highly-coloured, to give a strong and immediate visual sensation, but complex in their content, so that years after first contact pieces of the jigsaw are still falling into place. The works are designed to unfold over a period of time, so that first love builds into a deeper relationship. A stab at the eternal values if you like, though often achieved by capturing the ephemeral and giving it room to grow (Bart Simpson growing up to become Seneca—he’s got all the potential, he just needs someone, other than Marge, to believe in him)

I mostly use acrylics—they dry fast and so give me the ability to apply the numerous layers necessary to get the brilliant colours— and I work on canvas. Sometimes I do large (A1) watercolours, though not in the English tradition— my ‘Ideal Heads’ and ‘Dark Angels’ series are in this medium, and make extensive use of airbrush and spray, which gives a subtle and ambiguous result. Very different from the acrylics. Very occasionally I make Voodoo Dolls or other magical items—not really sculpture and definitely not toys. I draw all the time and seem to produce a high proportion of angels, many of which have a protective function.

Though I’m happy to enjoy the fruits of New Technologies—Virtual Reality and so on—it’s not what I do. I believe that there is a real and unique power in the hand-made object— in my case the paintings—so I continue to make what I hope is visual magic—and to continue my search for the perfect mousetrap.

Published in Art of England magazine, Oct/Nov 2003′

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