Thursday, December 6, 2012

Empty Handed

JJ Ignatius Brennan  The Artist's Hand 2003

One of the curators of the forthcoming exhibition being organised by AXNS (see previous post) has come back empty-handed from Glaxo Smith Kline.We have been informed by them that Migraine Man has been designated as officially  missing. GSK don’t know where he is.The fifth biggest pharmaceutical company in the world apparently does not have an official catalogue of it’s art collection, whatever that means.But they do have someone in charge of it! Does that mean that other work they own by more famous artists ,such as John Piper, is sitting around in unmarked cupboards, unopened for ages, or on a toilet wall in one of their many sites in UK?

O K, GSK didn’t spend a lot of money, by their standards, on buying Migraine Man, but they do spend a hell of a lot on commissioning well known artists for a new site, for example. I don’t believe that they pay cash and don’t have any documentation. Should I inform the Treasury that there might be tax avoidance going on? Whatever the case, this is pretty sloppy work by one of the biggest companies in the world. I also feel a bit insulted that they have such lack of respect for my artwork I put a fair bit of time into creating that piece and you always feel if someone thinks it’s worth buying they will make sure that it is seen by others. The exhibition being organized by AXNS is a case in point, where I feel it could have maybe contributed something towards the understanding of Migraine. But the public will have to make do with seeing a printed copy of it, which will not have the same impact.

I know that other artists have had similar experiences. Why do these big companies even bother to buy work by us lesser mortals when really they want only Damien Hirsts so they can sell them on when they feel like it?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Lord Lucan, Shergar, Richey Edwards and ………

The fourth one is Migraine Man. You have no doubt  heard of the first three who all got their fair share of publicity. Migraine Man had his 15 minutes worth back in 1993 when he won 2nd prize in an art competition sponsored by Glaxo (as then called but now expanded). He then went into the collection of the afore mentioned company and at some point went missing.The person who should be most upset is the artist (me), but maybe because the artist received monies both from the prize and the sale of the work he became a tad uncaring. It has taken this long for Migraine Mans disappearance to come to light because he is required to take part in an exhibition organized by the AXNS collective…….but despite enquiries by one of the curators, Cosima Gretton, no one seems to know where he is. It’s all a bit worrying because once you hand over a family member to one of the biggest and wealthiest organizations in the world you would think that they would be well looked after. But, seemingly, this is not a rare occurrence with art works . The artist/maker and writer Lois Walpole experienced this on more than one occasion when she was involved in curating a retrospective exhibition of her work. On contacting a number of national and well known galleries which owned her baskets, with a view to borrowing them, the pieces could not be located. OK, you could argue that the artist has been paid, but when the money has come from a publicly funded body there should be more accountability.
The main reason for this blog is to put out a call to see if anybody knows anybody who knows anybody who is,or was, connected with Glaxo who may be able to shed light on the disappearance of Migraine Man. I think that first of all he was incarcerated at Glaxo’s Uxbridge location, but I’m not sure. Maybe he was clandestinely moved to another hideout, who knows? He is actually a triptych and I have added a photo below of how he looked in 1993, so anybody  who has any information please contact the police station at this address. Thank you in anticipation of a positive outcome.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Beer and Sandwiches

 I’ve been playing my melodeon at various clubs and concerts in the area recently, purely for fun. I have just got my first ‘payment’ – ok, it was only beer and sandwiches, but it marked a slight change and it got me thinking how creative people, be they artists, poets, actors, musicians or whoever, get paid and make a living. As an amateur unqualified musician, I don’t expect to get paid for playing. But, as a qualified professional artist (seven great years at various art colleges!), I expect and need to get money for my art work, and equally, as a qualified tennis coach, I expect something for teaching someone to do a topspin forehand.

Whilst arranging my exhibition in Shetland, earlier on in the year, I offered to do a gallery talk for the public. The Shetland Museum thought this was a good idea and agreed to programme it in and I was told I would be paid a fee and expenses. I didn’t ask how much it would be assuming it was a standard amount fixed by the museum. During the hanging of my show I happened to ask what the fee would be. The relevant person dealing with such matters was found and said they didn’t pay anything for artists talks…some discussion then followed! The Museum, as a professional organisation, had chosen me as a professional artist to put on a show. Ok, I wasn’t being paid to show my work, but it is equally accepted that the artist pays nothing towards the publicity or use of the gallery. In the event of sales the gallery takes a commission. That’s the norm. The same professional artist i.e. me, had been asked to give a professional talk because that is what the gallery and public would expect. So why not pay the artist for that professional service? Having presented my case later on I got a call saying that I could put in an invoice for expenses and a fee of £50!

Another instance of getting paid or not for a professional service came about recently when Lois, Jenny Shellard and I went to ‘Cognac Blues Passion’ for the day. The festival takes over the whole of Cognac with free concerts and jam sessions during the day and headline acts (paying) in the evening. Though the concerts during the day are free I am absolutely certain that the performers that are advertised in the programme are being paid because they are professional. In the afternoon we were at a cafĂ© where a stage had been set up for jamming. We were discussing amongst ourselves the merits, or otherwise, of one performer when a tall guy, who looked like a blues man, started chatting to the girls. It turned out that he was indeed a blues man who had his own group and played in others, and had performed earlier on in the Festival. He had also sat in with the Allman Brothers Band amongst others and introduced himself as Junior Mack. He said he would like to play in the jam session but seemed a bit reluctant as he didn’t have his Gibson Les Paul with him, (one of 6 he owns!). It was back at his hotel - how far away we weren’t sure. We suggested one of the other musicians might lend him a guitar so he asked the guy in charge if he could play. He borrowed a Stratocaster, which I believe isn’t a half bad piece of kit and he proceeded to blow away the audience with some BB King like licks and a great blues voice. Part of his reward was a standing ovation. After he finished he came over to us and said “was that ok?” our answer was “pretty damn good”! Junior also got a free beer and I realised that my situation playing my melodeon as a rank amateur and this super pro blues man were identical. We had both volunteered to play without expecting any money. Junior generously gave the lucky audience a slice of his talent for nothing and seemed happy with his cold beer (it was a hot day) and applause.

Junior Mack jamming at Cognac (click on picture for video)
As professional creative people we can ask for money for our work but when we feel like doing so we can also perform for the sheer enjoyment, whereas a worker in a car factory would not come in to work for no pay. However, we also need to earn some money to pay for things like council tax and diesel and therefore we have to make sure we establish the terms and conditions of employment at the outset. This was something I learnt from my Shetland talk experience.

Maybe I could learn to live on beer and sandwiches but only if they were Fullers London Pride and a black pudding and mango chutney doorstop!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Drawing in the Billies: Drawing in the Studio

Hidden contour drawing

I've recently started doing drawing classes in my studio on a drop-in basis, linking in with Lois's basketry workshops whenever possible.The idea is to have both our studios being used at the same time so that we can get a good creative buzz going in our mini art school. The atmosphere will be helped even more when we get the relaxing zen courtyard finished.With its 3 metre diametre water feature(okay- pond!) our students will be able to dabble their feet and hands in it which will all help to get those creative juices flowing. The hot weather at the moment doesn't help me to finish it ( the cement goes off too quickly). This combined with me having an allergy attack from various pollen has put it on hold.  I don't get these attacks when I'm in Shetland, probably because there aren't any trees!

Something that works well is the communal lunch we have on teaching days. Everybody is asked to bring a contribution and we've had some excellent food. A hummus made with red peppers and chickpeas was both a visual and tasty treat. We seem to have a relatively high proportion of  vegetarians- is there a link between creativity and vegetarianism?

Going back to the main reason that people come to me, i.e. drawing, I always ask what they want to achieve during the class. The most frequent response is that they want to do a drawing that looks like the object in front of them. I say that they can do that without even seeing what they are drawing on the paper! I cover up their paper with a board (raised sufficiently from the table so that they can manipulate the pencil) and the students draw the contour of their hand, starting at the junction of the base of the thumb and the wrist and finishing on the opposite side.( see picture above). The result is always a drawing that looks like a hand.Recent analysis of cave art in northern Spain reveal that Neanderthal man was drawing almost 50,000 years ago. Every body can draw. As the great John Lee Hooker wrote "It in 'im, it gotta come out".

If you are in  the Poitou Charente area and would like to join us please get in touch with me.

PS Billies - Billy Bunters, Punters. Could also be Hillmans - Hillman Hunters, Punters

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Did Picasso Suffer From Migraine?

This question was asked by the Art historian Arthur O. Eger.(Decorative Kunst, De Bilt, 1995) He had been impressed by the similarities between migrainous visual hallucinations and the geometric forms of decorative ornaments, and between mosaic illusion and the visual features of Picasso’s cubist paintings.As an artist who has suffered from migraine since adolescence (I still do, although to a lesser extent than when younger), it is something that I don’t normally want to think about too much. However, I was reminded recently when I was contacted by a collective called AXNS, who are putting together an exhibition about Art and Neuroscience. They have invited me to show some of my work and to talk about how migraine has informed my work. I made a number of pieces directly related to migraine experience for competitions for which I managed to win several prizes.You can see them hereI think this had a balancing effect as I feel the prize money was a just compensation for all the migraine suffering.The work is owned by several pharmaceutical companies and I have suggested to AXNS that they borrow some for the exhibition, though how easy that will be remains to be seen.

I’ve realized that some of the recent work I showed at Da Gadderie, at the Shetland Museum and Archives, (see previous blog), has been influenced by migraine experience. In a lot of the drawings the image bleeds out of the picture, which is similar to the loss of peripheral vision that happens when I get a migraine. A much earlier connection with migraine, which at the time I didn’t realize, was my liking for the work of Giorgio De Chirico from the period 1912- 1924. It has been proven that he suffered severely from migraine (L’Aura di Giorgio de Chirico by Ubaldo Nicola and Klaus Podoll). So, was I attracted by the brilliance of his Metaphysical paintings, or subliminally, by the imagery that I recognized being used by a fellow migraine sufferer?

If the myth of the suffering artist is true, I’m with Picasso and de Chirico in that respect.

Migraine Man Tryptich, conte on paper, 1993, collection 
Glaxo, Smith, Kline

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Re-discovering Trees

After having an exhibition it always seems a good idea to go through old work. Maybe it's because spring is here, but when you take down a show it does feel like a new beginning. Going through my plan chest I came across some unfinished drawings of trees combining glue gun and pastel crayon. This seemed to be coincidental as for the last couple of months, in Shetland, I had hardly seen a tree. Any remaining ones are Grade 1 listed or have round the clock protection. Apparently, according to one Shetlander, one of the reasons why there are so few trees is that they encourage mice! I've got nothing against trees, but when I'm drawing in Shetland I find the flowing (treeless) lines of the landscape conducive to a flowing pencil line. If you want to read more about the lack of trees in Shetland here is a link I think a tree themed exhibition in Shetland might  be shocking, especially to children. Mummy (or Daddy) what's that scary thing with green fingery bits on? There would be real trees in the gallery for children to climb and adults to hug.  If trees were to be re-introduced to Shetland it would be a major learning curve for birds as well. When I started coming to Shetland it was a surprise to see so many birds nesting in holes in the ground. So, seeing trees with birds sitting in them,,,,,,,,,,,,,
So, in order to re-balance my world view I've decided to continue with the tree drawings. In one review of my show on the Northings web site the critic said he would have liked to have seen more colour in my work (I think he is a painter).

In the tree drawings I have used more colour and they are done on coloured paper. By using shiny colour on matt paper (with black conte and sometimes a bit of white) I am suggesting dusk, but that the trees are vey much alive and magical. Would Shetland be more magical with more trees?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Auto Portraits at Da Gadderie Shetland Museum and Archives Lerwick 7th Jan to 5th Feb 2012

Just got back to France from Shetland, which was the warmest place in the UK for much of January, arriving to a good few centimetres of snow and freezing temperatures. Da Gadderie (do I need to translate? I think not) is a great space and footfall was pretty good. Up Helly Aa was on during the show so there were a good number of visitors from outwith Shetland.

Driving in Shetland 3 10 2

Driving in Shetland 2 09 1

Driving in Shetland 7 07 1
Auto Portraits is a series of drawings done with a glue gun. I make pencil sketches first while travelling between France and Shetland, which usually takes in London en route, I'm not driving! I then work up the final piece in the studio. I deliberately hung the work close together to mimic cartoon strips as my work is certainly influenced by them. I had a comments book for the first time at a show and I think some of the things people said were interesting, Shetlanders are fairly shy so this was a good way to elicit a response. I particularly liked the one which said “Takes a lot to bring a smile to my face when I have a hangover”. I'm going to take that as a compliment. The majority of the drawings were about Shetland but I also put in a few French and London ones to contrast and compare. I gave a talk one lunchtime to a group of about 17 or 18 which I felt went well Its good to have a sounding board sometimes to examine things from a different perspective i.e. Joe public ( or should that be Fergus or Maree?) Anyway back to the main subject. The next step (along the road) for Auto Portraits is to find a suitable venue in France where I will show mainly French drawings.

 There is a review of the show on The Northings online magazine and find below some pages from the comments book. Rob Colclough was also showing at Da Gadderie at the same time.