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Karen Glykys: An Accidental Artist

It’s amazing what a word of encouragement can do. I met Karen a few years ago at a MUD event. She had just started painting and told me she was interested in exhibiting and I told her to just have a go.  I didn’t know at the time, but I certainly do now, that when Karen ‘has a go’ she really has a go.

Karen GlykysL La Desee Vert #APersistenceOfBeing Photography/PhoneArt (2020)
Karen GlykysL La Desee Vert #APersistenceOfBeing (2020)

In this guest blog – thank you Karen – she describes her journey from successful actor to (accidental) artist and her triumphs and personal battles along the way. Enjoy!

Battersea girl
I was born into a hub of drips and buzzers and penicillin, in the East Lambeth baby wing of St. Thomas’ Hospital, London, in 1962. My mother weighed approximately five stone and was extremely ill during her pregnancy with me. She was also wracked with tuberculosis, which cut a swathe through London in the 60’s.

Although I was a healthy baby at 8lbs, due to the medication my mother was fed to combat the dreaded TB as she carried me in her womb, I did not open my eyes nor utter a sound for nearly two months. There was some conjecture that I would be severely impaired – brain damaged, deaf or even blind. My grandfather kept a vigil over me day and night, while my mother was taken to the TB wards of Guys Hospital to recover.

Then one day the doctors decided to give me a massive jab of penicillin to ‘ try and wake me up’. It worked! I opened my eyes, then my lungs, and hollered, much to everyone’s relief. And, as my grandfather put it, I never closed my mouth again!!! I was bundled off to Battersea, in South London to begin my life journey.

Home was a big old London Pub, The Fox and Hounds, on the Latchmere Road in Battersea. We all lived there, my mum – a single parent, my half brothers and me.

My grandmother lived with us and was the matriarch of the family, whilst my grandfather lived in Wimbledon with his partner. He was the Daddy of the family. He put a roof over our heads and gave my mother an income. When he barked you jumped to attention, but his bark was always worse than his bite.

Our neighbourhood was a rich melting pot of White, Afro Caribbean, Asian, Persian, Russian, Irish and Portuguese. Plenty of diversity to feed the senses and the stomach! People were ‘poor but happy’ as my great aunt Rose would say.

In the 70’s Battersea was one of the poorest parts of London. By the 80’s it was the new capital of the Yuppie kingdom.

Our street was a hybrid of working class families, struggling artists, photographers and musicians. We all played together in the streets and in each others’ houses. It was an enriching, multicultural experience in every way. The Kings Road and its soon to be Punk revolution was a brisk two mile walk, over the bridge that spanned Old Father Thames. Battersea Park and Clapham Common were a half mile in either direction. Clapham Junction a spit away. There was plenty of green space for young minds to invent strange new worlds.

Growing up in the pub, memories abound of old ladies in big hats and black coats decorated with dead fox collars, complete with head and claws, whose beady, emotionless little glass eyes stared at you. Their coat pockets bulged with hankies, ready to be spittled and applied to the face of any grubby child passing by.

In the saloon bar, the men wore Sunday Crombie coats, pork pie or trilby hats, ties and cufflinks, whilst donkey jackets, hearty laughter and coarsely bearded geezers graced the public bar. Everyone was called ‘Ducks’ or ‘Dearie’, ‘Flo’ or ‘Esme’.

I could glean a pocketful of pennies and boiled sweets – unwrapped and complete with fluff – by ‘doing a turn’, singing a little song, on a Sunday afternoon at closing time. I was born a natural entertainer, or a show-off for want of a better word!

Karen Glykys (then Karen Scargill) as Kathy Cratchitt in 'Scrooge the Musical' (1970)
Me (then Karen Scargill) as Kathy Cratchitt in ‘Scrooge the Musical’ (1970)

Into the ‘world called show’
I hated my primary school and did not settle.  I cried everyday and became a handful. So when my mother was hospitalised with yet more pregnancy sickness, while carrying my brothers, our kind neighbour, Betty, came up with a solution. She suggested that I could sit in the back of the kindergarten at the performing arts school that her grandson went to. There I could paint pretty things and sing and dance in the afternoon. It was a grand diversion for an anxious child, while my mother awaited the arrival of the terrible twinnies.

I could already read, write and recite my times table up to ten when I started primary school. So when I was sent on a blanket audition for the musical adaptation of Scrooge, featuring Alec Guiness and Albert Finney, I naturally sailed though – reading the script fluently, singing and acting my little heart out, as I had done for all the old dears in the pub on a Sunday afternoon.

I secured the role of second child lead, much to the chagrin of the fee paying stage mothers, was hastily enrolled to the stage school and agency, and plunged into the biggest adventure of my little life.

Bunk Dogger single sleeve for Hypnosis (1975)
Cleo Rocos (2nd from left), me then Karen Scargill (centre), Cindy Lass (far right) Bunk Dogger single sleeve for Hypnosis (1975)

And  that was how I became a part of the alumni of the Corona Academy, a famous performing arts school in West London, spawning actors such as Ray Winstone and Nicholas Lyndhurst; Queens corgi painter, Cindy Lass; the original ‘Miss Whiplash’, Cleo Rocos; and a ‘Real Housewife of Beverley Hills’ to boot!

So there was little old me, securing enough TV commercials, voiceovers and supporting roles in film and television, to ensure that I paid my school fees on time and maintained living this magical dream. I can’t recall ever being happier to be honest.

It was at Corona, with its progressive form of education and teachers with sometimes questionable qualifications , that I first garnered an interest in producing art.

Karen Scargill & Nicholas Lyndhurst, 'Come and see us' Sverige Television, Sweden (1974)
Me (then Karen Scargill) with Nicholas Lyndhurst: ‘Come and see us’ Sverige Television, Sweden (1974)

Roger Ruskin Spear founder member of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, son of British portrait painter Ruskin Spear, taught a mixture of art, philosophy and music business acumen, and treated us like the young adults we were becoming. I achieved an A plus grade in my Art O-level and I lay this squarely at his door.

We also had a New Zealander, a bearded Hagrid, who taught us about Cubism and Picasso, mainly because he was developing his own play called Picasso I don’t care, funnily enough. I don’t think it ever saw the light of day.

Then we had an elderly German gentleman who let us explore contemporary art, cover our canvasses with Polyfilla, and encouraged us to produce everything in mixed media.

There was all of this and the regular curriculum, on top of the singing, mime, stagecraft, acting, ballet, jazz and tap dancing that we threw ourselves into daily.

Corona was one big family, a way of life, and it consumed me like a drug.  It invaded every pore of my being and I wallowed in it. When I left at 18 years of age, I was suddenly bereft and at odds as to what to do with myself.

Karen Glykys: 'Monstrous Vanity' #PimpMyPals photography/PhoneArt (2020)
Karen Glykys: ‘Monstrous Vanity’ #PimpMyPals PhoneArt (2020)

Fashion and beyond
I started working for my second cousin, Brenda Knight, a successful Fashion PR, and her famous designer partner, Nigel Preston of Maxfield Parrish fame. I figured with a full Actors Union card under my belt, I could afford to take a year or two out of the business. Just to see what life was like on the other side.

The Fashion business is a crazy world. I was the original Bubble (Ab Fab). Despatched across London with bags full of samples to present to fashion editors in big magazine houses. Not knowing my arse from my elbow in all truth. It was 1981 and the kids were in America with Bette Davis Eyes.

I encountered many legends of the fashion world along the way, including Diana Vreeland and Anna ‘Nuclear’ Wintour (American Vogue).  For those of you who are not familiar with the fashion world, Anna Wintour is the woman Meryl Streep’s character is firmly based on in The Devil Wears Prada.

Noticing my complete naivety during one presentation of fashion samples to her, Anna Wintour patronisingly remarked that she could, ‘see it was a dress’. I got all flustered and started to apologise. She smiled witheringly at me and said, “My dear how very ENGLISH of you!’. Formidable…. ..she was!!

Karen Glykys: 'Air and Angels' Acrylic on box canvas, Halpern Gallery, Chatham, Kent, UK, (2020)
Karen Glykys: Air and Angels (2020)

Then came the call from my agent, would I like to go to a casting for Granada TV’s Crown Court?

The fashion business was long hours, skinny sleep-deprived models, lots of freebies, launch parties and lashings of red wine, but the pay was pants. I got the part and stepped back into ‘that world called show’, where I resumed my career as a supporting actor for another 15 years.

I also flirted with the music business. My husband, a session guitarist, and I formed a grunge band. I discovered I was a formidable front man/girl, and song writer. We had a small modicum of success and a video on the telly.

Then disaster struck. My mum lost her home, her husband and her business. Ironically this coincided with us losing our peppercorn rent Battersea flat. Everything was put on hold!

A move to Kent and a mortgage ensued and I fell into a ‘day job’. Sales is every actors spare string to the bow, yes that old chestnut!

Logistics, mortgages and then the crash of 2007 ended that sojourn and I found myself working for the probation service – a rewarding but poorly paid job. It was now 2017 and, after a particularly challenging bout of nightmare neighbours, which left me with a stress condition and seizures, I took three months off work with anxiety.

Karen Glykys: Rich Cottee Portrait, oil pastel, Blake Gallery, Gravesend, Kent (2017)
Karen Glykys: ‘Rich Cottee’ Blake Gallery (2017)

A fresh start in art
I was shell shocked and desperately needed a fresh take on life. We had moved towns and left the horror behind, but the echoes remained.

My Facebook friends were reaching out to me, so I made it a challenge to get out and meet as many of them as was geographically possible.

In closest reach were the artists Craig Turner and Peter Reeds, who welcomed me with open arms, told me how much they enjoyed my little blogs on Facebook and encouraged me to start painting.

I then progressed to the Nucleus Arts Centre in Chatham, Kent.

I had a lot of artist and entertainer friends on my Facebook page. As I went to each studio at Nucleus, matching the real person to the posts on my feed, I met artists Jon Gubbay and Nigel Adams who became casual mentors to me.

So here I was, an untrained outsider artist, arming myself with pastels, paint and a whole lot of enthusiasm. I had begun posting my endeavours on my Facebook page, when I heard about a new collaborative artists group that was in its infancy called MUD. I dragged my husband along to the first meeting at a micro pub on Rochester High Street, and made the acquaintance of artists and founders of MUD Duncan Grant, and Derek Wells.

Karen Glykys: Macha, oil pastel, Blake Gallery, Gravesend, Kent (2017)
Karen Glykys ‘Macha’, Blake Gallery (2017)

I’d gone along to the meeting to support the group and left as an exhibitor. ‘Just do it !’ was Duncan’s advice. So I did.

In 2017, I successfully submitted four oil pastel paintings for the very first MUD artists exhibition at the Blake Gallery, Woodville Halls, Gravesend, Kent.

Karen Glykys: 'Big City Head',allcohol ink markers, #sharpieworx (2018)
Karen Glykys: ‘Big City Head’ #sharpieworx (2018)

I continued to produce work in oil sticks and to exhibit work in acrylics. I was also developing a penchant for Sharpies and brush markers. This led to my #sharpieworx project.

In the spring of 2019, my work was progressing to more figurative and abstract fields. I took the bull by the horns and decided to submit to the 2019 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. I submitted an abstract acrylic called Brother Sun, which made the final selection. I made the finals (!!) but didn’t make the hang. However, I was mighty proud of getting that far with what was essentially only the fifth acrylic painting I had ever produced in my artistic endeavours.

Karen Glykys: 'Brother Sun', acrylic on canvas board, Royal Academy submission, 2019
Karen Glykys: ‘Brother Sun’ (2019)

Then in July of that same year I was struck by a hemorrhagic stroke, paralysed down my left side, and packaged off to a neurological rehab centre in Ashford, Kent. It was like a boot camp, but I quickly got with the programme and started to regain the use of my limbs.

My brain bleed affected the creative part of my right lobe and I didn’t attempt to draw for a while. Then one day I got bored with staring at the white board in my room and drew an Italian looking lady on it in red marker.

‘Oooh who did that?’ the nurses all exclaimed. Phew I could still draw!

Karen Glykys: Untitled, Sharpies/alcohol markers (2019)
Karen Glykys: Untitled (2019)

 

After three months I returned home and started producing a lot of erotic art. I had always drawn female nudes, but now there were men as well.

I got back into the swing of things and ordered a whole heap of paints and canvasses. I started to experiment with abstract form and expressionism. For once I was producing a lot more works in acrylics than pen.

I also started to concentrate on developing my Android Photography PhoneArt : #TinyEyeProject.

Karen Glykys: 'Going Back to the Garden', photography/PhoneArt #TinyEyeProject (2020)
Karen Glykys: ‘Going Back to the Garden’ #TinyEyeProject (2020)

I have been exploring the medium of Phone Art for three years now. It is a new and accepted art form and I am totally absorbed by it.

 

My parameters are very strict:

  • Everything must be photographed, enhanced and edited entirely on my mobile phone
  • NO Macs or Photoshop, and
  • I trawl the Android world for free digital apps to manipulate my work with.
Karen Glykys: Untitled #APersistenceOfBeing Photography/PhoneArt #TinyEyeProject(2019)
Karen Glykys: ‘Kiss Me Quick’ #APersistenceOfBeing (2019)

This has resulted in a catalogue of amazing images.  It also resulted in a project featuring myself titled: A Persistence of Being. This is a series exploring female sexuality, its projections, and feminism.

I have recently also started another PhoneArt project featuring my friends titled: Pimp My Pals. This is a collaborative work, as I take existing photos from friends albums and ‘pimp’ them digitally. I am currently building this into a series as well, in the same style as my Persistence of Being project. Both are a hybrid of photographic and acrylic works, taken from the detail of the photographs.

Karen Glykys: 'Eternal Flame' Photography/PhoneArt #APersistenceOfBeing (2020)
Karen Glykys: ‘Eternal Flame’ #APersistenceOfBeing (2020)

I hope to have both these both ‘in the bag’ by Spring 2021, with a view to featuring them in solo exhibitions.

I am fascinated by how digital media pervades everything we do and dictates how we look, behave and perceive ourselves. We have essentially become ‘avatars’ or ‘parodies’ of ourselves. Social media platforms are becoming an extension of our personality and being.

Why sexuality? Surely it’s been done to death?

Sexuality has always been historically a very important component of art. There is the male and the female gaze. It features very strongly today across many social media platforms, with women unwittingly pushing back the margins of feminism, with their trout pouts and bum enhancements, twerking merrily as they display themselves as sexual objects.

In my project I explore this. I have used traditional poses, but also direct poses that are designed to make the viewer somewhat uncomfortable, such as in Kiss me Quick. It’s the ultimate feminist statement, in that as a woman I am taking charge of my sexuality. And indeed this has had that effect on some male viewers, who have likened this picture to that of a gun fighter and acknowledged it as somewhat challenging.

Karen Glykys: Gulag Acrylic on box canvas, Halpern Gallery, Chatham, Kent, UK (2020)
Karen Glykys: Gulag (2020)

My stroke has definitely taken my work to another level. I know my brain injury has changed me in subtle ways and in the beginning, I felt like a part of me was missing. But it also took me to a different viewpoint. I have expressed this through my art, and it has helped me work though it and discover who I am.

I can’t say I’m really influenced by any one particular artist. I have eclectic tastes in nearly everything. I don’t use life models except for myself, and I produce a lot of images directly from my head, with very little reference material.

I have been described as an ‘automatic artist’, in that during my creative process I make no preliminary marks or sketches. The same goes for my photographic work, I just shoot and see what comes out.

As an untrained artist, I enjoy being at liberty, devoid of boundaries or parameters. I have an experimental nature and noone can really tell me, ‘You can’t do that!’.

My work is very rarely planned unless I’m working to a brief, even then I will put on some sounds and let the muse take me.

My inspiration comes from many sources, Literally whatever makes my brain go pop!

Karen Glykys: 'Waiting for the Spark', Acryic on box canvas, Peter Pears Gallery, Suffolk, UK (2020)
Karen Glykys: ‘Waiting for the Spark’, Peter Pears Gallery (2020)

Regardless of the Covid 19 virus, I managed to squeeze in three exhibitions this year, including at the prestigious Peter Pears Gallery in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, and despite suffering a badly pinned hip fracture.

So finally, why the accidental artist ?
Well….. had it not been for attending that first public MUD meeting in 2017, meeting Duncan Grant and being told by him to, ‘Just do it!’ I would never have dreamed of exhibiting professionally and taking my art any further than a hobby to calm my anxious mind.

It was an act of fate, a leap of faith and sheer determination!!

Further information
You can buy Karen’s work  and read her artist statement on her page in the Plogix Gallery https://plogix.com/artist-karen-glykys/
Her work will also be available shortly from her Instagram pages.
You can DM or message Karen via her Instagram @karenglykys or Facebook Art page

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Dick Want: Cloud-walker

Meet Dick Want – artist,  sculptor, engineer and craftsman. I’ve known Dick’s work for a good few years now and have been lucky enough to exhibit alongside him at two group exhibitions in Kent. Here he is talking about his art. Enjoy.

Cloud-walker

When, as a mature student, Dick Want studied for his Masters in Fine Art, at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) Canterbury in Kent , his dissertation was titled The Nefelibata Diaries. Nefelibata, he explains, is a Portuguese word meaning ‘cloud-walker’.

Dick Want: Spiritual self-portrait No. 11
Dick Want: Spiritual self-portrait No. 11

According to the dictionary, a cloud-walker is a person who lives in the clouds of their own imagination or dreams – someone who doesn’t abide by the rules. And, in many ways, that description fits Dick very well.

Dick has lived with poor mental health since he was a child, although his condition wasn’t diagnosed until he was 42.  He explains that his mental state dictates the art he creates and the way he works.

Dick Want: Rod for my Back 1
Dick Want: Rod for my Back 1

‘I produce art exactly as my heart tells me to, to express my moods at the time – I’m never in the same place two days running,’ he says. ‘I’m on this roller-coaster in my mind, and when I’m trying to control it, I channel it into making things.  When I start on a canvas, there is an intensity to it.  I’m literally locked in my house and I do nothing else for two or three weeks, which means the rest of my life goes to shit!’

Dick grew up in Romney Marsh, which straddles the Kent and East Sussex borders. As a child, he spent many days on the Marsh, birdwatching with his parents. And he still loves it there.

‘It’s one hundred square miles of flat land surrounded by the Downs and the coast and it sticks out into the English Channel, which gives it its own little microclimate,’ Dick explains. ‘Because it is so sparsely populated, the ground light is fantastic and because the land mass has nothing on it, you get a big sky, which is always a good thing as a painter.’

Dick Want: Militay Road, Appledore
Dick Want: Militay Road, Appledore

Dick grew up in an artisan household. His father was a joiner, who later went into teaching and then became a Methodist minister. His mother, Mary Want, was well-known locally as a watercolourist. https://www.posterlounge.co.uk/artists/mary-want/

Dick inherited his dad’s technical ability. By the time he was 10 he was working with wood and taking bicycles to bits and rebuilding them.  He also inherited his mother’s talent and passion to make art.  Dick remembers her as ‘a free spirit trapped in a theological world’.

‘She was like the quintessential vicar’s wife, but mad as a box of frogs for her painting at the same time,’ Dick recalls. ‘I can remember coming home from school and there’s mum sitting in the flowerbed outside the kitchen painting the flowers. And I walk through the kitchen and the frying pan’s on the cooker blazing away.’

‘Mum somehow juggled domestic life with an intense urge to make art,’ he continues.’ And I grew up seeing this intense urge and understood it somehow.’

Fat Freddie's Cat 85
Fat Freddie’s Cat 85

The combination of Dick’s undiagnosed mental health issues and being contantly ‘at loggerheads’ with his father about his strict religious upbringing came to  a head in his early teens.

‘I went pop when I was about 14 and I didn’t land again until 2001,’ he says. ‘The 70’s, 80’s and 90’s were taken up with doing just exactly what I pleased. It was an extremely rebellious period in my life. I didn’t have a clue what was going on. Instead, I’d self-medicate.  If I was climbing the walls, I’d just get drunk. It wasn’t until I crashed completely that I found out what the problem was.’

Motorcycles and tattoos
 When he left school, Dick started work as an apprentice engineer.  In 1982, he got a job as a precision engineer making components for Speedway and Grasstrack motorcycles at Godden Engineering.  It was a dream job for Dick who, by that time, was building his own motorcycles.  He still rides Fat Freddie’s Cat, which he built in 1985 and he now also owns a Harley Davidson Dyna Glide.

Dick Want: Kate
Dick Want: Kate

‘My bike building really took off while I was at Godden’s and I built some really special motorcycles,’ Dick says. ‘It was purely self-indulgent – they were bikes for me to ride – but they were also an artform. I was mixing aesthetics and engineering, making something that was pleasing to the eye and also engineeringly functional. It was a form of self-expression at the time.’

After building bikes during the day, Dick spent his evenings working on his  surrealistic paintings.

An interest in pen drawing eventually led to a new career as a tattoo artist. Between 1984 and 2001, Dick had two successful tattoo studios in the Medway Towns. He made his own tattoo machines, drew his own design books and, for nearly twenty years, worked freehand, drawing directly onto customers’ skin from mental images.

‘At  that time, tattooing was a complete sub-culture, a kind of anti-fashion,’ Dick explains. ‘I got into tattooing as way of saying yah boo to the system. I liked the mixture of technical drawing with engineering. I am intensely organised and I liked the discipline of what you were working with. You couldn’t make mistakes. ‘

But as tattoos became more fashionable, Dick became disillusioned.

‘When people started coming in asking for copies of David Beckham’s tattoos, I thought it’s my time to get out,’ Dick says. ‘It had all become about media and fashion and that’s not really what I got into the business for. Also, it was very intense. People put a lot of trust in me and, in 2001, after 20 years of tattooing I had quite a big mental breakdown.’

Dick had been seeing a psychiatrist for several years but it was not until this point that he received a diagnosis and it came as a relief.

‘Actually having someone say, “I’ll tell you what your problem is” was really refreshing because I didn’t think anybody would believe what was going on in my head at the time,’ Dick reflects. ‘Giving it a name means you’re not such an oddball. Someone actually recognises the trauma you’re going through.’

Dick Want: Reclining Nude
Dick Want: Reclining Nude

The academic years
As part of his rehabilitation following his breakdown, mental health services enrolled Dick on an Art Foundation Course at UCA Canterbury. One of the tutors there had a profound influence on the direction of Dick’s art.

‘He was really into his art history and he took us right back, touching on all the major art movements and showed us a different world,’ Dick remembers.

In response to this new knowledge, Dick started painting his way through art history.

‘I fell in love with Georges Braque’s cubist phase,’ he says. ‘His artwork was so sensitive and I wanted to paint like that. I loved the fractured images. Breaking up images with geometric shapes is all the stuff that is going on in my head all the time. I have to vent it somehow and it comes out on my canvas.

Dick Want: The Empty Chair
Dick Want: The Empty Chair

‘I looked at Suprematism – Malevitch’s Black Square and that era of Eastern Bloc art. Then I met Kandinsky who introduced me to using my colour palette to express myself and that brought out some geometric abstract paintings.’

But Dick’s first encounter with the university system was bruising. The surrealistic pictures that he had been painting over the previous 15 years were shunned as ‘too established’.

‘I think I did the surrealist thing too well,’ Dick reflects. ‘There was nothing they could pull apart. They couldn’t use their normal destroy-somebody’s-dream-and-then-build-them-up-to-something-else technique, which is what I felt the university system was about.’

Dick Want: Automatic drawing
Dick Want: Automatic drawing

Undeterred, for his final dissertation, Dick  focused on the work of  French surrealist  André Masson. The thesis, called ‘I am thy Labyrinth‘: An analysis of Self as a Surrealist Subject (2011) explored the labyrithine qualities of the human mind. Dick’s subsequent artistic practice has been profoundly influenced by what he learnt.

‘All my artistic practice is autobiographical,’ Dick says. ‘You can’t do anything without ‘the self’ interpreting it. The surrealist self is really your absolute innermost emotions that are totally unguided or uninfluenced by anything else around you. It’s a very hard place to achieve.’

To help him to achieve this, like surrealists before him, Dick started to experiment with automatic drawing while listening to music.

‘You focus absolutely,’ he says. ‘So when I was drawing, I wasn’t thinking about my hands, I was thinking about the sound. It’s like drawing with your eyes shut. You are feeling the movement and the action. The outcome is not necessarily a drawing that makes sense to the eye, but there is invariably a rhythm that comes out on paper.’

Influenced by John Cage’s experimental composition 4′33″ , a ‘silent’ piece consisting only of the environmental sounds the audience hears while it is performed, Dick built a sound-sensitive drawing desk that could ‘record the sound a drawing makes’.  The desk used microphones to amplify the sound made as the pen moved over the paper, so that it could be recorded.

Through the work for his dissertation, Dick sought to draw parallels between the ephemeral nature of sound and the ephemeral nature of time. He sought to capture the time passing while a drawing was completed through recording the sound of the drawing process itself.

‘The ephemeral nature of sound means that, unless it is recorded, it vanishes with the passing of time and the only record of its passing are the things that came into existence during the seconds that have passed,’ he wrote in an ‘artist’s statement while at university. ‘With my sound drawings there are two possible automatic aspects. The first  is the drawing that should be made entirely without conscious thought, the second is the sound produced whilst making the drawing. The drawing becomes evidence of the ephemeral sound and, if recorded, the sound becomes a record of the time that has passed.’

Dick Want: Royal Military Canal, Hamstreet
Dick Want: Royal Military Canal, Hamstreet

After his first degree, Dick went on to complete a Masters degree in Fine Art, again at UCA.

‘I never thought of myself as academic but I hadn’t finished with the system,’ Dick explains. ‘When I finished my first degree, I felt so beaten up by the system that I wanted some time where I could enjoy studying art to the level that I’d discovered I was capable. I hadn’t got quite as far as I thought I could.’

But before he could get started, once again Dick’s work came in for some harsh criticism from his tutors.

‘I got slated again!’ he exclaims. ‘They said you’ve got to develop something that is your own. And I thought I can’t make it any more my own, so I went off and painted landscapes of Romney Marsh. I studied the Royal Military Canal. I started at Hythe and painted my way along it.’

During that two year period, as advised by his teachers, Dick developed his own personal painting process and style.

‘I went from the total abstract that I’d been painting in oils at the end of my degree to quite formal landscapes in acrylic,’ Dick explains. ‘I ended up out in the countryside with metre-and-a-half by metre canvasses, painting wild. It was great fun. I worked with a brush in one hand and an atomiser in the other, running the paint off the canvas.’

His Masters dissertation The Nefelibata Diaries, was about  capturing the point where reality meets abstract, meets surreality.

Once again, he linked the concepts of painting and time, contrasting the speed necessary to capture a good landscape in ever changing conditions with the time taken to complete a painting as indicated by the rate at which the paint alters as it moves down the canvas.

In 2014, Dick posted a series of images of The Fairfield Project, which illustrate the process he used to achieve that effect.

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Dick Want: Brompton Cocktail
Dick Want: Brompton Cocktail

Now free from the constraints of his undergraduate programme, Dick’s Masters project helped to reconnect him with his creative roots as an artist and a craftsman.

In contrast to a busy curriculum where the emphasis was on thinking and working quickly, painting the Royal Military Canal offered a complete change of mental pace.

Dick spent hours out on the Marsh on his motorcycle researching and recording images to inform his paintings.  A feature of his mental health condition is an inability to relax the intensity with which he scrutinises everything. For this project, Dick used it to his advantage and channelled it into his art.

‘I can’t paint an object without studying the detail,’  he explains. ‘The images I collect don’t get used in my paintings but they give my mind the information I need to be able to paint what I’m thinking. On the Masters course, I was left to my own devices to study my own worth, and it  was quite therapeutic. It taught me that it’s OK to spend time thinking about what you are producing. And it’s OK to be a craftsman and to really know your own skills and tools.’

Dick Want: Ode to the female form
Dick Want: Ode to the female form

A man of many talents
Now with his MA under his belt Dick is back in his home studio, using his skills and tools, painting, sculpting and carving wood. He describes himself as ‘a workaholic’.

‘I like working with my hands, and making stuff is really where I’m best,’ he says. ‘Engineering was great because it taught me things like welding, electrics, mechanical design, all of which you can apply to wood, building, sculpture, whatever you fancy working with. At the moment  I’m carving wood constantly.  I’m making some hop finials which are proving to be a much bigger job than I anticipated and take up every minute of spare time.’

Recently, Dick has also built a  mosaiced, six foot  cement  and brick sculpture in his garden, experimenting with the material until he achieved a consistency that he could work with a trowel like plaster, but which set like Portland Stone as he  built up the layers.

Dick Want: No Escape
Dick Want: No Escape

And he has returned to surrealistic art, painting intensively, once again using oils.

‘I’m enjoying the proximity with history, working with oils, and the traditional way of painting,’ he says.

Because of his mental health, Dick is reluctant to speculate about where his art might take him in the future.

‘I have to take each day as it comes because you can’t guarantee a run of anything in my world,’ he explains. ‘Because of my mental health, everything else I’ve done in life to do with families, relationships and dealing with the public in general has been a disaster. Making art and riding my motorbike everyday are the only things that really keep me going.  My art is almost like my umbrella and so long as that front door is locked, I can manage with making art. That’s where I am.’

Dick Want: Covid 19 Apothocre
Dick Want: Covid 19 Apothocre

 

 

If you would like to see more of Dick’s art you can follow him here:
Facebook: Richard Want Artist https://www.facebook.com/Artwant/
Instagram: dick_want_artist https://www.instagram.com/dick_want_artist/?hl=en
Blog: http://artwant.blogspot.com/

If you are interested in automatic drawing you might also like to revisit this blog from December 2019 https://duncangrantartist.com/2019/12/29/luna-zsigo-capturing-emotional-landscapes/

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ella Guru: Ambiguity, theatre and disguise

Over the last couple of months my blog has focused on the Stuckists. So far there have been two posts. The first looks at the history of the Stuckists. The second features the art of founder Stuckist, Joe Machine

Ella Guru: Phoenix
Ella Guru: Phoenix

This third and final blog about the Stuckists (for now at least) features Ella Guru: artist, musician, photographer and a founding member of the Stuckists.

Art school
Ella, who has been drawing all her life, grew up in Ohio. She hated high school and during her final two years, spent half a day a week at a vocational school for commercial art.

She went on to study art at Columbus College of Art and Design, on a three-year scholarship and, for the first two ‘foundation’ years, did really well. Students were graded according to the amount of work they did. Ella completed all the assignments and got good marks.

In her third year, Ella chose to specialise in ‘fine art. The feedback she received from her tutors left her feeling deflated.

‘The third year is when the tutors tell you what they really think,’ she explains. ‘I was doing large paintings of naked bodies in symmetrical mandala shapes. But because I had no ‘concepts’ or anything to say about my work, the tutors shot me down. I was a full on Goth at the time. They looked at me, my work and my lack of ‘concepts’, and basically they said I was superficial and should just go hang out in bars and clubs. That there was no substance to me as an ‘artist.’’

Ella Guru: Lucha Britannia
Ella Guru: Lucha Britannia

‘The funny thing,’ she continues, ‘is that I did hang out in nightclubs and went on to make a living from painting nightlife, so who’s laughing now!’  This page on Ella’s blog is dedicated to her nightlife paintings.

In 1987, Ella moved to London for the first time where she ‘lived in squats, went out clubbing and had a great time’. Eventually, she returned to Ohio and completed her degree in Fine Art and Photography at the Ohio State University. When she returned to England, art took a backseat as Ella got involved with the music scene.

‘My life was all over the place at that time, ‘ Ella remembers. ‘I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay in the UK or go back to the US. So, I never planned to do music rather than art at that time. It’s just that music happened instead.’

michael S marks: Deptford Beach Babes michaelm@zenfolio.com
© michael S marks: Deptford Beach Babes michaelm@zenfolio.com

Music
In the early ’90s Ella played guitar and sang in two all-girl Indie rock bands: MamboTaxi  https://youtu.be/_6sXxX_1_SU and the Voodoo Queens, who reached number one in the Indie Charts in 1993. https://youtu.be/hXXdW2PK-Uc .

In 1995, Ella formed the Deptford Beach Babes  with one of the former Voodoo Queens. The band played together until Ella left London in 2013.

‘It started as a surf music 3-piece instrumental band.’ Ella says, ‘and then morphed into sometimes having eight or nine people on stage, borrowing musicians from other local London bands.’  https://youtu.be/aN9p9IFEIg8

Sexton Ming & Ella Guru wedding
Sexton and Ella’s wedding

Sexton Ming, beehives and Stuckism
It was 1996 when Ella’s flatmate introduced her to Sexton Ming http://www.stuckism.com/ming/ who would later become her husband. They married, both in drag, in 2001.

‘I met this shy, short bloke and I didn’t think anything of it,’ Ella remembers. ‘Then I travelled round Europe for six months on my bike. I met some people in Switzerland who said, “Oh, you’re from London, do you know Sexton Ming?”. So when I got back home, I said to my flatmate, I want to meet Sexton Ming.

Ella Guru, Dusty, Queens Head Amsterdam, 1999
Ella Guru, Dusty, Queens Head Amsterdam, 1999

‘When we first met properly, it was in a Wethersoons. I was influenced by his slap-dash, freakish drag and The Offset  group that he was part of (the remains of Leigh Bowery’s Minty).  I started painting Sexton in a beehive wig and then I started painting everyone in a beehive wig. Those large close-up, almost pop-art beehive paintings captured my new relationship with Sexton and the friends we had at the time. It was a time of great fun and humour. Around the time when Stuckism formed.’

Sexton Ming was a member of The Medway Poets, several of whom, later, became one of the original 13 founding members of the Stuckists. As Ming’s girlfriend, Ella also became involved. https://duncangrantartist.com/2020/08/16/stuckism-the-birth-of-an-international-art-non-movement/

‘Stuckism spoke to me because at art college I wasn’t doing conceptual art, I was doing painting and that wasn’t conceived as being real or important,’ Ella explains. ‘So I related to the whole idea of Stuckism.’

Ella Guru: Beehive, 1999
Ella Guru: Beehive, 1999

Ella’s early paintings were made using whatever medium she could find. Her later work uses more traditional materials for ‘simple and practical reasons’ she says.

‘My early pictures were all charcoal and house paint on paper, so very fragile.  Around the late 90s, I started using acrylic or oil on canvas. I realised that if I ever intended to sell work it needed to be more permanent.’

Hanging out in nightclubs

Ella Guru: Masked Ball, 2008
Ella Guru: Masked Ball, 2008

In 2007, The Urban Voodoo Machine’s club Gypsy Hotel  started. This club included burlesque and circus performers as well as bands. It was a new time for Ella in London and she took great inspiration from this and other nightlife. The Last Tuesday Society held masked balls in a five-storey townhouse near Covent Garden and Ella began painting nightclub scenes.

‘It wasn’t a great leap in some ways as I had always been painting subjects dressed up and costumed,’ Ella remarks. ‘My early Stuckist paintings were all drag portraits in beehive wigs. Whether male or female, they were all doing drag. So making busier paintings was just a step up, a challenge.’

Ella Guru: Saturday Night at the Windmill, Brixton, 2003
Ella Guru: Saturday Night at the Windmill, Brixton, 2003

Saturday night at the Windmill Brixton was Ella’s first complex painting about nightlife.

‘It was a sci-fi theme night held by Brixton band Naked Ruby,’ Ella remembers. ‘The background figures are from my band the Deptford Beach Babes and Naked Ruby.’

It was at clubs such as Gypsy Hotel  and The Last Tuesday Society  that Ella met many of the models who would appear in her later paintings.

Ella Guru: The Chariot
Ella Guru: The Chariot

‘Most of my models have come from some kind of nightlife or performing role,’ she explains.

Because of the pandemic, the nightclubs that Ella used to frequent and paint now lie empty.

‘I heard the phrase “Plague year 1” a few days ago.  It fills me with despair that all of what I once painted will soon be no more,’ Ella reflects.

Tarot
In 2012, Stuckist Elsa Dax curated the Stuckist Major Arcana Tarot deck, where each of the 22 cards was designed by a different artist. As well as contributing a card to the project, in 2013, Ella decided to paint her own version of all 22 cards, charting her own personal and spiritual journey.  You can view Ella’s Tarot cards and read some of the stories behind them on her blog http://ellaguruart.com/?projects=tarot

The Tarot project coincided with Ella’s decision to move with her family from their flat in East London to a new home in Hastings, in East Sussex, where she lives now. This major life change heralded a change of direction for Ella’s art.

Ella Guru: The Hanged Man
Ella Guru: The Hanged Man

‘I was working on my Tarot when we moved here,’ she explains. ‘I painted half of the Major Arcana in London and half in Hastings. It was the story of my own journey and this is where the symbolism that is a feature of my later paintings began.  I did a lot of research for each of the Major Arcana and somewhere I have scribbled notes for some cards but a lot of it has been forgotten now.’

While the meaning of many of the Tarot cards is hidden to some extent because the context is personal and particular to Ella, some tell a story that can be ‘read’ by everyone. The Justice Tarot card portrays a young man in Hackney, East London.

Ella Guru: Justice
Ella Guru: Justice

‘In this painting I am definitely talking about racism and the unfairness of stop-and-search,’ Ella says. ‘It is based on a true story. The left of the canvas shows police doing a stop-and-search. This young man was so fed up with the way he and his peers were being treated that he went to Cambridge -pictured on the right – to study law so he could come back and defend them. On his first break back from university, he was again stopped by the police. He showed them his Cambridge ID.’

Reinterpreting the familiar
Ella’s later paintings are quite different from her early Stuckist paintings, featuring close-up heads in broad strokes  of house paint.

Her recent work, which resembles traditional-style oil paintings, feature scenes from nightclubs, reimagines Old Masters or retells myths or stories from the Bible. Ella describes her later work as ‘insanely complex, symbol-laden, hyper-detailed’.

Ella Guru: Head of Duncan DeMorgan, 2009
Ella Guru: Head of Duncan DeMorgan, 2009

Her first direct homage to an Old Master was Head of Duncan DeMorgan, after Caravaggio’s Head of John the Baptist.

My “twist” was to use contemporary nightclub performers as biblical characters,’ Ella says.

She also painted a version of The Last Supper featuring the Stuckists, featured in an earlier blog and then Backyard Crucifixion.

Ella Guru: Backyard Crucifixion, 2016
Ella Guru: Backyard Crucifixion, 2016

‘I don’t parody or mock, but rather reimagine the scenes in a modern setting,’ Ella explains. ‘The ambiguity in my paintings is intentional and, so far, no Christians have been offended by my biblical interpretations. One acquaintance said of my Backyard Crucifixion that it looks like the women have come to cut Christ down from the cross. Don’t mess with them. They mean business.’

Her paintings are produced in several stages.

‘I’ll maybe look at an Old Master or a selection of Old Masters and decide how I want to do my version,’ she explains. ‘Then I’ll stage them. I’ll pose the models and photograph them. Often models bring their own costumes, which become part of the painting. For Backyard Crucifixion the models were in cowboy boots and Converse, which totally worked in the paining. I like to throw these odd, modern items into pictures.

Ella Guru: Whores of Babylon
Ella Guru: Whores of Babylon

‘And then everything is laid out in Photoshop before I transfer it to canvas. Some paintings are created from just one photograph  but many others, like The Whores of Babylon are posed and photographed separately and then put together on the computer.’

Ella Guru: Siamese Twins, 2010

As you get to know Ella’s work you’ll notice that the same models reappear in many of her paintings. Look out for Amanda Steele, who has appeared as Salome, Mary Magdalene, as Siamese twins for New York writer Alex Goetchius’s Max and the Siamese Twins (left), and in Ella’s Tarot card, Temperance.

Below, Ella talks in a little more detail about three of her more recent paintings:

Le Pustra’s Kabarett der Namenlosen v3
Oil on canvas, 36″ x 54″  2019 
Ella Guru: Le Pustra's Kabarett der Namenlosen v3
Ella Guru: Le Pustra’s Kabarett der Namenlosen v3

Le Pustra’s Kabarrett Der Namenlosen is an immersive and interactive theatre show, a blending of contemporary burlesque performance and Weimar Republic Cabaret Culture. I was at the first run in Berlin in 2016.

At least half the show is in German, of which I understand very little, so I can’t actually follow much of the dialogue, monologues or even some of the songs. This does not matter to me though as I make my own interpretation of the show. It means something to me that is probably not the same to anyone else.

This show captures the dark undertones of seedy city life, the desperation for real emotion and connection, but instead we have a stage full of outrageous characters who take turns to entertain the audience as well as each other. There are always several characters on stage.

The first painting I did of the Kabarrett Der Namenlosen was bought by the theatre where the show is held. My client in Prague saw the image online and commissioned me to paint a second version. And then two years later, commissioned a third.

I think people don’t understand what goes into these paintings. They don’t understand what is going on in that room… the rooms in our heads. It’s not a mechanical thing. It’s not just doing an illustration.

In order to paint any picture I have to be 100% into it. When the client asks me to do another version of a painting, I have to change it enough to make it interesting. Painting two versions of the same painting is not that difficult. But a third? What could I possible do differently?

Le Pustra’s Kabarrett Der Namenlosen is great because it says something to me personally that may be unique to me. If others feel the same, each brings his, her or their own perspective to it. It is much more than a cabaret show. And therein lies that belief that it is up to each of us to appreciate a piece of art in our ways.

The shows and the paintings are a dark exploration of the soul.

During lockdown Le Pustra and one of the cast, Reverso, did an Instagram chat about Reverso’s performance within Kabarett Der Namenlosen. Reverso is the one slitting his own throat in the painting. His performance is called “Deceptive Beauty”.

“For me I like to hear what people have to say about it, rather than me telling them,”  Reverso says.

Reverso is saying what I think, that it’s not about the artist explaining in words what they are doing, but rather that people can bring their own interpretation to what the artist is doing.

I feel the same about my paintings. Especially the ones of the Kabarett der Namenlosen. So if you are looking for an ‘explanation’ of my art , there isn’t one. Perhaps this is why I found that 3rd year art college review so difficult. But I really do not believe that good art requires an ‘explanation’. If anything, for me good art is art that does not require explaining but reaches the soul of the viewer on more of a visceral level.

Cathedral dress
Oil on canvas, 135x 110 cm, finished May 2020

Ella Guru: Cathedral Dress
Ella Guru: Cathedral Dress

In this painting I’m wearing  the Cathedral Dress,  which is wearable sculpture by Liam Brandon Murray

For this one, the shoot was in the Truman Brewery where the dress was on display as part of the Modern Panic X exhibition. It was November 2019.

I tried on the dress during the launch night. Wearable Art Sculptor Liam Brandon Murray suggested I paint myself in his new dress. The previous year I had painted my daughter in another Liam Brandon Murray dress.

So one day before the show opened, I took the dress into the warehouse behind the gallery and had my friend and muse Amanda Steele take photos of me in the dress. I had some commissions to finish, so the Photoshop layout for the new Cathedral Dress painting was not started until 4 February 2020.

The painting was begun on 3 March 2020. All elements and symbols were in place before the pandemic broke.

All detail had been decided in the weeks before, yet the picture seems to be all about the current situation: the foreboding symbols of the candle blown out; the house of cards collapsing; the hour glass running out; the clock with no hands; the cat with a mouse in its teeth. The rhododendron and tuberose flowers also symbolise danger and impending doom. Even the dirty window somehow feels like a reference to lockdown, as does the dress itself. If we all wore dresses like this, ‘social distancing’ would not be a problem.

Lamentation at the cave
Oil on canvas, 48″ x 54″,  2020

Ella Guru: Lamentation at the Cave
Ella Guru: Lamentation at the Cave

This was the second piece I painted during lockdown and the third in the Lamentation series.

The photo shoot for this painting was in January 2019. So while the six figures shown were posed before the pandemic, the painting has added elements of our strange times.

I began this painting in May 2020. The UK had been in lockdown for two months. The people are huddled together in mourning, something that no one has been able to do during Covid-19.  Many lives have been lost, and even more people denied the process of saying goodbye to their loved ones.

The Virgin Mary is absent from this version. Drag artist Virgin Extravaganza was present at the shoot but did not join this huddle as the bloody James (Jesus) would have ruined their outfit. However, when I painted the picture, it was quarantine time and Virgin was in the USA doing drag shows from their high school parking lot. I have represented the shows on the iPhone, bottom right corner.

The cat is one of the studio cats who always wander into the photo shoots. [Ella writes about cats in her art in her blog  Put a cat in it]

A few of the added details come from a Facebook group called Zombie Nation Art Challenge. The random Toad Familiar, bottom left, is one of those. The empty bottle labelled “Djinn” (gin) is another.

The beach setting is Fairlight, Hastings, East Sussex, only accessible by water or at low tide.

The bat (top left) is a reference to Covid-19. At one point it was said that ‘bat shit’ could be one possible origin of the virus. ‘Batshit’ has other meanings, too. References to the state of the world in general, social media, etc.

The bee crawling on a piece of rotting fruit symbolizes corruption of the body or the onset of disease and death. Often depicted to remind the onlooker of their own mortality.

One final note about this painting and viruses. The day I did the photo shoot for this painting I was sick. I had arranged the photo shoot in London with about eight models and I did not want to cancel (oh how times have changed!). I was sure it wasn’t flu as I get the flu jab every year. I refused to hug or shake anyone’s hand. I use a long lens so was never too close to the models although they were close to each other. No one at the shoot, not even the people I was staying with, got sick following that weekend.


Find out more or follow Ella
Website: http://ellaguruart.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ellaguru.artist
Instagram: ellaguruart
Twitter:@EllaGuruArt

Ella still has a few Tarot decks for sale: https://ellaguruart.bigcartel.com/category/tarot-cards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Van Doodles Colouring Book ready for pre-order

A quick interim blog-ette to let you know that the Van Doodles Colouring Book is now ready to pre-order online. I expect to be able to start posting them out next week.

Just follow this link to my galley where all is explained, you can see some sample pages and order copies if you wish.  Van Doodles Colouring Book information

Enormous thanks to Linda Cole who did the cover graphics and helped get the pages in A1 colouring condition.

Normal blogging will resume next weekend with the final part of the Stuckist ‘triptych’, a guest blog by the supremely talented, founder Stuckist Ella Guru.

If you missed them, you can catch up on parts 1 and 2 here.
Stuckism: The birth of an internation art ‘non-movement’
Joe Machine: From Marine Town to The Holy See

 

 

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Joe Machine: From Marine Town to The Holy See

My mum was born in Chatham, Kent, in 1930. She lived there until she was about 12, when her family moved to Gravesend.  At the age of 90, she remains one of the town’s biggest fans. She acknowledges that Chatham is ‘not what it was before the dockyard closed’ but she still has fond memories of a lively town full of  sailors in their crisp uniforms, on shore leave. Very much On the Town.

My mum (aged 4) on the beach at Margate with her sister, mum and Gran

Just up river from Chatham, at the mouth of the River Medway, is Sheerness, another former naval town and seaside resort. Mum remembers day trips there with her dad. They used to set off from Sun Pier in Chatham, sit on the front eating rolls with butter and cheese, which they brought with them. And then they’d have their dinner at the Co-op cafe  – fish and chips –  served with ‘real tomato ketchup’, which was  really hard to find, apparently, and so was a real treat.

It’s funny how those impressions of places that we have as kids or as visitors to a place can contrast so starkly with the experience of the people who live there – how we can miss the more threatening undertones that are everyday reality for others.

Like my mum, Joe Machine (born Joe Stokes), one of the founder members of the Stuckists (see previous blog) was born in Chatham, but over 40 years later, in 1973. But there, any similarities with my mum’s experiences end. As a child, Joe was exposed to extreme violence and had every reason to fear sailors.

Joe Machine: I'll Cut You
Joe Machine: I’ll Cut You

Growing up in Marine Town
‘I was brought up in pubs and clubs and my father’s business was near to some pretty unpleasant pubs,’ Joe remembers. ‘By the time I was 7 years old, I’d seen a lot of alcohol fuelled violence. Sailors to me were men of violence. I used to see fighting in the pubs, windows going through, pretty unpleasant stuff for a young child to see.’

Joe went to school in Marine Town, in Sheerness, where he was badly bullied.

A lot of the kids at Joe’s school had fathers in the Royal Navy.  Joe tells an unsettling story of going round to a friend’s house to play when he was just 8 years old.

‘I went into this terraced house and his dad was cooking in the kitchen,’ Joe says. ‘I can remember seeing his dad’s blue serge Royal Navy uniform and square rig hat hanging up there. That really did make an impression on me.

‘So I went upstairs playing with this kid for a while and when I came down to use the toilet his dad said, “Come over here”. He asked me if I got bullied and when I said I did, he said “Look I’m going to give you something that will stop the bullying”.  So he got a toothbrush and held it over the gas stove and he melted one end of it. Then he got two razor blades and he set them in the melted end. He said, “Look lad, I’m going to give his to you. Take it to school with you and if anyone upsets you, slash them in the face with it”

‘I was absolutely terrified, completely and utterly terrified. I wanted to get rid of it. I couldn’t take it home, so I dropped it down the drain. The next time I saw weapons like that was many years later, when I was 16, in young offenders institutions.’

Joe Machine: The Drinking Contest
Joe Machine: The Drinking Contest

Drawing on experience
Young Joe’s way of dealing with the violence he witnessed was to draw.  At first school he drew scenes from his own experience – pictures of the things that scared him.

‘While other kids were drawing what they were supposed to, I was the kid drawing people with blood jetting out of their necks, people getting glassed in the face, people getting their eyes popped out,’ Joe explains. ‘I think making drawings of the kinds of violent acts that I’d seen was a pretty healthy way of dealing with things, but it wasn’t seen that way at school. They stopped me drawing and I had to go and sit at the back of the room away from everyone else.’

Things got worse for Joe as he moved to the next class. He wasn’t allowed to draw at all without having the subject matter checked first. Things came to a head when a teacher humiliated Joe in front of the class. His drawing of the incredible Hulk had spilled off the paper and he had coloured in some of the table as well. Joe couldn’t take any more. He grabbed a blackboard compass and stabbed the teacher in the hand with it. He was removed from the school aged just 6.

Throughout the rest of his, sometimes chaotic childhood, Joe continued to draw. Outside school, he worked for his father in the arcade, but when he wasn’t sweeping up or cleaning fruit machines, he was doodling and drawing.

‘Drawing saved me,’ he says. ‘I don’t know what I would have done without art. The things I saw as I grew up really did affect me. They worried me. They disgusted me. I produced thousands of drawings, most of which ended up in the bin. Drawing for me was a kind of therapy.  It was like an externalised part of what was going on inside my head. It helped me make sense of it.’

Joe Machine: Self-portrait breaking into public house
Joe Machine: Self-portrait breaking into public house

Thievery
As well as showing an early talent for drawing, young Joe also showed an aptitude for theft. Even as a very young child, when his dad took him shopping, Joe was caught putting things into his pocket.

‘I’ve got no memory of it but my dad says he picked me up and shook me and a load of batteries fell out of my pocket,’ Joe says. ‘Most of my friends, their parents were alcoholics or drug addicts so they’d be out stealing. Everybody was at it. It was just natural – and I took to it like a duck to water!’

Joe started with easy targets – he stole from his mother’s purse, his dad’s arcade, local shops – but as he got older, he got more ambitious and took more and more risks.

‘It was like a drug to me,’ he reflects. ‘I think I kind of justified it as, I was trying to claw something back. I was trying to make something of myself in a society that I thought wasn’t up to much and had failed me at every level.’

For a while Joe made good money from a ‘pretty foolproof’ method of breaking into arcades. He bypassed the alarmed steel shutters on the front doors by dropping down through a hole cut in the felt and baton roofs . But his luck finally ran out when he tried to steal a till from a greengrocers in broad daylight. He cut through the electric cable but didn’t realise that the till was also secured to the wall by a chain.

Joe Machine: Ear cut off, numb with drink
Joe Machine: Ear cut off, numb with drink

‘I eventually managed to get away with the till,’ Joe recounts. ‘I got round the corner, where I dropped it. So I had to leave it there and run off. But, of course, they knew who I was. I got grassed up and about a day after that the police came to my mum’s flat and that was it.’

In 1989, Joe was convicted of theft and sent to  Borstal, Young Offenders Secure Training Centre where he was allowed to paint.

‘I carried on painting sailors and things like that,’ Joe says. ‘But I still couldn’t quite paint what I wanted to because everything was highly censored.’

Bill Lewis, the Medway Poets and Stuckism
After two years in prison. Joe went straight back into crime. But things had changed while had been away. His parents had split up and Joe was living with his dad. He was still paining but also writing.

‘I’d been writing for years as well as painting,’ says Joe. ‘I had this silly idea that I was going to be a novelist and I’d written loads of stuff all of which was rubbish – really, really bad.’

Fed up with him hanging around and getting into trouble, Joe’s father suggested that he join a creative writing class.  The class was taught by Bill Lewis – member of the Medway Poets and, as it turned out later, another founder members of the Stuckists (see previous blog)

The creative writing class folded after a short time because numbers were low so, instead Joe and two others met at Lewis’s place in Chatham. After a while, the other two students dropped away, leaving only Joe and Bill who became good friends. Bill introduced Joe to the Medway Poets and, in the early 90s, Joe started writing and performing with them.

Stuckists protesting against the Turner Prize
Stuckists protesting against the Turner Prize

Through that connection, Joe met Billy Childish and Charles Thomson and with them and others, went on to found the Stuckists. It was possibly an unlikely alliance. Joe was one of the only members who hadn’t been to art school. But although his background was in crime, rather than punk, he identified with the punk ethic of the Stuckists – rebelling against the established order. He also enjoyed being in the company of other compulsive obsessive painters – ‘people who just couldn’t do anything else’. And he shared their contempt for conceptual art.

‘The more I thought about  Brit Art, the more I thought that it was utter rubbish – contrived, prefabricated rubbish,’ he explains. ‘I was painting stuff from my life. I didn’t know how to do anything else. What they were doing was as far away from honesty as you could possibly get. It was nihilism. It had no belief whatsoever. They were doing it for awards. They were doing it because they wanted to be famous.’

Joe Machine: Blonde Strippers
Blonde Strippers

Joe started exhibiting with the Stuckists. His work was given prominence and he did well. He became known, particularly his ‘sailor paintings’, depicting the violence of his childhood and the sex and pornography that he was exposed to too early, in the homes of his friends’ parents. In 2006, he had a sell-out show at the Spectrum Gallery in London, where most of his paintings were acquired by the David Roberts Art Foundation

Through the Stuckists, Joe finally had an opportunity he craved to work through his early experiences through his art. The more he painted, the further away he became from being involved in crime. 

‘I realised then that I had no need to be doing some of the things I was doing,’ Joe explains. There was no point in me putting my energy in that direction, it was either going to end up with me being dead or in prison fo a long time.  So I slowly turned more to painting than the other criminal stuff and once I started giving my energy to that, it gained its own momentum and it worked out very well for me.’

Joe Machine: My Grandfather Will Fight You
Joe Machine: My Grandfather Will Fight You

Family matters
Joe’s mother was an Ashkenazi Jew and his father was an English Romany Gypsy. They were both from East London originally.  Joe’s great grandfather was a professional bare-knuckle boxer, fighting in a travelling boxing booth owed by the family. When he retired, he became a boxing promoter.

His paternal grandfather was a professional boxer, but he never spoke about his career with Joe.

‘He never talked about violence but I knew it was there because that was his life,’ Joe explains. ‘All my other relations, my cousins, were terrified of him because he had this kind of glowering violence about him. But that never came across with me. He was always kind to me. I was his favourite grandson and I loved him fiercely.’

The subject matter of Joe’s early paintings, his previous criminal activity and his post-jail work as a bouncer on the violent rave and ecstasy scene have caused some commentators to mark him out as a tough guy too.

Joe says they’ve got him completely wrong: ‘I’m not a tough guy. I’ve been involved in violence but whatever I’ve done has been a reaction to the things that I’ve seen. I certainly didn’t feel like a tough guy when I was a kid. I felt vulnerable and that fear of violence has never left me.’

Joe Machine: Diana Dors
Joe Machine: Diana Dors

Spirituality and sucess
Becoming involved with the Medway Poets and then the Stuckists were key steps on the road to a new ‘more holistic’ life for Joe.

In 2000, after exhibiting with the Stuckists, Joe was announced as winner of the Stuckist’s Real Turner Prize show and his painting of Diana Dors, painted in response to a chance meeting with Dors as a child, was used as the cover image for the original Stuckist book. He was gaining recognition as an artist and able to devote more time to painting.

‘It was a big thing for me. I’d gone from seeing all the stuff I’d seen, being in prison, working in situations where I was threatened with guns and knives, to sitting in rooms where I could be at peace, I could paint, and it had a restorative, cathartic element to it,’ Joe says.

Fellow Stuckist, Charles Thomson describes Joe as a very spiritual person and Joe himself talks about his ‘great faith in God’.

‘I’ve always had the sense of the hand of God in what I was doing. Even as a child I knew there was something else, something was there, a very definite presence,’ Joe explains. ‘There was no epiphany or red pill moment, the realisation has gradually crept up on me that it has always been there.  I’m not a religious fanatic. I don’t do organised religion. I’m not born again. But  I speak the truth when I say I don’t believe in God, I know God is real because of my experiences of Him.’

Joe Machine, Edward Lucie-Smith
Joe with Edward Lucie-Smith, Machine Evolution show, 2013

The Stuckist protests against the Turner Prize and the wider art establishment (see previous blog) grabbed the headlines and attracted a lot of publicity for the movement. Many art critics were hostile, but independent art critic Edward Lucie-Smith took an interest in their work and in Joe’s work in particular. He described Joe as his ‘favourite Stuckist’. Lucie-Smith has gone on to hail Joe as ‘one of the most important British Artists’ and ‘the successor to Francis Bacon and William Blake’.

Joe too holds Lucie-Smith in very high regard.

‘There’s nobody like him,’ says Joe. ‘He’s incredible. He’s a legendary art critic and he’s a maverick. Although he works with the art establishment, nobody tells him what to do.’

Joe met Lucie-Smith for the first time at a Stuckist exhibition in 2008, and from 2012, the pair began to collaborate more closely. Lucie-Smith promoted Joe’s work and encouraged him to broaden his artistic horizons.

‘Edward sat me down and said “I like most of your work, but I don’t like all of it”,’ Joe laughs. ‘I think Edward wasn’t very keen on the sailor stuff – the sex and violence – because he thought I was going to be pigeon-holed. He helped me see the potential of working in other areas.’

Joe Machine: God and Tree
Joe Machine: God and Tree

Joe  has since illustrated two volumes of Edward Lucie-Smith’s poems, Making For The Exit and Surviving.

In 2012, Lucie-Smith encouraged Joe to enter the Cork Street Open Exhibition in London. Joe won the Grand Prize for his religious painting God and Tree. The painting shows God standing next to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, from Genesis. The idea came from some work that Joe had been doing with Charles Thomson about Kabbalah, matters of spirit and meditation, but it was Joe’s son, Joseph, who finally gave him the confidence to paint it.

‘My son said, “You do this stuff so much in your life, why don’t you paint God?”‘ says Joe. ‘I told him, I can’t. I’m not really supposed to depict God. I’m Jewish. But Joseph said, “I don’t think God would mind”. So I did. I took his advice and painted it, and that’s when things really started to take off for me, artistically.’

Joe Machine: Last Blossoms of Spring
Joe Machine: Last Blossoms of Spring

Religion and mythology
Spurred on by his success and supported by Lucie-Smith, Joe gained the confidence to tackle a greater variety of themes in his painting, themes as diverse as the Russian Revolution and landscape paintings, inspired by Kentish woodlands.

In 2013, again supported by Lucie-Smith, Joe held  a solo, retrospective exhibition Machine Evolution, at the Cock ‘n’ Bull Gallery, beneath the Tramshed restaurant in Dalston, featuring some of his Russian Revolution paintings. The restaurant, owned by celebrity chef Mark Hix, recently went into administration.

The Tramshed restaurant

Ironically, the gallery was named after an installation by artist, Damien Hirst, bête noire of the Stuckists. The piece, a Hereford cow and a cockerel preserved in a steel and glass tank of formaldehyde, was on permanent display in the restaurant.

‘The irony wasn’t lost on me,’ Joe laughs, ‘and I think Edward could see it as well!’

 

The exhibition was a great success and, in conjunction with the show, Russian investors brought out a major hardback book of Joe’s work.

Joe Machine, Steve O'Brien
Joe with Steve O’Brien, Brittanic Myths book launch, Mayfair

It was at a private view of Machine Evolution, hosted by The London Magazine  that Joe was introduced to magazine editor, academic and mythographer, Steven O’Brien, who is now his agent.

In 2015, Joe and O’Brien collaborated on a book Britannic Myths  which retold ancient stories from Britain and Ireland through text and painting. The collaboration generated a number of London-based exhibitions of the  paintings included in the book.

Also in 2015, Joe was invited to become artist-in-residence for the Prometheus Project in Trieste, Italy.  This  project,  the brainchild of Italian concert pianist Claudio Crismani and Edward Lucie-Smith, was based around Alexander Scriabin’s last musical work Prometheus: The Poem of Fire, reinterpreting it through music, visual art, literature and history.

‘It was a great time and resulted in three wonderful shows for me,’ Joe recalls.  ‘I had a sailor show but also new paintings of Greek Gods and the myth of Prometheus were exhibited in the Arts Centre at Trieste harbour and at various other venues around Trieste.’

Joe Machine: St Guthlac Assailed by Demons
Joe Machine: St Guthlac Assailed by Demons

Joe now refers to myth as ‘his preferred genre’.

‘Over the years I’ve done so many paintings working through he stuff about sex and violence,’ Joe remarks. ‘But  more recently, my work has moved further and further into religion, spirituality and mythology so that is now about 90 percent of what I do. There’s no way when I was first involved with the Stuckists that I would have painted some of the stuff I’m painting now. I still do the other stuff sometimes, but now I’m more whole than I used to be.’

Joe is now working on a series of 30 paintings showing  scenes from the Arthurian legends for another of Steven O’Brien’s books,  and has been commissioned by mythographer and author, John Matthews, to produce a series of paintings featuring the characters from the old English poem Beowulf, which will be used to illustrate a series of oracle cards.

Joe Machine: Joseph of Arithmethea
Joe Machine: Joseph of Arithmethea

Among his other roles, Steven O’Brien is a curator for the Vatican Arts Trust. Through him Joe has been invited to exhibit a new series of paintings Saints of Britain in the Vatican, Rome and Certosa di Tresulti monestary, Collepardo. The exhibition is planned for 2021, pandemic permitting.

Joe is still astounded by his success. ‘Who would have thought that a boy from the back streets of Kent, with no prospects, no hope, a criminal record, would through art and through his own momentum, propel himself into getting a show in the Vatican,’ he says. ‘And that’s pretty much because I followed my star. I kept painting because it is the only thing that ever helped me. And it’s only by sticking to my guns that I’m in the position I am now.’

Bedtime stories
When Joe first met the Medway Poets it was as a poet, not a painter and he has recently returned to writing, alongside his art.  He still writes poetry and he has recently written that novel. It is called DeadTown Boy and and tells the story of Joe’s childhood up to the age of 18, when he was released from Borstal Young Offenders Secure Training Centre.

But Joe now lives in Somerset with his wife and five children. His current writing project is a novel for children The Invisible Kingdom based on the bedtime stories he made up for them when they were very young.

Joe Machine: The Krays
Joe Machine: The Krays

‘It’s an allegory of World War II, where my children are characters in the story,’ he explains. ‘When I was a kid, my dad used to sit on the end of my bed telling me stories about the Kray twins, who he was friends with in London during the 1960’s. It wasn’t the kind of Rupert the Bear stuff most kids got.’

Joe is trying to use his past experience in a positive way these days, including  through working with charitable groups and young offenders.

‘I have to square my past  with being a father now and doing the right thing by my children,’ Joe reflects. ‘There’s no way you can be be involved in the kind of life I had and maintain a good relationship with your family.’

Now Joe feels positive about the future.

‘It’s wonderful, I do feel very happy and very, very lucky now,’ he concludes. ‘Because I’ve been able to turn around an obsessive, compulsive need as a child to produce work that was based on my experience.  I’ve gone from having to do that to that, to wanting to do that and then absolutely loving doing that. It’s an obsession in another way I suppose, but it’s a good obsession.’

Website
You can see Joe’s work on his website: https://www.joemachineart.com/

His most recent show Unseen Spring was a virtual exhibition with the London Magazine

The Arthurian Cycle exhibition will be at the David Game College, Aldgate, London in November/December

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stuckism: The birth of an international art ‘non-movement’

I am painter (sometimes) but I’m not really a ‘joiner’ so I’ve never considered joining the Stuckists. Being any kind of ‘-ist’ doesn’t suit me. I like being a ‘me-ist’.

Ella Guru: Ten of Clubs for 'Hand of Artists' community art project for charity
Ella Guru in ‘Hand of Artists’

But I come from Kent, where Stuckism originated. One of the founder members of the Stuckists, Sexton Ming, lived just around the corner from me in Gravesend.  The art world is a small one, so we all run into one another in person or online from time to time.  I sometimes post my art on the Stuckist Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/groups/stuckism/

And I’ve been given some great art opportunities from my association with the Stuckists. Some years ago, I was invited to exhibit some of my paintings in a Stuckist exhibition at the View Two Gallery in Liverpool. I also recently sent some (possibly never to be seen again, as I don’t think they’ve turned up) drawings for a Stuckist exhibition in Iran. And it was through an introduction from the Stuckists that I got involved with Art on a Postcard  https://duncangrantartist.com/2019/06/26/art-on-a-postcard-urban-contemporary-vs-street-photography/ 

When we did the community art project Hand of Artists, five years ago now, Stuckist founder member, Ella Guru, painted the ten of clubs for one of the packs. It depicts her packing up her art things and moving from London to live in her new home in Hastings in Kent.

In the Hand of Artists project, different artists were asked to design their own playing card based a card they were allocated, at random, drawn from two decks. The ‘designer packs’ were then sold to benefit local art charities. Coincidentally, Ella also designed her own set of tarot cards, inspired by a similarly collaborative project http://ellaguruart.com/?projects=tarot 

And in a more recent collaboration, my art will also appear on the cover of Charles Thomson’s forthcoming poetry anthology.

So who are the Stuckists? Over the next three blogs I’ll tell you a little more about the only international art movement to come out of the Medway Towns, and feature the stories and art of a couple of the founder members, Joe Machine and Ella Guru.

This first blog looks at where the Stuckists came from, where they’ve been and where they might go in the future.

The Medway Poets circa 1979: Miriam Carney, Bill Lewis, Sexton Ming, Charles Thomson, Billy Childish, (Rob Earl absent)
The Medway Poets circa 1979

The birth of an international art ‘non-movement’
In the late 1970s a group of six arty, young poets – Miriam Carney, Billy Childish, Rob Earl, Bill Lewis, Sexton Ming and Charles Thomson – were performing anarchic, punk-inspired poetry at festivals and in pubs and colleges in and around the Medway Towns in North Kent.  After about a year, The Medway Poets as they were known, went their separate ways. But a chance meeting between Charles Thomson and Billy Childish, nearly twenty years later, was the start of a quite different collaboration – an international art movement known as ‘Stuckism’.

It was the late ’90s and Britart and the Young British Artists (YBAs) were the new darlings of the art world. Advertising mogul and art collector, Charles Saatchi, widely credited with Margaret Thatcher’s 1979 election victory with his slogan Labour Isn’t Working, used his considerable financial and media power to fast-track the artistic careers of YBAs by buying, exhibiting  and promoting their art. ‘Conceptual art’ was in vogue. Artistic concepts and ideas took precedence over the more traditional concerns about aesthetics, technique and materials.

The Medway Poets 1987. From left Sexon Ming, Tracey Emin (guest), Charles Thomson, Billy Childish, (other members absent). Photo: Eugene Doyen
The Medway Poets circa 1987 with guest, Tracey Emin

One of the most successful conceptual artists at that time was Tracey Emin once, as an 18-year old fashion student, associated with The Medway Poets through her, then, boyfriend, Billy Childish. Emin’s celebrity artist status and the way it changed her, appalled and concerned former Medway Poet Charles Thomson. He believed that the Britart ethic (or perhaps lack of it) signalled a dangerous decline in artistic values.

‘Tracey Emin became a celebrity in the nineties because she got drunk and said “fuck” a lot of times on television; she backed it up with a novelty line in embroidered tents and unmade beds,’ Thomson wrote in his 2004 essay,  A  Stuckist on Stuckism. http://www.stuckism.com/Walker/AStuckistOnStuckism.html The celebrity caucus of YBAs promoted by Saatchi  effectively excluded all who were not part of it. Art students now saw their goal not as producing good art but as producing art which they hoped Saatchi would buy….the main requirements are art gimmick, shameless self-promotion and getting to know as many of the right people as possible….’

Philip Absolon: Job Club
Philip Absolon: Job Club

Any artist speaking out against the brave new art establishment was dismissed as traditionalist or reactionary. Thomson felt that his own painting and those of other artists he knew and admired, like Billy Childish, Philip Absolom and Bill Lewis, were becoming marginalised and excluded, and he found that outrageous.

‘The art that we were doing, painting, was not establishment art and I knew we’d really have to fight a battle for recognition,’ Thomson remembers. ‘Billy [Childish] had read out this poem in which he recalled that Tracey Emin had insulted him and said that he was “stuck, stuck, stuck” because he was not doing conceptual art. So I suggested to Billy that artists that I liked and thought ought to be promoted join forces and call ourselves Stuckists.’

Ella Guru: The Last Supper
Ella Guru: The Last Supper

There were 13 founding Stuckists – Charles Thomson, Billy Childish, Bill Lewis and Sexton Ming from The Medway Poets, joined by Philip Absolon, Frances Castle, Sheila Clarke, Eamon Everall, Ella Guru, Wolf Howard, Sanchia Lewis, Joe Machine and Charles Williams. The group appear around the table in Ella Guru’s painting  The Last Supper, with Thomson depicted as Jesus and Childish as Judas. Behind them are some of the other Stuckist groups that emerged later, alongside the original group.

When I say group, I use the word loosely. The Stuckists are more of a network of individuals who come together from time to time to exhibit their work. They are not required to subscribe to ideas in a manifesto (although there is a manifesto, more than one). They don’t necessarily like or agree with each other’s work. And you’re unlikely to recognise a Stuckist by the way they paint.

Charles Thomson in front of Ella Guru's last supper
Charles Thomson features as ‘Jesus’

‘Stuckism is not a style that everyone subscribes to, it’s an ethic, it’s a feeling,’ explains Ella Guru, one of the founder members. ‘Stuckism is about expressing what is happening now using a very old medium, paint. It’s usually figurative and it’s very important for it to be sincere, not gimmicky like conceptual art. It’s about doing your very best.’

The Stuckist Manifesto
After six months in which ‘not very much happened’ things began to move for the Stuckists.

In 1999, They had their first show called Stuck! Stuck! Stuck!  in Gallery 108 in Shoreditch, London. And Thomson and Childish launched the first Stuckist Manifesto, which sought to define who the Stuckists were and what they stood for (and against) http://www.stuckism.com/stuckistmanifesto.html

‘We got completely engrossed in it…rephrasing every sentence…because we knew what we wanted to say about things, but we didn’t know how to say it because nobody had said it before,’ Thomson remembers. ‘And as soon as we launched the manifesto, other people said, yeah, that’s what I think too. They were thinking it but they hadn’t said it, but we said it.’

Some aspects of the manifesto proved controversial. For some,  one statement in particular Artists who don’t paint aren’t artists smacked of arrogance. It seemed to say “if you don’t paint you aren’t an artist”.

Charles Thomson: Pointing Woman, Owl, Knight
Charles Thomson: Pointing Woman, Owl, Knight

Thomson points out that that was never what was meant.

‘It’s  a complete logical contradiction, because if you are an artist how can you not be an artist?’ he asks. ‘If we’d wanted to say “if you don’t paint you aren’t an artist” we would have said it. The manifesto was a real mixture, some of it was deliberately provocative, some of it was profound but there was nothing there that wasn’t meant in some way or another. But with that particular statement we were appearing to say something but simultaneously contradicting it, knowing full well that people would make a superficial interpretation of it.’

Jasmine Surreal: Alien Cat
Jasmine Surreal: Alien Cat

Nonetheless, painting is at the heart of Stuckism and the Stuckists are all painters first and foremost, although some also work in other media. For example, Jasmine Surreal, founder of the now defunct Merseyside Stuckists, which also included Liverpool artist Andrew Galbraith http://andrewgalbraith.co.uk/ has recently moved from painting to video because her health makes it increasingly difficult for her to continue painting. https://youtu.be/-YTn4Vohqjk

‘I became a Stuckist in 2008,’ Jasmine explains. ‘I’m a surrealist and there weren’t many outlets for my whacky, eccentric paintings and I wanted to be part of an organisation that had a broader outlook on things.’

Since then, Jasmine has been involved in over 30 shows including, in 2014, her own show Fantasy Reality: Paintings by Jasmine Surreal and Her Toy Cats at the Trispace Gallery in Bermondsey, London, curated by Charles Thomson. https://youtu.be/rMDdW6LHwyc

If some aspects of The Stuckist Manifesto are open to interpretation and debate, there is no mistaking what the Stuckists were against – ‘Britart’, ‘ego art’, conceptual art.

Charles Thomson: Man in Top Hat 10
Charles Thomson: Man in Top Hat 10

And while some Stuckists can see something of value in conceptual art – Ella Guru admires Grayson Perry’s pots and has written in her blog (2017) that when seen in real life Rachel Whiteread’s installations  were ‘cast in materials that take some knowledge and skill’ http://ellaguruart.com/?p=1371 – for Charles Thomson and many Stuckists, conceptual art has no value.

Thomson cites Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s basic psychological functions – intuition, sensation, thinking and feeling – to explain the balance that must be present for him in a ‘complete art work’. He claims that conceptual art can never be complete and can never, therefore, be ‘good art’.

‘Conceptual art cuts out emotion because there is this theoretical background to it that justifies its existence,’ Thomson explains. It cannot justify its existence by itself. It negates emotions and emotions are the heart of art and of human life. There’s obviously a spectrum, but the closer you get to a complete art, the closer you get to a painting, until, eventually, you end up with a painting.’

 

Protesting against the Turner Prize
Charles Thomson: Sir Nicholas Serota Makes an Acquisitions Decision
Charles Thomson: Sir Nicholas Serota Makes an Acquisitions Decision
The Stuckists received significant media attention for their Stuck! Stuck! Stuck!  exhibition largely because it  was a reaction to the Tracey Emin insult. Also, by coincidence, during the same year, Tracey Emin was nominated for the Turner Prize.  Charles Thomson’s painting Sir Nicholas Serota Makes an Acquisitions Decision (2000) satirised Tracey Emin’s Turner Prize nominated installation My Bed (1999).

From then on, the Turner Prize at Tate Britain became a key rallying point for the Stuckists.
In 2000, they launched their own alternative event The REAL Turner Prize Show and, as an adjunct to this, staged their first anti-Turner Prize demonstration outside Tate Britain. These demonstrations, which were held each year from 2000, whenever the Prize was staged in London, had two aims: to declare the movement’s serious opposition to conceptual art and, at the same time, cynically perhaps, to drum up some valuable publicity for their movement.

 

Stuckist Turner Prize demo at Tate Britain, 5 Oct 2009. From left: Shelley Li, Edgeworth Johnstone, Jane Kelly, Anon, Daniel Pincham-Phipps, Joe Machine
2009 Turner Prize demonstration

‘It’s no good relying on good art to win through by itself,’ Charles Thomson asserts. ‘If you want anybody to take any notice of the art, you have to get the attention of the media. We just took advantage of that. The Tate gets the press along. We turn up and do a demo and they feature us.’

This entertaining piece written by Jasmine Surreal for 3:AM Magazine, on behalf of the Stuckists, juxtaposes a Stuckist’s view of the 2010 Turner Prize contenders with what the Tate had to say about them. http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/abandon-art-all-ye-who-enter-here/

 

In 2001, Billy Childish left the Stuckists saying that there was too much of the work and public persona of the movement that he couldn’t relate to, as he explains in this brief interview with Charles Thomson https://youtu.be/ND5JfGLaZP4

 

But the public face of Stuckists was in fact extremely effective in drawing attention to their work. The press coverage of their clown demonstrations  generated interest, although the reaction of art critics, with a couple of exceptions, remained extremely hostile. Undeterred, the Stuckists continued to paint and exhibit.

 

The Stuckists Punk Victorian, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 2004.
The Stuckists Punk Victorian show

In 2004, a curator from the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool who had heard about the Stuckists through their protests, got in touch with Charles Thomson. The Stuckists Punk Victorian exhibition was held at the Walker as part of the 2004 Liverpool Biennial. It was the first national gallery exhibition of Stuckist art, featuring over 250 paintings by 37 Stuckist artists from the UK and around the world.

Cleaning up the art establishment
Of course, as Charles Thomson concedes, the clown protests were never a serious threat to the Turner Prize but other Stuckist interventions have hit harder.

In 2004, claiming a shortage of funds, the Tate appealed to artists to donate work to the gallery’s national collection. The Stuckists offered a donation of 160 paintings previously exhibited at the Walker Gallery. Tate Director Nicholas Serota said that he would put the offer to the trustees. In July 2005, Serota replied, rejecting the offer and commenting, “[The Board of Trustees] do not feel that the work is of sufficient quality in terms of accomplishment, innovation or originality of thought to warrant preservation in perpetuity in the national collection”.
Stuckist demo at Tate Britain, Dec 2008. From left: Steve King, Charles Thomson, Jane Kelly, Shelley Li, Edgeworth Johnstone
2008 Turner Prize demonstration

The letter angered Thomson and prompted him to look into the Tate’s acquisitions procedure. He discovered that, at the time the Stuckists’ offer was being considered, the Tate had been seeking funds to buy The Upper Room, a work by Chris Ofili, one of the Tate trustees, who had rejected the Stuckist donation. Thomson contacted the press about what he saw as a conflict of interest. The Charity Commission launched an investigation and concluded that the Tate had broken the law. The Tate trustees were forced to apologise and to reform their acquisition policies.

Charles Thomson continues to be exercised by ‘the way things are done’ in the established art world. He quotes Robert Hiscox, art collector and former chairman of Hiscox Insurance, who referred to the art world as “the last unregulated financial market”.

‘You can do things in the art world that would get you in prison in the financial world at large,’ Thomson remarks.

'Crazy over You', Charles Thomson solo show, TriSpace Gallery, London
Charles Thomson solo show ‘Crazy Over You’

But Thomson’s appetite for protest and publicity has waned. These days he prefers to leave the politics to others, and to concentrate instead on his poetry – he is planning a new collection of over 400 poems written in the last few months – and his painting. His style has changed over the years from meticulous outlines and flat colours, to a more spontaneous style with broken colours and broad brush strokes.

‘After 20 years of Stuckism I feel jaded at the moment with some aspects – the publicity, the interviews, you can only do so much of that,’ he explains. ‘During the last demo at the Tate, two years ago, I turned up as an observer but I refused to hold a placard and I felt such a relief at not having to protest.’

Joe Machine: One from his 'Sailors' series
Joe Machine: One from his ‘Sailors’ series

Becoming ‘established enough’
The Stuckists are now established enough not to rely on the publicity their political activities provided.

‘I’ve always known that all the media stuff was ephemeral,’ Charles Thomson reflects. ‘It was a launch. It was like a booster on a rocket that catapults it into space and then drops away. And that has been done.’

After 20 years, Stuckism is on its way to becoming recognised as a major, mainstream art movement.  ‘It is phenomenal to have an art movement that has lasted that long,’ Thomson observes.

Painting has had something of a resurgence, partly because of the Stuckists, who Thomson believes were ahead of the game.

Ella Guru: Lamentation at the Cave (2020)
Ella Guru: Lamentation at the Cave (2020)

Members of the original Stuckists, such as Ella Guru whose painting was disparaged at art school as ‘shallow’ because she had no concept to explain,  and Joe Machine  who believes that painting saved him from a life of crime, now enjoy successful careers as artists.  Paintings by the Stuckists have become sought after by some significant collectors.

‘Even the people who have left and now want nothing to do with Stuckism – Stella Vine, Gina Bold, Billy Childish – will still be seen as Stuckists,’ Thomson claims. ‘Salvador Dali was kicked out of the Surrealists but, it doesn’t matter what you say, he is still a Surrealist. Billy, Stella and the others, their work is so embedded in Stuckism, what else can they be classified as?’

Even the critics – or at least Jonathan Jones of The Guardian newspaper – has conceded that the Stuckists might have point in their defence of painting https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2011/mar/31/painting-stuckists-modern-british-art 

There are over 250 Stuckist groups in over 50 countries now and Stuckism is included in the curriculum of many mainstream academic art courses. The Stuckist Manifesto is featured in the Penguin Classic, 100 Artists’ Manifestos: From the Futurists to the Stuckists (2011)

Charles Thomson believes that Stuckism now has its own momentum and ‘is just established enough’ no longer to need his leadership and direction to survive.

‘Stuckism is like a ship – the hard part was building it – but now it is launched,’ he states. ‘It’s got its own engine. It’s got its own crew and it is sailing!’

Links

Ella Guru and Charles Thomson in front of 'The Last Supper'
Ella Guru and Charles Thomson

In this blog post, Ella Guru, explains the back story for her painting The Last Supper which is the feature picture for this post https://youtu.be/ND5JfGLaZP4
There is also an extensive and detailed analysis of it by Charles Thomson in the book An Antidote to the Ghastly Turner Prize (Victoria Press, 2010)

 

 

 

Stuckists
Stuckism on Wikipedia  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stuckism
Stuckism template on Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Template:Stuckism_International
Stuckism website  http://stuckism.com/
Stuckism website contents http://stuckism.com/index(contents).html#Contents

 

 

Charles Thomson
http://www.stuckism.com/thomson/index.html

 

 

 

 

Ella Guru: Cathedral Dress


Ella Guru

http://ellaguruart.com/
Coming soon to this blog, Stuckism 3: Ella Guru talks about her art. Here’s a taster https://youtu.be/Qwpan5iIXsU 

 

 

 

 

 

Joe Machine
https://www.joemachineart.com/
Coming soon to this blog Stuckism 2: Joe Machine talks about his art journey. Here’s a little taster: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YmnGqMNf2k

 

 

 

 

Jasmine…….and Felicity

Jasmine Surreal
Interview with Jasmine in 2014
http://www.criticismism.com/2014/11/19/interview-jasmine-surreal/#sthash.0dFRpZta.dpbs
Work
http://stuckism.com/Surreal/index.html
Toy cat/spoof videos:
Rod Cat Stewart, Do Ya Think I’m Sexy toy cat parody!  https://youtu.be/gED4v2hyts0
Wet Paint! Parody of David Bowie Let’s Dance – Serious Magnolia, the serious Magnolia! https://youtu.be/L1hFL0A4gE0

 

 

 

 

 

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The Genius of Henry Dagg: Holistic musician

Visit Duncan Grant’s gallery

I’m not from a musical family really. I played harmonica in a band when I was at college. In fact, one of my mates, Steve Firth, wanted to be in the band but didn’t play an instrument, so he taught himself bass guitar. Ironically, he was the only band member to go on to have a career in music. He played bass with the successful Britpop band Embrace http://www.embrace.co.uk/

Duncan Grant: Dad at work
My Dad

My dad was a decent singer though and, when asked if he played a musical instrument, he used to say that he played the spoons.  As far as I know, he couldn’t play the spoons. It was just one of those things he said if the subject of music came up. Like, when we came home from school asking if we could have recorder lessons, or violin or trumpet or whatever was on offer, he’d say ‘Yes… if you can play The Sound of Silence’ or ‘Will they teach you Over the Hills and Far Away?’ or ‘OK…so long as you practise up the top of the garden’.

I do remember him making stuff. He made moving tanks from cotton reels, elastic bands, sticks and matches, and a kind of percussion instrument – a notched rod with a propeller on the end, which rotated when you ran a stick across the notches. He stretched elastic bands over tobacco tins to make a kind of harp, blew over the top of bottles, ran his fingers round the rims of glasses and made duck sounds by blowing on blades of grass stretched between his fingers and thumbs. His favourite homemade instrument was a makeshift kazoo made from a Rizla paper and a comb.

I didn’t think much of it at the time, but since speaking to the extraordinary Henry Dagg, I think maybe Dad might have been onto something.

Holistic musician
It is hard to find the right words to define Henry, although many people have tried.

If you search online you’ll see him variously described as ‘composer’, ‘musician’, ‘bohemian’, ‘self-taught engineer’, ‘blacksmith’, ‘craftsman’, ‘sound sculptor’, ‘creator of musical instruments’, ‘world-class musical saw player’, ‘visionary inventor’ and ‘genius’. And they are all right. He is all of those things. But Henry prefers to be known as ‘a holistic musician’.

‘Holistic musician describes the vocation of musicians like me whose work includes composition, performance, and developing new musical instruments and sound sculptures,’ he explains.

Electronic to acoustic
Henry’s virtuosity was apparent from an early age. He grew up in Dublin, the child of classical musicians. Aged eight, he began learning the ‘cello and was building electronic circuits, which he modified to produce a range of unusual sounds – a process now known as ‘circuit bending’. His first ever public performance, at a school concert, featured a primitive home-built synthesiser, which he used to imitate everyday sounds, including fire engine air horns and his geography teacher’s bubble car.

Henry Dagg: Portable electronic music studio
Henry’s portable electronic music studio

‘The audience was so enthusiastic that it probably altered the course of my future,’ Henry remembers. ‘I continued to build similar projects, the largest of which was a kind of portable electronic music studio, on which I composed my own version of ‘musique concrète’.’  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musique_concr%C3%A8te

During his teens, Henry taught himself piano and electric bass. He transcribed chunks of prog rock from bands like Focus  https://focustheband.co.uk/ and Genesis by ear, and dreamt of a career  as a composer for the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (RW), which specialises in producing  bespoke electronic music and sounds for BBC radio and television programmes. https://www.soundonsound.com/people/story-bbc-radiophonic-workshop. In particular,  Henry admired the work of John Baker, whose compositions consisted of recordings of real acoustic sounds spliced together from tiny pieces of tape.

So hoping to follow in the footsteps of John Baker who had joined the BBC as a studio manager, Henry joined the BBC sound engineering section in Belfast. Eventually, he was sent on a very short attachment to the RW but was not offered a post. Instead, having impressed RW head Desmond Briscoe with some of his compositions, Henry was commissioned to compose original music for TV and radio programmes, while still based at BBC Northern Ireland, often still using tape editing and manipulation techniques. Digital sampling was available at that time, but it was unaffordable.

It was during his time at the BBC that Henry brought his first house in Belfast and set about converting it into a series of workshops and studios.  But renovating his house while also holding down two jobs – sound engineer and a composer – became too much. He decided to leave the BBC to concentrate on music, supplementing his income by busking on the streets of Belfast playing the musical saw. https://youtu.be/dp5UKVN8B9c

A 1987 BBC documentary about Henry, Anything that makes a noise: A man and his music provides an insight into the way that he works. https://youtu.be/ljCYiCwNx7E Henry is meticulous and inventive, developing new processes and techniques to get the quality of outcome he wants, whatever the task. The documentary also features Henry at work on a ten-minute tone poem Fanfare for the Bogie Man, commissioned  by the BBC for a programme about a train journey from Belfast to Dublin.

The freedom to work for himself, brought about an important change in Henry’s approach to composition. He turned his attention from electronica to acoustic music and sound sculptures.

‘I’d become a bit disenchanted with the whole process of making music that had to be assembled laboriously in a studio,’ he explains. ‘Affordable digital samplers were still years away at this stage and my experience of using synthesisers had convinced me that, for my ears at least, music really becomes most alive when the sounds are made acoustically and mechanically by the physical vibrations of real moving objects.’

Henry had already experimented with multi-sampling, using authentic acoustic sounds. An early commission required a rendition of Three Blind Mice for a BBC Schools programme, played by drops of water falling into jam jars. The drops, which Henry chose from hundreds,  were selected for their natural pitch, even though it would have been considerably quicker  to use variable speed to alter the pitch of a single drop.

‘The great thing about multi-sampling like that is that you capture all the individual variations that happen with acoustic sounds,’ Henry explains. ‘No two acoustic sounds are exactly the same and that’s what makes acoustic instruments special. If you use just one sample on a digital sampler that’s exactly what you get every time you use that sound. It loses it’s original quality completely and just sounds artificial.’

Harry Partch and his instruments

‘I started wishing that there was some way that I could keep using new, unusual sounds but performing my work live in a band with other musicians,’ he continues. ‘So I began to imagine a new family of instruments that reconfigured existing acoustic principles to allow live performance using new sounds. I’d already been doing this to some extent for Fanfare for the Bogie Man, where I’d been building little musical devices, but I was also greatly inspired by the new instruments and sound sculptures featured in a California magazine called Experimental Musical Instruments and  particularly by the work of Harry Partch. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Partch. I felt we were kindred spirits, so sound sculptures featured very heavily in my thinking when I was setting up my workshop.’

The Biscuit House and its musical railings

Henry Dagg: Musical biscuits
Musical biscuits

By 1993,  the growing collection of machines and tools necessary to create Henry’s new instruments and sound sculptures had outgrown his Victorian Belfast house that was ‘trying to be a factory’. So he relocated to a former mineral water factory building in Faversham, Kent. As with his previous house, he called his new home ’Biscuit House’, a reference to Henry’s system for baking shortbread biscuits in various shapes, including musical instruments, stamped out with his precision, custom-made biscuit cutters.

 

Henry Dagg: Musical railings and gates at Biscuit House
Musical railings and gates

The first sound sculpture that Henry completed in his new workshop was a set of hand-forged, musical railings and gates for the building itself. The installation, which spanned 40 metres, took him five years to complete and was designed to be played like a glockenspiel.

‘I felt obliged to exploit the long frontage of the building to create a manifesto for my work,’ Henry explains. ‘So I composed a 28-bar chord sequence and built it in groups of chime bars embedded in a wrought iron structure, with a score notated in nuts and bolts.’

 

Henry Dagg: Musical railings and gates opening by Dame Evelyn Glennie
Dame Evelyn Glennie

When it was finished, Henry invited world-famous solo percussionist, Dame Evelyn Glennie, to open the musical gates and railings with a premiere public performance.

‘She very sportingly came and improvised for 20 minutes in front of a big crowd and camera crews from three television channels,’ Henry remembers.

Henry’s first  installation is still there and, these days, it doesn’t attract a lot of attention locally. But at the time, it proved to be a very good investment in terms of the interest it generated for future commissioned work for Henry, as well as providing a splendid, practical addition to his new home.

Rochester Independent College Musical Gates

The first of Henry’s new commissions was for a new set of 12-foot high, 28-foot wide, stainless-steel musical gates and railings for Rochester Independent College. https://rochester-college.org/ Like all Henry’s work, they were made by hand in his workshop. The commission took him  four years to complete.

The completed installation, which is adorned with flying pigs in sunglasses – the mascot of the College – is designed to be played by a group of musicians performing together.

It has a range of over six octaves, comparable to a full orchestra and features vibraphone bars, tubular bells and organ pipe-like tubes sounded by strings that can be plucked, struck or bowed. These two video clips tell something of the story of the magnificent gates, from initial design through to the opening  concert https://vimeo.com/238815007  https://vimeo.com/293949840

The Sharpsichord
A second commission to come as a result of Henry’s Biscuit House gates installation was for a sound sculpture for the gardens of Cecil Sharp House – home of the English Folk Song and Dance Society – in Camden, London. https://www.efdss.org/cecil-sharp-house. 

Cecil Sharp was a 19th century musicologist, noted for his collection of English folk song and dance. Henry’s  design – a programmable acoustic harp for public use – was sculptural tribute to Sharp, with much thought given to the context in which it would be erected. He called it the Sharpsichord.

 ‘As Cecil Sharp House had music at its core, I thought it wouldn’t do them justice to make a sound sculpture that just made random noises,’ Henry explains. ‘My design for the Sharpsichord was inspired by Cecil Sharp himself, who set up the recorded music library using a cylinder phonograph to record songs. I also wanted it to be fully chromatic and concert pitch so that it could be incorporated in arrangements with other instruments that might be played in the garden.’

The resulting sound sculpture was a two ton, 46-string, solar powered, weatherproof, programmable pin-barrel harp.

It works like this.:

  • Two solar panels at the top charge a battery, providing power for a large rotating pin-barrel to be turned automatically. Alternatively, the instrument can be powered manually using a handwheel
  • The music is programmed manually on the pin-barrel itself, which is drilled and tapped with over 11,000 holes in a grid pattern. It can take up to a day to arrange the pins to produce just a minute of music
  • As it rotates, the pin-barrel activates the mechanisms that pluck the strings of a harp at the back of the instrument
  • The sound from the plucked strings is channelled into a stainless steel box and amplified, in stereo, by two giant acoustic horns. The smaller horn is for treble notes and the larger for bass notes
  • There is also a keyboard to help the programmer to find note positions on the pin-barrel. If a musician has the strength and stamina to exert the considerable pressure needed to pluck the strings, the Sharpsichord  can also be played directly from the keyboard.

‘The idea was that visitors to the garden would execute their musical ideas by inserting pins into the cylinder and then they would leave that musical idea behind,’ Henry explains. ‘This would then be developed by the next people who came along, so the tune would morph from one thing to another in the way that folk music tends to do.’

Henry Dagg: Sharpsichord
Hand fabricated cranks and gears

Although the outline drawing was simple, the work required to  develop the Sharpsichord into a functional prototype was enormous, with many very time-consuming challenges to overcome. Because of this, the build overshot the original timescale  – what should have taken six months took five years – and  escalating metal prices meant  that costs also went up by a factor of ten.

And there was another unforeseen difficulty. The rising price of metal had sparked an epidemic of metal theft.

Henry Dagg: Sharpsichord
Array of mechanical plectra and dampeners

‘Even before it was completed, everybody who saw the Sharpsichord pointed out that it would never survive in a garden in Camden with no real security oversight in the evening and at weekends,’ Henry explains. ‘So that made me think. I realised that this was something of a scale I would never be able to do again and it just didn’t seem at all appropriate to risk its demolition. And so the only solution in the end was to repay the Society its original contributions and, with the help of generous admirers and supporters, buy it back.’

So the Sharpsichord  remained in Henry’s workshop where it still lives today. But that is not the end of the story.

Henry Dagg: Recording with Björk
Recording with Björk

One day Henry, who had been arranging and uploading short videos to You Tube to promote the Sharpsichord, got a call from musician Matthew Herbert. Herbert said he’d sent one of Henry’s videos to Björk and that she was very keen to record a song with the Sharpsichord for her new project and album Biophilia, released in 2011.

However, it transpired that the length and structure of the song, called Sacrifice, which was already written, were far too long and elaborate to fit the cylinder in one programme.  As Björk wanted a fully live performance, Henry arranged the song to include a live keyboard part, to be played on the Sharpsichord keyboard in synch with the cylinder programme.

During the recording session at Henry’s workshop, Björk  asked him about the possibility of taking the Sharpsichord on tour with her, for live performances.

‘It was an exciting prospect for me as it would give the Sharpsichord great exposure,’ Henry recalls. ‘But it was not straightforward. The Sharpsichord was designed simply as a sound-sculpture installation, so it could never have travelled in one piece without considerable, and very expensive, modification.’

Henry Dagg: Björk Biophilia, Alexandra Palace
Björk and Henry at Alexandra Palace

Nevertheless Henry agreed to tour with Björk and, over several months, converted the Sharpsichord  into a mobile structure that could be lifted by crane onto the flatbed truck ready to be taken to  her shows in Manchester and at Alexander Palace, where it proved a great success. You can see Henry and  Björk working together with the Sharpsichord in this video. https://youtu.be/n2kbd1Pt5d8

In 2016, the Sharpsichord made another excursion, travelling to Norway where Henry gave his TED talk The Quest for New Music From Old Technology https://youtu.be/GQqJjEDCpGM 

Although the Sharpsichord has not ventured out recently, Henry believes its future lies in guest-performing with other artists or bands, and he is planning to create an auxiliary memory to augment the Sharpsichord’s current 40-90 second memory, so that it can retain enough material for a concert.

‘I envisage an optical memory based on lines written in felt pen on a roll of clear acetate,’ Henry says. ‘Whatever it is will be pretty low tech. You could computerise the whole thing but it’s not in the spirit of the Sharpsichord. Everything you hear, you can attribute to something you see.’

In this clip Jack Hues (formerly of new wave band Wang Chung) sings the Beatles song She’s Leaving Home, accompanied by the Sharpsichord. https://youtu.be/eoWdefgfxgI and here Hannah Peel and Laura Groves sing The Beach Boys  song God Only Knows, accompanied by Henry on the Sharpsichord. https://youtu.be/LpD1PsZS-sU

Extending the acoustic range
Henry Dagg: CATASTROPHONYOver the years Henry has invented and built  a range of  innovative and unusual acoustic musical instruments, usually in response to commissions.

Perhaps the most well known is the CATASTROPHONY, a miaowing cat-organ, which famously reduced Prince Charles to tears of laughter during a recital at a royal garden party in 2010. Here is Henry playing the CATASTROPHONY at Jools Holland’s Hootenanny in 2010. https://youtu.be/cHfBQCJaJoI


The Ring Cycle
came about as the result of Henry’s involvement in a schools project in Basingstoke in early 2005.

A group of musicians – Henry,  jazz musicians Herbie Flowers and Buster Birch, and Dave Jackson from Van der Graaf Generator – was appointed by Anvil Arts https://www.anvilarts.org.uk/ to hold workshops in schools. The musicians helped children to make their own music and encouraged them to get involved in a public performance at The Anvil concert hall, along with the four musicians and members of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Henry’s role was to challenge primary school children to create their own instruments, and also to devise and produce a new instrument that could be played by a whole class at the concert.

Henry Dagg: The Ring Cycle
The Ring Cycle performance

Henry came up with The Ring Cycle, a line of rotating cylinders of tubular bells, powered by one person on a cycle frame, that could be played by 30 performers. Each player had one cylinder in front of them, and a mallet. They followed the conductor, who had a flip chart with a series of numbers on it, and then, when their particular numbers came up, brought their mallet in contact with the rotating bells.

‘It  was really simple and didn’t require any ability to read music, just the ability to remember a string of numbers,’ Henry explains. ‘The kids were very good at it and took to it really naturally. They played three pieces  and it made a fantastic, really loud sound.’

While he was thinking about possible instruments that the children could build from readily available materials, Henry came up with the idea for his Hooty Scooty.  Although he quickly realised that the project was too technical for children, he later developed  it into a very playable instrument.

The Hooty Scooty combines the working elements of a hurdy-gurdy, two phono-fiddles and a scooter. The front wheel of the scooter drives the rosined wheel which bows the strings. This means the performer has to be scooting while they are playing in order to make the sound. You can see Henry performing  on the Hooty Scooty  alongside pianist Rimski and his pedalling piano at the 2013 Duchamps Festival in Herne Bay, Kent. https://youtu.be/m2Msy7LwTQI

When the Tour de France came to Canterbury in 2007, The Canterbury Festival asked Henry to come up with some bicycle inspired musical contributions as part of the celebrations.

‘They had heard about my Ring Cycle so they commissioned me to write a new 20 minute suite for that,’  Henry says . ‘They also wanted me to create a new pedal-powered monophonic instrument to lead a parade of cycling-inspired instruments. So I devised the Voicycle.’

The Voicycle uses the pedalling power from an old tricycle to drive a heavy flywheel, that in turn powers an acoustic siren, with a lever to control the pitch. Here is Henry performing Edelweiss on the Voicycle at the Duchamps Festival in Herne Bay, Kent in 2013 https://youtu.be/iGUhGKbr1x8

Achieving the dream
After the opening performance of the Rochester Gate Harp, Henry took a break from time-consuming commissioned projects. He is now spending time converting the former offices and canteen in his factory-home into a habitable residential area.

‘It’s now 25 years that I’ve lived in a place with no insulation and no central heating and I’ve decided that this needs to take priority over commissioned work,’ Henry says. ‘ I have never embraced the bohemian lifestyle, living in a cold, crumbling canteen-cum-bedsit. It just became a necessity because once you accept a commission, your time is sold before you can get your hands on it.’

And while Henry has achieved a great deal of success and support from his commissioned works, he feels that he has still not really yet achieved what he hoped when he left the BBC all those years ago.

‘The reason for the existence of a lot of my instruments is not because I really wanted them at all, but because other people wanted them,’ Henry explains. ‘They don’t really represent my ideas of the electro-acoustic ensemble that I’ve been trying to reach all my life.  I think live performance is the experience that musicians live for and what I really want to do is to be able to perform my music live, with others.’

You can hear Henry Dagg playing live at Artists Behind Closed Doors at 8.30pm on 28th July 2020.  Register for the event here: https://www.routestock.org/events-1/henry-dagg-abcd-artists-behind-closed-doors

Contact Henry Dagg about any aspect of his work via his website: http://henrydagg.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wendy Daws: A touching story

Visit Duncan Grant’s gallery

My mum has been on my mind a lot lately.

She has just returned home having spent weeks in hospital and then rehab, after she fell over and broke her hip.  We’re now thinking through what needs to be in place for her so that she can continue to live independently into her nineties.

Before her accident, during the lockdown, we used to joke with mum that she had been socially isolating for the last ten years!  And, actually, that’s not far from the truth. Macular degeneration has left her with very little vision and that, along with poor hearing, makes it difficult for her to recognise faces and to follow conversation in social spaces. So, she prefers to stay at home listening to her audio books and receiving the occasional visitor.

Wendy Daws
The isolation that some people with sight loss experience is something that Medway-based artist Wendy Daws has been thinking about for a long time. For nearly 15 years, Wendy has been working with groups of blind and partially sighted (BPS) people, as Lead Artist Volunteer for Kent Association for the Blind (KAB). https://www.kab.org.uk/  KAB is celebrating its centenary this year.

Wendy runs art groups in Medway https://www.facebook.com/KABmedwayartgroup/ and Gravesend https://www.facebook.com/KABGravesendArtGroup/ and before lockdown, was about to start a third group in Canterbury.

Wendy Daws: Copper, Latex, Canvas Blanket, 2003
Copper, latex and canvas blanket

Discovering the value of touch
By training, Wendy is a sculptor.  She grew up in Hoo in Kent, and after leaving school at 16, worked in a series of admin jobs, taking City & Guilds courses at night school. Uninspired by classes in book-keeping and shorthand, Wendy switched to pottery and sugar craft instead and then, aged 29, she left work altogether to go travelling. When she arrived back in the UK ten months later, Wendy was ready for a change.

‘I was determined not to go back into admin work,’ she remembers. ‘I wanted to do something more creative and be my own boss. I did a City & Guilds welding course and doing that convinced me that I just wanted to learn more.’

In 2003, after what she refers to as ‘three mad years hoovering up art courses and being very skint’, Wendy got a place at the University of Brighton to study for a degree in Three Dimensional Craft and Design. And in her 2nd year, she took an artist residency at Nagoya University of Fine Art in Japan.

Wendy Daws: Copper, wire, latex and canvas blanket, 2003
Copper, wire, latex and canvas blanket

‘I wanted to go to Japan because I was interested in Samurai armour,’ she explains. ‘I wanted to know how it was made, how all the elements are held together.’

While she was there, Wendy learnt an etching process, in which an image is transferred onto a copper plate and then put into acid, to leave a raised outline. It was a seminal experience for her.

‘I became really interested in the potential of that raised, tactile line,’ Wendy says. ‘It brought back memories of when I was about 14, on a school trip to the National Gallery. I was drawn to a luscious red cloak in one of the paintings. I remember reaching out my hand to touch it and being told off by one of the guards. And it got me thinking about how we’re not allowed to touch things in museums and art galleries – and I completely understand why we can’t – but I wondered, what if you’re blind, what is there in galleries for blind people?’

Wendy Daws: Copper and thread blanket, 2003
Copper and thread blanket

Back at university, Wendy developed the etching techniques she learnt in Japan and started to use them in her sculptures. She describes how she started to make miniature ‘blankets’ from little pieces of copper stitched together on latex.

‘They were quite tactile but they had holes in them, so you’d never be warm, you’d never be cosy,’ Wendy explains. ‘I lost my mum when I was 20 and, in hindsight, I think I was somehow trying to recreate a hug from her. Something to wrap myself up in.’

Another key influence on Wendy’s art at this time was the work of South African artist, Willem Boshoff, whose exhibition Blind Alphabet C was held at the Brighton and Hove Museum. https://www.willemboshoff.com/blind-alphabet-feature  It was groundbreaking show, designed to improve the accessibility of museums and art galleries to people with sight loss, and to help redress the discrimination they experience.

Wendy Daws: Cotton and thread blanket, 2003
Copper and thread blanket

Boshoff’s exhibition featured a series of lidded, black mesh shoeboxes, mounted on plinths. Inside each box was a carved wooden sculpture, inspired by an unusual word beginning with the letter ‘C’. For example, ‘cassidiform’, which means ‘helmet-like’ and cetacian , which means ‘whalelike’. The mesh box prevented fully sighted visitors seeing the contents. At best they might be able to make out blurred shapes. Detailed explanations of the contents were provided, but they were written in Braille. To appreciate the exhibits, sighted visitors had to rely on visually impaired guides and museum staff , who were on hand to help them.

The intention of the exhibition was to give sighted people an insight into how difficult it is for those with sight loss to appreciate public art. It also aimed to promote understanding of the ‘social model of disability’, where people are disabled by the barriers that society puts in their way, and to prompt discussions about how these barriers might be broken down.

‘I was absolutely gobsmacked by the exhibition,’ Wendy remembers. ‘It just embodied everything I’d been thinking about.’

Totally Touchable exhibition, Blake Gallery
Totally touchable art

So ignoring her tutor’s suggestion to explore Samurai armour from a feminine perspective in her dissertation, Wendy wrote about her new passion – the value of touch in art.  Her dissertation, The Value of Touch: Blind Alphabet C and Museum Approaches to the visually impaired visitor was published in 2004.

‘What I took away from my time at university, was a determination that any art that I made would be art that could be touched,’ Wendy remarks. ‘And if it can’t be touched, I’ll think, how can I make it accessible?’

Memory blankets

Wendy Daws: Memory Blanket, Acrylic and shadow, 2004
Memory Blanket ©Simon Sandys

After university, Wendy took a part-time job in Francis Iles’ art shop in Rochester, Kent https://francis-iles.com/ where she got to meet other local artists.

Now sharing a studio with illustrator Mark Barnes, https://www.facebook.com/MarkBarnesIllustration/ Wendy returned to etching, replacing the expensive copper etching technique she had used previously, with a cheaper alternative, using photocopied images on acetate.

‘I really liked the acetate with the black line, and just holding it up to the light to see the shadows it created,’ Wendy remembers. ‘So I went through lots of family photos and traced the outlines and started doing this shadow work with laser-cut clear acrylic. I’d then sew those together, in grids, in the same way that you’d make Samurai armour, except mine had gaps.

Wendy Daws: Memory Blanket, Acrylic and shadow, 2004
Memory Blanket ©Simon Sandys

‘You can’t see the shadow line until it is lit and then it is quite striking. The depth of it makes it look as if the photographic outlines have been drawn onto the wall with a pencil. And through studying the projected images, other people could discover stories of my family’s life.’

Wendy’s ‘memory blanket’ installation Memory was exhibited at Rochester Art Gallery, in 2008. This video combines time lapse and real time footage that documents the process. https://vimeo.com/15401562  The exhibition was a success but Wendy had begun to think about her future as an artist.

Wendy Daws: Memory Blanket, Acrylic and shadow, 2004
Memory Blanket ©Simon Sandys

‘I was really nervous about describing the detail of my memory blankets in writing because it was so personal, but I was happy to talk to people about it,’ Wendy explains. ‘So I was in the gallery a lot talking to people about my work, and there was this realisation that I didn’t just want to sell my own art, I also wanted to help others to make art.’

KAB Medway Art Group
It was about this time that Wendy started volunteering for Kent Association for the Blind and established the KAB Medway Art Group. The group, which meets regularly, attracts people with a range of visual impairments. They explore a variety of art forms – painting, sculpture, poetry, graffiti, print making – using different generic and specialist materials and techniques. They also visit exhibitions together, invite inspirational speakers and get involved in high-profile group art projects.

KAB Medway Art Group, Through Our Eyes, Royal Engineers Museum ©Gary WestonYou don’t need to be ‘arty’ to join in. Wendy starts everyone off gently, providing a cup of tea and a biscuit, sitting new members next to a ‘buddy’, and selecting materials and tasks where they are likely to succeed. In this way, she gradually integrates them into the group and builds their confidence.

When someone joins the group with existing artistic skills or transferrable practical skills, Wendy is quick to build on them. She tells of how she encouraged one man, a former  gas fitter, to use his welding skills to make copper pipe sculptures. A few years on, he is still a member of the art group, but he is also a successful sculptor, selling artwork created in his shed at home.

Wendy Daws: The Value of Touch. KAB Medway Art Group‘Over time I’ve seen everyone’s confidence grow,’ Wendy says. ‘Everyone is happy to pick up different materials and to try out different ways of using them – and to show me other ways of creating.’

‘[It has] opened the door to new ways of expressing ourselves – be it painting, poetry or music,’ says KAB Medway group member Brian. ‘Our first reactions have been “I can’t do that.” But thanks to the dedication of the artists involved we have found that we can do that… If you cannot paint small, paint large – use a 6” brush if need be!’

Wendy Daws: Clay carving Rochester Cathedral’s Baptismal Fresco ©Sara Norling
©Sara Norling

In 2010, keen to show off what the group could do, Wendy organised their first art exhibition Eyes Wide Open at Rochester Cathedral. They were given free rein to explore the cathedral in any way they chose. The artwork they created, inspired by their visit, was later displayed around the cathedral.

Following that exhibition, Wendy and the group received a commission to create a bronze tactile interpretation of Rochester Cathedral’s Baptismal Fresco by Sergei Fyodorov. The fresco, completed in 2004, was the first traditional fresco to be painted in an English church in eight hundred years. https://www.artandchristianity.org/sergei-fyodorov-st-john-the-baptists-frescoes

‘We ran workshops and studied the fresco to come up with ideas about what this tactile plate should look like,’ says Wendy. ‘Then I carved the fresco plate in clay, A2 size, and it was cast in bronze. And there it is, in front of the fresco, and it will be there forever more!’

By 2015, the KAB Medway Group had begun to get quite a name for themselves. They were invited to explore and respond artistically to the space at the Royal Engineers Museum in Gillingham https://www.re-museum.co.uk/ This too culminated with an exhibition at the museum called Through Our Eyes.

 

Wendy Daws: Value of TouchIn 2016, Wendy and the group took part in The Value of Touch, a collaborative sensory arts project with the Guildhall Museum in Rochester https://www.visitmedway.org/attractions/rochester-guildhall-museum-2132/ . This explored ways to make selected museum artefacts more accessible to BPS visitors.

After a series of object handling sessions led by one of the museum’s Collections Officers, the group created new artworks inspired by those objects. These were then displayed alongside the original artefacts, with accompanying large print and Braille guides.

That exhibition received more than 400,000 visitors in person and online.

Wendy Daws: Value of TouchThe unprecedented access to the museum exhibits had a profound effect on those involved in the project.

‘The whole project from the very beginning has been a wonderful discovery of the museum,’ one KAB Art Group member commented in the project report. ‘It’s been a privilege to have access to absolutely anything in the museum, we’ve only had to ask and we’ve been able to touch it, smell it, engage with all our senses, and this has led to such a rich exhibition for us.’

KAB Gravesend Art Group
Wendy Daws: KAB Gravesend Art Group 'Totally Touchable'As news of KAB Medway Art Group’s success spread, it prompted interest from BPS people in other parts of the county.

‘Some people from Gravesend said, “Hey that’s not fair! We want an Art Group too,”’ Wendy laughs. ‘But I couldn’t afford to volunteer in two towns so, together with Gravesham Borough Council, I wrote an Arts Council bid and we got some funding to do Totally Touchable, and that was the start of the KAB Gravesend Art Group.’

Wendy Daws: KAB Gravesend Art Group. Totally TouchableTotally Touchable (2016)  was an exhibition that gave the KAB Gravesend Art Group an opportunity to show the public their own ways of  making art. The group offered guided tours to sighted visitors, who were invited to wear ‘simulated spectacles’ or ‘sim specs’ so that they could view and handle the exhibits through the eyes of the people who created them.  You can hear from some of the artists and enjoy some of their artwork in this short video. https://vimeo.com/144599869

KAB Gravesend Art Group too has gone from strength to strength.

There is a statue of Pocahontas https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pocahontas in the grounds of St George’s Church in Gravesend. In 2016, one year before the 400th anniversary of her death, KAB Gravesend Art Group collaborated with professional opera singer Tania Holland Williams and the RiverVoice community choir to present Reaching Out, an art exhibition and musical performance inspired by Pocahontas. This short video captures the project and the performance. https://vimeo.com/175844855

In 2017, Wendy was commissioned to create two bronze tactile interpretation panels of the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee commemorative statue in Gravesend market. As usual, she used the expertise of the Gravesend art group to  help come up with  the design.

‘I always try to find a way to include those often unheard in voices in whatever I’m doing,’ Wendy explains. ‘We visited the market when it was quiet and took moulds from the statue. We cast them in plaster and then the group decided what should be included in the bronze plaque, including the Braille that is part of it.’

Sensing culture
In 2018, Wendy applied for a commission to work with the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge in Canterbury, Kent https://canterburymuseums.co.uk/beaney/  as part of an HLF/RNIB funded project, Sensing Culture.

‘I was really keen to get involved with this project because it was everything my dissertation was about,’ Wendy enthuses.‘ It was about how to make the Beaney collections more accessible to BPS visitors, and by default, to all visitors.’

Sensing Culture. Image courtesy of The Beaney
©The Beaney

Out of that project, a third group, KAB Canterbury Art Group was born.

Highlights of the Sensing Culture  project and information about how galleries and museums can be made more accessible to visitors with sight loss can be found on the website  http://www.sensingculture.org.uk/.

The MESS ROOM
Wendy Daws: THE MESS ROOMWendy now shares a studio at Sun Pier House, in Chatham, with fellow artist Christopher Sacre http://christophersacre.com/website/Home.html and together, they have created the MESS ROOM, a not-for-profit organisation hosting artist-led projects, in partnership with local communities. http://www.messroom.org.uk/

‘Throughout my time working with blind and partially sighted people, I’ve always strived for us to have our own space, a studio where we can make a mess and leave our work here if we want to, instead of just being creative for two hours and then switching it off again,’ Wendy explains. ‘The MESS ROOM allows us to do just that.’

Wendy Daws: THE MESS ROOMWhile Wendy’s experience is with the BPS community, Christopher, who is deaf himself, specialises in working people with hearing loss. Last year, both communities collaborated on an art project exploring their experiences and identities, called My Self . The project and the exhibition of artwork, held at Sun Pier House, is documented in this short video. https://vimeo.com/373089157

Having her own studio at Sun Pier House has provided the space and opportunity Wendy needs to concentrate once again on her own career as an artist.

‘I get so embedded in finding opportunities for the groups, that my own artwork gets put to one side, so the aim in the future is that I do make more artwork for myself,’ she says.

Wendy Daws: THE MESS ROOM My Self project
My Self

The MESS ROOM has also provided space for the group workshops to evolve. Wendy and Christopher have started a new inclusive open arts day, Peer Arts, which, before lockdown, met every Friday at the MESS ROOM.

‘Peer Arts is a model of how things could happen,’ Wendy explains. ‘The only qualifying factor for coming to Peer Arts, is that you are a human. We want it to be completely inclusive. Absolutely anyone can join in. It’s a very relaxed day, and I plan to include this group too in other art projects that I do.’

 

Creativity in a time of coronavirus
The C-19 lockdown has brought a temporary end to Wendy’s group art activities, but not an end to her drive and creativity. She now has a new lockdown project Out of Sight Not Out of Mind, running in Gravesend, Medway and Canterbury. It is aimed at people with sight loss, and all generations will be invited to create artworks at home.

‘It’s a doorstep gallery,’ Wendy explains. ‘I’ll set up a Zoom account and contact everybody about making new artwork at home. If I need to take materials to them and give them a quick demo at the end of their path, I can do that.  At the end of their making, I’ll take a picture of them on their doorstep or through their window, holding their artwork. And then, later in the year, when the lockdown is lifted, we’ll have local physical exhibitions of the artworks.’

Wendy is also involved in two other projects at the moment and, if you want, you can get involved too.

She is now running workshops for the Creative Estuary team, on a theme of The Water Replies. https://creativeestuary.com/the-water-replies/ In this project, everyone living along the Thames Estuary is invited to keep a creative journal about what, for them, life is like living beside the Thames. There is no set format – journals can be completed with words, photos, drawings, collage, poetry, prose, lyrics and thoughts. There is still time to join in. So, if you would like to create your own journal, email info@cementfields.org and they will send you a blank journal, free of charge.

To inspire you, here is one created by Norma, which Wendy Shared on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/wendydawsart/videos/273768104042753/

And Wendy is also part of the creative team for the Fat Lady Opera’s current project ‘Persephone’s Dream’,  a digital/live hybrid opera that tells a story of withdrawal from the world. More details of how you can get involved in this project can be found on their website:  https://www.fatladyopera.com/persephone-s-dream

You can follow Wendy her activities and her groups and projects on social media

Wendy
Website: wendydaws.co.uk
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wendydawsart/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wendy_daws/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/WendyDaws

THE MESS ROOM
Address:
Ground Floor, Sun Pier House, Medway Street, Chatham, Kent, ME4 4HF
Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/MessRoomMedway/
Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/messroommedway/
Twitter:  https://twitter.com/messroommedway

KAB Medway and Gravesend Art Groups
Blog:  kabmedwayartgroup.wordpress.com

Duncan Grant: Portrait of my mum
Original – https://duncangrantartist.com/product/mum/
Print – https://duncangrantartist.com/product/mum-print/

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The Hot Tin: Making a bid for the future

Duncan Grant: What a Liberty private view
‘What a Liberty!’ opening night at the Hot Tin

The Hot Tin Auction is Live. Click here.

It was just about this time last year that I exhibited at The Hot Tin arts centre and cafe in Faversham, Kent. https://www.the-hot-tin.co.uk/

I’d just received some samples of the Liberty London fabric printed with my designs and it was the perfect place to celebrate alongside the other three #LibertyOpenCall winners.  Barman, William Ford, designed a cocktail ‘The Drunken Duncan’ (gin, lime, lovage and absinthe) specially for the occasion and we danced the evening away to Northern Soul, from DJ Ged ‘Stax Volt’ Kelly. htpps://m.mixcloud.com/XRAYSOULCLUB/  It was a great night! If you were there, you can relive it a little here: https://duncangrantartist.com/2019/05/19/what-a-liberty-great-first-night-at-the-hot-tin/

The Hot Tin, Faversham
©cene-magazine

Well how quickly things can change.

Just a few days before the UK went into official lockdown, on 20th March 2020, Boris Johnson announced that pubs, bars and restaurants would close for the foreseeable future. Three months down the line, small venues like The Hot Tin are struggling to survive.

RouteStock
The Hot Tin
(or The Tin as it is known) is the brainchild of Romana Bellinger and Mike Eden.

Their company RouteStock  https://www.routestock.org/ is a non-profit Community Interest Company (CIC) dedicated to bringing communities together through art and music.  RouteStock  specialises in creating audiovisual content for prestigious live arts events all over the country.

©cene-magazine
Romana and Mike ©cene-magazine

Their professional portfolio includes Lost Lectures https://lostlectures.com/ which Romana describes as ‘a bit like Ted talks but funkier’, the Breakin’ Convention hip hop fusion dance festival at Sadlers Wells https://www.breakinconvention.com/ and work with live orchestras.  Three years ago,  they worked with the late Roy Budd’s wife to produce a restored version of the 1925 film Phantom of the Opera, accompanied by a 74-piece orchestra,  which premiered at the London Coliseum.

The Hot Tin
©cene-magazine


Finding a venue
But the dream for Romana and Mike was always to create their own arts venue, to complement and extend their RouteStock projects.  When they saw the  Grade II listed, converted tin chapel online, they couldn’t resist.

‘The idea was always to have a place of our own, so that we could do what we love doing – connecting with people and bringing people together,’ Romana explains. ‘When this building came along it was a match made in heaven. The living accommodation was beautiful but when we saw the main hall, we just thought, wow, we can do so much with this!’

Tin chapels
Originally, St Saviour’s Church (still  the building’s official address) was a flat-pack church, built around 1885. It was probably made in the Old Kent Road in East London, and then brought down the river to Faversham on a Thames barge.

During the Victorian era, the rapid growth of urban populations , prompted the mass production of cheap, easily erected buildings to meet the needs of new communities.  Pre-fabricated churches were relatively cheap. £150 would buy you a chapel seating 150 people. The size and other embellishments could be altered to meet different needs and budgets. If you are interested, you’ll find lots of technical information about these buildings here https://www.buildingconservation.com/articles/tin-tabernacles/tin-tabernacles.html

Before it’s recent transformation into an arts space, The Hot Tin building experienced many reincarnations. It remained in use as a church from 1885 until 1950, when it was deconsecrated.  After that, for a while, it was used by a school for gym lessons and piano teaching, and then as a scout hut.  Romana explains that the different glass in all the windows is probably down to the ball games played inside.

Over the years, the building has also been a camping shop, a printers and an antique furniture showroom, before being used as a joiners for 30 years. Romana and Mike bought the building from Nick Kenny, who had converted the back of the building to living accommodation and used the main hall to build bespoke kitchens and bathrooms.

Renovation
Because The Hot Tin is a Grade II listed building, remodelling possibilities were limited but that suited Romana and Mike. ‘We didn’t want to dress it up and make it prettier than it was, because the building has its own beauty,’ Romana explains. ‘ We painted to some extent and opened up an area that had been blocked off.

The main thing was cleaning the ceiling. It was in a terrible state. So we had one of those telescopic cherry pickers and we were up there with Henry the Hoover, for about a week, cleaning off layers and layers of wood dust.’

Because it is a tin building with no insulation, The Hot Tin gets very hot in the summer – hence the name – and cold in the winter, so Romana and Mike researched a way of heating the big space that would be as efficient and sustainable as possible. Now infra red heaters keep The Tin hot all year round.  Future plans are to restore the building, rather than to change it.

The Hot Tin, Faversham

A new arts space and cafe
For 18 months before the lockdown, The Hot Tin  was thriving. The cafe, with its art exhibitions and workshops, locally sourced coffee and homemade vegan food attracted families, local businesses and other residents during the day. And in the evening, live music, DJ sets and films attracted a broad spectrum of people from around Faversham.

The cafe is now an important and integral part of the business but it wasn’t always in the business plan.

The Hot tin, Faversham
©cene-magazine

‘When we saw the building, we immediately thought arts space and we started to apply for our licences,’ explains Romana. ‘But because some people in the area just didn’t understand what we were doing, we got a lot of opposition. So we thought maybe we should have a cafe. That would support our events and allow people to get to know us and to understand who we are and what we are trying to do. ‘

Local resident Debbie Lowther was one of those who was sceptical at first.  ‘When I first saw the planning permission for turning the Tin Chapel into an entertainment venue, I couldn’t see how it would work,’ she says. ‘ But work it does… for quiet coffee meetings or lunch during the day and for its music, great art and yummy cocktails, all unique in Faversham. I love it!’

Griselda Cann Mussett, who also lives in Faversham, agrees. ‘The Hot Tin has become something of a marvel with excellent food, art exhibitions and occasional music and all so well-run. It’s an imaginative use of an unusual and special building,’ she says.

‘Our main ambition is to provide a one-of-a kind venue for live music, performance, films and the arts,’ Mike says. ‘We want to promote musicians and artists from around the world and around the corner.’

‘What we strive for is to be a place that is inclusive and where people feel comfortable,’ Romana adds. ‘Everyone is welcome here. We want to bring these sorts of arts events to the people of Faversham in their own town, so they don’t have to go to London for them.  We want to make The Hot Tin a resource for the community again, which is really what this church was built for.’

The Hot Tin, Faversham
©cene-magazine

Although it has only been open for 18 months, The Hot Tin has hosted some classy acts.  These include Switzerland’s urban folk band Black Sea Dahu https://www.blackseadahu.com/ French-born Tucson singer Marianne Dissard (who now lives in Ramsgate) https://www.mariannedissard.com/ local electro-acoustic duo Liotia http://liotia.co.uk/ and from the forefront of the new London jazz scene, the Ash Walker Experience, a multisensory show with a six piece band. https://www.cenemagazine.co.uk/news/2019/12/6/the-hot-tin-ash-walker-experience

The last artist to play at The Hot Tin before lockdown was spoken word artist, writer, saxophonist and bandleader, Alabaster dePlume whose performances have received wide critical acclaim https://www.alabasterdeplume.com/

 

Lockdown and beyond