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The end of a busy freelance artworking week at Southern United in deepest, darkest, dirtiest Portslade. Spending over 40 hours sitting in the Drawing Office hot seat staring at a computer screen wasn’t the most relaxing 5 days but the company is always welcoming and entertaining. The Friday night reward this time around however was the opportunity to spend the evening of 5th November at the Brighton Jazz Club and savour the flavour of the brilliant Killer Shrimp.

A hard bop quartet at the top of their game; Damon Brown blew a mean trumpet, Ed Jones a tenor sax as if his life depended on it, Mark Hodgson struck a moody harmonic and hypnotic groove on double bass, held together with Alyn Cosker’s astonishing percussion which was right out of the top drawer. I’ve never heard percussion like it, almost setting his drum kit alight with paradiddles aplenty fired off at lightning speed, drumsticks hammering like a machine gun and creating a structured and mesmerising backbone with a razor sharp edge. Killer Shrimp are a class act, their two one hour sets passed far too quickly. I plan to catch them again – and the sooner the better.

Jazz has always been special to me. It’s magical and mysterious, and lives in the now. Recordings are fine but live performance is what sets it apart, it’s never the same twice. Singer Stacy Kent said that for someone to say they didn’t like Jazz was like saying they didn’t like Art. There are so many styles and variations, and impossible to group together in a single category – but it does require an open mind and ear, and a willingness to accept spontaneity and improvisation around a compositional structure.

For me Jazz is like image making. In 2001 I held a solo show, ‘Sea Pictures’, at Gallery 73 in Brighton and in the exhibition notes I made reference to the sea as having the personality of Jazz; forever improvising, altering pace and shape, but in possession of an amorphous form. Listening to Killer Shrimp was like making a drawing or painting, musical notes the equivalent of making marks with pencil, charcoal or brush. Sometimes smooth and flowing, sometimes hard and sharp. Sometimes carefully applied like a caress, sometimes stabbed, stippled, drizzled, dripped, splashed, smeared. It has textures, layers and implications of colour. It was like imagining Alberto Giacometti drawing, painting or sculpting. A composition established but continually rebuilt, altered, modified, embellished; inviting the unexpected and unintended, encouraging serendipity and surprise.

Giacometti has been a big influence on my working practise and can take the blame for it too. It’s because of him that I also find it difficult to know when to accept when a painting is finished as it’s always on the move. I have never generated an image when I’ve had it all my own way, allowing the drawn or painted image to have its say in the conversation. However, at some point statements need to be resolved.

To accept the unexpected and adapt accordingly, find flexibility and search for compromise with decisions rather than sticking rigidly to a dogma is not only how I generate images it’s how I live my life – it’s also Jazz. In my head my images are filled with sound and more often than not, that’s Jazz too, and that’s how I found an answer to this problem. Killer Shrimp were a perfect demonstration of this. Even the most fluid Jazz finds conclusions.

Visiting Vienna, a change of routine and a change of temperature. Saturday morning, and a meeting with Frida Kahlo.

My first encounter was in 1977 and it was accidental. At that time I was actively involved with mural painting and researching the work of the Mexican Mural Renaissance, my immediate interest being the work of Siqueiros, Orozco and Rivera, the name Kahlo appearing in the text only because of her involvement with the latter. Black and white photographs of the large framed Diego often included the figure of a short, ethnically dressed woman with one eyebrow standing in his shadow. Her name and work at that time was largely unknown but it’s a very different story now, everybody wants to know her, their roles have reversed. Kahlo’s star has risen, and her fragile crippled frame and reputation now casts its shadow over him.

The queue of visitors waiting patiently to enter the Bank Austria Kunstforum was evidence of this, it stretched 200 metres along the Freyung. Thankfully Maria and Benni had the foresight to pre-book our tickets, however the sight of this conga line forewarned us of what to expect once we entered the building. The hustle and bustle was not the ideal conditions to view the exhibition, in my head the voice of an ’80’s Sting summed it up – ‘Don’t stand/Don’t stand/Don’t stand so close to me’. A large degree of patience was needed in this rugby scrum, blockbuster exhibitions can attract the most inconsiderate people. The experience of close contact with the work on the walls however was reward enough for our perseverance.

Kahlo battled continuously against adversity throughout her life, and for that alone she is an inspiration. The series of self portraits by Rembrandt reveal a life from confident aspiring young man to reflective old age and the Kahlo portraits illustrate a similar narrative, that of a determined survivor, and when the opportunity arises to view a collection gathered together, it must be grasped. Exhibited in these rooms were the influences and incidents of a colourful and eventful life, which ignited and bore fruit; naive votive images, psychological scribbles, the traditions of ancient civilisations, political upheaval; sieved, shaken, stirred and blended to create her unique Kahlo character cocktail.

Amongst this retrospective of powerful and remarkable images, one piece leapt from the wall and hit me. A simple drawing, which amongst such attention demanding neighbours was quiet and unassuming, but to me it spoke volumes – and it probably took no longer than 5 very intense minutes to create. Lines quickly, roughly and freely drawn, erased, corrected and drawn again. Again, and again. Her final self portrait (‘with Dove and Lemniscate’ 1954). Her life was soon to end and this image was filled with a lifetime of frustration. The searching lines sang a song of despair. Despite familiarity with the subject the process of recording her own image was as big a struggle as it had always been. Alongside she had included a poem, La Paloma by Rafael Alberti.


Se equivocó la paloma. / The dove was mistaken.
Se equivocaba. / She was mistaken.

Por ir al norte fue al sur. / Instead of north, she headed south.
Creyó que el trigo era agua. / She mistook wheat for water.
Se equivocaba. / She was mistaken.

Creyó que el mar era el cielo; / She mistook the sea for the sky;
Que la noche, la mañana. / the night for the morning.
Se equivocaba. / She was mistaken.

Que las estrellas, rocío; / That stars were dew,
Que la calor, la nevada / that warmth was snow.
Se equivocaba. / She was mistaken.

Que tu falda era tu blusa; / That your skirt was your blouse;
Que tu corazón, su casa. / that your heart was her home.
Se equivocaba. / She was mistaken.

(Ella se durmió en la orilla. / (She fell asleep on the shore.
Tú, en la cumbre de una rama.) / And you, on top of a bough.)

Rafael Alberti.

Although she had drawn the reflection in the mirror innumerable times, she never resorted to a formula. Each one was a challenge, success never guaranteed. Photographs suggest she was confident and assured but for me this drawing revealed that she was as human and fallible as the rest of us, and that image making was still a struggle regardless of the years of experience. I felt a connection with her as though she had reached out and poked me in the eye. At that moment………….I knew exactly how she felt.

– scribbled recollections of a Creative Partnerships new technology training day

The day began early, driving north almost beyond civilisation as we know it, most traffic heading in the opposite direction, the A16 to Boston like a cue left discarded on a billiard table. Was this for ease of access – or to enable a quick getaway? We were about to find out. The pearl in Lincolnshire’s crown? I’m not sure. A nugget maybe, or the glacé cherry at the centre of an iced Bakewell tart. Encountering the Stump reaching toward a clear blue sky and glowing warm yellow ochre in the bright low morning sun however was a sight to behold. A magnificent building reassuring all visitors that they had reached their destination, it could not be mistaken for anywhere else. The sight of the Stump. The smell of creosoted wood. Yes, this was Boston.

Two sessions, each lasting 3 hours, flew past in invigorating and stimulating fashion in the wink of a digital eye with the concept of Social media and networking explained, illustrated and demystified, thoughtfully and with clarity. I began the session in the dark, feeling like a needle in a haystack – I ended it feeling informed and either larger as a needle or that the haystack had shrunk a little. As a professional painter uncomfortable with promotion and marketing, Abhay showed first how I might develop a voice in my wilderness, then how to project that voice. The sound of rusty cogs gradually stirring in my brain deafened everyone in the room.

I’ve found inspiration from an assortment of sources and mentors, and this introduction encouraged consideration of how others might have reacted to change in their work place. JMW Turner, my guiding light, willingly embraced new technologies and I have no doubt that if photography were available he would have slipped a digital camera in his pocket which would not have prevented him still producing hundreds of notebook drawings. This is a practise I have adopted and I feel comfortable with it. Likewise, I’m certain Vincent van Gogh would have been an excellent blogger, the thoughts and observations he shared with friends and his brother Theo in letters is public knowledge now. In his lifetime however he was unknown, misunderstood and sold only one painting, perhaps WordPress might have made a world of difference for him had it been available. I wouldn’t describe myself as a hermit but for a variety of reasons my recent past has certainly been lived in the shadows. I have written a diary for many years, perhaps an extension of this habit could shed some light in my direction. Could Social Media benefit me? I came to the conclusion that maybe it can.

The day’s light bulb moment? There were many, all special and memorable, the superb presentation by Abhay for starters, but despite this brilliant and impressive effort he may have been outdone by some curious off-beat moments. Katie not only successfully balanced 101 coffee cups on a tea tray but also negotiated a locked door to deliver them safely to the kitchen sink, making her a strong candidate. With no cutlery available at lunch the innovation and initiative shown by Gizella serving mixed salad with a paper cup deserves special mention too. Good try everyone, but I think the last chocolate brownie goes to Charlotte for invention, freedom of expression and ingenuity with an elastic band. Not just a fashion accessory, that flash of red zig-zagging across her footwear not only had a practical application, it made a statement too – as immediate as Bowie’s Aladdin Sane album cover. Brilliant!

Boston was obviously sad to see us leave, a deluge of tears fell from Heaven when we parted company to jet-ski homeward. My 13 year old Corsa dislikes wet weather and squealed like a little piggy all the way home. With the wipers struggling to cope with the stair-rods hammering on the windscreen they nevertheless maintained a metronomic rhythm to accompany The Sensational Alex Harvey Band thudding at full volume from the car radio. It was a deafening journey, but the soundtrack was a perfect accompaniment – and kinda spooky too!


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