Via Skype, I talked to my chum the legendary – some might say semi-mythical – British alternative comedy / performance artist The Iceman.
“You were kind enough to show some interest in my paintings,” he said.
He has been melting and numbering blocks of ice on stage around the UK for at least 30 years.
I first encountered him when I auditioned acts for The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross TV series in 1987.
For almost that long, he has been taking Polaroid photographs of his blocks of ice and trying to sell signed faxes and photocopies of the Polaroids for surprising amounts of money.
To varying effect.
Now he has a new artistic idea.
He has started to create oil paintings of the Polaroid photos of his blocks of ice.
“You recommended an art gallery in London,” The Iceman told me. “I mentioned that he probably heckled me at the Tunnel Club and he ignored my e-mail.”
“Why have you decided to become a fine artist instead of a performance artist?” I asked.
“Has the interview started?” asked The Iceman.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” I said. “Why are you wearing a large hat?”
“It is meant to make me look like a painter,” said The Iceman. “I thought you might be interested to compare an original Polaroid…” (He held up a photocopy of a Polaroid)
“…with a painting.” (He held up a painting.)
“That is Block 220 – the most recent block I painted. Do you see any resemblance?”
“I can’t afford it,” I said. “How much is it?”
“It is not for sale,” said The Iceman.
“Why is it not for sale?”
“It is an original,” said the Iceman. “I am not sure I am happy to sell the originals. The National Gallery or Tate Modern might want them. So, a bit like the Polaroids, I will only sell signed copies of the paintings.”
“Perhaps,” I suggested, “you could take Polaroids of the paintings and sell the Polaroids of the paintings of the Polaroids of the original blocks?”
“Did you hear about the probe landing on the comet full of ice?” asked The Iceman.
“Yes,” I said. “Has anything landed on you?”
“My hat,” said The Iceman.
“Is the bow tie,” I asked, “there to make you look artistic as well?”
“Y-ice,” said The Iceman. “I am finding my sound quality is not very good.”
“With the bow tie?” I asked.
“With Skype,” said The Iceman.
“So why do paintings?” I asked.
“Well,” said The Iceman, “I took the Polaroids to capture a live moment during my non-act so that the blocks lived on, though in a different physical form. So, recently, I thought Why not change the medium? and, although I had no experience of oil painting, I decided to do oil paintings of them. Block by block. I have done 23 so far. I do about one a week.”
“Which is your favourite?” I asked.
“I quite like Block 220,” said The Iceman. “I think some of them are quite moving.”
“That is a little scary,” I said. “All in oils?”
“All reliable?” asked The Iceman.
“All in oils?” I repeated.
“My sound quality is not very good,” said The Iceman. “I thought of doing water-colours – melted-ice-colours – but I think oils suits me best. I have been told water colours are more difficult because all the colours merge.”
“But why paint them at all?” I asked.
“I do not want to be pomp-ice,” said The Iceman, “but I think the point I am making is I am just interpreting these blocks in my own way and what I lack in technique and skill I like to think I make up with heart. So I think quite carefully before I paint and then I do it in quite a fast manner.
“It is a bit like my original so-called act. I lacked technique and skill, but I think there was something that I was sharing with the publ-ice. I am hoping sometime soon to have a gallery situation where I have a sequence of Polaroids underneath the paintings. Or maybe above them. And, of course, I would be melting a block of ice in the gallery at the same time. So there would be all types of things happening at once. A live performance, wise sayings and the archive and the more recent interpretation of the archive.
“I have the numbered blocks which I am doing in oils. When I do the adjectival blocks, I might do them in watercolours.”
“Why,” I asked, “are some blocks adjectival?”
“I have not numbered some blocks in sequence,” said The Iceman, “so I have to give them names.”
“What sort of names?”
“Why did you call it Blue Block?” I asked.
“Bedraggled Block,” continued The Iceman. “Things like that. If people visit the blog on my website, they will see them. At the moment, the only visitors telling me: We can increase your search engine visitors by 400%. Do you get that?”
“For about six months,” I said, “I was getting e-mails from companies saying they could increase my breast size. Penis size might have been a fair comment, but I think my breasts are too big as they are.”
“It is a funny thing, this cyber sp-ice,” said The Iceman. “But I know you are a great networker and you have millions of hits on your web blog, so I am hoping – much as I am talking to you from friendship, of course – that you can help me create some interest in my paintings from the public. I think they have got something.”
“The public?” I asked.
“My paintings,” replied The Iceman.
“Doesn’t,” I asked, “a painting of one block of ice look very similar to a painting of another block of ice?”
“No,” said The Iceman. “That is what is interesting. Every block I paint is startlingly different.”
“Startlingly?” I asked.
“Startlingly,” repeated The Iceman. “The Polaroids do, some of them, look quite similar, but the paintings look startlingly different.”
“In what way?” I asked.
“Startlingly,” said The Iceman. “Visually.”
“Ah,” I said.
“The colours,” said The Iceman. “And the interpretation of the audience members. I am not very good at drawing a human figure or face, but I am developing. The paintings come across as quite child-ice in some ways. But maybe succ-ice awaits.”
“How many paintings have you sold so far?” I asked.
“Sold?” asked The Iceman, surprised. “One.”
“That,” I said, “makes you as good as Van Gogh.”
“I think,” said The Iceman, “that I may put people off by saying Pr-ice-l-ice unaffordable and that sort of thing.”
“What sort of prices are we talking about?” I asked.
“I like the painting because it is more thoughtful and reflective than the act,” said The Iceman, ignoring my question. “More intense in an odd way.”
“So have you,” I asked, “lost the urge to melt?”
“I have edged the blocks out, yes. I am still willing to go out occasionally, but something I asked myself quite often is Has the last block already occurred?”
I hope not.