The Iceman crops up in this blog erractically and eccentrically.
He used to be a humorous performance artist, destroying blocks of ice – sometimes by just letting them melt, sometimes using a blowtorch, sometimes blowing them up with explosives. Nowadays, though, he is a painter.
He paints pictures of blocks of ice.
Recently, he did a Zoom call with pupils at the highly prestigious Westminster School in London. I Skyped him to ask why…
ICEMAN: A young sixth former became aware of my work and approached me on behalf of the Westminster Literary Society, which sounded very prestigious.
JOHN: But you’re not a literary creator; you’re an artistic performer and performance artist and now artist.
ICEMAN: Yes but, as you know, I use words, often with “aim” or “ice” in them.
JOHN: Errr… “aim”?
Portrait of the Artist as a mystery man
ICEMAN: That’s the n-ice name I have adopted as a painter. AIM = Anthony, Ice Man. But it always has a deeper meaning…
ICEMAN: That is the correct response. Ooooooh! Deep. Deep. What are we AIMing for? I’m aiming for something very particular.
JOHN: Yer wot?
ICEMAN: Some people call it Nirvana. I call it NirvanAIMa… The Westminster Literary Society liked the wordplay… I am now a cult figure in the sixth form at Westminster School… I was baptised in Westminster Hall.
Westminster Hall is the oldest surviving part of the Palace of Westminster – ie the UK Parliament building (Photograph by Jwslubbock via Wikipedia)
JOHN: Westminster HALL???
That’s in the Houses of Parliament!
ICEMAN: Yes. The old hall where Charles I was tried.
JOHN: You were baptised there???
ICEMAN: I had good contacts in those days.
JOHN: Bloody good contacts. Tell all!…
JOHN: Forget the Anyway. Why did you get baptised in Westminster Hall and where did you get the water from? There’s no font. You must have brought your own water. What was the font? Times Roman? What connections did you have? Political or Lordly?
ICEMAN: I’m a commoner.
JOHN: So you had a relation who was in the House of Commons?
ICEMAN: As a baby, I was good at networking. I have a little block of ice here…
JOHN: I don’t want to know about your little block of ice. I want to know about the water in your font and how and why you got baptised in Westminster Hall. Does this mean, bizarrely, you have a connection with Westminster School?
ICEMAN: One wonders, with all this synchronicity going around… You have an unhealthy interest in this… I think the person who invited me – at Westminster School – unbeknown to me, took my work very seriously, thought it was deep and funny and the initial subject I was talking to them about was Can Stand-Up Comedy Be an Art Form?… but I turned it, really, into a promotion of my paintings.
JOHN: Your paintings not your ice-melting performance art?
ICEMAN: I am a man of two parts.
JOHN: You’re a man of three parts. One is in Westminster Hall as a baby.
ICEMAN: There was ice in the font. It was February… No, it was April, actually.
JOHN: You remember ice in the font?
ICEMAN: I sensed it… Anyway… One of my audience at Westminster School was called Cecilia. She said she laughed so much at my Zoom meeting that her eyeliner ran.
JOHN: Where did it run to?
Iceman and duck talk to Westminster scholars
ICEMAN: My duck was there. You remember my duck? You blogged about it.
JOHN: How could I not?
ICEMAN: But the thing that I appreciated was that my art – seemingly genuinely – was being appreciated by a new generation. Now they can’t stop sending me emails. And even their English teacher said how deeply moving and funny it was at the same time. They had a block of their own. They called it Alice.
ICEMAN: – Al-ice.
JOHN: Aah! So you’ve inspired new ice artists?
ICEMAN: Well, they say I have inspired them. They are painting lots of pictures and they are going to send me a booklet of all their pictures. It has been a stimulus for their writing and art.
JOHN: But will they cough-up to buy a painting from you? How much would it cost?
ICEMAN: I dunno. If they gave a fiver each, how big is the Sixth Form?… £500?
JOHN: That’s quite cheap for your ice blocks.
ICEMAN: They haven’t replied to that e-mail.
JOHN: This would be you selling them not a block of ice but a…
ICEMAN: …a painting of a block. Yes. I know you met me when I was a performance artist, but my main creative activity now is painting, though still using the motif of blocks of ice. Every painting has a block of ice. I told the Literary Society that, when I look back, I see the blocks as stepping stones to my later career as a painter.
JOHN: But if the past blocks are stepping stones, they will melt, so your future career is uncertain.
ICEMAN: Yes, but I’ve got there now. A painter called Alfred Wallis reminds me of myself. He was part of the St Ives Group in Cornwall, but he was really a Cornish fisherman and he painted on cardboard, using ship’s paint. Very simple and child-like, which reminds me of me because I tend to paint on mounting board. He was taken up by Ben Nicholson. He was a genuinely naïve painter.
I’m not saying I’m emulating him. I came across him later and realised he’s like me in some ways. He only started painting in his Sixties.
The Iceman in full flow… His art is not easily accomplished… It is a combination of art and art-if-ice
JOHN: Back to your birth. Where was your father born?
ICEMAN: In Aberdeen. But I was born off the King’s Road in Chelsea. I think there might be a plaque there. It was a bit more bohemian in those days. I broke free and became The Iceman.
JOHN: Did you go to university?
ICEMAN: I can’t give too much information about myself without demystifying myself.
JOHN: When you were 19, what did you want to be?
ICEMAN: I think I wanted to join the Royal Navy.
ICEMAN: To do ice patrols…
JOHN: Of course you did. But, at 19, did you decide you wanted to be a creative person of some kind?
ICEMAN: I think I had an idea of being some kind of actor. But then I recognised the limitations of that field.
JOHN: What are the limitations?
ICEMAN: Spouting forth other people’s words. I guess I became a performance artist but not one of your heavy Marina Abramović types. More of a slightly humorous performance artist. When I played comedy clubs, they said I should do art galleries; and art galleries said I should go and do comedy clubs. That’s the story of my life.
I ran into Arthur Smith. I said to him: “I never had success.” He said: “You had your moments”.
JOHN: Well, you’ve done better than Van Gogh did in his lifetime.
ICEMAN: That was one of your greatest blogs – The Iceman out-sells Van Gogh… You don’t remember! You don’t know your own blogs!
JOHN: I send the recordings off to some bloke in China and he transcribes them and puts them online. I seldom read them. But I remember the duck.
ICEMAN: You have a sort-of tabloid journalist’s eye for a good headline.
JOHN: Yeah: The Iceman was Lord So-and-So’s Son…
“a bit of blue tarpaulin attached to it that looked like a fish.”
JOHN: You sent me an image of a new painting of a block yesterday.
ICEMAN: Yes, it is called The Tombstone Block. It has a lateral flow test thing block and The Iceman was in PPE outfit and it had a bit of blue tarpaulin attached to it that looked like a fish.
JOHN: Anything seems reasonable. Has the pandemic lockdown inspired you to create more things than you would otherwise have done?
ICEMAN: At one stage I created a regular routine of painting more or less every day. Recently it’s more like one a fortnight.
JOHN: They take about a week to complete?
The Iceman amid his recent art, holding an old Polaroid
ICEMAN: About five minutes. (LAUGHS) But the build-up… I do think about it prior to the event.
I used to take Polaroids and, when I started painting, I was painting my interpretation of those photographs. But, when I ran out of photographs, I started painting more from memory.
And, more recently, I’ve painted more from a concept.
The block I did with Stewart Lee at the Royal Festival Hall – I imagined it going to Gravesend, Richmond Bridge, the North Sea, lift-off into space, then to a neighbouring universe. I’m getting more away from the basic literal block portrayal.
JOHN: How are sales of your paintings going?
Shrewd buyer (left) of a second Iceman painting – thaims 16
ICEMAN: I’ve just had an order from a previous buyer. He’s the Head of Music at Monkton Combe School. Many years after buying the original one – LidO – based on Tooting Lido where I did a block, he became interested in a painting called thaims 16, which is basically a boat with an ice block on it… and the other one he likes is more abstract. I tried to get him into three figures, but he’s whittled me down to £50.
I like the fact I’m now painting. That has given me a completely different experience from performing. When you perform, you’re interacting in rough and ready ways. But when you’re painting you’ve usually alone. They are both intense, but completely different experiences.
When I paint, I think it’s the one time I forget about… well… For all my limitations as a painter – because I’ve had no training – I think what I bring to it is a spontaneous feeling. In one way, that relates back to the performance art work, which was always rough and ready.
I like using oils because, on canvas, they can emulate the ice block effects… I like dribbles.
The Iceman’s Zoom chat with the boys and girls of the Westminster Literary Society is on YouTube… The video lasts 29 minutes…