Tag Archives: art

Artists PUSH THE BOAT OUT in South London and talk about rock & toy cars

Tin Tin in Elephant & Castle painting by Harry

I usually tell people that appearing in this blog will not get them paying bums on seats to see their productions, but it may – or may not – get them noticed.

I was going to post this blog about a week ago, to basically plug a week-long London art show titled PUSH THE BOAT OUT – EIGHT SOUTH LONDON ARTISTS. It was previewed last Wednesday, opened on Thursday and runs until Monday this coming week.

Complications in my life plus my dead MacBook Pro laptop and, this week, a cowboy almost destroying my iMac desktop computer for several days intervened.

But the two people who set up the exhibition are so interesting in their own right that I think this blog is well worth a read. And, at the time of posting, the exhibition is still on. Just.

PUSH THE BOAT OUT is an exhibition of mostly-new work by four painters and four sculptors at the Art Academy in what used to be the library of the town hall at Elephant and Castle. The two people who organised it are Harry Pye and James Johnston and I met them in Harry’s studio in New Cross, South London.

Obviously, in what follows, I digressed.


Artists Harry Pye (left) and James Johnston

JOHN: So you live in New Cross…

HARRY: No. This is my studio. I live in Lewisham and work at Tate Britain. I’ve worked in the bookshop at Tate for 22 years – so half my lifetime. I like working there. Hearing people enthuse. It keeps me going.

Like you, I do a blog where I interview creative people. It’s like therapy for me. There are so many terrible things going on in the world that I find, if I pick out a few people and say “Tell me about your project,” it calms me down.

JOHN: I’m the opposite. I just get people to tell me all the terrible things that have ever happened to them. Very cathartic for me. But why organise an art show? Indeed, why bother painting or doing anything arty at all?

HARRY: I think, for a lot of artists, the answer to the question: “Why do you do things?” would be: “Because we’ve got rocks in our heads.” It really doesn’t make sense financially.

JOHN: Ah! Rock! James, you’re a musician. What’s your connection with art?

JAMES: Well, I’ve done touring for years and years and years.

JOHN: As a session musician?

JAMES: Just joining different bands.

JOHN: What instruments?

JAMES: Different stuff in different bands: organ, guitar, violin.

JOHN: Proper bands? Not pub bands but touring bands?

JAMES: All sorts of things really. I had my own band which I started in 1990 – Gallon Drunk, based in London. Then I did big tours with Nick Cave, the German band Faust and, recently, PJ Harvey.

JOHN: Faust? German heavy metal?

JAMES: No. They started in the 1960s as a German hippy band.

JOHN: Hippy?

JAMES: We would turn up at a venue and, to create the right atmosphere, we would all go out and have to pick up a load of stuff in the street and bring it into the venue in binliners to create ambience. We took a threshing machine on tour to blast a load of stuff out into the audience.

JOHN: Isn’t a threshing machine rather large?

JAMES: Massive. We were travelling round in this hopeless old van, sleeping underneath it at petrol stations. It was such a wild experience. One of the things that the bass player would use while we were playing was a chainsaw. I still have a huge great cut in my guitar from when he was waving it around. Mostly he would be carving things with it. Another interesting thing with them was when I went to stay on their farm.

JOHN: They have a farm?

JAMES: Yes. To focus before going on tour, it was suggested that we go around picking all the grass out from between the cobblestones. So we went round the farm on our knees pulling it all out by hand before we went in to rehearse.

JOHN: Because…?

JAMES: It got you into such a different mindset.

JOHN: I imagine it would.

HARRY: One of Faust’s biggest fans is Julian Cope. He said when you write the song it’s a brilliant buzz and then everything else is boring. So he started going into the recording studio naked and then the next time he got a giant tortoise shell just to try and make it exciting. In the same interview, he talked about collecting toy cars. He said if you have no control over your life then have that little hobby and you can say: “Well at least I can control my toy cars”.

I think art is a bit like that. If you have a life that is all compromise, then art allows you to be you – it allows you take a line for a walk.

JAMES: Art is like playing a song for the first time. Each time it’s totally new.

JOHN: But why put on an exhibition?

Harry has a message in one of his distinctive paintings

HARRY: We liked the idea of getting these particular people together. We could be completely wrong but, in our fantasy delusional heads, the show will be even bigger than the sum of its parts. I do feel, in order to make this show as good as it is, it did need all the different elements the eight people bring to it. We think we have the right combination to make it very interesting. We think with these south London artists we have enough differences and similarities to…

JOHN: Is South London particularly arty?

HARRY: Well, William Blake is very much a South Londoner. Lots of curious characters in South London. In the pub James goes to, there’s a Charlie Chaplin booth.

JOHN: What? Like Superman? You go into the booth, twirl round and turn into Charlie Chaplin?

JAMES: I think he was born round there and ran off when he was under ten to join a clog troupe.

HARRY: Nicola Hicks, one of the artists in the show, used to live in Fred Karno’s house. He was the one who got Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin to America. Did you know Vincent van Gogh was a South Londoner?

JOHN: What?

HARRY: He lived in Stockwell for a bit.

JOHN: Did he paint while he was here?

HARRY: He was trying to sell other people’s paintings.

JOHN: You could be the new Vincent van Gogh. Don’t you get frustrated being surrounded by other people’s art at Tate Britain?

HARRY: No. It’s inspiring. Even if you sometime see something you didn’t like, that can be inspiring because it makes you want to do the opposite.

JAMES: The last 2½  years I was involved in this enormous though very creatively rewarding music tour. But, on tours, there is an enormous amount of downtime – just sitting around in hotels and what not – and, during that time, I was admiring a friend’s art and, almost as a challenge, they said: “Why don’t you try doing a picture a day?”

I had no idea if I had any aptitude at all, really, because I hadn’t drawn since A-levels at school.

“Much more rewarding than being part of a rock machine”

So I just packed some art stuff and I had hours and hours of spare every day to do art. It turned into a daily practice and, when I got back, I thought: “This feels so much more rewarding in a way than being part of a big rock machine.” I do love that too but just going straight from that and locking yourself in a room and being insular about how you’re creating something is…

When I got back, I got a studio and I just spend all day every day in there and it has become a complete change of direction. Making a record has so much compromise and diplomacy in it. I quite like the idea of doing something and being totally responsible for everything, whether it’s a success or failure.

JOHN: So have you stopped being a musician?

JAMES: I have a few gigs booked for later in the year.

JOHN: Art is quieter than rock music.

JAMES: Yes, well apart from the raging tinnitus. That is pretty bad. I was on a plane taking off to go on tour and I thought: Christ I can even hear my tinnitus over this!

JOHN: Is that through being too close to big speakers a lot of the time?

JAMES: Yes. Rocking like a bitch.

JOHN: It’s interesting the changes people go through.

HARRY: I was at primary school with Richard Reid, the shoe bomber. He was very quiet. He and I and another chap all had birthdays in August and our mothers got together and made us Mr Men cakes. I remember him bring a very gentle soul, so it was strange he tried to blow up a plane with a shoe. But, then, he wasn’t very good at being a shoe bomber. He is going to spend the rest of his life in an American prison, Which is a waste.

JOHN: It’s a shame to waste your life.

HARRY: Yes.

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Banksy, the Lawyer and the Gangster – and the confusing matter of copyright

Micky Fawcett – art lover – at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, East London.

My last blog was about an artist who was interested in gangsters.

This one is about a gangster who took an interest in art. 

The word gangster is faintly meaningless. It just means someone who is in a gang. So schoolchildren could be gangsters if they are in a gang, if you wanted to use the word in that context.

In the UK, the Kray Twins are another type of gangster. And, if someone was a close associate of theirs – if he was part of their ‘gang’ – then I suppose he could be called a gangster.

Micky sips a quiet coffee while perusing a shot of himself and ‘Brown Bread’ Fred Foreman in Brian Anderson’s recent photographic book

Micky Fawcett was a close associate of the Krays.

In Lock Stock and Two Smoking Cameras, Brian Anderson’s recent book of photographs of British crime figures, shot over ten years, Micky Fawcett is described as “a man who would not hesitate to use guns and razors, a well-known associate and part of the inner Kray circle in the 1960s. Author of Krayzy Days, which is said to be the best book written about the Krays due to Micky’s first-hand knowledge”.

(In the YouTube video above, Micky Fawcett appears at 1 min 03 secs.)

Krayzy Days tells of far more than just Micky’s life with the Krays. He was and is a man of many interests. Around 2006/2007, he took an interest in art and was involved with the Smudge Gallery in Spitalfields Market, London.

Page One of the letter from Banksy’s lawyer

On 17th November 2006, the street artist Banksy’s lawyer, sent a three-page letter to Micky. It started: “It has come to our client’s attention that a number of our client’s copyright works have been used by you without our client’s permission first being sought or obtained.”

The letter referred to “the continuing flagrancy of the infringement complained of (within the meaning of Section 97 (2) of the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998)”.

Particularly miffing – Banksy art ad

Banksy – who is, lest we forget, famous for painting graffiti, usually uninvited, onto walls owned by other people – seemed to be particularly miffed that ads had appeared saying: 

PSST!

WANNA BUY A BANKSY?

VISIT SPITALFIELDSARTMARKET.CO.UK

A couple of days ago, I asked Micky about what had happened:

The Smudge Gallery in Spitalfields Market in London in 2006. It is no longer trading.


JOHN: Have you still got the shop?

MICKY: No.

JOHN: Because?

MICKY: The market was completely redeveloped and we no longer had the premises. So that was that.

JOHN: How long were you involved in the gallery?

MICKY: A couple of years, maybe.

JOHN: What had you done to incur the wrath of Banksy’s lawyer?

MICKY: We had hired a cameraman to go around taking pictures of all the Banksies, which we then transferred onto canvas and sold and we were very, very busy. The one with two policemen kissing was very popular. They all were, really. It was a tremendous business.

JOHN: That’s surely legal? You were taking photographs of something on a wall in public view from the public street so that’s in the public domain, isn’t it?

MICKY: No, it’s not legal at all.

JOHN: Surely, if it’s outside in the street, I can take a picture of it, can’t I? And the photograph is my copyright.

MICKY: You can take a picture of it, but you can’t put it onto a canvas as if you’ve done the picture.

JOHN: Banksy never put them on canvas, though. He put them on walls. So it’s not masquerading as his work. It’s your original work of art – a canvas print of your original photograph of something Banksy did on a wall in a public place.”

MICKY: When he puts it on a building, they can sell the building.

JOHN: So that’s private property. But, you could surely take a photograph of Wembley Stadium and then sell a canvas of your photograph. I think you should go back into the art business again.

MICKY: No, I don’t want to go into the art business or any other business. You do it.

JOHN: But you might sue me for stealing your idea. Banksy is famously secretive. What was your response to the lawyer’s letter?

MICKY: Eventually, via a barrister, a straightforward Who is this Banksy? We never heard another word from them.

JOHN: Nothing?

MICKY: They came and put a sticker on our window saying NONE OF THE CONTENTS IN THIS SHOP ARE GENUINE BANKSIES. THE ONLY THING BY BANKSY IN THIS SHOP IS THIS NOTICE.

JOHN: You should have taken a picture of the notice, printed it on canvas and sold it.

MICKY: I know. We should have kept the notice.

JOHN: Come to think of it, how do I know you are not Banksy?

MICKY SAID NOTHING AND JUST LOOKED AT ME.

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The Australian pop artists, a Canadian A&E and tripping over steaks for dogs

This week, my blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, Anna Smith, has been in the Accident & Emergency Department of St Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.

She sent me an email headed:

An unusually quiet night at St Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver

THE POLICEMAN AND HELEN OF TASMANIA

The e-mail read:

Happy Aortic Dissection Awareness Day.

Today is a good day.

and then there was a description of what had happened.

Sort of.

Well, not really.

Well, not at all.

She preceded her description with the comment: “It’s pretty disconnected. I am too sleepy to make sense. It is about a man in uniform with Helen of Tasmania – the doctor and the cop.”

This is what Anna wrote:


It was an unusually quiet night at St. Paul’s A&E. A weird Sunday night. I was the only patient in the ward where I was and most of the doctors were dealing with a patient in the trauma ward. The nurse said it had been more interesting the night before… “Lots of drunk people with facial injuries,” she said.

It was very cold and a young newly graduated nurse was pacing back and forth wearing a flannel sheet like a shawl to keep warm, which obscured her identification, so I wasn’t quite sure whether she was staff or perhaps a mentally distressed patient.

Policeman & Helen of Tasmania, seen from Anna’s bed

And there was a lady in a yellow gown.

When I asked her name, she said “Helen”… though it appeared to me that she was my doctor. I asked if she was English because I didn’t catch her accent. She said she was from Tasmania. 

So I said: ”Oh, the Franklin River…”

She said: “You have got a good memory.”

I didn’t correct her but, actually, it wasn’t a matter of memory. My friend Harold The Kangaroo painted hundreds of banners for the environmentalists (including himself) who prevented a dam from being built on the Franklin River, which was being maligned at the time as a “leech ridden ditch”. So it was not something I am likely to forget. I am not against all development, but calling the Franklin River a leech ridden ditch was too much.

Harold The Kangaroo also made a very interesting painting – a portrait of Dr Bob Brown combined with a documentation of the protest. 

The painting is fantastic. It is called Dr Brown and Green Old Time Waltz and it now hangs in The National Portrait Gallery of Australia.

Dr Brown and Green Old Time Waltz – the 1983 paining by Harold (The Kangaroo) Thornton

I met Harold (The Kangaroo) Thornton and his fiancée Ms. Bean the first time I visited the artist Martin Sharp’s grand home, Wirian, in Sydney. When he was a kid, Martin’s route to school was to walk across his own garden, which would have taken about ten minutes.

Martin Sharp, who was described as “Australia’s greatest pop artist” by the Sydney Morning Herald

Martin let Harold The Kangaroo and Ms. Bean stay at Wirian whenever they wanted. 

When I was staying at Wirian, I could always tell when Harold and Ms. Bean were there because they bought huge steaks for Martin’s dogs and I would trip over the steaks in the dark when I came home from working in Kings Cross (in Sydney) at five in the morning. They used to just throw the steaks out on the doormat outside the kitchen entrance. It was a little weird, tripping over steaks, but I didn’t mind because it was a signal that my friends Ms. Bean and Harold had arrived.

Harold (The Kangaroo) Thornton in front of The Bulldog coffee shop in Amsterdam. He painted the facade of the building,

I loved Martin Sharp (we all did, because he was so kind and generous) but I thought it was kind of funny, the way his former school and neighbour, the elite Cranbook School, was inching towards his Wirian mansion. He was determined that they would not get their hands on the rambling house and grounds in one of Australia’s most affluent postcodes. I am not certain but, as I recall, when Martin had to pay property tax, he would sell a couple of inches of land to the school. 

When I dislocated my shoulder and broke my humerus, I was in St Vincent’s Hospital (in Sydney) for a month. About three weeks into my recovery, Ms. Bean and Harold liberated me from the hospital for an afternoon and brought me to some apartment to watch the Mae West/W.C.Fields film My Little Chickadee.

After I got out of St Vincent’s I went back to stripping in Kings Cross, with my arm in a sling. I dressed as a friendly sexy clown and wore hats by Mr Individual when I stripped.

I had three hats which were by far the finest hats I have ever owned. 

Anna Smith on her release from hospital in Vancouver this week

Ms. Bean was a visual and performance artist. She also designed clothing sometimes: one-off pieces for herself and her friends.

She told me that, if I was going to be seen in Sydney, I needed to be seen in something sexy. So she made me a cute little punky miniskirt out of artist’s canvas with a matching top and I wore it everywhere, on stage and off. 

I would ride home from Kings Cross on my bicycle in it.

The top had no sides, just a front and a back and it tied at the waist with stringy shreds of pink Lycra. The top and the skirt had splattered paint patterns – orange, pink, black and droplets of neon green on the unfinished canvas. 

It looked like maybe someone had thrown a birthday cake against a wall. 

It was very beautiful.

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25 Years of Shooting Comedians and the recent new devaluation of artistic talent

Rich Hardcastle has photographed comedians for 25 years.

Now he has a Kickstarter campaign to publish a large-format coffee-table book of 110 extraordinary photos and text: 25 Years of Shooting Comedians. Ricky Gervais has written a foreword for it and says: “Rich has a way of making even a rainy day spent standing in a muddy field look glamorous and important.”

Fellow photographer Idil Sukan recently wrote on Facebook about Rich Hardcastle:

“His photos of comedians are completely amazing. His work was the only reason I thought there was hope for the industry instead of just wacky head scratching photos of needy boys wearing red shirts. His photos are beautiful and touching and always stand out, always.

“He, like all of us comedy photographers, has done so much work under such high pressure circumstances, not always been paid at full rates, been messed around by producers, but regardless, consistently, always produced incredible work that supported comedians, sold tickets, made fans happy. The comedy photography industry really only opened up because of him, because he was taking risks and doing things differently.”

Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan (Photograph: Rich Hardcastle)

Some comedians are in the National Portrait Gallery because of Rich Hardcastle – Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan, Phill Jupitus et al.

“25 years as a photographer,” I said to Rich when we met. “Ever since you were at Edinburgh College of Art. So you had decided back then you wanted to be a professional photographer?”

“Well, I wanted to photograph rock stars and celebrities. I wanted to do Terry O’Neill type shots: beautifully-framed shots showing the real person behind the facade. This was back in the day when celebrity meant something.”

“But you didn’t,” I asked, “want to be an ad agency photographer shooting pack shots and well-lit plates of food?”

“No. though I’d love to be in advertising now, because of the money…”

“Of course,” I said.

“Though there is not,” he added, “as much as there used to be.”

“There isn’t?” I asked.

“No. There’s no real money in photography. In terms of me in comedy, I think I’m the Ramones. I’ve influenced loads of people. I started something, but I haven’t made any money from it and I don’t even have the revenue from T-shirt sales.”

“So why, 25 years ago,” I asked, “did you start shooting comedians and not rock stars?”

“They were there, they were easy to get to and I liked comedy. I love the comedy industry. They’ve been very good to me and a lot of my success has been through things that happened in the comedy industry.”

“Why a book now?” I asked.

Director Terry Gilliam, as photographed by Rich Hardcastle

“25 years. I was there for 25 years, documenting that world opening up. I want it to be a big, beautiful, important book. It’s a snapshot of a generation of British comedy.”

“Surely anyone,” I prompted, “can photograph comedians? You just get them to open their mouths and wave their hands about in a zany way.”

“But I wanted to photograph them like rock stars,” explained Rich. “To try to make them look cool.”

“So what did you decide to do instead of wacky comedy shots?”

“Photograph them like I would a musician or a movie star. Nice, cool portraits of people who happen to be comedians.”

“There must have been,” I suggested, “no money in photographing people who were, at that time, relative nonentities.”

“I was an art student when I started (in the early 1990s); then I started photographing other things – editorial stuff like GQ; but I kept photographing comedians – maybe 90% was not commissioned. I did it because I was interested. No, there was not really any money in it.”

“There’s little money in anything creative now,” I said. “It started with music being free, then books, then videos. People expect all the creative stuff to be free or dirt cheap.”

Greg Davies (Photo by Rich Hardcastle)

“I used to do posters for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival,”  said Rich. “The greatest thing was when people would steal the posters because they were such lovely images. It changed around the time digital cameras took off and people were using almost snapshot photos of themselves. Russell Howard had a poster which was just him standing in a Vietnamese street market or sitting on a wall or something, obviously when he was on tour.

“Things changed around then. It looked like a bit of a movement, but it wasn’t. It was just someone’s tour manager taking a photo and thinking: Oh, we don’t have to pay a photographer to do this and you can take like 3,000 on one card – so one of ‘em’s going to be good. Phil Nichols said to me: The problem is what you do is now considered ‘Art’ and people now baulk at the idea of having to pay someone to come up with a concept and shoot it.”

I suggested: “Maybe all creative things are undervalued now. Everyone thinks they can write novels because they can type on their computer and self-publish a paperback book. And anyone can take a free photograph now because they have a smartphone.”

“This is the thing,” said Rich, “you can take 6,000 photos on your phone and print one up that might look good. But I can do it with one shot.”

“Everyone thinks they can be an artist,” I said.

“Yes,” Rich agreed. “The creative arts have been de-valued.”

“To create a music album,” I said, “you used to have to rent Abbey Road Studios for a month and pay George Martin to produce it. Now I can record something for free on GarageBand on my iPhone and upload it onto iTunes for people to hear worldwide.”

“In a way, though,” said Rich, “it’s quite nice because bands are finding the only way they can make money is to play live, which is what they are supposed to do and sort-of great. Rather than a manufactured pop band who have never actually played live selling out the O2…”

“But then,” I said, “anyone can write a novel, self-publish it and call themselves a novelist…”

“…And that devalues the word ‘novelist’,” agreed Rich. “Brooklyn Beckham is a ‘photographer’ and has a book out and a show.”

“Have you seen it and do you want to be quoted?” I asked.

Rich Hardcastle (Photo by Sarah M Lee)

“I actually feel a bit sorry for him,” said Rich, “because, if he’s serious about wanting to be a photographer and he actually develops any talent over the years, then that’s fucked him. That book and that whole launch has fucked his career because people are going to think he’s a joke and real, creative people are not going to want to be associated with him. Which is a real shame.

“It’s like the Australian actor Guy Pearce. It has taken a long, long time for people to forget he was in Neighbours. Now it’s ‘Guy Pearce, Hollywood actor’ whereas, at the start of his career, it was ‘that guy who used to be in Neighbours’.”

Malcolm Hardee,” I told Rich, “used to say that any normal person who practises juggling for 10 hours a day, every day, for 3 years, can become a very good juggler. Because it’s a skill not a talent, but…”

“That’s what I hate about jugglers,” said Rich. “I think: You’re doing the same thing that every other juggler does. Yes, you are standing on a chair and the things you’re juggling are on fire, but you are still just juggling.”

“But,” I continued, “Malcolm said, without talent, you could practise forever and never became a great comedian because performing comedy has a large element of talent involved; it’s not just a skill… It’s the same with photography, I think. To be a great photographer, you need talent not just skill. It’s an art.”

“Yes,” said Rich. “You can take 3,000 photos on a camera and call yourself a photographer, but you are not. You’re just like a monkey taking 6,000 photos and one of them could be a good composition by accident.”

Stewart Lee, photographed by Rich Hardcastle

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Comic performer-turned-painter The Iceman suddenly outsells Van Gogh.

The Artist formerly known as The Iceman: a brush with fame

I have blogged before about the comic performance artist legend that is The Iceman. The last couple of times he has cropped up, it has been as a fine artist (I use the words loosely) not a performance artist. As a stage performer, he has been described as:

“…a living saint” (Stewart Lee)

“…incredible” (Mike Myers)

“A figure of mythic proportions” (Independent)

“inexplicable” (The Stage)

“shit!” (Chris Tarrant)

“brilliant” (Simon Munnery)

“truly a performance artist” (Jo Brand)

AIM’s painting of Jo Brand (left) understanding The Iceman

He sent me an email this morning asking if I wanted to write another blog about him because he feels my blog-writing style has “sort of subtle undercurrents where sarcasm meets genteelness” and, where he is involved, has “a mixture of awe, bafflement and sneaking respect.”

Those are his words.

He added: “I think you should keep it short and pithy. Do you do short blogs? As my sales increase I am going to keep you very busy indeed so, for your own sanity, it should be more like a news flash.”

Eddie Izzard/Iceard (left) upstaged/icestaged by The Iceman

The Iceman – who now prefers to be called AIM (the Artist formally known as the Ice Man) – measures his fine art success against van Gogh’s sales of his art during his lifetime.

He told me that, yesterday, he “nearly tripled/then quadrupled/then quintupled van Gogh’s sales record… but, in the end, I just tripled it as the buyer couldn’t stretch to it…”

‘It’ being an “confidential but significant” sum.

Buyer Maddie Coombe overawed in the presence of the AIM

He sent me photographs of the buyer – “discerning collector” and dramatist Maddie Coombe – who topped an offer by another buyer who desperately tried to muscle-in on the art purchase.

Ms Coombe says: “I bought a very colourful and bold piece of the Iceman’s work. I loved it because of its colour, composition and bold brush strokes. I will keep it forever as a memory of the time I have spent being his colleague – a man unlike any other!”

Comedian Stewart Lee (right) and poet John Dowie carrying The Iceman’s props with pride – a specific and vivid memory.

The Iceman says: “The sale was a formal business agreement born of an authentic appreciation of AIM’s art/oil paintings in a secret contemporary art gallery south of Bath – It’s in a valley.”

Explaining the slight element of mystery involved, he explains: “Being a cult figure I can’t be too transparent with anything,” and adds: “AIM is now painting not from photos but from specific and vivid memories insice the ex-Iceman’s head, resulting in even more icetraordinary imagices.

“One gallery visitor,” he tells me, “was heard to say It looks like it’s painted by a three year old which, of course I thought was a huge compliment.”

AIM’s most recent painting – Stand-up comedian, activist and author Mark Thomas (right) gets the political message of The Iceman’s ice block at the Duke of Wellington’s public house many years ago

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Filed under Art, Comedy, Eccentrics, Humor, Humour, Painting

AIM – The end of the Iceman’s live act? + Van Gogh and the boxing kangaroos

The Iceman holds a Christmas card inside the Festival Hall.

Iceman holds a Christmas card inside the Royal Festival Hall. (And why shouldn’t he?)

At the beginning of December last year, I received 10 e-mails and 22 JPEGs of paintings of blocks of ice from my speciality act chum The Iceman. His stage act involves melting blocks of ice. That is his entire act. I blogged about it.

He said he was now calling himself AIM – Anthony Irvine Man – and suggested I should write a new blog entitled:

THE PAINTER FORMERLY KNOWN AS THE ICEMAN BREAKS/DOUBLES VINCENT VAN GOGH’S RECORD, SELLING 2 PAINTINGS IN HIS LIFETIME.

Since then, we have had a chat about it. We met in the Topolski Gallery/Bar under Waterloo Bridge in London.

“You told me the man who bought your painting,” I said, “was going to explain why.”

“Yes. He wrote to me,” said The Iceman, taking out a piece of paper. “He says: The paintings of The Iceman are honest, charming and…”

“Cheap?” I suggested.

One of The Iceman’s acclaimed paintings

“Honest, charming and fascinating” – his faux-naïf paintings

“No,” said the Iceman. “I got him into three figures…The paintings of The Iceman are honest, charming and fascinating. He is an artist whose practice has developed at a glacial rate over a lifetime and each act seems considered but not over-thought. His fixation on ice, the melting process and how that relates to him – his life experience – in a symbolic way – is intriguing and perhaps even deep…

“He wants to buy a second picture. He says: The faux-naïf handling of paint is suggestive of Basquiat or perhaps Dubuffet and art brut. In any case, it is defiantly anti-slick or perhaps anti-consumerist. It is refreshingly populist work, like a kind of ascetically-charged graffiti, piquant piracy, shades of Nolan’s Ned Kelly series.

“So you are at last being properly considered as a serious artist?” I asked.

“Yes. I feel it’s time to do a proper exhibition. I’ve done about 137 paintings now. They need to be displayed en masse. I have finally found my métier. I think I am just going to keep producing. My subject matter is rather consistent.”

“Blocks of ice,” I said.

“Yes,” said The Iceman.

“So are you not going to do live performances any more?” I asked.

“I don’t think so. I never realised I was a painter until this late in life.”

“If Hitler had realised his destiny was to be a painter,” I suggested, “we wouldn’t have had all that trouble.”

The Iceman in his studio earlier this year

The Iceman hard at work in his outdoor English studio in 2014

“I am thinking,” said The Iceman, “of increasing production: doing one in the morning, one in the afternoon and one in the evening.”

“Won’t that devalue your unit retail cost?” I asked.

“You are right,” mused the Iceman. “Maybe I should slow production down instead.”

“All your paintings are based on photographs?” I asked.

“Yes. Stills of my blocks of ice. Or stills of moving pictures of my blocks of ice. I could not paint without the photo.”

“Why not?”

“Actually,” he said thoughtfully, “that might be my next series of paintings. The imagination series. I think I have developed my own style.” There was a long pause. “I don’t know what my style is, but it is recognisable. On my website, I’ve got every painting I’ve ever done. I sold one photo off my website – Block 183 – so, technically, I have sold two pictures: one was an oil painting and one was a photograph.”

“You are on a roll,” I said encouragingly. “How have you survived financially?”

“I work with teenagers,” said The Iceman. “It’s educational work. Helping them realise their potential. But I don’t play football.”

“Ah,” I said.

“I have done some odd things,” The Iceman continued. “I did a boxing kangaroo act. I was the referee in a duo with a live kangaroo. Circo Moira Orfei in Italy. She was a fading film star. I had to go round saying Cugino! Cugino! Her cousin was called Filippo.”

“Did you live in a tent or in a caravan?” I asked.

“I lived in a truck with the kangaroo – there was a partition. We had a kangaroo and then collected a younger one from the airport, so I ended up living in the truck with two kangaroos. The poor young one got a lot of rollicking from the older one.”

“How long were you with the kangaroos?” I asked.

“A couple of months. I had to run away on Christmas Day.”

“Why?”

“I had a fracas in the audience and the acrobats were angry because it was at the moment of their ‘death-defying balance’ and so they were all out to get me because I caused them to stumble. I ran away and they ran after me running away, but they didn’t catch me.”

“It’s not their area of expertise,” I suggested.

“I suppose not,” said The Iceman.

“Tell me more about the boxing kangaroo,” I prompted.

A kangaroo boxing poster from the 1890s

A proud tradition – a poster from the 1890s

“We did the routine in a proper boxing ring and we knocked each other out – the other guy, Filippo, and me – quite a slick physical banging routine. Then I had to get the kangaroo by its tail and drag it into the ring. The first day, one of the roustabouts from Morocco tripped me up and I fell on the kangaroo’s bottom, which got a big laugh. Once the kangaroo was in the ring, I was supposed to give him his mating call and irritate him and dig him in the ribs. Then he gets angry and tries to get hold of Filippo.”

“Why didn’t he try to get hold of you?”

“Because Filippo was teasing him as well and he was more experienced in annoying the kangaroo.  Filippo told me I was too kind to the kangaroo in the ring. The poor thing had boxing gloves on, so it looked like he was boxing but he was trying to grab Filippo round the neck. Sometimes, he would get him round the neck and one of my jobs was to release the forepaws if the kangaroo was really angry. If the kangaroo was really, really angry, he might hold onto Filippo with his forepaws and kick him to death with his hind legs. Kangaroos have very strong hind legs but their forepaws are less strong.”

“You did this job just for kicks?” I asked.

“There was a lot of comedy,” said The Iceman, “because he would kick Filippo and I, as referee, had to tell the kangaroo off.”

“You never got kicked?” I asked.

“Not seriously. His irritation was more directed at Filippo… I have slightly mixed feelings talking about all this. It is quite sad when you think about it. But I was young. The animals I felt sorriest for were the tigers. The circus had elephants who killed some of the people.”

Death defying circus stunts were common back in the day

Death defying circus stunts were common

“In the audience?”

“No, the people looking after them. But the tigers just went round and round. Terrible conditions, really. I’m not really very pro-circus, animal-wise. Looking back, it was all a bit sad, really. That image of the tigers is the one that haunts me most. They had gone mad and were going round and round and round.”

“You toured with this circus?” I asked.

“Not for very long, because I had to run away from the acrobats.”

“When was this?”

“Around 1980.”

“When circuses were circuses.”

“Yes. So many animals. Birds, vultures and incredible trapeze artists. There was a clown who played the saw. Every cliché.”

“Why were you working in this circus?” I asked.

“I used to go to clown workshops at the Oval House in London. To me, to be a proper clown in a big circus was my apotheosis. Is that the right word?”

“I have no idea,” I said. “Why an Italian circus?”

“Because I met the mother of a clown. His father had died in the ring.”

“Killed by an elephant?”

“I have no idea. It seems unlikely.”

“That was your only circus experience?”

“Yes. I moved on…”

“To…?”

“Experimental theatre. In those days, there were a lot of small-scale touring theatres.”

Iceman painting - “I have never painted anything without quite a strong feeling.”

“I have never painted anything without quite a strong feeling.”

“You should paint kangaroos,” I suggested.

“No. Only ice blocks. That’s my genre. To depart from that would spell doom. Each picture I have done is unique.”

“They are all blocks of ice,” I pointed out.

“But they are each unique,” said The Iceman. “I have never painted anything without quite a strong feeling.”

“Quite a strong feeling of…?” I asked.

There was a pause. “I’m not sure,” he replied. “That is a very good question…. Maybe a feeling of bringing something alive long after the event when it existed.”

“Giving eternal life to a transient thing?”

“That could be it,” agreed The Iceman.

“Let’s assume it is,” I suggested.

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More advice to performers and other creative people and some plagiarism

SlaughterhouseFive-still

I stole the title of this blog: SO IT GOES.

Someone sent me a Facebook message this morning asking: “Is the origin of So It Goes down to Kurt Vonnegut? Or is it a reference to something wider?”

I told him it is solely down to Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and my inherent nihilism.

He told me: “I read Slaughterhouse-Five recently and it just looked like something plugging your blog.”

According to Wikipedia – so it must be true – the refrain So it goes appears 106 times in Slaughterhouse-Five.

In yesterday’s blog, I stole another idea.

I wrote: Realise that no-one KNOWS anything.

This is actually a variation on William Goldman’s refrain “Nobody knows anything” – a refrain which Wikipedia correctly says “is repeated throughout” Goldman’s iconic book Adventures in the Screen Trade.

I often rattled on about it in much earlier previous blogs. It is often mis-emphasised as meaning everyone is ignorant – Nobody knows ANYTHING. But, in fact, it means Nobody KNOWS anything for sure in the creative process.

However experienced, intelligent and brilliant someone is, nobody knows for sure what will be a commercial – or even an ultimately critical – success.

When Michael Cimino was making his movie Heaven’s Gate, everyone assumed it would be a box-office success. It had all the ingredients for mega-success. But it was a disaster. It pretty much financially destroyed United Artists.

According to Wikipedia – so it must be true – it cost $44 million to make and got back $3.5 million at the box office.

When Kevin Costner was making Dances With Wolves ten years later, it was nicknamed Kevin’s Gate in Hollywood, because it was clearly a vanity project with no hope of commercial success – it was, for godsake, mostly in the Native American Lakota language.

It was a big critical and box office success. It cost $22 million to create and took $424.2 million at the box office.

The Blair Witch Project was made on a shoestring with inexperienced actors, producers, writers and directors and was shot shoddily. It was a vast financial success. It cost $22,500 to make and took $248.6 million at the box office.

Nobody KNOWS anything.

It’s a Wonderful Life – now usually high up any Best Movie Ever Made list when voted for by the public – was pretty-much director Frank Capra’s only critical and box office failure.

J.K.Rowling hawked the idea for her Harry Potter books round every big-time publisher in London and was turned down by them all. Quite rightly. No modern teenage boy (and certainly no teenage girl) is ever going to buy one book – let alone seven – about some nerdy suburban boy going to a witches and wizards school. And, if you think any adult would buy even one copy, you are out of your mind.

My point being: Nobody KNOWS anything.

My point being: Creating a work of art is not a science. The clue is in the name. It is an art.

My point being: Nobody can know for sure what will be a success critically or commercially – Not now. Not in the future.

Van Gogh never sold a painting in his lifetime, because everyone thought his paintings were crap.

Of course, in his case, they were and are crap.

But that’s only my opinion.

Which, as you may have noticed, is my point.

Nobody KNOWS anything.

Because there are no rules. Only taste. Which is personal. And which can and does change from generation to generation.

My point being… exactly the same as it was in yesterday’s blog.

Do what you think is right.

And tell everyone else to fuck off.

If you take my advice, though, remember…

Nobody KNOWS anything.

That might include me.

It might include you.

You can’t be sure.

You just have to go with your gut instinct and keep calm and carry on.

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