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Striking Kamp – How the Wolverine of British art creates his layered emotions

Vince: The Wolverine of the British art scene

British painter Vincent Kamp was named Artist of The Year 2017 by Talented Art Fair.

In yesterday’s blog, he talked about his upcoming short movie about a heist at the Ritz Club in London. It is based on a series of paintings he created.

He has also been collaborating with singer Sam Smith on a series of paintings.

But an earlier success was another series of linked-narrative paintings.


JOHN: Barber shops. You went round barber shops and created a series of paintings… Why?

VINCE: I was at a motor bike show and there was a barber shop there. I was there to research the bike guys, but I saw this barber shop where there were three or four guys with a fantastic look – tattoos and all the rest – and they had this 1920s feel about them. So, even though I was there to photograph motor bike guys, I asked if I could photograph the barbers too and then I started painting them and the paintings went down really well on Instagram – people were really excited by them – so then I went to see those guys in their shop in East London and asked: “Are there more guys like you?”

“…There must be other things going on…”

And they said: “Yeah.”

This is a massive community of really creative, interesting people.

So I started to think more about and visit these barber shops. And these guys are doing quite well, have a fair bit of money but, I thought: They can’t be making this money from just cutting hair! So I started thinking: There must be other things going on. And I came up with ideas of crime behind the scenes.

Guys just cutting hair is not necessarily THAT interesting but, once you imagine these guys are doing something else… When you get your hair cut, you end up telling the barber everything, so maybe they are hearing about all sorts of stuff…?

JOHN: And this barber shop series was a turning point for you?

VINCE: Yes. I had been selling art for a long time, but…

JOHN: Selling it where?

VINCE: Just around. There are lots of art fairs around London. Manchester and places. You hire a space, a little booth. I had a booth. You put your paintings up and people walk past turning their noses up, because people love abstract art and pretty colours. They see Renaissance Art type stuff and they think: Oh! Old-fashioned rubbish!

I thought I would never get anywhere but, when I started painting the barbers, that’s when it started resonating with people and I started to get a lot more interest. That was about two-and-a-half years ago.

“It started resonating with people and I got a lot more interest”

That was when I could quit working at my full-time other job. So I have been a full-time artist for about two years.

But, really, I think another major turning point was just before I did the barbers stuff, when I studied in Rome for a couple of weeks with one of my art mentors, an American artist called Sean Cheetham, and he gave me the feeling I could do something. That gave me self-belief, but I just kept chipping away. That is the thing; you have to keep chipping away.

JOHN: You’re not interested in abstract art – random triangles, Picasso and all that?

VINCE: No, I’m not. I appreciate that people like abstraction, but…

JOHN: The Renaissance is seriously complicated, detailed stuff.

VINCE: Well, I’m a realistic painter, a representational artist.

JOHN: That’s more difficult than painting triangles.

“It is the ‘idea’ people buy. That is where the art really exists.”

VINCE: Yes but, at the end of the day, that is just ‘craft’. The ‘art’ is the ‘idea’. There are tons of people who can paint way better than me and representational ‘craft’ will get you so far, but only so far. It is actually the ‘idea’ that people buy and that is where the art really exists.

Even the old masters would maybe paint face and hands and have students filling in everything else… but they had come up with the original ideas, the composition.

Love him or hate him, Damien Hirst comes up with the ideas, the marketing, the brand and he has other people do the work. But why should he do the work? Someone else can repeat what he tells them – the spacing of his dots, the colours that are used, any number of different things. People say: Oh, my 5-year-old could do that… Yeah, but your 5-year-old DIDN’T do it. And YOU didn’t do it. HE did it and HE was successful.

There is so much more to it than just producing a piece of art that’s impressive. There are so many people who are brilliant at painting dogs or children or whatever else. But it’s only the people who own the dog or own the child who want to buy their painting. Because there is no real story; the idea is not interesting enough; it’s just a piece of craft work.

JOHN: Painting is dead, isn’t it? You do reference photographs and you can do creative changes with Photoshop and you can sell prints of your work successfully – which you do. Why bother actually painting at all?

“…Prints are just not the same… They flatten everything out…”

VINCE: Prints of paintings are just not the same. They flatten everything out; there’s only a certain dynamic range you can do with a printer, so a lot of subtleties in the darks and the blacks and the shadows will just get turned to black by a printer. You won’t see all those different subtleties.

Oil paintings are painted in layers and, because light goes through all these different layers of paint and reflects back colours, it has a very different feel when you see an oil painting in real life compared to a print of that oil painting.

One of the big things about my art is it’s expensive. The people buying it like the art, but also they know that there is only one of these. When you buy a Lamborghini, ten people down the road could have the same car as you. You have spent £250,000 on a car and you don’t have the only one. Whereas, when you buy an original oil painting which has had many hours of thought and work go into it, it’s a completely different investment.

“…People really get quite emotional about my paintings…”

People are emotionally attached to it. People really get quite emotional about my paintings, which is the greatest thing ever for me; it’s the biggest rush; I get goosebumps when I think about it. When they tell me how much the painting I have created means to them… well, a print of the painting will never mean the same thing.

JOHN: So I can’t appreciate your paintings as prints?

VINCE: You can still appreciate them, of course, because the story is still there in each print, but you know the artist’s hand hasn’t been involved. There’s a different emotive, visceral thing that comes with an original that has been created by a human being. A print is a photograph of an original that has been reproduced. It’s not quite the same thing.

TV and film spoon-feeds you everything – the characters, the plot, the story, the whole thing.

“What happened leading up to the instant captured by that?”

But a painting is one instant and you decide what went before and after and what the back story is…

What happened after that moment?

What happened leading up to the instant captured by that paining?

And that is what people do. They write to me to tell me what they think is going on. Everyone sees something slightly different.

JOHN: Do you take commissions?

VINCE: No. I haven’t got time and I don’t want to paint someone just because they want to be painted. I’m very busy and I paint what I want to paint.

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Vincent Kamp – The representational Renaissance artist of UK underworlds

Painter Vincent Kamp is unusual in that he sometimes creates not just one painting but perhaps six or eight separate scenes from an single imagined narrative story.

His PR man told me that Vince is “fascinated by the dark, gritty, underground world of urban subculture. His paintings delve beneath the surface of social class, creating intense portraits of charismatic people in a fused background of atmospheric lighting, sexuality and impending violence.”

“Fuck me!” I thought.

So I went and had a chat with him.

Vincent Kamp: “For me, it’s all about stories… it’s all just about stories and journeys and character.”


JOHN: Someone must have said Hogarth when describing your paintings?

VINCE: I think Hogarth is much tighter than me. I think I’m much looser. If you see my paintings up close, there’s much more evidence of brushstrokes and paint.

JOHN: Hogarth did lowlifes and scum-of-the-earths. That’s what he did. That’s what you’re interested in.

VINCE:  A little bit. Yeah. Absolutely.

JOHN: But your background is ordinary middle class life?

VINCE: Pretty much. I worked at my parents’ company for a long time. My father is a designer of scientific instruments. And I’ve got my own family – two kids – So I painted in the evenings and at 4 o’clock in the morning. I was struggling away like that for many, many years.

JOHN: Any artistic influence from your parents?

VINCE: My parents are both from Holland. I have never lived in Holland, but there is a very strong connection to North Holland – that Flemish style. We were always taken to museums and art galleries. My parents have quite a few oil paintings. So I grew up with that. It has always been my sort of sensibilities: that sort of Renaissance style painting.

JOHN: So why the attraction to down-market East End of London type people?

VINCE: For me, it’s all about stories. Whether it is a glamorous story or whether it is just some scum-of-the-earth guy stealing and robbing… it’s all just about stories and journeys and character. That’s what I’m interested in more than anything.

“…a story with a whole cast of characters”

The first thing I do is write a back story with a whole cast of characters. Then I use a casting director to find the people I need. Actors. Then I find the location. So, essentially, it is like I am making a film and I paint a storyboard, essentially, for the narrative I have already written down.

JOHN: You use actors for faces? Not real Faces? Have you encountered genuine naughty men?

VINCE: Let’s just say I’ve brushed with that world a little bit.

JOHN: Very appropriate. Brushed. But why not use genuine dodgy men? 

VINCE: I am trying to create a narrative scene and, if you’re not an actor and I am trying to tell you the narrative, you may just look a bit wooden… If you could catch them in the middle of a deal or whatever else, then maybe that would be interesting, but actually a gangster being photographed when he’s not ‘gangstering’ is just going to be a guy sat there looking nervous because you are pointing a camera at him.

JOHN: You take photographs?

VINCE: Oh yeah. Yeah. I explain the background of the scene to the actors. I’m talking to them, directing them and snapping away with my camera.

JOHN: You paint from photographs?

VINCE: Yes. For me, if you ask a person to hold a pose for a painting, that is never reality. But, when you snatch that moment in time in a photograph and then paint from that – That is much more real than asking someone to pose for a certain amount of time while I paint for however many hours.

JOHN: And you may alter what is in the photograph to change the person’s emotional look.

VINCE: Of course. Yes. Absolutely. I take hundreds of photographs. I might borrow the hands from one; the face from another. I do charcoal studies and then think: You know, what I’m gonna do is tweak this guy to look a little more gnarly or more apprehensive or whatever. So I change subtle details here and there… and create my own lighting.

JOHN: Between the photograph and the painting, there might be Photoshopping?

VINCE: Loads of Photoshopping… Tons… 

JOHN: Why don’t you, in your head, do what the Photoshop will do? Wouldn’t that be quicker?

VINCE: Oh my God, no! Your reference is the most important part: getting that absolutely right. The painting, then, becomes more mechanical. Painting is very, very time-consuming. To hold an idea in your head for that length of time to get it exactly right is REALLY difficult. I have done it. But it is much better to use the tools that are available.

JOHN: With all this photographing of narrative stories, can a feature film be far off?

VINCE: I am directing a 15 minute short which we hope to start filming in mid-February. But it is at the early stages yet. It’s a screenplay I have written based on a show I did at the Ritz last month.

JOHN: That was a series of paintings…

“Being a director must have been in the back of your mind…”

VINCE: Yes. Called Diamond Roulette – six paintings… A heist thriller. The story is about a couple who are stealing from the high-end gamblers at the Ritz Club. People can lose £2 million or £3 million in a night – they have £10,000 chips there… In fact, they have £50,000 and £500,000 chips there… And these girls are often in the casinos and subtly take chips from the guys and someone spots this and sees an opportunity and that’s where the story starts.

JOHN: Being a director must have always been in the back of your mind.

VINCE: Of course I’m a massive film fan. I’ve always been fascinated about telling stories, always been writing stories.

JOHN: So, if you do shoot in mid-February, the short film will be ready for screening by…

VINCE: …by May at the latest, I hope.

JOHN: You are linked to a gallery near The Ritz.

VINCE: Yes. Clarendon Fine Art in Dover Street, Mayfair. They represent me. I’m exclusive. DeMontfort Fine Art, who own Clarendon, has 55 galleries around the country who sell my prints as well.

JOHN: You have made money out of art. You have supported a wife and two children – aged 12 and 9 – not cheap. Yet you have no art school training at all. How did you build a career?

VINCE: Well, you sell a load of work first of all. Then you start getting people talking about you. And, pretty soon, the art galleries come knocking.

JOHN: How did DeMontfort know you existed?

VINCE: On Instagram.

JOHN: Was there a turning point when you started being really successful?

VINCE: Well…

… CONCLUDED HERE

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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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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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Performance artist The Iceman – now as successful as Van Gogh in his lifetime

The Iceman has had several brushes with fame

The Iceman had several brushes with fame during his career

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)

The Iceman holds up Block 220 Polaroid

The Iceman holds aloft the Polaroid of the original Block 220

“…with a painting.” (He held up a painting.)

The Iceman holds up Block 220 painting

Iceman holds aloft the painting of the Polaroid of Block 220

“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.

Mr Methane in his artistic hat and bow tie

The Iceman talked in his hat and bow tie with attendant duck

“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.

Block 202

Block 202 with audience – as interpreted by The Iceman

“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?”

“Blue block.”

“Why did you call it Blue Block?” I asked.

The Iceman in his studio earlier this year

The Iceman in his studio on England’s South Coast this year

“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?”

Block 215

Block 215 “based on authentice Polaroid of live performance”

“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.

Block 282

Block 282 – “Battersice Arts Cicer 4 hour melt with Vladimice”

“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.

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How do street artists make money and who is this trendy DRB matchbox guy?

DRB (left) and Ben Oakley at the exhibition yesterday

DRB (obscured left) & Ben Oakley at the exhibition yesterday

Yesterday, I went to the Ben Oakley Gallery in Greenwich, to see the last day of artist DRB’s exhibition Firestarter – basically matchboxes custom-made by DRB.

But we are not talking normal matchboxes here, we are talking Art.

Some of DRB’s matchboxes are now in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s collection in London. The boxes are being displayed at a gallery in Hong Kong in about a week and DRB has a duck with hands for ears which is in Boston in the US at a liquid arts venue.

“When I trained as a printmaker,” DRB told me, “there were no computers – well, there WERE but they weren’t on my radar – and then, just as I graduated, computers basically made me redundant. All of my printmaking skills were irrelevant and I had to learn how to use computers.”

“And you do now?” I asked.

“Yeah. All of my creative career has been computers, so I’ve done websites, videos and all that. I had a creative career but, twenty years later, I’m doing printmaking again.”

“Though the world is different…” I prompted.

Ceci nest pas un Magritte - c'est un DRB

Ceci n’est pas un Magritte de Belge… C’est un DRB de Sarf Eest Londres.

“I trained to be a gallery artist,” DRB said. “I expected to be represented by a gallery and paid by a gallery. Whereas now a lot of my friends are street artists. They essentially represent themselves – on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook – and they don’t even show in galleries because their work is selling before it even hits a wall. Whereas I’m still a gallery artist. I do put things on the streets but, essentially, I think of whole shows whereas those guys will do just one piece and it sells before it hits the wall.”

“How does that street art thing work?” I asked.

“They have maybe 20,000 followers online,” explained DRB. “They have huge followings. They’re like rock stars compared to traditional painters. What they’re doing is they record every stage of the journey – their ideas, their sketches, their preliminary, everything – and people engage them on their social media.”

“So,” I asked, “I say I’m going to paint a giraffe on a wall next week and someone buys it before it hits the wall?”

DRB looks at a wall of his boxes

DRB looks at a wall of his boxes in Greenwich

“No,” explained DRB. “They call themselves street artists in the sense that they put something on the street first. So, if they make something, it has to go on the street first – that’s their own rule – and then they’ll make a print edition of it and sell it to people who liked it on the wall.”

“Do you do street art?” I asked.

“I put things on the street,” DRB replied, “but that’s just me being playful. I’m not really a street artist, I’m a gallery artist.

“I did study fine art, so I was a gallery artist for about four years, I had a residency in Norway for a year and there’s work of mine in Australia all up the west coast. I painted walls there when I was in my twenties in the 1990s and they’re still touching them up. Not graffiti. More like murals… They don’t know who I am.”

“So they maintain your artworks, but they don’t know you originated them?” I asked.

DRB’s publicity for the Ben Oakley exhibition

DRB’s publicity for the Ben Oakley exhibition

“There’s a town – Carnarvon in Western Australia,” said DRB, “where there’s a 20 foot wall with a mural. I was in the papers for that. I got run out of town by the police. I was about 20. I’ve had a creative career but, in terms of recognition it’s been this last year. I had my first solo show in Hoxton last summer and I’ve had about 20 shows since then.”

“Are DRB the initials of your real name?” I asked.

“No. It stands for Dirty Rotten Bleeder…It’s a play on words with the printing term ‘bleeding’ – printing that goes over the edge of another image or the edge of the displayed area. I call myself Dirty Rotten Bleeder like I could call myself a Messy Print Maker.”

DRB, the faceless artist at his Firerstarter yesterday

DRB at the last day of his Firerstarter yesterday

“Have you got a website?” I asked.

“I’m making one,” said DRB. “I find it hard to write. I have a blog, but what I tend to do is get really wrapped up in paradoxes and all of that and it doesn’t read in a way I would want someone to read it. “

“But you said you know how to design websites,” I said.

“Well” replied DRB, “there’s a difference between designing the look of something and populating it with content – actually putting words in there. And it’s harder to write words about yourself; I could probably write something about somebody else.”

“Tell me about it,” I said.

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Give me The Daily Mail not the cultural snobbery of The Guardian and The Independent

I was at the Tate Britain art gallery this afternoon, which is obviously replacing the Groucho Club as the in-place to meet media types. On the steps outside, a BBC News crew was interviewing someone. Inside, a film crew was shooting footage for some Channel 4 arts programme. And, when my friend and I were looking at a Damien Hirst painting of spots, we got asked our opinions on modern art in general and Damien Hirst in particular by a reporter for the Mail on Sunday.

He told me that, usually, he had to apologise for being a Mail reporter which doesn’t surprise me as the very name Daily Mail is like a blue rag to a left wing bull.

And why?

Perverse, pseudo-intellectual liberal airheads with superiority complexes, that’s why.

It’s not reverse snobbery.

It’s simple, straight, uncomplicated and very nasty snobbery.

In January this year, the Daily Mail’s average net daily circulation was 2,136,568.

The Guardian’s circulation in the same period was 279,308.

The Independent’s was 185,035.

The Mail on Sunday’s average circulation? – 1,958,083.

The Observer? – 314,164.

The Independent on Sunday? – 152,561

So why deride the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday?

Because ordinary people read them. People who did not go to Oxbridge and do not live in Islington. The sort of ordinary people the Oxbridge Islington wankers look down on. The sort of ordinary people the Oxbridge Islington wankers make increasingly crass TV shows for. They wouldn’t be caught dead watching the TV programmes they make because they think they are better than that.

And the ratings are falling for these entertainment shows.

Britain’s Got Talent and The X Factor are made by people who understand popular culture. Increasingly, though, TV entertainment shows are made by people who don’t; they are made by people with superiority complexes and a contempt for their audiences.

They are made by people who look down on Daily Mail readers as mental and cultural inferiors.

But who is out of step with reality? Who is out of step with what the majority of people in this country think?

From the circulation figures, people who write for and read the Guardian and the Independent.

(More on this topic HERE.)

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Filed under Art, Newspapers, Television