before I begin

Life is too short to live behind lies

Friday, 17 December 2010

on being an astronaut..the beauty of visual

when  i paint..when i am really PAINTING, I am unaware of anything except the liquid movement of the coloured substance, the changing tensions between my head and my hand and infinite numbers of 'sparks' and stories and associations and relationships. Experiences which can only exist and make sense in the language of paint and the language of the visual. It is a 'parallel' world with its own rules. It cannot be trully interpreted and should not be. It is what makes visual art just that. An action without limits and with unlimited potential.

For this reason I become very sad when I see some art being made and exhibited as the product of 'research'. Art which is essentially an illustration used to clarify some ( usually language based) thesis. Often such output itself becomes the subject of 'critical writing'. It has no spirit, no direct relationship to the visual experience . Of course it has every right to exist, every right to be seen as a valid product of  human endevour but for me there is another issue. An issue which is sometimes avoided by critics , curators and even educationalists. This issue is often ignored and dismissed . Those who dare to air it are are belittled and patronised. Not because their views are unworthy but because it is more convenient.

So what is this 'big issue' whose name we dare not speak? At the risk of burning in hell fires of  the art
(under)world, I will say it.........
'BEAUTY'..........................there it is said!
I would not be surprised if some art institutions have on their list of desired criteria 'Must not be beautiful'.

Now I know we can discuss the definition of the word beauty and I know it  could be argued that the experience of 'conceptual' or research based art can be 'beautiful' . My concern however is for what we term VISUAL ART. I am concerned that we are losing  the inherent magic contained in the act of creating a physical...visual object through a human action which is driven by a desire beyond the 'intellectual'.

Our society is consumed by the  demands of  'documentation', 'evidence' and 'appraisal'. As one who works in education I know this dominates our students. It is perpetuated in art schools and the result is galleries filled with work which still looks like a unresolved piece of purely academic research. The people who make this work are told by someone that they are visual artists. They are not...they are visual researchers. It is an admirable and vital role they play. It is an essential contribution but it is not the product of an artist. No more than studying astronomy makes you an astronaut.

I will venture to say that  of all the thousands of arts graduates, there must only be a small few who are ( and always were) truly visual artists. I will also venture to say that ironically, the talent of such people is often overlooked precisely because they are VISUAL artists and  not the creators of documentary evidence  preferred by some curators.

There are many individuals and institutions who have lost the ability to read or be moved by the spirit of a visual medium and the acknowledgement of beauty is seen as a betrayal of contemporary 'coolness'.
Contemporary technology does not automatically make contemporary art.

Visual art is a magic and magical activity. It is spiritual. Our arts structures are designed to exist in the comfort zone of academic and politically correct agendas. We must begin to encourage ''feel' and 'experience' and sense. We must have a truly broad church...truly open minded...truly challenging. If we say we are 'cutting edge', forward thinking and risk taking then lets have the courage to embrace the visual....maybe even.. BEAUTY?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


in my studio recently I have become aware of the many and varied sounds which eminate from the streets below. There is a strange balance and harmony. Last weekend, a cold autumn sunday morning was layered like a cake with audible icing. The oozing sound of the wind and the planes lifting off from city airport punctuated by the barking dog i have heard so many sundays but  have yet to see....and at  ten exactly the bells join the chorus, the cables on the pylons swing to the beat.and I realise  the rhythm is gliding into this old room on the back of beams of october sunlight .
I am stapling large sheets of canvas to the wall and praying that i can soak them in these sounds.

Monday, 25 October 2010

doing sums

i see the tory government will announce today plans to encourage investment in small business. The idea is to create jobs by expanidn the private sector.
They are going to invest 200 million pounds in this. The encourage banks to lend to small businesses.
Now.. we have just had massive cuts to public spending  so I'm not sure where the 200 million pounds is coming from.

Also the banks have been bailed out with massive amounts of public money I presume the money they will be encouraged to lend to the private sector may be the money we paid to get them out of the hole they had dug for themselves ( by lending too much without thinking!)
So they will use our money to lend (and receive interest on repayments) to private companies who will employ people at poor rates of pay  ...or even move abroad if going gets tough..taking those jobs with them.

So to put it simply..the tax payers' money has been used to shift investment from public to private sector. The banks have been saved in order for them to return to their habit of lending. If the businesses they lend to are going to make money then we need people to buy their do this , people need to have have money they need to have jobs. We have been told there will be at least 500,000 unemployed as a result of the massive public sector cuts...

Would it not have been possible to;
a/  spend less on bailing out banks..surely if the tories believe in capitalism then public money should not have been used to prop up failing businesses
b/ invest more  in public sector

I will admit that iam not great at 'sums' and not that knowledgable in economics..but i am quite good at history and i have seen this 'shift of investment' by right wing governments before. The result will be greed.. corruption.. and private business pulling out as soon as going gets tough...taking YOUR money with them and leaving you unemployed again. the meantime the tories can guarantee votes ( and money) from these businesses.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

deepest cuts

so here we go..the feared government cuts We are told that the  country is in a mess and something needs to be done..I'm sure  there is truth in that but believe me the reasoning behind this ( so called ) coallition government's action is not simply based on concern for the welfare of its people.
These little spawn of thatcher have been waiting years to get the chance to shift power back to their mates in big business...the liberal democrats have finally shown themselves to be watered down tories hooked firmly to the leash of their bigger master. They couldnt resist the chance to experience  'power'...i hope and trust it will be the one and only time they ever taste it!
In the coming carefully and see how many fat cats will lose their jobs or take real pay cuts.
Add up their salaries and bonuses and calculate it against how much they could donate towards cutting the debt. A debt that ( contrary to tory lies) was not solely the responsibility of the previous government but a result of  the greed and arrogance of big banks.
Watch the next few years how many banks go out of business and how many bankers suffer hunger.!
Yes there is waste in all sectors...yes there is abuse of the system in all sectors...yes their are those who abuse the system in a sections of society but you will  find that when politicians talk about people on benefit abusing the system they will use terms like 'scrounging' and even ( as was reported recently) likened to 'muggers'. When the same politicians are forced to discuss the abuse of benefits by POLITICIANS they will talk about 'honest mistakes'!! Neither will they use such severe terms when referring to bankers greed.
Why?...because banks have power....people on unemployment benefits usually don't!

This not just about where and how to cut debt..this is about  showing who you really support most..and in the next 2 or 3 years we will see a new generation of the 'yuppies' we saw in the eighties...selfish,greed driven little 'loadsamoneys'

If we have to cut ..yes it has to be done but please don't insult our intelligence by conveniently forgetting the abuses of those who now have power.

PS....Forgive me Mrs Thatcher if I dont send you a get well card

Friday, 15 October 2010

get a life

as i sit here and watch live coverage of the miners in chile being brought to the surface one by one I, like so many others, feel  a great sense of hope and positivity . I dont know these people, I don't know much about Chile but I do know how important freedom is.....both literally and metaphorically. I also know how much effort governments make to prevent our freedom. ..and how little companies care about their workers.

We are reminded of the important
 This morning I watched anews item on TV discussing the fact that some shops had run out of luxury handbags!...Two different headlines which sum up the extreme dilema we have got ourselves into.
As I watch the actions of an essentially greedy society I just despair!

The media is an arm of this greedy society...indeed it is one of the drivers of it. When we criticise the media they cry 'freedom of speech'..but the truth is that the media companies are the dictators..supported by business and needing public popularity to survive. So the give us what they think we want, not what we need.

They try to create a belief  that the sale of luxury handbags or the fate of some talentless bimbo pop singer is important to our lives!...and you know what is so sad?..we get sucked in..we have become such a dumb and dumbed down society that we rarely challenge anything.

So many have lost the ability to prioritise values. Why?..because its an easy option..its easier not to challenge or fight..its not worth the 'hassle'...and goverments and media know this! So we get the lying, greedy , selfish   politicians we voted for! 

So what about those mners in Chile? We have been lifted by their courage and reminded of the value of living....but bellieve me the media will change our 'diet' of TV news quickly..back to the handbags and the bimbos....for too much truth and too much exposure to thinking about the important things is something those in power fear. It COULD make us challenge could make us less interested in handbags!
...we cant have that can we?
...and whilst the miners are free....society is kept buried in the darkness of media controlled igorance.

Friday, 1 October 2010

temporary contemporary

it seems to me that the term 'contemporary' art is increasingly used by so called 'curators' who really have no understanding of art history.
I must begin by confirming a personal interest ( gripe) here in that as a painter I am very aware that in many areas this medium is somehow seen as not being worthy of the term 'contemporary'. However , i believe that i understand why this may be the case.

It is a sad fact that some institutions of learning ( particularly in fine art) have lost the teaching staff who are;
a/ working artists themselves
b/ have high levels of technical skill

The result is that students do not have access to a full range of creative methods and techniques. The emphasis is shifted to concept rather than construction. Many of these students themselves fall into teaching and the cycle is continued.

Meanwhile ( as i have metioned in earlier posts) in order to secure funding from the arts council or similar bodies, public galleries need to justify an education programme. In some cases this is done by forming links with local universities. As a result, the gallery's programme of events becomes associated with the 'colour' of that particular university. If the learning institution is of the type described above, what we have is a recipe for a kind of monopoly on  what the public are told is 'contemporary art'.

This is of course not a new phenomenon. The links between galleries and art schools goes back a very
long way and it is in theory a very healthy relationship. However the evolution of our 'tick box' culture has created a generation of teachers and  curators who are concerned with the completion of the criteria on the assesment and funding forms. The filling in of all those little boxes without which there will be no money! We may have come to believe that without funding there will be no art!!  So there are fewer people in the arts who will lift their  heads, step back and simply ask 'Is this good art?..Is this worthy...Is it effective..and ( dare I say it?) .Is this  VISUALLY interesting???...Why? ..because they are essentially administrators and not educationalists or critics.

The result is often that the term 'contemporary art' is not neccessarily associated with that which is dealing with todays issues in today is associated with certain media and methods preferred by particular institutions. We sometimes end up seeing exhibitions of what I call 'novelty art' rather than 'new art'.

How do we address this? I am not really sure to be honest but what I do believe is that before recovery can take place, one must admit there is a problem. Wouldn't this be a truly creative and couragous challenge for us all!

Monday, 27 September 2010

silence and things

I went walking with my dogs yesterday. I often walk along a  route called the 'comber greenway' . This is an old disused railway track which has been made into a pathway. There are steep grass banks on either side and the only view to the distance is  forwards towards the winding track as it disappears like a ribbon into the distance.

Yesterday was a beautiful warm autumn morning. Absolutely still. Fallen leaves lay unmoved on the ground and the sunlight cut sharp long shadows across the ground.

Most dramatic of all however was the silence. It was so quiet that I became aware of the sound of my own breath and the flicking of my shoe laces with each step. I also became aware of how rare this experience is. How often is the loudest sound we hear our own breath? Not often enough!

This morning I hear on the news that the government is considering the possibility of paying people to lose weight and quit smoking in order to save the health service money in the long run.
I must say this saddens me. Not just because I am not convinced that it WOULD save money ( consider the cost of monitoring the system not to mention the abuse and deception it may be open to ) but because it seems so sad that here we are  considering giving money to people to adjust a lifestyle born of a greed driven society when across the world children die by the second from starvation.

I do sympathise with those who have lost control due to addiction but I'm not sure that simply paying them will change the fundamental issues in their lives which created the addiction to food or nicotine. I do also appreciate how much it is costing society to deal with wieght related health issues. I just wonder if the desire to save government funds is itself slighty selfish. If this country did save money by getting people to stop smoking and lose weight..where would that money go?..would it really go back into the health service..? I have my doubts. I dont trust most givernments.

I wonder would it be an idea to pay for overweight smokers to go to third world countries for a year and work with the people there. This would not only help their health ( certainly avoid fatty diets) at the same time  contribute to those who have little or no food. Most of all it may provide an eye opening experience which might help put our greedy society into context.

It may seem an unusual or extreme suggestion but  it may be a way of helping both groups of people.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Me and Mr Jones

I am so saddened to read the ongoing farce that is the Koran burning threat by pastor jones in the USA.
There is an almost perverse dilema in a society which encourages freedom of speech but at the same time wants to repect all faiths. In other words Mr Jones is exercising a right to disrespect!

How to we square such a circle? Surely if the basis of our belief is LOVE then anything which is not born from love or indeed encourages hate should be discouraged. Of course society could impose this by new laws. By simply arresting the offenders...but then the cry from people like Mr jones where is 'freedom of speech'.

To me its like saying everyone has a right to shoot a gun..but that doesn't mean you can point it at someone and kill them.

Having lived my life in northern ireland and experienced 30 years violence..I know some things for sure.
Provocation is  dangerous. An 'eye for an eye' makes everyone blind and violence in the name of any belief is simply wrong.

If Mr jones really follows the word of God then I hope he will carefully read both the Bible and the Koran before taking actions that are not simply born of his own human instincts for anger and revenge.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

crossing out and crossing over

today was a funny day. Funny in different ways. I went to my studio to do some work on a painting which I started last week. Despite having a plan...I sat down and started looking at another canvas I had been working on over a month ago. The inevitable happened...I put one little brush mark on it just to 'fix' something........... and three hours later I had totally re constructed it!!

The process reminded me of that great scene from 'father ted' when he decides to 'tap out' a little dent in his car. Go to this link and see what I mean!

Anyway, unlike father ted, I was  pleased with the result and yet again I was conviced of the value of re visiting paintings and also of the importance of painting being a 'historical' dovment of a personal drama. The sense of time and layers of existence is becoming more important in my work. The adding  and removal the construction and destruction are metaphors for balace neccessary in this life.

As I drove home, I was reminded of another reminder of  life and death and vulnerability. This time in the form of several people coming out of a shopping centre and crossing the road using what I call 'the 'greyhound on valium' technique

The 'greyhound....' syndrome occurs when an individual who is not very fit believes they are capable of running across the road in fromt of a car quickly enough to reach the other side safely. These people begin the long journey across the with great intent and a spring in their step. As they reach the white line in the middle of the road they realise the worst. They havn't got the lung capacity to sustain the trot all the way across.

Now most of us would stop and wait for a gap in traffic. Sadly these proud souls cannot admit defeat. They limp, stumble or otherwise stagger their way to the other side pretending that they meant to go at this slower pace all along. The result is that as a driver , you are completely confused and have to slow down suddenly.

These creatures can be particularly clever, faking a limp or sudden malfunction of part of their shoe in order  to cover their emabarassment ( or stupidity). Some  of them even swing their arms in a comic fashion trying to indicate they are slowing down just for a laugh! Unfortunately as they grasp their chest and reach for another cigarette...the truth is undeniable!

For these people, I have  wonderful and valuable news. There is an exercise that can remove 'greyhound on valium' invloves the use of one finger, a button and a little green man!

Friday, 3 September 2010

does a cut in your arts really sting?

this morning we read of the inevitable and quite severe cuts being made in the arts sector for northern ireland.
Firstly, anyone who knows me, knows how much I detest greedy fat cats particularly those who got the country into this mess by living  and borrowing as if there were no consequences.

As always those hurt most are the people who may lose their jobs at the 'front end' ( one way or another top dogs will stay safe).

For  arts institutions and organisations it is also a blow.  As somone who has benefited from arts awards in the past, I know how vaulable they can be to help fund transport and travel in order to have work exhibited abroad.  However at this point I think we must try look for positives in this situation.

If you read my previous posts, you will gather that I have doubts about the wisdom of the amount of funding which is directed to projects in order to satisfy certain 'politcal' agendas. ( community, social and local politcal projects). The result has been to turn some artists and arts groups into little more than creative social workers. Of course some artists have had this function at other times in history but generally, great artists have worked beyond this realm.

We see entire exhibitions driven not by ART but by some sociological study which fits in with current popular local concern or event. I feel that because funding has to be accounted for and politically justified, it cannot always be risked on simply helping someone to make ART. Of course this is understandable. The piper has the right to call the tune but have we been lulled into believing there is only one tune? The term 'artist' may be devalued  by people calling themselves artists but whose prime function is not acutally making art.

So where are the positives? If those of us in the arts world are as creative as we say, then this may be a great opportunity to prove it. When resources become limited we tend to have to go back to raw materials. As I stated earlier, those who will be hurt most by cuts may be those your arts graduates needing a first 'leg up'.
However harsh  it may seem, the truth is that real artists will continue to make art under all conditions because making art is an activity born out of a deep rooted need. For these people funding is appreciated but the lack of it will not stop them making and creating. There is however a 'grey' layer of arts activities which could be removed. That layer contains those who are driven by funding rather than using funding to drive their art. For these individuals and organisations a lack of funding will be an acid test. Here the question. If your work is rarely exhibited, If you are not promoted or if you are not in the public domain will you still make art?  Will you continue to exhibit a certain type of art in your gallery if it is not funded? These are  the tests.

For all of us there is an opportunity to re focus on what is important.... saying those things we need to say, making the music and the paintings we need to ( not have to). Of course we will try to find ways to have it seen and heard. Perhaps it will inject a new energy. Perhaps more groups will form round common  genuinely  creative ideas and philosophies.

I detest cuts made by governments..especially those who are happy fund wars!  However I also appreciate that there are   people in this world who need funding more than I need a new tube of paint!

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Blair witch

well Tony Blair's autobiography is the best selling ever ( or something like that). I'm sure its a good read and obviously is full of juicy revelations.
What strikes me most is not the content of the book but the story written on the man's face. A face which was so frsh and full of hope not that many years ago.Now its a ravaged empty and almost epressionless facade. carved with the inscriptions of comprimises,  wheels and deals,  deceptions and final surrender to the bully that is politics.

This post is not about Blair ( a man I respected in the nineties ), it is about the sadness of what seems to be inevitable. Good people or at least people with good intentions being sucked dry and spat out by global evil that is organised politics. In my opinion there have been ( and are) some good leaders but rarely good politicians..and there IS a difference.

Tonight I was in work. I was timetabled to finish at 7pm and at 6.59pm  a senior manager arrived. A nice suit and proudly wearing their ID badge ( something which I believe people do in order to show WHAT they are rather than who they are). They strutted round not knowing anyone's name and at 7pm walked out.
This visit had no real was show of strength..a marker...a 'look at me' moment.

However in that moment I observed the same dry, hollow facade that I saw on the cover of Mr Blair's book.
Sad that so many chase the ghost of power, popularity and position like some innocent wildebeast being chased down by a leopard until it finally gives up and is devoured and left an empty shell.

Even more sad is that these 'corpses' still walk and talk and even worse....devour others!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Thumbs up

those who know me on facebook know that i have an  unhealthy obsession with mascots. That is those creatures we see at football games, promotional events and busking in the street. I believe in them ..their characters. For me they really ARE a bear or a dinosaur or a rabbit. Its a form of escapism I suppose.

Anyway I set  out to get photographed with as many of these lovely characters as possible..with my  ( now trademark) thumbs up. It , for me is like entering their surreal and fun filled world.

Yes it sounds weird perhaps
Yes it may sound stupid......but then I think the world is weird and stupid and unless we remove ourselves from its nonesense every now and then.we will be trapped in boredom and fear. These two things that society imposes on us in order to
a/ sell us things we don't need in order to make us feel less bored ( thus creating financial slavery)
b/ keep us from speaking up or challenging the norm

..anyway here are some of my encounters... you know it makes sense!!!!

Tuesday, 31 August 2010


Today was one of those golden autumn days that remind  me of old van morrison tracks. Despite having to go to work, I was able to walk my dogs twice in the autumn sunshine. Is one of my favourite times of the year. That period when summer is ending but there is still a beautiful low light cutting shadows along the ground.

There is slight sadness in the trees as they hush with the wind. I like walking at this time of the year. It seems to inspire ideas about colour and movement. Things are changing and there is a feeling that one must be doing something before the darkness arrives.

The strong shadows on the ground are like some kind of dramatic movie projection on a green screen. There are many images to trigger ideas for new paintings. I am thinking of making some really small drawings reponding very instictively and quickly to my surroundings possibly made within a few seconds and then translating them into large paintings after they 'simmer' for a while.

At times like these I feel  very fortunate to sense the world as I do. This must surely be what making art is ultimately about.....making the golden....simply

Monday, 30 August 2010

your arsenal

tonight I am going to a meeting of the first belfast Arsenal supporters club...yes indeed. I am sure there are many different reactions to this statement but why I mention it is that for me, this club represents so much that our society should aspire to. I can almost now hear some of your reactions to this statement.

Its quite simple ( which is exactly as it should be). The Arsenal suppporters club is composed of members from all walks of life, male, female,  black and white. We meet regularly but we don't always know the background of the person we socialise with. Nevertheless we will often find ourselves in the ecstatic embrace of a stranger when the ball hits the back of the net! No one is judged, no one is criticised and no one is laughed at.

Everyone at the club has different reasons for their love of the Arsenal. For some it is the revival of childhood wonder and excitment. For some it is the fun of being part of something passionate.
For all it is the laying aside of our 'other life' for ninety minutes.

I listen to so much snobbish nonsense spoken by people who view soccer supporters as some kind of non thinking thug. The truth is that these snobs need to find targets to belittle in order to make them feel more secure in their own ( often artificial) existences. I use the term 'existence' because sadly there are many who don't experience a 'life'.  As we in the club leap into each others arms as the winner goes in on the 93rd minute, we are alive and we are happy. We are all the things that so called intellectuals try to explain and experience all their lives.

So now its time to go.  My red and white shirt awaits!

Think know it makes sense

Why I like dogs

Picasso said   '.... it took me a lifetime to paint like a child'. The more I paint, the more I appreciate this statement. I also appreciate the value of time and the nonsense of wasting it. There is of course a dilema.
Can we deny the knowledge and technical skill we have developed in order to 'paint like a child'? Do we attempt to 'un learn' everything?
 The ulimate aim is to paint with total honesty.  That is to make every mark as truthful and pure as possible. For me, that is what children do. They apply the skill they have with honesty. The reason for this is that children to not project ahead to whether the work will be seen by others or whether it will be liked by others. Likewise dogs live for the moment.. They focus on the present experience.

Sadly it is tempting  for 'adult' artists to be driven by the 'outcome' the 'project' the 'review' and consequently they work as if they are aready in the future instead of the present...the result is that they have already lost a valuable slice of their time........... This is why I like dogs.

Sunday, 29 August 2010


Before I begin my first blog I need to say that I believe we are all capable of double standards, hypocricy , jealousy and general nonsense. I know I will probably include these traits in my own thoughts. For this I apologise in advance but hope all who read these thoughts appreciate that my intention is to say what I feel as truthfully as I can ( given that i am only human!)

today i saw a car sticker which read 'the more people i meet..the more i love my dog'! I just can relate to this so much. As time goes by I am increasingly disillusioned by people. Don't get me wrong...i like people..or should i say I TRY to like everyone. I just get disappointed at how we all seem to succum to the entanglements which we think are 'cool' or sophisticated.  This disappointment may be the reason why I have not had a human person in any of my paintings for some time! I have however featured several dogs and birds!

Amongst those of us who call ourselves 'artists' there are many who love the name 'artist' but who are in fact something else. I am now 52 ..not planning to shuffle off this mortal coil quite yet but I have been around long enough to have seen and done a few things in 'the art world'. What I have learned is that time is precious and making my art has to be about ME. it is the one thing which allows me to talk to the world.

AS artists we want to show our work to everyone..everywhere! If truth be told many of us would really like to be 'famous' and therefore have a bigger audience. However the only thing you will leave behind will be your work and if that work is not trully YOUR self expression then its like leaving behind some battered old car. I am really frustrated at the moment at the number of 'artists' who comprimise themselves and their work in order to raise their profile. Those individuals and 'artists co operatives' who make things to fit the popular politically correct projects which attract funding.

I know how difficult it is to exist as an artist. To find space to work and money to buy materials. I understand why people form collectives. The truth is that arts funding bodies will support collectives on the basis that they provide a facility and encourage art in a certain  community . Thats the theory but often in reality there are strings attached to this support. The 'artists' concerned need to agree to provide workshops, events etc for the community and as a result much of their time and energy is directed to this rather than being true to their own  art. I have been a member of a collective and felt the frustration of this. ..Its why i now work alone.

There is no point getting financial and other support if  you feel enslaved. Above all dont believe you are a great artist just because you exhibit often and are given lots of commisions! What you become is a community worker. A very valuable and worthy role of course but if thats what you become..dont call yourself an 'artist'. The truth is that graduating from art school, making things and having ideas (even good  ideas) does not make you an artist  .....

.....................  just a thought !!!


welcome to my  thoughts. Be prepared for a journey of twists and turns. Hopefully following a map of truth!