Chris Sutcliff

Artist Man I am

Archive for June, 2009

26th Jun 2009


Is it still a beginning when it’s the thousandth time you’ve begun?

There is a half written business plan on my laptop, which is waiting very patiently to become an ACTUALLY written business plan and to do more than just sit on my laptop. It is a rare thing for me to wander into the realm of the professional and grown-up, but here I am with my toe in the water and the temperature is very agreeable indeed. In an earlier blog, before my blogs had a website to appear on, I wrote a statement of intent that I would document the various stages I went through as I try to make a living as an artist and not just the guy in the office who does the least work. Three of these stages have happened within the last few weeks so I thought I’d better be true to my word and record them here, to give you a break from my usual endless pontificating about life, the universe and everything. I figure there’ll be time enough to bore you all with that later.

One of the reasons I merrily skip back to an office job everyday is not just because of the fulfilling work and excellent pay (!) but because I have flexibility over the amount of hours I put in. To be fair to the company, they have really been very understanding towards my needs. I told them upfront what my plans were and, in between pointing at me, whispering and sniggering, they have let me do what I asked and reduced my working week by the equivalent of a day – thereby giving me an allotted amount of painting hours and a financial target to hit to make up the shortfall in my wage. So lesson number one in pursuing your own venture is to make sure you are properly supported and to work for a company that doesn’t sack you the minute you express any interest in a life outside of that company. There are precious few in my experience, unless you can put together an awesome hamburger.

The next stage was the actual launch of this site. I needed a route to market and a permanent exhibition space and this site has given me both. I still don’t fully understand it and I nearly break it every time I load up an image. When I visit friends I wait for them to leave the room and then hurriedly get the website up on their computer to make sure it’s still there, as though it may slip down the back of the great internet settee if I’m not careful with it. Then I annoy everyone by talking about it all the time. Thinking about it, maybe don’t get a website, they turn you into an idiot.

As I mentioned earlier, stage number three is to have a business plan. It will help you understand that you have been selling your paintings for chump change for years and that you should’ve been a trillionaire by now. This will make you cry for a while but just keep reminding yourself that you’re Mummy’s special soldier and you’ll be alright. If your business plan is particularly good, it will tell you that it should have been written BEFORE you had a website and reduced the hours off your only source of income. Smart arse.

The last canvas I completed (‘One day something amazing will happen’) represents for me the end of a particular way of working and the start of a new one. I have been very fortunate in that I have been commissioned to do paintings or illustrations more or less constantly since I left University but I have nearly always had the content dictated to me by the buyer. I have had colour schemes picked for me because they match the curtains. I have had shapes recommended because they match the furniture. I have also been asked to do things that were absolutely beyond me, particularly portraits. Many years ago a lady commissioned me to paint a group of her friends enjoying a meal from a small photograph – a photograph that had managed to capture a great deal of nostalgia but almost no discernable detail. I copied it as best I could and made the image a bit larger but some of the faces had been turned into featureless masses by the camera and, as I had never met these people, I had to invent what wasn’t there. The lady was disappointed with the result and I was disappointed with the twenty five quid payment – so we were even. I haven’t painted portraits since.

Having the site and the time and a plan now means it is time for me to be true to the sort of images I really want to produce and to pursue the themes I am interested in. So when I say this is a new way of working I do not mean that from now on I will be snorting paint into my nostrils and sneezing on canvasses (seriously though, how cool would that be!) but worrying less about how ‘acceptable’ my paintings are. People can decide for themselves if they get it or not and if it’s worth parting with their hard earned cash and burning the curtains to have it on their living room walls. All I need now are some ideas. I check the mail everyday to see if they’ve arrived. Until they turn up I’ve been staring at the canvas that I painted flat turquoise three days ago and I’m still not sure what comes next. Actually, it’s brilliant. Not the turquoise, I meant that the feeling of uncertain and boundless freedom is brilliant. It’s brilliant because I am starting again for the thousandth time and yet it still feels like the one and only beginning – and beginnings are the best of things to be a part of.

by Chris
Posted in Words | 2 Comments »
20th Jun 2009

One Day Something Amazing Will Happen.

One Day Something Amazing Will Happen

Acrylic, Newsprint, Spray Paint on canvas

24 x 36 inches


Done as a homage to Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jasper Johns. Referencing the work of your heroes always feels uncomfortably close to stealing from them. Although, if you become exceedingly good at it then you will have a lucrative career in forgery and will no longer care what they think.

by Chris
Posted in Paint | 3 Comments »
15th Jun 2009

Happy Birthday To Me!

I have been alive for 11688 days. Can I have a beard now please?

by Chris
Posted in Words | 3 Comments »
10th Jun 2009

You already know how this will end.

“While I thought that I was learning to live, I have been learning how to die.”

Leonardo Da Vinci.

In every division of your cells, in the comfort of your bed or down the barrel of a gun, in every room in every town, at the top of a mountain or the bottom of the sea, your death is waiting for you with a purpose and a patience that is beyond your comprehension. There is no escape – and in that one fact is either the greatest of freedoms or the cruellest of prisons. I remember very clearly when we first met. At roughly the age of eight, during a long, insomnia ridden night whilst on holiday with my family, I comprehended for the first time that death was forever – anti life – a black nothingness that would separate you from the world until the end of time. I felt what it was like to be immobile and lost in the unfathomable dark but still conscious and aware, more terrible in my imagination than the real thing could ever be. I woke my Dad with my crying and when he asked me what was wrong I blurted out that I was going to die. He asked me if I meant right now and I said no, but one day I would. He told me to stop being silly and to get back to sleep, he said ‘everybody dies’ and then he went back into his room. It was four o clock in the morning.

‘Everybody dies’. Kind of a strange way of dealing with a petrified child don’t you think? Confirming their fears as absolute truth and then merrily leaving them to think about the horror for a bit longer. ‘Yes Christopher, there IS a monster under your bed and it will probably rip you limb from limb before your screams wake the rest of us up, Goodnight!’ Perhaps death is the only subject that should not, or cannot be diluted for anyone. I read somewhere recently that, as man is the only animal that understands that one day he will die, that knowledge can move him to some of the greatest acts of heroism or human dignity as well as reduce him to the lowest acts of cowardice. I read this and I realised that I have not yet confronted death. I’m not really sure how to. I am worried that this will leave me susceptible to cowardice and this is not how I wish to be, certainly not how I wish to think of myself. Here’s an interesting question – if you knew the time, place and cause of your death, would you live your life differently to how you are living it now?

Death has been with me recently for two very different reasons. My Grandma had a stroke a couple of months ago and has since been doing a sort of hospital tour of the North West. Up until the stroke she was a very independent person so this whole experience has been frustrating and undignified for her – as it must be for the thousands across the UK who go through the same thing. My family and I went to see her last weekend at a nursing home where she was awaiting the final all clear to be allowed to go back to her own home and look after her self once more. Nursing homes trouble me; I know all the good they do but still I cannot shake the thought that they are a convenient place for us to put our dying relatives because our western culture keeps us all working so hard that we cannot take on the extra burden of looking after our own parents at home before they leave us forever; they are how we hide from the truth of death. The place was (of course) really nice and as you’d expect amongst the host of people just sat staring into space there were some real characters there. One lady who was particularly sprightly informed me she was 97 years old and kept doing a little dance for my bemused 4 year old niece. My Grandma appeared to be tolerating her with an annoyance that was too tired to manifest properly. Another old bloke was shuffling up and down and messing with his false teeth, extending them way out of his mouth and then retracting them back in again, it was all oddly childlike. My Grandma looked weary and bored and very resigned to what was going on. The next day, my Dad would accompany her and some sort of health representative to her house so that she could prove her independence by getting in and out of bed and using the bathroom. My Dad explained this to her and she looked at him in exactly the same way as a child looks at you when you are explaining how they have to behave at an adult’s party or something. She is 92, widowed twice (three times if you count her ‘friend’ of ten years, Fred), has got over a broken hip, bowel cancer and repeated angina attacks and now beyond anything else in the world absolutely cannot wait to die. She is a prime voluntary candidate for euthanasia. We are all rallying around her trying to prolong her life in the same way that you squeeze more and more toothpaste out of an empty tube and yet, to her, death is a sweet release that cannot come quickly enough, an elusive friend with an open invite to pop in for tea. Why are WE so afraid of HER death when it is the one thing she prays for? As of yesterday, she passed her ‘entrance exam’ and is back home at last. Providing she can stay there long enough to die peacefully and with dignity in her own bed then she will have won the fight. She is the only person who I have ever met that has taken the fear and the sadness from death and turned it into a blessing. I have absolutely no idea how I will feel when she goes. How do you mourn somebody who lived a full life and then got what they wanted? The answer is you don’t. When you grieve, you grieve for yourself.

Next week I will be 32 years old. I’m not panicking about that but here is an interesting thought – at some point in my thirties, I am likely to hit my halfway point. That’s if I’m lucky enough to live to a reasonably old age. I am always a bit surprised at myself as to how quickly my mind jumps to my own mortality. When I catch a cold I’m dying, I get a bit of a headache it’s the beginning of an aneurysm, and trapped wind is acute liver failure. I had a sharp stabbing pain in my kidney’s the other week and in mounting panic I ripped my shirt off to check the area and discovered that it was the corner of the washing instructions label in my shirt that had been poking me a bit. What I appear to be petrified of is that my death will be the opposite of my Grandma’s – a screaming, exploding violent death that leaves the bitter regret of unfinished work in its wake. I was at a party with my mate Mark the other day and the fact that the patronage was younger than us was enough to have him thinking of his own mortality and to launch us both into a long drunken conversation about our grand exit. So, it’s not just me, we’re all at it. I have shaved my hair down to the scalp for the last ten years but at the moment I am growing my hair for a bet, so whereas most people find their grey hairs one at a time I have suddenly been presented with a fair selection of them all at once. The weight of time is altering me. I also realised the other day that my face is changing again, the same as it did in my early twenties, early teens and early childhood. As morbid as all this sounds it has created a certain amount of deep appreciation within me for what has gone before and also a certain amount of urgency for what I feel I have left to do. So is this death? A slowly creeping change that has been with us since birth and stays with us always so that, when hopefully we are old and our work is done, we embrace it with all our heart and follow it wherever it leads? That doesn’t sound so bad. In fact, that sounds like a perfectly acceptable curtain call.

So, if you knew the time, place and cause of your death, would you live your life differently to how you are living it now? I wouldn’t. It isn’t death that makes my life acceptable. It’s the other way around.

by Chris
Posted in Words | 1 Comment »
4th Jun 2009

Voting for Rats.

Happy local council polling day everybody!

Sinister the puppets

as they creep across the land,

sinister the purpose

as they smile and shake your hand,

sinister the secrecy,

sinister the lies,

sinister the race

and sinister it’s prize,

sinister all they represent

despite their claims it’s You,

sinister their interest

in what the voters do.

Don’t believe the media

and don’t believe the spin,

sinister the use of words

designed to pull you in.

Sinister the funding,

the hotel and private beach,

what fate awaits the hospital

the money didn’t reach?

Sinister the power game

giving industry the itch,

they’re holding us to ransom

unless, of course, you’re rich.

Yes, sinister the puppets

standing in a row

and sinister the puppeteer

controlling the whole show.

I wrote that poem during the local elections back in 2003. I was saving it for the next General Election but a certain someone seems rather hesitant to have one of those right now so here it is today instead. Back in 2003 we were all a bit worried / flabbergasted about the direction New Labour was headed in and were equally perturbed that the weak left would fall to the hard right and the BNP was going to be ushered in as a result. This they did, much to the apparent embarrasment of the voters involved, who promptly voted them back out again the year after. Six years on and nothing much has changed, apart from the size of the Labour party. I’m no expert but I reckon you’ll have a tough time running a country if your Party has less than two people left in it. Interestingly, if you swap the word ‘sinister’ for the word ’embarrasing’, the poem reads exactly the same. So as you toddle down to the polling station today, remember above all else to smile and to try and have fun as you attempt to shape an England in which number 10 Downing Street suffers less evictions in a week than the Big Brother house manages to all Summer.

On a more serious note, today is the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, in which an estimated 2000+ people were killed by the Chinese authorities as they cleared the square of protesting students. Give thanks that we live in a democracy that allows us to take the piss out of it without fear of being run over by a tank. Not everybody has it this good.

by Chris
Posted in Words | 1 Comment »
3rd Jun 2009

Donde es Sancho la Grasa?

Donde es Sancho la Grasa

Acrylic, spray paint on canvas

20 x 39 inches


This was done for Rob as payment for making this site. Thank you for pointing out that this was a very cheap thing for me to have done to a friend. Sancho the Fat refers to Rob’s website name (and possibly also his secret alter ego) and I thought I was being dead clever writing it in Spanish. As I used Babel Fish for the translation, this is almost certainly not how any Spaniard would write this.

by Chris
Posted in Paint | 1 Comment »