Chris Sutcliff

Artist Man I am
29th Aug 2009

Metamorphosis Of An Idea.

“The map is not the territory.”

Alfred Korzybski. 1879 – 1950.

Having a life-plan and setting personal goals is probably the most valuable piece of advice that I will ever give you but never actually follow myself. It’s good advice because it’s obviously good to have a plan to work to and to always know where you are regarding that plan and to stringently plot your way towards a fulfilled life. I personally find it impractical because I have never once observed ‘life’ give a shit about anyone’s plans for it and the most rewarding and memorable moments of MY life have been entirely un-planned. You could argue that it is unwise to take life lessons from a guy who’s broke and lives in his mate’s box-room, only I’d argue back that I haven’t felt this content and together for years. I have yet to see the strategically planned route to faultless contentment written down – If you have this then please share the wealth.

I’ve been working on a canvas for a few weeks now and it’s taking me through the usual twists and turns as it tries to decide what it wants to be when it grows up. Actually, that reminds me, at a wedding the other week a seven year old boy asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Brilliant. I told him I wanted to be an Astronaught! Then I watched a program where I found out how tricky it is to poo in a space suit and that prolonged weightlessness makes your bones lose density, so then I wanted to be an Artist again. Anyway, I’m staring at this canvas and wishing it would make its mind up when I realised that now would be a great time to fulfil one of my blog promises and take you behind the scenes of idea development. Try and contain your excitement…

Sometimes you do a painting where you already know the outcome, if not the approach, such as a portrait or a landscape. This has its dull moments. For most of my paintings I start with a general direction and then allow serendipity to pretty much do all the work. This is because I am too lazy to think and because random chance has better ideas than I do. The initial idea for this canvas came from the movie ‘Iron Man’. On a wall in Tony Stark’s Malibu beach house he has an abstract painting that is a bunch of tessellating rectangles painted a flat bluey-grey, like slates on a roof. I thought it was cool and would be simple to reproduce so I set about doing my own version of it. If you do something like this yourself, then a useful tip is to not keep looking at the original, work from memory alone, this is because you’ll remember it incorrectly and will therefore do your own take much more easily. Unless you are an Autistic Savant, in which case it will be an exact replica.

Because nothing is ever simple I decided to complicate my version on purpose. I learnt very quickly that there are more shades of bluey-grey than the world will ever have use for and the best ideas always come when you have passed the point that they should have been implemented. I’m a bit of a sucker for details so I started to include scraps of printed paper that I could paint over allowing random bits to show through to the surface. For this I used what I had to hand, some newspaper, the trusty old Bible pages and a colleague questionnaire that had been passed round work that same day. The questionnaire had a series of statements such as “I get a sense of accomplishment from the work that I do”, followed by a rating bar by which you declared if you:-

A) Strongly Agreed

B) Agreed

C) Disagreed or

D) Strongly Disagreed.

I often wonder if these odd mechanisms of enforced manager/colleague engagement are restricted to the arena of tedium that is office work or if all jobs have their version of them. I don’t suppose there is much call for such inanity if your job is to rescue beached whales or do heart transplants or test drive racing cars. I should count myself lucky though, what if you’re one of those poor people who have to single handedly manage the night shift at a 24 hour petrol station kiosk? Do they get a sense of accomplishment from the work that they do?

A) Agree

B) Disagree

C) I’m sorry, I’m so tired & lonely I can’t remember the question or

D) I’ve already killed myself.

What I particularly hate about these questionnaires is that they subversively restrict your answers and then force you to think about them as though you actually care. It doesn’t matter how many times you try to re-inspire the interest in a monotonous job that crushes the souls of all that contribute to it, you can’t turn a see-saw into a roller coaster. Let’s all at least be honest with each other and have a laugh with a bit more:-

E) I’m completely unaffected either way

F) Oh great, ten minutes away from my job reading this

G) I’m not here for accomplishment, I’m here to fund my college course / narcotic habit / gambling addiction / lack of social skills or

H) Whatever you want me to write so that you never bother me again.

Anyway, this painting. I’m seeing all this work stuff and bible stuff and I’m starting to make connections towards what this painting may be about. Many, if not all, Artists will disagree with me on this point, but I quite like paintings to be specifically about something and to have neat titles. This is because my route to painting was via illustration which nearly always alludes to a piece of writing and therefore often shares its title. I also want to put some text on it somewhere to tie it all in and so the text will probably become titular. So I come up with a corker – “My Job is not my Religion”. Alright, so it’s painfully obvious but it would have got people thinking and making comparisons and discussing various levels of personal importance and so on. Boom. Case closed. Next canvas.

It niggled at me though and I thought about its various meanings and messages until I exhausted them and I realised that the title would only be affective if you actually had a dull job. Like the questionnaire it was too restrictive. Also what if you were a Priest? So I re-titled it by being less specific – “My Job is not…”

Now it could be anything you want it to be. Like the questionnaire again but with the open dialogue the questionnaire SHOULD have had. Here are some things my job is not:-

…the only reason I get up in the morning.

…an interesting way of breaking the ice with strangers at parties.

…how I’d want my kids to remember me.

…anywhere on my list of priorities, it is merely the thing which allows certain parts of my list of priorities to be realised.

See! Look at all the fun you could have with THAT title! Not that it matters now, I had to scrap it again due to another very obvious point. The thing is I really want all my paintings to hang in people’s houses where they can be properly enjoyed. As clever as it may or may not have been, who on earth wants to have a painting that reminds you of your job? Surely the painting should be one of a million things in your home that help you forget about your toils and take you somewhere better instead. I wonder if Forest Rangers buy paintings of Offices?

As I write this the painting still has no title and no text, it no longer knows what it wants to say about itself. The colour scale has changed from bluey-grey to turquoise and is growing an ominous orange splodge which may or may not make it to the final cut. It has fragments of printed paper which may or may not have any meaning anymore and will probably be further obscured before this day is out, rendering them pointless. The only resemblance it now has to Tony Stark’s canvas is the layout, and as mine has more rectangles than his it doesn’t even resemble that. What I am left with is a fluxing beast with a will of its own that is becoming something that I could not have imagined, let alone planned for – And that’s exactly how I like it. It keeps me as interested doing the work as it hopefully keeps the viewer interested when seeing the end result.

To tie all this up I have to go back to my original point about goal setting. A very good friend of mine, who is an avid goal setter and who hopefully won’t take offence at this, made a point about goal setting that I’d like to challenge a teeny bit. He made the comparison between setting a goal to achieve an end result and having a map to a geographical destination. “You wouldn’t drive from London to Edinburgh without a map” he said. His point being that with a map you would hop on the right motorway and get to Edinburgh using the most direct route and in the shortest amount of time. My counter point is equally simple – Life is a journey and not a destination. Not having a map puts the adventure back into things. It also forces you to involve more people to help you with your journey and allows you to help theirs, like a team effort. Finally it puts you in a whole host of unexpected places and situations with which you can enrich your short time on this planet – a slow amble of discovery behind some cows on a dirt track in rural Devon is infinitely better than being stationary in a four mile tail-back south of Milton Keynes all in the name of pointing in the “right” direction.

by Chris
Posted in Words

One Response to
“Metamorphosis Of An Idea.”

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