Chris Sutcliff

Artist Man I am


28th Jul 2009

Pope Becomes Art Critic.

On a list of people that you wouldn’t want to annoy I reckon The Pope ranks pretty highly. Glaswegian artist Anthony Schrag and the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow have managed to do just that today with their ‘Made in God’s Image’ exhibition. Actually, with just one piece in the exhibition which was a copy of the Holy Bible and a set of pens, inviting the attendees to write whatever they wanted over the text. The attendees did exactly what they were told. They wrote whatever they wanted. I’ll come back to the staggering hilarity of all this in a minute.

I have used bible pages in my art work for over 15 years now (including the canvas I am working on at this very moment), and when I say ‘used’ I mean I ripped the hell out of it (pardon the pun) and threw paint all over it and occasionally burned it. Not one of these actions was a comment on Religion, because I’m not religious and because I respect the right of everyone to have their own beliefs. Nor am I a hater of books. I disembowel this holy tome only because it has interesting pages. The layout of a bible is very pleasing to the eye, two main columns with varying font sizes, an abundance of upper and lower cases, numbers everywhere and italicised footnotes – INTERESTING. Give it a Jackson Pollock overcoat and you absolutely can’t fail. That said, both myself and Mr. Schrag are VERY aware of how other people will comprehend our provocations. So, the free added-reaction in all this comes when you tell the AUDIENCE that the pages are from a Bible. Light the taper and stand well back. Judging by the open mouths of far less holy sorts, let’s just say that if Pope Benedict XVI ever accidentally strays onto my website he’s gonna throw a hissy fit that makes Sodom and Gomorrah look like a slap on the wrist and I’ll be on the metaphysical naughty step for eternity. But let’s get back to the story…..

Anthony Schrag, in typical artist depth of vision, wanted gays and transsexuals who felt left out of religion to ‘write their way back in’ to the holy text. Metropolitan Community Church minister Jane Clarke said ‘I had hoped people would show respect for the bible. I am saddened some have chosen to write offensive messages’. And finally, and please O Lord don’t let us miss the punch-line in this one, the “adviser” to the Pope said ‘It is disgusting and offensive. They would not think of doing this to the Koran’. Clearly the Vatican Press Official was on holiday.

At times like this I truly wish I’d been a stand up comedian. Honestly, where do you start? Is this an attack on religion? On freedom of speech? On art? Is this the church ushering in censorship? Are all Glaswegians Devil-worshippers? Or is this the purest form of literary criticism ever seen, written by the masses – for the masses?

Well, because I really don’t like arguments I’ll leave it to you to decide and to make up all the jokes you like. I will say this though, even by dipping my toe slightly in the Christian / Catholic font water – it’s just a book. The book is the vehicle for the message, not the message itself. Or, to put it into a truly modern context, if I rip up the instruction manual to your DVD player, does the machine still work? Here’s a little quote from a little known character in said-book called Jesus of Nazareth: – ‘Cleave a piece of wood, I am there; lift up the stone and you will find me there’. Apologies for being a heathen but isn’t this a guy talking about the holy glory being all pervasive, not just in the actual pages of his autobiography? Why would God give us all free will and then create  the Church to tell us what we can and can’t do with it? I thought the Church was the route to God, not It’s Police force. And can I also just say that comparing all of this to a lack of artistic Koran modification is a little bit like saying ‘My book is better than your book’, or even worse – ‘My hysterical reaction is far less hysterical than your hysterical reaction WOULD have been’. Which reminds me of being five years old at school when the other kids would say that their Dad would beat up your Dad because you’d won at marbles. I honestly hoped that a Religious spokesperson whose comments have a global reach would be more grown up than that, I guess I was setting my expectations a bit too high.

Back on a personal level, and also because I am a one for all and all for one sort of guy, if I ever find out that the pages of the Koran are as interestingly laid out as the Bible’s then I’ll rip the hell out of that too and paint it pretty colours. And ‘Guns & Ammo’ and ‘Gardeners Weekly’ and ‘Bored Housewives’. If the ritualistic followers of those titles want to come round to my house to complain then I’m possibly gonna have the most amazing party of my entire life. In the meantime, let’s not all lose our minds, faith or manners just because someone did the artistic equivalent of sellotaping a “Kick Me” sign to the back of God’s tunic. Amen.

by Chris
Posted in Words | 6 Comments »
16th Jul 2009

New Batteries For An Old Remote.

I ran excitedly out of the house and into the street clutching the remote control in my hand. The new batteries had cost me nearly six pounds but I had bought them anyway, the cost was a tiny sacrifice what with all the changes I was about to make. I needed to test the remote before I put my plan into action so I aimed it straight at the sky and pressed STAND BY / ON. Nothing happened but I realised that, as there were already some clouds and it was raining, then the sky must already be ON. So I pressed REWIND because yesterday it had been sunny and that had been much better. Nothing happened. It was still today and it was still raining. Something had gone wrong.

Just then Professor Hirschhorn, who is the wisest of all the alley cats, came padding through a gap in a fence and straight up to me, purring and twining his ginger tail around my ankles. He hopped up onto a nearby wall so as to be nearer to my face, twitched his whiskers in that wise way of his and fixed me with his great green cat eyes. Then he said to me:

“You cannot control your world with mere devices. You cannot rewind your life to happier days, fast forward through all the tedious times, pause when things appear to be at their best or stop when you need a break from it all. You cannot change your channel, nor record the things that you are due to miss so that you can live through them at a time that suits you better. This is your life and this is how it is lived – one moment at a time. More importantly this is your ONLY life and to treat it as casually as you do your television is a travesty. If you truly want to control your world, to control it for the right reasons, for the benefit of everyone, I’ll tell you how. Cats know the ancient secret wisdoms, but they are secret for a REASON, you must never repeat what I am about to say. All you need to do is………”

Professor Hirschhorn had to stop there because I had taken the butt of the remote control and used it to smash his ginger head in. You see, nobody likes a smart arse giving you advice when you don’t want it and also I had found the experience of being addressed in perfect English by a cat absolutely terrifying. When a cat talks to you it is because you are mentally maladjusted and should not be allowed to be on the streets near other people, armed with a remote control and it’s expensive new batteries.

by Chris
Posted in Words | 6 Comments »
11th Jul 2009

My Sketchbooks.

I thought that I understood the world. Then Iggy Pop made a car insurance commercial and I realised that some things in life are worth understanding and some things are just sold to you by those intangible twits who put a price tag on everything. Screw those guys, I hope they marry Traffic Wardens and suffer an endless and bewildering social exile.

One of the ways in which I have managed to make sense of my own world is through working on my sketch books. I wanted to share some of my sketch book work with you so I had Rob (friendly neighbourhood woolly haired Scouser tech-boy) put a ‘Sketch’ section on the site and I have begun the long process of populating it with my favourite pages. This is a ‘long process’ and not a single job because I am reliant on a string of independent circumstances twining harmoniously together in order for me to deliver the goods. You see, the pages cannot be effectively scanned as this would mean flattening the book, an act that would simultaneously break its spine and break my heart. It is very old and well thumbed and mostly held together with sellotape and willpower, a single act of ruffianism will reduce it to confetti. So I have to sacrifice some picture quality and photograph them instead and for this I have to borrow my Dad’s camera. Since my Dad’s retirement he now goes on holiday every eight minutes or so, taking said camera with him. He turns visibly pale when I ask to use it. The four pictures I have managed to put on the site at the time of this writing were taken on the pavement on my front street in the sun and came out quite nicely (perspective skewed pages and crap photographic ability aside). The next twenty I took indoors with a variety of precariously balanced lamps and they came out dull and lifeless and were discarded immediately. I got an even tan though and nearly set the room on fire. So I need the sun for the right light and there is my next problem – Burnley gets sunny for about 6 minutes once every 47 years; so I will be 79 before I can photograph another four pages – Provided my Dad isn’t in Kuala Lumpur with the bloody camera. Finally, our internet is broken at Matt’s house where I live, so even if I had more pictures I would have to find an ingenious way of getting them onto the site. Like tying them to the leg of a carrier pigeon and stuffing it beak first into the disk drive, hoping for the best. We tried to get Sky to fix the internet only to discover that they now employ brick walls in their call-centres instead of people. We talked to the wall for a while and then realised it would just be quicker to grow old and die and not need the internet anymore. Honestly, how hard does this have to be?

It took me precisely two years to fill my first sketch book. I initially bought it as a means to combat boredom while the footie was on at my mate’s house. I’d go and visit, armed with a fancy pen (£3 WHSmiths), and start drawing and see what happened. What happened was an unexpected and extremely weird awakening of self analysis through scribbles. This book is about 5 inches square with 126 pages and if you read it you would stick me in a padded cell. I laid my soul bare in that tiny volume using just words and pictures and accidentally sorted my life out in the process. It is ten years since I completed it and even now some of the pages are rather painful for me to re-visit so I rarely pick it up. I named it “Pandora’s Box” for precisely that reason. Not one page of it will ever appear on this site.

With my psychoanalysis behind me I decided that my next book was going to be more of a showcase for my artistic talents, nice illustrations with no personal content at all. A plan which fell to shit in about 5 pages. I had totally forgotten that art is about paying homage to all that you love by recreating through yourself. How do you do that without being IN it? I have yet to find the artistic talent I was supposed to be showcasing. Although this book is slightly bigger than the first it has exactly the same amount of pages. The magic two years came and went and I had not finished it. Three years became six years and more and it was not done. Now here we are, ten years down the line and there are still 21 whole pages left to fill. A long time ago I wrote the words “Finish me you Chicken Shit” on strips of masking tape and stuck them to the cover to inspire a bit of urgency for completion. Those words are still there and are now its permanent cover and title, a constant mocking dare that I cannot ignore. It’s actually a good thing I haven’t finished though and I’ll tell you why – I only work on it when I have no canvasses to work on. So the last ten years have seen more canvas commissions than the preceding two – commissions that have mostly come from the book itself. It has been a powerful portfolio for me in a way that this website has yet to prove itself.

There are only selected images appearing on this site but I sincerely hope you like them. It will not be the same for me though, I like watching the expressions on peoples faces when they read it, the way they rub their fingers on it to feel all the textures. The internet has joined us and separated us all at the same time. But I can’t fit you all in my house so this will have to do. The most complex image probably took me about 8 hours and the shortest one I whipped out in about ten minutes. Depending on how you look at them they are either fraught with meaning or completely devoid of it, self referential or a reaction to the world, a royal waste of my time or the greatest single achievement I have yet produced. They are the only two things I have ever owned that I would make any sacrifice for, including running into a burning house to retrieve them. They are irreplaceable and, perhaps more importantly, they have no cash value whatsoever. And this is exactly why they have helped me to make sense of the world.

Iggy Pop selling car insurance. I guess you can’t put a price on irony.

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

Homeless guy.

It is hard to be generous during a recession, but the needy remain the neediest and even if you only have a little at least you have the opportunity to share.

I’ve been walking to work every day this year and on my way through town I walk past a ‘patch’ that always has one of two homeless guys in it. Same as they all do across the length and breadth of our great country these young lads sit cross legged and hunched over; framed between two shop fronts, with a cap on the floor in front of them and a thoroughly dejected look on their faces. Charity – without the middle men. It’s financially been a tough year for me and I’ve found myself giving these guys a steadily wider berth every time I have to walk past them. I walk on the other side of the street. I avoid their gaze. I pretend to be on my phone. Once I even imagined what I would say to them if I really just let rip about how angry it sometimes makes me to be guilt-tripped into giving them money, money that I’ve worked all day and painted all night for, barely to make enough to cover the bills. Because I entertain the idea that at some point they actually chose to quit life, stop working and let the rest of us take care of them out of pity. And as that imagined scene grew steadily uglier in my head and I felt how annoyed I’d become, I realised that something deeply uncomfortable had happened.

It wasn’t always like this for me. My Mum has a photograph of me from years ago on a sunny afternoon in Covent Garden, London. I have my arms around a tramp who is dressed exactly the same as every tramp Disney have ever portrayed on film. I had been talking to him for ages and we were laughing and dancing to the music that came from a nearby pub; then he thoughtfully shared his very warm, very open for a long time can of Special Brew with me. I remember swigging it just as I noticed he had about three teeth left in his head; they were the colour and texture of mahogany wood. I must have ingested a cocktail of germs that day that would have made Louis Pasteur erect. That’s about twenty Man-Points. I had such a good time that for years afterwards I gave all the money I could spare to every homeless person I met and would bother them incessantly with late night drunken conversations at every opportunity. It did nothing whatsoever for the problem of homelessness but I met some nice people and felt pretty good about myself. Incidentally, the war memorial outside Victoria Station in London is a daily meeting spot for many old homeless guys who are all ex-servicemen. When they get drunk and their stories come out they are well funny and worth an idle afternoon when you’ve missed your train.

In 2007 I met Tony. Tony was the homeless guy who’s ‘patch’ was the 24 hour kwik-e-mart that I lived above in Portsmouth. He was in his late forties, with wispy hair that may have been ginger when clean. Always boisterously drunk on cider no matter what time of day you encountered him. I had to re-introduce myself every time we spoke; he would know my face but be unable to recall how. He had my spare change, ate my spare pizza and had my painkillers when he fell and hurt his hand. He told me about his lost family about five times. All memory of this he erased in a drunken haze. Winter that year was particularly harsh and one night near Christmas my mate Tom James and I found Tony at three in the morning in a doorway across the road turning blue. He was drunk, disorientated, shivering violently and crying and scared. His trousers were thin and ripped and he was trying to wrap himself in filthy newspapers as he had no jacket. It was unbelievably cold. I ran home and got a pair of decently lined tracksuit bottoms and a quilt. Tom and I had to get him dressed and wrap him in the quilt otherwise I’m pretty sure he would not have lived to see the daybreak. Such is the thin line between good and bad fortune for lost souls like Tony. By morning he’d gone, leaving a quilt I didn’t want anymore in a doorway that had nearly been a grave. Last time I saw him he had a room at some sort of care centre and they had located his daughter so he was walking the three miles to visit her. It was about four in the afternoon. He looked pretty tipsy.

My work colleagues in Pompey spend two days each Christmas doing voluntary work in London at a homeless shelter and one year I went with them. We were part of a team of about fifty volunteers for the homeless charity ‘Crisis’. If you ever want reality to slap you good and hard around the face I highly recommend you do this one year. We fed people and clothed people and talked to people and then watched helplessly while most of those same people went immediately outside the shelter to buy crack off the dealer – The dealer that lived in the flat opposite and sold directly to all the broken people of no fixed abode. You can imagine the sort of chap HE was. Most of the people at the centre were forty years or older. Some were Poles who had immigrated here for a job that had failed to materialise. Some were just pensioners who did have a house but had no visitors for the holidays and couldn’t afford to heat their homes or buy food – so they came here. I couldn’t believe I was in the same country. On the last night someone brought a guitar and we all sang Christmas carols together, I felt like I was back at school but in a good way. As we warbled out ‘Silent Night’ one of the old boys started sobbing – he had contracted AIDS from sharing a needle and the doctors had said this would be his last Christmas. I haven’t thought about him since that year and now I am writing this and he is long since dead.

I’m telling you all this because I want you to understand what a change it was for me to feel angry with the guys on my way to work and deliberately and inventively go out of my way not to give them a penny. What had gone wrong there then? I was so worried about my own finances that I’d shut off from the less fortunate and was now angering myself at having the impulse to share any of my money for no benefit of my own. I had forgotten that people go through hell when they truly lose everything and that maybe I’m in no position to judge how they react. I know for a fact I’m not the only one who walks past these people in the street and in life and if that is our choice then fine. But we’re good people though right? We still want to do the right thing. Are we being tight and selfish or do we just not want to give money to people who will then spend it on drink or drugs and be worse off for our kindness? Perhaps if we get a better understanding of their plight, on a personal level, we’ll be more inclined to help, right? Right. I thought so too. We just need to re-connect. So on Saturday I went into town with five quid, a cold can of Fosters, a note book and a pen to interview the homeless guys.

I found them both together, sitting in the merciless sun watching their collection cap and keeping their dog occupied. I sat with them and introduced my self and asked if it was OK if I chatted to them a while. They asked if I was from ‘Tower’; I said I didn’t know what that was, at which they relaxed and agreed to speak to me. I explained what I was trying to achieve and why I had decided to do it and where the resulting story would appear – they were fine with all of it and I have to say immediately very friendly. The beer bribe had worked a treat. The guy I really spoke with the most is called Paul, his dog is called Zeb and his mate is called Ryan. The following is a write up of our conversation rather than a written interview as I tried to keep it as chatty and non-intrusive as possible and because I can’t hold a linear conversation to save my life. Also whenever I go back to old notes and try and read them they are always baffling or illegible, as if I picked up someone else’s by mistake.

Paul is 32 years old and a Burnley boy, he has been officially homeless for the last ten years. He has the swollen hands of a man that has known cold. His downward spiral began one January when he walked into the family house to find his Dad lying in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor. His Mum and Dad were both heavy drinkers and his Dad had suffered a massive and fatal brain haemorrhage. This had enough of an effect to boot Paul clean off the tracks and he soon found himself mixing with entirely the wrong people and self medicating with Heroin. Within a few short months his ‘mate’ had duped him into assisting with a burglary for which he was caught and sentenced to nine months at her Majesty’s pleasure – released in four and a half. That October, not three months out of  Prison he returned home one day to find his Mum dead as well. She had been drinking more heavily than ever since her husbands death and son’s incarceration – the result was sclerosis of the liver and death by septicaemia. That’s both parents in the same year, on Sundays that both happened to be the 24th day of their respective months. Get your mind round that one. Paul quickly became homeless and took to begging in order to avoid a life of burglary and theft and to get enough drugs to not think about what had happened. He was able to eventually get off Heroin by seeking help and undergoing a program of methadone reduction. He eventually got off methadone but increased his intake of alcohol – resulting in the strange kind of alcoholism that is measured by severely restricted funds. I learned immediately that giving beer to homeless people is as stupid as you can get. He had done his fair share of sleeping rough but eventually got himself a care-of address with a friend – probably not the burglar friend.

I asked him how much money he usually makes in a day and the answer was about £6. I found this a bit of a shock (I’d expected way more for some reason), as from that £6 he has to get enough food for him and Zeb, presumably pay something towards his lodgings and get a couple of cans of beer so he can get to sleep at night. I asked him what his best takings on a single day had been and he said £15. I asked him what his worst day was and he said seventy pence. I guess that was diet day. Sometimes people bring him a pasty or a sandwich which helps his money go further.

I asked him what he was doing to get out of his situation and this was when things started to fall into place. Paul has been trying to get psychiatric help so he can deal with the death of his parents and re-build his life. He has seen three doctors in ten years that have not been successful and now he has to apply in writing to someplace in Preston that will refer him back to a fourth specialist in Burnley. Depending on whether this specialist is more adept than the last three and – taken only from Paul’s side of the story – can be a bit more bothered to help him, could mean the difference between his getting back on his feet or forever sitting behind a cap between two shops. I wonder when he’s going to write that letter.

Ryan has seen much more death than Paul and once again it was failure to get the right help at the right time that had landed Ryan on the streets, also in the grip of Heroin. That drug sure digs the meek. Amongst many other tragedies, Ryan’s girlfriend had lost five babies during pregnancy, when the sixth was born it lived just a few months. I got the impression they weren’t together anymore. He was optimistic though because he was on methadone now and feeling better (he showed me the bottle of it that he had just picked up from the Pharmacy – he referred to it as ‘Kryptonite’), and he had friends in Scotland that had arranged for him to go and live with them. Better indeed. Apparently, getting out of Burnley was paramount to his well-being. I know about 30,000 people that would agree with him.

Ryan also explained how easy it was to get Heroin anywhere in the UK. I was told that if you just stand outside the nearest public telephone box to the local Post Office on Giro day, first thing in the morning, there will be a queue of Junkies all calling their dealers to get a fix. All you have to do is give them your money and jump in on their purchase. Why, that’s almost too easy isn’t it. Begging and Heroin are both illegal but on the subject of crime Paul and Ryan were fiercely opposed to any criminal activity that made someone else a victim, particularly burglary. They said that when you were ‘on the rattle’ you had enough time to think about what you had done to people (theft) and it made you feel terrible. I never asked what ‘on the rattle’ meant but it was said in the context of either being in prison or suffering the painful withdrawal of Heroin by means of cold turkey, so it refers to one of those. We were all done so I thanked them both for their time and set off home with that weird feeling that happens when you get what you asked for but not what you wanted.

What I got from all this is that Paul and Ryan became and remain homeless because they suffered depression as a result of a family tragedy and before their issues of grief, guilt or remorse could be dealt with by the right people it all turned into self-destruction. Heroin was the easy out. Heroin is a cheap way of totally annihilating yourself and it comes with the added bonuses of – A) taking years to destroy you so you can really load up on self loathing before you wither and die and B) being totally socially unacceptable so that people go out of their way to not help you and also blame you to really rub it in. Perfect. When you finally kick Heroin you find you have sold all your valuables and no longer have an address so getting a job or any sort of benefits is enormously difficult. You also have few friends left and those you do have are usually the guys you did Heroin with so once again your support network is paper thin. How does one get out of the trough? Well, you steal or you beg or you do both and you drink if there’s no drugs because every time you try to go to sleep sober you see your dead parents. I know very little about mental illness but I would guess that Paul and Ryan have had a savage dose of it – which means that the only difference between me and them is that if I had problems I would probably get to a Doctor in time and be properly supported afterwards. If you’re not that lucky then the rest is just a slippery slope that is dictated by your peers and your own dwindling resilience.

You were right at least. When you thought to yourself “I’m not going to give this person any money because they’ll just spend it on drink or drugs” you were right. When you thought to yourself “there must be a more intelligent answer to this rather than endlessly giving this guy my spare change so he can drink it and we can just start all over tomorrow” you were right again. But you don’t want to be the person that turns a blind eye all the time and neither do I. Pretending to be on your mobile phone to avoid the homeless is the mark of an ass-hole. I did all this so I could re-evaluate and do the right thing and not be an ass-hole anymore. So next time I’m faced with it I’m going to at least say hello to the homeless because I want them to feel acknowledged if nothing else; and I can do that without breaking my stride. When I have a bit more time I’ll stop and have a chat with them because it’s nice when somebody wants to hear about your life and it’s nice to feel like you’re participating in the world. Maybe every time you tell your story you see a teeny bit more of the wisdom of it too. If I actually want to donate it seems like the best thing to do would be to buy a bit of food instead of handing over cash, a tin of dog food probably wouldn’t go a miss either. It’s not going to solve anyone’s problems but I can manage it and maybe contribute towards the growing hope of a less fortunate human being.

If you are interested in doing more, take a sneaky peak at, and see if you dare spend Christmas with people more interesting than your Aunt Mabel.

by Chris
Posted in Words | 2 Comments »
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 »
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
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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 »
30th May 2009

Reasons to be cheerful.

At last, after many an uncertain and lonely midnight typing frenzy, these words have a home and you are actually reading them. Rob (who is a computer whisperer and who has The Power! and who would be feared were it not for his woolly perm), commanded the site be alive three days ago and it heeded his mighty trumpeting. I have to say I’m absolutely chuffed to bits with it. So, as I have a new reason to be cheerful, and you’re probably not all THAT cheery about the fact that I have a new website, I thought I’d give you some different reasons to be cheerful as well.

Summer is finally threatening to devour Spring and defecate sunnier weather on all of us. This means all the beautiful people that seem to hibernate all Winter will now be sprouting forth in not much clothing and playing Frisbee on all available civic surfaces so that the rest of us can stare at them and marvel at how their toned young bodies don’t wobble or buckle as they leap and bound. They’ll also be wearing those new sunglasses that cost the same as a Politicians second mortgage expenses – these will be broken or lost by Autumn as though the credit crunch had never happened tra la la. The days will stretch on forever. So will the sunburn. Awesome. Unless you have hay-fever. In which case get ready for three months of Nature going to war against your face. Rubbish.

If that isn’t cheery enough, then be cheery that you live in a world where you can refuse to buy a burger on the grounds that it funds and promotes a capitalist ideal that steals the life from our rural farming communities, uses fake Americana to despoil fragile third world community identity, causes life threatening reactions in our own bodies and makes our high street as bland and litter strewn as every other town in the world. Then go out and get drunk and buy three of them.

If that doesn’t do it for you then just think of how amazing you are – from your chromosomes to your pheromones and your toe nails to your secret bald patch. The likelihood of your birth defies mathematics and the likelihood of your lasting long enough to read this, let alone understand it, defies science. From all our majestic accomplishments to every time you have ever seen and ever will see a poor unfortunate person in a highly crowded environment trip up over something, but not fully fall over, transforming the near fall into a bit of a run instead – like they did it all on purpose. Unless the poor unfortunate person happens to be you, this is the funniest thing you will ever see in your life.

Yup. That’s the cheeriness right there.

by Chris
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27th May 2009

Losing my Religion.

The Universe is constantly speaking to us. It does this in a surprisingly direct way and its purpose in speaking to us is to help us realise and then actualise our place within it. The problem is that sometimes we’re a bit rubbish at listening to it. It may say “It’s OK to read about Peter and Jordan in trashy magazines, their plight is the struggle of all relationships in the modern age”. Or it may say “Go on, eat some KFC, it’s probably chicken”. Or it may say “The square root of 729 is 27”. And you may think ‘well, that last one wasn’t very helpful’. Then, a week later, you’ll be in a pub quiz and THAT will be the last question, and then you’ll be like ‘if only I’d listened to the Universe, it was trying to help me win a free pint’. Sometimes these messages are spoken to us through devices. Maybe you’ve already experienced this, for example, if you’ve ever been upset at the end of a relationship and the lyrics of a random song on the stereo go “You broke up with your lady / but that’s OK ‘cos maybe / she shouldn’t have been kissing Greg at Steve’s party / well cheer up ‘cos you’ve still got her DVD box set of Prison Break”. And then you’re like ‘Yeah! Screw that bitch! She shouldn’t have been getting it on with Greg’. Or maybe you watch a movie and there’s a detective and he goes “So I was able to deduce that the killer was Simon the Postman, he had befriended old man Smith’s dog and also had a key to the back door, if he hadn’t put all that money in his cash incentive ISA on the same day we’d never have known”. And you think ‘Hey, I’ve been thinking about what to do with MY cash and whether or not to kill the old guy with the dog, now I know what to do about all of that’. Sometimes the Universe just says “I’m raining today, go visit your Grandma.”

One of my best friends is Dominic; whose real name is Hippy Boy because he has long hair. He doesn’t find this half as funny as I do. Hippy Boy plays guitar and so we often talk about creative artistic type stuff. He was recently asked a question in regard to his creativity by the very wise lady that helps him with his head, and last week he asked the same question of me – a question I have been thinking about ever since and is beginning to have a profound effect on me. Like all great questions it is unnervingly simple, can be asked at any time and will probably bug you until your dying day. Think about whatever it is you love to do, in my case the painting and in Hippy Boy’s case the guitar, and ask yourself how often you really WORK at it? If you’re anything like me your immediate response is to ridicule such an idiotic question because you WORK at such things all the time – how do you not WORK at something that you are working on? However, you should note the difference between merely doing something and WORKING at it, and then ask yourself the question again.

I have come to understand that I DO a lot of painting, but I do not WORK at it. This is a disarming realisation, because now I have to re-evaluate how I do what I do and re-engage with it in a different way if I am to experience any success through it at all. I believe I have stayed at a comfortable level of application, probably for years, for fear that if I WORK at it, I might actually become GOOD at it and will therefore have to realise my dreams instead of just dreaming them. It’s terrifying. I believe that the wise old lady needed that question at some point in her life and the Universe asked it of her, then she saw Hippy Boy needed it and she asked it of him, he asked it of me and now I am asking it of you. Like a cosmic pass-the-parcel.

It doesn’t end there though, because when the Universe wants you to pay attention it can really shout. Hippy Boy leant me a book, Paulo Coelho’s ‘The Pilgrimage’. If you’ve ever read any of his books then you already know where I’m at with this. Apart from the fact that every line of every page is imbued with spiritual advice, one of the threads of this story is that enthusiasm is the joy of the soul, and without it you become bitter and dead inside. So the next question is – How enthusiastic are you feeling right now? Nothing dispels my enthusiasm quicker than having to spend precious hours working in an office instead of nourishing my creativity just so that I have enough money to pay bills and then not have a lot left. This month, my entire wage had gone on bills and bank charges in THREE days. What am I going to eat for the next 27 days? Probably just my words. I sat in the office yesterday and I was thinking about all this. I began to lose focus on what I was doing. I became irritable and vague, I had a terrible urge to flee and by not doing so I was nauseous and agitated. I have had some pretty crap days at work before now but I have never experienced anything quite like that. I became emotional and felt like I couldn’t remember what I was doing. I was frustrated and worried and spun out by the rapidity of the change. My heart raced. I was so fearful in fact that it registered plainly on my face and people starting asking me what was wrong and I had to pretend I was OK. The attack lasted nearly two hours. I think I was having my first taste of what for most people becomes stress related illness. It really got to me and I was still deeply disconcerted about it long after it had subsided. I honestly thought I was better at keeping my head in check than that, but it would appear I’m as susceptible to stress as anyone is.

I’ve one last piece of advice to bring this to a coherent whole, because good lessons always come in three’s. This one is from Hippy Boy’s Mum (a very wise family indeed), and again it is simple and always applicable – ‘The wheels won’t fall off’. The upshot of all of this is that I’ve been so wrapped up in trying to make it as an artist that I’ve stopped enjoying the journey, becoming deeply embittered by anything that I perceive to be distracting me from that goal, like my job which is totally necessary because it pays my bills and allows me to live. This frustration has robbed me of my enthusiasm which in turn has had me churning out Art that I have not WORKED at and has wounded the only soul I will ever have. It has been this way for so long that by the time something has started to go right, like this website, I have slipped so far from the track that it took an intergalactic telephone call and a panic attack at work to wake me up. As close as it came though, the wheels didn’t fall off. Now I have to do something about it. This Blog entry is for all those people who have worked so hard for something for so long that it has become difficult to remember what it was all for. You WILL get there. Never, ever, EVER quit. Just pay attention when you’re being spoken to, it might be the Universe and you don’t want to piss it off.

by Chris
Posted in Words | 2 Comments »