Clients so often ask me to put a cat in their paintings that it’s become a bit of a joke. Why cats? Just randomly, someone in Japan, someone in Russia and someone in Scotland all wanted cats in their commissioned work.
It got me thinking about how many times cats have sneaked into my paintings. So I’m going to share a few of these cats here. (note: The first five paintings show cats that made their own decisions to be in the pictures. I did not plan any of those cats.)
The Head of Duncan DeMorgan, 2010. At the photoshoot, Missy Macabre was holding a kitten. I decided to keep the kitten in my version of Caravaggio’s masterpiece. I liked the cuteness of the kitten beside the horror of the severed head.
The Magician Tarot painting, 2012. When San Francisco based magician Paul Nathan came round my flat for the photoshoot, Brup of course, was all over the photos. Fortunately the cat recognized that Nathan was not an estate agent, and did not bite or scratch him. (Brup aka “Psycho kitten” had a reputation for attacking estate agents)
The Judgment of Paris, 2015. There are two studio cats, Spartacus and Artie, at Praxis studios in Stoke Newington where I now do photo shoots in London. Both cats are ginger.. so I would have to ask the Praxis staff which is which. Neither of them had balls, but for the painting I found a picture of cat’s bollocks on the internet. It seemed appropriate for the subject.
Backyard Crucifixion, 2016. Photobombing my painting shoots runs in Brup’s family. The black and white cat in this painting is Brup’s half sister/niece/cousin. I did the photo shoot in the back garden of the house where my cat was born, and where his mum and sister/niece/cousin still live.
The Whores of Babylon, 2017. Back at Praxis studios, Artie or Spartacus is always around, ready to get involved in my photos.
Samson and Delilah, 2019. “Roof Cat” is so named for his climbing across rooftops to visit model Juliet who plays Delilah in this commissioned piece for my Czech client. Roof Cat tends to hang out more on the roof than in the dungeon. But by now I had a bit of theme going on with cats so I put him in there.
Lamentation, 2020. When I took photos for the Pieta and Lamentation, model Ruth, who plays the nun in the painting, requested her black cat be included. It felt quite right to have this black cat crossing the path of the 13 people present in the painting.
Park Bench Pieta, 2019. For continuity I included Brup’s sister/niece Moustache in the Pieta, even though I used a different Virgin Mary:
Here’s the commission I did for a client in Japan. He requested a cat but did not specify any particular cat, so I used my own ginger cat, Amber.
And Rosie up in Scotland with her dear old cat in the background:
I am currently (as of April 2020) working on a large painting where my dear Brup has appeared again. I will add it soon to this page! Although in this case Brup was not actually at the photo shoot.
If you still have an income and aren’t too stressed out by working, feel free to contact me to discuss commissions with or without cats.
The other day, I was in Tate Britain for the first time in years. I have to say I was impressed.
I was also going to stop at the National Gallery to do some intense studying on the use of black paint in past centuries. They often painted figures dressed mainly in black. I have a job coming up, a family portrait with a Death/Doom/Thrash metal singer and his wife and son, two of whom are wearing all black. Anyone who knows about oil painting will know that one is not meant to use black paint. The background on my Crucifixion was some kind of dark green, Alizarin Crimson and French Ultramarine. But when painting black clothing, is it ok to use black pigment?
I have several questions on this subject. Tate Britain actually has paintings starting from 1500. It was like being in the National Gallery and Tate Modern all at once. And it feels much bigger than last time I went.
I spent a good amount of time studying the 16th century paintings, carefully observing the subtle dark grey shading in the clothing of Ladies, Countesses and Lords of Manors. It really looks like actual black paint. But what type of black? Would anyone know?
Suddenly I emerged from my Renaissance reverie to a large room and went “What is this shit?” One piece of conceptual crap after another. In an adjoining room were a bunch of cubic objects arranged in rows. “And what the [bleep] is that…. Wait… what IS that…”
I cautiously approached the rows of resin objects. About 1 square foot each, they all had slightly different shapes, and translucent hues. What WAS this?
It was Rachel Whiteread’s space under chairs. They were resin castings that at least involved process. They suited the space. They were vaguely interesting in colour and material. Unlike the next room, where there was a bit of old rope on the floor that could have been found in Hastings harbour, some shredded black felt (which had been “remade” in 2008 presumably because the original fell apart), Robert Deacon’s twisted cardboard thing, pretty much the same as the one in 180 Strand Gallery the previous day, part of a building site, and some blobs. And Sarah Lucas’ effing futon. F off. Why? Beds are not sculpture! They are beds. For sleeping in. NOT for sticking a neon tube through and calling it art. (Yes. I am a Stuckist).
Off to finally find the red room with Ray Harryhausen’s inspirations, a few of his models, and some really good drawings. They also had the Dore illustrated Dante’s Inferno in a glass case (I shall note I have a copy of this same monstrous volume myself, but someone glued some kind of decorating paper inside it sometime last century, thus devaluing it – so no need to break into my house, thanks) and some huge John Martin paintings that looked like sets from, well, Ray Harryhausen’s movies. Clips from the movies themselves were playing on a giant screen. Great way sit and rest while marveling at pre-digital-age special effects. I see where Josh Collins got his inspiration for Fags in the Fast Lane, and all his earlier films.
I was looking at more paintings in other rooms when a picture message came on my phone – of Ray Harryhausen’s pegasus, with distinctive red walls and John Martin behind it. I headed back to the Harryhausen where Shireen was studying the model of Medusa.
Shireen had a pass to get into the big Rachel Whiteread exhibition. It’s not something I’d pay for and not even something I’d want to see. But I thought, why not, if it’s free?
Walked into a room full of grey concrete squares. “OK I’ve seen it, I can go now,” I said. But then I started really looking at the pieces.
They are cast in resin, cement and various other materials. Resin casting is not easy. As far as I know, Whiteread actually works on these, with assistants, unlike like other conceptual artists who come up with a crappy non-concept and tell some else to make it. The 9 hot water bottle castings were particularly interesting as they were different colours and different materials.
Then there were the bookshelves. An animated conversation between about 6 strangers erupted. But where had the books been? Why were the pages cast and not the spines? What part is the empty space? Were these rolling bookshelves? The guards didn’t seem to know anything but between the bunch of us, we worked out the books had been turned around on the shelves before casting. We then read the leaflet (d’oh!) and found out that this was similar to the Holocaust memorial that Whiteread also did. Certainly an artist given the honour of a Holocaust memorial is worthwhile.
And so we continued. I had only read about Whiteread and thought it a load of bollocks like the rest of them. But to see Whiteread’s pieces themselves, they are not mattresses but objects – and more often empty space – cast in materials that take some knowledge and skill. They are not crumpled balls of paper or a glass of water on a shelf with a stupid title. There really was something to this show.
So there you go…Is this Stuckist turning? Nope. Back out in the large central rooms, the blobs were still blobs, and Lucas’ futon was still excruciatingly annoying.
Before my phone battery went flat on the train home, I saw that Sexton and Billy had been on tv, with their song “Slap up Breakfast” from “Dung Beetle Rolls Again”, on a segment called “Don’t Play This”, where songs are ridiculed on the Tonight Show. Watching it when I got home, it seemed that Ming had won over the show’s presenter and band.
My client often requests versions of paintings I’ve already done. I can change the picture enough to keep it interesting for me, as I can’t really recreate an exact copy. The original Lovers painting is 40 x 30 cm. The new one is going to be 150 x 100 cm.
For reference for the original I used a mixture of dark, out of focus photos from the actual event and reference from the internet. To make a bigger version, I need new photographs.
I know so many burlesque performers, you’d think this would be easy. But somehow the Pole has eluded me.
There is a pole in Bath, in the home of a sexy, athletic model whom I have painted often. She has the right lighting, right space, the pole, and her good self. The only drawback is…. Bath. In theory I’d love a little visit to the old spa town, but it’s quite a chunk of time to take out of the actual work day, just to travel there and back.
A few leads in London have come up with nothing so far… everyone who might have a pole has moved it somewhere else. I would have to contact people I don’t know and deal with whatever that entails. Not that I’m shy; it’s just a lot of leg work and again, time.
A few months ago my good friend Katharine and I went on a research outing to the Only Strip Club in the Village. A few people have asked why no pole came out of this so I will explain as best I can….
Club X (as I believe it’s called) is located down an alley near Hastings town centre. It was like stepping back in time to Florida in the 1980s. You weren’t allowed to take out a mobile phone, so there really was no evidence of the 21st century. Except perhaps the women punters. In the 80s, the classier places would sometimes attract couples, but here in Hastings a woman was on a night out on her own, exclaiming that she is a rampant lesbian and likes to get dances from the girls. And no one batted an eyelid at Kat and me, two women out to watch strippers. Definitely a plus for equality: women can go watch women the same way men do.
So here’s the deal: you pay a tenner just to get in to the bar, where there is a pole on a small stage, and a long bar, with the usual dim red-purple neon glow, bar stools, and then some leather chairs around the pole. Once in awhile a dancer will go on the pole for a song, but most of the time the pole is empty. The girls make their money doing “private dances” upstairs. (I know “girls” isn’t the PC term these days but I’m writing this like it’s the 80s… I remember the red neon sign outside a strip club in Columbus stating “girls girls girls.”)
The dancers were friendly, but that is because they were hustling dances. It was fairly early and fairly quiet. The girls were mostly milling around the bar talking to each other. Kat and I feel that if we’d splashed out on a dance, I might have got some response to my pole query.
We spoke with the woman who was there as a customer. She used to also work there and now does web cam work. She also used to have a pole but she gave it to her mate in Eastbourne. I gave her my business card. But here was the problem… not being able to whip out a mobile phone, I couldn’t show anyone my art work. There is one picture on my card, though now I can’t even remember if I HAD business cards on me or if I just wrote my number on a bit of paper. I didn’t have my printed book of paintings, the one I take out with me to show people. Since the smartphone works most places, I don’t carry the hard copy around much any more. So, when you say “I’m an artist” or “I’m a painter”, people assume it’s crap unless they see it. I recall about ten years ago when I first painted a transvestite named Davina. He hadn’t seen my work until I sent him the one I’d done from a photo of him sitting at a bar in Soho. He was gobsmacked. I don’t know what he was expecting.
So, anyway, even the lady who no longer worked at the club was not allowed to give me her number. She does web camming and lives in Bexhill I think, but her pole is in Eastbourne. Even if I tried to track her down, would she even be responsive? Having never been to a strip club as a punter before, I think my etiquette wasn’t all that good. The girls are there to make money. Not the place for starving artists to be recruiting models and poles, unless we were going to support the girls by buying private dances.
I did not speak with the bar staff or management. The place really had the feel of money making, and as I don’t have an extra budget for this, I can’t exactly pay for use of the pole. I guess I could phone them and just ask how much…. And if it’s less than a train ticket to Bath….?
Then there are the models. The original painting was of Romany and me at the 2013 Last Tuesday Society Halloween party. We were drunkenly dancing on a pole together, though the only photos of this are very far away, dark and fuzzy. Romany is in London. How I’ve not found a pole in London yet, I have no idea..
I’ve got to start using models in Hastings, but the one that I had in mind is out of town indefinitely and I need to shoot this next week really. A local friend has a Wonder Woman costume but how to tell her politely that although she is totally gorgeous, she’s not quite the right look for this project…
And then there is another, much darker, layer to this painting. Even when doing commissions, especially a commission that is very much my own work, there are all these layers of hidden meanings. And this painting in particular has a chilling omen, of which I was unaware at the time.
When using references from the night, there was a dark shape hovering above the crowd. I couldn’t tell what it really was, so I made it a crow. It seemed apt for the Tarot card. The Lovers is about choice and warnings about the wrong choice.
The painting captures a moment in time now lost. A wild weekend when anything was possible. Euphoria was the feeling banded about by my young French friend Laura, who was also visiting London that weekend. The Urban Voodoo Machine, our favourite band, were headlining the party. A streaker got on stage when they were playing. The crowd were dressed to the nines in Halloween gear. The atmosphere was indeed euphoric.
There were many rooms off the main stage area of the Coronet Theatre in Elephant and Castle, where the party was held. In one of the rooms, Ben Hell, She Rocola, Almande Magdalene and I were doing our Arse of Almande interactive installation. Inspired by my earlier Devil painting, Almande’s arse was on display in a box hidden behind blue velvet curtains. She Rocola held a dial and I a silver teapot; a punter would put a pound in the pot, spin the dial, and the curtains would be opened. They would then follow instructions based on the dial: tickle, spank, draw on, kiss, etc. This piece of art/arse was great fun, and part of that wonderful evening.
It’s difficult to revisit the time captured in this painting. It feels like a time of innocence, a time when all was right and glorious, when we all celebrated music and dancing and dressing up, embraced hedonism, lived in the moment. What happened in the months and years after can not be undone.
So I want to change the painting… and perhaps there is some sort of fatalistic block about even beginning another version. There is so much pain there, and yet I need to think about the cycle of life rather than the cruel endings that are so out of our control.
So, it’s not really a painting about pole dancing. It’s about life and death. Maybe that’s why i’m having trouble finding a pole.
(To publish or not? Not sure. How honest can I be?)
Sunday 1 March 2015
Last night I met a Danish painter, in the UK for her first London solo exhibition. She got me thinking about a few things. Which is always a good thing. Thinking.
First, she seemed slightly ashamed of being a painter. She said being a painter was “boring”. Now, I’m not one to argue with strangers, or friends of acquaintances as this woman was. But I had to disagree. I don’t find it ‘boring’ at all being a painter. She clarified that she herself is not bored with being a painter, but that other people roll their eyes and yawn when she tells them of her medium of choice. Again I disagreed. She explained that it was other artists in the Art World who find her choice of materials boring. People who aren’t in the art world are, of course, still impressed by painting. I guess I hang around mostly non-art world people then. I don’t think I could take being frowned at because of my passion.
The reason that this conversation was so significant was that I’ve been in a bit of a lull the last few months. I finished my latest Czech commissions at the end of last year. The Tarot exhibition before Christmas was successful. I had my painting in SELFRIDGES! I’m working on an exciting new portrait for a rapidly rising, very talented fabric artist who is going to make me the most fabulous frock coat ever. And yet… because I don’t have any major commissions or shows coming up, I feel like I’m not going anywhere.
I know that is completely ridiculous. Being an artist, or any kind of freelance worker, one has periods of being busy and periods of being less busy. There is no reason to panic or get low about… about my lack of ability to push and promote myself.
Can I admit that? Even the Danish painter was on my page there. The younger artists are so skilled in marketing, it doesn’t matter if their art is shit. They succeed on pure self-grandiousity.
So, from feeling down about my lack of prospects (and dwindling financial resources), I’ve taken another look at what’s going on. The ‘Art World’? Still frowning at painters? So much so that even while basking in the aftermath of an international solo show, this painter is looking down on herself for her choice of medium?
“A painting will only ever be a painting,” she says. Um… so what? I say. Why should alleged “new” conceptual art completely take the place of an authentic means of self expression that has been around for centuries?
This painter also thought Hirst’s Shark (at the time it was ‘made’) was “new”. I tried to argue that one but realised we would have to agree to disagree. I know I’ve been questioning my pent up anger, and I have never actually punched anyone in the face, but this wasn’t the time to start. And not in a stuffy white walled gallery (we were at private view of some rather excellent analogue black and while photography). Anyway she didn’t anger me at all, just made me think.
It brought home what is, in my Stuckist opinion, still wrong with the art world. That painters are made to feel inferior, after the self-proclaimed ‘innovators.’
I don’t hate all conceptual art. But it has to have content. It has to say something. The way we got on to Hirst was that I was raving about the Kiefer show at the Royal Academy. Now there is someone who pushes ‘paint’ beyond its limits. I also talked about the TV documentary and how Kiefer must have so much money to be able to create the huge work he does. And then the Danish painter brought up Hirst, who has also made shitpiles of cash. And I couldn’t stand to have that snake-oil salesman in the same conversation as one of the few living masters in the world.
I berate myself for not having the marketing skills and confidence to try to get into proper galleries. And yet, do I want to be part of the “art world”?
As a final stab at my disgust with art, it turned out that this poor painter was exhausted from commuting back and forth between London and Hastings during her short stay in the UK, and she was also very hungry. Her host, however, was re-filling his wine glass and still chatting to people, which I found quite rude. Booze taking priority? Another thing that disgusts me about some artists. I’d been introduced to the Danish painter as her host said they were about to go round someone’s house for dinner. The painter had more commuting to do, and a flight back to Denmark coming up. A bit of consideration for her needs would have been nice. She and I were talking for the good part of an hour, before I said goodbye to her host, and couldn’t help pointing out that the painter was starving. The host was well on his way to wine overload, and just grinned and nodded.
Not sure if I can publish this blog as I don’t want to cut off my nose to spite my face… but I don’t know about sucking up to an art world that gets pissed and frowns on painters.
So maybe a simple part time admin job really is the way forward. I can’t see myself vainly trying to push into that world. Like Angela Edwards, I feel that I don’t fit in anywhere. The content of my work is fairly ‘low brow’ and yet the method, oil painting, is not very low bro, nor affordable for collectors of that genre. I appeal to the common people, cleaners and taxi drivers and good, honest working-class folk… who have no money to buy art.
Rather than subject myself to further humiliation in the face of such adversary – snobbery and drunkenness – perhaps I should look elsewhere to earn a living, and content myself to paint as merely an outlet of expression, with no pressure to ‘succeed’.