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.
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.
A few weeks ago, a certain Mr Paul Raggity, artist and photographer, messaged me asking for tips about working with oil paint. Paul had mostly used acrylic and ink. He was holed up somewhere without Skype, so I made a few short video clips to email him. I accidentally showed the clips to a friend whose 16 year old daughter is studying art, and it sort of snow balled from there.
After making about 9 short video clips, my phone ran out of memory. So I “went live” on Facebook, at the risking of being seen picking my nose or accidentally showing my flat arse to the cameraphone while fumbling around looking for paint.
Still, this exercise proved not only introspective but also a bit popular, so, I’ve uploaded the whole lot to YouTube – as of today, anyway, 27 March 2017.
I have been doing commissioned work for as long as I can remember. Here I will highlight the great variety of the projects I’ve done over the years, up through 2016.
The Von Stockhausen family portraits
The Von Stockhausen family have portraits dating back centuries hung in ornate frames on the walls of their manor house. Mary Von Stockhausen sat for me in London, shortly after opening the first Stuckist Centre in Germany in the early 2000s. She did not mention her heritage at that time, and appeared to be living her life as a humble Stuckist. It was only when Mary’s mother flew me to Germany to paint Mary’s sister Lizzie, that I squinted at the address and wondered why there was neither street number nor even street name, only a house name and village name. “Is it.. a castle?” I wondered. Mary’s family took a bold step in continuing the tradition of portraits in a Stuckist vein. It was the ideal way to have both a painting and something contemporary.
Both sisters’ portraits are done in acrylic, as they were done quickly from life sittings. I usually work in oil.
I have painted some people’s beloved deceased pets, using old photographs, as well as living pets, including an alpaca. I have also painted people with their pets. The pets are usually photographed separately. Try herding cats and you will see why! I have even painted a Dodo on request. Quite a challenge as I had to use old photographs and toys for reference.
Showing the great diversity in my abilities, I have painted the cover for bourbon-soaked Gypsy-blues bop’n’stroll band the Urban Voodoo Machine, as well as Jane Ruby’s latest children’s music CD, Flamingo Flamenco.
Only marginally easier to pose than pets, I have painted various children.
Why not get your guests to pitch in and commission a wedding portrait? Better than getting 50 toasters! And lasts longer, too. Traditional white weddings are fine, too. I can do anything.
Religious and mythological themed commissions
A few years ago I had the unusual job of painting the circumcision of Christ. In these turbulent times, with child protection hysteria, it was a challenging subject. My friends Dawn and Rick Hollingworth kindly volunteered their daughter (yes daughter) for the role, posing as Mary and Joseph themselves. The rest I made up from observation, rather than risking having any questionable photographs on my computer. Interestingly the public reaction sparked a discussion on the barbarism of the ancient practise, and nothing about the lack of clothing on the baby.
I have also painted the Judgement of Paris, with the figures as described by the client placing the order: tattoos, glasses, and “ornate by many jewels.” The client also commissioned “tattooed Adam and Eve” and the Diana and Actaeon myth with a contemporary twist.
Your entire life on one canvas
When my friend Lynne Gillett left London after 23 years, she wanted a painting encapsulating as many aspects of her city life as we could fit on to an 80 x 100 cm canvas. She has her friends; well known landmarks that mean something to her; performers and bands; and on the table, a book about the Peopling of London, as Lynne had been working with refugees.
Please contact me for enquiries. No job too big or too small; no subject matter too outlandish.
I am a trained artist with a degree, so in that sense I don’t fit the bill of ‘Outsider.’ However, I also don’t seem to fit in anywhere in the art world. I am not a conceptual artist. Nor am I a completely traditional painter. I am a Stuckist, which encompasses a huge variety of styles but is more of an attitude than a specific method of working. Some Stuckists can be outsiders; others have PhDs and successful careers.
When I met Sue (about 8 years ago, though it feels like I’ve known her longer), I felt a kindred spirit, another American who had been away so long we are more trans-Atlantic that a true citizen of either of our two countries, the UK and US. She was warm and welcoming and has been a steady and supportive friend throughout the years. Even though I don’t fit the “outsider” tag, Sue has included me in many shows, seeing that I have the spirit of the outsider, and just a bit of the madness.
I work mainly from photographs that I take myself. I also paint objects from life, though most people in my paintings are from photos. I took a departure in this painting of Sue and Anne Sophie: at times, I threw down my reference photos and painted purely from my imagination. The main people and objects in this painting are real; but there are places where I changed the dolls’ and memory jugs’ faces and accessories, drawing from deep recess of my subconscious. I exorcised demons. And not all of it is pretty.
Even with all the bright colours, I’ve been able to see a dark side to Sue’s work. She is not just making pretty objects – oh yes, they are pretty, and yes they are bold and colourful. But they are far from superficial. In my painting, I took the darkness and ran with it. There are some painful therapeutic moments in this piece that Sue herself is aware of. And yet the main point shines through: Sue is passing the baton to Anne Sophie, her young protégé. She is saying, be bold, be free, and be true to yourself. Express who you are, and don’t hold back. And whatever you do, “Don’t wear beige. It might kill you,” as Sue says.
The figures of Sue and Anne Sophie are emerging from a dark background, the cluttered shadows, where a Medusa sheds a tattooed tear. The work of another of Sue’s young protégés, John William, sneaks onto the canvas in several places, although the work was not in Sue’s house at the time; much of it was on display at the St Pancras Hospital Conference Centre, where Sue and many others have – and still are – displaying their brightly coloured art works.
On the right side of the canvas, I have included a portrait of the ladies from the television documentary Fabulous Fashionistas. Although this was only an online image at the time of the painting, it would not surprise me if the photograph was later printed and framed, the way it is in the painting.
The dog in the foreground was present at the first photo shoot I did for my first portrait of Sue, about 4 years ago. The much loved pet, Sue’s son’s dog, passed on. I had never put the dog in the original painting, so I added him here, as memento. Another painful memory is the crowned wooden figure in the bottom left of the canvas. This was a sculpture damaged in the tragic fire at Sue’s other home, in Cambridge. At the time I photographed Sue and Anne Sophie for this painting, the fire was recent. Sue was still sorting through the charred remnants of that fire, and salvaging what she could.
Including sadness in art is a way to move on from such sadness. As artists we have this gift that people in the beige world don’t have. We can express ourselves, and turn pain into beauty. And if we can communicate, and others can feel something from our work, then that is all the better.
I intended to make the entire right side of the canvas light. But in the bottom right corner, some monsters sneaked in. This was my moment of feeling like a true Outsider. I didn’t know where these were coming from, but the feeling of raw expression took me to a place that I had never been with merely copying photographs.
Spot the tiny self-portrait.. ok I’ll tell you. I’m the Medusa with the mermaid tail and the paint palette, scuttling away from the telephone. At the time I painted this, I wanted to avoid the phone, due to some very dull bureaucratic nonsense to do with Council Tax – I won’t bore you with the details, just want to say that painting is a glorious escape from real life.
Following on from the success of the Stuckist Major Arcana Tarot Deck in 2012, Elsa Dax has done a project on Astrology and Chinese birth signs. The show is finally happening on Saturday 19 November 2016 from 6-8 pm at St Paul’s Church, Camden Square, Camden High St, NW1 0J.
Being a Gemini, I have done the Gemini card.
Flower symbols are for forgiveness and reconciliation. I have battled too long with Gemini duality. This painting is about making peace between the two halves.
And in my own tradition, I have reversed sides : the “wild” me pictured against the wild nature of Hastings which is actually my peaceful new home. And the “civilised” working me, in London, in front of the National Gallery.. when in reality it is in London that I have been the wild me, and in Hastings I wear the painting apron most days.
Special thanks to Gemini sister Eileen Meegan who helped with modelling.