I can’t really remember very much about this photograph, except it was very likely taken up on the cliff top paths of Polperro, Cornwall, sometime in the early part of the 2000s. I can tell you the insect pictured is a Six Spot Burnett, the wildflower is Purple Vetch, and this photograph was taken on slide film, hence the rather oceanic quality of the light and colour.
We left the house late on Tuesday afternoon, the sun already leaving the sky. The wind was getting up too, so by the time we arrived at Knave’s Ash, the camera was struggling. That said, as is often the case, limitations gave rise to some pretty dream-like results, the orangey light from the already-set sun giving the final few yellow flower heads a last chance to glow.
Phil Cooper, ‘Bedside Lights Sprouting’, 40cm x 40cm, Acrylic on paper
The tunnel led into a much larger cave, its walls, ceiling and floor formed from old stained mattresses in different prints and patterns. Dim orangey light was given out by an assortment of bedside lights sprouting toadstool-like from the floor and walls.
In Chapter 7 of Chimera Book 1, Kyp Finnegan finds himself all alone in the Bedrock Catacombs after narrowly escaping the clutches of Madame Chartreuse and her two henchmen, the Berserker and the Tealeaf. Like everything in the world of Chimera, the Bedrock Catacombs are comprised of abandoned things – in this instance, all those old mattresses you see fly-tipped at the sides of roads.
For his inspiration this week, artist Phil Cooper focuses on one of the bedside light-come-mushrooms that grow out of the floor and walls of the catacombs – a moment of comfort and calm – before events in the chapter take a more sinister turn!
“Chapter 7 takes place in the Bedrock Catacombs, a series of caves and tunnels, hollowed out of layers and layers of compressed detritus. The caves are lit by the glow of discarded bedside lamps, growing out of the walls and floors of the Catacombs like fungi. These images, in particular, chimed with me this week, as I’d been out walking in the woods over the weekend and found them alive with mushrooms and toadstools of all kinds. Some, I know, are edible, and others highly toxic; but which is which? I’ve no idea, so I’d never trust myself to take some home to cook. But the shapes and colours of the fungi always fascinate me when I find them each autumn. They just look so weird, straight out of a dark fairytale. So, a toadstool has found its way into the illustration for this chapter of Chimera, in the form of a children’s plastic lamp. There isn’t much time to sit and enjoy the warm cosy glow it casts though – the toe-biters are coming!”
Phil Cooper, October, 2020
Some of Phil Cooper’s reference photographs taken in-situ in the Berlin woods, October, 2020
Phil’s ‘Toadstool light’ painting in development on his art table in his Berlin studio, October 2020
Getting Lost in Fields is a series of little films prompted into life by the Kick-About #6, which saw me attempting to evoke the rhapsodic sensations of being out and about with my camera in the fields of Kent during the Spring lock-down. I didn’t know there would be a fourth film – or indeed a fifth, but there’s something simple and very satisfying about combining these impressionist photographs with Kevin MacLeod’s evocative musical miniatures.
I’d be the first to acknowledge no artistic boundaries are being tested here or new cultural frontiers explored – and yet I do feel as if this is as close as I can get to taking other people with me into the nebulae of Boughton Scrub on that late September afternoon to experience the peace of it, the ruffle of the breeze, and the melancholy.
It’s time to pop the kettle on, toast those crumpets and grab a handful of Jammie Dodgers as we rejoin Kyp Finnegan after last week’s close encounter with Madame Chartreuse, in Chapter 7 of Chimera Book 1, read by Dan Snelgrove.
Last time in Chimera Book 1:
Madame Chartreuse sashayed after him, her stare like superglue.
‘A cuddle wouldn’t hurt, now would it?’
Green light filled Kyp’s vision. So bright was it, it should have blinded him, only it wasn’t painful at all. It was sunshine warm, as comforting as rice pudding. He smelled the soap on his mum’s hands. The world and all its disappointments seemed to rush away from him. Kyp felt like he was falling.
He was falling!
Chimera Book 1 / Chapter 7 – The Bedrock Catacombs – Chimera Book 1
Tune in next Sunday at 4pm for the next instalment:
Chapter 8 – The Moppet-Drover
Actor Dan Snelgrove has been working really hard in his home recording studio giving his heart and soul to his reading of Chimera Book 1. We’ve released six chapters so far, with the sixth chapter introducing the story’s principle villain, the alluring and sinister, Madame Chartreuse. Getting under the skin of all these larger-than-life characters is no small creative feat and in our recent conversation, I was keen to learn more about Dan’s approach to inhabiting Madame Chartreuse.
In this short chat, Dan tells me about his past-life as a student of physics, the pivotal role of chocolate, and we discuss too the ways in which Dan’s post-production of each episode is lending enhanced dynamism to the characters’ dialogue.
Dan & Phil in conversation, October 13th 2020
Dan’s workstation in his recording studio – note bottles of beer and multiple chocolate wrappers!
There’s a lot of it about at Red’s Kingdom this week, ethereal beings and diaphanous figures that may or may not be tricks of the light or just a photographer’s sleight of hand.
This photograph from the Summer of 2011 is what play looks like when you’re otherwise supposed to be too old for nighttime pranks, and again, in common with these other images, the phantasmagorical goings-on captured here belie more prosaic activities. I guess all magic is the same, transformations produced through the bringing together of largely unpromising things; eye of newt, and toe of frog, wool of bat, and tongue of dog, adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting, lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing…
With the exception of some digitally post-produced blurring at the periphery of these photographs, and a hint of sepia, you’re looking at ‘what happened’ late one night in the dark in rural France.
Equipped with my old 35mm camera, some 1600 black and white film, and a cheap battery-operated camping light, I produced a series of long-exposure photographs with myself as the subject. At risk of demystifying the resulting images still further, you have to imagine me running from one position to the next in the dark, switching on the camping light between my bare feet, and posing – or moving through different poses – for short intervals of seconds.
I had to wait until my return to England to process the images, and when I saw the resulting images, I was delighted and spooked in equal measure. What the camera had seen that night out in the dark was not what had been put in front of it. I promise, hand-on-heart, I wasn’t wearing a black Cleopatra-style wig (in truth I wasn’t wearing very much of anything at all!), and so I can’t explain everything caught on camera. I’ve taken lots and lots of photographs in ominous settings in the hope of capturing something otherworldly on film; these snaps, taken with old technology, taken hurriedly (and with so inelegant and earthly a subject!), are proof that cameras are haunted.
One of my favourite moments in Richard Donner’s 1976 horror film, The Omen, is when Jennings, the photographer reveals his photographs are prophecising the deaths of their human subjects – including, chillingly, his own. This scene never fails to raise the hairs on my neck, I think because it has the ring of truth about it. Very few of us would happily scour the eyes of a loved one from their photographic image, because we already intuit some causal link between the image and its subject.
Jennings notices the blemish on his photograph of the priest, who will later be impaled by a church spire, The Omen, 1976.
An impromptu self-portrait reveals Jennings’ own days are numbered, a mark having appeared in the photographic image, severing his head from his body, The Omen, 1976.
I’m sure there’s a story in my own family of haunted photographs, though I might have remembered it wrong, or invented it entirely. I do recall my grandma talking about some ill-fated relative-or-other whose bride died on her wedding night. I remember two details about this story, the first being how the woman was killed, her wedding dress covering the tail-light of her new husband’s motorbike as they rode away together into the sunset, another vehicle ploughing into them and killing her. The second detail is the one about the wedding photographs developed after the bride’s untimely demise, and how in each image taken on her wedding day, the bride’s face is seen to be in someway obscured by a flaw or shadow in the image… and up go the hairs on my neck again.
Venturing out in the pitch-darkness of the rural countryside with a camera, a camping light and the goal of conjuring ghosts can seem like a particularly silly thing to do – especially when you’ve watched as many horror films as I have, but it’s mostly hope I experience in these moments, not fear. When I took these particular photographs, the activities themselves were comedic, ill-suited surely to producing any eldritch results. I was largely nude and waving my arms in the air like an enthusiastic participant in a music and movement class with no way of knowing what the old 35mm camera was seeing, or how the effects of the long exposures would manifest. Upon seeing the developed images, I experienced that same pleasurable horripilation already familiar to me from watching The Omen or listening to my grandmother’s story about the tragic bride. I had the uncanny realisation I hadn’t been alone out there in the dark at all, that my ordinary camera possessed an extraordinary acuity of vision for other realms and their beings. I still feel that way when I look at these images now – a sense of vindication almost. You might even call it hope.
But rather like a seance on a dark and stormy night, you can’t always know who is going to ‘come through’ from the other side – and so it was with these photographs. Just to reiterate, no, I wasn’t wearing wigs or any semblance of costume when these images were taken, so I can’t readily explain what Cher was doing in my ensemble of fae folk, holding her microphone very proudly aloft! (Stealing the show obviously).
Phil Cooper, Perdu Peak, 40cm x 40cm, acrylic on paper
“Pushing their way through the last few Christmas trees, they arrived in a flat, barren space illuminated by strings of bare light bulbs. The bulbs were so far above their heads, they glimmered like constellations. Before them, a crag-topped mountain dominated the horizon, its summit shrouded in purple mist.“
As Kyp Finnegan’s adventures in Chimera Book 1 continue, so too does Berlin-based artist, Phil Cooper’s adventures in pigment, texture and colour. In addition to painting the audio book’s cover art, Phil is drawing on the other-worldly sights of Chimera’s larger-than-life landscape as the inspiration for an ongoing series of new paintings, which I’ll be sharing here at Red’s Kingdom every week.
“I think I made the decision quite early in the process of developing images for Chimera that I wouldn’t try to depict the wild menagerie of creatures and characters for the illustrations, tempting though that was. They’re so fantastical, I’d prefer them to live in the readers’ minds and not be shaped by my take on things. I’ve veered towards environment, or the more mundane objects in the story as a counterpoint to the extraordinary beings we encounter in each episode.
So, for Chapter 6 – The Mannequin, we have the looming mountain of Perdu Peak, and a single marble. The marble, for me, conjures the idea of the ‘world within a world’ or the ‘world within a grain of sand’. Kyp has discovered the vast universe of Chimera on his own doorstep, and within that, he’s finding further layers of existence, deeper and deeper.”
Phil Cooper, October 2020
The completed ‘Perdu Peak’ painting on Phil’s desktop in his Berlin studio, October 2020
Phil Cooper, A Single Marble Fell, 40cm x 40cm, acrylic on paper
Phil’s thumbnail sketches for ‘A Single Marble Fell’, October 2020
Phil’s marble painting in development, October 2020
It’s tempting to draw the obvious conclusion from the recent choice of prompts offered up by the kick-about artists of late. Last time it was the exoplanet Trappist 1e, with its promise of new beginnings ‘off-world’, and an escape from this one, which seems smaller by the day and rather dimmed. This week it’s fairies – or more accurately, the need to go on believing in them, a yearning for something as-yet-unspoiled and magical. In these different ways, we seem preoccupied with escapism and realms more expansive than those afforded by our current circumstances.
Julien Van Wallendael
“I saw something about the Cottingley Fairies being the theme of the month on your blog, so I put this together last night as a response… I was mainly driven by the need to figure out something that could be done in one sitting! The Cottingley Fairies case exposes all at once our yearning for wonder and penchant for deceptiveness – newly aided by the medium of photography. It seemed therefore appropriate to paint a scene both whimsical and that references modern optical tricks. Having seen Akira at the cinemas last week, I still had its long exposure shots of motorcycles in mind – so I thought for once I could make use of those weird skinny palette knife type brushes and replicate the look of a light streak by letting my pen run across randomly. Phil’s recent impressionistic meadow pictures and older flashlights projects may also have been in my thoughts!”
“I remember those Cottingley fairy photos being discussed seriously on news and current affairs programmes in the ’70s. Presenters would say things like ‘the photos have been examined by experts from the so-and-so lab and they cannot find any evidence that the photos have been tampered with’. I think we all wanted to believe that they were real, even though they were pretty obviously painted cut-outs (what on earth they were doing in the so-and-so lab I can’t imagine).
This week’s prompt came to mind when I had a few days out in the country last week. Having been stuck in the city for most of this year, due, mainly, to Covid, I felt quite giddy when I got out into some wild green spaces. As well as that feeling of escape, the light was sparkling and dreamy and the woods and meadows alive with fungi and rich autumn colours. It certainly looked like a place where fairies could dance and frolic. So, for the kick-about this week I’ve photo-collaged some images from my visit and cranked up the trippy fairy weirdness factor. Maybe those Cottingley girls had taken a few mushrooms before they came up with their jolly wheeze.”
“I found it very difficult to get away from the obvious with this prompt, even though I was the person who originated it! I had a few ideas about painting something such as a puppy dog and setting it in a proper basket to make it look as if it was real. However this didn’t seem to look very convincing when I tried it. At this point I ran into Artists block and looked on the internet for some tips. I realised that there was something in my mind that wanted my pictures to be like those of Arthur Rackman and although this wouldnt be very original I just had to go with it. So saying, I put on some relaxing music and just played around until this is what I came up with. I used an old painting of mine done on Yupo paper which I chopped into leaves and then added watercolour and collage. I was aiming for an ethereal effect and hope it didn’t end up too ‘twee’.”
“I tried adding a fairy storyline over these images but I just didn’t like what they did to the pics. Rather than scrapping the backgrounds I thought they could work labelled ‘looking for fairies’.”
“Hats off to Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths for scoring a hit without the use of PhotoShop. Who needs PhotoShop when you have cardboard cut-outs and a camera? Looking at these photos, I’m reminded again of how seemingly unconvincing the installations were. It was the Powerful Energy of the children’s imaginations that brought them to life. How I love that Powerful Energy! And as an adult, I regularly delve into books I read as a child in an attempt to recapture the Power. I am forever hammering on the back of the wardrobe, so to speak.
I’ve made a couple of new ‘fairies’ for 2020, the stranger-than-fiction year. Possibly due to the poisoning of my mind by doom-scrolling through US election news, my 2020 fairies are a pair of Dickensian style villains, sloping back into the forest after getting up to goodness knows what… (Perhaps he is carrying a sack?) The female figure, superficially posing as a pretty thing, with gossamer wings and a lacy apron, has overly long stick insect arms and carries a thorny crook/trident. The male of the species is wearing a lacy collar that droops down in a hairy way from his neck. But the rest of his torso is naked and a bit bloated.“
“One of the things I appreciate about growing up in rural Ireland are all the stories about curious oddities I was told when I was a young lad. We all heard the stories of the wailing banshee, the sluagh and the fairies. A stone’s throw from my father’s house in Knockatee Dunmore is Fairy Hill. Fairy hill is a steep hill covered in grass and wildflowers. The very top of the hill is speckled with fairy trees, with a swing fashioned from worn rope and driftwood. Fairy Hill was a place of refuge; it looked-over the emerald green of Ireland. You could hear the calming laps of the river Sinking nearby. You could see Dunmore castle slightly peeping out from the tree tops to the east.
The story of Fairy Hill goes that builders tried to build Dunmore castle on Fairy Hill, but the vivacious fairies would awake from their slumber in the dead of night and knock the stones down to the ground, and did so every night to save their homes. The builders decided to build the castle down the road on a less magnificent hill, which is now where Dunmore Castle sits. Ireland is bursting with stories like this. Planning permissions for entire concrete motorways have been scrapped because a pesky fairy tree is in its route and needs to be cherished. Maybe that’s why people view the Irish as a bit mad!? Or maybe we refuse to grow up? I’ll take the latter.
I decided to write a poem and draw a piece of charcoal art that reflects how this story has lasted through the ages, something old and worn but still intact, which invigorates nostalgia.”
“With the exception of some digitally post-produced blurring at the periphery of these photographs, and a hint of sepia, you’re looking at ‘what happened’ late one night in the dark in rural France.
Equipped with my old 35mm camera, some 1600 black and white film, and a cheap battery-operated camping light, I produced a series of long-exposure photographs with myself as the subject. At risk of demystifying the resulting images still further, you have to imagine me running from one position to the next in the dark, switching on the camping light between my bare feet, and posing – or moving through different poses – for short intervals of seconds. I had to wait until my return to England to process the images, and when I saw the resulting images, I was delighted and spooked in equal measure. What the camera had seen that night out in the dark was not what had been put in front of it. I promise, hand-on-heart, I wasn’t wearing a black Cleopatra-style wig (in truth I wasn’t wearing very much of anything at all!), and I can’t explain everything caught on camera. I’ve taken lots and lots of photographs in ominous settings in the hope of capturing something otherworldly on film; these snaps, taken with old technology, taken hurriedly (and with so inelegant and earthly a subject!), are proof cameras are haunted and magic is real.”
“Looking at the photo from the vantage point of digital manipulation in 2020, it’s easy to laugh at the fact that anyone could have actually believed that they were “real”. And yet…”
to say no—but what
does that word
“I don’t understand”?—
“I don’t want
to deal with it”?—what
the sounds hard and long? if you
take away the n
what is left?–
only a surprise,
a sense of
filled with possibility–
the magic of ”o!”
“The Cottingley Fairies are mostly remembered because so many people believed them to be proof of another world, co-existent with our own, whilst another group believed they provided proof of other people’s gullibility. Nowadays, we tend to assume a more sophisticated (or perhaps more cynical) attitude to life – the cry of “Special FX” or even “Fake News” is heard constantly. If fairies do die if someone says they don’t believe in them, they must be at the very top of David Attenborough’s list, if not already passed the way of dodos, Siamese flat barbelled catfish and the golden toad. And yet fairies still continue to populate our stoy-telling, our art, and our culture.”
Sharpie pens and alcohol on ceramic tile
Sharpie pens and alcohol on ceramic tile
I have always loved fairies and other mythical creatures, growing up on diet of Enid Blyton’s books such as The Enchanted Wood series, The Wishing Chair series and the Mr Pink Whistle books. When my younger sister and I were children, we used to dress up as fairies using tinsel for crowns and white nightgowns for dresses.
“This was such an interesting prompt and threw up so many possibilities (fake news being amongst them) but in the end and after many versions, I decided these two were getting there. I had great ambitions but didn’t quite get there with this one….v.v. basic technology in this household! The two main spurs were : The film “Wings of Desire” by Wim Wenders and the first “Pookie” book by Ivy Wallace (my favourite childhood read)… further down the line drones came into the mix. I might keep working on it from collage to drawing as it’s a theme with so many angles but, for the moment, this is it!”
“Sorry for the super late submission this week… I approached this as if the fairy character had become toughened by years of actually surviving at the bottom of a real garden – yes, still magical and enchanting but a bit ragged and with honed survival instincts. I focused on her dynamism and intensity taking out out an innocent insect.”
Our next prompt comes courtesy of resident gentle giant, Graeme Daly, an excerpt from Italo Calvino’s celebrated novel, Invisible Cities describing Ersilia, the city of strings. If you’re already a regular kick-abouter and think you know someone who’d like to join in for a run-around, then do encourage them to make contact. Likewise, if you’re just happening by and fancy getting involved, then do please get in touch.