Swirling nebulas of fluff, improbable stratas of colour, and a blousy imprecision of detail… You could almost be immersed in cloudy, bubble-filled water in some of these images from Boughton Scrub’s September show.
Kyp Finnegan is lost in Chimera after running away from the imposters pretending to be his parents. Chimera is as remarkable as it is dangerous – a fantastical world of lost properties in which bowties evolve into butterflies and abandoned sofas transform into snorting herds of soffalos! With the help of Atticus Weft, a sock-snake with a secret, Kyp must evade the clutches of Madame Chartreuse, who is determined to add him to her collection of lost children and imprison him in Chimera forever…
What started life as a story inspired by – and written for – my nephew, the book series, Chimera took up more and more of my time as a creative writing project. The light bulb moment was small and simple, in so much as, back in early 2002, my nephew was experiencing some anxiety around moving house and moving schools, going through a moment when the circumstances of his parents’ lives were impacting on his own in ways that felt unwelcome, unfair or just plain mysterious. Really that was it – the tension between the world as it is understood by a child and the world of adult decisions.
I wanted to write the sort of story I wanted to read as a child. I remember vividly a book by Dalek-creator, Terry Nation, called Rebecca’s World, which I read many times, loving it for its cast of characters and vividly-described alternate world. I loved being scared too – or rather that ‘cosy’ sense of being imperiled by unseen things and deadly menaces, content in the knowledge you’re really safe and sound in your Spiderman pyjamas. I loved Doctor Who for its cliff-hanger endings (I remember the ending of one episode when my beloved Sarah-Jane had a giant spider unhatch from an egg onto her face – cue credits, and then the long agonising wait until next week to find out if she was okay… She was!). I adored The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, happily oblivious to its Christian teachings, entranced instead by that magical-humdrum portal into that winter wood, and by Mr Tumnus himself, with his parcels and scarf and little kernel of darkness. In all these ways, I was a very typical little boy. Certainly there is nothing ground-breaking about stories in which children find themselves mixed up in extraordinary adventures in strange alternate realities, so why sit down and write ‘another one of those’?
Because I wanted to. Because it was always inside of me to do it. After the light-bulb moment came the whole world of my story, and it came quickly in bright, finely-wrought flashes. There was something fun and addictive about writing something to be snaffled quickly, an episodic, high-peril adventure populated by larger-than-life characters and properly frightening villains. I conceived of the book as something to be read last thing at night under the duvet with a torch, with chapters brisk enough to keep children reading even when they were supposed to be going to sleep. I wanted to write something I could have been reading ‘back then’ under my own duvet.
The story of a little boy lost to an entire universe of lost things soon grew into something more complex and ambitious, and the project of writing it – actually of finishing it – grew too. What began as a creative writing project in the box room of small rural post office in a small village in Lincolnshire went on to become a years-long commitment of writing and re-writing and re-drafting. There was a time when Chimera was always with me, carried on a laptop on long National Express commutes between Lincolnshire and Dalston, and then on trains from Dalston down to Rochester, where I was teaching, and then all the way back again, over and over.
Chimera concept paintings by Phill Hosking (2008)
Back in 2008, my good mate, hugely talented artist and fellow-kick-abouter, Phill Hosking, produced some illustrations in response to Chimera‘s characters, worlds and dramatic set-pieces. I loved this process. It was fascinating to watch all my text-based imaginings being realised by another creative – my stuff, but now Phill’s stuff too, two imaginations finding their sweet-spots.
Phill and I collaborated again in 2014, when the time came finally to push the Chimera series of books out into the world as e-books with Troubador. I think I could have fiddled with them forever, but I wanted to know they were finished. I needed them to be finished. I wanted to be done with them and also see what I’d done. Phill produced the cover art used across the three e-editions, featuring Chimera’s villainous trio, The Oblivion Three, headed up by the imperious Madame Chartreuse.
Alternate Chimera cover art designs by Phill Hosking (2014)
With Chimera now out there, I soon received my first reviews, most of which you can read, warts and all, at Goodreads. There are nice reviews on there and some much less glowing examples! Note the author himself gives his own books five stars. This is likely the epitome of bad form, but well, you would, wouldn’t you? Anyway, here’s a flavour of the bouquets and brickbats:
“The world Gomm creates is vivid and interesting, and provides some long awaited answers: where the heck are my socks, and that book I swear I put right here on this shelf? The creatures of Chimera are born out of those lost to our world and they dazzle and scare and hunt and grab and suck and talk and fly and cuddle… But beyond the creatures, beyond the quest to escape Chimera (or help the children stuck in Chimera), the book is about loss, both in terms of losing someone or something that is dear, and in terms of being lost. It is also about being missed, being wanted, and belonging. There is a good balance of melancholy and good humor and creative genius of this strange world that keeps the story flying.“
“This was a quite fun little story. It does end without resolution, as the story continues in book two. I think this would be great for school age kids, a younger Harry Potter and Narnia crowd… I think this is a perfect story for a younger audience, It’s written well; dark, but not too creepy, and I thought it was unique and imaginative.”
“I found this story to be a little bit of Toy Story, a little bit of Alice in Wonderland. I loved the different metamorphosis the things and people find themselves in once they’ve been in Chimera long enough. I thought it was fascinating.”
“Hard to stay interested, seems very childish“
“Almost 2.5 stars but not quite.“
I think I’m going to put ‘Almost 2.5 stars but not quite’ on my headstone.
On balance, the readers who enjoyed the Chimera books outweigh those who found it ‘hard to stay interested.’ The decision to put the book out there, when it began so personally and lived in my brain for so long, was a strange and risk-filled one, but when, for example, I was notified of the review which so nailed the emotional landscape of the story – (the book is about loss, both in terms of losing someone or something that is dear, and in terms of being lost. It is also about being missed, being wanted, and belonging) – I was thrilled. To have someone feel your book, as well as read it, was a powerful moment of approval. To have someone hate your book has power too, and is a good lesson in learning to take hard medicine.
Dan Snelgrove, actor and voice artist, recording Chimera Book One in his studio
All of which brings me onto some exciting news. On Sunday afternoon on October 4th, Chimera Book One, the audiobook, will debut on here as a weekly podcast, performed by the actor, Dan Snelgrove. Dan and I have been in cahoots for a while on this project and I am bursting with excitement about it. A few weeks back, Dan sent me a demo of his reading of Chapter One, and I enjoyed it so much, I had the strange experience of forgetting I’d written it in the first place! That will read like hyperbole – but hand-on-heart, it isn’t. I just listened to it, feeling cosied, childlike and Spiderman-pyjamaed. If this sounds rather too much like I was ‘laughing at my own jokes’ or self-aggrandising, I just mean to say Dan took what I’d written (all those years ago) and gave it back to me as something fresh and full-bodied and sparkly! In other news, Berlin-based artist and kick-abouter, Phil Cooper, has very kindly agreed to produce new artwork in response to the new audio recordings of the book, and I’m currently working with a very talented composer, who is working on some musical cues for the episodes.
I hope to be inviting Dan to Red’s Kingdom very soon to talk about his work on bringing Chimera to life as a spoken-word experience. Without getting into spoiler-territory already, there are so many different characters in the book, Dan tells me he’s had to populate a spreadsheet! My anticipation only grows…
My last visit to Boughton Scrub was back in July, and it was a riot of Summer froth and cockerel colours. Yesterday evening, with the sun already setting, this same stretch of unbothered grassland presented much softer effects, white balls of fluff from the still-flowering field of blue-lilac Phacelia tanacetifolia puffing past me like snowflakes. The breeze was very cool and strong, so at no point were the swathes of grass, thistle and rumex perpendicular or still. Everything everywhere billowed, producing dabs of pastel smoke and throwing up welcome daubs of gold from rogue sunflowers nodding in the wind. Again, the range of colour, texture and movement in this one small patch of ground was astonishing. More images to follow over the coming days.
I suppose I’ve been looking for an outlet by which to express some of my intellectual frustrations for a while now. There is so little useful oxygen left around Brexit, BLM, COVID, Transgender rights etc, such reduced bandwith, that a person can feel encouraged to ‘do nothing’ with the excess of energy these issues incite. More nuanced conversations can sort of ‘die in the mouth’ as you realise you don’t have the inclination or the wherewithal to achieve something more discursive. Anyway, it’s hardly the stuff of small talk. I certainly didn’t think one of Joseph Cornell’s strange and evocative boxes would be the route towards dispersing this build-up of lactic acid, but I was drawn immediately to the black ‘rift’ in Cornell’s piece. I wanted to know what it was, or what it meant, and how the ‘unknowability’ of the ultimate meaning of something is a powerful and unsettling thing. I thought about those Rorschach tests, where you’re invited to look at ink-blots and project your own associations upon them, re-configuring them as meaningful as they relate to your own lived experience. I was reminded too of the famous Nietzsche quote that goes ‘Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you’.
At the centre of this short story – at the heart of the titular rift – is a disagreement between two characters in regards to the responsibility of knowledge; for one of the characters, the responsibility of knowledge is to fix things; for the second character, the responsibility of knowledge is to unfix things. They both have their reasons.
Museums are one of the principle sites of this pause/push conflict in regards to truth-making. Objects and artefacts are contextualised for us in accordance with the sensitivities and sensibilities of those individuals given the authority to make curatorial decisions. Those decisions are being made within certain intellectual, cultural and historical frameworks, which are themselves the product of other intellectual, cultural and historical frameworks. Much of this scaffolding is often so habitual it is invisible and reproduced unwittingly, that is until some change of view or significant event makes it suddenly visible and available to scrutiny and discussion. These moments are deeply uncomfortable and are always felt personally by someone.
Knowledge gives rise to ‘facts’ – facts produce reality. Reality produces habits and habits reproduce knowledge; to unfix knowledge is to unfix habits, and the unfixing of habits is not some dry intellectual pursuit, but always an emotional confrontation between individuals. Someone is always hurt or hurting. Someone is always afraid. Someone is always angry. We are living through such a time of fear and anger. We are living with rifts.
You can link out to a PDF version here.
I don’t mind admitting I’ve spent a few moments dabbing my eye as I put this latest showcase of new work together in response to Joseph Cornell’s Romantic Museum! There’s a lot of love in the mix this week, with reflections on beloved relationships, time passing, and the making and keeping of memories. If the last Kick-About was a short ride in a fast machine, the Kick-About#10 is about the long ride we’re taking together.
“My Romantic Museum; I guess my romance experience is a little ‘narrow’, having been married to the love of my life for thirty years, and perhaps it’s more of a timeline. Nice to get a theme that provokes thought/reflection.”
“Cornell! Another treat. I wanted to do something on newspaper, but I couldn’t collage (my first choice) as my glue was packed. My needles and floss were not, however, and this also seemed appropriate to Cornell’s work. And what woman do I know better than myself? As we grow older, so the passing of time looms larger. I was of course attracted first to the hand, and was pleased to find a newspaper page with a photo of hands. I drew my own, and also my face, and stitched and wrote my reflections based on the drawings. It’s not quite finished, but maybe that’s the correct response too.”
“As the 1946 exhibition by Joseph Cornell was dedicated to women I decided to do an ‘homage ‘ to my dear mum, Joan Walton, who passed away many years ago. She was very proud of the fact that she was a true Cockney and had been born within the sound of Bow Bells, so I have made a cutwork of the bell tower. I discovered the weathervane on top is a wonderful golden dragon, which is apparently the symbol for London. Joan was evacuated during the war at about age 14,and wrote all over her letters ” I wanna come home!” – until her parents had to bring her back. She told me they would all stick their heads under the table while the bombs dropped! Some years after the war, my dad came on the scene and they loved to go cycling and ballroom dancing. Then later in the 1960s, mum was a typical housewife who made fabulous cakes, plus enjoying knitting and dressmaking. This has been a very nostalgic prompt for me and it has brought home the fact that small objects have a big impact in our memory, which can effect our well-being for good and also for bad.”
“I confess I’ve always wanted to make shadow boxes (AKA assemblages) and so when the Kick-About #10 theme was announced as one of Joseph Cornell’s assemblages, I decided to seize the day and fulfill the dream. I took a cue from the fact that “Romantic Museum” is housed in a case used for storing scientific specimens. I had an old wooden wine box I’d picked up curbside on trash day a while back: I painted it and used it to house the reconstructed bones of seabirds. NOTE: These bones were all found objects – washed-up on the beach near my home, already skeletonized. They are not from the same bird, and most likely are from local seagulls. On the back of the box, I transfer printed as much of the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge as I could fit (click HERE to read the entire poem). The imagery of sea birds in this poem is so powerful it has seeped into everyday language as the phrase “an albatross around my neck.” Many seabird species are highly endangered – for instance almost half of all albatross species are threatened by the degradation of fishing stocks and habitat loss. This is in addition to the effects of climate change that intensify storms and disrupts sea bird breeding on remote islands. They are caught in an environmental net of human making. I hoped to convey some of this in my “Albatross Box.”
“Cornell’s work is often created using a box divided into a grid of small compartments. Each individual compartment holds some item that for him that has significance, and the whole piece conveys something greater than the sum of its parts. This crocheted blanket does the same for me. Back in 2007, we sold our business and home, and spent a year travelling round the UK. I made the blanket as we travelled, but wrote the poem later, in about 2013. This blanket is my romantic museum.”
“Every person‘s experience of a work of art is different. Nevertheless I can’t help wondering how many people may see ‘mass isolation’ as I do in this piece – viewing it now, during a pandemic. I see a hand stitching quietly, small, intimate objects, windows and walls and another window over the entire thing. And finally a cloud of black sand infiltrating everything. My response led me to paint a series of hearts partly hidden behind or framed by window shapes. I was thinking of them as hearts as I was painting, though they didn‘t look like hearts in the anatomical sense, nor as pictograms. They represented all those people; their feelings, quietly beating away, hidden behind windows and walls. A lot of them were in shades of red, but they changed to blue and other colours.
I started thinking of all the ways hearts are described. All those corny yet evocative terms… Then I thought of all the combinations I could have, starting with Blue Tending to Black. How about Pure – Frozen, or Stolen – Smouldering, Stony and Promised… but I realised what was really giving me pleasure was the layering and texture. In particular, I was using a fan brush to very lightly drag layers of watercolour and gouache across the painting. The delicacy of the fragmented lines entranced me. Also the way the colour changed as the paint dried, as gouache will do. It made the painting feel so alive. Each pass with the brush partly obscured the previous layer, but did not completely cover it. It felt like a metaphor for life – which is really what artists are grappling with every day, and probably partly explains their angst! Every decision is a little goodbye to the past that cannot ever again be recovered exactly as it was. And a hello to a new possibility, that just may be more beautiful yet. Always with the heart in the window in mind, I found myself weaving.”
“I was drawn immediately to the black ‘rift’ in Cornell’s piece. I wanted to know what it was, or what it meant, and how the ‘unknowability’ of the ultimate meaning of something is a powerful and unsettling thing. I thought about those Rorschach tests, where you’re invited to look at ink-blots and project your own associations upon them, re-configuring them as meaningful as they relate to your own lived experience. I was reminded too of the famous Nietzsche quote that goes ‘Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you’.“
You can link out to a PDF version here.
“Cornell’s pieces are like memory vaults of amassed ephemera, with his ‘Romantic Museum’ seeming as though the images exploding out of the building or museum in the background are of significant importance to Cornell, with memories and narratives attached. I decided to create something signifying memories with a ‘Cabinet of my own Curiosities’. Places, people and things that mean the world to me are collated here; everything has stories attached, little tidbits into my past, meshed together with nostalgic sepia tones tones and the same royal purple seen in Romantic Museum to signify warm nostalgia.”
“Having set the prompt I was then faced with the challenge of what to do, but an old suitcase (I have a bit of an obsession for them) proved a good starting point… a mobile museum.
This Sleeping Beauty has left home carrying a case of letters, tied up in silk ribbons…so much love secreted..a stack of fading paper pockets… these are her memories. She walks into the future with the dream of creating her own garden of paradise, a place of peace and redemption… thousands of seeds lie dormant in packets of blue (..“.cerulean, gentian, hyacinth, delft, jouvenence..” Derek Jarman) So here she is, (no imminent prince..or ever was) lying on a bed of cornflowers in the centre of a wildflower meadow. Birdsong echoes from surrounding (briar tangled) hedgerows and her ears fizz with the whirr of dragonflies hunting, bees feeding, butterflies (a light tickle on the skin) landing. Her eyes wide open… awake to a canopy of blue infinity. Time suspended.“
“Here’s another… my studio fitted into a boat afloat on an endless sea. Don’t quite know what it says but I guess it’s my own museum of artefacts that enable me to do my work and that comes from a place of dreams, memories and emotions. Am I lost in this tiny world? Probably. “ Collage and watercolour on paper. 35cm X 25cm
Courtesy of Marcy Erb, we have our eleventh prompt; see below! I was very happy to welcome James Randall into our rag-tag team of run-abouts this time around, and I encourage any lurkers who are likewise itching to let off some creative steam to do the same. Get in touch. We’d love to have you in the mix. So, until next time then… cue the music!
Sometimes it is better not to know how something was achieved. For example, if I were to tell you how the ad-hoc apparatus used to produce this particular image was fashioned together from slats of wood, pound-shop torches, lots of black gaffer tape and a ratty length of blue nylon rope, some of its otherworldly allure may fade. Indeed, no one was more surprised than I when these unpromising constituents gave rise to this electrical feathered thing swooping through the darkness of rural France.
“To begin at the beginning: It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea.“
Like caffeine, it is to this 1954 radio drama by Dylan Thomas, I turn whenever I feel my own creative mojo flagging. When the good words won’t come, I listen to this, emboldened always by the music of Thomas’s language and the rich meat of his imagery. When a character won’t materialise for me, I go back and spend some time with this fictional village’s ensemble of frustrated, thwarted dreamers, all of them caught, all of them poets, all of them rudely alive and real-seeming. I love the darkness here, and the way the extraordinary images just keep on coming, vignette-after-vignette sequinned with detail.
Whenever I listen to Under Milk Wood, I remember writing is nothing short of a magical act, and I scold myself for moping about, wasting time, and just not getting on with it.
Last Friday, I featured a bunch of digital speed paintings created in response to Darius Milhaud’s ballet, La création du monde (1923), which was the first stage in a creative process wherein an entire community of creatives were challenged to visualise Milhaud’s jazz-inspired ballet. The next stage was using the resulting imagery to create an animation to be projected in live-synchronisation with orchestral performances of La création du monde (facilitated by Keith Burden, whose work with audio-visual installations and projection-mapping is highlighted here).
The not-inconsiderable job of re-working a selection of the original synesthetic paintings into an uninterrupted sequence of abstract animations fell to Tom Beg and Jordan Buckner, who took the paintings we’d created and gave them dynamism, character and energy, pushing the music back though the imagery it had inspired in our collective imagination.
Come the premiere of the animation, Tom, Jordan, Keith and myself were all stuck behind the screen onto which the animation was being projected while, in front of it, the orchestra performed, so we couldn’t see the audience’s faces as the film played out – but the moment of hush, followed by enthusiastic applause, confirmed something rather magical had taken place – a transportive synthesis of sight and sound.
After the long, slow, sleepy life-cycles of the Kick-About#8’s cicadas, I felt we needed a bit of clatter, percussion and forward velocity in the mix. I knew just the thing, unleashing John Adams fast machine and setting it rocketing off into the bloggosphere. You can see the full range of work Adams’ music inspired here – everything from adorable little witches riding steampunk brooms to strange abandoned industrial sites in Berlin.
I’ve long been fascinated by the creative quest to visualise music and have been involved in a bunch of projects endeavouring to do just that. Some of these projects have been all about the pure subjectivity of music, so not an attempt to divine some universal visual language originating from a particular composition, but rather to celebrate the differences in the way a community of artists might ‘see’ music. Another project sought to crystallise music into physical forms. Working alongside whizz-kid, Ethan Shilling, another approach was to find an alternate, but precise language by which to abstract music still further, and use this abstraction to drive the mechanics of animated simulations.
It was to Ethan to whom I turned again to meet the challenge of the KickAbout#9, who took Adams’ Short Ride and converted it into a spectrogram – a visual transcript of the whole piece assembled out of its assorted frequencies.
Short Ride In A Fast Machine as a spectrogram.
I knew I didn’t want to fiddle too much with the resulting spectrogram, otherwise what was the point of producing it? That said, my over-riding feeling in response to the spectrogram itself was in direct opposition to my emotional experience of the music originating it. If anything, the spectogram has a distinctly calming effect. (Indeed, in his comment on the Kick-About, fellow blogger João-Maria suggested the spectrogram reminded him of the moonlit Seine, and now I cannot see it otherwise!). This changed when I divided the spectrogram into quarters. All at once I felt I was looking at POV shots of someone plummeting past Fritz Lang-inspired skyscrapers or views from great glass elevators speeding up and down. To be honest, once my brain had connected these images with the POV of falling people (a very short ride!), they in no way felt representative of Adams’ music, the energy and aliveness of it, and perhaps this can only be expected if you take something as dimensional as music and flatten it into a monochrome 2D strip!
Then how to restore the colour and light-fantastic into this clever/fascinating/boring strip of data? And what is that tickle of association in my brain, triggered again and again by the horizontalism of the spectrogram, by its flaring rectangles and bright little squares? Oh yeah…
Maybe this is where it all comes from – that compulsion to pull light and image out of music? One day soon I’ll finally do it, commit to discussing my love affair with this film, but until then let me just come right out and say Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) burned a bloody big marvellous hole in my head when I first saw it as a nipper. Those final rhapsodic scenes – with the mothership, the singing lights, and that rainbow-coloured graphic equaliser-thing – woke me up to image and music – and to fast machines powered by music too. So, with a nod and a wink at Spielberg’s science-fiction classic, I tried a couple of colourised versions of the Short Ride spectrogram to go some way to linking the image back to the idea of music, momentum and technology.
My restlessness continued however, as I still waited for the clunk-click that accompanies the moment you arrive at something you’re truly convinced by. I fiddled around with the idea of ‘the machine’, taking the spectrogram and collaging it digitally to produce something with the semblance of cogs and moving parts. I started to get something interesting – something that reminded me of another film a little less celebrated than Close Encounters – At The Earth’s Core from 1976 starring Peter Cushing and Doug Mclure! I could see the barbed head of that movie’s mechanical mole machine – and that’s where I left things, because Adams’ music is very clearly not the sound of a giant drill-bit chewing through rocks!
But something about that cheesy b-movie with its drilling machine brought me to Luigi Rossolo’s 1911 futurist painting, The Revolt, with its forward thrust of heat, noise and energy; and something about The Revolt associated with the opening credits to Richard Donner’s Superman (1978) – and my exhilaration in response to them as a wide-eyed child (I get goosebumps even now, so perfect is this combination of soaring score, heroic typeface and sound design!); and from Superman‘s title sequence, it was another short cognitive jump to Kubrick’s celebrated stargate sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Yes, this is the stuff! This is what my short ride in a fast machine needs in order to leave the ground!
The Revolt, Luigi Rossolo, 1911
Opening titles from Superman, Richard Donner, 1978
The Star Gate sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick, 1968
So in the end it was actually very simple: first, you turn Adams’ Short Ride In A Fast Machine into a spectrogram, which you colourise suitably to suggest heat, light and sizzle, and then you steal from Donner and Kubrick and give the whole thing some cinematic swoosh.
In marked contrast to our last creative prompt, which encouraged us to reflect on the slow, attenuated life-cycles of the cicada, this week’s jumping-off point invites adventures in velocity. As per, the range of responses is a delight. My advice? Slow down and have a really good look!
“A great prompt. Most of my work aims to capture movement – action, transformation, development, energy, colour, sound… This time it brought back into life an idea I have been circling around for a long time, which turns into a sketch I did on a plane back from Mexico; great places to sketch, planes and trains. Some of my best ideas happen there; the myth of Icarus. While imprisoned in a tower, his father Daedalus, famous for having built the Labyrinth, made wings for Icarus, taught him to fly and warned him not to go too high or the heat of the sun will melt the wax used to make the wings – with the well known result. A great tragic story. It inspired so many paintings and art works showing all the stages of the story. I particularly love Bruegel’s one with just a pair of legs in the sea while life goes on. I decided to show the aftermath of the fall itself without the object, the gravity force pulling down breaking from the clouds through the air into the water; of course using my usual “control impulse” technique starting from the light in the foreground and stepping backward inside the painting with subsequent layers of ink washes getting deeper and deeper into the background and then out again. I hope Icarus enjoyed the time he had in the air, if short.”
“When I first started visiting Berlin, over ten years ago now, there were a great many abandoned buildings, ruins and left-overs from the second world war and the cold war dotted all around the city. Many of these have since been demolished, refurbished and turned into overpriced flats, or repackaged as museums etc, but quite a few still remain.
A few years ago I came across this strange place just south of the city at Adlershof. It was a site developed to test jet engines towards the end of the second world war. I think the doodlebugs were tested here. It is very eerie and peculiar. Even then, the city authorities had cottoned on to the fact that people were visiting the place and that it might have some mileage as a tourist trail curio. There were new signs and noticeboards about and they’d installed little pods around the buildings which, when you approached, started emitting B-movie sci-fi sounds like wailing theremins. It was all rather cheesy and funny, but it worked, strangely, and you wandered around feeling like you were in a 1970s Dr. Who episode or one of these series telling unsettling stories of the uncanny.
This buildings and structures were built to develop the fastest machines in the world, but they had a pretty short life. They soon became obsolete as other technologies came along.
It’s a bit like the concrete ‘sound mirrors’ near Dungeness, or the nuclear research site on Orford Ness; it has a nostalgic retro-futurist vibe that’s intriguing and a little bit melancholy. These places are relics, echoes of a past, and they have no use any more, they’re like ghosts.”
“Courtesy of my good friend and long-time collaborator, Ethan Shilling, I was able to transcribe John Adams’ Short Ride In A Fast Machine into a spectrogram, a visual representation of the music showing the frequencies comprising the sound. The black and white image below is what the sound of this fast machine looks like as it accelerates from start to finish. With more than a nod to Kubrick’s 2001, the exhilarating opening titles to the original 1978 Superman, and a quick steal from Luigi Rossolo’s The Revolt, I took the resulting spectrogram, colourised it for heat, fizz and vibrancy, and pushed it into perspective for maximum velocity!”
“Two things stood out whilst listening to this piece…the steady tap, tap, tap in the background (like a leaking pipe or aid to meditation) and the abstract cacophony surrounding it. So I drew my friend Andy as a calm oblivious centre whilst a maelstrom of instruments, clothes (mask and gloves of course!) and detritus flew about his head.” Pen and ink on Fabriano. 22” X 22”
“Kicked-off with A1 drawing in elaborate-freeform. Day-2 was elaborate-freeform using a crude-mix of thinned oils. Day-3, after taking a dislike to it, chopped it into 12 squares with disregard for things I might have liked and scattered them beneath the work desk. Day-4, one week later, each square found its own right-way-up and the conclusion of the set was reached just beyond 4 hours 40 minutes. To avoid curating, they are presented in the order they were painted and no telling how they fit back into A1.” Oil on primed paper, set of 12, 16x16cm
“I was thinking of the kind of collage I’d do for this piece of music–a layered mandala with everything I could find inside it, and realized I had one like that already.”
faster and faster
the wheel spins, gathering all
into one huge dance
“I’ve always imagined this piece of music as beams of light and geometric shapes so here’s a quickly rustled up 3D sketch to try and capture that feeling.”
“Although I have never heard this piece of music before I found it very inspirational and to me it could not have meant anything other than Drag Racing. My other half is a fanatical follower of the sport and has even been down the track himself a few times, whilst I have watched on the start line. It’s quite an experience! The lights count down, then there’s a sharp roar of engines (Don’t forget to cover your ears) and then the 2 cars launch down the track. Believe me the ground can actually shake! No way are my artistic skills up to capturing this moment, but it’s fun to remember the sensation and thrill of such amazing speed as you gaze into the distance and the parachutes come open to slow the cars down. Then the time comes up – 0 to 220mph in 6 seconds – now that’s moving!”
“When Phil announced the theme for Kick-About #9 was a musical composition by John Adams entitled a “Short Ride in a Fast Machine,” oh, I had ideas. Because there is an incredibly fast machine operating inside of you – countless times a day, taking you on a too short ride from the moment of conception until the day you die: your DNA replication machinery. This complex machine, made up of dozens of components, makes an exact copy of your DNA in preparation for your cells to divide.”
“Here are two updated images with the little drawings completed, such as they are. Rough. But intentionally so. I made them to turn into an animation of sorts… I thought it might be fun to make them into a fake Muybridge photographic sequence. I made my grid. Very good fun.”
“Kind of you to add a late entry! I loved the piece of music, not heard that before. It would be a great soundtrack to a video of an X-15 in flight. I painted a view of an X-15 some years ago as part of a short series on the early American space programme. It has been a source of fascination from my early years. I think it is because it was cutting edge – they were writing the rule book for those who would follow.”
Wow – we’re on prompt number ten already! Courtesy of regular kick-abouter, Vanessa Clegg, we’ve got one of Joseph Cornell’s evocative boxes to inspire us. Have fun – and if you know someone who you think might enjoy a rush-around with the rest of us, do please extend the invitation.
Romantic Museum, 1946, Joseph Cornell