Back in late December 2014, my husband took me to New York for the occasion of my 40th birthday. We had a really wonderful time and I’ve recently rediscovered a whole bunch of photographs from that trip, so you can expect a few more over the coming weeks and months. I really liked this image for its cinematic quality, though we didn’t eat at Fanelli’s Cafe that day, and I rather wish we had.
A blast of improbable pink against an improbably blue Spring sky from back in 2013.
You can thank Tod Browning’s notorious 1932 film, Freaks, for what follows, which is certainly one of the most vivid circus-centric narratives I know. The important thing about Browning’s unfairly maligned movie is where the director puts our sympathies – we are never in any doubt – and likewise the age-old question it asks as to the difference between men and ‘monsters’. I’m not going to say much more about the short story that follows, except to say it was written for The Kick-About No.53, and inspired by Toulouse-Lautrec’s painting of a clown performing with his black pig, and also this: The Greatest Showman it is not.
You can find a PDF version here
The last edition of The Kick-About marked our second birthday and two year’s of fortnightly creative challenges encouraging artists of all stripes to make new work in a short time. As such, it was something of a three-ringed circus, an eclectic, celebratory showcase with a little bit of something for everyone. How appropriate then our first prompt of the new Kick-About year should focus our attention on the circus paintings of Toulouse-Lautrec. ‘Roll up, roll up!’
“I was instantly drawn to Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s line drawings that he produced much earlier in his career, and felt perhaps there was a way to capture the immediacy, simplicity and instinctiveness of those sketches with the modern digital tools I typically use. Channelling the spirit of an earlier Kick-About, Herzog’s Dancing Chicken, which also evoked manic movement and energy, I just applied the same techniques but attempted to reduce it down even more. I think there is an entire series to be made of these at some point!”
“I was about eight (late fifties) when, on a Saturday afternoon, the treat was a trip to the circus that had arrived in town. It was traditional in every way, clowns, band, ringmaster, plumed horses and glamorous riders, acrobats, contortionist, flying trapeze, performing chimps, lions and tamers, tigers and camels. My great Uncle Arthur was a forward agent for circuses, and I believe he supplied some free tickets. By that time, he had taken over a zoo and kept chimps and a lion called Sultan, amongst others animals. The zoo, and an accompanying Archery Stall, was in Ramsgate on the far end of the sea front, and at the time, part of the complex of amusements known as ‘Merrie England’ (later ‘Pleasurama’). I doubt if it was that merrie or pleasurable for the animals. Welfare and safety concerns were soon to radically change the idea of circus and zoos. For me, this Kick-About is about nostalgia, and the memory of Merrie England, the circus and zoo, and great Uncle Arthur…”
“Toulouse: What a great prompt. We don’t see a lot of his work down here but his use of colour certainly has burnt into my mind. I was a bit short of time, though I think I got the essence of what I was after – would benefit from actually being painted. I saw a man dangling from ropes cleaning an old brick building with a high pressure water hose – bit like an acrobat – with an audience at the stop lights. I was thinking of the figure with the ropes pressing around him and experimented with photographing a pillow tied up with string – not wanting to throw the images out, I put them in the background building’s windows (who knows what goes on in the buildings we walk past every day!) I kind of turned the image from day to night and took the photos to use as spotlights behind the dangling man. Anyway fodder for a later project perhaps.”
“A circus immediately brings to mind clowns, a disguise that has always seemed a bit creepy to me. But it also reminded me of a book of photos taken by Matthew Rolston of some of the ventriloquist dummies in the Vent Haven Museum in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky. Haunting and aware, I’ve always wanted to try to capture some of the sentience of the photos in a drawing. And so I did, randomly opening the book to four different faces. One of the essays in the book says they are meant “to suggest life”, but any supposedly “inanimate” object so entwined with a human life is alive. Any child can tell you that. They may have been separated from their humans, but these faces remember them. Here’s a link to Roston’s photos.”
“Initially, I had the idea of loading up an old battered and broken blue iPhone that I didn’t expect to turn on, from which to rip some photographs from a circus I attended with friends, the circus standing tall on the iconic Rochester hill where I went to uni. Amazingly, the phone turned on with its red battery charging symbol loading through the cracked pixelated screen. The joy on my face when I held the tiny phone in my comically large hands… However in my many attempts to get all those photos off this ancient iPhone, technology somehow fucked me over and devastatingly wiped every single photo from the phone, including all the photos I wanted to use for this week’s prompt!
I ended up sitting and sulking on the idea for a while and contemplated coming up with something completely different, but stubbornly I didn’t want to, and I did have a handful of those very photos from that iPhone stored on my laptop that I never deleted. So instead of being a moody little shit, I decided to try and make something from them by duplicating the original photos and using previous creations and random photos laid on top to attempt to create some new compositions exploring the light, energy and disorientating weirdness of a circus. I guess with the recent anniversary of the Kick-About, in some ways it can seem poetic to use a bunch of outpourings from previous Kick-Abouts to create something completely new.”
“You can thank Tod Browning’s notorious 1932 film, Freaks, for what follows, ladies and gents, which is certainly one of the most vivid circus-centric narratives I know. The important thing about Browning’s unfairly maligned movie is where the director puts our sympathies – we are never in any doubt – and likewise the age-old question it asks as to the difference between men and ‘monsters’. I’m not going to say much more about the short story that follows, except to say it was inspired first and foremost by Toulouse-Lautrec’s painting of a clown performing with his black pig, and also this: The Greatest Showman it is not…”
You can find a PDF version here
With many thanks to Kick-Abouter and painter, Gary Thorne, we have our latest prompt. I can’t wait to see where this one takes us all! Have fun.
Some impressionist photographic play seeking to capture the Spring froth of our garden back in 2014, when the border was floating with fox gloves, alliums, thalictrums and tellima spires.
I can’t tell you exactly when this photograph was taken – a close-up of one of the hundreds of flowers comprising the impressive orange tower of a fox-tail lily – but I can tell you where it was taken: a flower border in the front garden of a rural post office in Lincolnshire. It was taken on an old 35mm camera, and the negative scanned digitally a few years later.
I’m not above admitting that, just sometimes, I’ve thought to myself, “Not another Kick-About?”
Sometimes, it has felt as if my brain is too old or too stupid or simply too preoccupied with other more important things to even think about undertaking another creative brief ‘for the sake of it’. If I’m thinking this, the guy who sets the Kick-About prompts each fortnight, I’m pretty sure some of the regular kick-abouters have thought it too. Lives get busy. Lives get glum. Interest and energy wanes. The mood passes. Art is fart.
And yet, all that being true, now I’ve gathered here together a year’s worth of new work in a single place, I am reminded of the intrinsic value of ‘making stuff’ and of the power of community. There is little doubt, were it not for the examples set by all the other artists in The Kick-About, I wouldn’t have followed through on these various creative enquiries of my own. It’s quite unlikely I would have started them, and I certainly wouldn’t have finished them, finding a bunch of reasonable excuses to get on with more pressing stuff, or stuff I didn’t need to think about quite as much, or the stuff of watching television and eating bars of cheap chocolate on the sofa. But as it happens, I’ve inflated latex gloves with water to produce wobbling horrors, made moonscapes out of bags of flour, photographed tin-toy chickens obsessively, made short films, written a story about a woman with nasturtium seed for a head, encased a bunch of stuff in ice, and the list goes on – and largely because I wasn’t alone in my endeavours. Somewhere in New York, Kerfe was suspending paper fish inside a litter bin, and somewhere out in Brisbane, James was populating a primordial forest with bare chested brutes; meanwhile, Charly was crocheting a hat of fantastical proportions, Tom was configuring Saul Bass-inspired spirals out of code in Yokohama, and Gary was fashioning a Christmas tree out of hand-foraged willow and meticulous strips of calligraphic paper!
What I particularly enjoy, it seems, is the license to shape-shift in terms of creative work; the Kick-About encourages me to diversify, to jump about a bit. That said, there are obvious preoccupations – a love of in-camera transformations, what we might call ‘analogue magic’, and a preoccupation with the darker side of the human imagination. I blame the Pan Book of Horror and all those brave, strange, mean films of the 1970s.
‘Jumping about a bit’ can be confusing, so I decided to get my ‘art-house’ in order a bit by re-organising my personal website. It might not make a scrap of sense thematically, but at least it’s nice and tidy, right?
Thanks again to all the Kick-Abouters: we’ve been living through some strange rootless times, and your company and creativity has done much to keep my feet on the ground and my imagination a good deal higher up! Onwards…
You can read a PDF version here
Nasturtiums – Read by Catherine Bradley
You’ll find a PDF version here
You can find a PDF version here
Welcome to this anniversary edition of The Kick-About, marking two years of creative activity undertaken by an international community of artists… which, when you put it like that sounds very impressive indeed! While those of us who participate in these fortnightly challenges might not regard ourselves as grandly as all that, this is my opportunity to thank everyone for their continuing creativity and companionship over this last year. I also want to reflect on the very real and demonstrable benefits of ‘kicking about’ together: yes, it’s another thing we have to think about, and yes, things don’t always run smoothly or go to plan, but ‘making work’ is always a magical act, and life-affirming too. Thanks again to everyone in the KA community for your boundless imagination and sticking power. Look at what we did!
“What I found the most gratifying about The Kick-About this year was that, for the first time in ages for me personally, it felt like I could take any small idea that I had and bring it to some form of a conclusion without feeling like there was a whole load of mental and skill barriers in the way.
One of the most satisfying projects out of all the ones I produced was the animated short film inspired by Marie Menken for The Kick-About #34. After a very long time of not really making any moving image it felt quite rewarding to just let go and make something with the same kind of ‘just do it and see what happens’ attitude that always felt so inspiring to me as a creative, but perhaps, over the years, got lost in the shuffle of life and other such boring things! These days, just producing work and art is anything but boring for me, so I’m looking forward to seeing what else might become a makeshift goalpost in the park with all the other fellow Kick-Abouters in the future.”
“I had not heard of Brian Rutenberg (Kick-About No. 32) and the first impression was ‘Wow! Very powerful!’ So I spent quite a bit of time ‘deconstructing’ his technique. The apparent abstract nature is, of course, in reality highly stylised landscapes. If you put aside the idiosyncratic drawing style they are quite simple compositions. The cleverness for me is the use of colour; he has substituted primary or secondary colours for tone on most of the pieces, enhancing the abstract qualities. The texture and randomness is the product of palette knife work – that said, given the size of the canvases, it was more likely a large trowel! A lot of my work is marine in subject, so for the first piece I took an image of reflections on water and upped the colour values and worked largely with a palette knife. I think you can still just about make out it is meant to be liquid. For the other piece, I chose a lake surrounded by trees and threw away the tonal values, replacing them with primary colour. I failed to match the stylisation of Rutenberg, but I think they are just about going in the right direction.”
Chris Rutter & Evelyn Bennett
“We really enjoyed doing the Marie Menken’s ‘Lights’ one (Kick-About No. 34). It was great to use so many media – video, painting, music – in one short, improvised response.”
“The prompt could hardly have been more suited to me and my natural inclinations. It’s inky and leafy and Australian. What strikes me most is the combination of the loosest of ink splatters with far more careful and detailed patterning. I was going to explore some inkiness yesterday (Yep! Last minute again!) to see where an observation of Mungkuri’s work (Kick-About No.37) might take me, especially with regard to the use of white ink patterning over the top of the looser ink layers. But before I could begin something happened… Our bees swarmed! Later, I had a bit of a go at my inky exploration of Peter Mungkuri’s plant drawings, but my mind was full of bees. And joy. So it became an illustration of Hugo and me, arms uplifted to the swarming bees.”
For the Kick-About No. 41 ‘La Ville’ ~ “I used one of my daughter’s photos of an event when Lady Gaga walked down the red carpet, which I firstly painted in watercolour and then recreated it in the style of ?? (You can see why I nearly failed my Art O’ level!) Anyway, I enjoyed creating art in this way and using such zingy colours!”
From The Kick-About No. 51 “Print them out and colour in your very own folk art postcards. I used google to translate the English titles into Ukrainian, so apologies for any grammatical errors.”
“Of the prompts I participated in, I think my personal favourite was Kick-About Number 31, Lotte Reiniger. The traditional form of silhouettes and stop-frame animation was more hands-on than my other prompt responses. Less abstracted. And less rooted in technology, which was an invigorating change.
Cutting things out of paper for craft projects is something I’d been doing since I was little, much like Lotte did, so I ran with the nostalgia. Plus, the rudimentary camera setup resulted in an animation with some wonky charm that I quite like!”
“For the second year anniversary post I’ve chosen a little film I made for Kick-About #28. The prompt that week was the garden created by Derek Jarman on the shingle spit of Dungeness. Derek started making the garden during a period of personal crisis, shortly after he had been diagnosed HIV+ in 1986. Back then there was no treatment available for HIV and it was fatal in almost all cases. The garden was a tremendous act of creativity and of defiance in the face of a terminal diagnosis, not least because he built it in one of the most unlikely places in the country, the arid, salty shingle of Dunegness, directly in front of a nuclear power station. And, despite his failing health, the garden provided the backdrop to one of the most dynamic and prolific periods in his life; he crammed in more living and working into those last few years before his death in 1994 than most do in a whole lifetime.
I used the words that close his book, At Your Own Risk, writing them in wax crayon, before brushing some black ink over them. The resist technique didn’t work very well and the words aren’t very legible, so here they are:
‘I am tired tonight. My eyes are out of focus, my body droops under the weight of the day, but as I leave you Queer lads let me leave you singing. I had to write of a sad time as a witness – not to cloud your smiles – please read the cares of the world that I have locked in these pages; and after, put this book aside and love. May you of a better future, love without a care and remember we loved too. As the shadows close in, the starts came out. I am in love.’
As he wrote those words in the early 1990s, he foresaw a better future for the world. Sadly, I’m not sure if this has come to pass, at least not yet. The crisis of AIDS in Derek Jarman’s time has been resolved across most of the world, but the climate crisis and war in Europe threaten chaos on an even greater scale. I wonder what he would make of the world today? I confess I’m pessimistic about what lies ahead for humanity, but Derek’s life provides a kind of blueprint to at least try and deal with the terrible state we’re in; speak out, respond, fight, create, work, and make a little garden to face down the dark forces.”
“I love abstract paintings (Kick-About No.32) particularly as I know what a challenge they can be for composition and colour, light and movement. In my work I also strive to keep the first creative impetus with its full emotional strength before it becomes too cerebral. So this is one of my abstract painting that deals with space, macrocosm and microcosm. Thank you Phil and all the extraordinary artists who make this creative experience so special.”
The Kick-About No. 30: “It was so hard to choose. But I decided to go with the Fundus Photography. The photos themselves are magical, and I feel the watercolors I did inspired by them are some of the best I did all year. They are still hanging in my office, almost the first things I put up when I moved, and every day I enjoy looking at them.”
“I’m choosing my short story, Nasturtiums, to include in this anniversary edition for two reasons: the first being that, at first glance, Sheila Legge’s Phantom of Surrealism (Kick-About No.36) left me scratching my head and worrying at the efficacy of my imagination. My second reason for sharing it is because, once I’d stopped worrying, this short story arrived with surprising ease, and for all its inherent strangeness, felt, in some way, inevitable.”
You’ll find a PDF version here.
(I wanted to offer up a little birthday bonus with this edition of the Kick-About, so with the assistance of voice artist, Catherine Bradley, I’m happy to present a little audio-book adaptation of Nasturtiums. Enjoy!)
“My favourite kick about this year has got to be the Stezaker prompt (The Kick-About No. 47) I loved the challenge of creating two parallel stories and then putting them together as one piece. Having said that, the Louis Baldwin took me to new areas of finding and stitching and Splendor Solis gave a rare opportunity to become immersed into a drawing over a long period of time. I just enjoy them all!”
“May 2021 – KA #30 Fundus Photography – has to be the right choice at the right time, with May approaching and a garden offering seemingly endless delights of colour. A reawakening of the senses and added energy by way of summer approaching seems a timely reminder to exploit the daylight hours, be observant, and delight in making use of such inspiration.”
“I have enjoyed so many of our KA prompts this past year, it is difficult to choose a favourite. But I have opted for Kickabout #30 “Fundus Photography”, because I found my “Alien skies” and the poem “Forward, Hover, Focus, Click” flowed so readily and so smoothly that I revelled in the process and now, all these months later, I can still look on the work and be happy. It is very rare for equal pleasure to be found in conception, execution and retrospection (for me, anyway!) so I cherish this!”
“I have decided to choose a recent response for the two year anniversary, which is the prompt of contemporary textile artist – Louise Baldwin (The Kick-About No.48). The outpouring of photography was completely transfixing, utterly intoxicating, but also very unpredictable. It was one of those times where something awoke in me and the tunnel vision of this bizarre creative pursuit was exhilarating – especially because the uncertainty of dumping all those household ingredients into a jar and photographing the bubbling frothy results is a practice I certainly wouldn’t have even attempted if it wasn’t for The Kick-About. But it is one byproduct that the Kick-About can and does unlock, as I do think being an artist means experimenting, breaking the status quo and playing to see what can flourish. So thank you all for the art, the making, and the doing, and helping me to produce things I would never have dreamed of, and thank you Phil for always curating our pursuits into a post I always look forward to.”
“So good to be a part of the KA and see all your fabulous work over the last year – lots to be inspired by and challenged to undertake! Personally I got an enormous amount out of the Sheila Legge challenge (KA 36 – Phantom Of Surrealism). I felt a bit aimless at the start but once my mind began wondering about, while trying to recreate Sheila’s surrealist mask, I zeroed in on the parallel stresses between her era and ours – big scary times. That’s when my image took an environmental posture and I cobbled together imagery to represent power and disaster. I also added ground charcoal textures and hand writing to my photographic images and broke up the framing of the image with staggered photo stripes in the background. It was one of those surprising outcomes that seem to happen so effortlessly its almost as if someone else was giving me a hand. I was also happy that the flower head felt a bit Covidish. Looking forward to the next KA.”
“As many have written over this past year, our lives have become perhaps a tad too much like a De Chirico or Hopper painting. The empty, beguilling landscapes feel a little too familiar for comfort, but nonetheless, these sorts of spaces are my stomping ground. The unease of architectural space has always been an inspiration in my work, and so here are a few strange tableaus inspired by De Chirico’s The Song of Love (Kick-About No. 27).”
“This piece started life as a digital painting, in the style of Rutenberg’s paintings (Kick-About No.32). The more I’ve gotten into his work over the last few years, and as I’ve listened to him speak about his work and process, I’ve absorbed a lot of his wisdom and theory. Painting in Photoshop, from some recent photos I took on holiday in Somerset, I realised that without all the elements of thick oil paint, walnut oil, textured canvas and the monumental scale, this just wasn’t going to cut it. The sense of depth and light depicted in Brian’s work always astounds me, so I took the idea of his interplay of horizontals and verticals into ZBrush. I used the original digital painting to create the colour on the 3D. I made a rough approximation of the artist himself, just as a homage to a bit of a hero of mine, then created a tangle of intersecting forms. I encased this in a glass box to contain this in a 3D space, something the artist conveys so well on his canvases. A departure from my comfort zone on this one, another lesson learned from Rutenberg himself.”
“After a bit of pondering I have chosen the Matisse Kick About (No.38) for the anniversary of this last year’s offerings. I really liked Phil Cooper’s introduction about Matisse and his joy of playing with scissors as an exuberant response to nature. The fact he made these cut outs in later life reminded me of where I am in my own life and the joy I found doing these cut outs and playing with colour, shape and movement. I think I will be going back to them as they have been left out on the desk asking for more from me…”
And, so as to launch us into another cycle of creative show-and-tell, I’m offering up a night at the circus, courtesy of Toulouse-Lautrec. Send in the clowns!
Impressionistic stuff from a wet, cold February evening at Potsdammer Platz, Berlin, back in 2008, making the most of all the neon and the glossy pavements.
A few of the ‘earlies’ from my all-nighter in the old dark house, back in the summer of 2017, when I was first learning how to raise spectres from the those tired, tiled floors.