Another spooky little something from my one long night in the Summer of 2016, spent within the palatial environs of No. 351. I enjoy the cinema of this particular image; you can almost imagine the team of set-dressers coming in to ensure the peeling wallpaper is peeling ‘just right’. This is the stuff of movie posters, and the covers of those Fontana books of ghost stories from back-in-the-day. This is that big book of Unexplained Phenomena we had on our bookshelves when I was a kid, still playing out in my imagination.
Taking Sheila Legge’s image and Kafka’s Gregor Samsa as equal parts inspiration, I arrived at this short story as my response to The Kick-About No.36. There’s a bit of horticultural knowledge in there too, a thing about nasturtiums thriving in the poorest conditions, and likewise, the situation unfolding in Afghanistan for women and girls. Despite the story’s seemingly outlandish premise – a woman waking one morning to find her own head transformed into a vegetal ‘lump’ – it wove itself together with surprising ease, proving once again, to me at least, how genre is placed perfectly to tell the truth.
You’ll find a PDF version here.
With its sepia tint, post-card proportions, and London landmark, this week’s prompt, Sheila Legge’s Phantom of Surrealism, might just as easily have surfaced as part of our previous Kick-About, inspired by the word souvenir – though, as holiday snaps go, this one could take some explaining. This week, Legge’s abstruse tableau has prompted paintings, collage, computer-generated landscapes, creative writing and some rather extraordinary headgear… Happy browsing!
“This prompt made me think of world conditions acting on Surrealists – where do movements come from – so my response is a meld of the flower head with environmental issues, and how I think the level of denial everyone has, to so many issues, comes into play.”
“Using the kind of desert backdrop that sets the stage of many surrealist paintings, I set out to create some of my own phantoms in the desert, and had a go at generating some suitably dreamy visions inspired by the motifs in the photograph.”
“When reading about Sheila Legge’s inspiration behind her walking real surrealist exhibition, and how she was so inspired by the paintings of Dalí, I decided to create some Dalí-esque dream-like landscapes, while paying homage to Legge’s faceful of flowers.”
“Taking Sheila Legge’s image and Kafka’s Gregor Samsa as equal parts inspiration, I arrived at this short story. There’s a bit of horticultural knowledge in there too, a thing about nasturtiums thriving in the poorest conditions, and likewise, the situation unfolding in Afghanistan for women and girls.”
You can find an online PDF version here
“I’m not sure if this is surrealism or the stuff of nightmares! I think, subconsciously, I was reflecting on the plight of women under the Taliban regime ,and on other women who are trying to break free from cruelty etc. Don’t ask me what the blue doughnuts symbolise – maybe hunger? Enjoyed doing this and definitely made me think and be thankful.”
“I was surprised to find this photo was taken as early as 1936. When I first saw it, it reminded me strongly of a 1950-60’s fashion shot. I have no references for this, it was just what came to mind. However, it got me thinking about fashion, face-coverings, Gertrude Shilling and Afghanistan’s women, and I started working on hyperbolic crocheted decoration for an old straw hat. However, while hyperbolic crochet makes amazing, wonderful shapes, the process itself can be tedious, and as I worked on it, my brain ran on to thinking about what had prompted Sheila Legge to create that image in the first place. What was she trying to convey? What was I trying to convey? The old straw hat was discarded, a new hat structure created, and as my hands worked on the hat, my brain worked on the process, resulting in the short poem below. The poem came after the hat, so it may make sense to read it after viewing the images. Or not at all. Up to you.”
It starts as a glimmer, little more than a glow,
A smouldering fuse that might spark or no.
But then it starts burning a hole through your brain,
And scuppers your routines, sleep derailed like a train.
Once it colours your vision and pounds in your ear,
Ties you up in the passion, the self-doubt, the fear,
And even your loved ones decide to steer clear –
Then you’re in the grip of a Brilliant Idea!
“Robert Benayoun suggested that while Surrealism exalted ‘la femme’, the Surrealists did not equally revere ‘les femmes’. The histories of female Surrealists have often remained buried under those of male Surrealists, who have gained wider public recognition. Well, Sheila Legge with her head covered, sums this up nicely, as does the Magritte painting surrounded by the above. Referencing their artwork and naming all the mainly, “forgotten” women, I felt went somewhere towards redressing the balance!”
René Magritte, I Do Not See the [Woman] Hidden in the Forest, 1929
Vanessa Clegg, Ink and watercolour over print, (2021)
Chris Rutter & Evelyn Bennett
“Here’s a drawing called ‘Leigh Bowery Look 8’.”
“I had a lot of ideas for this, but only had time for one. Perhaps I’ll get to the others for some future collage. The statuesque quality was what stood out for me, and of course, I can never resist birds…”
into borrowed wings eclipsed
by casting out light
“So there’s a coincidence! Just when I was reading the short stories of Leonora Carrington, who met Max Ernst and became involved with the surrealists in 1937 at the age of 20, the Kick-About veered into the very same territory with Sheila Legge. All I have to offer the Kick-About today is the beginnings of a… something… featuring some bird-headed, flower-headed women. They will possibly eat one another. I may add colour if there’s anything left of them by tomorrow…”
With thanks to regular Kick-Abouter, James Randall, our new prompt for our thirty-seventh run-around: Peter Mungkuri’s Punu Ngura (2019). Have fun and see you back here soon for another celebration of creativity, process and lateral-thinking. As ever, looking forward to it.
I’m happy to report When I Was A Boy, I Collected Pebbles From The Beach (2021) has been selected for the Crossings Poetic International Film Festival 2021. Thanks very much!
In the old house, No. 351, there is, remarkably, and old internal chapel, with blue walls and stained glass. The whole set-up is filmic and theatrical, like something from a children’s book, in which amazing spaces reside behind rather ordinary doors. For this week’s retrospective offering, a few more images from my residency at 351, not seen or shared before.
Back in early December 2015, I travelled out to Hirson, France, to oversee the screening of this animation in concert with the Orchestre de Picardie. It was coming up to the end of the autumn term and I was knackered, but not especially. On the trip out to France, I had the makings of a stye in my right eye. My eyelid was red and a bit swollen, but again, this was hardly remarkable after the long first term of the academic year, after all the screen work, late-nights and usual running around after undergraduates.
But as my trip continued, it soon became clear something more serious was going wrong with my face. The swelling of my eyelid increased, then the first of the blisters appeared, and the top right quarter of my face began to puff-up in different places. I was stuck in France without the ability to come home early, and anyway, the show had to go on, so I skulked in the shadows like the guy from Phantom of The Opera. The orchestra’s stage-manager began calling me ‘monster face’ and insisted I go to A&E, whisking me away in his car to a filmically deserted French hospital, where I was looked at with naked curiosity by the doctors on duty – who, it seemed, had never seen anything quite like it before. They (mis)diagnosed me with a bacterial infection and gave me antibiotics. Then, with one more day to go before the long road trip home and back through the tunnel under the channel, I began to feel very unwell indeed. My colleagues, who’d accompanied me on the trip and were due to sit in the same car with me for the journey back to the UK, were compassionate, but wary. My face, it seemed, was beginning to slide from my skull and no one was talking about just how unpleasant I was starting to look.
Home finally, my husband putting me to bed and hiding his distress at my sudden and unexpected transformation, I slept. Never have I been more grateful to be in my own bed and safe. The following morning, I shambled to the doctors; by now, something odd was happening to my nervous system, in that I was struggling with noise, and with light, hanging on my husband’s arm like an elderly person, flinching at every passing car. I was diagnosed with shingles immediately – chicken pox essentially – a virus more usually suppressed very effectively by our immune systems, but which had now attacked my trigeminal nerve on the right side of my face. Soon afterwards, I was on powerful anti-viral drugs and my situation improving. The portrait above was taken a few days after that treatment had started. I actually look much better in this photograph, which isn’t saying much, but should give you some idea as to just how gruesome I was looking when my shingles was at its worst.
I share all this for this week’s Friday retrospective, not to simply put you off your food, but rather to reflect wryly on the irony of this particular illness, or rather on how apposite a malady it was. Even as I suffered with it, too weak to eat more than a teacup’s portion of mashed potato, the fried nerve-endings of my face misfiring with a sensation like the crawling of ants, a part of me was amused at the specific aesthetic of my predicament. After all, the best Christmas present I ever had was Dekker’s Movie Horror Make-Up – a Do-It-Yourself self-disfigurement kit of highly questionable taste, its popularity with a particular sort of child riding high on the horror-boom of the late 1970’s and early 80’s, so ignited by the box-office and critical success of The Exorcist and parallel publishing phenomena of Stephen King. When I was given the horror make-up kit, I certainly hadn’t watched The Exorcist or read any Stephen King, for I was much too young, but my creative imagination had already been fired by the idea of spectacular transformations and rubbery technologies designed to corrupt human flesh or monsterise it.
The kit itself was straightforward enough: you mixed up your ‘Flex Flesh’, a sticky goop deriving from powder and water, which you then poured into ‘wound moulds’, which, once set, produced Haribo-like exit wounds, gashes and lesions ready for sticking to your own face with spirit gum. Happy as a pig in mud, I enacted terrible simulations against my own face, my mum soon tiring of finding me ‘dead in the broom cupboard’, or lurching from behind my bedroom door, fake blood oozing from the bullet holes in my forehead.
Years later, my Horror Make-Up Kit long since consigned to the wheelie bin of history, I still found excuses to disfigure myself in the service of special occasions, like Halloween parties requiring zombification. With no handy sachet of Flex Flesh at my disposal, I turned to the famously fishy, eye-watering stink of latex adhesive, applying the stuff directly to my face from the glue bottle. Once touch-dry, it then becomes possible to fold your skin together, nipping and tucking to produce scarring, blisters and dreadful-looking delaminations.
As recently as last week, I was at it again for The Kick-About, splashing the Copydex about my much older, much saggier person to produce a series of canonical mutilations in the pursuit of some postmodern tomfoolery. This time, I was applying layers of latex to parts of my face damaged and discoloured permanently by the Human alphaherpesvirus 3. Even as I did so, I couldn’t decide if this was funny, or just deeply insensitive to my own self, or, more worryingly, if I was once again inviting the cosmic joker to play at ‘life imitating art’. I’ll tell you this for nothing though; one of the big differences between me as a child gluing rubbery things to my body, and me at forty-six doing the same, is the no small issue of then extricating said same rubber things from your own excess body hair… And I thought shingles was painful.
Last year, composer Andrew Fisher very kindly agreed to write the theme for my audiobook adaptation of my first children’s book, Chimera Book 1. Andrew nailed it first time out, taking all the inspiration he needed from artist Phil Cooper’s artwork, and delivering a wonderful mix of b-movie-meets-magic, all shimmer, Halloween chills and a pang of melancholy. A few months later, Andrew invited me on as his first guest on his all-new The Two Rivers Café podcast, where he challenged me to make a new short film on a given theme, to which he would then compose an original score. The theme I chose to work with was ‘wine’ – which was counter-intuitive considering wine doesn’t agree with me! You can listen to our conversation here and watch the film we made together below. Andrew will be talking to, and collaborating with, other creatives in subsequent episodes, and I’m looking forward to spending more time in The Two Rivers Café .
Wine Doesn’t Agree With Me (2021) Phil Gomm / Andrew Fisher
I’ve got a number of scars on my forty-six year old body; the ubiquitous BCG crater on my arm, a hernia scar from when I was a tiny baby, a ‘hole’ between my eyebrows where I picked a chicken pox spot, and more recently acquired, a scattering of other facial scars following a particularly nasty attack of shingles back in the late winter of 2013. You might call these dents and puckerings my ‘souvenirs’ of the wear-and-tear of being alive.
One of my favourite scenes in Jaws (1975), is the sweet, funny moment when grizzled shark-hunter Quint compares war wounds with the more academic oceanographer and shark expert, Matt Hooper. The two men trade stories about the various different ways various different things have taken lumps out of their respective flesh, leaving them with anecdotes written into the surfaces of their bodies. Meanwhile, Chief Brody looks on, deciding against sharing his own battle scar, because, we suspect, his ‘souvenir ‘ is unlikely to impress. I know how Brody feels. With this in mind, I’ve imagined myself as being as colorful a character as Quint, and with just as many stories to tell about terrifying encounters and near-death experiences, and all of them leaving their mark on my body. These imaginary encounters derive from the spectacular dangers of my adolescent life, or rather from my formative confrontations with a host of larger-than-life fictional perils found in paperbacks and on VHS cassette tapes.
If you’re wondering if my commitment to producing original work for The Kick-About is so great, I was happy to maim myself in the name of art, prepare to be a bit disappointed. These scars are faked obviously, but not produced digitally, but in a much more old-school way: the application of latex adhesive to my skin with a washing-up sponge. That done, you can then fold and pinch your latex-stippled skin together to produce some realistic looking areas of damage. My knowledge of this technique is born from a love of old-school horror films and hours spent in front of a mirror, as a child, using whatever I could get my hands on to emulate various monsters of the silver screen.
Our last Kick-About together was illuminated by Marie Menken’s experimental film, Lights. Made in 1966, the glow coming off Menken’s film is as much powered by a certain nostalgia for a particular time and place, as it is by electricity. Our attachment to artifacts of the past, and commitment to keeping and collecting moments-in-time, however fleeting, is explored in this week’s showcase of new work created by an eclectic community of creatives in the short space of two weeks. Enjoy.
“In 1959, my Mother took an emotional transatlantic flight from Vancouver to visit her folks in Bournemouth, whom she had not seen since 1951. On return, she brought home ‘memorable somethings’ for each of us four boys. At age seven I was thrilled with owning Sooty, hence today he is the most cherished of my possessions. My little 62 year old muse posed as part of ‘paintings of a morning’ achieved across the 31 days of August 2020, which mostly referenced local produce. This past week, this unassuming 20 x 20cm oil on board portrait was on exhibit in Whitstable’s The View Gallery, alongside 40 of my paintings.”
“Hmmm… Just one word, eh? “Souvenir”. First thought was of those plastic lighthouses from the Isle of Wight filled with bands of different coloured sand; or a “Kiss Me Quick” hat from Blackpool. (Don’t know why. I’ve never owned either of them.) Second thought was the original meaning of the word, “to occur to the mind”. And the third thought was… my little red tartan box! Never having been the sort of person to let one word stand where a few hundred words might happily swarm, I hope the following words and images impart to you something of what my little red box means to me.”
“This is via a friend who has a friend, who bought the watch back from China (obviously a while ago), so not my own souvenir but one I couldn’t resist! The star goes around, and I think the arm must wave on the hour… brilliant. ‘Keeping Time’, graphite and watercolour on paper.
“We recently had a wonderful day visiting the Queensland Art Gallery, which was showing a selection of master works from the Met. Great show. Halfway through it they offered a number of activities to clear away the visual overload, including a costumed life drawing station. I took the weight off my feet and did a quick sketch – my souvenir from the show. Since then I’ve been layering the sketch over some brightly recoloured charcoal layers. A bit of fun for me to do.”
“Here is my souvenir. A shell picked up on some holiday, turned into an etching a long time ago when I was studying under my maestro, now turned into a memento of another time, another place, another life…” Drypoint 15 x 12 cm.
“The prompt of souvenir seemed perfect: my daughter had given me a small sketchbook, and every day I sat on my beach chair with my feet in the waves doing a drawing, and then writing a haiku to accompany it. The sketchbook would be my souvenir.
On the last day the ocean was quite rough, due to Hurricane Henri passing by, so I sat far up on the sand, where only a small piece of a dying wave occasionally brushed my toes. Holding my sketchbook up to let the watercolor pencil drawing dry I was suddenly totally upended by a rogue wave that covered me completely. I stood up, soaked, clutching my pencils in one hand, but watching my sketchbook being pulled under and out to sea. I will replay that image in my mind for a long time, maybe forever. When I got home, I channeled my emotional turmoil into neocolors, drawing from memory the ocean that was now fixed in my mind. The sketchbook drawings were so much more beautiful though. At least that’s how I’ll always remember them.”
I could not
look at it from be
fore or aft
the angle of gone, dissolved,
not just the
that had been
but what it represented–
a piece of myself,
here I am
clinging to impermanence
like water and wind
“I mentioned before I am a bit if a hoarder, and therefore this prompt was rather a godsend to me. I have had some fabulous holidays but one of the most exciting was a trip to Arizona – the highlight being a trip to Tombstone. It was a fascinating place, and kept in it’s original state with a saloon bar, horse drawn carriages, and, of course, the OK Corral. It is said that ‘Death never took a holiday in Tombstone’ My souvenirs include copies of some old posters and a booklet listing the graves in Boothill Graveyard. The headstones include descriptions of how some residents met their demise, such as ‘Hanged by mistake,’ ‘Wagon rang over his head’ and ‘Discussion over fastest way to draw’. Life was tough in those days! Another treasured poster is an original photo of Geronimo and friends in the battlefield in 1886. The scenery of Arizona is breathtaking and I have attempted to paint the Chiracahua National Monument where Geronimo and his Apache band once found refuge.”
“I’ve got a number of scars on my forty-six year old body; the ubiquitous BCG crater on my arm, a hernia scar from when I was a tiny baby, a ‘hole’ between my eyebrows where I picked a chicken pox spot, and more recently acquired, a scattering of other facial scars following a particularly nasty attack of shingles back in the winter of 2015. You might call these dents and puckerings my ‘souvenirs’ of the wear-and-tear of just being alive.
One of my favourite scenes in Jaws (1975), is the sweet, funny moment when grizzled shark-hunter Quint compares war wounds with the more academic oceanographer and shark expert, Matt Hooper. The two men trade stories about the various different ways various different things have taken lumps out of their respective flesh, leaving them with anecdotes written into the surfaces of their bodies. Meanwhile, Chief Brody looks on, deciding against sharing his own battle scar, because, we suspect, his ‘souvenir ‘ is unlikely to impress. I know how Brody feels. With this in mind, I’ve imagined myself as being as colorful a character as Quint, and with just as many stories to tell about terrifying encounters and near-death experiences, and all of them leaving their mark on my body. These imaginary encounters derive from the spectacular dangers of my adolescent life, or rather from my formative confrontations with a host of larger-than-life fictional perils found in paperbacks and on VHS cassette tapes…”
“I don’t know about anyone else but I have felt a shift in the air with things starting to feel more autumnal. I may have been watching too many horror and slasher films, but for this prompt, my head went straight to the macabre…”
“Near to my place here in Japan is a lonely, tucked away and somewhat overgrown Buddhist temple. There are thousands of these all over the country and they are always filled with interesting statues, iconography, mementos and architecture that give us a glimpse and a reminder into the history of places and people. I braved the 32 degree sunshine and mosquitoes so that I could capture the moment of that place and perhaps in the future, look back and be reminded of hot and humid August afternoons somewhere far away from home.”
“Apart from my huge collection of pods I have brought back, or been given, from all over the world my inspiration for this Kick-About came from a specific experience that continually informs my work. I’ve spoken of it before in a previous KA. It’s that time of year again for the storms to transform the coastal dunes around the island of Isle D’Oleron. It will always mark that change for me between Summer and Autumn. So I am taken back to the dunes, and those battered fences that are twisted and turned by the raging sea.”
Chris Rutter & Evelyn Bennett
“We made an anagram of Souvenir – In Over Us – and this reminded us of rainy days in Berlin some years ago.”
With many thanks to regular kick-abouter, Vanessa Clegg, with have a brand new prompt to see us off on our next series of creative undertakings. Introducing The Phantom of Surrealism…
And finally, a last few dribs and drabs from my fantasia on a theme of Marie Menken – and with a hint of Gatsby glamour!