Better late than never, right? So this short story was inspired by the narrative quilts of Harriet Powers, the prompt for The Kick-About No.68. I wasn’t able to complete the story by the original submission deadline and have been working away on it since. Thematically, it takes the idea of patchworks to express composite identities and their complexities and the idea of individuals and their emotional lives comprising contrary shades and textures.
This time last year, I had huge amounts of fun producing a series of self-portraits that lent heavily into the tricking and treating of Halloween. Entitled The Children Of The Night, they emulated old horror movies and the paperback covers of my youth and originally produced for The Kick-About No.39. I’m much too old to actually do Halloween in any meaningful way, but I couldn’t let the occasion pass on here without some acknowledgment of a creative kind, so I do have a creepy little something for you in advance of the 31st. Last seen here, I just happened to have a hand-sewn mask hanging around the house, so spent some fruitful time yesterday hanging out in a clothes cupboard, and the words followed swiftly after. Happy Halloween!
The idea for this story came quickly, inspired in part by the conflict going on between the domesticity of the subject in Henri Matisse’s 1908 painting, Harmony In Red(our latest Kick-About prompt), and the roar of its redness, like a sudden rush of feeling, something eruptive and less civilised. I was excited too by the strangeness of Matisse’s perspective, a world shunted off-kilter unexpectedly, and likewise by the very idea of Fauvism itself and all its ‘wild beasts’.
With Mervyn Peake’s drawings laying down the gauntlet for The Kick-About 57, I decided to attempt some character drawings of my own, as inspired by the trio of villains in my own work of fantastic fiction, Chimera. I don’t really draw, or identify as someone who does, but this bloody Kick-About business keeps prompting me to make exceptions to this and have a go. In common with my approach to these self-portraits, I kept drawing and re-drawing onto the same bits of paper, using the eraser as much as anything else to understand what was working and what wasn’t. I’d say the final illustrations were not so much ‘drawn’ as materialised out of a succession of mistakes, but anyway here they are: the Berserker, the Tealeaf, and Madame Chartreuse, and for your listening pleasure, a short extract from the Chimera audio book, in which the Oblivion Three first make their proper appearance…
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.
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…
“In the previous chapter we were immersed in scenes of devastation and horror, but things take a surprising turn in Chapter 20. We encounter a couple of the strangest characters in the book and we’re treated to some of the worst jokes ever heard. It’s quite a contrast!As many of the scenes in Chimera have been quite dark in many respects, I’ve taken the opportunity to illustrate something lighter in tone. It’s not often I get the chance to paint a blow-up flamingo, and I wasn’t going to let the chance pass me by. There’s a tube of bubblegum-pink that’s been gathering dust in my paintbox for years, but it’s time has come!” Phil Cooper, Spring 2022
It’s here, the penultimate episode of Chimera Book 1! I anticipate anyone who has listened to the last 19 chapters may be in urgent need of a recap. For others unfamiliar with my continuing collaboration with Dan Snelgrove to turn the first of my children’s adventures into an audio book, it might be a case of ‘Chimera what now?!’ Short version is Dan and I embarked on this project all the way back in October 2020, and with but one more episode to produce to complete Kyp Finnegan’s first adventure in the strange and dangerous realm of lost properties, we’re nearly there! If you go here, you can begin at the beginning, and if you go here, you can catch up on the events of the last chapter; and for a quick recap of the final moments of Chapter 19, see below.
For this week’s rummage through the archives of ‘stuff wot I’ve done’, it’s an airing for another of those sad little songs written all the way back in the early-mid 2000s, when I was licking wounds of one sort or another. I can just about recall the melody for the chorus (a few lines of it anyway), but other than that, only the words remain, and also the feelings that gave rise to them.
I admit I’ve got some cheek and I admit I’ve got some nerve now wanting your attention after so successful a body-swerve after insisting it was over. after insisting on meaning it after announcing plain and simple, our so called-love, I’m leaving it and it’s not that I regret one word or would reverse the hands of time or contest my intuition or that common sense of mine but there’s something gone awry in our story, though still true details inadmissable because I needed to hate you so forgive me this confession. I’m not re-attaching strings when I tell you, like a thirst I just miss the little things
‘cos you were also a warmth, you were a sound in my head and you were the way particular words got said you were the smell of the soap on the palms of my hands that bemused concentration whenever I told you my plans you were pub-smoke, you were cinnamon on our one christmas eve that distraught little boy when I said I would leave you were the hand leaving mine, you put these breaks in my heart our sum sure wasn’t great, but I still love you in parts
I won’t come knocking on your door, won’t be waking you from sleep won’t be finding how to justify now some ill-advised repeat won’t make believe I was passing or stand before you wet from the rain won’t forget the whys and the reasons, won’t waste more breath trying to explain and it’s not that I’m not torn or sometimes mourn those days with you but how to even tell you and keep my promise true? I know I’m better off this way because I’m stronger now and free how I had to hurt you back this once to finally stop us from hurting me so forgive me my confusion and any grief it welcomes in when I tell you, like a thirst I just miss the little things
the point on me is lost of my simultaneous default of now confessing joy when it’s not a ploy and i’m content with our result when the way things are still suits me and I’m as pleased as punch I had my say I lie awake less, my bed emptied, no longer rueing our worst of days but it’s not that i’m at rest, I am, at best, a man who knows a little less now about love-stories, about the way they’re supposed to go but I do know you deserve somehow more now than what got said neither crumbs or guilty gifts but the truth of it instead so understand me, this annotation, around you i’m not running rings when I tell you like a thirst, I just miss the little things