After the heightened atmosphere of our last kick-about, and the rich food of the festive season now largely behind us, Leger’s simpler fare was a welcome offering. Leger’s still life was brought to the attention of the Kick-Abouters by artist, Gary Thorne; well, Leger can keep his roast beef. I’d rather get my hands on all those delicious-looking prawns and creamy avocados…
“With the holiday now firmly in the past, it seems fitting to celebrate the sacrifice which lead to so much decent feasting. Leger’s prompt of colour and the ordinary stirred up this reflective composition, which in part celebrates a Polish Christmas on the 23rd with its attention to seafood. Although a difficult year for many, it ends with emphasis on a simple pleasure most commonly enjoyed as a shared experience – healthy eating! Happy new year to our fab’ host and to all enjoying Kick-About.” Oil on prepared paper 65cm x 50cm.
“Japan loves food and Japan loves paper, so it makes sense that Japan also loves pictures of food printed on paper. About this time of year a ridiculous amount of two-dimensional sushi gets stuffed into my letterbox. Usually it ends up in the recycling pile along with the rest of the paper, but given the pop-art and food theme of this Kick-About, it struck that these could be made into some kind of surreal, consumer advertisement induced pop nightmare.”
“So Leger, cubism, multiple points of view/time – a series of photos can cover that – and as it was time to pick the final harvest from our little tree, please see the cooking of a peach cake images...”
“Or was this a still life exercise? – covered by ‘what didn’t fit into the dishwasher‘…”
What Didn’t Fit In The Dishwasher
“… and then a totally self indulgent something – peaches – because we did have a few summery days until the rains came. Virtual hugs to all the kick-abouters.”
“For someone whose inner colour chart is extremely limited to dark, this was an interesting challenge, and so good for me, which is why I love being part of kick about! Anyway I had a look at Leger’s work and the thing that leapt out was his use of primaries with black and white delineation, so here’s my interpretation using still life (but no roast beef!) and making the link through colour. Good wishes to everyone for better times in 2021.”
“This kick-about felt very homely; an abundance of food reminds me of home, so I painted a kitchen illustration of a section of our kitchen, mimicking the colour and skewed perspective of Leger’s piece.”
“I remember, as a child, hauling extra quantities of clementines up the road in my mother’s basket on wheels. We never seemed to have enough for the 14 aunts and uncles that filled our Christmas dinner table. The peels were scattered over the table in profusion. I think the reason for so many was that when my parents were young their only present had been an orange – such a scarce and valued piece that it was the centre of their Christmases. So for them, Christmas needed to be full to the brim with orange. My orange theme then reminded me of Mexico and the orange abundance of marigolds strewn everywhere to celebrate, not only the Day of the Dead, but also the coming of Christmas just round the corner. So the last few dabblings in this idea are more impressionistic with a nod to Howard Hodgkin for these oranges escaping my frames in gay abandon. Happy 2021.”
“What I enjoyed about this week’s prompt was the way Leger’s painting encouraged immediacy and directness – a sort of ‘first pass, job done’ flourish that meant lingering too long on any subject wasn’t quite the ticket. I also appreciated a chance to occupy a more domestic space – nothing metaphysical to see here, ladies and gents! Our kitchen is stuffed full of house plants – I look at them many times a day, every day. They are as part of the fixtures and fittings of our kitchen as the cutlery and plates. With this in mind, I wanted to make them the subject of my offering this week, and also to try a new technique first brought to my attention by fellow kick-abouter, Charly Skilling – drawing onto ceramic tiles with Sharpie markers, and then spritzing the drawings with alcohol toencourage them to bleedand soften to pleasingly impressionist effect.To be honest, I worked up these studies super-fast and without any fuss or forethought and just really enjoyed what the process itself was giving back. Given the knock-about informality of the technique, it amused me to dial-up the formality with some tasteful frames, imagining these ill-disciplined little drawings on the walls of some tasteful interior.”
“… always so patient with the various creative undertakings overtaking our small seaside house, my husband was keen to have a go at some ‘sharpies + alcohol’ excitement himself… Presenting ‘Paul’s cactus’…”
“My husband was clearing out a kitchen shelf the other day when he came across a carefully wrapped tea service that he’d inherited from his grandmother and which we’d almost forgotten about. We’ve no idea when it was made, probably 1940s, but we really love it, even though we never use it. Jan’s grandmother was a lovely and very stylish lady who always looked amazing, right into her 90s. We got on well and she’d make me laugh when, after I’d said something like ‘Guten Morgen’ , she’d exclaim ‘oh Philip, you speak such beautiful German’. I hardly speak any German, but bless her! What an amazing generation they were, we miss her very much. I thought I’d paint the milk jug from the service as it fits the prompt this week. I hardly ever paint still lifes but I enjoyed doing this one; maybe I’ll try a few more!”
“My first impression of this still life was gluttony – and I originally planned a collage with lots of food. but when I started pulling images out of my collage box, as is so often the case, the composition decided to go somewhere else. Fish? Butterflies? Snakes? Blame it on the vase goddess.”
“I have never attempted a still life before, so this is all new territory for me. I used Sharpies, but instead of ceramic tiles, I used a bleedproof marked paper, which is semi translucent. Alcohol spray to blend and soften, and the paper was then taped to a window, before photographing.”
Still Life With Blue Casserole
“Here I have made a collage for the new kick-about, “The End of the Meal”. In memory of the Christmas meals at my grandparent house, usually on Christmas Eve, a rather grand affair ending with coffee, brandy, fruit and walnuts and, for us children, homemade ice cream. They had a beautiful dining room with a huge table, a creaking but beautifully wax-polished, sweet smelling, wooden floor and several still life paintings on three of the walls, rather brownish, in heavily carved frames. Fortunately, on the largest wall, there was a wonderful, antique Japanese silk painted screen in three panels, which we all loved the best, and most likely the beginning of my love affair with eastern art. Since then I have drawn and painted and etched many many kinds of still-life, a term which I prefer to the Italian Natura Morta, and learn to love it. In fact, as part of my training at the studio of my Maestro, I drew, then painted and then etched a still life, the same one, nearly every day for an entire year. Clearly not a roast-beef. Despite that, or maybe because of that, still-life became my comfort zone, a quiet place without the challenges of painting people or perspective or busy compositions. For this one I had fun. I used “left-overs” paintings just placed down, ready to be cleared up at any moment.”
“Just before the latest lockdown I was mooching around our new local second-hand bookshop and I came across a book entitled ‘A Wartime Christmas’. It was a compilation of the memories of various people from all parts of Britain who related how they spent the festive season during WWII and had chapters with headings such as’ Gert and Daisy’s cheap Christmas pud ‘ and ‘They tied a label on my coat ‘or even ‘Beethoven ‘s Fifth with accompanying sirens!’ These are the type of stories I find absolutely intriguing and needless to say I had to buy the book. Although Fernand Leger’s still life with roosbeef was done in 1951, his work still has the austere look of the war years about it, and in fact rationing didn’t finish until 1954. On the front cover of my Wartime Christmas book is a wonderful photo of four cheeky little boys in hand knitted jumpers and paper party hats. They were in fact two sets of orphaned twins, aged 3 and 6, whose father was lost on the torpedoed aircraft carrier, Courageous, and they were destined for Dr Barnardos Home. I thought they would be lovely to sketch and perhaps they would prefer the beef to be minced up and served as spaghetti Bolognese – or perhaps during the war it would have been Cottage Pie?”
“This prompt was a joy for me, because one of my main staples as an artist is still life. The main piece here is a painting of a rather neglected Dendrobium orchid and three bottles, painted over the course of one weekend. The other pieces are more simple recent studies. There’s something unbelievably satisfying about rolling up your sleeves, putting together some simple objects and seeing what can do with the paint, in this case, oils. I always learn something from any still life, predominantly about colour, and how our eyes trick us into assuming we know what we’re looking at. You mix for minutes and then you put it on the canvas or board and you’re miles out. Slowly I’ve tuned my eye to sideline these tricks of the eye. On this orchid piece, I’ve started the process of using the objects as a compositional tool on the surface of the board, making sure that I treat the painting as an object in its own right. I’m currently working towards a joint show with @jordanbucker in March this year at The Fishslab Gallery, Whitstable. I’ve made characteristically varied paintings for this show, but still life and observational work is right at the heart of it. Show opens on the 9th of March all going well, we’ll see.”
Phill at work on Dendrobium orchid and three bottles in his studio, Whitstable, January 2021
“I’m running late again, for this Kick-about, and I missed the Christmas one. So I have just whizzed down to my supremely messy studio (in need of a good clear out before work commences next week) and painted a few quick Christmas dinner themed sketches inspired by Leger’s perfect little still life. I rarely do a still life. For me, The Things are all about the people that use them, so I became lost in some invented people and what their moods and relationships might be. In my final image, it was interesting to find, despite the small crowd of people in the central part of the drawing, the subject was really the man at extreme left and the slightly harassed mother at the extreme right. It became all about their isolation within the crowd.”
Ernst Haeckel’s bizarre and beautiful Art Forms In Nature is our new jumping off point for our continuing adventures in art, craft, photography, film and creative writing. Have fun … and wishing you all a very happy new year!
It’s my forty-sixth birthday today. Forty-six! Blimey. To mark the occasion, my old pal, Phill Hosking, dropped by the house today with a card – and inside the card, Phill’s portrait-come-caricature of yours truly – grey of beard, generous-of-nose and cosy-looking in my new yellow Christmas scarf. What a nice surprise – thank you, Phill!
Sometimes when a relationship ends, it doesn’t, and round and round you go together in interminable circles. This song was written in a time of circles, resolutions going broken and broken again.
I thought Choosing Kryptonite made for a suitable, if down-beat choice for January 1st – a day when we’re tempted to draw bold new lines and make solemn righteous promises… often bringing about the very conditions under which we’re going to feel worse about the unfinished business in our lives. The good news is this song is a relic – another one of my heart-felt out-pourings written without irony or much sophistication. Those interminable circles didn’t go round and round forever. The good news is you can make resolutions that stick, even if you have to break them a few thousands times on your way to making a change for the better.
missing you, can’t believe i’m missing you after all the things I said i’d never do but i’m here again and it can’t be true because there’s just no way your foot fits this shoe but i’m missing you, can’t believe i’m missing you it’ll end in tears, we always do
trusting you, how can that be right? after all the grief and the sleepless nights? but i’m in trouble deep, let the hazard warning light i’m like superman choosing kryptonite but i’m trusting you, can’t believe I’m trusting you you’ll break my heart, you always do
touching you, even with my fingers burned caresses black with soot, hey, you’d think I’d learned but i’m like a moth and your like the flame and like icarus this flight will end the same but i’m touching you, can’t believe i’m touching you i’m going to die a death, i’m going to fall for you
kissing you, you’ve re-tied my tongue my insides in knots and my reserve undone I can’t catch my breath, heart beat stationary with this mouth-to-mouth I think you’re killing me but i’m kissing you, really kissing you I don’t care it hurts, I think I want it to
loving you makes a fool from me makes me tweedledum and not tweedledee I guess i’ll play the clown, supply banana peel i’ll even laugh at me as these others will but i’m loving you because I’m in love with you but play it straight with me, i’ll come straight to you
leaving you, well there’s no surprise you’re like holding snow, you’re like butterflies, you can’t be kept ‘cause your love won’t keep because you love to look, but you’re loathed to leap but I’m leaving you, can’t believe I’m losing you I came all this way but you’re still you
There I was, snuggled in bed, too tired to read, but reading anyway, beginning another collection of weird tales from the collections of the British library. Entitled Weird Woods – Tales From The Haunted Forests Of Britain, I was just a few words into John Miller’s introduction when I sat up in bed, suddenly wide awake. Miller begins his preface to the anthology of woods-based narratives thus:
“I grew up three miles from a haunted wood: Oxney Bottom, a name which still gives me shivers. You’ll find it on the road from Deal to Dover on the Kent coast, though it’s not a place you’re likely to stop… but if you did somehow end up in Oxney Bottom, you could tell straight away that there’s something uncanny about it. The road curves as it dips and takes you down into a hollow. Whatever the weather, it’s suddenly darker and colder there… the trees are thick enough to imagine that looking at them five hundred years ago would be the same as looking at them today. There’s no sign of the eighteenth-century house, or the ruined chapel, or the well where a young girl fell to her death in the 1960s. There’s a grey lady – the story runs – who will come out of the woods at night, limping into the oncoming traffic and then melting into the air…”
I turned to my husband, read Miller’s words out loud, and a few seconds later, a plan was formed. We would find the haunted woods of Oxney Bottom and make this jaunt into the arboreal uncanny our last excursion of this strange lost year.
We set out on the afternoon of December 30th, wrapped in scarves against the cold, but not dressed at all suitably for the horse-churned paths of treacherous mud. Admittedly, we may have trespassed a bit, daring one another to walk over a fallen section of fence so we might go deeper into the woods, where the colonies of aspleniums were at their most lavish. We encountered a structure of bent trees, fashioned by nature in homage perhaps to the old chapel mentioned in Miller’s preface. It made for a pleasingly eerie set-piece in the noiseless woods. Ivy was rampant, the trunks of trees rippling with its arteries, and the woodland floor upholstered with thousands of dark green leaves, which, like fish scales, reflected what little light remained.
The quality of silence reminded me strongly of my wanderings in Abney Park – not so much the absence of sound, but an abeyance, these woods waiting for us to leave so it might go back to whatever secret rites our presence had interrupted. Disappointingly, we didn’t catch sight of Oxney Bottom’s grey lady, or even the damp spectral form of the unfortunate girl who fell down the well all those years ago, and we didn’t dare go deep enough to find the walls of the ruined chapel itself. Instead, we enjoyed the curious sensation of time-travel, being the only things moving through an otherwise ancient woodland, a site which long since pre-existed us and would likewise go on without us too.
On the cusp of the new year, I wanted to avoid any further musings on 2020 as they might relate to the pandemic, not least because I suspect the ‘new year’ is going to feel a lot like the old one – at least for a while. Instead, I’ve gathered together all seven ‘Lost In Fields’ films as my swansong to a strange, slow year that was not without its simple pleasures and rich in moments of beauty.
“As usual, I’m spoiled for choice with subject matter in Chapter 14, there is SO much going on, and quite a few new characters appearing who would be great fun to illustrate. In the end, though, I couldn’t resist painting a skull with his brains showing so Doctor Ossifer it is this week. I’ve added a rather strange, shadowy background to the image, a nod to 1920s German Expressionist film, as Doctor Ossifer has Teutonic roots and I’ve recently moved to Berlin myself where some of those films were made. It’s tempting to go about the city speaking in Doctor Ossifer’s German accent and shouting at people, ‘It’s fascinating to meet you’ – but I mustn’t!”
Andante quasi lento e contabile, the third movement from Victor Hely-Hutchinson’s A Carol Symphony, is one of my favourite things. Here’s why.
Admittedly, the lower 4th floor of a brick-built brutalist building is an unlikely fount of yuletide nostalgia. Even so, whenever I listen to Hely-Hutchinson’s A Carol Symphony, it is to this particular corner of this particular edifice my imagination travels first.
The corner in question is the base room for the undergraduate animation programme for which I was course leader, up until my resignation from the role in July 2019. Originally, there was very little ‘kerb appeal’ about this corner of the campus; the space in question had no natural daylight, and its ceiling dominated by a defunct network of ventilation tubes and vents. Over time, my staff and I transformed the unprepossessing bunker into a much envied cocoon of warm vibrant colour, modelled after a cinema foyer, complete with galleries of old movie posters, vintage folding cinema seats, and warm, pooling circles of light. I loved seeing the base room brimming with staff and students – as noisy together sometimes as a roost of parrots – deriving secret pleasure from the oft-repeated rituals of pushing chairs back under the tables after the students had left for their respective classes and restoring order to their scattering of film books, magazines and chocolate wrappers. On occasion, I feigned annoyance at their messiness, their apparent inability to eat a sausage roll without fountaining flakes of pastry over the base room’s rich red carpet, but in some heart-and-sinews way, I didn’t mind at all.
I likewise enjoyed the base room when it was empty and quiet, the orderliness and hush following the end of the autumn term, the majority of our students having upped sticks for Christmas. In direct conflict with edicts from campus managers and their kind, my colleagues and I would conspire to create further opportunities for our keenest students to continue working on campus in the days running up to the big holiday shut-down. In this one small way, I was trying to do as I’d been done by, recalling how supported I’d been made to feel by the teachers and tutors who’d populated my own educational experience; how it felt when my a-level art teacher trusted me to continue working in the classroom long after the school day was over; how it felt when he offered to make me a cup of instant coffee too, this simple erasure of hierarchy between master and the apprentice; how it felt during my Foundation Art degree, when the technician allowed me to work early, or late, in the workshop – because I was trusted; what it felt like to be a valued part of a community, where creativity was a shared act of support and time-giving, an existential thing more glorious than the precise letter of someone’s job description or the increments of a clock-face.
Thus, with a few industrious students scattered throughout the various studios and computer rooms, I myself would sit, not in my office, but rather at the large lozenge-shaped table in the middle of the base room, and finish off whatever remaining workload remained – usually writing heaps of feedback. The base room boasted a very large LED screen television and set of powerful speakers, and when the mood took me, I’d play Hely-Hutchinson’s A Carol Symphony at some considerable volume, it’s third slow movement filling the long empty corridor outside with its midnight-clear and swirling snow. I suppose I fancied myself as an Edward Scissorhands figure; while Edward produced wintery effects where once there was none by shaving blizzards from blocks of ice, I sent Hely-Hutchinson’s darkling dream of winter whirling out of the base room to meet the opening doors of the campus lift, always thrilling slightly at the idea that my foot-sore wearied colleagues might delight, as I did, at finding their workplace enhanced so unexpectedly.
This is what I tell myself, such is the chicanery of nostalgia. My colleagues more likely wondered why I appeared so intent on propelling Christmas before me when there was no one around to care or notice, spraying Hely-Hutchinson’s seasonal music about the place like one of those blowers of artificial snow. For some of them, I may have struck a rather tragic figure, sitting alone at a large communal table in a largely deserted brick fortress. Their ear-buds packed tightly into their ears, my students were, in most cases, entirely oblivious to the ice and nightscape of Hely-Hutchinson’s third movement blowing past their respective studios – and if they were listening, they were probably rolling their eyes.
I don’t really know what anyone else was thinking if and when they heard Hely-Hutchinson’s music moving through the quiet conduits of the empty building – spooky, magical, wonderful, like the advance of frost. I’ll more confidently tell you what I was thinking. I was thinking, ‘This is how you do it!’ This is how you see off the barbarism of the fluorescent lights and long walks of grey non-slip flooring! This is how you unfurl the dark-bright heart of a Narnian wood within the confines of a concrete silo. This is how you turn an ordinary corner on an otherwise ordinary day and find yourself somewhere magical.
The other thing I know is this: whenever I hear the Andante quasi lento e contabile, I miss my former colleagues, all of us always knackered, all of us true-believers in the job-at–hand, and I miss all those twenty-somethings with their explosive sausage rolls and unicorn-coloured hair. I miss them, as I miss their delight in acts as simple as my donning a ridiculous santa hat, or handing around a mass-produced tin of mass-produced chocolates, recognising that delight for what it was – the trust generated by the moments when tutors choose to make themselves back into people. And yes, I miss pushing in all their bloody chairs.
But rather like one of those mass-produced chocolates in those big mass-produced tins, this specific bonbon of Christmas nostalgia is wrapped around a softer centre, for baked inside this Proustian madeleine is another. That I cleave so affectionately to Hely-Hutchinson’s atmospheric conflation of The Coventry Carol and The First Noel has as much to do with the age I was when I first heard it, as it does with the particular merits – or otherwise – of the music itself.
First and foremost, Andante quasi lento e contabile reminds me of my father in ways both welcome and less so. Hely-Hutchinson’s music carries inside it a very pure memory of my family, and thanks to the internet, I can be super-exact about its temporal coordinates: Christmas Eve, 1984, a little after 5pm. Our Christmas tree is sitting on top of the triangle-shaped coffee-table, squidged between the armchair and the sofa and throwing up scintillas against the rice-pudding sheen of our chip paper wallpaper. Dad is home early from work, and we’re all waiting for the final episode of The Box Of Delights to begin, the BBC’s adaptation of John Masefield’s novel. For its signature tune, The Box Of Delights has taken the plucked harp from Hely-Hutchinson’s take on The First Noel. I don’t know the provenance of the music then, but I absolutely delight in the way it calls immediately for the hairs on my arms to rise in anticipation of what it to come. I’m fizzing with a curious brew of ‘Christmasness’ and dread, with pleasure and suspense – with pleasure in suspense. As the gas fire hisses, filling our living room with luxurious heat, I realise this is Christmas right here, right now; that it lives not in the brash adverts for children’s toys, or on Top of the Pops, but here, in this moment of exciting suspenseful darkness, here in this haunted music-box of a Christmas carol. For the record, it’s not just me, as someone wrote in the Radio Times back in 2015:
“The Box of Delights made a big impression on those who saw it when it originally aired more than three decades ago on BBC1. Mainly because it somehow managed to be the image of snowy Edwardian chocolate-box perfection, and pretty bloody creepy at the same time…”
That dad was home to watch this final episode with us is no small part of why this memory endures so powerfully. In common with my future self, who will later propel Hely-Hutchinson’s music out into the empty spaces of a near-deserted University campus in an effort to transform it for others, my pleasure at watching The Box of Delights was a pleasure doubled because it was pleasure shared. That my dad was there, taking this fantastical journey with me, seemed to be of special importance. Our family felt very close that Christmas Eve, drawing closer, Hely-Hutchinson’s music helping us towards each other with all its mystery, threat and promise of magic. This was the start of Christmas proper, the front door shut against the cold, work finished, school a distant memory, and the embargo on that year’s special purchases of Paynes Chocolate Brazils and Turkish Delight finally lifted.
In March of the following year, my father would leave us for another life with another family. Realistically speaking, this last Christmas spent as a family was surely a strained and miserable episode for my parents, and I think for my older brother too, who knew all of it before me. I wonder what they were thinking about as Hely-Hutchinson’s music began to play on our television? At least two of us were dreaming about journeying to another world entirely. It beggars belief I failed to intuit some of what was happening before it happened. Or maybe I did? Maybe the proof of what I knew is found in everything I’ve already written here, the import, clarity and preciousness of this perfect Christmas memory deriving from a child’s desperate act of magical thinking.
When, as sometimes happens, I find myself crying at the Andante quasi lento e contabile, I always try to figure out why. It is not a simple grief, because sometimes the tears feel like they are the physical expression of a surplus of hope. They squeeze out of me, silvered and involuntary. I suspect they are tears of frustration too, of disappointment with the synthetic sentimentality of the Christmas season and my struggle to go on feeling it – any of it. Hely-Hutchinson’s music surely makes me yearn for long walks at midnight on Christmas Eve, crumping across thick snow, and I think, if one day I do take a walk like that, I will come to understand how to ‘do’ Christmas again in some profound, legitimate way, and that it will fit with me again, as I think it once did.
And when I cry a bit, yes, I’m missing all those bloody students and the feeling being there for them gave me. I think, hand-on-heart, what I’m experiencing when I hear Hely-Hutchinson’s Andante quasi lento e contabile is loss – the loss of the child I once was and will never be again, and the loss of the children I don’t have and will never have, that pyjamaed tribe for whom I know I could get Christmas right; a sprinkle of ghosts and shadow, a perfect fragrance of clementine spritzed with my thumbnail, and all this imagination of mine poured into theirs, children I would never leave.
The house I grew up in had no central heating, only the gas fire in the living room. There was no double-glazing either and it was quite normal to wake up and see your breath in the bedroom. It was also common to find ice on the inside of the windows – frost ferns of extraordinary beauty.
In response to this music, I wanted to capture those patterns of ice, but the weather here is stubbornly mild and ordinary. Undeterred, I set about recreating the sorts of photographs I might have taken, but had to rely on some digital transformations, taking an image of an actual frosted fern taken in my garden several winters ago, and pressing it against a window of my own invention. When the first of these images coalesced, I gave a small cry of delight – for yes, here they were again, those delicate veneers of ice, just as I remembered them, and for a moment at least, I was my small pyjamaed self.
Then it was back into Photoshop for a judicious crop or two and a sprinkling of tweaks, to produce this final set of frost ferns. Many thanks to Dee for helping me achieve digitally what I was unable to produce photographically. As I type this, the weather here remains drably wet and decidedly unpretty, my windows opaque, yes, but with condensation and a few chalky streaks of seagull shit. Fingers-crossed the depths of winter might still provide some real-world opportunities for nice ice!