Insert Shape (After Matisse) #1 (2021)

Henri Matisse turned to scissors and coloured paper for expediency to produce his celebrate cut-outs, which surely derive their energy from that directness. In thinking about my approach to The Kick-About No.38, I wanted to identify an equivalency for Matisse’s scissors – a ubiquitous tool – and the speediness of producing shapes, for then combining in different ways. So it was I began my image-making with Powerpoint – oh yes, the infamous ‘presentation-maker’, notorious as software for producing will-sapping slides to be shown in under-ventilated rooms.

One of the application’s off-the-peg tools is ‘Insert Shapes’ – which allows you to draw simple shapes with a quick drag of your mouse, and then colour and outline them as you see fit. I used Powerpoint to produce collections of basic shapes – circles, rectangles and squares (and later, some of Powerpoint’s cookie-cutter plant form icons) – and then brought these ‘cut-outs’ into Photoshop, where I set about layering them one on top of the other with as much immediacy as I could muster.

I started simply at first, with just circles and squares and some dotted outlines, and very quickly lots of nice things happened, with the layering producing some effortlessly nostalgic effects. My mouth began to water a bit, wishing I could occupy a few more timelines, wherein I was a textile artist, or designer of vast tiled murals in brand spanking-new tube stations, or Great Exhibition-style posters celebrating the ‘shock of the new’.

It perhaps won’t surprise you to hear I got rather carried away, so there’s a few more examples of my fantasia on a theme of Matisse-meets-Powerpoint to share over the coming days.

The Kick-About #33 ‘Herzog’s Dancing Chicken’

After the epic, panoramic, and impressionist works riffing on Rutenberg’s Low Dense, I’m delighted to present an all-new showcase of work inspired by the improbable, homespun spectacle of Werner Herzog’s dancing chicken. (That’s not a sentence a person gets to write every day!). I’m delighted too to welcome some new kick-abouters into our midst, creative power-couple Chris Rutter and Evelyn Bennett. Welcome both, have fun!

Chris Rutter & Evelyn Bennett

“We have made a cut up poem from the words of the last scenes in the film. Dance, fuckers, dance!” /

Emily Clarkson

“I was a bit bamboozled by the dancing chicken clip from ‘Stroszek’ having never watched the film. So I opted for some zany, silly visuals, featuring the chicken, duck and rabbit! I call it ‘Head Banger Stroszek.’ / /

Jan Blake

“I’m still wallowing in bright colours this time. So with that in mind, and the craziness of dancing chickens, I came up with this. You are invited to the ‘Chicken Coop WOOP WOOP Disco’.”

Graeme Daly

“I was drawn to the stage, the colours and of course the funky chicken!”

@graemedalyart / / / /

Kerfe Roig

“I first decided to draw while watching the video on a roll of rice paper that I had. This was a fun exercise, worth thinking about for other videos in the future. Then I did some monoprint outlines, based on those sketches. I tried to monoprint color on top, but that was not as successful, so I improvised with paint. Only the chicken with the blue background did not have a printed outline, it was all drawn in neocolors. There is no cohesiveness to this week’s work, but chickens are endlessly fascinating to draw. So maybe that’s the take-away.” /

Francesca Maxwell

“I love the dancing chicken. Never would I have thought… Funnily enough, I am just painting a rooster, even if its meaning is a bit of a departure from the prompt. It all started from various kick about prompts actually, tree of life, symbols etc. Here is a bit of my tree of life, more like a climber really, with roots in the sea going up in a dreamy night sky, and my rooster daughter (by the Chinese horoscope), perched on it. Looks like a rooster singing to the moon now.”

Marion Raper

“With this task I found myself in the realms of abstract again and fancied concentrating on the marks made by the chicken as it scratched and danced about. I decided to crochet the shape of a chicken, duck and rabbit footprint and stick them onto pieces of card to use as stamps. Next I used acrylics to paint the background and added some contrast printing using recycled packaging. After this I just proceeded to enjoy myself with ‘chicken foot ‘ stamp to make a happy dancing type of pattern. In fact I think there is actually a dance called Chicken in the Straw – so I have renamed this painting ‘Drunken Chicken in the Straw’. Plus had to finish with a little chicken quip – ‘I dream of a better world… where chickens can cross the road without having their motives questioned!'”

James Randall

“I was a bit focused on other little projects – though chicken dance was lurking in the back of my mind – originally I was contemplating an image of someone crossing the road, lost battery chicken-like in their smart phone. My final offering quickly took off from a couple of weird things I did and the news feeds bombarding us in Australia on the delta variant, to the point where it feels like we never had alpha at all and that delta just appeared out of the ethers. We Australians really have ourselves to blame for not deciding to bite the bullet and take the not best option astra zenica for delta’s current launch in Sydney. Anyhow, my attempt at a voodooish/distressed thought-bubble.”

Phill Hosking

“This scene really drew attention to just how bizarre a chicken really is, dancing aside. I realised I’d never really studied one before. Great opportunity to do so, so I took a tonne of screen shots from the film and picked some charismatic head shots. Getting to grips with the mixer brushes in Photoshop now, almost tailor made to paint fur and feathers.” /

Tom Beg

“I think Werner Herzog used the dancing chicken as some kind of bleak metaphor for the tackiness and the emptiness of modern life at the time. Personally, I wanted to elevate the chicken to something more elegant, while capturing its essence and joie de vivre. In the end, I settled on these black and white images, which were somewhat inspired by an encounter with a rooster and some charcoal during my college days.” /

Charly Skilling

“I got very excited when I first saw this prompt, because I just love chickens! The range of colours and patterns they display in their plumage; their ability to scuttle about very busily, and then stop stock still – like a screen freeze – before resuming their previous activity, as if nothing had happened – and the fact they combine such dignity with such comedic flair. I just love ‘em! But, I have never attempted to capture motion in yarn before, let alone dancing hens. I soon realised crochet does not lend itself easily to “action shots” so it took a lot of head scratching and moaning and groaning before I found a way forward.

I found photos of chickens running, and then got my techie friend to overlap and tessellate them. From that I tried to identify the key shapes that said “chicken”. (See attached scribbles.) From that, I decided on tail shape, coxcomb and legs, and then tried to develop those into a pattern that might suggest movement. I chose colours in keeping with the folksy, children’s story mood of the original prompt. Here are the results. Chicken Runner, anyone?

Phil Gomm

“I was struck by the folksy, pop-culture qualities of Herzog’s dancing chicken, and keen to investigate the movement of these performing animals too. The rather forlorn spectacle of these animals, in boxes, existing to entertain through repetitive actions got me thinking about mechanical toys, so I acquired a mass-produced tin toy clock-work chicken and set about trying to capture its efforts to entertain me, in the form of a series of long-exposure photographs.”

Vanessa Clegg

This was a challenge! So based solely on trailers and reviews, my imagination wandered towards Victorian anthropomorphy and the use of animals for amusement, (YouTube awash with examples), looking at the flea circus, kittens tea parties, besuited mice etc. The result? A chicken/human cross! The other image is a set up in my studio: a plastic figure picked up in the street against a favourite haunt in Greece. In Stroszek, the main character lands on a strange shore and never fully integrating, remains an outsider, wandering from place to place. It was this and a sense of the surreal that I was trying to capture.

And for your delight and delectation, a bit more moving image by way of inspiration for our next run-around together, courtesy of experimental film-maker, Marie Menken, and her 1966 silent short, Lights. Hope this inspires some light-bulb moments of your own!

The Kick-About #11 ‘Trappist 1e’

By way of a preface to this week’s Kick-About, some info courtesy of Judy Watson: “TRAPPIST-1e is one of the most potentially habitable exoplanets discovered so far. Your descendants may be living there one day. It is similar to the size of Earth and closely orbits a dwarf star named TRAPPIST-1 which is not as hot or bright as our sun. One side of TRAPPIST-1e faces permanently towards its host star, so the other side is in perpetual darkness. But apparently the best real estate would be the sliver of space between the eternally light and the eternally dark sides – the terminator line where temperatures may even be a cosy 0 °C (32 °F).”

Our last run-around together in the company of Joseph Cornell encouraged many of us to journey inwards; this week’s creative responses are beaming back from many light-years further away!

Emily Clarkson

I’m not really sure how to explain this one. I just liked the idea of a looped animation, jumping between Earth and (my version of) Trappist-1e by a little rocket. / /

Judy Watson

“I started painting some plants for this new world, and I imagined that they would all be turning towards the dim light of their star. So I made a world where everything was evolved to point in one direction only, sucking up the warmth, the light, the energy; a single-minded yearning, shared by every living thing on the planet. It made me ponder on humankind’s perpetual yearning, which leads us to disaster over long roads and short. If only we could all focus as readily on the majesty and wonder of the world that we already inhabit. There was nothing I could paint for this new world that could rival the natural wonders in the one we already have. I made the new inhabitants – refugees from Earth – look on in wonder. And then, because of their pose, looking upwards within the vivid setting, it put me in mind of a propaganda poster. which made me laugh.” / /

Graeme Daly

“I was really inspired by Olafur Eliasson, in particular his exhibition – The Weather Project. I imagine a planet vibrating with orange hues against cool tones, with piercing shadows, and the ground of this planet cracking and buckling” 

@graemedalyart / / /

Marion Raper

“This planet is something which I had never heard about before, and I was inspired to do some machine embroidery which loosely shows the arrangement of the orbits of the planets around Trappist. I layered various different materials on top of each other then added different textures for the planets b to h, using a zig-zag stitch around them. In the centre I put an origami star for Trappist itself. The fun bit is when you have finished stitching and you can slash away with your scissors. You never quite know what it will turn out like.”

Come take a trip to Trappis-1e
Ages 50 plus go free!
Don’t be put off by the distance
We’ve everything for your assistance.
There’s luxury slumber pods and sleep swings
You’ll never feel the slightest thing.
40 light years may seem a while,
But our Dreamland films will make you smile!
You can download your happiest memories
Whilst we ferry you along at lightening speeds.
So don’t delay, and book your seat –
Our on-board menu’s a real treat!
We have masseurs and therapists while you snooze
You can become anyone you choose!
No covid quarantine when you alight
So just relax and enjoy the flight!

Marcy Erb

For this Kick-About, I returned to making monoprints in the same vein as I did for the Alice Neel prompt from the Kick-About #5. I wanted something spontaneous and bursting with energy. I sat down and calculated how many Trappist-1e years I would be now and it was humbling to say the least: I am 2,307 Trappist-1e years old. The other two numbers represent my Earth ages: 38 years old, having spent 14,072 days orbiting our star. We don’t actually know what Trappist-1e looks like (the picture in the prompt is an artist’s rendering), so I let my imagination run wild making planets on the inking plate.

Phil Gomm & Deanna Crisbacher

“As I write this, the UK is having its expectations managed regarding the continuing effects of the pandemic. Our worlds will continue to shrink a little more. I’ve been going ‘off-world’ for months now, journeying into largely uninhabited terrains to breathe lungfuls of fresh air, and go exploring. The word ‘planet’ derives from the Greek word for ‘wanderer’ – how apt, I thought, considering my wanderings through these ordinary/extraordinary landscapes. This prompted an idea I couldn’t execute by myself; what if I could literally turn some of these havens into actual planets? More than this, given the gauzy, impressionism of many of the images – and the suspensions of gaseous colour – what if I could transform these earthly/unearthly spaces into nebulas? Fortunately, I knew just the person to help me realise this plan, VFX whizzkid, Deanna Crisbacher, who took my photograph below and ‘plugged it into’ her CGI-dream machine, and used it to generate an all-new planet and its accompanying nebula!”

Boughton Scrub, September, Phil Gomm

James Randall

“What a topic change! From all those lovely intimate pieces, to Trappist 1e! So it’s earth like and travels around a red dwarf (yellow or white in color) and what would humankind’s motivations be if we eventually reached it. Would we want to mine it or farm it? Would we decimate any possible indigenous occupants – how much respect do we have for our own little world. So I realized I needed to add a narrative to protect the indigenes and planet. What if the indigenes fed on greed and hatred? That’s where I went in and left it. Would this be good or bad for humankind – would the indigenes farm humans? Could this be interplanetary heaven or hell? Stay tuned…”

Kerfe Roig

“Marcy Erb’s prompt for the Kick-About #11 was the planet Trappist 1e, an earth-sized planet orbiting the Trappist-1 dwarf star 40 light years from Earth. What makes it special? Scientists believe it is potentially habitable. But not the entire planet–“there would be only a sliver of habitability”–as the planet does not itself rotate–one side is always facing towards the sun, and the other side is always in darkness.  The habitable area is called the teminator line, or in more familiar terms, the twilight zone, as it is always stranded between the darkness and the light. The idea of a sliver of habitability seems relevant to the current situation on earth–the balance of the ecosystem is delicate, and we are narrowing that sliver day by day.  My two mandalas represent my idea of Trappist 1e and the waves of exploration and communication we are sending out in the hopes of finding another blue and green island in the vast dark cosmic sea.”

life spills out
into uncontrolled
still yearning for parallel
growth, revelation—

who and where
do we think we are?
tiny ex
plosions look
ing for intersecting lines
that collide and cross,

waving brains
tides hands energy
mapping the unseen
with disturbances,

of what could have been–
had light years
been compressed
into overlapping sounds—each
a mirrored reply /

Vanessa Clegg

“In a cramped concrete room, a man covers his head. A window, high up, frames the Milky Way. Ink black. When we look up at a clear blue cloudless sky it’s almost impossible to imagine infinity and darkness beyond, or the space debris circling our planet, or the other orbs in our solar system, or pieces of rock the size of our house hurtling towards us, or even other worlds light years away that possibly, just possibly might spawn life forms as ours has…because, despite the clearest of images beamed across space/time it remains an abstraction… a concept… slippery and seductive…an escape.

We’re in the middle of a voracious pandemic, our lives restricted, so in many ways, we are all Trappists now…facing the back alley of our own thoughts and imagination and that is where we travel….beyond the walls of our homes to faraway places that might or might not exist and within these lie dark corners unknown and unpredictable..both in real space and the “space” in our heads.

Arundhati Roy reflects that ‘the pandemic is a portal between one world and another…an invitation for humans to imagine a better place…A Trappist 1e of the mind.

Ink on board and stone. “Hidden in plain sight”

Toned & hand printed photograph

Charly Skilling

“At a time when our world seems to have shrunk to the four walls of home, it can seem difficult to envision the exploration of a whole new planet. I decided to crochet my own “new planet” and incorporate into it all the swamps and mountains, deserts and polar wastes that were the early building bricks of imagination for those of us who grew up with Flash Gordon, Forbidden Planet, and the original series of Star Trek. When you can’t explore the world, create a new world to explore. It may not be art – but it was damn good fun!

(NB – I have been reminded that some say the Creator made the world in 6 days and on the 7th he rested. Well, if he’d been crocheting, it would have taken him/her/it longer than 6 days! And I don’t suppose they had anyone leaning over their shoulder asking “What’s that bit supposed to be, exactly?”).

I’m really getting into this free-form crochet! Who knows what could be next? Robby the Robot perhaps, or the space-time continuum…”

Maxine Chester

“An utter flight of fancy on a classic theme – I have started to get the feeling that my studio is like a portal, a kind of feminine creative principle. These subjects, from an unknown place, have materialised. I have no idea what they are capable of!” /

From an artist’s impression of a real world celestial body, the Kick-About #12 focuses our attention on a celebrated example of artists’ impressions of fake celestial bodies – the Cottingley fairies and the photographs that fooled the world. Thanks to regular kick-abouter, Marion Raper for our next creative prompt! Have fun and see you all here again soon.