The Kick-About #43 ‘The Night Before Christmas’


Our last Andy Goldsworthy-themed Kick-About together inspired some winter wonderlands (and some much less wintry offerings too, courtesy of Brisbane-based artist, James Randall). For this, our last creative runaround of 2021, we’re keeping things seasonal, with an illustration by Arthur Rackham for a festive classic. Enjoy this showcase of new works made in a short time, and wherever you are, and whoever you are, I wish you and yours all the very best. “Merry Christmas, one and all.”


Gary Thorne

“I jumped into this sweet text with no clear ideas, so dug out my favourite Pelican fountain pen and began a repetitive process of re-writing the narrative onto lightweight card cut to 140cm lengths. On completion, to counter the banality of what I’d done I re-wrote it, word-for-word, in free-form graffitti style; less mind-numbing, yet still clueless as to the intention. Days later, in woodland, I happened upon a magnificent, towering, perfectly-formed evergreen. With willow twigs in-hand, and the echo of Goldsworthy, I then attempted this balancing act. It may not be towering at 150cm, unless perhaps you’re that mouse not stirring on Christmas Eve. May all Kick-Abouters enjoy a healthy and happy holiday.”


linkedin.com/in/gary-thorne


Tom Beg

“It’s the season of giving gifts, but these days it’s more like the season of GIFs for me. I’ve been making a lot of quick fire animations in my spare time, and producing some looping Christmas tree things seemed quite natural. I think this one is suitably high-tech but festively cheesy at the same time.”


twitter.com/earthlystranger / vimeo.com/tombeg / tombeg.com


Kerfe Roig

“The night sky needs no man in a red suit, sleigh, or reindeer to inspire wonder.”



What To My Wondering Eyes

the night lengthens
into hours that refuse to pass

the stars grow larger,
constellations singing

suddenly a bridge,
a ladder made of light

silence becomes a dance,
its ancient steps retraced

the circle keeps its promise–
a child will lead the way


kblog.blog / methodtwomadness.wordpress.com


Marion Raper

I have taken some artistic license with this Kick-About, and you must imagine that it is early on Christmas Eve when the light is just starting to change before darkness falls. The weather is cold and there has been snow a few days earlier, which is now slushy . This young boy’s mother has said, ‘Hey Jack. Can you just run up to the woods and bring us back a little tree to decorate tonight? Your father’s so busy at the farm he’ll be exhausted by the time he get’s home and your brothers and sisters are so excited and can’t wait to start decorating it. I’ll never get them bathed and into bed asleep before Santa comes tonight!’ Christmas Eve is such a magical time and there is so much to do that it always flies by before you know it.



“And wishing all the Kick-About gang a relaxed, leisurely Christmas and a healthy new Year – artwork courtesy of Toby, my youngest grandson, who proudly carried this picture out from school this week.”



Phil Cooper

“The shadows in Arthur Rackham’s drawing are rather ominous, but I find there’s a spookiness lurking in so many of his images. His work is, on the surface, often enchanting and whimsical, but there’s a darkness and strangeness to them hiding just out of frame.

I’m submitting a painting that plays with similar themes for this Kick-About; shadows and light, mysterious things unseen, and a prickle of unease. I don’t know what’s going on behind the topiary here, perhaps somebody burning rubbish on a bonfire, or a streetlamp, or maybe something else…”


instagram.com/philcoops / hedgecrows.wordpress.com / phil-cooper.com


Graeme Daly

“Not much from me today, as I did these quick sketches on the journey to Stansted airport on my way back to Ireland! I couldn’t get over the eerie nature of Rackham’s scratchy shadows! I found his illustration horrifying – in the best way! For me, Rackham’s art always veers towards that polarising view of what is ‘charming’, where it is uncanny and not quite right. There’s something about the blackness of the line work, particularly with the scratchy shadows, and the way the sickly stained walls progressively get more bruised towards the top; making me think old Saint Nick isn’t as jolly as it’s told, and could be hiding in those shadows, ready to unhinge his bearded jaw and gobble up those kids as they run right up to him… ‘He sees you when you’re sleeping, He knows when you’re awake…'”


@graemedalyart / vimeo.com/graemedaly / linkedin.com/in/graeme-daly / twitter.com/Graeme_Daly / gentlegiant.blog


Charly Skilling

“I grew up in a very tall, very dark, very cold Victorian house, and although Arthur Rackham‘s drawing was done a quarter century earlier, the image instantly brought all my childhood fears back to me. There were shadows everywhere and permanently icy draughts that stroked the back of your neck, and then savagely slammed any door you were unwise enough not to shut securely behind you. It was great in daylight: high-ceilinged rooms and long corridors, changing floor levels, and plenty of hiding places. But when the night drew in…”


You you can find a PDF version here.


Vanessa Clegg

“I was thinking of the brilliant film, Nosferatu, with the shadow of the vampire climbing the stairs then put that into the traditional snack left out for Santa! Enjoy Christmas everybody, however you choose to spend the time. Have fun and keep cosy.”


vanessaclegg.co.uk


Phil Gomm

“On Christmas Eve in our house, there was always a tradition of telling ghost stories just before bed, often with a flickering candle for a bit of Dickensian ambience. Sometimes the stories were read from a book, but often they were created by the family itself, each of us taking it in turns to make up a new bit of the story, before letting the next person continue it, cliff-hanger by cliff-hanger. Mostly, these descended into fits of giggles, as my brother and I failed to resist the temptation to slip rude words into our respective sections, and by ‘rude’, I mean words like ‘bum’, and ‘knickers’. *Snicker*.

Christmas Eve has always had this touch of spook about it, and I think my sensitivity for this peculiar atmosphere predates any knowledge of Scrooge and his ghosts. It was just a night with an imminence like no other. Rackham’s illustration of these three boys heading up to bed captures this feeling very precisely; it’s there in the contrast between their cherubic faces and what is not so angelic about the rendering of their shadows on the wall behind them. I thought this a perfect opportunity to revisit that childhood tradition of a Christmas ghost story.”


You can find a PDF version here


James Randall

“Thanks Gary Thorne for your good advice to take a sub-tropical approach. And so I landed on the hot nights when the heat spins about you as you search for the numbness of sleep. I could have used a darker palette for night. I had the Christmas excuse to use the gold paint that I was too conservative to use previously – wish I could share the metallic on screen. So as the year darts to a close thanks to all of you wonderful KAers and your inspirational works. They amaze me every week and make me want to try harder to capture some of your spark. May you all have a wonderful Christmas and a healthy happy 2022!”



Courtesy of Kick-Abouter (and artful Christmas Tree wrangler) Gary Thorne, we have a new prompt to carry you through those moments when, despite all the food and other festivities, you’re twiddling your thumbs and wish there was a classic example of mid-Century kinetic art to inspire you…



The Children Of The Night Part 3 (2021)


Another selection of pages from my super-seasonal ‘Portfolio of Horrors’, produced in response to The Kick-About No.39, with an utterance by Count Dracula at its dark little heart.

In common with previous images, these are all self-portraits executed via a webcam struggling with low-lighting conditions, and styled after half-remembered moments from creaky old horror films, lurid short stories, and other rich sources of ‘kinder-trauma’.



The Children Of The Night Part 2 (2021)


A second macabre collection of self-portraits from my ‘Portfolio of Horrors’ project, produced in response to The Kick-About No.39. Some of the transformations in this set really make me smile (though that’s not the intended effect on the audience!), because they happened so simply. I don’t know what it says about the specific configuration of my features, but the ‘Count Orlok‘ portrait, with those heavy-lidded eyes and hooked nose, is just my face and nothing more than that. Likewise, the topmost image, which is wonderfully strange, like some stunted, fetal imp, is also just ‘my face’.

The transformations of shadow, aided and abetted by the low-resolution textures of my rubbish webcam, are rather thrilling. They play to that universal childhood experience of discovering how even the most familiar things in our bedrooms can persecute us with their otherness after the lights go out. When I saw the results of the ‘imp’ image, I was strongly reminded of an episode from the 1976 television series, Beasts, about a newly married couple finding some strange dead creature bricked into the walls of their cottage, an idea I promptly nicked for the caption.



The Children Of The Night Part 1 (2021)


Originally, I was going to write a short story by way of a response to The Kick-About No.39, and I even got as far as committing to a rough outline, but while the spirit was willing, the flesh was weak, and I couldn’t make it happen in time. The prompt comes from Bram Stoker’s Dracula – the count is talking about the baying of the wolves beneath the moon, but I was never truly scared by vampires and the like. This was due in part to my fascination with the nuts and bolts of horror – its trappings, its effects, and its preoccupations.

The early horror actor Lon Chaney, was known as the man with a 1000 faces, on account of the ways he transformed his face for his performances in films such as Phantom of the Opera (1925) and London After Midnight (1927). Inspired by Chaney’s lo-fi monsters and the lurid short stories of the Pan Book Of Horror, I set about producing a series of self-portraits.

The way in which the resulting images were produced involved conscious use of my webcam, as opposed to my digital camera, courting the particular effects of low-light levels and low-resolution. I was going for something nostalgic, what it was like as a small boy catching glimpses of disturbing things on small, poorly-tuned black and white televisions.

I wrote the captions to further enrich these imaginary moments, ranging across a host of hoary old tropes and cliches familiar to me from those wondrous and tawdry Pan Books of Horror and countless old movies. That said, for all my obvious enjoyment in producing these portraits, one or two did leave me glancing uneasily over my shoulder…



The Kick-About #39 ‘The Children Of The Night’


Our last Kick-About together was kicked-off by the cut-outs of Henri Matisse, and specifically his White Alga on Orange and Red from 1947. Inspired by one of Matisse’s less well-known cut-outs, regular Kick-Abouter, Kerfe Roig, treated us to something with touch of Halloween about it – a trio of rather dashing devil masks, and a foretaste of this week’s showcase. With dialogue uttered by Dracula himself as our starting point, it’s little wonder things have taken a spookier turn…


James Randall

“One of those Kick-Abouts that seemed to have a life of its own. The colours were fun to try to control.” 



Vanessa Clegg

“Based on childhood nightmares this is a painting I did a while ago but by re-photographing the unmounted slide, it could become a still from a seriously spooky film…make up your own narrative!”



“All I can say is that it’s a classic thriller/horror trick of dark shadows, tangled forest, mounting soundtrack, being lost, sense of being watched… Whaaaaaa!”


vanessaclegg.co.uk


Graeme Daly

“Some painted over photographs from a forgotten forest in Ireland. Inspired by the stagnant stillness of nature in the night, where no street lights are seen, and only the little tufts of smoke from chimney spouts signify life. The thick fog and heavy mist hiding and shielding much of what you should see, like a visceral view of brain fog. But still, our imaginations would always be lit, ablaze.”


@graemedalyart / vimeo.com/graemedaly / linkedin.com/in/graeme-daly / twitter.com/Graeme_Daly / gentlegiant.blog


Tom Beg

“Without knowing where the quote for this week’s came from my mind instantly jumped to Victorian-era gothic fiction and ghostly visions and apparitions. With perhaps the help of some otherworldly spirits guiding me, I got a nice little phantasmagoric effect going in the same kind of magic lantern ad hoc way the horror theaters of old used to employ.”


twitter.com/earthlystranger / vimeo.com/tombeg / tombeg.com


Phil Gomm

The prompt comes from Bram Stoker’s Dracula – the count is talking about the baying of the wolves beneath the moon, but I was never truly scared by vampires and the like. This was due in part to my fascination with the nuts and bolts of horror – its trappings, its effects and its preoccupations. The early horror actor Lon Chaney, was known as the man with a 1000 faces, on account of the ways he transformed his face for his performances in films such as Phantom of the Opera (1925) and London After Midnight (1927). Inspired by Chaney’s lo-fi monsters and the lurid short stories of the Pan Book Of Horror, I set about producing a series of self-portraits.

The way in which the resulting images were produced involved conscious use of my webcam, as opposed to my digital camera, courting the particular effects of low-light levels and low-resolution. I was going for something nostalgic, what it was like as a small boy catching glimpses of disturbing things on small, poorly-tuned black and white televisions. I wrote the captions to further enrich these imaginary moments, ranging across a host of hoary old tropes and cliches familiar to me from those wondrous Pan Books of Horror and countless old movies. That said, for all my obvious enjoyment in producing these portraits, one or two even left me glancing uneasily over my shoulder…”



You’ll find a larger PDF here.


Phil Cooper

What a juicy, exciting prompt this week! Children of the Night is such an evocative theme. For my contribution, I’m submitting work I made a few years ago, but it’s something that has never seen the light of day, and I thought this Kick-About prompt was a good occasion to give it an airing.

I’ve written here before about some design work I did for a touring stage production of Hansel and Gretel back in 2018. Working with director Clive Hicks-Jenkins, the overall concept for the staging involved using children’s toys and building blocks to conjure environments and scenery for the action performed by two puppets.

Before we arrived at the final approach, I played around with some other ideas, most of which were discarded once we had nailed the shape of our vision. The idea I’m submitting here focused on the witch’s cottage, traditionally made of sweets to entice the starving children into the witch’s clutches. Simon Armitage had written a wonderful text for the piece that provided a rich, dark re-imagining of the traditional tale, with a contemporary edge to bring the story up to date. One of my earlier ideas for the cottage involved incorporating sweets into the architecture, but to depict the confectionery as rotting and putrefying. The witch in Simon’s tale is a rather desperate creature, half-blind and cack-handed, and she hadn’t kept on top of the window-dressing designed to entrap lost children.

I made a model of two stone gate posts, the entrance to the cottage garden, topped with a couple of rather mouldy-looking liquorice allsorts. The images here include the original sketch from my sketchbook, the models, and some test shots on a table top environment of the witch’s garden. It was all good fun, even if the idea never took off. I did make loads of fake gingerbread cookies, which we used in a filmed animation sequence, so the concept found its way into the production in the end.”


instagram.com/philcoops / hedgecrows.wordpress.com / phil-cooper.com


Marion Raper

“I find ruined churches and in fact any type of ancient architecture fascinating and love imagining how people lived there and who they were. The fact that when night came and the only light was from candles and fire must have been so scary.  No wonder everyone believed in spirits, ghosts and demons.  Added to that would be the earie sound of wolves howling.  Such clever animals and necessary for the ecosystem. I hear they may even be reintroduced . Hopefully not Dracula as well!”



Kerfe Roig

“I was thinking about this prompt when I found some monoprints in neon colors that I had never finished, being uncertain where to go with them.  I wondered what would happen if I covered them in drips and spatters of spirits and night… And then I wrote something to accompany them.


Children of the Night

There’s a dark path in the forest that reaches not only to the horizon but far up into the stars in the sky.  The contours float, infused inside and out by an endless melody that sings chaos into shimmering pattern.

Where does the story end?  Perhaps it leads to dreams that have been hidden away, to possibilities invisible in the light of day. To once upon a time that becomes here and now.

If you listen – still, silent, boundaried by the night – it’s possible to catch a glimpse of these distant voices. But only a child can find the entrance to this liminal landscape of matter, spirit, and sound.


wonder shines
silvered, transcendent –
opening


kblog.blog / methodtwomadness.wordpress.com


Chris Rutter & Evelyn Bennett

Here is the latest effort. A cut-up poem from the text; ‘Listen To The Music’.”


rutterandbennett.com / instagram.com/rutterandbennett


And for our next creative prompt…

“The spinning saxon, flying pigeons, polka batteries, jumping jacks and firecrackers, squibs and salutes, Aztec Fountains, Bengal Lights, and Egyptian Circlets, bangers or bungers, cakes, crossettes, candles, and a Japanese design known as kamuro (boys haircut), which looks like a bobbed wig teased out across the stratosphere. . . the language of fireworks has a richness that hints at the explosive payload it references. And yet, anyone who has ever held their camera up to the blazing sky knows that a brilliant firework show can rarely be captured to any satisfying degree. Perhaps this is what makes a nineteenth-century series of catalogue advertisements for Japanese fireworks so mesmerizing: denied the expectations of photorealism, these images are free to evoke a unique sense of visual wonder.”

More here and here and here.



Throwback Friday #71 ‘Monster Face’ (2015)


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.



Scars (2021)


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.




Throwback Friday #64 Inquisition Box (1993)


This cruel-looking apparatus dates from my Art Foundation course back in 1993. I even remember the brief giving rise to it, or rather the typically nebulous phrase selected by our tutors to so inspire our creative exertions: ‘Information Gathering’. I must have been reading a bit of Edgar Allan Poe at the time, my imagination taking me, in a few short bounds, to The Pit and the Pendulum. I imagined a sort of portable torture chamber (like you do) – part toolbox, part-music box – and I was thinking about movie props and set-dressing and production design for stop-motion animation, which is where my head was at the time. The box itself – long since consigned to a skip – stood about 2.5 feet high maybe, its various contraptions cobbled together from found objects – an old band-saw blade from the college workshop, the screw from my mum’s old meat-mincer… I presume I asked permission before swiping it from the cutlery drawer, though I can’t be 100% sure!