Phil Cooper, ‘Bedside Lights Sprouting’, 40cm x 40cm, Acrylic on paper
The tunnel led into a much larger cave, its walls, ceiling and floor formed from old stained mattresses in different prints and patterns. Dim orangey light was given out by an assortment of bedside lights sprouting toadstool-like from the floor and walls.
For his inspiration this week, artist Phil Cooper focuses on one of the bedside light-come-mushrooms that grow out of the floor and walls of the catacombs – a moment of comfort and calm – before events in the chapter take a more sinister turn!
It’s tempting to draw the obvious conclusion from the recent choice of prompts offered up by the kick-about artists of late. Last time it was the exoplanet Trappist 1e, with its promise of new beginnings ‘off-world’, and an escape from this one, which seems smaller by the day and rather dimmed. This week it’s fairies – or more accurately, the need to go on believing in them, a yearning for something as-yet-unspoiled and magical. In these different ways, we seem preoccupied with escapism and realms more expansive than those afforded by our current circumstances.
Julien Van Wallendael
“I saw something about the Cottingley Fairies being the theme of the month on your blog, so I put this together last night as a response… I was mainly driven by the need to figure out something that could be done in one sitting! The Cottingley Fairies case exposes all at once our yearning for wonder and penchant for deceptiveness – newly aided by the medium of photography. It seemed therefore appropriate to paint a scene both whimsical and that references modern optical tricks. Having seen Akira at the cinemas last week, I still had its long exposure shots of motorcycles in mind – so I thought for once I could make use of those weird skinny palette knife type brushes and replicate the look of a light streak by letting my pen run across randomly. Phil’s recent impressionistic meadow pictures and older flashlights projects may also have been in my thoughts!”
“I remember those Cottingley fairy photos being discussed seriously on news and current affairs programmes in the ’70s. Presenters would say things like ‘the photos have been examined by experts from the so-and-so lab and they cannot find any evidence that the photos have been tampered with’. I think we all wanted to believe that they were real, even though they were pretty obviously painted cut-outs (what on earth they were doing in the so-and-so lab I can’t imagine).
This week’s prompt came to mind when I had a few days out in the country last week. Having been stuck in the city for most of this year, due, mainly, to Covid, I felt quite giddy when I got out into some wild green spaces. As well as that feeling of escape, the light was sparkling and dreamy and the woods and meadows alive with fungi and rich autumn colours. It certainly looked like a place where fairies could dance and frolic. So, for the kick-about this week I’ve photo-collaged some images from my visit and cranked up the trippy fairy weirdness factor. Maybe those Cottingley girls had taken a few mushrooms before they came up with their jolly wheeze.”
“I found it very difficult to get away from the obvious with this prompt, even though I was the person who originated it! I had a few ideas about painting something such as a puppy dog and setting it in a proper basket to make it look as if it was real. However this didn’t seem to look very convincing when I tried it. At this point I ran into Artists block and looked on the internet for some tips. I realised that there was something in my mind that wanted my pictures to be like those of Arthur Rackman and although this wouldnt be very original I just had to go with it. So saying, I put on some relaxing music and just played around until this is what I came up with. I used an old painting of mine done on Yupo paper which I chopped into leaves and then added watercolour and collage. I was aiming for an ethereal effect and hope it didn’t end up too ‘twee’.”
“I tried adding a fairy storyline over these images but I just didn’t like what they did to the pics. Rather than scrapping the backgrounds I thought they could work labelled ‘looking for fairies’.”
“Hats off to Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths for scoring a hit without the use of PhotoShop. Who needs PhotoShop when you have cardboard cut-outs and a camera? Looking at these photos, I’m reminded again of how seemingly unconvincing the installations were. It was the Powerful Energy of the children’s imaginations that brought them to life. How I love that Powerful Energy! And as an adult, I regularly delve into books I read as a child in an attempt to recapture the Power. I am forever hammering on the back of the wardrobe, so to speak.
I’ve made a couple of new ‘fairies’ for 2020, the stranger-than-fiction year. Possibly due to the poisoning of my mind by doom-scrolling through US election news, my 2020 fairies are a pair of Dickensian style villains, sloping back into the forest after getting up to goodness knows what… (Perhaps he is carrying a sack?) The female figure, superficially posing as a pretty thing, with gossamer wings and a lacy apron, has overly long stick insect arms and carries a thorny crook/trident. The male of the species is wearing a lacy collar that droops down in a hairy way from his neck. But the rest of his torso is naked and a bit bloated.“
“One of the things I appreciate about growing up in rural Ireland are all the stories about curious oddities I was told when I was a young lad. We all heard the stories of the wailing banshee, the sluagh and the fairies. A stone’s throw from my father’s house in Knockatee Dunmore is Fairy Hill. Fairy hill is a steep hill covered in grass and wildflowers. The very top of the hill is speckled with fairy trees, with a swing fashioned from worn rope and driftwood. Fairy Hill was a place of refuge; it looked-over the emerald green of Ireland. You could hear the calming laps of the river Sinking nearby. You could see Dunmore castle slightly peeping out from the tree tops to the east.
The story of Fairy Hill goes that builders tried to build Dunmore castle on Fairy Hill, but the vivacious fairies would awake from their slumber in the dead of night and knock the stones down to the ground, and did so every night to save their homes. The builders decided to build the castle down the road on a less magnificent hill, which is now where Dunmore Castle sits. Ireland is bursting with stories like this. Planning permissions for entire concrete motorways have been scrapped because a pesky fairy tree is in its route and needs to be cherished. Maybe that’s why people view the Irish as a bit mad!? Or maybe we refuse to grow up? I’ll take the latter.
I decided to write a poem and draw a piece of charcoal art that reflects how this story has lasted through the ages, something old and worn but still intact, which invigorates nostalgia.”
“With the exception of some digitally post-produced blurring at the periphery of these photographs, and a hint of sepia, you’re looking at ‘what happened’ late one night in the dark in rural France.
Equipped with my old 35mm camera, some 1600 black and white film, and a cheap battery-operated camping light, I produced a series of long-exposure photographs with myself as the subject. At risk of demystifying the resulting images still further, you have to imagine me running from one position to the next in the dark, switching on the camping light between my bare feet, and posing – or moving through different poses – for short intervals of seconds. I had to wait until my return to England to process the images, and when I saw the resulting images, I was delighted and spooked in equal measure. What the camera had seen that night out in the dark was not what had been put in front of it. I promise, hand-on-heart, I wasn’t wearing a black Cleopatra-style wig (in truth I wasn’t wearing very much of anything at all!), and I can’t explain everything caught on camera. I’ve taken lots and lots of photographs in ominous settings in the hope of capturing something otherworldly on film; these snaps, taken with old technology, taken hurriedly (and with so inelegant and earthly a subject!), are proof cameras are haunted and magic is real.”
“Looking at the photo from the vantage point of digital manipulation in 2020, it’s easy to laugh at the fact that anyone could have actually believed that they were “real”. And yet…”
it’s easy to say no—but what does that word really mean, exactly?—“not now”?—“never”?– “I don’t understand”?—
“I don’t want to deal with it”?—what lies between the letters, the sounds hard and long? if you take away the n
what is left?– only a surprise, a sense of wonder—worlds filled with possibility– the magic of ”o!”
“The Cottingley Fairies are mostly remembered because so many people believed them to be proof of another world, co-existent with our own, whilst another group believed they provided proof of other people’s gullibility. Nowadays, we tend to assume a more sophisticated (or perhaps more cynical) attitude to life – the cry of “Special FX” or even “Fake News” is heard constantly. If fairies do die if someone says they don’t believe in them, they must be at the very top of David Attenborough’s list, if not already passed the way of dodos, Siamese flat barbelled catfish and the golden toad. And yet fairies still continue to populate our stoy-telling, our art, and our culture.”
Sharpie pens and alcohol on ceramic tile
Sharpie pens and alcohol on ceramic tile
I have always loved fairies and other mythical creatures, growing up on diet of Enid Blyton’s books such as The Enchanted Wood series, The Wishing Chair series and the Mr Pink Whistle books. When my younger sister and I were children, we used to dress up as fairies using tinsel for crowns and white nightgowns for dresses.
“This was such an interesting prompt and threw up so many possibilities (fake news being amongst them) but in the end and after many versions, I decided these two were getting there. I had great ambitions but didn’t quite get there with this one….v.v. basic technology in this household! The two main spurs were : The film “Wings of Desire” by Wim Wenders and the first “Pookie” book by Ivy Wallace (my favourite childhood read)… further down the line drones came into the mix. I might keep working on it from collage to drawing as it’s a theme with so many angles but, for the moment, this is it!”
“Sorry for the super late submission this week… I approached this as if the fairy character had become toughened by years of actually surviving at the bottom of a real garden – yes, still magical and enchanting but a bit ragged and with honed survival instincts. I focused on her dynamism and intensity taking out out an innocent insect.”
Our next prompt comes courtesy of resident gentle giant, Graeme Daly, an excerpt from Italo Calvino’s celebrated novel, Invisible Cities describing Ersilia, the city of strings. If you’re already a regular kick-abouter and think you know someone who’d like to join in for a run-around, then do encourage them to make contact. Likewise, if you’re just happening by and fancy getting involved, then do please get in touch.
Kyp Finnegan’s Conker, Phil Cooper, 40cm x 40cm, acrylic on board
It gives me great pleasure to share the first of Berlin-based artist, Phil Cooper’s new paintings inspired by the world of Chimera. As each new episode of the audiobook goes live, a further painting will follow here at Red’s Kingdom. One of the most exciting aspects of collaborating with other creatives is the way in which your own work is vivified by the imagination and talents of other people. To hear actor Dan Snelgrove inhabiting the different characters of Chimera has been an addictive delight for me, and it’s no different each time Phil Cooper sends a new painting my way. I’m asking Phil to contribute a few words as preface to each painting, and so….
In the opening chapter we find ourselves in the mundane world; the back of a car, rain, and a family where there’s a ‘bit of an atmosphere’. Familiar stuff to most of us, probably. But by the end of chapter two we’ve entered another world entirely, we pass through the looking glass, down the rabbit hole, the back of the wardrobe. Somehow Kyp has stepped through a portal to another world, a world full of wonders and terrors, a very long way from the back seat of a car in a rainy street.
So with this first image I wanted to get a sense of the portal from one world to another. The portal itself can’t be identified precisely, but once through it, there’s no going back. In the image, Kyp, and the mundane world he is leaving, are represented by the conker in his pocket. The conker is passing through a swirling ‘no-place’, the bridge between the world he was rejecting and the place where his feelings were unintentionally sending him. Colour is heightened, everything is moving, swirling round, being drawn inescapably into the universe of Chimera…
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).”
“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.”
“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”
“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!
“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.“
“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!”
“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…”
“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 spaces—still mystery, 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 electric magnetic– mapping the unseen with disturbances,
promises of what could have been– had light years been compressed into overlapping sounds—each a mirrored reply
“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
“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…”
“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.
Berlin-based artist Phil Cooper at work in his studio, September 2020
Regular visitors to Red’s Kingdom may already be familiar with the work of the artist, Phil Cooper, who is a regular participant in the fortnightly creative Kick-Abouts, in which artists based all over the world come together to create new work (or curate existing work) in response to a prompt. So far, Phil has given us beautiful hand-cut, hand-painted tableaux of lycanthropes and enticing portals, short spoken word fiction, maquettes of forlorn-looking buildings bracing themselves against storm and tempest, black and white photography, and one very sexy – if self-absorbed – lighthouse keeper!
When not kicking-about with the rest of us, Phil’s proper job is producing wonderful paintings, drawings and collages, which get snapped up almost-at-once by his followers on Instagram and via his website, phil-cooper.com. Phil also keeps a very beautiful and generous blog – Hedgecrows – which he began all the way back in 2012, and is a rich source of pleasure and inspiration, a veritable treasure trove of dreamy, transportive imagery that offers up a comprehensive insight into Phil’s passions, preoccupations and talents.
The completed Chimera Book One cover art painting on Phil’s suitably untidy table-top.
Given all his existing artistic activity, I was delighted when Phil expressed his interest in working with me to produce my children’s book, Chimera as an episodic podcast – or rather, produce new original artworks in response to the book to accompany the release of the audiobook here on Red’s Kingdom next month.
Our first priority was to start thinking about a ‘book cover’ for the Chimera podcast. Phil and I have been chatting little and often about the project for a number of months, but we caught up for a proper natter just after Phil completed the Chimeracover art and sent it my way, a conversation in which Phil and I explore the provenance of his creative direction. Highlights include Phil discussing Clive Hicks Jenkins winning the V&A 2020 Illustrated Book Award for his work on Simon Armitage’s Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes and two middle-aged men reflecting on the strangeness of growing up in the 1970s!
During the course of our conversation, Phil and I make enthusiastic reference to a number of our mutual childhood touchstones – kitsch Christmas cards, boxes of fireworks and Halloween window displays. Consider the following a visual aid!
Phil Cooper and Phil Gomm in conversation, September 2020
The finished Chimera Book One cover painting by Phil Cooper, September 2020
Details from Phil’s painting for the cover art for Chimera Book One
I don’t mind admitting I’ve spent a few moments dabbing my eye as I put this latest showcase of new work together in response to Joseph Cornell’s Romantic Museum! There’s a lot of love in the mix this week, with reflections on beloved relationships, time passing, and the making and keeping of memories. If the last Kick-About was a short ride in a fast machine, the Kick-About#10 is about the long ride we’re taking together.
“My Romantic Museum; I guess my romance experience is a little ‘narrow’, having been married to the love of my life for thirty years, and perhaps it’s more of a timeline. Nice to get a theme that provokes thought/reflection.”
“Cornell! Another treat. I wanted to do something on newspaper, but I couldn’t collage (my first choice) as my glue was packed. My needles and floss were not, however, and this also seemed appropriate to Cornell’s work. And what woman do I know better than myself? As we grow older, so the passing of time looms larger. I was of course attracted first to the hand, and was pleased to find a newspaper page with a photo of hands. I drew my own, and also my face, and stitched and wrote my reflections based on the drawings. It’s not quite finished, but maybe that’s the correct response too.”
“As the 1946 exhibition by Joseph Cornell was dedicated to women I decided to do an ‘homage ‘ to my dear mum, Joan Walton, who passed away many years ago. She was very proud of the fact that she was a true Cockney and had been born within the sound of Bow Bells, so I have made a cutwork of the bell tower. I discovered the weathervane on top is a wonderful golden dragon, which is apparently the symbol for London. Joan was evacuated during the war at about age 14,and wrote all over her letters ” I wanna come home!” – until her parents had to bring her back. She told me they would all stick their heads under the table while the bombs dropped! Some years after the war, my dad came on the scene and they loved to go cycling and ballroom dancing. Then later in the 1960s, mum was a typical housewife who made fabulous cakes, plus enjoying knitting and dressmaking. This has been a very nostalgic prompt for me and it has brought home the fact that small objects have a big impact in our memory, which can effect our well-being for good and also for bad.”
“I confess I’ve always wanted to make shadow boxes (AKA assemblages) and so when the Kick-About #10 theme was announced as one of Joseph Cornell’s assemblages, I decided to seize the day and fulfill the dream. I took a cue from the fact that “Romantic Museum” is housed in a case used for storing scientific specimens. I had an old wooden wine box I’d picked up curbside on trash day a while back: I painted it and used it to house the reconstructed bones of seabirds. NOTE: These bones were all found objects – washed-up on the beach near my home, already skeletonized. They are not from the same bird, and most likely are from local seagulls. On the back of the box, I transfer printed as much of the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge as I could fit (click HERE to read the entire poem). The imagery of sea birds in this poem is so powerful it has seeped into everyday language as the phrase “an albatross around my neck.” Many seabird species are highly endangered – for instance almost half of all albatross species are threatened by the degradation of fishing stocks and habitat loss. This is in addition to the effects of climate change that intensify storms and disrupts sea bird breeding on remote islands. They are caught in an environmental net of human making. I hoped to convey some of this in my “Albatross Box.”
“Cornell’s work is often created using a box divided into a grid of small compartments. Each individual compartment holds some item that for him that has significance, and the whole piece conveys something greater than the sum of its parts. This crocheted blanket does the same for me. Back in 2007, we sold our business and home, and spent a year travelling round the UK. I made the blanket as we travelled, but wrote the poem later, in about 2013. This blanket is my romantic museum.”
“Every person‘s experience of a work of art is different. Nevertheless I can’t help wondering how many people may see ‘mass isolation’ as I do in this piece – viewing it now, during a pandemic. I see a hand stitching quietly, small, intimate objects, windows and walls and another window over the entire thing. And finally a cloud of black sand infiltrating everything. My response led me to paint a series of hearts partly hidden behind or framed by window shapes. I was thinking of them as hearts as I was painting, though they didn‘t look like hearts in the anatomical sense, nor as pictograms. They represented all those people; their feelings, quietly beating away, hidden behind windows and walls. A lot of them were in shades of red, but they changed to blue and other colours.
I started thinking of all the ways hearts are described. All those corny yet evocative terms… Then I thought of all the combinations I could have, starting with Blue Tending to Black. How about Pure – Frozen, or Stolen – Smouldering, Stony and Promised… but I realised what was really giving me pleasure was the layering and texture. In particular, I was using a fan brush to very lightly drag layers of watercolour and gouache across the painting. The delicacy of the fragmented lines entranced me. Also the way the colour changed as the paint dried, as gouache will do. It made the painting feel so alive. Each pass with the brush partly obscured the previous layer, but did not completely cover it. It felt like a metaphor for life – which is really what artists are grappling with every day, and probably partly explains their angst! Every decision is a little goodbye to the past that cannot ever again be recovered exactly as it was. And a hello to a new possibility, that just may be more beautiful yet. Always with the heart in the window in mind, I found myself weaving.”
“I was drawn immediately to the black ‘rift’ in Cornell’s piece. I wanted to know what it was, or what it meant, and how the ‘unknowability’ of the ultimate meaning of something is a powerful and unsettling thing. I thought about those Rorschach tests, where you’re invited to look at ink-blots and project your own associations upon them, re-configuring them as meaningful as they relate to your own lived experience. I was reminded too of the famous Nietzsche quote that goes ‘Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you’.“
“Cornell’s pieces are like memory vaults of amassed ephemera, with his ‘Romantic Museum’ seeming as though the images exploding out of the building or museum in the background are of significant importance to Cornell, with memories and narratives attached. I decided to create something signifying memories with a ‘Cabinet of my own Curiosities’. Places, people and things that mean the world to me are collated here; everything has stories attached, little tidbits into my past, meshed together with nostalgic sepia tones tones and the same royal purple seen in Romantic Museum to signify warm nostalgia.”
“Having set the prompt I was then faced with the challenge of what to do, but an old suitcase (I have a bit of an obsession for them) proved a good starting point… a mobile museum.
This Sleeping Beauty has left home carrying a case of letters, tied up in silk ribbons…so much love secreted..a stack of fading paper pockets… these are her memories. She walks into the future with the dream of creating her own garden of paradise, a place of peace and redemption… thousands of seeds lie dormant in packets of blue (..“.cerulean, gentian, hyacinth, delft, jouvenence..” Derek Jarman) So here she is, (no imminent prince..or ever was) lying on a bed of cornflowers in the centre of a wildflower meadow. Birdsong echoes from surrounding (briar tangled) hedgerows and her ears fizz with the whirr of dragonflies hunting, bees feeding, butterflies (a light tickle on the skin) landing. Her eyes wide open… awake to a canopy of blue infinity. Time suspended.“
“Here’s another… my studio fitted into a boat afloat on an endless sea. Don’t quite know what it says but I guess it’s my own museum of artefacts that enable me to do my work and that comes from a place of dreams, memories and emotions. Am I lost in this tiny world? Probably. “ Collage and watercolour on paper. 35cm X 25cm
Courtesy of Marcy Erb, we have our eleventh prompt; see below! I was very happy to welcome James Randall into our rag-tag team of run-abouts this time around, and I encourage any lurkers who are likewise itching to let off some creative steam to do the same. Get in touch. We’d love to have you in the mix. So, until next time then… cue the music!
“A great prompt. Most of my work aims to capture movement – action, transformation, development, energy, colour, sound… This time it brought back into life an idea I have been circling around for a long time, which turns into a sketch I did on a plane back from Mexico; great places to sketch, planes and trains. Some of my best ideas happen there; the myth of Icarus. While imprisoned in a tower, his father Daedalus, famous for having built the Labyrinth, made wings for Icarus, taught him to fly and warned him not to go too high or the heat of the sun will melt the wax used to make the wings – with the well known result. A great tragic story. It inspired so many paintings and art works showing all the stages of the story. I particularly love Bruegel’s one with just a pair of legs in the sea while life goes on. I decided to show the aftermath of the fall itself without the object, the gravity force pulling down breaking from the clouds through the air into the water; of course using my usual “control impulse” technique starting from the light in the foreground and stepping backward inside the painting with subsequent layers of ink washes getting deeper and deeper into the background and then out again. I hope Icarus enjoyed the time he had in the air, if short.”
“When I first started visiting Berlin, over ten years ago now, there were a great many abandoned buildings, ruins and left-overs from the second world war and the cold war dotted all around the city. Many of these have since been demolished, refurbished and turned into overpriced flats, or repackaged as museums etc, but quite a few still remain.
A few years ago I came across this strange place just south of the city at Adlershof. It was a site developed to test jet engines towards the end of the second world war. I think the doodlebugs were tested here. It is very eerie and peculiar. Even then, the city authorities had cottoned on to the fact that people were visiting the place and that it might have some mileage as a tourist trail curio. There were new signs and noticeboards about and they’d installed little pods around the buildings which, when you approached, started emitting B-movie sci-fi sounds like wailing theremins. It was all rather cheesy and funny, but it worked, strangely, and you wandered around feeling like you were in a 1970s Dr. Who episode or one of these series telling unsettling stories of the uncanny.
This buildings and structures were built to develop the fastest machines in the world, but they had a pretty short life. They soon became obsolete as other technologies came along.
It’s a bit like the concrete ‘sound mirrors’ near Dungeness, or the nuclear research site on Orford Ness; it has a nostalgic retro-futurist vibe that’s intriguing and a little bit melancholy. These places are relics, echoes of a past, and they have no use any more, they’re like ghosts.”
“Courtesy of my good friend and long-time collaborator, Ethan Shilling, I was able to transcribe John Adams’ Short Ride In A Fast Machine into a spectrogram, a visual representation of the music showing the frequencies comprising the sound. The black and white image below is what the sound of this fast machine looks like as it accelerates from start to finish. With more than a nod to Kubrick’s 2001, the exhilarating opening titles to the original 1978 Superman, and a quick steal from Luigi Rossolo’s The Revolt, I took the resulting spectrogram, colourised it for heat, fizz and vibrancy, and pushed it into perspective for maximum velocity!”
“Two things stood out whilst listening to this piece…the steady tap, tap, tap in the background (like a leaking pipe or aid to meditation) and the abstract cacophony surrounding it. So I drew my friend Andy as a calm oblivious centre whilst a maelstrom of instruments, clothes (mask and gloves of course!) and detritus flew about his head.” Pen and ink on Fabriano. 22” X 22”
“Kicked-off with A1 drawing in elaborate-freeform. Day-2 was elaborate-freeform using a crude-mix of thinned oils. Day-3, after taking a dislike to it, chopped it into 12 squares with disregard for things I might have liked and scattered them beneath the work desk. Day-4, one week later, each square found its own right-way-up and the conclusion of the set was reached just beyond 4 hours 40 minutes. To avoid curating, they are presented in the order they were painted and no telling how they fit back into A1.” Oil on primed paper, set of 12, 16x16cm
“Although I have never heard this piece of music before I found it very inspirational and to me it could not have meant anything other than Drag Racing. My other half is a fanatical follower of the sport and has even been down the track himself a few times, whilst I have watched on the start line. It’s quite an experience! The lights count down, then there’s a sharp roar of engines (Don’t forget to cover your ears) and then the 2 cars launch down the track. Believe me the ground can actually shake! No way are my artistic skills up to capturing this moment, but it’s fun to remember the sensation and thrill of such amazing speed as you gaze into the distance and the parachutes come open to slow the cars down. Then the time comes up – 0 to 220mph in 6 seconds – now that’s moving!”
“When Phil announced the theme for Kick-About #9 was a musical composition by John Adams entitled a “Short Ride in a Fast Machine,” oh, I had ideas. Because there is an incredibly fast machine operating inside of you – countless times a day, taking you on a too short ride from the moment of conception until the day you die: your DNA replication machinery. This complex machine, made up of dozens of components, makes an exact copy of your DNA in preparation for your cells to divide.”
“Here are two updated images with the little drawings completed, such as they are. Rough. But intentionally so. I made them to turn into an animation of sorts… I thought it might be fun to make them into a fake Muybridge photographic sequence. I made my grid. Very good fun.”
“Kind of you to add a late entry! I loved the piece of music, not heard that before. It would be a great soundtrack to a video of an X-15 in flight. I painted a view of an X-15 some years ago as part of a short series on the early American space programme. It has been a source of fascination from my early years. I think it is because it was cutting edge – they were writing the rule book for those who would follow.”
Wow – we’re on prompt number ten already! Courtesy of regular kick-abouter, Vanessa Clegg, we’ve got one of Joseph Cornell’s evocative boxes to inspire us. Have fun – and if you know someone who you think might enjoy a rush-around with the rest of us, do please extend the invitation.
“Even after I’ve long since left this place I currently call home, cicadas more than anything will be the thing I associate the most about summer in Japan. Of course, the amazing sound they make is their most recognisable and iconic trait, but they have another peculiar behavior I find quite morbidly fascinating. After they do their yearly cicada thing, the final resting place of an unlucky few ends up being in the middle of the street, helplessly stranded on their backs, their legs still sometimes twitching, left to roast in the searing summer heat. Presumably, big black crows (which are the other sound of Japan) then come and scoop them up later on for a crunchy crow feast. Their short-lived life, once they emerge from their slumber, is truly bizarre!
Cicadas are also a traditional subject of origami art because of the charming simplicity of the easiest design which anyone can make, but also because of the huge degree of complexity and mastery required to make more realistic designs such as by the likes of Akira Yoshizawa. I’m not an origami master, in fact I’m quite sure I couldn’t even do a nice mountain fold, so rather than wasting a lot of paper, here’s my tribute to the fallen cicada inspired by origami but not actually origami.“
“The prompt is Cicada, and those little creatures are old friends at this stage. I spent two weekends working on this prompt. The first one I spent learning some animation techniques, and my original intention was to make an animation by selecting material from Searching for Cicadas either working with some of the unused artwork, or developing a page from the book.
But on the second weekend I wandered in a different direction. It began with thinking about cicadas in a less realistic way and thinking about drawing some She Cicadas in the style of my Metropolis Bird Women. Then I thought about the unique, and seemingly magical qualities of a cicada (in particular, its life cycle and metamorphosis) and how easily cicadas might fit into a fairy or folk tale. I haven‘t written anything like that since The Woman, the Chicken and the Grapes. And it seemed the perfect break from intense illustration work.
However, I was forgetting my tendency towards perfectionism (strangely combined with a loathing for neatness, exactness or fussiness), and so, Kick-About time is up and the fairy tale is not complete. But never mind! Here are some images I began for it…”
“Only knowing cicadas from Animal Crossing, I thought I’d have a look into them. Did you know that they can live up to 17 years? AND make a sound louder than 100 decibels! Impressive for a chubby little sap-drinker! They come in a few different colours, but a pastel one really resounded with me so here he is! A digital painting of a vibrant cicada with his little dancing feet.”
“An epic and bi-sectioned electronic piece telling the story of the cicada life from a more dark point of view. Beware – the first four minutes are much quieter than the last two. Good speakers or headphones are recommended.”
“Cicadas are one of many species that make multiple visible transformations during their lifespans. The longest living insects, they are symbols of both rebirth and immortality. What beautiful wings they have. I first painted the cicada, then glued wax paper down for the wings and embroidered on top.”
“A month or so ago, some old photographs resurfaced of a school production of the musical, Calamity Jane, in which I played the comedic role of Francis Fryer – a vaudeville act booked to perform in a spit-and-sawdust saloon bar for cowboys. The joke, of course, is ‘Francis Fryer’ is assumed to be a female performer, an assumption resulting in an impromptu drag act and a musical number that goes ‘I’ve got a hive full of honey for the right kind of honey bee’.
The year is 1989, I’m fourteen years old and I enjoy this opportunity to dress up and make audiences laugh. Sometime after this, the bullying will start and I will enter a prolonged period of change. You might say, I start to incubate new ideas about myself, not all of them positive. You might say, I start to slough skin – more than one – as I seek to establish some final form.
When I look at these photographs, I do so with discomfort, and not simply because the adolescent in the photograph is so scrawny and such a late-starter. I feel hugely protective of him too, for he knows not what he looks like. He does not know what drag is or what it ‘means’ to the world around him. At the point these photographs were taken, this boy doesn’t know what is coming; he doesn’t know he’s just walked into the cross-hairs. He doesn’t know while he’s making lots of people laugh on stage, he’s making other people hate him or provoking embarrassment and disappointment. When I look at these photographs, I see something soft that is very soon going to learn the art of cocooning for protection. I see a very long period of incubation, and not an ending with a beautiful butterfly in it, but a life-form in lots of ways less graceful, but, also yes, with wings.“
The subjects of the three faux zoological plates are digital collages created entirely from the two photographs below and are presented here as curios, a collection of still-incubating lifeforms once forgotten but newly available to scrutiny, dissection and my strange fascination.”
“I must say that I feel like I have turned into a Cicada in the heatwave this week! I had so many false starts trying to capture the essence of these amazing creatures. Eventually I settled for “Happy little Cicadas” after they have just emerged after 17years underground. Well you would be!”
“Cicadas roared in combined force with intense heat and high humidity challenging young (21 year old) endurance levels. That was summer of ’73 in glorious Sydney’s Kirribilli. We were surrounded in the thick of a city wide swarm and whichever way was possible to rattle you it came about, as inside was an inferno, so just you try drowning out mating cicadas when you’re behaving like a heated ‘frog in a sock’.”
“I’ve been wanting to play around with a fairy/insect taxidermy concept for a while, and this seemed like a good opportunity. I took wings, colours and patterns from pictures of cicadas to make this unfortunate fairy, preserved and pinned, ready to go on the wall.”
“I didn’t grow up with cicadas or the sounds of cicadas. There are apparently 30 species of cicada found in California (and 3,000 worldwide), but almost none of them are commonly found or heard in the Los Angeles metro area. I remember hearing my first true ear-ringing buzz-saw worthy cicada at a private campground in Arizona as an adult in my early-twenties. True story: I turned to my friend and asked why the campground would play a recording of such demented cricket noises so loud on the PA system. My friend, who also grew up in suburban Los Angeles, shrugged and said she didn’t know. Rest assured, I have now heard the infamous cicada mating calls many times and have been made to understand how much a part of summer they are for many people around the world.
So when the theme for the Kick-About #8 was announced as simply the word “Cicada,” I knew I wanted to lean towards the absurd a little. What is a cicada to someone who has never heard or seen one? Insects are as vulnerable to climate change and extinction as any other creature – what happens when we start asking after cicadas when they don’t emerge as reliably? Or at all?
I wish to emphasize that no bugs were harmed in the making of this art. I went in search of local insects that had met their demise naturally. I was lucky in finding the Swallowtail butterfly wings right away, but then the supply of large naturally-deceased insects dried up. As they say, the fastest way to make something disappear is to go looking for it on a schedule. I finally found a mostly intact green june beetle.”
“I was a bit worried when I first saw this prompt. To be honest, I’m not big on bugs. But the more I learnt about cicadas and their life cycle, the more I wondered about their relationship with the trees – trees that sheltered the cicada young, fed them, provided a launch pad for the climax of their lives, and then stood amongst their corpses, while cicada eggs hatched among their leaves and dropped the next generation of cicadas at their roots.
As the prompt originated in Japan, and as seventeen is such a significant number in the cicada’s life, it seemed absolutely right to base my verse structure on the Haiku, a Japanese poetic form consisting of three lines made up of seventeen syllables in a five-seven-five format.”
“I have two images relating to the new kick-about “Cicada”. I love the sound of summer filling the day, the hot air on the skin, the smell of herbs and grass, they are my childhood summers on the Ligurian coast. One of the paintings is the summer grass, an image I have been trying to paint for many years and will likely keep trying to paint. The other one is a monotype on plastic made with raffia dipped in ink, I was trying to capture the movement of bamboo leaves and insects.”
“The sounds of the Cicada’s mating call transports me to a world where my senses are in overload, a world that could be filled with spine tingling horror, but also a world that is somewhat calming. The high pitched calls make the surroundings fill with texture that bounce and dance in conjunction with the cicadas’ return from beneath their muddy graves to molt and leave their skin littered across the land.”
ennui: a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement.
“A most welcome challenge to enjoy the mood and establish a balance between location and figure. As always significant changes up to the eleventh hour, perhaps a blessing with oil as this chap had a companion all the way through, yet his removal as well the monochrome against a sliver of colour has pushed this to a more ambiguous resolve.” Oil on canvas board. 40 x 50 cm.
“I wanted the process of the drawing to be as tedious as possible (and it was!) creating a sense of time stopping/ dragging… the only indication of its passing being the alteration of pencil type and pressure… repetitive pattern making tying me to the work table. A sense of entrapment. Clouds are mercurial by nature, constantly metamorphosing, so, by freezing the image, time is once more stopped. All is silent bar the scratch of graphite on paper…diagonal lines crossing (prison walls, calendars, unwanted words), over and over and over.” Graphite on Fabriano. 22” X 22”
“I found the painting by Walter Sickert pretty toe-curling to look at. ‘Ennui’ seems to refer to their marriage; she’s staring at the wall, which appears more interesting than her husband, while he’s sitting at the table puffing on a cigar with nothing to say by the looks of it. The mood is claustrophobic and suffocating; I want Dawn French to march into the picture with a huge pair of cymbals and stomp round that table going LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-CRASH, just to break to tension.
It’s not a feeling I make much work about, but I found this old image that might fit the bill. A while ago I made a paper maquette of a tattooed lighthouse keeper. I made a few bits of environment and photographed him in various poses. In this image, night is falling but he can’t be bothered to get up and turn the light on in the lighthouse. Ships will founder on the rocks if he doesn’t get a move-on, but he seems lost in his own thoughts…”
“The first time I saw this painting, I was struck, in an almost visceral way, by recognition of the woman’s stance, of her state of mind. I knew exactly what she was feeling, and I marvelled at Sickert’s ability to capture it in paint. The Kickabout has prompted me to try to capture that same moment in words. I decided on the classic form of a sonnet, as this has always seemed to me to be an ideal format for encapsulating a single instant of human experience.”
“Ennui is most closely associated with boredom, but it is heavy with an attitude that it seems to me is mostly posturing. It’s a self-indulgence of the privileged who needn’t even be bothered with the daily tasks of life like cooking or washing clothes, or even gardening, as they have servants to deal with such mundane things.
Boredom infers monotony which does reflect the world many of us inhabit right now–the endless days and hours that we can’t keep track of anymore. But it’s not really boredom. I have no problem filling my days, though I can’t always point to what exactly it is I’ve filled them with. But I find it hard to focus, to find motivation, and I’m often anxious and uneasy and feel unsettled and displaced. The relentless heat is no help.
That’s what I tried to capture in my August grid and poem. The pandemic world of now seems to box you in, surround you with a sameness of grey.“
The day was packing heat, hanging it like a curtain between me and the world– dampening all sound, clogging the airways, slowing synapses down.
The open windows provided no threshold of relief–no wind came knocking.
You can neither forecast nor change the way the currents move you, or strand you unmoved, trapped in a density that refuses to vacate.
Some days have wings– but most rely on gravity to anchor them– to keep them safe from the whims of Gods.
“This story came quickly, drawing all the extra bits and pieces to it with a satisfying click. It’s nice when it happens that way – it doesn’t always. For me, it was the bell jar and the woman’s attentiveness for that patch of wallpaper, so not a bored woman thinking of nothing at all, but another kind of character altogether – oh, and that important-seeming glass of water…”
“Oftentimes, the prompt sends my mind shooting off in some wild meandering direction. But this time, I really couldn’t get away from the couple in the painting. After doing a little reading about it, this is clearly part of the genius of this artwork: its devastating “normality.” I kept saying to myself, “they really need their own space.” I fought that notion for about a week, tried a couple of collages of the whole painting I wasn’t happy with, and then finally gave in and made them their own collages.”
“Sickert’s stuffed birds under the bell jar really stuck out for me. One of my favourite films is Guava Island starring Donald Glover (Childish Gambino) and Rihanna, It’s a beautiful story of a creative man bursting with ambition who wants to use his talents to unite people. It’s visually stunning with a gorgeous animation at the start with a voice over by Rihanna. The film is filled with bird symbolism, as birds can be seen as free to fly anywhere, but also caged and stuck. There is one particular scene where the antagonist is enjoying some alfresco dining while surrounded by caged birds. I decided to draw a version digitally using the style of brush strokes seen in Sickert’s piece.”
“I have always thought if I ever got stuck by myself on a desert island, with nothing to do, then I would scratch patterns in the sand or on a cave wall. Or like Tom Hanks in the film Castaway I would make a ‘friend’ out of driftwood so I could have something to talk to! Anyway, I decided to ‘doodle’ a Hamsa hand. This is a good luck symbol for many religions and cultures and is an ancient sign of harmony and protection. I found it very therapeutic and satisfying to do. The stick figures were more difficult and not at all therapeutic. Firstly, finding the right shaped pieces of wood was not as easy as it seems and secondly, -well have you ever tried to make a stick look presentably dressed? Anyway, it was great fun and never for one moment was I bored.”
Courtesy of our regular Japan-based contributor and Red’s Kingdom artist-in-residence, Tom Beg, we have a fresh new prompt, a single word, inspired I think by some of his own very noisy neighbours! See below for the prompt and the new submission date. Here’s to fending off more of that 2020 ennui!