There’s that quote from the movie, Forrest Gump, that famously goes: ‘Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get’. Well, The Kick-About is like that too, so I’m not going to say too much about my response this week, except to say it could only have come as a direct response to the painting in question: Lucian Freud’s The Painter’s Room (1944) – or rather from my impulse to figure out the relationship between the objects in the frame.
My immediate thought was I must be looking at an improbable crime scene and that was when the fun began in earnest. In order to get this offering over the line, I begged and borrowed the talents of the kind and wonderful actor, Dan Snelgrove, with whom I’ve collaborated previously on the Chimera audio book. I suppose I should also say the following contains some pretty bad language and scenes of a sexual nature. Ha! How suitably Freudian – and in regards to that quote from Forrest Gump, be warned, for not everything that looks like chocolate is chocolate…
“My take of an explosion of some kind, more of an emotional kind, I think, so I wanted to feel surrounded by and immersed in it. Not the beautiful and dramatic rendition of Turner’s Vesuvious one – close enough to make us feel the power of it but from some safe distance. Nor the fireworks we seem to get these days, more noise than light! I used to love watching the fireworks over the sea for Genova’s Saint Patron’s day as a child. It was a glorious spectacle of lights, colours and patterns, mirrored on the water surface – and far enough not to be too noisy. I suppose now we need to be more environmentally conscious with these things as well. Hope you all had a fun weekend!“
“It came to mind I had previously done a painting entitled “Volcano”, albeit about 55 years ago! This was when I was at senior school and the reason it has stuck in my mind… is because I never actually finished it! I had painted people trying to escape, and running away in panic from a volcano, but the thing was the bell rang for end of lesson before I had time to put in their faces! It was therefore quite a surprise for me to see, about a week later, my unfinished masterpiece hanging on the wall outside the headmistress study! It was even more of a shock when the headmistress herself happened to be walking by, as I stood with my mouth open saying to some friends “Blimey! That’s my picture up there!” She gave me a very stoney stare (which others who went to this same school may vividly remember) and said “Did you mean for all the people to be faceless?” I was always taught that honesty is the best policy so I said, in a very feeble voice, “Well actually Miss I didn’t get to finish it” Wrong answer. Next day my painting had disappeared from the wall.”
“When looking at images of volcanoes, I am always struck by the contrast between the life and heat and light and movement of the explosions and the lava flow and the cold, dark, stillness of the ash and landscape left behind. I have tried to capture some of this contrast with a freeform crochet, approximately 25″ x 38″. I used a yarn with sequins for the lava itself, the sequins reflected light giving life and movement Other yarns, with a fine silver fleck running through them, helped bring a suggestion of light and movement to the more distant volcanic cloud and the night sky. The landscape surrounding the volcano is made up of greys, charcoal and blacks, with streaks of fire giving the terrain some definition. Finally, an old tree, lit by moonlight on one side and firelight on the other, stands poised at the moment the first flames begin to lick – on the cusp of flaring into destruction.”
“1983: I close my eyes. Hearing the crunch of hardened lava… a calcified sea leading into the forest… ascending into the thinning air, straining the lungs, weakening the legs, pumping the heart… progress slowing. Six hours later: emerging into mist, temperature dropping, giant pointed succulents scattered over rubble, light failing, crawling to the crater’s lip, peering into the depths… a stomach flip from the power and scale… molten lava hidden by cloud smoke. Three metal huts… most without floors… just below the peak. Eating out of tins, curling like squirrels into a deep damp sleep… the bass notes of the mountain penetrating our dreams.”
Mt Meru, Tanzania, stratovolcano (last eruption 1910) Walk: 2001. Pen and ink on paper
Nyragongo, Congo, live stratovolcano last eruption prior to walk in1977) Walk: 1983. Pen and ink on paper
“For many years I had this desire to go up a volcano on horse-back. The fact I had never been on a horse before was not going to deter me. My dear friend Penny, who died a few months ago in Mexico, was Don Quixote to my Sancho Panza. Jesus and his little son, Simon appropriately led us up the volcano. There was no-one else for 8 hours. So the prompt this time for me was not the blazing furnace of a volcano erupting, but the life-changing experience of climbing this steaming, breathing volcano. It had grown to eruption in 10 years in 1952, enveloping the pueblo and ending abruptly at the altar of the church. From the top you can see across the whole of Mexico and the fault line runs steeply down to South America. When we arrived back to Guadalajara I made this first painting. It was as if the volcano had entered my entire body, so visceral were the feelings. We hardly spoke for hours. Here is that drawing and a detail of the core. I selected out a photo of the volcano landscape itself, so still, silent and empty on the downward slope, a complete opposite of the Turner eruption and magnitude of its flaring torment. The earth talks to us very clearly. I hope the politicians are listening. Maybe they should take them up to the top of a breathing earth next time – rather than a mega-rich paradise!”
“Way back in 2008 we walked the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand – eight hours, 19kms – along the way reaching the top of the still active red crater. A fabulous walk full of fascinating natural wonders- a yellow lake, emerald lakes, areas of snow, waterfalls, steam rising from rocks and amazing colours. When we got home I spotted a photo I had taken of a ridge line which was part of the track and there was a row of tiny people one after the other on it. Who knows how many people walk the track every day, but it would be enormous. I wouldn’t want not to have undertaken this marvel trek, but the impact on nature must be devastating. So my image is of the pleading volcano – I suppose a comment on over population. Also time for a gouache painting I thought. And I was inspired by several of the last Art challenge submissions that took a simpler approach – not that I achieved simplicity here, but I really liked what they achieved!”
“Turner’s painting of Vesuvius is so sublime, so epic. I can’t compete with that, so I’ve gone to the other end of the scale – a bit of a damp squib compared to Turner’s fiery mountain. I photographed a fire demon who has lost his mojo. He should be running around causing mischief, but he’s over it and doesn’t quite know what to do with himself; what does a demon do if he’s not wreaking havoc? His demon friends think he’s a loser and ordinary folk run away screaming. He doesn’t fit in anywhere these days. He did go off and get a prospectus from the community college last week, so that’s a start…”
“A few points of reference going on here: of course, those ash-encased bodies of Pompeii’s unlucky inhabitants, entombed where they embraced by the volcano’s pyroclastic flow, but also memories of watching the news in the aftermath of 9/11, people walking through the city streets, bewildered, made ghostly by their lamina of ash. I sourced some of those little people architects deploy to bring their scale models to life, coated them with a few blasts of hairspray, then rolled them in wood ash from the stove. I was particularly taken by the humdrum poses of the figures and, in some strange way, find the resulting photographs comforting. It’s as if those poor Pompeiians got up off the floor one day and resumed their lives, chatting, flirting, popping down the shops…”
“I was awestruck by the colours of Turner’s painting, especially the light and darkness, and contemplated how the land after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius would have been nothing but dark ash and charred to a crisp, the poisoned, suffocating smoke billowing into the air, the wispy remains of trees, and how the lava cemented the landscape. I decided to comb through the surplus of landscape photography I have of rural Ireland, and gave a whirl to producing apocalyptic, darker hues. Here are some mixed media images created by digitally painting over my photography of those images of rural Ireland.”
“Vesuvius has always seemed cosmic to me, so I consulted my stash of cosmic reference photos in order to construct some collage. The third one didn’t work as I originally created it, so I cut it into two—much better. And when, after doing the collages, I did a little research and discovered that Venus is the patroness of Pompeii, I thought: perfect! I’ve also put together five volcanic haiku to make a cadralor. According to Wikipedia, “The root of the word Pompeii would appear to be the Oscan word for the number five, pompe”. Venus is also associated with the pentagram, another five.“
in search of Venus
1 what season is this? dark, enigmatic, grown wild– spilling from our eyes
2 the madness of fire– consummation and release, sweeping life away
3 inside opens out disintegrates unbound– what was not, now is
4 random lines break down– the page explodes, caught trembling– from nothing, vast light
5 the locus that gyres– gravities of orbiting become somewhere else
“KA coincided with a nice surprise of an abundance of flowers arriving to the house. Try-outs to capture the explosive nature of this group proved difficult, until the rain chucked it down beneath a heavily overcast sky. I simply rotated the vase 90 degrees, trying to capture subtle differences. I find it is with zoomed-in examination that things appear really sensual. Zoom-away to freely discover your own hidden treasures. ”
And for our 67th run-about together, feast your eyes on the extraordinary sculpture-come-wall-hangings of the Ghanaian artist El Anatsui, who uses recycled materials to produce huge, sumptuous installations: “Anatsui refers to himself as both a painter and a sculptor. He essentially ‘paints’ and builds up colour and pattern with the bottle-caps – with his works have been compared to traditional Ghanaian kente cloth, Western mosaics, tapestries and paintings by Gustav Klimt…”
If our last Kick-About together was characterised by muted tones and pensive atmospheres, this latest showcase of new works made in a short time is a celebration of colour, movement, costume and dynamism – and how could it not be, inspired as we have been by the artist Nick Cave and his sumptuous soundsuits? In other news, a warm welcome to artist and animator, Claire-Beth Gibson, who joins us this week for her inaugural run-about.
“The sound suit with the spinning tops made me think of the clackety-clackety noise of the whirly spinner I had as a kid. It smelled of old metal and played a strange song. Starting out with so much enthusiasm, it would spin gloriously for a short while and then gradually teeter more and more as it slowed down, before a final wobble into its death fall, spinning on its side and rolling away. Of course, I wanted it to spin the first high energy part longer than it did. Sometimes I would just keep it in my hands, continuously whirring it, keeping that bit alive for as long as I could. This little animation is some of that moment.”
“I knew that I wanted to make a film, I wanted it to be loud, aggressive and primal and I wanted to use some sort of fabric or elements that could make up the intricate soundsuits of Nick Cave’s creations. I decided to chuck a bag of shiny sequins of various shapes into a large wok and film it! Bringing down the shutter speed of my camera and aperture while defocusing so that the tacky butterflies, hearts and stars become nothing but dancing spherical orbs lit ablaze with a tiny but powerful led light. It was one of those moments where everything fell into place so nicely. The edit was a dream and thoroughly enjoyable.”
“There is something really satisfying about Autumn after such a great summer, so much so I’ve been reluctant to cut back the fading twisting Crocosmia (Lucifer) and towering Buddleja – until now that is!! Flamboyant Soundsuits triggered celebrating the summer die-back so, headfirst into weaving I went with sock yarn, a cardboard frame, secateurs and the garden table in glorious sunshine, and two pleasurable days passed.”
“I watched a lot on Youtube of the videos made of Nick Cave’s work and was totally drawn into them. His whirling Dervishes of colourful movement reminded me of my view that is a constant in my life. Beyond my windows, I look out onto the city of Bristol masked by this sea of greenery. This last few days those trees and plants have been whisked into whirling dervishes by the wind. I became intrigued by the differences of each tree or plant. They are all rooted to the spot yet the rhythms of their movement are changed by their shape and weight. Here are three small videos with their own unique surrounding music due to wind or traffic. More study needed to grasp another way of learning from them to use in my work.”
“I intended this to be a “Barbie/Cindy-lolly” but the felt tip doesn’t show enough on the lolly bit so I’ve given her the chance to be the first girl to enter space single handed!.. Enjoyed playing with all the £1 shop had to offer and go wild with colour… what more could I ask?”
“Costumes, dancing, drums – what’s not to love about Nick Cave’s sound suits? The freedom of self-expression that comes with anonymity is powerful and liberating. and I had great fun with this Kick-About. As you may have guessed, the costume is mostly crochet and mostly formed by recycling elements of earlier KAs. I hope these images will bring a smile to your lips, even as you shake your head in bewilderment!”
“I hope we will dream together” Nick Cave
“In 2014, at the very beginning of blogging, I did a post with a dancer in my interpretation of one of Nick Cave’s soundsuits. I always wanted to do more of them, so I was glad to see this prompt. The original one is the star dancer. I hoped to do three new ones, but only managed two. The flower dancer was the first one I did: it’s small, about the same size as the star dancer. Then I decided to work on a large one – a cosmic dancer. It was a challenge to get the look I wanted. I tried a lot of different papers for the circles, but finally found origami paper came closest to what I was imagining. The background of stars was always a given. Perhaps I’ll get to one of those toy dancers in the future…”
who am I? who can I become? patterned out side and in– shapeshifting transformation– full, entire, complete
“I am not sure when I am likely to use or wear a soundsuit so I decided to make something which is more on the decorative side. Nick Cave uses recycled objects to make his suits – well, my stylised flowers are made from a bag of old ties given to me by a friend, some twisty wire and an old glass bottle. The flowers tend to sway gently when there is a slight breeze and I was intending to add some old buttons strung together to make a jangling noise. However, they were just too heavy and didn’t look right, so I decided to go for plan B, and used some old dangly earrings instead.”
“Needs must and all that, so I fabricated my own much down-sized ‘soundsuit’ from a single yellow glove, wooden buttons, glass eye pieces and strands of colourful wool. I was drawn to some of the goofier, ‘Jim Henson-esque’ elements of some of Cave’s soundsuits – hence the Muppet-y character of my resulting hand-puppet. Turns out, however, even the goofiest glove puppet can throw some shapes on the dancefloor!”
“You have to love Nick Cave’s vibrant animated costumes that make you want to join in. Dance, along with singing and art tends to be a lost activity as you get older. I remember wonderful all-nighters at Sydney Mardi Gras parties vividly. This is my attempt to put down some of the movement. I should have made an animation or danced around – avoiding the computer and put down marks by hand, but the attached, with variation, came out from the computer.”
With a small nod to the current season, a mildly spooksome prompt for our next creative run-about: the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, which, with more than 3.5 million visitors annually, is the most visited necropolis in the world…
Actor Dan Snelgrove reading Chimera Book 1 in his recording studio, October 2020
Chapter 9 of Chimera Book 1 – entitled Captain Toothache & The Silver Locket – takes place in a locked room, with Kyp Finnegan, the book’s 8 eight year old hero, and Atticus Weft, a snake comprised from all the odd socks that go missing from your washing machine, baring their souls. It doesn’t have the peril and the running and the collapsing bridges of previous chapters, but for the voice of Chimera, Dan Snelgrove, this much more introspective episode was the most challenging yet.
I caught up with Dan recently to find out more about how he’d approached these meatier moments, and was fascinated to learn even more about the various ways in which his he is approaching the work of bringing this book to life as an audio book. I also found out Dan can ‘dance like pirate’ – something I’ve always suspected.
Dan & Phil in conversation, November 2nd, 2020
You’ll find all nine previous chapters of Chimera Book 1here – with a new chapter going out here and everywhere else at 4pm on Sunday.
I caught up with Dan between his recording sessions for Chimera, largely because I couldn’t wait to find out how he was getting on, and to learn more about his approach to giving voice to the book’s array of fantastical characters.
Some of the highlights of our conversation include, ‘the omelette of acting’, and A Dungeons and Dragons Guide To Characterisation…
Actor and voice artist, Dan Snelgrove at work in his studio performing and recording Chimera Book One