My last visit to Boughton Scrub was back in July, and it was a riot of Summer froth and cockerel colours. Yesterday evening, with the sun already setting, this same stretch of unbothered grassland presented much softer effects, white balls of fluff from the still-flowering field of blue-lilac Phacelia tanacetifolia puffing past me like snowflakes. The breeze was very cool and strong, so at no point were the swathes of grass, thistle and rumex perpendicular or still. Everything everywhere billowed, producing dabs of pastel smoke and throwing up welcome daubs of gold from rogue sunflowers nodding in the wind. Again, the range of colour, texture and movement in this one small patch of ground was astonishing. More images to follow over the coming days.
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’.“
You can link out to a PDF version here.
“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!
Sometimes it is better not to know how something was achieved. For example, if I were to tell you how the ad-hoc apparatus used to produce this particular image was fashioned together from slats of wood, pound-shop torches, lots of black gaffer tape and a ratty length of blue nylon rope, some of its otherworldly allure may fade. Indeed, no one was more surprised than I when these unpromising constituents gave rise to this electrical feathered thing swooping through the darkness of rural France.
In marked contrast to our last creative prompt, which encouraged us to reflect on the slow, attenuated life-cycles of the cicada, this week’s jumping-off point invites adventures in velocity. As per, the range of responses is a delight. My advice? Slow down and have a really good look!
“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
“I was thinking of the kind of collage I’d do for this piece of music–a layered mandala with everything I could find inside it, and realized I had one like that already.”
faster and faster
the wheel spins, gathering all
into one huge dance
“I’ve always imagined this piece of music as beams of light and geometric shapes so here’s a quickly rustled up 3D sketch to try and capture that feeling.”
“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.
Romantic Museum, 1946, Joseph Cornell
The film series Getting Lost In Fields began as a response to this Kick-About prompt, in which I challenged myself to use my numerous photographs of local fields, pastures and scrubland as the basis for some moving image work. Really, I wanted to seek to share my feelings about these landscapes, what it was like to walk within them and how it felt to encounter all this beauty. Since then, I’ve been back to Knave’s Ash, where the parched hay meadow had been rendered in golds, coppers and chalk by the late Summer heat.
I find there is always something rather melancholy about August. It is the beginning of the end of things. In approaching this fourth little film, I very much had the idea of an elegy in mind.
A final visit to the soft gilded bristles of Knave’s Ash, with its bronze skeins and glinting copper.
At one end of this dry, brittle field, all the stiff congregations of desiccated rumex spires made me think of ermine, or of leopard moths, or the streaking on tulip petals, and always brush work, as if someone has been using the tip of a very dry brush to lift these late Summer vistas with a few licks of stronger colour.
A while back, some old 35mm photographs resurfaced of my secondary school’s 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 – The Golden Garter – for a rowdy audience of 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 rather risque musical number that goes, ‘I’ve got a hive full of honey for the right kind of honey bee’…
Francis Fryer’s Y chromosome comes as a shock in the 1953 film, Calamity Jane.
Francis Fryer (Dick Wesson) in drag performing on the stage of The Golden Garter, Calamity Jane (1953)
Francis Fryer performs Hive Full Of Honey, Calamity Jane (1953)
I was fourteen when I got the part of Francis Fryer. It’s 1989 and the annual school production is the highlight of the academic year. I only have very positive memories of my involvement in Calamity Jane. I remember being taught to walk in high heels by the deputy headmistress, which I enjoyed thoroughly, not because of the opportunity to click about in a woman’s shoes, but, more boringly, because I somehow valued this new informality between myself and this otherwise formidable adult. It was special-making and highly unusual, as intimate and demystifying as hearing teachers use each other’s first names with one another. I felt brought closer to the world of adults, a world I instinctively preferred over the inelegancies and bun-fights of my own age-group.
I remember very distinctly the dress rehearsal, when all the hired-in costumes arrived at the school, and I saw Francis Fryer’s saloon girl costume for the first time, an extraordinary confection of red and black satin, with a swishing fishtail at the back and only the tiniest scallop of fringed fabric hanging down at the front. Even now, I can conjure-up the prickle of mortification accompanying the moment I was given my notes by the director after the first dress rehearsal: “Philip,’ he said, ‘If you’re going to do that with your legs, you need to wear black pants.’
It’s tempting to frame this story as the moment I knew I was gay, that somehow the touch of red and black satin riveted me at once to my sexual identity; or it was those high-heel shoes, or the tights, the wig, or the ticklish slink of my red feather boa. It wasn’t like that at all. There was no such realisation or great awakening, no light-bulb moment or epiphany. The act of dressing-up as a woman didn’t feel encoded for me, or provocative, or transgressive. It was just what the character had to do in the story and that was that.
But it did make me feel special in one very obvious way: the role of Francis Fryer, and specifically his drag act, was a sure-fire way of making people laugh, and people did laugh, not least because during one performance the black sequinned garter on my left thigh became entangled with the fish tights on my right, effectively tying my legs together for the duration of my musical number. I waddled through my routine, penguin-like, while mugging furiously at the front row of the audience, mining my wardrobe malfunction for maximum laughs.
The whole point of Francis Fryer’s drag act is that it’s not very good – and I wasn’t – but that just brought the cheering and the applause. Off-stage, I was likely awkward as a foal, and always painfully self-conscious at how skinny I was, but on stage I was ‘a character actor’, a physical comedian! On stage – with those legs in those tights! – I looked ridiculous and that was power.
So no, I didn’t feel switched-on sexually in my saloon girl dress, but I did feel powerful. I had audiences eating out of my hand, knowing one bit of silliness with knock-knees and a feather boa would bring down the house. When you entertain people, when you clown for them, they reward you with affection. I felt liked. I felt popular. It was wonderful really, stealing the show from all those much better-looking boys. I knew I wasn’t leading man material, but I was the funny one.
But when I look at these photographs of that same time, my feelings are more complicated and it’s this I sought to capture in my unexpectedly personal response to the most recent Kick-About prompt.
When I look at the juvenile forms of the cicada, I experience instinctive distaste and also fascination. I feel similarly about these images of my own larval self. I experience some distaste at my physical appearance back then in the way we all recoil a bit – unremarkably – when we see images of our younger selves. This isn’t an admission of body dysmorphia or deep self-loathing, but only the truth of things. More uniquely perhaps, I experience distaste because of what I know awaits the boy in the photographs, and how the reappearance of these images returns me to a period of my life I have no wish to revisit.
This isn’t quite true actually; when I look at these photographs I do want to revisit this exact place and time – to warn, to mentor, to coach, and to save – but I know I can’t. Ultimately, that is what I find so unwelcome about these images; my powerlessness to intervene.
He doesn’t know it yet, but the boy in the dress in the photograph is going to be bullied by other boys. He is not going to tell anyone about it, because that is what boys do. He doesn’t know it yet, but the boy in the dress in the photograph is very likely embarrassing the other men of his family. Perhaps they can see something getting started in him – some adult-form coalescing – an anomaly. It’s surely what his bullies are seeing too. Funnily enough, the boy in the dress in the photograph doesn’t seem to be able to see this same thing as keenly. The boy thinks he’s popular with everyone. He is the centre of attention suddenly because he is making people laugh. Turns out, people are laughing at him a bit too, but not because he’s funny haha, but because he’s odd, peculiar, different, not cool, not hard, not savvy, not a success at being a fourteen year old boy.
Oh dear! The boy in the dress in the photograph doesn’t even realise, in dressing up as a woman and appearing to enjoy it, he’s upsetting and disappointing people. Some might even say a fourteen year old boy who chooses to put on a saloon girl’s dress, who learns to walk in high heels, is asking for a certain kind of trouble.
But you see, the bullies, and all the other disappointed men, are right about him – their suspicions will be realised. The boy in the dress in the photograph, who may as well be neutered for all the interest he is showing in matters of sex and sexual relationships, will, in time, emerge from his chrysalis – or rather his closet. We are looking at the nymph of an adult gay man in this photo, but everything about this individual’s gestation will be slow, and his final form not butterfly-like or in any sense spectacular. No, rather like the cicada itself, he will have to settle for ‘interesting’ over ‘beautiful’.
The boy in the dress in the photograph will soon learn to cocoon himself. He will grow a little more inward and ever more watchful. He will separate himself off from some of the men who find him disappointing by creating a shell and moving inside it for as long as it takes to feel ready enough to leave it again. The boy will do other things to keep himself safe, and not all of them will be kind or generous or brave or entirely honest.
So it is I came to the creative decision to use these happy/unhappy photographs as the raw material from which to fashion a collection of pupa, collaging with them digitally, using the same limited number of Photoshop manoeuvres last wheeled out in my Metropolis images. The decision to present the resulting images as faux zoological plates came from an idea I had about just how old these photographs feel to me – like relics, or fossils, museum pieces certainly – but also to communicate something of my scrutiny for this subject; the way distaste can give way to curiosity, and curiosity to an acceptance of the form things take on their way to being other things, and the time it takes, and also, I suppose, to marvel at the instinct to survive, and in the end, to do more than this.
Our last Kickabout prompt, based off Sickert’s painting ‘Ennui’, inspired a range of new work by our participating artists on themes of listless, languor and waiting. When you consider the prolonged incubation times of your average cicada, you could say we haven’t moved all that far this week! That said, we’re a long away from Sickert’s rather drab little parlour, as instead we seek to celebrate the life, times and associations of these extraordinary insects.
“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.“
“Took a bit of time finding a way into this but then did and thoroughly enjoyed the process!”
CICADA: PERSONAL CHANGE/ RENEWAL/ REBIRTH/ TRANSFORMATION.
Graphite on Fabriano. 22” X 22”.
“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.”
of earthy tree sap –
spells of magical
“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.”
“Just a simple texture study of the Cicada from photo reference taken several years back on holiday in the south of France.”
“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.”
A musical prompt this week, folks – John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine – a little something to blow the cobwebs away. See below for new submission date. Buckle up!
More photographs from the flaxen, tinder-dry periphery of Knave’s Ash, where layer-upon-layer of fine filaments hold the late afternoon light at their tips and everything is crisp under my flip-flops, but soft on the eye.