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!
Arguably, all previous Kick-Abouts have been a response to this same prompt, courtesy of Francesca Maxwell, with each resulting showcase of work offering a guide to the ways in which different people take unpredictable journeys into new and unexpected terrains. As is attested to by a number of the works in this edition, ‘getting lost’ is never about losing time, but rather gaining experience.
“When I started thinking about this prompt – about how you plan a trip, about what can go wrong, about getting lost – I was reminded of this bit of family lore which is often trotted out at our family’s events: the day mother went to Shrewsbury and got lost.
I have tried to capture something of the same spirit in “The Ballad of Ethel and Hilda” and reflect it in the images used, anachronistic though they may be. Along with Sir Derek Jacobi and Margaret Rutherford, you may also spot Joyce Grenfell, Sid James and Leslie Phillips, as well as a host of extras.
My thanks, as always to my techie, without whom this would not be half as much fun. I tip my hat, too, to my Mum Hilda, and her friend, Ethel. If there is an afterlife, they will be galloping through it, with gusto!”
Castle Road on Capitol Hill, Canada, (summers 1956 to 1961)
“Place holds strong significance, home on the city’s edge, schooling to begin in ‘58, summers beneath anchored clouds with shadows setting root, becoming cool dark pockets for secrets, and across the empty rolling range beneath bright light, daydreams ran wild being played out by shapechangers in search of possession. The house may still stand, the vastness of surrounding space has been lost, yet the place’s invitation, (in memory), to venture out and beyond is very strong.” Oil, canvas on board, 20x20cm.
“I wanted to capture the feeling (in moody black and white photographs, of course) of what it can be like just to go for walk out on a summer day with no particular aim and take in the sights and sounds of the local neighbourhoods here in Japan. Initially the intention was to create a mini photographic book heavily inspired by Tales of Tono by Daido Moyriyama but in the end it became a short film using still photographs in the style of La Jetée.“
“I must say thank you to whoever suggested this book as it was right up my street…loved it, especially “ the Blue of Distance” sections. This is a response to the part on maps…terra incognita.
When I was a child this island out in the Bristol Channel totally captured my imagination…and still does. I don’t ever want to go there or research its history as it’s a place of dreams that could be inhabited by giraffes and goldfinches or camels and weasels or simply exist in its own atmosphere of mists appearing and vanishing at will. A negative Uluru floating in cold northern waters.“
Cyanotypes in notebook.
“This evolved from Thoreau …”not till we have lost the world do we begin to find ourselves” and Virginia Woolf ..”to be silent; to be alone”
Three panels, 12” x 12” graphite and watercolour on gesso.
“In A Field Guide To Getting Lost, Rebecca Solnit says, “Never to get lost is not to live”. Such was the epic journey of Cabez de Vaca. He was the 2nd in command in a Spanish expedition led by Panfilio de Narvaez, which was commissioned by Charles V to establish colonial settlements and garrisons in The New World. However, after many disasters including hurricanes, shipwrecks, disease, starvation, attacks by hostiles and enslavement, only 4 of the original 600 men survived – including Cabez de Vaca. They spent the next 8 years wandering the S.W part of America and N.Mexico as traders and faith healers to some of the Indian tribes and were the first known Europeans to see the Mississippi River and cross the Gulf of Mexico and Texas. On his eventual return Cabez wrote a full account of the flora, fauna and Indian tribes he had encountered, and intended to conquer, but learnt so much from, including how to survive.
I decided to try something I had always wanted to do and experiment by doing a portrait of Cabeza using my old leftover makeup ie: various eyeshadows, eyeliners, bronzers and face powders.
So what did I discover? Well, yes, makeup is a good substitute drawing material – but Cabeza de Vaca – what a legend!”
“I don’t like the idea of being lost, and especially of being lost at night, so my contribution this week is a little sanctuary, just four walls and a roof, somewhere to keep the lost feeling at bay until the dawn, when the daylight banishes the monsters, real or imagined…”
“Looking at my work over the years, I found all my paintings could be titled “a field guide of getting lost”, whichever style I chose. It all seems to be about finding a path in the chaos. Not that chaos is not one of the most beautiful and creative things there is. Whichever path I take will take me into unknown territory, never again able to retrace my steps and never returning the same as before. And every path will propel me towards new unknown territories and new adventures the more significant when in the spirit of being “lost”.
These four paintings I chose started as concepts for a short animation I had in mind based on a recurrent dream I had as a child and on Dante’s opening sentence of the Divine Comedy “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita mi ritrovai in una selva oscura…” They are inks on watercolour paper, cold pressed, 240x680cm.”
“This was a bit of a no-brainer for me, given my many (!) excursions into the meadows and arable crops of my local countryside during the course of the lock-down and beyond. I haven’t quite managed a ‘Field Guide To Getting Lost’, but rather a guide to getting lost in fieldsin three parts.”
“I read a preview of A Field Guide To Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit, and I think it couldn’t have come at a better time. Things are really unpredictable at the moment. At times feel like I am levitating in limbo, a bit stuck, a bit stagnant. I am a bit lost.
If you allow it, being lost is to be beckoned by brambles and tripped up; those brambles can cut you deep with its spikes; maybe those spikes are actually fangs embedded in the coil of a boa constrictor – or maybe the bramble is something you could simply skip over and bursting with mouth-watering berries?
I used to love getting lost. I think a lot of it has to do with my childhood, when I was always outside finding and climbing the highest trees, mapping them in my mind as a brilliant structure that would suit a tree house; and finding the highest hills of rural Ireland overlooking the derelict cottages falling to pieces of a life long gone.
I recently moved house; my senses spill into overdrive. I notice familiar sounds that feel completely fresh. I notice the cornice that has a gargoyle on it. I get lost so I can find my bearings. I go on excursions and explorations and scope out the quiet, dainty coffee and book shops, or the solemn parks budding with trees and wildflowers, or the grey cemetery I can have a jog around while listening to bird song.
I still get lost because to really get lost is to eventually find yourself.”
“I was reading ‘The Blue Distance’ chapter in ‘A Field Guide to Getting Lost’, by Rebecca Solnit. I put it down and picked up a book on Eva Hesse, an artist I am researching. She had discovered this quotation in a Simone de Beauvoir diary of (1926). As soon as I read the quotation something opened up and I could hear the three voices in conversation.”
Darning needle on blue distance, front to back, drawing, oil on paper, 42 x 29cm
‘Lost in the making’, fabric sculpture, 110 x 60 x 26cm
“These are my art responses to this round’s prompt – which was the book by Rebecca Solnit titled “A Field Guide to Getting Lost.” I haven’t read the book and wasn’t going to attempt it – so I worked with the title. My initial thoughts really hovered over the “Lost” part. I recently read a Reddit post about the Vietnam draft lotteries and how there appeared to be heavy bias in the initial lottery towards birthdays at the end of the calendar year. No one knows why – presumably the number draws were random – but there are explanations proposed of simple human error. Birthdays at the end of the year were added to the hopper last and then the whole thing was not properly mixed. These men, born at the end of the year in the years 1946-1950, “lost” that lottery.
My father was drafted in a different round, but the outcome was the same. The top picture is a reverse transfer monoprint I made from a photo of him and my mother shortly after he returned from bootcamp – he’s leaning on his beloved car from high school. The lower print was made from the first photo I could find of him after his first deployment to Vietnam. His face is different. He is different. Which is so strange to me, because I was born after he got out of the service and I’ve never known him any other way but after Vietnam. But making these transfer prints, it had never been more clear to me. It was shocking – and full of loss.”
“… but then Kerfe Roig posted her response to the prompt and it was about labyrinths and journeys and paths. I found it very helpful and comforting. So I made one more transfer print for her poem.”
In what I suspect is in part a response to the languor of lock-down, Charly Skilling is offering up Walter Richard Sickert’s painting Ennuias our collective jumping-off point for the seventh Kick-About. You’ll find the painting plus the new submission date below. Have fun, folks, and see you on the other side!
“This painting really intrigued me, so I took time to read about the story behind it and the symbolism within it. Alice Neel painted Symbols in response to her husband leaving her, taking their daughter with him. When I look at the doll and glove on the table, I see things that were left behind by the daughter when she left, little items that were once insignificant, now a symbol of what has been lost. There are discussions on how the inclusion of the cross and apples represent Eve, perhaps suggesting Neel sees herself as the the destroyer of her own Garden of Eden – her family. In my piece, I wanted to take the symbols that stood out the most to me, and using Neel’s style, create a new piece. The doll to me is a symbol of childhood, the cross a symbol of sacrifice, the apple and leaves representing Eden, now lost.”
“I decided to do some monoprints and had several tries where the prints just weren’t matching the vision in my head for this challenge. Finally, in frustration, I mixed some fabric ink I had with the printing ink on a small metal rolling plate and had that moment of excitement when I pulled the paper off the plate. The two inks weren’t really compatible (even says so on the bottles!) and the effect was much closer to what I was looking for – much closer to Alice’s experience, I think. Alice Neel’s biography is fascinating and she lived a difficult life as a woman artist, receiving popular recognition only later in life. She painted unvarnished, unflinching portraits of her subjects and from what I read, never compromised on that.”
“When I saw the prompt for the next round of the Kick About I was intrigued. I didn’t know this painting or this artist, so I started Googling and found out more. I looked at the painting again; there was an unsettling mixture of childhood and adult references going on. The painting started to trigger thoughts and memories of my own childhood…”
“I initially mistook the doll in the painting for a voodoo doll, which sent me down a Wikipedia rabbit warren. I surfaced on an article about cunning folk; practitioners of folk magic and divination in England from medieval times up to the early twentieth century. They learnt their craft through spell books called Grimoires, which taught how to create magical objects such as talisman and amulets, other magical spells, and how to summon angels and demons.
Cunning folk however were usually employed in order to solve specific problems, such as missing property, or malevolent witchcraft.
With an East Anglian tradition of cunning folk in my area, I decided that gave me licence to have a go at some millennial magic.
Two of the practices which proved popular against witches were voodoo dolls, and witches’ bottles. I felt a bit funny about voodoo, so I opted with the more friendly sounding witches bottle.
If a witch had placed a curse on your home, your local cunning folk would help you create a witch’s bottle to capture the evil in your home. The folk would produce a bellarmine jug, which the victim was required to either urinate in, or place rosemary, red wine and pins. This would then be buried in the furthest corner of the house, or under the hearth. The purpose behind the objects was that after burial, the bottle would capture and contain the evil, the pins would impale it, the wine would drown it, and the rosemary would send it away. I’m not sure why they needed the urine sample.
Putting a modern spin on ancient problems, I moved house recently and have been having problems with the builder. Rather than read through some tedious warranty documents, I thought it would be easier to use the witch’s bottle to sort out permeated outer walls and safety glass guarantees, and also perhaps throw in a tiny bit of a curse.
I made a crude jug from a pack of air drying terracotta, which it turns out is very difficult to shape, and carved the building faults I want to resolve into the sides, then slapped some black paint on it, to draw the badness in. I then added the red wine, some rosemary and some wood screws (no pins available), opting out on the urine. I live in a flat which doesn’t have a hearth, so I settled for burying the bottle in a pot in the corner of my balcony.
As of the time of writing, there hasn’t been any change in the outer membrane of the house, and I can’t say if the builder has suffered any sudden misfortune, but it’s early days and I remain hopeful.”
“A short film inspired by the various portraits Alice Neel painted of babies and young children that reveal an unsentimental image of motherhood. Quite Normal was likewise inspired by the experiences of my own mother, whose teeth my brother and I stole as babies. Sorry about that, mum!
“Replacing the objects in Alice Neel’s “Doll and Apples” 1932; I’m referencing two contemporary issues: COVID 19 and human damage to the natural world (under subheading ‘Victims of Circumstance’)….scattered like (tea) leaves on the page…and thus looking into an uncertain future.” “Plastic Soldier with Woodcock Wings”. Charcoal and Graphite on Fabriano.
“Strangely, I’ve actually been thinking about Alice Neel a lot lately. I’ve been meaning to watch the doc on her life and work for about a month, and so when this kick-about prompt showed up, I jumped at the chance.
I don’t want to say too much about my piece apart from I hope it expresses something of Neel’s own work. In these recent lockdown months, I’ve been surrounded by people battling deep crisis. This painting is about a singular evening during the lockdown when some of those crises boiled over.”
“I wanted to approach Alice Neel’s painting in a different way than I had done previously. The inspiration for this 3-D collage came when I was cleaning out some papers and came upon the paper insert for the Evanescence cd “Fallen”. The cover photo of Amy Lee seemed to echo the face of the doll Neel had painted.This was music my younger daughter played over and over in her adolescence, and it was fun to go to YouTube and pull up the songs. I still like them. Maybe I even like them more now. Amy’s voice is a force, and she can be way over the top. But the gothic flavor of the music seemed also apt to the painting.
I think Neel is addressing her struggle as a woman, a mother, an artist, a person constrained by family and cultural circumstances. She lost her oldest child to her husband’s family who considered her an unsuitable mother. The life she chose was not easy, but she never gave up her need and her right to make her art. Must a woman be only a virgin mother or a childless whore? And why should gender determine who we are or what we can be at all?“
upon my end I shall begin– I’m going under
I’ve been sleeping a thousand years it seems without a thought without a voice without a soul
the truth drives me into madness, my spirit sleeping somewhere cold
no one’s there– never was and never will be
save me from the nothing I’ve become, return to me salvation
maybe I’ll wake up for once, fallen angels at my feet
let me stay, bow down and stare in wonder
I know who you are– the goddess of imaginary light
“Whereas the artist Alice Neel had a rather sad life with the loss of her two daughters, I have decided to reflect on the symbols of my very happy creative life, and also that of my great aunt. She too was called Alice and was the 5th of 7 children, born 9 years before Alice Neel in 1891. Her father died when she was about four and somehow the family survived in a male-dominated society through two world wars.
What do myself and great aunt Alice have in common? Well, we both love to make things. She was a milliner and I have inherited her milliner’s block – a strong solid oak symbol of stubborn perseverance if ever there was one! I decided to try and make a hat on it. I attached lots of my crochet pieces I’ve made over the years. These are in the style of Irish crochet, where lots of motifs are joined together. Irish crochet began in the famine years of the 1840s and became a symbol of life and hope for the Irish people, especially women, to help make ends meet. Hats off to you Aunt Alice!”
TJ and Jo Norman
“Through collaboration, we fuse sculpture with animation, exploring theatrical aspects of using characters and stories, in conjunction with symbolic real-world materials. This quick turnaround piece plays with Neel’s imagery and themes; apples, dolls, loss and rebirth.”
“When I first looked at Alice Neel’s “Symbols”, it struck me how crushed, how hopeless the figure seems. Yet her make-up is intact and immaculate. It got me thinking about why women wear make-up and what impels us to literally put a “good face” on things, even when things are anything but good. While I was musing, I was experimenting with some freestyle crochet and the following is the outcome of both musings and experiment.”
“As I was working on the face, I was struck by how the reverse told it’s own story. In particular the finished eyes are those of a woman on the edge. On the reverse, they look scratched out…“
“Looking at the source image I felt quite disturbed, which fitted very nicely with my current interest in Absurdity and a recent reading of Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf. I proceeded to layer both domestic and made elements from around my home in order to create a sort of cross section of where I am at. All topped off with, and I think you will all agree, a very lovely frame from Wilko.”
Many thanks to kick-abouter, Francesca Maxwell for our brand-new prompt, which takes its title from the book by Rebecca Solnit. See below for our new jumping-off point and submission date. Have fun and see you all again on the other side and get in touch if you’ve enjoyed the showcase and fancy a run-around too. Whatever it is you’re doing creatively, there’s room for you here.
I’ve rarely written poetry. Songs yes, poems not so much. I can’t remember what was going on in the first few months of 2001, or why I felt it necessary to commit these three short verses to a word processor and save them. They read like break-up poems, though who was breaking up with whom I really can’t recall.
my sense of dread is small it’s not impending like a train rather, it trails behind me like a length of wet, grey wool where now and then it snags in things, and tugs harder at my cuff.
nothing distresses me more than when a person takes a question mark and without consent they straighten it so from love? making love! another bend now my u-turn.
it is broadly encouraged is it not? for lovers to make a gift of the moon for my part I’ve managed the craters the airlessness and the cold when what I wanted to give was the brilliancy and orbits I planned to devote. but if we cherish the moon on account of its surface on account of its beauty on account of its knocks I’m left wondering now about craters about what else might be given when two worlds collide.
“The sea is often described as a mirror and the mirage (Fata Morgana) on the horizon is literally looking/entering into another space. These are caused by layers of successively warmer air (shown as horizontal lines) working like a series of eyeglass lenses. It is a world that does not exist but is utterly real to the viewer.” Pencil on Fabriano. 56 cm X 56 cm.
“A Saturday stroll in the blistering summer heat turned into search for other-worlds and distorted realities, which I found in the ripples and reflections of the Ooka River in Yokohama. My final stop on this little solo journey was a lovely park that sits on the edge of Yokohama harbour. I’ve always found the waves and colour of the ocean here completely fascinating. It’s like staring into a thick undulating soup, and it was here where not so long ago the ill-fated Diamond Princess was moored up, quarantined, and its unfortunate passengers cut off from the outside world. It was as if it too had gone through the mirror where things would never quite be the same again.”
“This response evolved from the idea of Opheus entering into an eternal dance of seduction with death. The folds start to talk about ideas around the eternal, where there is no beginning or end just what happens within the unfolding of the middle. Hence the title ‘…and…'”
“As long as there have been mirrors, humanity has wondered what they are really seeing in them – spirits, shades,(usually not so happy) or alternate universes. We gaze in the mirror – and we muse. And being human, we muse about how such mirror worlds might affect us personally.”
“I attempted to illustrate the moment where Orpheus entered the underworld to save his wife ‘Eurydice’. Orpheus stands readying himself for what’s to come as the the dark forces of the underworld surround Eurydice in the depths. This sparked all sorts of possible dark scenarios to illustrate, but I went for a poster-like iconic angle to enhance the drama and jeopardy for the hero of the piece.”
“Mirrors and reflections often feature in my work, but I wasn’t quite sure how I wanted to approach the mirror as a portal. I first tried a collage but it seemed too busy. The folded Rorschach paintings I do are already mirrored, soI decided to try that approach.
As often happens, this was not the painting I had in mind when I began. Although the paint didn’t layer the way I envisioned, it took on its own life in the process and I followed along. This is the second painting I’ve done using handprints…perhaps the start of a series?”
“I began by looking at an old children’s book called The Mirrorstone (Michael Palin, Alan Lee and Richard Seymour). In this story a boy walks through his bathroom mirror, and what I like about it are the illustrations, which include holograms. With this in mind I used some mirror card for my shapes and made shadows using some black organza material from my stash. The pink card is actually sparkly, but this was very hard to photograph and get the same effect. Lastly I drew around my hands and stuck some chiffon over them for a more ghostly look.”
“I knew exactly what I was going to create when I saw the new prompt… Twas the night before my birthday and I was sitting out in the tiny garden in my previous London apartment. I was drinking red wine and smoking a cigarette and frankly feeling rather shit – not sure if it was the birthday blues or if it was an amalgamation of other things, but my neighbours behind my house were having a party; they recently installed some outside lighting that surrounded their roomy garden in a blazing warm hue that lit up the brick of their apartment like a beacon in the night. In my garden there was a full length mirror perched against a rickety garden shed that was full of art supplies and spiders. The light from the neighbour’s garden was reflecting brilliantly against the mirror – it looked otherworldly placed against the black shed and darkness of my garden, as if the light didn’t belong in the darkness. I thought to myself, I wish that was a fucking portal so I could step through it, leave this place and see some happy faces. The neighbours next door continued to dance and sing into the night.”
“A few weeks back, I discovered a large stagnant pond in the woods, its water black, viscous and a little sinister. All this talk of magic mirrors and portals to the underworld saw me hurry back to this enshadowed pool, as haunted and obsidian as any scrying mirror…”
“This has been some challenge, having chosen the mirror’s reflection as focus throughout, with three quite different self-portraits beneath this final slightly worrying impression of entering a hot (not tropical) world. Too late for dodging the inevitable, I suspect.” Oil on board 20cm x 20cm.
“Mystic portals and doorways to other realms have often appeared in my work. I guess that’s why I chose the clip from Cocteau’s Orphée for the prompter’s this week; to me, they represent imagination, dreams, and promise.
I made the images by painting 2D elements on card, setting them up on a table-top with a painted background and then photographing them. It was all pretty low-fi; the lighting is a little torch, a candle and my iPhone, and I used a few basic photo-editing apps to add atmosphere and texture. I enjoy seeing how the painted shapes transform during the photographic process. It sometimes falls flat and occasionally something quite satisfying emerges. I’d like to continue to develop these ideas; add sound perhaps, or use video to introduce movement.”
“I have finally finished Orpheus. This is the second version. I must confess I am using these Kick Abouts as experimental ground, trying techniques and styles very different from my usual. Probably because I am working on a topic and with a story, I don’t usually do that in my paintings, I let images, feelings and random thoughts settle down in images and try to capture them. Only when I design for work I follow stories where there are characters and environments detached from me. For this one I used my usual abstract painting style and superimposed a baroque doorway from Puglia; an olive tree, aside from the Mediterranean feel it also represent longevity and, with the flowers, life renewal and Orpheus looking through his fingers at Eurydice who then has to turn back. I used Acrylics Inks on hot pressed watercolour paper. 30 X 40 cm.”
“The first thing I thought of was “mirror neurons” – which are special neurons found (so far) only in primates and birds that activate either when the animal does the behavior or they see another animal doing the same behavior (mirroring them). No one knows why we have them or truly what function they serve, although there is much speculation. It was fun to get out some of the science images I’ve saved over the years for this collage.”
“I did go back and do another interpretation of the theme in collage – inspired by the line ‘and in it, I see an unhappy man.’”
“Went a bit pencilly on this one, I wanted to capture Orpheus at the moment where he mourns the loss of Eurydice, the light of the surface world Illuminates him as the omnipresent darkness of grief and the underworld threaten to consume him.”
With thanks to fellow Kick-About artist, Kerfe Roig, I’m happy to announce the brand-new prompt for our fifth run-around together, Alice Kneel’s 1932 painting, Symbols.See below for the painting, and for our new submission date, and if you’re reading this and want to join our (very) loose collective of intrepid creatives in our continuing mission to make stuff we otherwise might not make, just get in touch.
“I started off by painting some foliage and flower shapes onto tracing paper, cutting them out, placing on a light box and photographing them. I meant the results to be shadowy and rather gothic, but they turned out rather different. Perhaps because it feels like full-on summer here in Berlin this week, and perhaps because I watched Picnic at Hanging Rock the other night, the photos have more the atmosphere of a languorous sunny afternoon in the garden – not what I set out to do at all. I was so seduced by the colour palette of Picnic at Hanging Rock, I’ve let the images go in this direction…”
“On reading the title “Dance of the Happy Shades” I immediately thought of shadows, and the shades of tones in the shadows, rather than shades of greys and colours. I thought of the subtle tones in a desaturated situation, like during twilight, one of my favourite times of day. Still, I needed a relatively strong source of light to create the shadows. Also, I was looking at translucent rather than solid objects, to get more nuances in the tones, as well as texture – translucency and texture being also some of the things that most inspire and attract me. I tried and looked at few different things, including rereading “In the Praise of Shadows” by Junichiro Tanizaki, and watching the Zhang Yimou’s film “Shadow” – an amazing film. In the end, it was the moving reflection on the wall of three glass flowers I made few years back standing on my mantelpiece that I wanted to do. I was originally going to paint them with the Chinese ink and brush technique, but I started sketching them out in colour pencil and rather enjoyed the process, and the result was close to my idea.Pencils on hot press watercolour paper. 84×60 cm.“
“I’ve got two quite different responses this week. Firstly, one very silly gif. This was inspired by a friend, when I asked her, ‘What do you think of when I say ‘Dance of the Happy Shades’?’ she responded, ‘I just see a dude dancing in shades.’ Her response made me think of an older gent embodying a Dad-joke of sorts…”
“The second idea that came to mind was old Disney style – Fantasia – but instead of brooms and the like, it was floor lamps, with shades. (It’s a tenuous link, I know!). I hadn’t fully worked out how I could animate the idea (plus I left it too late anyway) but that didn’t mean I couldn’t embody it somehow! So here’s a silly storyboard of some dancing floor lamps! I put together a quick animatic – it’s not as motion-filled as I’d like, but I hope it gets my daft idea across a bit better. Haha!”
Inspiration came from Alice Munro’s Walker Brothers Cowboy, the very first story in Munro’s Dance Of The Happy Shades. In it, a little girl and her brother are too hot and listless in the back of their father’s car. They play I Spy to pass the time:
“We play I Spy, but it is hard to find many colours. Grey for the barns and sheds and toilets and houses, brown for the yard and fields, black or brown for the dogs. The rusting cars show rainbow patches, in which I strain to pick out purple or green; likewise I peer at doors for shreds of peeling paint, maroon or yellow.”
I wanted to evoke the languor of a similarly long hot day and the way lethargy encourages you to look for escape-routes in ordinary and over-looked places – like the peeling paint on a garage door, which if you squint, might come to resemble some glinting sea or exotic terrain. With the exception of a few sound effects purloined from the BBC SFX archive, the majority of sounds in the film were recorded in an around the rather careworn seaside town I call home. At risk of sounding bossy, grab some headphones for a suitably immersive experience. “
“My Rorschach ancestor mirrors himself and transforms in both vertical and horizontal directions. It was fun to add a little nonsensical creation to my days.”
He seems friendly enough, this presence of the past, shifting languorously as if drugged by sun light shining in his eyes after a thundering rain
In truth his voice is seldom called upon—an apparition furniturial, fixed impermanently in corners and along walls
His dance contains unpredictable undertones—the hours move around him as his buddha smile glimmers knowingly in the dark
“I found a photo of the author of Dance Of The Happy Shades, Alice Munro from 1971, a couple of years after the book was published. I thought it would be nice to add some colour to it. While it was possible to find photos from a few years later that I could reference for eye colour, skin tones, hair etc, I still feel there’s a large degree of fiction in this, or any other colourised photo. Where the photo was taken, what time of day, what colour clothing all became something imagined without proper sources. This is an interesting contradiction for me, because by trying to bring something to life, it actually makes it more like a woozy loose memory. I’ve been doing something similar with old family photos recently, and have been able to test the memories of elder relatives in the photos for details. While a modern sheen of colour makes the image feel more appealing, I often wonder if the photos are more meaningful in their original state.”
“My mind went straight to ballerina dancers and wanted to capture them in a loose style, and was thinking of black and grey shades. So I did some small charcoal sketches of ballerina dancers as an initial response while sitting out in the park… I moved them into Photoshop and did some tweaking and painting to make them fit into a more complete image.”
“I was thinking of a very exuberant Flamenco Dancer wearing a fabulous skirt of happy, bright and gaudy layers. I painted on Yupo paper for the woman’s figure and used scraps of silk and net individually twisted and bound for her skirt. I enjoyed the whole task very much and it definitely made me want to do a happy dance!”
“Originally, I wanted to respond to a couple of quotes within the book, make some kind of lively piece with dancers and muted colours, but after reading up on Orfeo ed Eurydice, I decided instead to look to the Greek god of the underworld, Hades. Not only did it relate to this Kick-About prompt, but also to another project I’ve been working on. Right now, it’s called “So, this is life?” and involves a goddess in the stars being banished from the heavens and forced to live among humans. I’m basing the characters on constellations and Greek mythologies, so Hades was perfect. I’m still working out kinks on the story but the basic world-building is the “constellation” gods and goddesses watch over whatever humans were born under their star and act as lore keepers for them. When the humans die, they must journey to Hades and the constellations hand over their lore to Hades. This current design of Hades is the first iteration. He’s bound to change as I develop this concept further.”
“I am absolutely loving these Kick Abouts! It has completely opened my eyes to the possibility of doing quick little ‘micro shorts’ – and this time I decided to give it a whirl for a film of sorts. For the Metropolis prompt, I was drawing and animating the creative responses using a particular set of Photoshop brushes that are always my go to. I was in my bathroom and opened up my medicine cabinet, and just as I did, the light from outside was shining into the window and through a crack of the medicine cabinet door. It created this brilliant concentrated brush stroke of dancing illuminating light that mimics one of the brushes I love to use in Photoshop. I took out my phone and filmed myself opening and closing the medicine cabinet door over and over again, as I knew this would not last long because of how pinprick precise the light was in that moment. I realised I could work with the videos to produce something for the kick-about, so I started to play.
A lot of what is going in the film fell into place through experimenting by mixing all the videos together, playing with blend modes, light, shadow and shapes. The song is Grey Drops by Sergey Cheremisinov. When listening to Cheremisinov’s unique pieces I always imagine something odd and intriguing coming to life, something with a lot of texture. I envisioned things moving in the shadows that shouldn’t move. The best thing about creating like this is something magical happens by itself; as I was swinging the medicine cabinet door, I noticed it looked like the light was giving way to these phantom spectres that were projecting part of themselves away and then consuming it again with every swing of the door. Everything started to intensify as I edited the film together, and then a story started to flourish.”
“Dance of the Happy Shades is a title as evocative as it is elusive. In an attempt to understand the mystery and make the shades dance, here is a little series of blindingly colourful, expressionist and illusionistic photographic manipulations.”
“It all turned about-face after the start. The studio’s sense of itself took over. Nuances I set about exploring ended up as grey-scale shades flowing from colour. HB pencil, on Artistico Fabriano 640gsm hot pressed. 77cm x 56cm. 24 hour drawing.”
“I was going through some old paperwork when a photo fluttered to the ground, one of me as a child, which prompted a rush of memories. I found other photos, of other times, and I tried to set down in words the feelings and images they evoked. I recalled sounds, music, voices, and wanted to find a way to combine images, words and sounds to share with others the emotions they aroused in me. I don’t have the technical knowledge or skills to create what I envisaged – but luckily, I know a man who does! We talked for a long time about the ways and means, of shape and substance and then he took my words, my images, my memories, and between us produced the following short film.“
“Optimism isn’t my comfort zone, but it was lovely to work more abstractly and suggestively than usual. I’ve never read Dance of the Happy Shades, but the title alone suggests to me the movements of grass fields, dappled sunlight and a shifting summer breeze. This is the best I can do to evoke Van Gogh. Unfortunately, the grey British skies did not imbue my blood with a great talent for evoking the beauty of the sun!”
Courtesy of Berlin-based artist, Phil Cooper, we have our new prompt – a short sequence from Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus (1950). In common with all previous kick-abouts, you’re invited to respond to the new prompt in anyway that gets your juices flowing, and if you’ve enjoyed this third creative run-around and you want to get involved, then crack on!
We were all surprised and delighted by the response to the first Kick About, with a whole range of work in a variety of media triggered by Max Ernst’s 1955 painting, Moon In A Bottle. We got sculptures and paintings both analogue and digital, drawings in pastel and in Sharpie Pen, animated loops, and even a verse or two of original poetry. The Kick About #1 also garnered interest from other creatives up for a bit of running around, which means this second edition is a veritable cornucopia of creativity.
This time out, our prompt was a single word: metropolis. When I look across this eclectic range of work, I’m reminded of another collection of cities – Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, a book in which Calvino describes an array of architectural marvels, all of them different, but all of them ultimately revealed to be expressions of the characteristics of only one city – Venice. Here too, a single name for a city inspires multiple impressions.
“Most everything I own is in storage, and I do not have many collage materials in my temporary apartment. But I do get the NY Times delivered, and I cut them up for what I’m working on as needed … I took two of the obituary pages from last Sunday’s paper and collaged it with images and headline haiku collected from the last month’s papers.”
“Over the past few weeks, I’ve been making a painting a day as part of the #MaySketchaDay. It’s been fun, but also tough to consistently make new, interesting things. However, when the theme word Metropolis showed up I took a sigh of relief. Not purely because the Fritz Lang film Metropolis is a huge inspiration to me, but also because it’s the kind of word that I could apply to a lot of my work. Big, bulking cityscapes with dark corners, glimmering towers and hidden stories.
So, in response, I made a couple of neon-British industrial cityscapes. If Blade Runner took place in Manchester maybe? Due to the nature of #MaySketchaDay I have to be pretty quick, so to speed up the process I take my old paintings and collage them together as my starting point. In the way of Gestalt psychology, this noise eventually begins to express pattern and shape, and from there, the painting starts to take hold.”
“It’s safe to say we are pretty crammed in here in Yokohama, a city of nearly 4 million inhabitants perched on a series of rocky hills overlooking the Tokyo Bay. Space is at a premium and geometric tower blocks, condominiums and apartments dot the landscape to the backdrop of rusting factories and billowing smokestacks. It’s hard not to think or see metropolis whenever I step out my front door. It’s also hard not to think about Fritz Lang’s seminal sci-fi film Metropolis because I love it so much. For this Kick About then, I’ve reimagined my local area as some sort of lost production set for that film. I’m more of an old-fashioned traditionalist when it comes to photography but going with the theme I’ve harnessed the futurist power of my phone and its camera to create my very own and very local metropolis.“
“My prompt was Mother-city; the hub providing settlers to beyond, with the sparrow characterising community and Springtime nest building. The unanchored nature reflects a very common feeling. HB pencil, on Artistico Fabriano 640gsm hot pressed. 77cm x 56cm. These drawings demand 24 hours commitment, as nothing is forward planned, usually reaching completion in 3-5 days.”
“The current theme is Metropolis, which could mean any metropolis, but I have taken it to be the 1927 German expressionist Sci-fi film by Fritz Lang, because it’s one of my favourite films. I have fond memories of being taken along to it as a teenager by my big brother. My eyes were nearly popping out of my head … some of the most compelling memories of the movie for me were the scenes in the Rich Men’s pleasure gardens. The Pleasure Gardens are extraordinary. They are stupendously opulent, and are filled with tumescent plants and feature a scalloped grotto and various fountains…”
“I became rather inspired by some cinematic B-roll footage of Shanghai, and several images of empty, dystopian style environments. This piece soundtracks the emotions and ‘point of view’ of a person as they move with a steady pace through this cityscape. The architecture builds around them and the barren day passes and transforms into a frantic nightlife. The heavy, clean drums give the music a heavy and prominent pulse, defining the slow but steady movement and the jazzesque chords are supposed to mimic the music associated with these places and spaces. The use of contemporary, electronic sounds are to further add to this sense of a mundane, dystopian forest of concrete. I used FL Studio Mobile on my Ipad to write the actual music and mix the parts. The wind and city soundscapes were added afterwards on my laptop and mixed in Garageband.”
“All I could think of was modernity and buildings, a lot of them. It started as a De Stijl influenced doodle, which then turned into a more constructivist piece and finally a bit more tweaking and ambience. A lot of fun during the process.”
“The following images are photos of models I put together for a touring stage production of Hansel and Gretel that I worked on in 2018; you can read more about the production in a blog post I wrote while we were developing the show here.
We devisedan approach to the staging that used a lot of children’s toys for the table top models and for the screen projections. The toys added an additional poignant, emotional quality to the music and words and gave the Hansel and Gretel puppet characters something to interact with. For some architectural elements we used toy building blocks. We painted them in monochrome tones to suggest an environment without pulling too much attention away from the music and words.”
“Metropolis, a prompt that couldn’t help but be met with an onslaught of quarantine consumed media, meaning that those initial visions of bronzed skyscrapers somehow found themselves in a rather uncomfortable blend of Mad Max and the Peaky Blinders! A mingling that resulted in a somewhat smoky poem…”
“I took the notion of the ‘Metropolis’ as an overcrowded and oppressive place and projected it into one possible future, a mildly dystopian and ugly one, where there’s evidence of human ingenuity but very little evidence of humanity.”
“We absolutely loved doing this kick about, thank you Phil for inviting us in! First and foremost, we’d like to thank the Pexels video community for the fabulous free footage. In terms of workflow, the Forces are experimenting with an improvised approach to composition. We have a bunch of loops in Ableton live, and a bunch of samples in an iPhone app called CueZy (which is fantastic for live performance). We’re then running another iPhone with synths including a couple of awesome apps called TC-Performer and TC-11, and using piano, rhodes and other samples on Logic. The idea is to use sound more as colour, so we can improvise in response to visuals – hence why we loved the Metropolis project. All compositions are just recorded down to a stereo out, so there’s no going back and re-editing – what you hear is all a single take. We hope you enjoy, and we can’t wait to see what everyone else has come up with!”
“The pandemic has kept us out of our daily life and activities. We were cut off from life itself, but we are coming back to life using beauty – here represented by the sinamay roses. The tiger whiskers attached to the rose depict our strength. We’re taking back our metropolis, using our sense of style as our means of protection.“
Piece made from Sinamay fibre, eco friendly and sustainable.
…and a bonus ‘metropolis of string’ “I started thinking about the networks, the connections that make up a major city – the roads, the cables, the lighting, the energy. My thanks to the photographer for his skills.”
“I lived in this building for two years, in Taipei. It’s in a back road of the red-light district. The lane is full of gentlemen’s clubs in the basements and bars on street level. The strip is teaming with marauding businessmen and pop-up food vendors in the evenings, dying down at around midnight when everyone packs up or goes downstairs. The building itself has five floors and no lift, with a long staircase heading right to the top in a single column.I lived in an illegal extension on the top floor, a fairly common arrangement in Taiwan. The walls shifted from side to side during earthquakes and in typhoons water dripped through the light fixtures. The apartment was clean though, and despite the grime outside, the area was intense and colourful and full of life. The rent was also very cheap.
Relating to the idea of a metropolis is the position of the building on Taipei’s tessellating grid system. Blocky buildings in different sizes and states of repair populate the back lanes, bumped right up to the edge of the road. Air conditioning units protrude out of grey broken tiles between steel and glass.
It’s by no stretch a beautiful city, but at night-time the neon lights switch on, and all the surfaces glow in greens and blues and pinks. Taxis slowly wind their way through the crowds with warm headlights casting long shadows into the distance. Everything mingles together and this vivid amphetamine version of Boris Bilinsky’s famous poster becomes far more appealing.
Returning home late at night, my building loomed overhead, bathed in neon and surprisingly still, with a few lightbulbs reflecting off protective bars, as the wiring gently hummed.”
Liam Scarlino, Linsen North Road, created in Cinema 4D
“I wanted to capture the energy and constant movement that encompasses a metropolis, like a long exposure shot caught in an instant with lots of energy in the line-work and brightness in the blinding city lights, I had a go of animating it too, as I want to incorporate such elements into my new animated short so it felt good to get some practice. I also couldn’t help but pay homage to Metropolis by Fritz Lang – it’s one of my favourites! Those harrowing tunnels with the workers heads hung low as they approach the underbelly of the city always stuck with me.”
“I really enjoyed this challenge. It was like being back on my Art Foundation course!”
Phil Gomm, Tower, Pencil drawing > photography > Photoshop
“This is really an amalgamation of my favourite parts of the 1927 film. Perhaps it’s a little too literal an interpretation of the prompt, but it’s been fun to reminisce over my memories of watching Metropolis for the first time. Perhaps I need to watch it again soon…”
Who’s up for another game? Courtesy of Kick-About team mate, Gary Thorne, we have a brand new prompt for a brand new creative challenge – see below for our latest theme and new submission deadline. Have fun – and anyone visiting who’d like to have a run around with us, then do please get in touch. The more the merrier.