Better late than never, right? So this short story was inspired by the narrative quilts of Harriet Powers, the prompt for The Kick-About No.68. I wasn’t able to complete the story by the original submission deadline and have been working away on it since. Thematically, it takes the idea of patchworks to express composite identities and their complexities and the idea of individuals and their emotional lives comprising contrary shades and textures.
In common with the quilts of Harriet Powers, our previous Kick-About was inspired by works of art comprising fragments and scraps, brought together to impressive and thought-provoking effect. While Powers’ quilts are smaller, simpler things, they are no less arresting, more so for their scarcity and testament to the act of making as an act of living.
“Plans to hook a rug, in response to Harriet Powers breathtaking quilts, soon shifted to questioning what ideas might be important enough to labour over an unfamiliar technique. Using the week’s radio as source material, with some pretty depressing news throughout, a naive form of expression developed from making quick responses, producing what could be considered ‘stage one’ of a process promoting that which affects our daily lives. Perhaps stage two might be continue making daily responses, and exploring different artistic techniques for each image. Thanks for a thought provoking KA.”
“I originally planned to rely solely on the images of the patchwork of childhood blankets and pillowcases, but sadly they are long gone. However, much like a patchwork, I decided to chop up various elements into a sort of hodgepodge – some from other sewn blankets found at my home in Ireland. and then adding little drawn elements over the top.”
“I have recently taken photos around the Brisbane river where some bridges are being built. I’d like to paint a picture based on them so when this challenge came about I began creating a computer illustration. I was going to fill the illustration shapes with fabric textures like I did in a previous challenge. Then I got the challenge spirit and decided to design a quilt using some other Brisbane environs photos mirrored and repeated to create patterns in place of real fabric textures. I love looking into the patterns close up to see buildings or lizards or mangroves… The image is titled “dogman” – the person directing a crane’s movement from outside of the crane cabin. The colour palette changed dramatically over the design before I settled on colours sampled from the original construction photos. Fun challenge, thank you Charly.”
“I know these quilts, but I never examined them closely before. So little history about their making or their maker is available, but they speak loudly for themselves. I was immediately drawn to the symbols – “sun moon hand eye circle snake” – that would fit easily into a circular form. (The birds need their own story, which I had no time for this week.) I thought of Penny Rugs, made of felt circles, and put together a grouping of my own appliqued felt circles in the earthy colors of the quilts. I don’t have a large enough piece of fabric in any color at the moment to sew them on, but photographed them on three possibilities: white and black paper, and the wooden floor to represent the camel color. Each has its own feeling and I’m not sure yet what I would choose. With six words to work with, I meant to do a sestina, but only completed the first stanza. As so often occurs with my projects, to be continued…”
sun moon hand eye circle snake
we grow wings, awaiting the return of the sun as branches and leaves dance patterns over the moon– invisible roots weave themselves through our hands and become imprinted inside our eyes– alert to the gaps in the circle, we lie still, glittering like coiled snakes
“The wonderful thing about patchwork is the memories that it evokes. I have many pieces of patchwork I have made over the years and the different scraps of material I have used reminds me of so many old friends and places, and, of course, family. For example – a faded purple cotton square on a cushion always reminds me of a kind administrator friend who allowed me to go to a patchwork course during my usual working day and make up the time later. Then some recycled red check gingham takes me straight back to see my children happily playing in the summer, and a paisley pattern from a skirt gives me memories of a lovely holiday abroad. The list is endless but one of my favourites is the Japanese Boro cushion I made during lockdown. I can understand how Harriet Powers was transported from her situation and found solace in creating applique stories from her heritage with which we can still empathise today.”
“What with one thing or another, I struggled to get this finished – and likewise the Kick-About No.68 more generally – and this short story isn’t finished, if not from want of trying. I knew right away I wanted to write a new story when I saw the narrative quilts of Harriet Powers. I also worried about writing a short story on themes of slavery, so gave time to research and no small amount of hand-wringing about voice and characterisation. Add into the mix some disrupted work patterns, some mild sleep deprivation, and a house at sixes and sevens, and the conditions for getting this story over the line were a bit suboptimal (and there must be something in the ether, as a number of the usual KA-ers have felt similarly stymied or out of time!). Anyway, I wanted to share something at least, so here are the first few pages of something currently entitled Abigail’s Quilt; there are more pages than this, none of them good, as it turns out you can’t make a story ‘be finished’ when it’s ‘not finished’, but when it is complete, I’ll put it out there. Thematically, I was drawn to the idea of patchworks as being a way to talk about individuals cut from one background and stitched onto new ones and how the identity of someone is an ensemble of beliefs, a composite. Oh yeah, and there’s some lurking dread and strangeness too!”
The spooky season is over, but for this week’s retrospective, I’m sharing three images produced back in October 2021 for my ‘Portfolio of Horrors’, The Children Of The Night. These self-portraits didn’t make the cut, so, in their way, are ‘shunned things’ too.
This time last year, I had huge amounts of fun producing a series of self-portraits that lent heavily into the tricking and treating of Halloween. Entitled The Children Of The Night, they emulated old horror movies and the paperback covers of my youth and originally produced for The Kick-About No.39. I’m much too old to actually do Halloween in any meaningful way, but I couldn’t let the occasion pass on here without some acknowledgment of a creative kind, so I do have a creepy little something for you in advance of the 31st. Last seen here, I just happened to have a hand-sewn mask hanging around the house, so spent some fruitful time yesterday hanging out in a clothes cupboard, and the words followed swiftly after. Happy Halloween!
The idea for this story came quickly, inspired in part by the conflict going on between the domesticity of the subject in Henri Matisse’s 1908 painting, Harmony In Red(our latest Kick-About prompt), and the roar of its redness, like a sudden rush of feeling, something eruptive and less civilised. I was excited too by the strangeness of Matisse’s perspective, a world shunted off-kilter unexpectedly, and likewise by the very idea of Fauvism itself and all its ‘wild beasts’.
Our previous Kick-About was inspired by the sometimes sombre, monochromatic, and richly atmospheric drawings of Mervyn Peake. Never happier than when making break-neck changes of direction, this latest gathering of new works made in a short time is inspired by Henri Matisse’s celebrated punch of fauvist colour. Boom!
“I’m looking at the other side of this red room, and for inspiration, I went to my hallway, as it is possibly built in the same era but a different country. There are remnants of servants quarters that have survived its conversion into flats. I’m thinking that there would have been a door on that opposing wall. Who had just left? Where were they going? Mimicking the style of pattern and flatness, I have attempted to continue the story.”
“The first thing you notice about Matisse’s Harmony in Red is that it VERY RED! Saturated with the colour! Indeed, it is difficult to describe this painting without using the word RED over and over again. So I got thinking about synonyms, and how many different ways you could describe something that is RED and how such décor might impact upon the people sat at that table to dine.”
“Really enjoyed where this one started to go. Matisse’s use of colour, shape and composition are legendary, but this study really made me think about how flatness, depth and differing spaces can collide. The flat window landscape of the original Matisse painting is really where it all started, and here’s where I ended up.”
“All I really want to do right now is draw. I latched onto the royal reds of Matisse’s painting and the quirky perspective. The red made me think of opulence. I envisioned a glamorous home with large ceilings, grand staircases rimmed with gold, framed pictures and floral designs throughout the home. At first I was a bit intimated by the brightness and saturation of the red; I didn’t want to burn anyone’s eyeballs with these illustrations, and with the first illustration of the bunch I had the back walls a much darker maroon, but then, with the second illustration, I jumped in with the same Matisse Red, determined to make its high saturation work. After adding in the details, such as the swirly designs, the gold rimmed edges and vaulted high ceilings, I was able to make the vibrant red work and decided to switch the first illustration to match! I am glad I did. I usually don’t do a lot of interior illustrations, but this bunch quickly become some of my favourite paintings thus far.”
“This is not a spot the fruit competition. However, there were tempting delights for this still life comprised of apricot, apple, pear, orange, berries and grapes. Another influence was certainly the abundance of garden and flowers situated between the back door and the garage/studio. Nice to be indoors at a time when the ‘heat’s on’. This started as one still life painting, however, as we know, stuff happens…”
“This Kick-About ties in wonderfully with the hot sunny weather and thoughts of summer parties and picnics. I really enjoyed constructing my collage of ice cream sundaes. It seemed as if the scraps of pink lace were real raspberry ripple, the lilac chiffon was swirls of blueberry and the scraps of brown felt were real pieces of chocolate. However my Red Dessert is a tribute to my cousin Brenda, who sadly passed away with Parkinson’s disease. She was always full of fun, and my last memory of her was when we went out for a meal recently. For her dessert she ordered a huge Knickerbocker Glory and began to tuck in. However, with her jerky arm movements, she proceeded to catapult large spoonfuls of ice cream everywhere and, all the while, with a big smile on her face!“
“I was pretty sure I’d done a collage based on this painting maybe 10 years ago, and figured I’d do a new one and then look for the old one to compare. But while I was looking through my pile of decorating magazines for things to use, I came across an ad that made me want to paint it in the style of Matisse. It was that intense blue wall. So I did. Then I did the collage. My old collage is very literal. The new one takes a lot of liberties. I think the woman in it has some kind of magic in mind. As always, grateful for the push to do something new.”
“The idea for this story came quickly, inspired in part by the conflict going on between the domesticity of the subject and the roar of all that colour, like a sudden rush of feeling, something eruptive and less civilised. I was excited too by the strangeness of Matisse’s perspective, a world shunted off-kilter so unexpectedly, and likewise by the very idea of Fauvism itself and all its ‘wild beasts’.”
Courtesy of Jordan Buckner, our next Kick-About prompt is the life and work of Augustus Osborne Lamplough, an English Orientalist painter and illustrator; known for his sunset scenes of North Africa. Happy travels.
You can thank Tod Browning’s notorious 1932 film, Freaks, for what follows, which is certainly one of the most vivid circus-centric narratives I know. The important thing about Browning’s unfairly maligned movie is where the director puts our sympathies – we are never in any doubt – and likewise the age-old question it asks as to the difference between men and ‘monsters’. I’m not going to say much more about the short story that follows, except to say it was written for The Kick-About No.53, and inspired by Toulouse-Lautrec’s painting of a clown performing with his black pig, and also this: The Greatest Showman it is not.
The last edition of The Kick-About marked our second birthday and two year’s of fortnightly creative challenges encouraging artists of all stripes to make new work in a short time. As such, it was something of a three-ringed circus, an eclectic, celebratory showcase with a little bit of something for everyone. How appropriate then our first prompt of the new Kick-About year should focus our attention on the circus paintings of Toulouse-Lautrec. ‘Roll up, roll up!’
“I was instantly drawn to Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s line drawings that he produced much earlier in his career, and felt perhaps there was a way to capture the immediacy, simplicity and instinctiveness of those sketches with the modern digital tools I typically use. Channelling the spirit of an earlier Kick-About, Herzog’s Dancing Chicken, which also evoked manic movement and energy, I just applied the same techniques but attempted to reduce it down even more. I think there is an entire series to be made of these at some point!”
“I was about eight (late fifties) when, on a Saturday afternoon, the treat was a trip to the circus that had arrived in town. It was traditional in every way, clowns, band, ringmaster, plumed horses and glamorous riders, acrobats, contortionist, flying trapeze, performing chimps, lions and tamers, tigers and camels. My great Uncle Arthur was a forward agent for circuses, and I believe he supplied some free tickets. By that time, he had taken over a zoo and kept chimps and a lion called Sultan, amongst others animals. The zoo, and an accompanying Archery Stall, was in Ramsgate on the far end of the sea front, and at the time, part of the complex of amusements known as ‘Merrie England’ (later ‘Pleasurama’). I doubt if it was that merrie or pleasurable for the animals. Welfare and safety concerns were soon to radically change the idea of circus and zoos. For me, this Kick-About is about nostalgia, and the memory of Merrie England, the circus and zoo, and great Uncle Arthur…”
“Toulouse: What a great prompt. We don’t see a lot of his work down here but his use of colour certainly has burnt into my mind. I was a bit short of time, though I think I got the essence of what I was after – would benefit from actually being painted. I saw a man dangling from ropes cleaning an old brick building with a high pressure water hose – bit like an acrobat – with an audience at the stop lights. I was thinking of the figure with the ropes pressing around him and experimented with photographing a pillow tied up with string – not wanting to throw the images out, I put them in the background building’s windows (who knows what goes on in the buildings we walk past every day!) I kind of turned the image from day to night and took the photos to use as spotlights behind the dangling man. Anyway fodder for a later project perhaps.”
“A circus immediately brings to mind clowns, a disguise that has always seemed a bit creepy to me. But it also reminded me of a book of photos taken by Matthew Rolston of some of the ventriloquist dummies in the Vent Haven Museum in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky. Haunting and aware, I’ve always wanted to try to capture some of the sentience of the photos in a drawing. And so I did, randomly opening the book to four different faces. One of the essays in the book says they are meant “to suggest life”, but any supposedly “inanimate” object so entwined with a human life is alive. Any child can tell you that. They may have been separated from their humans, but these faces remember them. Here’s a link to Roston’s photos.”
“Initially, I had the idea of loading up an old battered and broken blue iPhone that I didn’t expect to turn on, from which to rip some photographs from a circus I attended with friends, the circus standing tall on the iconic Rochester hill where I went to uni. Amazingly, the phone turned on with its red battery charging symbol loading through the cracked pixelated screen. The joy on my face when I held the tiny phone in my comically large hands… However in my many attempts to get all those photos off this ancient iPhone, technology somehow fucked me over and devastatingly wiped every single photo from the phone, including all the photos I wanted to use for this week’s prompt!
I ended up sitting and sulking on the idea for a while and contemplated coming up with something completely different, but stubbornly I didn’t want to, and I did have a handful of those very photos from that iPhone stored on my laptop that I never deleted. So instead of being a moody little shit, I decided to try and make something from them by duplicating the original photos and using previous creations and random photos laid on top to attempt to create some new compositions exploring the light, energy and disorientating weirdness of a circus. I guess with the recent anniversary of the Kick-About, in some ways it can seem poetic to use a bunch of outpourings from previous Kick-Abouts to create something completely new.”
“You can thank Tod Browning’s notorious 1932 film, Freaks, for what follows, ladies and gents, which is certainly one of the most vivid circus-centric narratives I know. The important thing about Browning’s unfairly maligned movie is where the director puts our sympathies – we are never in any doubt – and likewise the age-old question it asks as to the difference between men and ‘monsters’. I’m not going to say much more about the short story that follows, except to say it was inspired first and foremost by Toulouse-Lautrec’s painting of a clown performing with his black pig, and also this: The Greatest Showman it is not…”
Sometimes, it has felt as if my brain is too old or too stupid or simply too preoccupied with other more important things to even think about undertaking another creative brief ‘for the sake of it’. If I’m thinking this, the guy who sets the Kick-About prompts each fortnight, I’m pretty sure some of the regular kick-abouters have thought it too. Lives get busy. Lives get glum. Interest and energy wanes. The mood passes. Art is fart.
And yet, all that being true, now I’ve gathered here together a year’s worth of new work in a single place, I am reminded of the intrinsic value of ‘making stuff’ and of the power of community. There is little doubt, were it not for the examples set by all the other artists in The Kick-About, I wouldn’t have followed through on these various creative enquiries of my own. It’s quite unlikely I would have started them, and I certainly wouldn’t have finished them, finding a bunch of reasonable excuses to get on with more pressing stuff, or stuff I didn’t need to think about quite as much, or the stuff of watching television and eating bars of cheap chocolate on the sofa. But as it happens, I’ve inflated latex gloves with water to produce wobbling horrors, made moonscapes out of bags of flour, photographed tin-toy chickens obsessively, made short films, written a story about a woman with nasturtium seed for a head, encased a bunch of stuff in ice, and the list goes on – and largely because I wasn’t alone in my endeavours. Somewhere in New York, Kerfe was suspending paper fish inside a litter bin, and somewhere out in Brisbane, James was populating a primordial forest with bare chested brutes; meanwhile, Charly was crocheting a hat of fantastical proportions, Tom was configuring Saul Bass-inspired spirals out of code in Yokohama, and Gary was fashioning a Christmas tree out of hand-foraged willow and meticulous strips of calligraphic paper!
What I particularly enjoy, it seems, is the license to shape-shift in terms of creative work; the Kick-About encourages me to diversify, to jump about a bit. That said, there are obvious preoccupations – a love of in-camera transformations, what we might call ‘analogue magic’, and a preoccupation with the darker side of the human imagination. I blame the Pan Book of Horror and all those brave, strange, mean films of the 1970s.
‘Jumping about a bit’ can be confusing, so I decided to get my ‘art-house’ in order a bit by re-organising my personal website. It might not make a scrap of sense thematically, but at least it’s nice and tidy, right?
Thanks again to all the Kick-Abouters: we’ve been living through some strange rootless times, and your company and creativity has done much to keep my feet on the ground and my imagination a good deal higher up! Onwards…