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…
Welcome to this anniversary edition of The Kick-About, marking two years of creative activity undertaken by an international community of artists… which, when you put it like that sounds very impressive indeed! While those of us who participate in these fortnightly challenges might not regard ourselves as grandly as all that, this is my opportunity to thank everyone for their continuing creativity and companionship over this last year. I also want to reflect on the very real and demonstrable benefits of ‘kicking about’ together: yes, it’s another thing we have to think about, and yes, things don’t always run smoothly or go to plan, but ‘making work’ is always a magical act, and life-affirming too. Thanks again to everyone in the KA community for your boundless imagination and sticking power. Look at what we did!
“What I found the most gratifying about The Kick-About this year was that, for the first time in ages for me personally, it felt like I could take any small idea that I had and bring it to some form of a conclusion without feeling like there was a whole load of mental and skill barriers in the way.
One of the most satisfying projects out of all the ones I produced was the animated short film inspired by Marie Menken for The Kick-About #34. After a very long time of not really making any moving image it felt quite rewarding to just let go and make something with the same kind of ‘just do it and see what happens’ attitude that always felt so inspiring to me as a creative, but perhaps, over the years, got lost in the shuffle of life and other such boring things! These days, just producing work and art is anything but boring for me, so I’m looking forward to seeing what else might become a makeshift goalpost in the park with all the other fellow Kick-Abouters in the future.”
“I had not heard of Brian Rutenberg (Kick-About No. 32) and the first impression was ‘Wow! Very powerful!’ So I spent quite a bit of time ‘deconstructing’ his technique. The apparent abstract nature is, of course, in reality highly stylised landscapes. If you put aside the idiosyncratic drawing style they are quite simple compositions. The cleverness for me is the use of colour; he has substituted primary or secondary colours for tone on most of the pieces, enhancing the abstract qualities. The texture and randomness is the product of palette knife work – that said, given the size of the canvases, it was more likely a large trowel! A lot of my work is marine in subject, so for the first piece I took an image of reflections on water and upped the colour values and worked largely with a palette knife. I think you can still just about make out it is meant to be liquid. For the other piece, I chose a lake surrounded by trees and threw away the tonal values, replacing them with primary colour. I failed to match the stylisation of Rutenberg, but I think they are just about going in the right direction.”
“The prompt could hardly have been more suited to me and my natural inclinations. It’s inky and leafy and Australian. What strikes me most is the combination of the loosest of ink splatters with far more careful and detailed patterning. I was going to explore some inkiness yesterday (Yep! Last minute again!) to see where an observation of Mungkuri’s work (Kick-About No.37) might take me, especially with regard to the use of white ink patterning over the top of the looser ink layers. But before I could begin something happened… Our bees swarmed! Later, I had a bit of a go at my inky exploration of Peter Mungkuri’s plant drawings, but my mind was full of bees. And joy. So it became an illustration of Hugo and me, arms uplifted to the swarming bees.”
For the Kick-About No. 41 ‘La Ville’ ~ “I used one of my daughter’s photos of an event when Lady Gaga walked down the red carpet, which I firstly painted in watercolour and then recreated it in the style of ?? (You can see why I nearly failed my Art O’ level!) Anyway, I enjoyed creating art in this way and using such zingy colours!”
From The Kick-About No. 51“Print them out and colour in your very own folk art postcards. I used google to translate the English titles into Ukrainian, so apologies for any grammatical errors.”
“Of the prompts I participated in, I think my personal favourite was Kick-About Number 31, Lotte Reiniger. The traditional form of silhouettes and stop-frame animation was more hands-on than my other prompt responses. Less abstracted. And less rooted in technology, which was an invigorating change.
Cutting things out of paper for craft projects is something I’d been doing since I was little, much like Lotte did, so I ran with the nostalgia. Plus, the rudimentary camera setup resulted in an animation with some wonky charm that I quite like!”
“For the second year anniversary post I’ve chosen a little film I made for Kick-About #28. The prompt that week was the garden created by Derek Jarman on the shingle spit of Dungeness. Derek started making the garden during a period of personal crisis, shortly after he had been diagnosed HIV+ in 1986. Back then there was no treatment available for HIV and it was fatal in almost all cases. The garden was a tremendous act of creativity and of defiance in the face of a terminal diagnosis, not least because he built it in one of the most unlikely places in the country, the arid, salty shingle of Dunegness, directly in front of a nuclear power station. And, despite his failing health, the garden provided the backdrop to one of the most dynamic and prolific periods in his life; he crammed in more living and working into those last few years before his death in 1994 than most do in a whole lifetime.
I used the words that close his book, At Your Own Risk, writing them in wax crayon, before brushing some black ink over them. The resist technique didn’t work very well and the words aren’t very legible, so here they are:
‘I am tired tonight. My eyes are out of focus, my body droops under the weight of the day, but as I leave you Queer lads let me leave you singing. I had to write of a sad time as a witness – not to cloud your smiles – please read the cares of the world that I have locked in these pages; and after, put this book aside and love. May you of a better future, love without a care and remember we loved too. As the shadows close in, the starts came out. I am in love.’
As he wrote those words in the early 1990s, he foresaw a better future for the world. Sadly, I’m not sure if this has come to pass, at least not yet. The crisis of AIDS in Derek Jarman’s time has been resolved across most of the world, but the climate crisis and war in Europe threaten chaos on an even greater scale. I wonder what he would make of the world today? I confess I’m pessimistic about what lies ahead for humanity, but Derek’s life provides a kind of blueprint to at least try and deal with the terrible state we’re in; speak out, respond, fight, create, work, and make a little garden to face down the dark forces.”
“I love abstract paintings (Kick-About No.32) particularly as I know what a challenge they can be for composition and colour, light and movement. In my work I also strive to keep the first creative impetus with its full emotional strength before it becomes too cerebral. So this is one of my abstract painting that deals with space, macrocosm and microcosm. Thank you Phil and all the extraordinary artists who make this creative experience so special.”
The Kick-About No. 30:“It was so hard to choose. But I decided to go with the Fundus Photography. The photos themselves are magical, and I feel the watercolors I did inspired by them are some of the best I did all year. They are still hanging in my office, almost the first things I put up when I moved, and every day I enjoy looking at them.”
“I’m choosing my short story, Nasturtiums, to include in this anniversary edition for two reasons: the first being that, at first glance, Sheila Legge’s Phantom of Surrealism (Kick-About No.36) left me scratching my head and worrying at the efficacy of my imagination. My second reason for sharing it is because, once I’d stopped worrying, this short story arrived with surprising ease, and for all its inherent strangeness, felt, in some way, inevitable.”
(I wanted to offer up a little birthday bonus with this edition of the Kick-About, so with the assistance of voice artist, Catherine Bradley, I’m happy to present a little audio-book adaptation of Nasturtiums. Enjoy!)
“My favourite kick about this year has got to be the Stezaker prompt (The Kick-About No. 47) I loved the challenge of creating two parallel stories and then putting them together as one piece. Having said that, the Louis Baldwin took me to new areas of finding and stitching and Splendor Solis gave a rare opportunity to become immersed into a drawing over a long period of time. I just enjoy them all!”
“May 2021 – KA #30 Fundus Photography – has to be the right choice at the right time, with May approaching and a garden offering seemingly endless delights of colour. A reawakening of the senses and added energy by way of summer approaching seems a timely reminder to exploit the daylight hours, be observant, and delight in making use of such inspiration.”
“I have enjoyed so many of our KA prompts this past year, it is difficult to choose a favourite. But I have opted for Kickabout #30 “Fundus Photography”, because I found my “Alien skies” and the poem “Forward, Hover, Focus, Click” flowed so readily and so smoothly that I revelled in the process and now, all these months later, I can still look on the work and be happy. It is very rare for equal pleasure to be found in conception, execution and retrospection (for me, anyway!) so I cherish this!”
“I have decided to choose a recent response for the two year anniversary, which is the prompt of contemporary textile artist – Louise Baldwin (The Kick-About No.48). The outpouring of photography was completely transfixing, utterly intoxicating, but also very unpredictable. It was one of those times where something awoke in me and the tunnel vision of this bizarre creative pursuit was exhilarating – especially because the uncertainty of dumping all those household ingredients into a jar and photographing the bubbling frothy results is a practice I certainly wouldn’t have even attempted if it wasn’t for The Kick-About. But it is one byproduct that the Kick-About can and does unlock, as I do think being an artist means experimenting, breaking the status quo and playing to see what can flourish. So thank you all for the art, the making, and the doing, and helping me to produce things I would never have dreamed of, and thank you Phil for always curating our pursuits into a post I always look forward to.”
“So good to be a part of the KA and see all your fabulous work over the last year – lots to be inspired by and challenged to undertake! Personally I got an enormous amount out of the Sheila Legge challenge (KA 36 – Phantom Of Surrealism). I felt a bit aimless at the start but once my mind began wondering about, while trying to recreate Sheila’s surrealist mask, I zeroed in on the parallel stresses between her era and ours – big scary times. That’s when my image took an environmental posture and I cobbled together imagery to represent power and disaster. I also added ground charcoal textures and hand writing to my photographic images and broke up the framing of the image with staggered photo stripes in the background. It was one of those surprising outcomes that seem to happen so effortlessly its almost as if someone else was giving me a hand. I was also happy that the flower head felt a bit Covidish. Looking forward to the next KA.”
“As many have written over this past year, our lives have become perhaps a tad too much like a De Chirico or Hopper painting. The empty, beguilling landscapes feel a little too familiar for comfort, but nonetheless, these sorts of spaces are my stomping ground. The unease of architectural space has always been an inspiration in my work, and so here are a few strange tableaus inspired by De Chirico’s The Song of Love(Kick-About No. 27).”
“This piece started life as a digital painting, in the style of Rutenberg’s paintings (Kick-About No.32). The more I’ve gotten into his work over the last few years, and as I’ve listened to him speak about his work and process, I’ve absorbed a lot of his wisdom and theory. Painting in Photoshop, from some recent photos I took on holiday in Somerset, I realised that without all the elements of thick oil paint, walnut oil, textured canvas and the monumental scale, this just wasn’t going to cut it. The sense of depth and light depicted in Brian’s work always astounds me, so I took the idea of his interplay of horizontals and verticals into ZBrush. I used the original digital painting to create the colour on the 3D. I made a rough approximation of the artist himself, just as a homage to a bit of a hero of mine, then created a tangle of intersecting forms. I encased this in a glass box to contain this in a 3D space, something the artist conveys so well on his canvases. A departure from my comfort zone on this one, another lesson learned from Rutenberg himself.”
“After a bit of pondering I have chosen the Matisse Kick About (No.38) for the anniversary of this last year’s offerings. I really liked Phil Cooper’s introduction about Matisse and his joy of playing with scissors as an exuberant response to nature. The fact he made these cut outs in later life reminded me of where I am in my own life and the joy I found doing these cut outs and playing with colour, shape and movement. I think I will be going back to them as they have been left out on the desk asking for more from me…”
After the pudding-weight of festive expectations associated with our previous Kick-About, Alexander Calder’s light-weight dance of shape and colour sends us turning gently into the new year, with another showcase of new works made in a short time by a loose group of artists with homes all over the world. A happy and transformative 2022 to all of you!
“I loved the prompt this week. I’m a big fan of Alexander Calder’s sculptures. By happy coincidence there’s a big exhibition of his work here in Berlin right now at the just-refurbished Neue Nationalgalerie. Quite how I came to write such a story in response to the beautiful, elegant mobile in the prompt is a bit of a mystery. I think too many mince pies and liqueur chocolates over Christmas sent me a bit funny!”
“I love Calder’s work and wanted to build some similar whirling thing in my house and then seek to capture ideas of movement, flight, shadow and light in some kind of photographic response. At first, I settled on the idea of producing this impression using virtual components only, building some Calder-inspired shapes in Photoshop and then using them to produce a snapshot of their imaginary interactions. I’ve included two of those attempts here…”
“… but then, I happened on a much more lo-fi opportunity, resulting from my husband’s impressive consumption of Quality Street chocolates over the Christmas period; Quality Street come wrapped in these lovely squares of coloured cellophane, which my husband turned into an ad-hoc garland hanging down from the mirror – in glorification of his gluttony! Suspending the streamer of sweet wrappers from the ceiling, I set out about photographing it from below – lying on my back on the floor and framing the shots to avoid the presence of the cobwebs and the smoke detector! I enjoyed very much the water-colouresque results in all their floatiness, and I’m tempted to draw some conclusion here about the routes towards inspiration being found more-often-than-not in the realm of more analogue activities.”
“Have you ever spent a long time thinking something was going to be rather difficult to achieve? However, when you actually begin, you find it is a lot easier than you thought? At first, I deliberated making material into dangling swirls, then I tried something using beads and twisting them, and finally just went for it with good old card and scissors. Result! Fingers crossed 2022 will go just as easily for everyone! Happy New Year!”
“Once again, I had an inconclusive result, but now I know how to get closer to my original idea, had I time – and a spare wastebasket! One thing I really like about these challenges is the ephemeral nature of them; this will exist only in photos, but it may lead to other more permanent installations, who knows? It’s always fun to try new things. The metal in the Calder mobile reminded me I had a fish mobile/wind chime made of recycled spoons that my brother had given me years ago, which I never could figure out how to hang correctly. So I took it apart, traced the fish, painted watercolor paper in primary colors, and made more fish. I used a hole punch to make eyes, and simple cotton thread to hang them. I had an idea to use an embroidery hoop and circle the fish around it at different heights, but I didn’t think of the wastebasket to hang it in until after I had attached the fish. I think if I hung the hoop over the wastebasket first, and then attached one fish at a time, I could get a better, more balanced result. Another problem was no sun for the entire week; I tried three different lightings to photo it, but natural light, I’m sure, would have been much more satisfying. But they did move and the metal occasionally chimed, so a definite improvement over the original set up, and I like the interaction with the mesh of the wastebasket too.”
“Thank you Gary, this was a terrific challenge! One of the many things I love about Kick About is that it winches me out of my usual way of working and into the arena of experimentation. Many failures, but what the hell. It’s fun and can sometimes lead to an opening up in my work. Happy New Year everyone! Some wire drawings… celebrating 2022, (we can only wish).”
“Three deep breaths and I jumped into the festive season with some Calder focus padding. Minimal thinking involved when I read about the gongs in the piece sounding only rarely, and that this unexpected element was what one audience member regarded as the key. I had just made my Gerry a gif festive greeting for his correspondence, so I made a few more for KA, but they are too short for the final frame to feel rare, but hopefully they are cheery. Hope you all had a lovely couple of weeks.”
When looking at Calder’s “Double Gong”, I couldn’t help wondering what shapes and patterns it might make with a loaded paint brush attached to the end of each arm, then set against a huge sheet of paper, and set spinning. And that got me thinking about my stick.
To help me get around, I use a metre-long white stick with a ball on the end. This I roll back and forth across the path in front of me, (a bit like a minesweeper!) to alert me to bumps, potholes, changes of texture, kerbs and so on. I considered using a huge piece of paper and a pot of paint, and rolling the paint across the surface with my stick, but soon dismissed this as unlikely to result in anything which conveyed much to anyone (or even me).
So then I started thinking about what the stick conveys to me and how it conveys it. So much information travels up from the ball through the stick to my arm and brain.the ball vibrates differently on different surfaces; it can flow smoothly over some surfaces or jump and jerk over others. It will sometimes catch on a raised paving slab or unsuspected step and stop with a suddenness that sends a shock wave to my shoulder. And sometimes the ball slides away from me down an incline or steep camber. The friction between ball and surface also makes noise that forms a constant background to my walks.
So I fixed my camera/phone to my cane (with a bit of help) and went walkabout. The resulting raw video provided some interesting sounds and images and, with another bit of help, I can present ‘Stick and Ball’.”
“When I saw the colours and shapes of Calder’s mobile, I was reminded of the seventies, and I have always been in love with mid-century architecture, so itching to do some environment art, I drew a house surrounded by Calder’s colours and shapes.”
“Happy New Year to all. Tried creating a still-life mobile, hoping to better view ‘variations on a theme’ in support of being freer with composition when painting. Well that failed! Rethinking demanded reusing again these miniature cut-outs in a 3-D manner. How I wish magic powers could float objects where ever they are placed in space!”
On Christmas Eve in our house, there was always a tradition of telling ghost stories just before bed, often with a flickering candle for a bit of Dickensian ambience.
Sometimes the stories were read from a book, but often they were created by the family itself, each of us taking it in turns to make up a new bit of the story, before letting the next person continue it, cliff-hanger by cliff-hanger. Mostly, these descended into fits of giggles, as my brother and I failed to resist the temptation to slip rude words into our respective sections, and by ‘rude’, I mean words like ‘bum’, and ‘knickers’.
Christmas Eve has always had this touch of spook about it, and I think my sensitivity for this peculiar atmosphere predates any knowledge of Scrooge and his ghosts. It was just a night with an imminence like no other. The prompt for The Kick-About No. 43, Arthur Rackham’s 1931 illustration for The Night Before Christmas, depicting three little boys heading up to bed, captures this feeling very precisely. It’s there in the contrast between their cherubic faces and what is not so angelic about the rendering of their shadows on the wall behind them. I thought this a perfect opportunity to revisit that childhood tradition of a Christmas ghost story, while also exploring a few other ideas too.
Our last Andy Goldsworthy-themed Kick-About together inspired some winter wonderlands (and some much less wintry offerings too, courtesy of Brisbane-based artist, James Randall). For this, our last creative runaround of 2021, we’re keeping things seasonal, with an illustration by Arthur Rackham for a festive classic. Enjoy this showcase of new works made in a short time, and wherever you are, and whoever you are, I wish you and yours all the very best. “Merry Christmas, one and all.”
“I jumped into this sweet text with no clear ideas, so dug out my favourite Pelican fountain pen and began a repetitive process of re-writing the narrative onto lightweight card cut to 140cm lengths. On completion, to counter the banality of what I’d done I re-wrote it, word-for-word, in free-form graffitti style; less mind-numbing, yet still clueless as to the intention. Days later, in woodland, I happened upon a magnificent, towering, perfectly-formed evergreen. With willow twigs in-hand, and the echo of Goldsworthy, I then attempted this balancing act. It may not be towering at 150cm, unless perhaps you’re that mouse not stirring on Christmas Eve. May all Kick-Abouters enjoy a healthy and happy holiday.”
“It’s the season of giving gifts, but these days it’s more like the season of GIFs for me. I’ve been making a lot of quick fire animations in my spare time, and producing some looping Christmas tree things seemed quite natural. I think this one is suitably high-tech but festively cheesy at the same time.”
“I have taken some artistic license with this Kick-About, and you must imagine that it is early on Christmas Eve when the light is just starting to change before darkness falls. The weather is cold and there has been snow a few days earlier, which is now slushy . This young boy’s mother has said, ‘Hey Jack. Can you just run up to the woods and bring us back a little tree to decorate tonight? Your father’s so busy at the farm he’ll be exhausted by the time he get’s home and your brothers and sisters are so excited and can’t wait to start decorating it. I’ll never get them bathed and into bed asleep before Santa comes tonight!’Christmas Eve is such a magical time and there is so much to do that it always flies by before you know it.
“And wishing all the Kick-About gang a relaxed, leisurely Christmas and a healthy new Year – artwork courtesy of Toby, my youngest grandson, who proudly carried this picture out from school this week.”
“The shadows in Arthur Rackham’s drawing are rather ominous, but I find there’s a spookiness lurking in so many of his images. His work is, on the surface, often enchanting and whimsical, but there’s a darkness and strangeness to them hiding just out of frame.
I’m submitting a painting that plays with similar themes for this Kick-About; shadows and light, mysterious things unseen, and a prickle of unease. I don’t know what’s going on behind the topiary here, perhaps somebody burning rubbish on a bonfire, or a streetlamp, or maybe something else…”
“Not much from me today, as I did these quick sketches on the journey to Stansted airport on my way back to Ireland! I couldn’t get over the eerie nature of Rackham’s scratchy shadows! I found his illustration horrifying – in the best way! For me, Rackham’s art always veers towards that polarising view of what is ‘charming’, where it is uncanny and not quite right. There’s something about the blackness of the line work, particularly with the scratchy shadows, and the way the sickly stained walls progressively get more bruised towards the top; making me think old Saint Nick isn’t as jolly as it’s told, and could be hiding in those shadows, ready to unhinge his bearded jaw and gobble up those kids as they run right up to him… ‘He sees you when you’re sleeping, He knows when you’re awake…'”
“I grew up in a very tall, very dark, very cold Victorian house, and although Arthur Rackham‘s drawing was done a quarter century earlier, the image instantly brought all my childhood fears back to me. There were shadows everywhere and permanently icy draughts that stroked the back of your neck, and then savagely slammed any door you were unwise enough not to shut securely behind you. It was great in daylight: high-ceilinged rooms and long corridors, changing floor levels, and plenty of hiding places. But when the night drew in…”
“I was thinking of the brilliant film, Nosferatu, with the shadow of the vampire climbing the stairs then put that into the traditional snack left out for Santa! Enjoy Christmas everybody, however you choose to spend the time. Have fun and keep cosy.”
“On Christmas Eve in our house, there was always a tradition of telling ghost stories just before bed, often with a flickering candle for a bit of Dickensian ambience. Sometimes the stories were read from a book, but often they were created by the family itself, each of us taking it in turns to make up a new bit of the story, before letting the next person continue it, cliff-hanger by cliff-hanger. Mostly, these descended into fits of giggles, as my brother and I failed to resist the temptation to slip rude words into our respective sections, and by ‘rude’, I mean words like ‘bum’, and ‘knickers’. *Snicker*.
Christmas Eve has always had this touch of spook about it, and I think my sensitivity for this peculiar atmosphere predates any knowledge of Scrooge and his ghosts. It was just a night with an imminence like no other. Rackham’s illustration of these three boys heading up to bed captures this feeling very precisely; it’s there in the contrast between their cherubic faces and what is not so angelic about the rendering of their shadows on the wall behind them. I thought this a perfect opportunity to revisit that childhood tradition of a Christmas ghost story.”
“Thanks Gary Thorne for your good advice to take a sub-tropical approach. And so I landed on the hot nights when the heat spins about you as you search for the numbness of sleep. I could have used a darker palette for night. I had the Christmas excuse to use the gold paint that I was too conservative to use previously – wish I could share the metallic on screen. So as the year darts to a close thanks to all of you wonderful KAers and your inspirational works. They amaze me every week and make me want to try harder to capture some of your spark. May you all have a wonderful Christmas and a healthy happy 2022!”
Courtesy of Kick-Abouter (and artful Christmas Tree wrangler) Gary Thorne, we have a new prompt to carry you through those moments when, despite all the food and other festivities, you’re twiddling your thumbs and wish there was a classic example of mid-Century kinetic art to inspire you…
Taking Sheila Legge’s image and Kafka’s Gregor Samsa as equal parts inspiration, I arrived at this short story as my response to The Kick-About No.36. There’s a bit of horticultural knowledge in there too, a thing about nasturtiums thriving in the poorest conditions, and likewise, the situation unfolding in Afghanistan for women and girls. Despite the story’s seemingly outlandish premise – a woman waking one morning to find her own head transformed into a vegetal ‘lump’ – it wove itself together with surprising ease, proving once again, to me at least, how genre is placed perfectly to tell the truth.
With its sepia tint, post-card proportions, and London landmark, this week’s prompt, Sheila Legge’s Phantom of Surrealism, might just as easily have surfaced as part of our previous Kick-About, inspired by the word souvenir – though, as holiday snaps go, this one could take some explaining. This week, Legge’s abstruse tableau has prompted paintings, collage, computer-generated landscapes, creative writing and some rather extraordinary headgear… Happy browsing!
“This prompt made me think of world conditions acting on Surrealists – where do movements come from – so my response is a meld of the flower head with environmental issues, and how I think the level of denial everyone has, to so many issues, comes into play.”
“Using the kind of desert backdrop that sets the stage of many surrealist paintings, I set out to create some of my own phantoms in the desert, and had a go at generating some suitably dreamy visions inspired by the motifs in the photograph.”
“When reading about Sheila Legge’s inspiration behind her walking real surrealist exhibition, and how she was so inspired by the paintings of Dalí, I decided to create some Dalí-esque dream-like landscapes, while paying homage to Legge’s faceful of flowers.”
“Taking Sheila Legge’s image and Kafka’s Gregor Samsa as equal parts inspiration, I arrived at this short story. There’s a bit of horticultural knowledge in there too, a thing about nasturtiums thriving in the poorest conditions, and likewise, the situation unfolding in Afghanistanfor women and girls.”
“I’m not sure if this is surrealism or the stuff of nightmares! I think, subconsciously, I was reflecting on the plight of women under the Taliban regime ,and on other women who are trying to break free from cruelty etc. Don’t ask me what the blue doughnuts symbolise – maybe hunger? Enjoyed doing this and definitely made me think and be thankful.”
“I was surprised to find this photo was taken as early as 1936. When I first saw it, it reminded me strongly of a 1950-60’s fashion shot. I have no references for this, it was just what came to mind. However, it got me thinking about fashion, face-coverings, Gertrude Shilling and Afghanistan’s women, and I started working on hyperbolic crocheted decoration for an old straw hat. However, while hyperbolic crochet makes amazing, wonderful shapes, the process itself can be tedious, and as I worked on it, my brain ran on to thinking about what had prompted Sheila Legge to create that image in the first place. What was she trying to convey? What was I trying to convey? The old straw hat was discarded, a new hat structure created, and as my hands worked on the hat, my brain worked on the process, resulting in the short poem below. The poem came after the hat, so it may make sense to read it after viewing the images. Or not at all. Up to you.”
It starts as a glimmer, little more than a glow, A smouldering fuse that might spark or no. But then it starts burning a hole through your brain, And scuppers your routines, sleep derailed like a train. Once it colours your vision and pounds in your ear, Ties you up in the passion, the self-doubt, the fear, And even your loved ones decide to steer clear – Then you’re in the grip of a Brilliant Idea! Maybe.
“Robert Benayoun suggested that while Surrealism exalted ‘la femme’, the Surrealists did not equally revere ‘les femmes’. The histories of female Surrealists have often remained buried under those of male Surrealists, who have gained wider public recognition. Well, Sheila Legge with her head covered, sums this up nicely, as does the Magritte painting surrounded by the above. Referencing their artwork and naming all the mainly, “forgotten” women, I felt went somewhere towards redressing the balance!”
René Magritte, I Do Not See the [Woman] Hidden in the Forest, 1929
Vanessa Clegg, Ink and watercolour over print, (2021)
“I had a lot of ideas for this, but only had time for one. Perhaps I’ll get to the others for some future collage. The statuesque quality was what stood out for me, and of course, I can never resist birds…”
phantasma goria exposed by shadows dissolving into borrowed wings eclipsed by casting out light
“So there’s a coincidence! Just when I was reading the short stories of Leonora Carrington, who met Max Ernst and became involved with the surrealists in 1937 at the age of 20, the Kick-About veered into the very same territory with Sheila Legge. All I have to offer the Kick-About today is the beginnings of a… something… featuring some bird-headed, flower-headed women. They will possibly eat one another. I may add colour if there’s anything left of them by tomorrow…”
With thanks to regular Kick-Abouter, James Randall, our new prompt for our thirty-seventh run-around: Peter Mungkuri’s Punu Ngura (2019). Have fun and see you back here soon for another celebration of creativity, process and lateral-thinking. As ever, looking forward to it.
I remember the first time I watched Lottle Reiniger’s Cinderella (1922), thrilling at the moment when we see the ugly sister cut off her own toes in order to make the glass slipper fit her foot – a reminder that fairy stories, as written originally, were hardly short on violence and darkness. Take that Walt Disney, with all your syrup! Inspired by folk-tales, and by those who survive in the shadows, I’ve written my own fairy story for our Reiniger-themed Kick-About No.31, crammed with impossible things presented as commonplace, though probably not anyone’s idea of a bedtime story.