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Degenerate Superheroes


“What do you do?”  “I’m not really sure.”

Click here to see them all: DEGENERATE MENU

They’re all for sale in the shop but I’ve put them all on a quick at-a-glance guide. Here you can come face-to-face with the Hate Tweet Officer and say hello to Spontaneity Assessor. Not literally, they’ll be too busy to talk in real life.

Partly inspired by David Graeber’s excellent Bullshit Jobs: A Theory and partly by the beautiful artefacts that I spotted in Henry Moore’s old house as the camera panned round the room where his daughter was being interviewed on Fake Or Fortune earlier this year.

I started doodling on my iPad while watching the programme which discussed the work Moore had submitted to a gallery in Germany just before the Nazis swept to power and all pieces of real or ‘degenerate’ art to oblivion. Or so they thought. A dictator, if not obsessed with images of himself, will only countenance representational, heroic imagery that history will consign to the dustbin along with the people who sanctioned it. Or so we hope.

I’m looking forward to the Oceania show at the Royal Academy. Un-heroic and purely beautiful artefacts fromTahiti in Polynesia to the scattered islands and archipelagoes of Micronesia and Melanesia. The christian missionaries felt obliged to get rid of what they found and replace with another icon of their own, but enough survives to indicate a strong decorative history of a celebration of artistic and trading skills and most of all, life.

Which as we know has no place in any modern dictatorship.







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Dandy In The Undergrowth

He’s called Uncle Bertie In The Jungle (In His Dreams) and featured quite prominently in a documentary about the Royal Academy in the summer. Here’s Kirsty Walk choosing her teddy bears in a glass case, and who’s this next to it? It’s this dapper little fantasist in his Victorian smoking hat and glasses I nicked from Doctor Crippen. Here’s Grayson, right arm gesticulating at the abundant goodies on show in Gallery 4:

and where does his arm obligingly lead us?  That’s right, the quietly manipulative Bertram beaming rays of influence like a needy Derren Brown towards the unsuspecting camera crew.

Anyway, he did well and got his red dot on the first preview night. He’s gone to a good home and he’s available for a few more adoptions as a limited edition print.

See him in the shop.

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Estrella, a study in evil


Estrella, the cat that put the talon in Catalonia (after Cat) is enjoying another one of his day-long siestas, in the baking sun on the balcony of this little house in Masquefa, where I’m house-sitting for friends.

Oh yes, he looks comfy enough, catching a few rays while he’s pretending to sleep. He’s thinking of course of his food; the dark gelatinous reeking sludge that comes from one of the 50 or so tins stacked up in the kitchen. He’s also thinking that if I make the slightest move, he’ll be up screeching and hissing in a fairly convincing display of a cat who’s had a comprehensive grounding in the opening of jugular veins.

We’re together on the balcony; I think I might make a move for the station, when I’ve done this little drawing; done his sweet little baked bean feet and his shiny fur. What I’m thinking is, I’ll lull him into a false sense of security and then run out of the house the back way. But then I drop the tiniest of brushes; a miniscule job that I used for the whiskers. And he’s nastily wide awake. So now I have to paint the chair, until he’s asleep; the comfy chair he uses while I get cramp on this hard kitchen stool.
It’s a shame, Barcelona would be so nice today.

The tasks weren’t especially onerous: feed the cat; feed the fish; but not the fish to the cat and water the plants indoors and out. Most days after getting the croissants for breakfast and having a coffee and holiday fag, if I didn’t get the train into Barca I’d sit on the verandah and fill up sketchbooks with small gouaches like this. Then off to the village square to watch a dubbed film. (They don’t like subtitles in Spain, or Germany in my experience.)

One thing I learned was that the sun moves quite fast, and almost every still life I attempted failed, because the shadows changed position constantly. A graphic demonstration of time flying when you’re enjoying yourself. I also painted the laziest, hungriest cat in the world. It got to the point where he’d meet me at the station and shout at me in Cat Catalan that if I didn’t get my sorry ass up to the kitchen and empty a whole tin of cat food (his owners recommended only a half) into his bowl immediately then surely I would die.

I think he doubled in size on my terrified watch.

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The Return Of The Native

This print got into the 2011 Royal Academy Summer Show. I didn’t fancy its chances much; was it too obvious, too nostalgic? Anyway it made it to
Room 1 – the print room – high up and out of the way so you could marvel at Tracey’s calligraphy and Humphrey Ocean’s little dog etching, but just visible enough to make out the subject.

This is one of my first memories brought to life. They’re gone forever now, the giant, heavy ships built with a billion rivets and stuffed with the posh pamperatti of the day, ploughing the Atlantic between the wars. Cruise liners today aren’t the same; they aren’t built to take a sea; the Queens and the Normandie were over-specified in every way; they were solid sea-going hotels where half the crew would labour by firelight below the waterline to keep those huge propellers churning at full speed for three thousand miles of deep water.

Living as we did, very near the sea, we took them for granted, and though their time was nearly up, you still saw a lot of very grand traffic. My Dad once told me that when he was a kid he heard that the Mauretania came through the Solent a tad too briskly after winning the Blue Riband, and just before powering down to take the corner into Southampton Water, she created so much wash that Cowes got flooded. News like that does tend to stoke a ten-year-old’s imagination! They had so much mystique, these quiet leviathans, and maybe none more than the Queen Mary; for some reason the most popular liner of them all, even though not as chic a Deco fun palace as the Normandie, or as new as the Queen Elizabeth; she saw service as a troopship during the war. Painted grey and crammed with thousands of GIs, she swept to-and-fro across the pond with almost brutal impunity. There’s no way a U Boat can snare anything, even a small city when it’s travelling at 40 miles an hour.

Some time in 1953 or 4, I was sitting with my mother on a bus looking down at the vast empty beach of Ryde. When the tide’s out there’s a good half mile of sand; I could see a tiny figure at the water’s edge who was probably digging for bait but I didn’t understand what Mum and her friends were saying. I was about 3 years old and what I found disturbing was the sight of this huge red-funnelled ship, luminous in the thundery light, going so close to this oblivious, industrious figure – bending, digging and probably smoking…

I’ve given Ryde Pier the luxury of a couple of paddle steamers as they shuttle between Ryde and Southsea laden with trippers and luggage, augmenting the diesel ferries by a healthy and quite an aesthetic margin. Gouts of smoke show a fresh load of coal’s been shovelled into the boiler as the paddles serrate the green channel, getting briskly underway to give the passengers a close up of a looming national treasure.I used to wonder at the life on board the liners, the people and their wealth; trying to fathom their infinite happiness at being where they were, being who they were…

I think somewhere on board, lighting a cigarette with the last black coffee of the day cooling on the teak rail, squinting at the shore, is a very famous Hollywood actor, coming back after an absence so long he feels apprehensive and tense, not only from too many piano bar martinis, but at the thought of setting foot ashore in England once again, the place of his birth.

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Mute: Miles Davis 1991


This was the drawing of Miles Davis that appeared on my 1991 Christmas card.

It was the year he died and Richard Williams used this picture on his jazz round up in the Independent On Sunday magazine when he was editor. It was the most handsome of magazines and the writing was excellent. He’d interviewed everybody, presented The Old Grey Whistle Test was starting his second notable career as a sports writer. He said the main difference between the two schools (music and sports writing) were the ways that a musician’s personality would sometimes be hidden or subdued by their art. the exact opposite being true in sport. Nothing was hidden. Nothing could be,

Above is a later, digital drawing of an older but not necessarily wiser Miles.
One of my favourite designers and best mates bought the original; the late and great Laurence Grinter, and I was glad it went to a good home. He was a typographer of rare taste and instinct as well as a truly gifted fretless bass player.

I miss them both.

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Cover Stories

I’ve been making disturbing and oddly satisfying pictures of heads on Photoshop. I was going to call them portraits, but they are a tad too distorted to be confused with anyone living, at least I hope so. Fun to do, weird to look at. Then I took this fascination over on to the iPad and used a drawing programme called Procreate to try and achieve more distorted faces with the added bonus of nonsense captions.

I love doing these; I import notes and appointments from old notebooks ( I remember Brian Eno talking about his old notebooks back in the 70s. I immediately felt an envious twinge. He said he was going to make films of them because they were interesting. So, a bit late in the day, I’m hard on his heels.)

The big picture is called the Olympic Whistle (Phone Leo). It looks good as a T-shirt, obeying Leon Russell’s first law of printed chestwear that they should make no sense at all. I sell these esoteric garments on Zazzle. They’re a bit pricey but worth every penny. The model is wearing a T-shirt called Byshhe Bash which celebrates an event by the mighty Blacktooth Productions celebrating the colourful history of Fitzrovia. Wear it with pride.

They have a look of old notebook covers, at least that’s the idea.

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First Loves: Frank Bellamy

When I was seven, the only art I knew was comic art. The information conveyed with the least amount of time spent on shading, but a lot of time devoted to the important bits. Like the story. My comic history included The Topper, The Beezer (I wasn’t allowed The Beano, probably not broadsheet enough, I suppose) one day I found myself staring in disbelief at Dan Dare and Digby (“Suffering sputniks, Dig!…”) driving Anastasia full tilt towards some hellish planet that needed a bit of firm policing.

I can still remember the whole back page being devoted to something boring like the life of Winston Churchill or Montgomery, but the drawing was unbelievable, it was Frank Bellamy, the One True Master, wielding the steady pen, and drawing with such flair and drama that I can still remember where I was and the details. (The guns at Alamein preparing for the barrage,and a speech bubble that just said ‘Blimey’). It was at the convent in East Cowes in 1957; what made the drawing extra tasty was the day before Sister Katarina had come down hard on naughty Henry Thornton who had used this new word as an experiment in style. She smacked him twice on his face and told him never to say it again. Blimey Oh Reilly! I wonder if Jesus knew he was married to such violent, unhappy women. Maybe he should have given them more attention.

I didn’t pursue the comic art thing; there were too many good people. What inspires can also be a bit over-awesome.

Anyway, it didn’t stop me, years later, to produce an image of Semley village fete. I called it A Twist Of Fete. All my Dorset mates are in there as well as a bloke in red trousers; Leo’s there, Charlie from the Beckford, Sara and Juliet are in place; loads of dogs, and even though they weren’t around; I put my daughters with their incredibly timid and emotional Irish Wolfhound, Pixie. Aww.

I loved doing it, and though my technique is necessarily rather laconic (it’s just traced on Photoshop), the colours are fun; and importantly it’s an attempt to get away from the more painterly, conservative stuff you expect to see that deals with life in the country. Also you get to take a few liberties if that’s your wont (it is mine).

If you look closely you’ll see Bob Dylan looking pretty in his Pierre Cardin suit and boots. He’s listening to the band play Dirty Old Town, and probably thinking he should get back to his folk roots.

Hence the title.

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First loves:1969 and Doug Binder

My first recollection as an art student at Portsmouth in late ‘68 was marked by a sit-down strike by all pupils and young staff in an effort to shake things up a bit. I don’t think it lasted very long: a couple of days, maybe.
There was quite a bit of shouting, friendly and not so friendly barracking; students were elected to various posts and the politically-charged echoes of the Hornsey sit-in (big news at the time) subsided and vanished completely.

The tear gas had long evaporated from the Left Bank; the world was becoming quiet again, even Cream were giving up the ghost, but the New Yardbirds (later Led Zeppelin) came to Kimbell’s Ballroom. They were louder – no songs about rainbows or the colours of your mind – but essentially the still-molten power-trio template (plus proto-metal voice) being hammered into a emblematic and durable business.

But what the fuck did I know? I loved Portsmouth and Southsea; lived there during my formative years, and absolutely loved the distractions of the harbour, the liners and the cool boy stuff, not to mention the post-war mess that made play so adventurous and dangerous (you’re not really going to go in for crazy shit like para-snowboarding or bungee-jumping if you’ve grown up with the constant threat of a really scruffy, premature death in some forgotten air-raid shelter).

Also I’d seen art students at the bus stops when I was much younger; they looked like refugees from the Beaulieu Jazz Festival. They were too old for Beatle music and they used words like ‘invariable’ and probably ‘conceptual’. They had goatees and wore lilac cords and slip-on shoes over stripey socks… They moved their hands as if to convey ideas and the shape of their cool sculptures. Every time I saw art students, I just wanted to be one. It was invariable.

I often say that the Foundation Course was the happiest year of my life; not so, but it was certainly by far the most productive and fruitful academic year I ever had. By a belting margin. The man responsible for this state of virtual bliss was a quiet dapper geezer called Doug Binder.

I’m sitting on a donkey (a stool you sat astride with a drawing board at one end) doing a paint exercise in oils on paper for Mr Faraday, the princely head of Foundation (who told the obnoxious and arsey Terry Setch – he was a gallery star – to fuck off when he decided to give us all a post-lunch bollocking, for not drawing well enough) and in walks this quiet, smiling late twenties-ish chap in very smart clothes, rolling an Old Holborn and telling us we were going to make installations tomorrow.

(He’d already established himself as a successful and fashionable painter of pianos for Paul McCartney cool American cars for the glitteratti. But he kept that quiet)

So there I was doing a sketch the next day of what I thought my piece would look like. It was going to be wrapped, like a Christo building; my drawing was done quickly to look like a wrapped chair. I loved it because I’d never ever thought of anything so nice before… When the thing, the construction was suspended and lit by some raking spotlights he came up behind and said “What a fantastic shape. Doesn’t it have power? Isn’t it amazing?”. I had to look at him to check he wasn’t being sarcastic. After our wretched Setch experience we were all a bit wary, but no… he was like our David Hockney (a quiet Bradford lad), a positive man born to encourage. To be fair, he praised everybody’s; it was such a great thing to do and the homogenous wrapping-up effected quite beautiful transformations.

I can’t really remember being so pleased with anything I’d done, ever, because I was impractical to the point of absurdity and the idea of producing a drawing (no problem), then a construction based on same, was a bit of a stretch frankly. But I did it. We had to photograph our pieces, then regretfully take then down and dismantle them. I just wish I’d checked my negatives before… But it’s a luminous memory.

All through that year, a beautiful smorgasbord of delights: drawing, photography, printmaking, sculpture, and for me, probably slightly too enjoyable because at the end I had no idea where my talents lay. Still don’t if I were honest. But the idea of going into graphic design seemed the more realistic option, not one I had a burning desire for. What I really wanted was three more years of watching Doug Binder drifting in and out of his teenage charges trailing Old Holborn smoke, chatting, smiling, nodding, even adding a mark or two if he felt tempted. He was so friendly, so constructive – always, always constructive – that he perfectly suited that time.

Now, we’re different; it’s as though the DNA has been changed. We go to college or poly or uni in order to pay back the fees for 3 or 4 years’ hard graft. You gotta work, bitch. It’s a hard art now, you sometimes think. And you also feel here’s no love for the students; they’re there to be ripped off by shitty expensive bars and by scandalously mean deposit-stealing landlords. I’ll leave the next few thousand predictable words out; you get the drift. But against the bright techno wallop of conspicuous disciplined achievement, there’s got to be a battered 12-string being tuned and a counter current stirring of an inclusive, kinder and more sensible, creative world. Somewhere, in some place or other, maybe in Bradford, Sheffield or Brighton, there’s somebody with a burning mission to get children to discover and celebrate their talents without actually caring too much about their chances of making it big in the mad swirl of greed and insanity that we take for granted, where they can use all this adventure and failure as a reservoir for later life.

Well. I hope there is.

I still think of Doug Binder and his words of encouragement after forty years and more. I still want to do stuff that pleases him and the people like him. I still want to be creative.

It’s invariable.

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