I’ve always liked elephant ears: Big rubbery, flappy happy-go-lucky heart-shaped semaphores that appear designed solely to convey optimism and joy. So rapidly do they appear in North America’s summertime that one day there is nothing, the next small packs of fine Cohibas unfurl here and there, and by the end of the week you’re in the Day of the Triffids.
And thus the quintessential English landscaped garden is transformed instantly from order, symmetry and standardization to a haphazard playful phalanx of emerald and avocado. It is perplexing how such gangly, delicate fronds endure high winds, incorrigible children, darting dogs, and inept conscripted gardeners. Nonetheless, when one is damaged irreparably it quickly and calmly makes way for a new leader, restoring order, beauty and balance to the herd.
With the dawn of a new year, I thought I’d start a new series of paintings, somewhat more novel than previously attempted. In my mind, such a bold shrub deserves to be tackled intrepidly with suitable tools and materials; more knife than brush, more board than canvas, and mixed media to boot. Since oil paint takes so long to dry, especially when mixed liberally with linseed oil I will attempt several projects simultaneously. Shown here are the first three in the series—all unfinished at this time, and I am considering various oversized print applications. I will update as I make reasonable progress.
The Beekeepers realized rapidly that they were daunted by the large, complex honeycombed hive of dust-covered canvas encampments, in this particular full-sized colony of over sixty thousand. Sixty five thousand, four hundred and twenty one of these social insects to be exact, all cross-pollinating twenty four seven, to the likes of Billy Idol in the house. Thump, thump, thump, “hey little sister what have you done?” Ambient keyboard swell, thump, thump, thump, and repeat to coda: Day and night humming raucously into the following sunrise.
Not that we had intended to manage busy bees or to produce conventional honey: We had come masquerading as great European twentieth century explorers, presumably along the crisp white linen lines of Dr. Livingstone. But it was not to be, as the first comment on the coordinated attire from a bumbling, dirty looking Italian-ish thirty something extra from Mad Max was, “buon giorno seniors, where are zee bees?” That stung. And so for the duration of the burn my wingmen and I were the keepers of bees. Fantasy names and titles were apparently the norm at the infamous Burning Man as we realized fairly quickly upon making introductions to fellow burners. “Hi I’m Chris,” with a broad smile and hand extended was reciprocated with, “hi I’m Violet Shooting Star.”
The workers were super friendly, all sixty-some thousand of them, the costumes were amusingly rich and varied and the art structures and thunderdome-esque mutant vehicles were entirely impressive. For a trio of old WASPs wearing all-white safari suits and pith helmets we seemed to get way more attention than we thought deserved. Why would these fabulous-looking, young, post-apocalyptic honeys swarm the Beekeepers? Not because we looked like the Bee-Gees we guessed, but because of our advanced planning and well-organized, coordinated formation. Any drone can sport a yellow jacket, mohawk, kilt, face-paint, doc martens, safety pins, faux fur and other haberdashery, but three pristine white figures contrasted with anarchy gets the nectar. The challenge next year is to create as much buzz.
Beautiful and repulsive, mysterious and menacing, I find jellyfish to be impossibly constructed and hard to fathom. Even Spongebob fears them. Beached, they look like some large ungodly snotter cast asunder for all to see, like the sad remnants of a rotting, over-ripened combination of mangos, shredded Victoria Secrets undergarments, and torn Safeway plastic bags.
However, just below the surface, gently bobbing in our oceans, these lingeriel leftovers appear to glide deliberatively with the grace of angels. When you look a little deeper into the subject you realize that these gelatinous globs are all individually, ever so slightly, different in color, shade, texture, construction and pattern, which amazes me given that they swarm in the millions like some briny, morphing mushroom pea soup. The variations are diminutive but discernable, and this is from a guy who still can’t tell Matt and Ben apart—my six-foot three twin first cousins once removed.
In this medium-sized oil treatment, the cautious diver is shown respectfully avoiding the deadly touch of the Mastigias papua—the Papauan Jellyfish, or as it is known commonly throughout the Indo-Pacific, the Golden Medusa. In an oblique nod to the artist’s hero and luminary, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, the aquanaut’s hair drifts chaotically in the ocean current, much like the serpent-laden head of the feared Gorgon, Medusa.
The Residence Inn, in colorful South Reno, seemed like the perfect staging post for the long-awaited reunion of the three amigos. The low-key comfort of generic beige and mauve-hued décor in a functional two-bedroom suite offered the opportunity for a casual catch up on what’s been happening in our lives over the past decade. There are times for me when the Residence Inn is simply ideal for a stopover or a longer break: the breakfast is simply no nonsense but allows you to make your own pancakes if you are feeling adventurous or the desire to be more directly involved in your own breakfast.
We had come in from an eclectic mishmash of points east: Nashville Tennessee, Washington DC, and Durango, Colorado, to meet up and head out to the highly-touted Burning Man Festival in the searing Nevada desert, a couple hundred miles to the north east. To endure the arid affair for a week, Chris left his new home by the Animas River in the craggy mountainous area south west of Denver while Jay traveled from his magnificent contemporary home on Tennessee’s winding Cumberland River. Leaving my home in a leafy Greater Washington DC suburb, I pondered the lure of natural waterways and why many of my friends and family felt the need to have them in their backyard. Certainly I love to swim as often as possible—it feels good and is easy exercise, but I don’t think my friends go for a dip in their adjacent aqua, though I’ll have to ask them. They certainly have boats and other leisurely means of aquatic conveyance, which looks like a lot of fun. I guess I never really got into sailing: I did take a few lessons on Hogganfield Loch in Glasgow, Scotland when I was a teenager, but all I remember is my wet clingy anorak, numb cold hands and a yearning for a hot sausage roll from the café afterwards—and then there was that George Clooney movie.
Anyways, It will be good to catch up with the River Monsters over the next week as we head into the hot ‘n hazy desert for the barren blowout with our dazzlingly decorated bicycles and coordinated festival fashion, though I have no idea why I’m doing this, other than as a celebratory scenic backdrop to my ongoing quarter-century friendship with these guys.
Like some low-budget, sorry-ass version of Groundhog Day the postman arrived somewhat later than usual once again. He’d have clutches of loose, assorted mail for number fourteen in both hands, a large brown, scotch-taped package for number sixteen, and then, on cue, he’d stop to look studiously at his watch, then tilt his neck almost straight up, as if to check on the weather for some curious and unexplained reason. Finally, approaching my house he’d fumble around expectantly in his now empty-looking bag, building tension for effect. Shortly thereafter, I’d hear the discernable faint shuffle of ubiquitous black Clarks coming up the driveway.
Wrought with anticipation, like the very last kid on Santa’s route I’d wait eagerly for my turn. Against an eternally overcast and leaden sky, the soft shadow of his oversized standard issue postal hat would creep upwards on the opaque Neo Georgian glass of the front door. Behind the door, I’d sit patiently and quietly on the hallway stairs waiting for that special letter, as I had the day before, and before that, for more days than I could remember. Maybe today, I hoped, the letter would arrive.
The image of domestic bliss, my neighbor, Terry’s wife was good-looking, genuinely friendly, a great cook and worked part time in the village post office. Moving from bedsit central in the heart of London to the pastoral patchwork of villages and farms dotting the landscape of Buckinghamshire County, I could not help but perceive immediately, the stark contrast in lifestyles. In most cases, the village men would trek to the city daily by train while the womenfolk catered to kids, the house, and nightly dinner preparation. So, for the most part, I’d meet the guys daily at the station and the wives at the weekends around the village. To this day, I really don’t know why I moved there from Central London in the 1980s.
In this red and black ink drawing, I imagined Terry’s wife as The Homemaker, hanging out the clothes to dry on a blustery, temperamental but otherwise typical southern English morning. In some quest for local authenticity I was careful to draw only a variety of windblown oak leaves that you would genuinely find in the region. I think an errant ink spill was responsible for my adoption of the strange jacket pattern, which I adorned with symbols of domesticity, such as those you’d find on the laundry labels. A woman who lived around the corner did my laundry, just sayin’, but I meticulously copied the little instruction labels for this rendering.
The rain is relentless: not heavy like a monsoon, but persistent and continuous like an old style shower that hasn’t been fitted with one of those new environmentally friendly flow restrictors. The time and place is West London, November 1985, and the Theaters have just closed in and around Shaftsbury Avenue. Cold dark sticky rain coats everything as it beads on the black paintwork, windshield and windows of the Hackney Cab. Wedged inside, and trapped together in the back seat, the older, well-heeled couple sits reluctantly and in silence. Once again, she’s not talking to him for some unknown reason as she stares blankly through the window at the rain-soaked streets and reflecting red brake lights. He ponders how many times he has been here, sitting silently, in the taxi, in the rain.
I had never really described the context of this work completed back in the 1980s and thought I would share the motivation and thinking behind it. Drawn over a period of weeks in blue India ink I channeled some of the settings and events I came across generally when I lived close to London’s Theater district. As one does, I went through a phase of going to various shows weekly when it was available and nearby. The fellow is the quiet and respectable Mr. Fisher, the Managing Director at one of the large professional institutions in Knightsbridge, London, while I merely imagined his wife for the rendering.
A man and his Falcon represent the rich feathered plumage of man-bird history. Much more than just some flight of fancy, there are many heights to this raptorial rapport. A hawk heritage that spans centuries, this avian alliance was born of practicality but has evolved into sport, status, and sanctity. It is the stuff of legend, books, and movies, not least of which is my childhood heartbreak, Kes, from the novel, A Kestrel for a Knave, by Barry Hines.
Personally, I’ve only ever owned a budgie, a couple of tits and a Florida-born, red-bellied Somalian parrot called Bruce. Bruce was very special and we had a great, but overly exclusive relationship: With a razor-sharp beak he disliked almost everyone else, and unfortunately, most of my friends and family thought he was a vicious little bastard.
Bruce and I would spend countless hours together accompanied by his affectionate rhapsodic regurgitation, and as much as he made my heart soar, his continued dominating presence led to conjugal conflict, spousal spats and familial fretting. My adulthood heartbreak version of Kes ended with Bruce leaving me for another man, Mike, who worked at the local vet. One of the very few other men that Bruce liked, Mike left to take a new job in Southern Florida, and Bruce returned with him to his old hatching grounds. The moral to my story—take your wife to the pet shop when you buy a parrot.
A solitary fan, his face anguished, sits alone in the isolated silence of failure. His team has lost again. They came so far, so close, but just not close enough and now he has nothing—nothing but an empty stadium and rumination of what might have been. His despair is an unwanted, unsavory and loathsome side effect of devotion, a result of his absolute, exclusive committal and unswaying servitude over many years—all to a singular team.
And I know how he feels. Growing up as a teenager in Scotland, I was not a big sports fan, but I loved World Cup soccer and the Olympic games. Nevertheless, supporting Scotland in the World Cup was about as fulfilling and successful as an Ernest Shackleton expedition. And cold too. The 1970s Olympics were also light on Jock joy; going to the bathroom you could’ve easily missed both Scottish golds while the Yanks racked up well over sixty.
Since then I’ve moved about a bit, from Scotland to England, to the USA, and to boot, the UK became part of the European Union in the ’70s. I’m currently a dual citizen of the United States and the Europe, thereby offering an impressive array of celebratory sporting prospects. The UK is presently technically part of Europe but admittedly this may be a fanciful fandom stretch here, although lately I really like Bayern Munich.
Some may think this is selling out, or fair-weather fan fickledom, but I see it differently; more pragmatically, and guaranteed to provide revelry and festivity, at least occasionally in an otherwise bleak sport’s silverware existence. So for this year’s hockey Stanley Cup, when my first pick, the Washington Capitals, lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins, I immediately donned the Tampa Bay Lightning jersey. But they too were pounded by Pittsburgh. Hey, let’s go Pens!
People digress from the task at hand almost 50% of the time according to a recent Harvard study. I.e., half the time they lose the thread of the narrative and go AWOL into a maze of contemplation. Perhaps this explains blank stares we routinely encounter prompting ubiquitous pennies for thoughts—and we’re talking about a lot of cash here. Contemplation has been described ordinarily as a three-phased process where we give time, space, and attention to some fleeting thought. But for some it can be a wonderful journey. “Contemplation seems to be the only luxury that costs nothing,” wrote Dodie Smith in her landmark book, Capture the Castle, though she oddly omits masturbation.
Wandering aimlessly on some impromptu, unplanned excursion, thoughts can be a mixture of past, present, and futuristic what-ifs. I agree with Dodie that it is luxurious to slip silently and inconspicuously into your cloud (ucloud™). How difficult it would otherwise be, were I compelled continuously and ceaselessly to attend the present—at the airport gate, passport control, and my lovely wife’s TV shows, particularly Grey’s Anatomy. For me, contemplation is a great place to hole up and unwind, to exercise my mind, on my exclusive ucloud™ hilltop retreat, as I take in magnificent, high-definition views of the surrounding surreal countryside. I would write a bit more about it, but I keep drifting.