Wednesday, August 28, 2013


The clock on the wall is showing quarter past twelve: that's midnight, not noon. When I next look up it will probably say 3:30 or 4am but that's the kind of time it usually is when I'm up there in my mansarde. I cannot shake off the habit of working late. There must be something about mornings which puts me off but I haven't got time to analyse why and does it matter anyway? Getting the work done is the main thing, never mind what time of day or night. 

Since I'm blogging so infrequently I thought I would show you some of what I'm doing which, as I've mentioned before, is illustrating the long poem by Blaise Cendrars Trans-Siberian Prosody and Little Jeanne from France translated by Dick Jones which will be published by The Old Stile Press . I'm creating about 48 images, and cutting as many blocks, to be eventually hand-printed by Nicolas McDowall. The photo above shows the sink for damping paper etc. and the table where I work out ideas. Before cutting the final blocks out of vynil tiles, I work out the design and colours for each image by cutting trial blocks out of cardboard and proofing them on my etching press.

I've had this press a very long time and it has served me well - I printed most of the images for my artist's books on it. For those who are not familiar with this simple machine, an etching press resembles a mangle: the old-fashioned kind that was used for wringing clothes. Except that the baby photographed above consists of heavy solid steel rollers, between which a steel bed is driven back and forth by a geared wheel. Pressure is adjusted by turning the top screws on either side of the frame. Special blankets are laid between the top roller and the paper and plate to be printed. The difference between an etching press and a litho press or a relief press is that it's designed primarily to print intaglio: a design that is engraved or etched below the flat surface of a plate - traditionally metal, but can also be any material which will fit under the etching press roller. Printing intaglio consists of pushing ink into the lines, grooves and textures that have deeply scarred the surface of the plate and then wiping the surface clean. Damp paper is laid over the plate and when it's passed under the roller, heavy pressure pushes the paper into the grooves of the plate, lifting out the ink, creating the intaglio image (always embossed on the back of the paper). 

More recent presses are adaptable to both intaglio and relief because the top roller can be lifted off the bed, allowing blocks of any thickness to be printed. Unfortunately my old press doesn't have this flexibility and, since the blocks I'm cutting for this book will be printed in relief (off the flat surface of the block) they must be a lot thicker than a normal intaglio plate. Therefore any proofing I do doesn't show the same detail or texture as it will eventually have on Nicolas' excellent relief press. 

My working process goes like this: the text is of primary importance, it gives me the rhythm and content of each page. I've made a full-size (30cms x 28cms/ 12" x 11") dummy in which I do rough drawings and/or collages in black only. From these, I cut the first trial blocks out of thin cardboard, proof them, then start cutting the final vynil blocks, perhaps two or three blocks for each design since they will be printed in colour: each colour requires a separate block. Below is the working dummy open at pages 8-9. 

Below is one of the finished vynil blocks for page 9: its strongly textured (with gesso) surface doesn't show in the photo. The green and red areas inside the main figure are actually holes through which you're seeing the table behind. The holes are so that the relief press rollers won't deposit ink in those areas. 

Below: roughs for pages 14-15 

Printmaking demands equal and extreme amounts of messiness and cleanliness in constant alternation. Above, my inking table and rollers are about to be cleaned. This procedure has to be repeated many times during the day because ink (I use only oil-based) mustn't be allowed to dry on slabs or rollers. The smell of white spirit (turps) is pervasive so ventilation is essential. That shark-like shape on the top right in the picture below is the edge of an open Velux skylight window - my studio is a converted loft. 

A colour proof of page 7, using three blocks. The text is only pasted on and not printed as it will be in the final book. 

VoilĂ , that's it for tonight. The time is now five past 2 am.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013


The banal lyrics of this song are transformed by Nina Simone's extraordinary voice and piano into a profound hymn that hits you in the solar plexus from the very first deep chord to the last high-flying heart-tearing note. 

I'm posting it here because today's a good day for making changes. 


Tuesday, August 13, 2013


For a long time I've been used to a rather hermitic, if not hermetic, life and the presence of another person or persons for longer than a day, whether family or friends, regardless of my feelings for them, is something I have great difficulty in adjusting to. Being on my own has never been a problem. On the contrary, I need a kind of open solitude in order to function as myself. I've had lonely times of course - who hasn't? - but solitude is not the same as loneliness. Solitude is an ingredient as essential to me as air or food. 

So this has been a difficult birthday week and in order to restore my own rhythm I went to see the Alternative Guide to the Universe exhibition at the Hayward Gallery. Big, bustling, pushy crowds are not my thing but those which amble along in leisurely fashion on a sunny day in pleasant surroundings are fun to observe and mingle with and conversations can be eavesdropped without having to join in - a pleasant way to be part of society without needing to be sociable. A bit like logging in to Facebook but not participating. 

The South Bank is in the midst of a Festival of Neighbourhood and all sorts of things have cropped up which weren't there before. Those yellow banners for instance and the fierce animals and humanoid insect-creatures drawn on walls. I don't know who did them or whether they will stay permanently and I'm not not sure what, if anything, they have to do with neighbourliness but they are startling and intriguing. 

Inside the Hayward I began by going up to the level where the Museum of Everything is exhibiting a few works by the wonderful Nek Chand who, like Facteur Cheval, Simon Rodia and other so-called 'naive' artist-builders elsewhere, created an extraordinary magical world from recycled materials. You can see some of Chand's Rock Garden on this video and there's an interview with him here with subtitles in English. 

I've always been fascinated and inspired by such mavericks: artists outside art movements, DIY scientists with no academic degrees, inventors/engineers/architects without qualifications, thinkers outside the outside of any box, philosophers mocked by their peers for their far-out theories, visionaries, odd-balls - I love them all. And the Alternative Guide to the Universe exhibition is dedicated to them. I only managed to sneak a few photos but have ordered the book and there are good images and plenty of information on the internet about all the people featured in the show. If you're as intrigued as I am by Otherness, please be sure to follow the links:

BODYS ISEK KINGELEZ (some of his models are on the upper right in the photo below); GEORGE WIDENER (below left).

EMERY BLAGDON (one of his 'healing machines' is shown below).

UPDATE: Don't miss this wonderful video about Emery Blagdon, his life and work.

Below: two works by PAUL LAFFOLEY 

And there's MARCEL STORR and JAMES CARTER and many more but that's enough to distract you from whatever else you happen to be doing right now. 

What interests me about these and similar outsiders is that whether they are as sane as you and I (hahahaha), a bit bonkers, completely bonkers, hypersensitive, autistic, visionary or any other classification you prefer, they all speak the same 'language' and explore the same kind of themes: cosmological, mathematical, patterned, symbolic, universal, sometimes mystical, none of it within accepted traditions and yet seeming to belong to a common lineage. It's as if a part of their mind is tuned to a wavelength beyond the reach of most minds, even very sophisticated, erudite minds. I don't think it's a coincidence that most of these mavericks are self-taught, if taught at all. Maybe their lack of sophistication is one of the factors which allows them to be antennae for whatever arcane messages the universe sends out. Of course any content they pick up and transform into paintings, constructions or words will be interpreted by their individual personalities and culture and thus may look weird, incomprehensible or merely charming to spectators. But I wouldn't dismiss it too easily. 

And then I went home on the tube and saw this:


Wednesday, August 07, 2013


Apparently I was a healthy, bouncy baby but when my mother stopped nursing me, I stopped eating. The hunger strike lasted for such a long time that I couldn't walk and a variety of medical strategies were tried to no avail. Then my worried parents consulted an unconventional practitioner who prescribed a diet of sardines and red wine. Bingo! That did it, I became healthy and bouncy again and have more or less remained that way, apart from the usual trials and tribulations of life in which bounciness is taken away and would not be appropriate in any case. 

That's all for now. I wish happy days, birthdays included, to all who stop by here and invite you all to drink a toast or to put butter and jam on it if you prefer. 


Saturday, August 03, 2013


Isn't that what we bloggists are doing? Even when not writing about ourselves the very fact of putting up a blog is a signal that we want to be seen and heard. Perhaps not for full-frontal revelation, perhaps only for those parts of our thoughts, observations, experiences, opinions, creations that we consider worth exposing to public scrutiny. 

If this  sounds like I'm leading up to a moral lecture about everything being vanity and illusion and self-indulgence....not at all! I'm all for self-exposure, as you may have noticed if you're a regular over here. This blog is my modest little streaking across the olympic football fields of the universe. Or words to that effect. 

And since my birthday is coming up at the midnight hour on the seventh day of August, I will prepare the ground by pasting up few self-exposures taken recently in that photo-booth thing of the Mac which doesn't do flattery. I took a self-photo on my birthday every year for a long time but haven't kept up that exercise quite so faithfully in more recent years, no doubt because photogenecity decreases with every revolution of the planet around the sun. Yes yes I know that under-eye bags, wrinkles and turkey necks are beautiful too. We're not ageist around here. Anyway I'm rather proud that I don't look my age...yet. Which is why I'm offering no prizes for guessing it and wouldn't tell you if you guessed right. Exposure only goes so far and no further. Expect another photo on my birthday.  And pretty soon I'll do some serious blogging instead of this space-filling drivel.