Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Why is it that ideas and plans which seem completely rational, feasible and even brilliant at night often look quite the opposite in daylight?

Is daylight necessarily the best light in which to evaluate the reasonableness, feasibility and even brilliance of an idea?

Or is it simply that we're brainwashed to believe that daylight is good while nightlight is fun but a bit dodgy? "Nightlife" for instance means various degrees of drunk and disorderly.

But why shouldn't our brain, consciousness, subconsciousness and all the other bits of wiring work just as well under the moon as under the sun?

Weren't our primeval ancestors on the qui-vive at night, keenly aware of dangers and opportunities? It must also have been the time when their imaginations were most active, inventing stories, figuring out solutions to daytime puzzles.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


To all who pass by or linger here for a while, my warmest wishes, whether you celebrate this season or not. The words are banal and ready-made but the wishes are genuine. I truly mean them and if we were actually face to face, rather than merely cybernetically connected, I would greet you as a friend, whether we have met in real life or not. Sharing one's thoughts, observations and/or work via the internet tends to break down the usual barriers to communication and you can sometimes get to know a person better through their blog than at most social occasions.

For me, only in childhood was this time of year something to be excited about but all I can remember about that excitment was one Christmas in Paraguay when I was about six and it was hot and ornaments were hung on a little palm tree.

My childhood I do remember vividly, if not always happily, but always as a state preferable to adulthood. Whatever I am now was formed then and getting rid of most of the accretions that time has piled on top of the original is a task I consider to be essential. It's not a case of PeterPan-ism, sentimental nostalgia for childhood. Imagine a well-crafted little boat sailing on the ocean. As the years pass, barnacles and other stuff accumulates on the hull and slow it down, weigh it down. What I mean by 'getting back to the original' is therefore a kind of psychological/creative/metaphorical housecleaning - or rather boat-cleaning.

What never ceases to astonish, delight and inspire me is the originality of young children, generally before the age of ten. The things they say and do, the expressions on their faces. I marvel at them, entranced. Not having had children of my own I'm well aware that I've escaped the not-at-all entrancing bits, the sleepless nights, the endless chores, the irritations, anxieties etc. But that's no reason to give up being amazed by children.

So here's something to celebrate the season of childhood. When my niece Sarah was about nine or ten, her father (my brother) invented a bedtime story for her which she then illustrated with line drawings. When I saw the story and the drawings I was charmed and decided to publish The Piper of the Stars (NdA Press 1986) as a small hand-printed edition. I traced and etched Sarah's drawings, added aquatint, and printed the images on my etching press. Sarah and her father preferred using a pseudonym. The text was hand-set and printed on an 'Adana' treadle platen press in London by the legendary Polish printer Stanislaw Gliwa. It was his last project before he died.  Below are the cover, title page and a couple of the illustrations.

Sarah is married now and she and Elliott have two children, four and six years old. By all indications they too will one day be pipers of the stars.

Sunday, November 29, 2015


Time has a different relevance for different activities. For example, when looking at a work of art, does it really matter whether you know that a particular piece was made yesterday or ten, twenty, fifty or 100 years ago? You'll say it matters if you're a curator/archivist/critic/biographer/art historian. I'll say it doesn't matter at all in terms of the work's impact (or non-impact), its qualities and/or flaws.

As a long-lived artist (thanks to providence, long-living genes and stubborn age-denial) I've decided that it's not only okay to resurrect my old work but that it's possible to be re-inspired by one's own earlier explorations, abandoned or shelved along the way - especially useful if you're never sure which of your many selves is the 'real self'. Chagall and Miró both said that the source of all their work was the place they came from and their early lives there. I'm still waiting to discover my own essential source but it seems that autobiography, in the form of words and images combined, regularly pops up in my life's so-called oeuvre.

I'm very happy that a couple of my not-recent autobiographical works have been selected by Natalia Zagorska-Thomas to include in the exhibition Please Do Touch which she is curating at her Ex Purgamento studio-gallery from 5th to 31st December.

The Continuing Story is both a book and a construction on which it is held. The little book is a one-off journal drawn almost daily in pen and ink. You can leaf through the whole book online (put it on full screen to be able to read the small writing) at this link.

Dimensions of the construction: 23 x 40.5 x 10.5cm

Confessional is another construction which is also a holder for a one-off journal Augustine's True Confession drawn and written in pen and ink and watercolour. I applied for and received a grant from the Arts Council of Great Britain to publish a paperback trade edition of this book in 1989. It is currently out of print but copies can still be found from secondhand book dealers. I hope to reprint it some time.

Dimensions: 39 x 28.5 x 16 cm

Thursday, November 12, 2015

STORYLINE Exhibition in Cardiff

On Monday's wet and blustery afternoon I took a train to Cardiff to attend the opening of STORYLINE, the exhibition organised and curated by Bill Garnett in aid of Shelter, the Welsh charity. I recently posted about this here and on FaceBook.

I've only been to Cardiff briefly once before and on both occasions weather, time of day (dim then dark) plus my deficient sense of direction conspired to make it difficult to locate my destination which, this time, was the Norwegian Church (no longer a church but an Arts centre) on the waterfront.

No doubt the population of Cardiff is huge but, while those few individuals I came across on my way to the gallery were cheerfully helpful in the endearing Welsh manner, the population itself must have been hanging out elsewhere. Three or four persons on the bus to Cardiff Bay, half dozen or so in the vast Millenium Centre where I wandered in to ask directions, and not a single human or animal on the long and winding windy waterfront. I had miscalculated and was too early for the gallery opening, too late to go back into the city centre (couldn't find it anyway) and no cafe in sight where I could catch my breath. Finally, a sudden glimmer of light around a deserted corner revealed a pub - allelulia! Also deserted, apart from the cheerful owner, his wife and one customer. Perfect. All I wanted was to sit somewhere warm until the Norwegian Church, standing whitely spired at the far end of the pier, would be open. Indeed, at the appointed hour, Bill Garnett was there to welcome me.

Enough preamble, I'll get to the point: the exhibition at the Dahl Gallery, upstairs in the Norwegian Church, Cardiff Bay, is full - overflowing - with truly exceptional examples of artwork by over 20 exceptional artists. Some of them are household names: Elizabeth Frink, John Piper, Paula Rego, Ceri Richards, Michael Rothenstein, Philip Sutton etc. and some are known in fewer households. But never mind names: if it's wonderful, original, distinctive artwork you love, then you must make your way this week (it's only on for a week) to the Norwegian Church on Cardiff Bay.

Most of the work is for sale, at absurdly reasonable prices, and the very worthwhile Shelter charity will benefit. Cardiff is only two and a bit hours by train from London Paddington and who knows how many hours from wherever you are but it's well worth the trip. If you really truly can't get there in person then you can contact Bill Garnett at Pomegranate Fine Art to get a full PDF catalogue of all the artists.

You already know that this blog is usually (not always) about me so I won't apologise that the photos below are of some of my works in this exhibition (around 20 of my prints and a couple of my artists' books are included.)

The bottom photo is of my artist's book For A Song (7 poems and 7 etchings). Full details are here and all the pages from this version are shown  here.

Friday, November 06, 2015


Since the last time I blog-posted I've been back to Tavira, Portugal, where five years ago I was artist in residence at Casa 5 (documented starting here). This time I went with London friends to visit my brother who is living there at present.

It was a wonderful mind, body and vision-refreshing break which I'm very happy to share some visual proofs of. I realise that my photos are probably cliché postcardy things but I don't care. There's nothing cliché about actually being immersed in moments of splendour like these and if I've only got superficial records of the live experience, well, so be it. I'm not going to write about the history of Tavira or describe the place verbally - you can look up the former and I'm sure there are good travel writers who have done the latter.

Spectacular sunset on Gilao River, Tavira
Roman bridge, Tavira

The small hotel where we stayed, facing the Gilao River
Crossing bridge, Tavira

Orange stucco house, Tavira

Yellow front of demolished house, Tavira

House waiting to be restored, Tavira

Cloudy day, Tavira environs

Meanwhile, back home, I've made a photobook/catalogue of 109 of my old drawings, some of which were posted below. The printed copy (of which there's only one at present) will be sent to me soon and I'm going to look into having more copies printed for anyone who'd like to buy one. The drawings themselves are for sale individually - if interested let me know.The online version of the photobook can be viewed here (put it on full screen and click the arrow on the right to turn the pages).

Saturday, October 17, 2015


STORYLINE, an exhibition organised and curated by Bill Garnett (Pomegranate Fine Art) will be from 9th to 15th November at the Dahl Gallery, in the Norwegian church in Cardiff, in support of Shelter, Cymru.

About 20 prints and some artists' books of mine are included among the terrific artists participating. I'll be at the opening on 9th Nov. Come if you can but even if you can't, the work will be for sale on Pomegranate. BUY and support Shelter, as well as enhance your life with marvellous original artworks.

Looks like I can't upload the whole catalogue. Will ask Bill to re-format.

Thursday, October 15, 2015


Reading Lucy and Tom's vivid and idiosyncratic impressions of their recent trip to the Netherlands I was motivated to look for some sketches I'd done during a trip to Amsterdam in the 1980s. In the same sketchbook there were also many quick drawings of poets, artists and other talking heads at various events I attended during those years.The ideal ambiance for sketching people is at a conference or concert where speakers/performers stay relatively still for long periods and you can be sitting quietly drawing, unobserved and undisturbed while still being part of the scene.

Amsterdam 1986: it was raining, the hotel was cheap and the mattress had lived, as they say.

Wet raincoat, Amsterdam hotel room.

Of course Van Gogh was on my mind. He shared my room and I angled the mirror so as to echo one of his subjects.


Dick Higgins was one of the speakers at a Bookworks conference I attended in Philadelphia in 1982.

Leon Cych and Peter Baines at the National Poetry Centre, London 1982. Peter Baines (AKA Street Talkin' Pete) was a friend and together with Marilyn, his wife at the time, we went on protest marches, including to the Greenham Common women's peace camp in 1983.
John Rety was a friend but there must be hundreds of people around the world who can claim that privilege, certainly many in my part of North London where he and his partner Susan Johns ran the Torriano Meeting House. Shortly before he died in 2010 I bumped into him (literally) in Camden Town and he said, let's do a comic strip, I'll provide the text, you draw the cartoons. He was like that, as if life was an ongoing conversation with time an irrelevant interruption. I said fine, let's do it. We were going to meet and work it out. Then he died. Everyone in the above sketches is dead, apart from me. And Leon Cych who I drew but never met (I've just Googled him and am glad to see he's alive and doing well).

John Rety and Gilbert Adair at a poetry event in London 1986.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


 I wonder if this song could ever be written, much less sung, at the present time?
The last few lines especially - would any self-respecting woman or man nowadays dare to say:
Let me become 
The shadow of your shadow
The shadow of your hand
The shadow of your dog

Nevertheless these are emotions which many people still feel, whether expressed or not. Nobody ever did it better than Jacques Brel in his terrific original, unpolished version - shared here from YouTube.

I've recorded myself intoning it just now, you can listen to it here .

My translation below is far from perfect but better than the awful ones I've seen via Google.

Ne Me Quitte Pas (Jacques Brel and Jacques Roman)

Don't leave me
Let's forget
Forget everything
That's already vanishing
Forget the time of misunderstanding
And the time wasted
Who knows how
Forget those hours
Which sometimes killed
With blows of why 
The heart of bliss.
Don't leave me (r)
I'll offer you
Pearls of rain
From countries where it never rains
I'll dig the earth
Even after my death
To clothe your body
With gold and light
I'll build a kingdom
Where love is king
Where love is law
Where you'll be queen.
Don't leave me (r)
I'll invent
Nonsense words
Which you'll understand
I'll tell you about
Those lovers
Who saw their love's fire
Twice rekindled
I'll tell you the story
Of that king
Who died because
He could not meet you.
Don't leave me (r)
An ancient volcano
Believed extinct
Often reawakens
And there are burnt lands
Which yield more wheat
Than the kindest April
And when night falls
When the sky is blazing
Doesn't the red
Marry the black?
Don't leave me (r)
I won't cry anymore
I won't talk anymore
I'll just hide here
And watch you
Dance and smile
And listen to you
Sing and laugh
Let me become
The shadow of your shadow
The shadow of your hand
The shadow of your dog
Don't leave me (r)

Monday, October 12, 2015


A few pages selected from sketchbooks to conclude the posting of some of my old drawings. They were all drawn quickly from life, although those of the Falklands debate were done while watching TV programmes. The process which sometimes moves brain, eye, hand, pencil (or pen, brush etc.) to work harmoniously together in response to a visual/emotional stimulus is something of a mystery. Skill acquired by long training and regular practice doesn't necessarily account for it and it can't be willed - it either happens or it doesn't.

If anyone recognises the face of that famous musician whose name I can't remember, please let me know - he was a violinist and somewhat hunchbacked. I met Shyam Singha only once during a talk he gave at a centre in Hampstead where I was working. Bob Cobbing was a friend and a well-known performer and writer of Concrete poetry.

Friday, October 02, 2015


The name itself sounds like a cry of anguish...Ay! Way! Way! He has every reason for anguish but he's not crying, at least not in public. In public he exhibits two perspectives: on one hand, a calm defiance of the monolithic, arthritic, despotic regime hidden behind his country's mask of modern progress. And on the other, a display of meticulously crafted objets d'art, mixing the materials of venerable ancient Chinese artefacts with irreverent attitudes of surrealism and conceptualism - shades of Duchamp, Magritte, Carl Andre and all.

The most valuable and moving piece in the exhibition, for me, is not an art object but a video: an effective and affecting piece of investigative journalism. It was filmed in the aftermath of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and documents the discovery, due to stubborn and painstaking examination of the ruins by Ai Weiwei and others, that the instant collapse of several schools in which hundreds of children died, was due to local authorities' corruption leading to lax building regulations and shoddy construction. Weiwei's response to the scandal was to buy tons of the mangled rebar, the "'useless bones of all those schools that collapsed". In his studio, workers pounded hundreds of the twisted metal bars straight and kept hammering even when he was imprisoned by the government for several months

After his release Wewei created, with 38 tons of those rusted rods, a respectful and defiant memorial to those lost children, titled Straight, of which he has said:
The tragic reality of today is reflected in the true plight of our spiritual existence. We are spineless and cannot stand straight.
The problem I had when looking at this...installation...yes, that was exactly the problem. It had become an 'Installation' because of where it is shown: in a prestigious art institution. So the whole point of the memorial- its history, its meaning - has become merely a caption for an art object and its viewers are the people who go to art exhibitions. Does this make sense? Not to me. What would make sense would be if Straight was laid out in a public place in Sechuan where the children died, for example, or in front of government buildings in Beijing. But of course the Chinese authorities would never permit this. So the next best locations for exhibiting it would be...Well, you can see what I'm getting at.

I like Ai Wewei, I respect his integrity, his courage, patience and humour, his defiant stoicism in the face of the mental and physical hardships, injustice and repression he (and thousands of his unseen, unsung compatriots) have suffered, are suffering. I just wish he was as bold, unconventional and resourceful in his choice of venues for the display of his protest-works as he is in protesting.

Peering down into the several mini-tableaux which reproduce, half life-size, the actual cell in which Wewei was detained, along with the Chinese guards who watched his every moment, I couldn't help wondering, again, if this was the relevant place to show them. In the art gallery context they were reduced to rather ironic toy-scapes, even when you had read the explanation.

As for Ai Wewei's objets d'art in the exhibition, I must admit to being underwhelmed. The joke in this one is that the object lifting its legs at tradition is made from a traditional Qing Dynasty table. Get it?


Below, I think it's the caption which is the conceptual artwork rather than the cute paint-streaked vases. Those private collectors, did they buy because their vase was a Weiwei or because it was Han Dynasty or Neolithic? And did the price reflect one or the other? And
who is taking the mickey of whom?


The bicycle chandelier is rather beautiful, in the way that a twenty layer birthday cake made of sugar cobwebs would be beautiful but even the Chinese bicycle symbolism doesn't save it from being instantly forgotten (by me) once I've seen/eaten it.

Before I end this grumpy review, I want to apologise for it to Ai Wewei even though he surely won't be reading it. I'm truly glad that the Royal Academy is exhibiting his work, he deserves encouragement and support from every quarter, public and private. I sincerely wish him well and I hope that his country's leaders will come to their senses, in his lifetime, and recognize what he, and all the other exceptional individuals they have been tormenting and repressing, could do for China if they would only be given the freedom which is every human's right.

Monday, September 21, 2015


Vaguely chronological, a few examples chosen out of a lot of work from different periods of youthfulness. During and after the Art Students' League, thick marker pen drawings and also thin line ones in pen or brush seem to predominate, the latter mostly made during a period when I was privileged to be one of Jack Tworkov's students at his studio in lower Manhattan (next door to his friend and fellow abstract-expressionist Willem de Kooning. Jack was an insightful, inspirational teacher, never imposing his own style but encouraging me to discover and develop my own path.

I've had only three significant teachers in my art-life and they were very fine painters as well as brilliant teachers: Jack Tworkov, Henry Hensche and Pierre Bressoud, the Beaux Arts professor. I can't find any photos of Bressoud but my memory of him, permanent Gauloise on lip and black beret on head, appears (pp.16-17) in My Life Unfolds.
Professeur Bressoud et moi, Paris.
Colour study from model at Tworkov studio.