Tuesday, December 22, 2009


The Yin/Yang of Sport and Art, 2009.

Balls are not what they used to be. It is the old story: as soon as one starts looking at anything closely that one has hitherto taken for granted one finds a history of design shift and material alteration.

I have long been working on a sequence of tennis balls covered in my own hair to represent the seven ages of man, starting with black hair and ending with white. Both sorts are still present on my head though the ratio of one to the other is rapidly changing. Hair is also not what it used to be. When I started with hair-covered skulls over twenty years ago black predominated 5:1 but now the proportions have almost reversed with a ratio of white to black of 5:2. As I have discovered, there is no such things as grey hair. Pigmented and unpigmented hairs make the necessary mixture in pointillist fashion.

Long ago I found a ball in the garden, old and grey and bald, exactly like those I used to kick all the way to primary school and back. Their colour somehow matched both school flannels and the pavements along which I practised my dribbling technique. Once upon a time each had been white and furry when smashed by Seixas or lobbed by Drobny at Wimbledon, thereafter to be sold off to some superior lawn tennis club and later donated for use on the public asphalt of the Clapham Common courts before landing, hairless and exhausted, at my untalented feet.

This one in particular having knocked about the studio for a while caught my eye one day and gave me an idea about the passing of time it represented. Lines from Macbeth came to mind (Tomorrow and tomorrow etc...) with Wimbledon replacing 'yesterday'... and all our Wimbledons have lighted fools the way to dusty death.

I searched for other balls and found one which, being less bald than the first, Andy carefully shaved for me in preparation for its recladding with white hair.

Tennis ball with my own (white) hair, 2008.

It soon became apparent that with time the whole mode of their manufacture had changed. The beautiful Hogarthian curve of the characteristic seam which united the two segments had given way to a blander more perfunctory shape. The modern ball is in fact made of joined hemispheres with a rubber false seam acting as a purposeless line. The lurid yellow or fluorescent lime green of the current ball is a further (and ineradicable) sign of the times.

I decided to make a ball coated alternately in black and white hair to serve as an emblem of the yin/yang of sport and art. Although I exaggerated the curve of the false seam it did not give me quite enough of the famous sign. Now I can see how far I have to go in drawing my fake seam over that of the manufacturer (as seen below). I will try again even though it will condemn me to fifty Ghandi hours of sorting extra to what is needed for the remaining Ages of Man.

Correction of false seam of a modern ball drawn in black and white acrylic, 2009.

See also blog entry 5th February 2007 - Confessions of a tricophile.

Friday, November 06, 2009

October notes from Einstein Drive II

A Humument p142, 2009

Page 142 was a different matter, though it too had a constraint in that Toge, my Shandean hero, makes an obligatory appearance. His story with its wavering fortunes and indecisive chronology is part of the baggage carried forward from early days in the making of my book: he is condemned to enter the scene on any page figuring the words together or altogether from which his name is derived. Here he is joined by C. LOOPSEEND (of blogs 10th and 23rd Aug 2007) and a bench which are also part of my life's artistic luggage.

Having teased out the words I felt the need of an ikon for his chapel. Once again arte povera ruled and I found in Zeit Magazin (18/6/09 p.7) a picture of a black Porsche like an object of worship, in a halo of gold. It was a nicely exacting challenge to reconfigure cut up elements of this as a holy image; Christ from a car. I took great pleasure in recycling the whole of the vehicle as can be seen below from the remaining outline with absent Porsche.

Zeit Magazin, the absent Porsche.

Around this collage is a set of borders. The first collaged from the same magazine and the other two painted after standard patterns I had seen on mosaics in Jordan, as I was reminded while reading my friend Glen Bowersock's brilliant book Mosaics in History (which I have just swapped with him for a promised copy of my [imminently forthcoming!] book on goldweights).

Why am I suddenly talking of how pages come to be made? Perhaps because on one of my Sundays in New York I met up with John Pull at the Lyric diner on 3rd Ave and 22nd St. Over a lunch the menu called 'Lumberjack' we talked of the possibility of making in due time a Humument Variorum, an edition that would include the original and changed versions, plus all the treated fragments, as well as humument appearances on globe and skull, poster and t-shirt. I guess this must by now, with the Inferno commentary, Ulysses pages and various celebratory items, amount to well over a thousand items. I find this an exciting prospect though the method of doing it poses problems, especially since, with work still underway, it would soon be overtaken by itself. A posthumous post-modern document perhaps; but to be started nonetheless.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

October notes from Einstein Drive

Heart of Darkness storyboard, 2009.

Arte Povera is my watchword here since I bring (or have left there from last year) only basic equipment, a box of watercolours, a tube of white gouache, some paste and a bottle of acrylic medium, a few sheets of paper, a ruler and a scalpel, together with a small selection of brushes. Nonetheless it is amazing how in a day or two a neat office can be satisfyingly transformed into a chaotic studio.

A single artistic task will do the trick. In this case it was my much delayed response to an ever more insistent request to supply an image to ‘ident’ (as they told me) Heart of Darkness, i.e. to show possible backers "what it would look like".

I struggled with the idea; for a theatre production has no visual identity until a director is chosen who then decides on it with his or her set designer. Different direction might set the piece on Mars or Wolverhampton station.

Thus I had no image in mind that would allow me to bluff the matter out. However, after a day or two of calm at the Institute for Advanced Study it suddenly occurred to me that a storyboard with key moments pictured in different manners might be the answer.

These could be bracketed between the repeated set-ups of the Thames boat (on which Marlow is telling his tale) and the house of Kurz’s ‘intended’ which begin and end the opera; with a reprise of the Thames boat at the centre.

In the humanities library a kind librarian provided me with four or five copies of Zeit Magazin which she was about to throw out: these offered just the colours and contrasts I would need for collage. Three days later I had my storyboard complete, like a set of postage stamps.

When I got to New York the following Sunday and met up with Tarik, and walked the High Line with Charles and Bob of the American Opera Group everyone seemed happy with it and I could relax and enjoy the excellent crabcakes later served by Suki, our hostess in Washington Square.


With the storyboard done I returned to my revisions of A Humument. I have become a visitor to my own website (humument.com) where I can look at the stylish turning-page page-turner made by Alice from the most recent edition. There was a copy of the book only a few yards away in the library but I was pleased to find it to be out on loan.

When I started to make my reworkings of all the pages (I am well over half way through the process) the choices were easy since I saw better possibilities in Mallock’s text than I had initially found (sometimes as long as forty years ago). Also new opportunities of relevance have appeared, e.g. how was I to have predicted that the word ‘bush’ would (alas) come in handy?

Now I am condemned, as these pages get used up, to stumble on those that still appeal to me yet must, since the rules are the rules, be altered. One such is p.132 where I would have been sorry to part with ‘Mr Glad and his Mrs’. I can however imagine that Mr Glad’s wife passed away in the interim and that he has met a nice widowed lady called Mrs Hope. With a bit of strenuous redrawing, as can be seen here, I can now feature two figures instead of Mr Glad alone while not entirely losing the freshness of that first fine careless rapture.

A Humument p132, (clockwise from top L) unworked page, 1973 1st edition, 2009 revision, 2009 working drawing.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Guardian - Saturday 26th September 2009

A Humument p363, 2009.

Tom's Postcard for the Planet will be featured in the Guardian tomorrow (26/9/09) in the Review section.

To coincide with the launch of their Big Six Months to Save the Planet campaign on Sept 1, the Guardian are putting together a special environmental issue of Review. The whole issue will be devoted to creative responses to the crisis. There are new stories and poems promised, and they have invited artists to give a 'Postcard For the Planet' - 6" x 4" with absolutely any message. There will be an auction of the original images, and Tom is planning to contribute a limited edition print of the Humument p363.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Grafton Street

Preliminary study for section of railings in Grafton Street. 2009.

I have been designing some railings for a building in Mayfair which is having, in the fusion fashion of the times, a facade-lift after major internal surgery.

Good to be working with responsive people at Futurecity at the ideas end of the project, and, for the actual making, with the grand art fabricators MDM who are conveniently near to me in Loughborough Junction.

Although I do not often plan to be a player in the supersizing of art I enjoy, for the moment, sharing factory space with colleagues such as Richard Wilson and Anish Kapoor who work on an epic scale.

The railings which extend across eighteen metres consist of conventional strutting in the vernacular of the local streets with ornamental interventions in which the regular elements suddenly go for a walk. Somehow here there is an echo of the florid bursts in baroque music that interrupt a steady beat of rhythmic passage work.

Final drawings for the ornamental sections.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

London Sketch Club

I have made a discovery. How could I not have known all these years about the London Sketch Club? My friend Jonathan Hills is its new President. He invited me along to do some drawing in what I found to be a magic room, a proper Chelsea studio decorated with silhouettes of its original members (Phil May, Heath Robinson etc.) in which a congenial group continues the practise of drawing from the model for the traditional couple of hours. Then they have supper. Just what I needed.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Access to Art

A fine evening at the National gallery with Access to Art a small-scale but vital charity of which I am happy to be patron. It affords people who are no longer able to visit museums, galleries and exhibitions under their own steam the possibility of continuing their first hand experience of art. A scheme of minibus excursions collects and redelivers home, small groups of the severely chairbound with their helpers. For many it is their only lifeline to an enduring passion for art and, for others similarly disabled, an opportunity to become acquainted with its marvels. Vital to the evening’s great success was the support of Nicholas Penny (seen in the photograph) the National Gallery’s director enabling talks and even music to enrich the charity’s 10th anniversary event. Some of the pictures focused upon were lowered on the walls to facilitate viewing from a wheelchair. Van Gogh's yellow chair at chair level was especially telling.

If you want to know more about Access to Art or support it in any way the website can be found easily enough www.access2art.org.uk

Thursday, June 18, 2009

After a kipper at the Caledonian Club with my brilliant accountant I had a look at the memorial in Westminster Abbey which we have been altering slightly. It looks much better now. I gazed at it with no dismay and liked the ghostly frame as if of whispered words (which potent beings at the Abbey would have preferred dark and more assertive). Then along Victoria Street past Artillery Mansions where sixty years ago I visited my father in his then poky office, to Westminster Cathedral for a glimpse of the Cardinal Newman mosaic and the marble Gerontius panel as well as the black hole for which I should have already provided a design for St David. I work at it but as yet am not satisfied which is artistspeak for being stuck.

P.S. I still can't reconcile myself to the idea of paying to visit a church. Westminster Cathedral is free but the Abbey charges a lot. If you want to see the memorial piece without paying for an Abbey visit go through the arch at the west side of the building into Dean's Yard where another arch leads into the cloister itself. A man in a red gown will admit you if you say you are visiting the Conflict Memorial specifically. The memorial is on the right hand side about twenty yards along.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Creaking back into blogdom

Making the goldweight book has eaten up all writing time. Brain stopped play. Normal service will be now resumed... here an interim shot of studio with surprise railings, of which more anon.

Friday, March 13, 2009

My painting L: Epilogue

Beckett Again, 2009, oil on palettes, h28cms x w22cm(L) & 20cms(R)

I look at my painting and realise I have never seen it in unbiased light. Its western side (and only now I realise that what I have been calling West and East are, in terms of the wall that supports it, not merely cartographically but literally so aligned) receives from the window much more light than its eastern. The northernmost few inches happen to fall in the shadow of the window top. Electric light is differently biased with the South of the picture descending into gloom. I must get a proper look at it in the more general light of my other studio where I shall see it, and occasionally hit it (in alternate games at least), from the far end of the ping pong table.

It may serve also (in alternate games again) to distract my opponent, which will be useful in the return match against Dinos Chapman; after the decisive home win which marked our first encounter.

Meanwhile, looking to other tasks, I noticed last week two abandoned palettes in a corner, each in a different random mood and decided to make a diptych of them. What better text for them to share than another line from that sublime manufacturer of artists' mottoes, Samuel Beckett, to sum up the post magnum opus blues?

Friday, March 06, 2009

My painting XLIX


The end of the affair. Finishing a major work, large by my standards and, by anybody's, long drawn out is an experience I can never get used to. Some kind of emptiness displaces the anticipated sense of fulfilment. Perhaps that is why I embrace serial projects that have no end, like 20 Sites n Years which will pass on to another to continue, or A Humument, a book that only death will shut. These are works I cheat of the dissatisfaction that their completion might bring.

With Quantum Poetics I set out to make a masterpiece and in the proper meaning of the work it is exactly that, albeit a flawed one. Back to Beckett and his indelible formula, Try again. Fail better, so apposite to the state of the artist. So this is a hill climbed, steeper perhaps than the one before yet whose top when reached merely reveals a higher hill beyond.

The painter doth protest too much? Maybe so; trying to be frank about the larger sensation I forget the small rewards that even now surprise me when I take down a panel to photograph and notice in some part of it a passage well imagined, finely wrought. The main frustration is having no idea what an object so familiar to me looks like through another's eyes. Once or twice I have caught sight of it in the mirror at the far end of the studio and see that it does have energy, microscopic and macroscopic, and the syncopated rhythm of a dance of signs. And it is a presence, w.a.f.

Most reassuring of all, on an adjacent wall, the panel that originally was its north by north west corner (and having started the picture's motion, was eventually replaced) now sits in the middle of a group of nine panels, hoping to seed a sequel. But that's another story.

Friday, February 27, 2009

My painting XLVIII

Like an advent calendar in reverse I have been closing off my picture panel by panel. On each I have made adjustments as called for by its rhythm. This has meant doubling back to paint a section once made dark, light again (and vice versa), teasing one kind of ornament out of another.

At the end of this process I expected the painting to declare itself finished, an end to endgame announced with both kings prone. But no, it signals 'error, error' like a flashing light telling me that some element impedes the dance. Thus I have to make a last major revision so that by the end of the month, as long ago predicted, Quantum Poetics will be both stilled and set in motion.

Friday, January 30, 2009

My painting XLVII

Detail at 30.1.2009

As I make small adjustments to each panel, altering its past, I begin to think more of the future of the picture as a whole; where it can be shown; where it might end up; who will see it; can it help to support future work; what are the impending practical problems of presentation; will it need varnishing, framing, and so on.

One plan to help it be seen and to earn some of its keep is to make a full size print version with Brad Faine at Coriander Studios with whom I have worked happily for many years. Brad says this can now be done, so we will make some tests.

Music Drawing, charcoal on paper, 1963, support: 559 x 762 mm

To delve further into the past, however, I have just visited the exhibition at Tate Britain Drawn from the Collection which includes a work of mine, one of two large charcoal drawings I made immediately on leaving art school in 1963 which represent the beginnings of a duel with abstraction and calligraphy. I remember the then director of the Tate, Norman Reid, coming to my studio with his curator Richard Morphet (those were the days) to view and reserve for the gallery an unfinished picture called Benches. Norman Reid saw the two drawings and chose (wrongly I thought at the time) the one now on view. The other I still have here (see My Painting 18.7.2008).

I was a bit apprehensive about coming across a work that I hadn't seen for forty years but was relieved to find it well presented and spaciously hung in good company and looking not at all bad.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My painting XLVI

As at 12.1.09

Only a handful of days into the second phase my picture begins to warn me that it will soon pull up the drawbridge and stave off any interference from its maker.

Having dealt with the two or three most challenging adjustments I was determined to make, I found myself looking at a painting that might be made prettier by further intervention but not stronger.

I must fight a tendency, often visible in my work (though not in my life) to tidy up. In this case the temptation is to over resolve the parts where the unfocussed turbulence of the underpainting remains. These are the areas, my painting tells me, that allow it to breathe.

Any talk about art in the making always sounds fairly mad and risks heading straight for Pseud's Corner. Still I maintain that, in silent conference with the painting, I have negotiated permission to tackle some remaining problems, rationing myself to one intervention per panel.

Friday, January 09, 2009

My painting XLV

As at 9.1.09

My first (and long looked forward to) task in the business of revision is to lead a full scale attack on areas that have been irritating me for months. I had left them as they were in order to move on, but they have continued to stare at me balefully whenever I look at the picture as a whole.

The leading offender is an egregious E which seemed to suggest the possibility of literal meaning, tempting the eye to construct other latent letter forms. This has undermined the general abstraction with an unwanted false premise.

To alter it requires a kind of double-knit as a third layer of paint and pattern changes light to dark and vice versa, working one ornament within the interstices of another.