British Moths, Dark Arches, Early Grey, Frosted Green, George Orwell, Glenn Ibbitson, Green Arches, Hebrew Character, July Highflyer, nineteen-eighty four, Purple Clay, self-portraiture, Smethwick Twins, smoke and mirrors, Spectacle, tatsuko, Vaughan Sparham
Early Grey: watercolour 61x46cm
The natural world has offered up so much material to inspire me through my life. And though elements from nature have been been co-opted for incidental effect, I have spurned almost all of it as central source material for my own art. The spotlight over my stage has been shone instead on the human figure and its psychological condition. I have seen the work of too many artists who have invested their entire lives and artistic skill sets into almost perfect captures of flora and fauna that I would be unable to satisfactorily compete. Does the world need yet another merely competent picture of a Barn Owl?
My partner Carole bought me a very special birthday present in 2017. It was an actinic light trap for attracting moths. She had picked up on my casual comments about wanting to know which of these creatures was sharing our local environment with us after dark. We had seen some wonderful day flyers; Humminbird Hawkmoths, Garden Tigers, Sallows and had disturbed beautiful heralds [looking like little battle shields] in our workshop outbuildings. This trap allowed us to view the night flyers at close quarters. The light attracts then; they trip and doze.. I photograph and record their numbers. [an July example] The captives are unharmed by the following dusk. They take to the wing again, leaving the box with its egg cartoons [a traditional material used to accommodate them in their post-luminary state] completely empty by the following morning…
Lepidopterology presented an alluring aspect of nature to which, until recently, I had only paid casual attention. It offered a striking opportunity to visualise two different preoccupations simultaneously.
1 The nature of obsession
Obsession: watercolour 61x43cm
obsession /əbˈsɛʃ(ə)n/ noun: obsession fixation, ruling/consuming passion, passion, mania, idée fixe, compulsion.
Spectacle: watercolour 61x43cm
’Spectacle’ is one of an ongoing series of watercolours which reflect the development of and total immersion in one’s personal preoccupations. A visual encapsulation on the nature of obsession to the exclusion of all other interests and responsibilities; pushed to the point where the subject and the self merge. The degree of assimilation varies from composition to composition, from almost full portrait,
the Small Welsh Quaker: watercolour, 61x43cm
– to just a partially occluded eye within the object of desire.. pulled deeper into the fabric of the idée fixe.
Faded Flyer: 30x43cm
2 Hiding within Plain View
Beneath the Arches: 43x30cm
crypsis /ˈkrip-səs noun: the ability of an organism to conceal itself especially from a predator by having a colour, pattern, and shape that allows it to blend into the surrounding environment
Though 2019 marks the 70th anniversary year of the publication of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four, it’s central concept remains, ominously, as relevant as ever. How is the artist/ dissident to express unpalatable truths and criticisms of contemporary society and the state apparatus whilst still being able to function as one of its citizens; free from official persecution? When I first read this masterwork, it did seem as if western society at least, had insured itself against the risks headlined through its pages. Now it seems that perverse humanity has collectively snatched defeat from the jaws of what was perhaps in retrospect a mirage of victory. My own body of work since the turn of the Century has alluded to different facets of the struggle for the individual voice to be heard within an unsympathetic kultur.
stills from the film ‘Tatsuko’ 44minutes, B&W
Tatsuko [film details] investigated the strategies required to make a life while living in secret in a foreign environment with potentially hostile forces at close quarters.
the ‘Smethwick Twins’: oil on canvas from the series, ‘Smoke and Mirrors’
‘Smoke and Mirrors’ depicted visual deceits employed to create and protect ‘second lives’.
Landscapes of Betrayal; Do it to Julia: graphite on paper 61x86cm
“Do it to Julia’ echoed the activities of George Orwell’s everyman and reluctant hero Winston Smith in attempting to evade detection by making the narrator into an anamorphic cast thrown across the paper’s surface; his words converted into a cryptograph consisting of negative spaces. Both speech and image hidden in plain sight.
This series of moth paintings is an attempt to find an imagery which might encapsulate these related concepts. To marry ideas of surreptitious discourse with techniques of crypsis
Frosted Man and [right] Underneath the Arches: both watercolour, 43x30cm
In this way, the freethinker may give voice to his or her ideas publicly, rather than in secret, by appearing to be saying one thing, but smuggling through a subtext under a surface covering to convey a quite different meaning. The visual deceptions observed in the structure, patterning and coloration present in moth families provided me with a visual equivalent for operating under the radar; fully functioning in plain view, but hidden from all but the closest scrutiny. An inversion on the idea of sleight of hand; this time, not by leading the eye away from the real subject, but rather fooling it into misreading evidence presented directly to the eye.
Self in Purple: watercolour 61x43cm