How I got here
I have explained why and how I started to paint A Painting A Day in a previous article. Now comes for the real reason I paint and how it all really kicked off.
Since childhood I have felt the power and influence of the world around me and the urge to create. There is an energy, a compulsion and a force driven by a hunger for life and connections.
The feeling is an odd mixture of resignation, knowing everything and nothing, giving in to it, absolute passion and drive, aching for the truth and realising that you can see the universe being created every second and that you are a part of it.
Many people have said ´You have an extraordinary talent but we are not sure what to do with it´. I didn’t know either.
The first painting I remember doing was when I was in infants school. It was of a camel and the headmistress was brought in to to see it. I did paint a little after that but it was not the sole driving force. The search and wonderment of that singular driving force to connect with the energy that is all around us. At around 12 I started to copy pictures and photographs. They were adequate but some where exceptional replicas. It seemed that I tapped into something that I was not aware of, a part of me but unknown by me and that was more than just being able to draw. Then I had the same feeling as I do now when everything is going well and just working. Especially when there is a risk that forces the conscious and unconscious to work with the force of life. It is riding the wave. That feeling is what drove me on. I was chasing that feeling. I was not sure what it was but I felt it like a physical touch or action, it was a direct connection with the hum of the planet.
Riding the wave for the first time
At around 14 I started to explore my own style. Captivated by Surrealism I painting prodigiously and felt I was on track to somewhere. I loved paint tubes and putting paint on paper. In around 1982 I painted ‘Guitar, melon strung cat’ which has a pedigree of it’s own. It started off as a doodle in a friend’s bedroom on a scrap of paper. It flowed out and took my by surprise how powerful it was. The friend came back into the bedroom, he asked what I was doing. I screwed it up and threw it in the bin. When he went out of the room I got it back out of the bin and put it in my pocket. When I got home I ironed it. It made me feel alive and I was a little unsure what I had created, but I knew it was good. Later I spent two days painting it. I threw everything at it and for those two days was in the zone, on it, riding the wave. It was intense and I loved every second of it. I continued painting and developing till around 18 when life in the family business took over. I did paint now and then, however it was hard to work and paint and the directions and flow was lost.
Physically painting was emotionally awkward as it would set up feelings of resentment and unfulfilled dreams. I continued to be an artist in my head. In my terms I was trying to connect with that feeling of absolute creation. The point where thought becomes solid. I thought though that it was a feeling that was lost in the folds and madness of youth although there were times in young adult life that I felt it. It would occur in other guises. The connection with the feeling of love was similar, so sadly was the initial euphoria of getting drunk which was easier to do than paint. Waiting for that illusive 10 minutes of mad fun that may only arrive every few years. Eventually it was apparent that that was not sustainable.
Certain pieces of music would invoke the same things but there had to be several things occurring simultaneously for it to happen. All the time there was that feeling driving me on to find whatever it was I was looking for. I knew what it felt like and the power of it was incredible. When I was totally connected it all came together almost like I was plugged into the whole grid of the cosmos.
I had been brought up in a religious family which I rejected around 13-14 years old as it did not make any sense and seemed to be counter intuitive. I spent around 20 years in meditation circles and learned a lot about myself and the intricacies of the mind. Luckily I also learned some good coping mechanisms. I had periods of painting in between as it would raise its head. It had become hard to deal with and I often wished that it was not there. There was always a strong urge around it, still a driving force that would make me often sad and hurt that I was not feeling it or fulfilling my passion and what seemed my reason for living and also euphoria when it arrived every now and then to wake me up. In 1994 I had an exhibition which forced me to paint. I was chasing the feeling and trying to find where I might go. It was fun and I sold a few pieces and then it faded. I stopped painting buried my feelings again and waited. Not sure what I was waiting for.
Design - Science - Meditation
Many people have said ´You have an extraordinary talent but we are not sure what to do with it´. I didn’t know either. I became a graphic designer and then a web designer as it seemed that to be able to make money out of some creative endeavour was a good idea. Although there were some good bits it was not the satisfaction I was aching for. There was no purity and constrains got in the way. It sucked the creativity out of me and I ended up being more of a techy. Of course that had it´s advantages as I learned about tech stuff and computers. Living and designing in a two dimensional world is so constraining. There was none of that euphoria, it was too controlled.
The euphoric feeling is an odd mixture of resignation, knowing everything and nothing, giving in to it, absolute passion and drive, aching for the truth and realising that you can see the universe being created every second and that you are a part of it. It can be very fleeting or last for hours and leaves me wanting more and wondering 'where did that go' when it disappears.
In researching and being fascinated by science and quantum physics and the wild way that things happen in that unknown world, I felt that I understood it in part. It did not matter how prosaic the explanations were and how the feelings that I had were just a spin off of my exuberance, I knew that even then during some of the dullest times something would happen I would feel that feeling again. Being plugged in, fingers in the socket. It is what had driven me all my life and still does.
Hitting the brick wall
After a while I resigned myself to the idea that I wasn’t going to find it, whatever it was and I let life roll on but still keeping a weather eye out for it. I worked through many personal issues and made leaps in personal growth. My dog of 17 years died which gave me a huge jolt. I ran head long into a brick wall mentally and crumbled. One day I walked into my office and stood there wondering where I was who I was and what I was doing in this life that I did not recognise. Until then I thought I had done a lot of work on myself. It was nothing compared to the work I was about to do over the next 10 years.
I deconstructed myself down to the bare metal. Sometimes painful and sometimes joyful and often scary. What I was doing I was not really sure of, I was searching for that feeling to feel again in anyway myself. The euphoria in the madness. I knew it was there and I had denied feeling it and hidden it often as it had become painful to see it and realise that I was not living it. I knew that I was not going to feel it all the time however to feel it sometimes and to know that I was on the road to feel, it would be ok. I had to feel again. What I had to feel I was not sure either. I was looking for that connection. I had experienced grief and pain that I never thought possible and at times wondered if I would ever feel anything else.
Dealing with fire
Through this period there were times of absolute knowing that started to come back to me. Who I was, was a mystery to myself however those times of being plugged were back and as strong as ever. Whether I could cope with them or myself was unknown. It is like dealing with fire. From the outside you know that it will burn if you put your hand in because you are outside it. When you become the fire it does not burn, you are it and you do not burn. Once the self latches on to the sight of who it is it will not rest and wants more.
That feeling of self it seemed was what I had felt when I was young, feeling that total knowing of who I was and that it resonated with everything else and I fitted. So there I was being a gardener as I had become after relinquishing my career as a designer. I was ok. I had to a large extent assuaged my hunger for creating by creating things in the soil and doing physical work. That was it, some resemblance of peace arrived. I had dulled the pain of separation form myself and others and lived in a world in my head content to let the world go by. I had smoothed the lumps and bumps of life by living in my imagination which I had been able to so as a child. I was settled I thought. No need to search for that illusive euphoria. Then a set of circumstances arose which drove me to find the thing that powered me, the feeling that meant more to me than anything.
Seeing myself again
During a visit to the Villandry, a renaissance garden in France, I was walking down an avenue and for a split second felt myself. I had to walk back and see if I could feel it again. It was sort of there but feint. This made me realise that it was possible to connect with myself again, however small that may be. I spent years after expanding that second I had felt. This lead me to feel comfortable with creating again although I did not know what I would do.
Having the vision
I had begun to listen to electronic dance music. I was lazily wondering on 27/3/2015 about my artistic life and at precisely 2.36am it struck me. Art as a performance like the DJ´s perform mixing music, I would perform using paint in front of a live audience. That moment sat on the sofa everything flooded my mind and the hunger was back I had to follow the idea and feel plugged in again. I bored everyone senseless a about it. The passion was back.
Starting to experiment with painting to music and speeding the process up eventually lead me to doing one on the Malcolm Boyden Radio show at BBC Hereford & Worcester which was mad and fun. I had expected to do that painting over a longer period, I had done them in 5 minutes up until then. When I got into see the producer Stuart, he said I can give you 3 minutes. That was a rush. I said ‘OK let’s do it’. At the tail end of 2016 I was wondering how to progress and came up the idea of painting every day to force me into a routine. I started A Painting A Day in 2017.
In November 2018 the landscape in my head which I had always had refuge in and control over and which had helped me cope with trauma, grief, loss, love and everything else, had a rude awakening. There was my landscape, I had created worlds to deal with every problem in my head and heart. It was laid over my life like a veneer wrapped around the messy madness that is life. What could go wrong, it was perfect, surely this was the meaning of life the sorting out of everything, this was enlightenment. I could cope with whatever life could throw at me...couldn’t I? Staring out over my perfect landscape feeling pleased I had solved everything and that now I could get on with stuff, a huge spike erupted through the fabric of my world. I stared at it, what was that? This was not supposed to happen... what are you doing there? I knew what it was. It was feelings. I had smoothed everything away and denied many of my feelings, some of which I had not had for years and many I had disguised or ignored. Some were not developed at all and were still in the state of a five year old. They were not going away either. They were also a part of the feelings I had had from a child the plugging into the grid. They had manage to penetrate the thick armour I had created to protect myself like a hot knife cuts through butter. I would have to face them or I was lost.
Eminem´s Lose Yourself has a rallying cry and encapsulates that moment when you know that you have to risk everything you have ever know and ever been to be yourself for better or worse. You may have to lose yourself to become who you truly are whatever that might mean:
´Look, if you had one shot or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted in one moment
Would you capture it, or just let it slip? Yo´
Following instinct and facing fears
Managing to understand what had happened, I followed my instinct and started to face my worse nightmare. Fears that sometimes gave me a cold heat all over my body gripping my soul and making me stare deep into the furnace and forcing me to challenge everything I thought I knew about myself and my world. I took myself to the edge of my limits then pushed myself over the edge. It was scary beyond belief not it in the least because I was doing it to myself but I was alive and feeling again, in some cases for the first time.
I realised that all I had tried to work out and surmise was in my head as most things are. I was not connected to life. I had created vast worlds and hypotheses about life the universe and everything. Some still hold true but many only worked because I was controlling everything. What I thought were tests of reality were tests of the veneer of an imagined world and only worked because the worlds in my head were created by me and as such would always be able to placate any fears that I had, regardless of any notion I persuaded myself, that I was facing reality. I had been facing the engineered reality that I had created for myself. There was interface between reality and my emotions that could bend anything so that it was palatable. It also made up for any shortfall that reality could not give me. I was feeling but vicariously. It worked but it was also exhausting too as I had to keep the defence mechanism working and secure. I now had to now deal with reality head on. When something walks through all the most secure doors and locks that you have apparently put in place to keep you safe you know its time to give them up. That was harder than I had ever thought possible and there were many times that I wanted to pull up the drawer bridge and hide away. I would have to take the highs and the lows without sanitising them if I was to remain in the world with any authenticity as myself. Truth is not always easy to swallow but a world without feeling is desolate and numb.
Live Art - Risk>Intention>Execution
On 17 August 2019 I did do the performance in front of a live theatre audience. It was the culmination of a quest for decades, maybe from birth. Everything I had done till that point came into play, everything made sense.
On the edge
I continued to paint every day and work on where I was going and what to do next. The mad world situation that came into play in March 2020 with a world pandemic changed the things I could to but I carried on painting. The restrictions that were put on us all took away many of the visions and freedoms I had and it was a struggle to find any semblance of a away through. At times all seemed to be lost but that wild feeling of being on the edge, the space between the seconds, the ridge between conscious and unconscious where there is all and nothing pervade. I am still on the edge. I have learned that I have to be there and to just put the time in and every now and then the wave picks me up and I fly. It is total reality and total awareness of it.
Do or die
To know that that feeling has been with me all my life and that it is greater than a feeling. When it happens they are no longer thought, they are connecting rods of incredible elasticity and strength that reach throughout space and time. They have never been affected by any personal problems or insecurities that may arise, they are irrefutable and do not take no for an answer. There are no prisoners you either do or die. Where they come from is not easy to say. I know that I recognise them in others. Sometimes in the arts but just as equally in humanities, science and politics. They are moments that the hour calls for absolute clarity. There is no rhyme to it from the outside but when you are inside you see the mechanics of it. It does not care for what reason or why it just does it.
Where I am
That is how I got to where I am. Through painting every day I follow my development with interest and wonder where it is going. I know I have to be there to be plugged in now and then to feel life coursing through me like a lightening conductor. It drives me on. There are times when I feel there is nothing going on and I have no idea what I am doing or why. The discipline is good. Something happens I feel the power and the force and it all makes sense again.
I am happy and privileged if somewhat perplexed and bewildered sometimes that I have felt these from a young age and have been able to make sense of them in my world and that they have not diminished, they remain as a constant. I can still stand in the fire and not get burned, have that feeling of absolute knowing and connect moments across time and space. They can erupt at any moment and will grab me with a force that has no reasons or boundaries.
That is who I am.