Nizza Wonderful Life?

Five years ago today, I graduated with distinction from my MA and, simultaneously, started a project to collect the rain which fell, and document all the ice cream vans which I saw, over the next forty days and nights.

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The reason for this was that both events took place on St. Swithin’s Day, and, later in the evening, I was barred from a painfully cool city centre concept pub for attempting to steal a tankard. Not my proudest moment, no – that had come a few hours earlier when my (now)wife gave a little speech in my honour.

It included this quote by Andy Warhol:

“An artist is someone who produces things that people don’t need to have but that he – for some reason – thinks it would be a good idea to give them.”

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She realised that he had summarised, in one sentence, what I’ve basically been doing ever since, odd sounding little projects which entertain some, confuse others, all the while, telling you about it on this oft-virused little blog. Recently, a tempestuous Twitter spat resulted in one of my followers telling everyone how boring the site is, how it sends people to sleep. It was a little disappointing that my heartfelt tales and sentiments were being belittled, especially when life dictates that this can be my only creative well to dip into.

But, whilst everyone’s a critic, no publicity is bad publicity, and it’s not all bad, as I’m off to see Morrissey again soon, and my creativity and literacy this week won me a little promotion: ergo, whilst other new arrivals mean that more than one ‘change is gonna come’ in September, I will be more keen than ever to keep up with my writing: honest reviews; those obsessions, the narratives, the comments on the flotsam and jetsam which fill my life; explanations for the strange photos I sometimes share, and ultimately, my thoughts.

More than just a stream of consciousness, not quite a confessional – but cathartic, in that it helps me rationalise, helps me deal with things, helps make sense of it all…

Which is why today, I felt compelled to write something a bit different.

Normally I try to avoid discussing controversial contemporary issues on this site, but, without detailed analysis or condemnation, I simply needed to write out a reaction to what I saw on the news last night.

There have been some terrible news stories in recent times, many of which inspired an interesting article in the guide a couple of weeks back about whether or not times are actually particularly bad or if we’re just over reacting. Certainly, though, terrorist attacks and other catastrophes seem much more frequent than usual in 2016, and what with the political hot potatoes being thrown around Europe and just Westminster, many of us have concerns about where the world is heading.

I wrote a letter to my beautiful new born nephew the day after he was born – referendum day, in fact – and explained to him that, whilst some might say this is not a good time to be bringing new people into the world, I’d prefer to stay optimistic and believe that actually it is, because what the world needs now, is love and hope – particularly today. We echo that sentiment.

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We went to Nice three years ago, to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. Fell in love with the place. When we arrived we walked down the Promenade des Anglais and had a great pissaladiere at one of the cafes on the front. On the twelve month birthday of our wedding, we had a wonderful meal at the Negresco, and I had great conversations with Franc, our waiter.

Even had a photo taken with him, to remember the moment forever.

Hope he’s ok.

After everything that happened in Paris in 2015, I felt saddened, because I’ve loved every trip to the city of lights that I’ve taken. I felt grief, relief, fear… but a confidence that the very diverse community would pull through and reunite, regardless of Marine Le Pen’s intentions and motivations. Then, Euro 2016 would bring joy to the nation, and even if it was a disappointing tournament on the pitch, and ultimate heartache for France, it passed without any major incidents and it felt like the nation had won its pride back.

Of course, there have been many other atrocities further afield; elsewhere in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, America… not many people bothered as much…

After everything that has gone on, I felt equal sympathy for those victims, but a detachment, because many of these were far off places I had never been to, and never will.

However, seeing Nice, the one place we holidayed in whilst expecting; happily explaining to every bar man and waitress that L was ‘enceinte’ and somewhere we planned to take the two of them back to one day soon, to that same stretch of the promenade… to see it last night, the same stretch cordoned off, that ominous white lorry riddled with bulletholes, stood motionless, people running for their lives, children… enjoying fireworks… really shook me.

Becoming a parent makes you more sensitive to things, admittedly, but you don’t need to be a father to be so upset by the notion of ten children dying whilst marvelling at a fireworks display.

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You don’t need to have children to be sickened and scared at the horror which unfolded on Bastille Day. It’s especially scary when you have plans for your kids to go away to study a language, somewhere like Nice, where one of my best mates did for six months, and you wonder what you’d do if the same was to happen then. How you’d feel, what you’d think… Not selfish, just empathic for what some parents might be going through now.

You don’t need to just share a picture or tweet a hashtag, you have to talk about it, because only empathy and understanding can eradicate the black cloud which hover above Nice, above France, above us all right now.

‘The night is darkest just before the dawn,’ said Harvey Dent in a recent Batman film, and I concur. Things might seem bleak right now, but we have to keep the faith that things will get better for us -and the next generation.

Sorry if this was boring; it just needed to be said.

Containerisation

Hannah Directory is a yearly print publication, website and launch week of events celebrating the great stuff that people are doing in places in England’s north, and asking how even more of it can happen.
It is named after suffragette and rebel Hannah Mitchell, and it finds great stuff happening in music, business, the arts, new kinds of social organisation, scientific discovery and anything else.

I am very proud to be associated with this great project; it all came about through my contribution to a production across four northern cities entitled Wondrous Place, and despite circumstances contributing to me never having met its organiser Andrew Wilson, I have been lucky enough to be involved for three years now, and over the time, my admiration for his passion and organisation has multiplied.

This year’s offering is well timed, given the referendum. I will not use this as a political soap box; my Facebook friends and Twitter follows have done enough of that. Rather, I will just explain how my Hannah project this year celebrates the north as an industrial hub, largely due to EU involvement, and links my creative well to my everyday (rather humdrum) life.

Ever the pragmatist, I realise this may be the last large scale project I undertake for a while.

Creativity has produced other masterpieces – these need my priority, clearly. So, I decided that for 2016 I would document journeys to and from school and continue a line of investigation which began years ago, funnily enough, in school.

My inspirational, though very traditional, art education, taught me painting and drawing skills with a view to creating what my lovely old teacher Mr Jones affectionately labelled ‘chocolate box art’. later, the much more edgy and influential Glaswegian Iain Sloan introduced me to Joseph Cornell’s ‘worlds in a box’, an afternoon tutorial which changed my life forever – and not just because it led to an afternoon wandering up and down Utopia Parkway in Flushing, Queens, hopelessly looking for the house of flotsam and jetsam.

I used to go and look at this one weekly when it was in Tate Liverpool:

Then, of course, my meetings with Sir Peter Blake and Alan Fletcher whose works were often encased in frames or cases, and led to my MA research into ‘opening’ fortune cookies via Shrodinger’s Cat and the notion of introspection. All of this, I realise, is a whistle stop tour of twenty years of artistry, but seems important for first time readers or those who didn’t know this side of me.

I suppose my interest in shipping containers started a long time ago, then, but was only really catalysed by my visit to Naples on my honeymoon and subsequent reading of Comorrah, the excellent explanation of the Neapolitan mafia’s exploits, which starts with a horrific though rather sublime image of a swaying container full of dead bodies. “These were the Chinese who never die,” Roberto Saviano said, and immediately conjured up memories of the unfortunate 23 I had drawn for Hannah two years ago.
The idea of opening, the port, the importing of goods, the change in social and industrial landscape, the movement of workers, the loss of jobs, the hidden produce inside, the smuggling of people, drugs, worse: all of this and more had affected this city too, and the dockers’ fights were but a chapter in the changes that containerisation brought about. Similarly, teaching so intensely the story of Blood Brothers – in a new town formed by the displacement of dockers – resonated, as did our journeys to school misplaced by a new road to alleviate the problems caused by such lorries and containers around Switch Island. Add in the family history of cousins and uncles who drive the HGVs around the north, and that we live ten minutes away from pile and piles of the multi-coloured stacked boxes, plus that some pupils’ parents make and then drive the things, Hannah 2016 just had to be about shipping containers.

Especially when you consider that last year I was obsessed with shopping lists, full of the things the containers bring to our now isolated isle.

An aside; as a child I also loved this song, and it offers a link to a previous project about pigeons:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cwT2UR4x4Y

Back to this project. So, from Easter to June, I took a sketchbook with me every day, and twice a day, drew every container I saw on the way to and from work. The colours, the logos, fascinated me, engulfed me, and I loved to see new versions or unusual examples on the M57.

I drew what I saw, but what developed was an idea about what was inside – as my sister and wife were expecting, that wonder of the unknown took grip and so my drawing and painting of the outside became secondary to the consideration of the goods inside, delivering themselves across the north.

Containers were not just consigned to here, too. Anyone who has had the pleasure of visiting Bilbao and the Guggenheim, will have seen the rather beautiful container there, and although I was a bit gutted my idea was not a new one, it was good to see that another artists had appreciated the aesthetic qualities of these boxes, and celebrated them as things of beauty.

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Talking of which, as my little nephew entered the world, plus my son in the autumn all things being well, it seemed an ideal opportunity to share with you the process of my thoughts when seeing all these containers and wondering what might be inside.

‘Worlds in a Box’ said Joseph Cornell. The boxes, the containers, have been my world recently, and what a world it has been. Over the next few weeks I will share with you the world I encountered – how I saw it, what I saw, why I saw it that way… and hopefully my drawings and paintings, plus my wondering what might be inside, helps you to acknowledge the importance that our HGV drivers ad their containers have on our lives in the north.

The things they bring, what they take away, how they get things around the place to make our lives better…

What a Time to be Alive (For Ethan)

I had to take this opportunity to express my feelings in more than 140 characters, or an attention seeking FB status update, and outline in some detail my current situation.

This week has seen pleasure at the arrival of a new manager, naughty pleasures at a pile of stolen stickers to whittle the collection down further, enjoyment of a birthday party and several matches – and not just because some of my predictions came true – but then the really important stuff, the stuff that actually matters.

Like the lovely surprise of being asked to be a godfather, to a cute and cuddly, strong and strapping, very alert young man – ten years after the first time, a role I have continued to take so seriously and proudly.

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Then, my best father’s day yet – being spoilt rotten, having a great couple of hours in the ‘bat cave’ drinking den which I frequent, then being treated to an excellent tea of steak n chips and a couple more pints at a hipster joint with my two leading ladies and feeling very privileged indeed.

But the best moment came today when, preparing for a visit from the supreme commander, news came through of a magical arrival: a beautiful, richly deserved and long awaited bundle of immense joy and pride that makes it such a wonderful time to be alive.

Tomorrow is another day; if it’s tough, and voting or behavioural problems cloud my judgement, I just wanted to document this feeling, before it fades.

And after this past few days, I’ll need to remember – I have to remember – that, as Tim, and occasionally Liam, sing:

I’m just out of your range
Tomorrow
All your suffering’s in vain
Tomorrow

Now your grip’s too strong
You can’t catch love with a net or a gun
Gotta keep faith that your path will change
Gotta keep faith that your love will change tomorrow

Because this week has proved just that.