I'm old and cynical enough to have accepted (not quite the right word) that politicians in general have a somewhat... opportunistic relationship with the truth and facts (although still idealistic enough to get upset about it). Despite this though, some of what I see these days in global politics is horrifying - watching facts and any idea of truth become twisted to order, subjugated to a desire to seize or hold power and politicians willing to do anything to get their political end away. This is where my admittedly bruised sense of idealism kicks off (and has done several times over the years) and the rage comes out in paintings. Some of these were responses to specific events or individuals, others a more general bit of artistic moaning about the state of the world today.
These first three pieces were part of a very early series called ‘Myth Cycle’, which ws inspired by a poem I had written and dealt with the fetishizing and romanticising of violence. This was a specific reaction to the political and social climate of South Africa, where I was living at the time, but could easily be applied the current climate in America.
The poem is quite long, but here it is:
1: opening credits.
these streets swirl with memories night and day,
embedded in the yellow eyes of a million cars;
coded in the wailing and hooting of the taxis
as they rumble through the beautiful ugliness of the cities.
roadside walls pockmarked with bullet-holes
and the tar uneven with potholes and sinking.
the city has no time for sleep,
it heaves its scarred old face
between the buildings and into the sky
and lies silent in the light.
silent to the ones within it,
gleaming dully on rainy nights as
the crack of bullets and the howl of alarms
echo in the ears of no one:
faces turned up to try and find the sun.
death stalking the well-lit streets of suburbia
armed with pangas AK47s AIDS and knives,
with the pick the sickle and the shovel:
tools ready to execute the unknown
and bury it in obscurity.
rape scenes played out against damp alleyways,
screams disappearing into unheard nothingness
while blind eyes stare dead from fire escapes
and unforgiving windows and streets and
no traces are left in the morning.
beautiful freaks –
tsotsis with hats pulled down over their eyes,
tribalism armed and tooled up with knives:
refugees from township poverty, urban desolation
and moneyed boredom.
in love with the brutality and violence,
the ghost face of killers –
murderous memories and old guilt moving
beyond the vanishing point
– dead idols crippled by the bends,
surfacing in an atmosphere of sadness
where violence fills the darkness.
3: end credits.
to be in south africa is to be
constantly aware of the murdered blood
that was mixed with water to make the sky,
staining the rivers red
wherever they flow.
it is to be able to hear,
above the bass heavy beat of kwaito
and the growl of mining machinery,
the hate that still reverberates
across the naked expanse of desolate veld.
south africa lives in the past
and only glimpses the present,
imprisoned in the hard consonants and
of ancient languages.
screams tear through the dark at night
echoed by guard dogs to the ghetto moon,
hiding terrified in the thick folds of shadow
and silence in the heart of suburbia.
there is no present in south africa
and no future,
just a fearful attraction to a past
brittle with violence and guilt,
murderous prison blocks and courthouses
haunted by angry ghosts;
bullet-ridden tin shacks and houses
traumatised in cowering suburbs
and a crippled people
bled to a useless sadness and
still singing the chorus of a mourning song.
The next three are a triptych; part of a series called ‘Richey Edwards’, and inspired by the lyrics of the Manic Street Preachers. This specific piece was inspired by the track ‘Of Walking Abortion’ (from their ‘Holy Bible’ album) and really speaks of the political (and general) rage I was feeling. And still feel, if I’m honest. Lyrics to follow:
Life is lead weights, pendulum died / Pure or lost, spectator or crucified
Recognised truth acedia's blackest hole / Junkies winos whores the nation's moral suicide
Loser - liar - fake – phoney / No-one cares, everyone is guilty
Fucked up - don't know why - you poor little boy
We are all of walking abortions / Shalom shalom we all love our children
We all are of walking abortions / Shalom shalom there are no horizons
Mussolini hangs from a butcher's hook / Hitler reprised in the worm of your soul
Horthy's corpse screened to a million / Tisu revived, the horror of a bullfight
Fragments of uniforms, open black ruins / A moral conscience - you've no wounds to show
So wash your car in your 'X' baseball shoes
We all are of walking abortions / Shalom shalom we all love our children
We are all of walking abortions / Shalom shalom there are no horizons
Little people in little houses / Like maggots small blind and worthless
The massacred innocent blood stains us all
Who's responsible - you fucking are
There’s also this piece from the same series, ‘Ifwhiteamerica…’, which seems, sadly, even more appropriate these days.
The next two pieces were painted while I was living in Oman. The first, ‘A Cenotaph Souvenir’, also has a Manics link, with the title coming from their song ‘La Tristesse Durera’. Part of the impetus was my thinking about how many victims and survivors (war veterans for example), have their individuality stolen away from them, subsumed into an easily digestible symbol while the individual and what they have suffered is ignored and discarded, The other bits of text here come from the Dylan Thomas poem ‘A Refusal to Mourn the Death, By Fire, of a Child in London’ (full poem here: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/refusal-mourn-death-fire-child-london) and the epigraph at the start of ‘The Waste Land’.
"I saw with my own eyes the Sibyl of Cumae hanging in a jar, and when the boys said, Sibyl, what do you want? she replied I want to die."
This next one, ‘When There is Freedom’ was inspired by a few things. I had just recently come back from a trip to Italy and still had some of the political graffiti in my head. I was also thinking about revolutions, and the gap between initial idealism and the actual outcome. The figure is modelled after Che Guevara and the quote comes from Lenin. There’s also another Manics link in the ‘revol’ in the first part.
The political link in this next one may not be immediately obvious, as the initial inspiration was drawn from the Jambinai song which gives the piece its title: ‘They Keep Silence’. This song was about the reaction of the South Korean government to the Sewol ferry disaster in 2014, but the painting could also link to any time any government has responded terribly to a tragedy (Grenfell, for example).
The next two were specifically inspired by Trump and, slightly more optimistically, the protests against him and the far-right extremists he has enabled. In ‘Rise’ on the left I was thinking about the protests (quote from Radiohead), while the piece on the right, ‘When Truth is Uncertain’ was directly inspired by Trump and his relationship with the truth.
The spate of school (and otherwise) shootings in early 2018 was the inspiration for the next piece, ‘The Gloaming’. The title and text come from Radiohead, and I was thinking about how some lobbyists (and other political figures) are willing to sacrifice almost anything and anyone to get their way or keep hold of power, even in the face of young children being murdered in a school.
The final piece in this post is ‘A Scarecrow Prophet’, part of a new series I’ve just begun which is called ‘Age of Iron’. My personal feeling is that we are heading into dark times politically and I want this series to reflect and respond to that, to be willfully dark, using ‘shamanic’, ‘prehistoric’ tropes and images, as well as heavy textures. I want to end with something that looms over the viewer and feels oppressive, as a reflection for both the current state of global affairs and the darkest parts of our history. Sadly, there are times these days where it seems we are reliving the darkness of the past.