I'm not backward in coming forward.
I recently sent an email to the Honorable Melanie Joly - Minister of Canadian Heritage offering her; or to be more accurate - the Canadian government, my painting "Vote for Us" for £ 54,000.00 GBP.
I'll be honest - I wasn't expecting a reply - but via the Canadian government's Ministerial Correspondence Directorate , I was given a polite and encouraging response.
My favourite part of the response was this...
I am then encouraged to approach the National Gallery of Canada regarding the sale.
As brush-offs go it's rather a nice one.
So the history behind this...
On a whim or something like it, I decided that I would try and sell one of my pieces well above and beyond my normal asking price to one of the Governments of the world's top 10 economies (or a national collection). I picked "Vote for Us" as it's broadly political (and I'm approaching politicians). I also felt it fits with the current global political instability and increasing polarisation.
I chose £ 54,000 as my asking price on the following basis.
I will be approaching the National Gallery of Canada as the next step, then - if I'm unsuccessful there- I'll move onto economy number 9.
So possibly - next stop Italy.
I'll be blogging on progress as I go. If you have any contacts or suggestions let me know by messaging me here or commenting on this blog.
I'd appreciate it if you could share this blog as well - and see where it gets
The slide show below is a brief illustration of the process I recently went through for a client.
The person concerned contacted me after seeing my work online - in particular my painting "Night or Day"
The difference was that they wanted a mural on the granite wall of their sun-room in their cottage near Liskeard in Cornwall.
So - my first step - come up with an idea...
I know Liskeard a little and having scanned through my client's facebook photos came across a view of Trethevy Quoit - not far from their house. It's a neolithic tomb dating to around 3500 BC. I found a reference photo and messed around with it digitally and sent some results (including the image in the featured slide show )
I sent the digital ideas - and luckily the comment came back "you must be some sort of mind-reader". That was a good start.
The next issue was the size (or rather the shape) of the proposed mural - a square of about 4' x 4' (120cm x 120cm) - so the use of a sun or moon in that format needed a rejig. That's the two square sketches. The second was a 1/3 wax and wash 'sketch' - after visiting the client at home we agreed on the design. One thing we agreed on was that the mural should have some semblance of a stained glass window. (hence the use of dark outlines on the main objects) and be a stylised representation.
We then had to leave things for about a month as I went off on holiday and it was convenient for everyone.
In the interim I produced full size cutouts for the main shapes and at the beginning of September set off for Liskeard for the first of six visits. I had researched mural painting in acrylic as well as I could and took advice from a few people.
The slide show gives a reasonable idea of the process. The most interesting challenge was the highly pitted nature of the granite wall. Some of the lumps and bumps are over an inch deep. The inherent bonus in that is the natural 3D effect that the rock surface gave to the overall painting - especially when seen in reality. The mottling gave interesting colour effects as well, as the light changes in the space - the colours seem to change and shift. I also used a new tool - a herring gull feather used like a quill pen to give the crazed effect.
The final coat of varnish was done on Day 6. The client is very happy with the work. From my viewpoint it was a great piece of work to do from planning to completion, it was quite hard work physically as I used muscles I had forgotten about.
From a calling card point of view it's brilliant as it's the first thing any caller to their house sees.
I'd do it again...
Just ask me here
The Leader stands almost upon the mountain pinnacle. He has planted his nation’s standard on the rocks ahead. Grasping the flag pole for support, he reaches behind him; arm and hand outstretched to clasp the hand of another man following him to the top.
Almost kneeling the man has obviously stumbled, but it is clear that with the Leader’s support he will reach the summit safely as well. It is just as well, for upon that second man’s shoulders sits a small girl clutching a dangling teddy bear. On the slopes below, three other figures, another man and two women have nearly finished their ascent. The scene is illuminated by what could be a sunrise or sunset. It is lit by glory. On the furthest rock, surveying the scene, sits an imperious eagle.
These others, the picture implies have made it to the top without harm. They have been led to this sunlit upland by the standard bearer. They are simply dressed – unlike the Leader who is gloriously bedecked.
Let’s have a look at that Leader again...
“Gloriously bedecked” might be stretching a point. He is in fact wearing a dark blue suit, white shirt and his red tie is fluttering in the mountain-top breezes. His golden hair is flowing in the same direction. Despite the fact that it is not the best rendering one has seen. It is clear who it is.
It is Donald Trump. The flag is the Stars and Stripes.
Anyone who follows the social media output of the wider ‘Team Trump’ will have been struck by the proliferation of online memes; depicting Trump as warrior, saint, crusader, hero, king or saviour.
They come in a variety of styles. Some are clearly painted and others are digitally rendered, all with varying degrees of skill. They are largely anonymous, as if for the greater good they have been donated to ‘the cause’ - to Make America Great Again.
All are propaganda and all are - and there is no getting away from it - kitsch in the extreme. It is as if the only way forward is to retreat into a glorious romanticised, almost pre-Raphaelite past of pseudo religious and mythological imagery.
So, we see Trump depicted as an Arthurian king sat upon his throne, as an armoured crusader bathed in holy golden light, as Thor, as Perseus holding aloft the head of Hillary as Medusa, as a highly decorated Victorian general, as St. George standing atop the corpse of the dragon (with Hillary’s face naturally).
There’s also room for some modern imagery, but still harking back to that kitsch style, where Trump is seen in conjunction with heavy weaponry and explosions; standing proud and square jawed.
These memes are strongly reminiscent of another strain of artwork…
Ironically, given the present US incumbent’s cavalier approach to free enterprise, they nod in the direction of Socialist Realism from the Soviet Union, Maoist China and are contemporary with current visions of Kim Jong Un in North Korea.
These regimes all have the same current running through, one man (it’s always a man) embodies all that is good, kind and strong about the country and its people. The more tyrannical they are – the more benign they appear. Stalin always looked particularly avuncular.
Is there an enemy to be fought?
There is the leader, right in the forefront of the struggle – not tucked away at home. Being bathed in a golden light seems particularly important in most of these despotic depictions. Trump gets the golden light treatment a lot...
The golden light could be a key to the origins of the Trumpiana.
Aside from the nods to Greek and Norse mythology, there can be little doubt that Donald has God on his side. A very large section of his support comes from evangelical Christians. One such evangelist, Mary Colbert is quite explicit,
“It’s not that Donald Trump is all that perfect a guy. We all know he’s not. And we know that he’s not necessarily perfect in every way that we would like. That’s not how God works. He works through the ones he chooses. We don’t choose them.”
“All we have to do is recognize them and when you recognize a chosen one and you have the discernment to know that they’ve been chosen and know that that’s the will of God, then your life will be blessed. “
Mary Colbert is also quite explicit that opposing the ‘chosen one’ brings curses upon your head. Mary Colbert is one of many.
Another Trump supporting social media account proclaims
“Blessed #MAGA walks amongst us – long may he reign”
Maybe then – these anonymous memes which by and large have a strong Christian thrust and born of an electronic age that can disseminate them easily to massive numbers; actually could be seen to hark back to a much earlier time.
That time when a large number of people received their ‘education’ and public discourse through stained glass and frescoes and illustrated pamphlets. In many ways, consuming these present day images through a smart phone or tablet is a loud echo of that historical public art.
Social media savvy evangelicals understand that power. They also understand that they have a readily made audience for the material, which shares and spreads their non-verbal gospel without coercion. This, they believe is their moment and Trump is their man; and they’re not about to forget it or miss their opportunity. They have enemies and demons to vanquish...
It might be unfair to saddle Donald Trump with any allegations of encouraging this strange deification and idealisation process going on in the US at the moment…
On the other hand in 1989 Donald Trump commissioned an oil painting of himself by artist Ralph Wolfe Cowan. It pictures the future POTUS in tennis whites. His right hand is casually tucked into his trouser pocket, his left hand rests easily on his thigh. The painting is an ‘outside’ scene with indeterminate landscape behind.
And where does this picture modestly entitled ‘The Visionary’ hang?
It is in Trump’s Mar-a-Lago – the ‘Southern White House’, in full view for all visiting dignitaries and Heads of State to see and enjoy and absorb the message contained.
There’s one detail of the painting yet to be mentioned. The sky is dark, but unthreatening; clouds above have parted to allow sunbeams to break through, bathing the scene, and of course the idealised Trump, in that all important golden light.
It’s a quick, off-the-cuff sketch / cartoon done last year in response to events here in Plymouth – just over a year ago.
If it hadn’t been for Mrs. Strong and Stable – it might not have seen the light of day again. But the Prime Minister decided to call a General Election – and the events of a year ago seem worth dusting off, as people decide how to vote.
So - it's back to May 2016 and the local elections delivered a situation where no political party was in charge of Plymouth City Council. After what seemed liked ages we had an unholy alliance as the local Tories snuggled up to UKIP and formed some sort of local coalition – known as #BLUKIP on social media, and took control of the city council.It was around this time that there was a lot of heated debate around what deals had been done – what the future would bring.
It was at this point that word started going around that local Tory politicians were getting increasingly exercised by the online criticism and that some – and most notably, local Tory poster boy Johnny Mercer MP ( Johnny for Plymouth / #PlymouthDeservesBetter ) had started blocking people on social media.
Then I discovered that Mercer had blocked one of our local political journalists. As that went live locally – more and more people decided to come out. They too had been blocked by Mercer. The numbers appeared to be rising.
I’ve been part of the Plymouth twitter community since it first got up and running, I was an early adopter. I was intrigued by this blanket gagging of the community by a community representative; especially by one who was so keen to show how much he listened to the people…
So – I went on twitter – and I asked Mercer something along the lines of
“Why do you keep blocking people? How many people have you blocked?”
Polite – but to the point. I left it and came back to my account, clicked on Johnny Mercer’s twitter profile.
As if by magic – I had been blocked. For asking a question. Simple and as straightforward as that. I also found myself blocked by a variety of other Tory councillors and Plymouth UKIP.
So the bizarre approach to dealing with the public continued – I emailed Mercer – twice, as he did not respond the first time – here’s a summary – I’ve still got the original emails.
Me : Please can you advise why I have been blocked from following your twitter account and commenting and posting on your facebook page?
Him : Are you a constituent of mine?
I inform him that Gary Streeter is my MP.
Him : I would encourage you to contact him. Parliamentary protocol means I cannot act for those who are not my Constituents.
( As an aside - in some circles that might be seen as taking no personal responsibility – but I will let others judge. Strangely I have corresponded with MPs in the past who have not been my local representative, without it being an issue )
Me : So to clarify - I need to contact Gary Streeter to find out why you have blocked me on social media?
No response…at all. But he’s an ex-military man as he often reminds people. Man of action not words. So I comply with his wishes.
I then head off to ask Gary Streeter why Johnny Mercer has taken the actions he has. The response is predictable and I immediately report back to Mercer HQ a day or so later...
Me : Dear Mr Mercer,I have contacted Mr. Streeter as you encouraged me to do. His exact response was
"Nothing to do with me"
Therefore my only recourse is to ask you the question again - why did you feel it necessary to block me ( and others ) from your social media outlets?
A year later I am still waiting for the response.
So in response I produced the cartoon to reflect the mass gagging of debate on social media that was happening in Plymouth a year ago. It's been shared and seen many thousands of times.
Then the election came – and thought it was time to resurrect it with an additional caption.
In some ways – yes it’s trivial - something about nothing.
However – when politicians (as we have seen across the Atlantic) use social media as a one sided channel – it’s just propaganda. It allows no dissent or argument. It doesn't even allow questioning.
It's certainly not social.
So – the cartoon simply addresses that, in an open and direct way. Which is more than Johnny Mercer seems capable of.
And he wants your vote...
By way of a footnote - the irony is that as a result of my email correspondence I now get his newsletter which exhorts me to follow him on social media.
It’s a simple word – and one to be found in abundance through the centre of Plymouth. In portrait format, the word “HOPE” printed on vinyl strips – black on white, is stuck on lamp-posts, underpass walls, bins and telecoms junction boxes.
The stickers immediately recall for me, the famous sticker art, poster and meme produced by Shepard Fairey for Obama’s 2008 election campaign. The design started off as ‘Progress’ when Fairey decided to put his weight behind the campaign as both private individual and artist. It proved so popular that he adapted it for the official campaign. ‘Hope’ became a thing. One million stickers and 500,000 posters were produced, endless copies made and shared online.
I digress about Obama – because in the days of steam powered internet (1998 to be precise) – I first became aware online of Fairey and his guerrilla stickers and poster art utilising an image of Andre the Giant, and the accompanying ‘Obey’ message. I fell in love with sticker art both as background visual imagery in an urban setting and as little acts of rebellion. It appeals to the ageing punk in me; annoys the hell out of local authorities.
In Plymouth sticker art is not really a big thing. It has small eruptions from time to time – but they don’t last long – that’s the nature of it. Sometimes you really have to search. Inspired by HOPE, I went to see what’s currently on offer.
It’s an eclectic range – from straight advertising, through graffiti style tags, political and personal messaging and on to highly individual little artworks.
Where will I find Lucianino’s Barbershop? Promoting themselves with barely concealed machismo - bearded man flanked by two open cut-throat razors; they have ‘a crew’. Another group who seen quite prolific on the lamp-posts of Plymouth are the ones who proudly proclaim “We fuck goats” – with a silhouette / rock-carving graphic showing the act. (Thanks for sharing)
At the top end of Union Street – clubland of old and once the scene of off-duty military antics the Royal Dutch Navy are competing for space with British submariners. The submariners win. A skull and crossbones with headphones announces – “You’ve been pillaged by The Scallywags”. The Dutch Navy are just very understated and laid back. As you would expect.
The repeated names, DJ stickers and casual drug references are an expected nod to club culture and – if you are looking, as I was – they become a repeated mantra…found poems.
Bomberman – Black Sheep - Nomad Life
Beat Bandit - Mr Skillmatic
Haacht – Jesper - Boo
At the end of my admittedly short quest I come upon my personal highlight. A screaming face in black and white, photocopied, cut out and stuck on a junction box. No words – just an image (with a graffiti tag afterthought) . Redolent of Berlin Dada – it brings my search to a nice conclusion.
‘Hope’ started a small journey from Obama through to the ‘here and now’ of Trumpworld, a frozen forlorn scream of despair- in inkjet and wheat-paste.
This is my very first blog, on this - my developing website. (I know there are gaps and I look on it as a work in progress - it will be there or thereabouts soon ) I've blogged before - on my original My Dog Ate Art blog, on other people's sites and the late lamented posterous.
I drew up a long list of topics - more along later - they will all be art related - however tenuously.
I struggled to decide what to put up here first. As luck would have it - a birthday reminder on facebook got me talking to someone. That someone is a Swedish artist based in Norway called David Sandum.
I go back (online) a long way with David. He was one of my first twitter followers and a supporter of my early artworks, which I was then posting on my old blogger site. It was David who encouraged me to take part in the global twitter art exhbition - which he started and has grown over the years into a small global phenomenon.
I remember the time that I first went on twitter. It was at a time when after effectively 8 years of call centre work, my brain had had enough. Being used as a verbal punchbag by angry clients left me anxious,stressed and suffering with mild depression.
I got to grips with twitter in the wee small hours - when not able to sleep through the night. I was going online and chatting with people - predominantly artists - all over the world. It was a help, and took my mind off the other stuff - especially the dread of possibly returning to the world of being abused down the phone.
Fast forward several years - and I now see that David has published a book. "I'll Run Till The Sun Goes Down" - about his own depression and how art saved him.
I am not going to claim that his experience mirrors mine. It doesn't. His was clearly far far worse. Everyone's experience of depression is different.
The introduction for his book explains far better than I can :
David Sandum appeared to have it all: a beautiful young family and a promising career ahead as a business consultant. But his life started veering off course, and upon returning to his native Scandinavia, he fell into an inexplicable, deep depression.
"I'll Run Till the Sun Goes Down" is a searingly honest account of David's struggle to overcome his crippling mental illness. After years of hopeless despair, bleak hospitalizations, and shattered dreams, he is finally saved by his art. The paintbrush becomes his lifeline.
Filled with the work of the artists who have inspired him as well as samples of his own drawings and paintings, this memoir offers both a compelling read and a visual story of David's courageous battle with depression.
I can't say art and creating work was my salvation - but it helped a great deal. My GP approved.
More than anything it made me think there was something else I could be doing with my life. It was with the help of David (and people like him) , who told me that my work was actually, really quite good - that my self-belief grew.
If you are self-taught that is a big deal.
So I have no hesitaion - in thanking David for that support and by way of thanks recommending that you go and check out his book on Amazon.