Saturday, 29 August 2015

Tinsel & Twinkle at the Art Car Boot Fair Margate

Feeling fed up with the election result earlier this year, Twinkle and I decided to create our own surreal brand of British politics. We became the Clowns of Jestminster for the Art Car Boot Fair on Brick Lane, London in June.

We set up a stall hosting an array of typical village fete games which we felt were more appropriate given the current political climate.  Hook a Duck became 'Hook a Politician', there was knock down the PolitiCANS, and 'Feed Farage Foreign Food'.

Win a prize every time!

There's also a tombola with loads of prizes, paintings and prints by Tinsel & Twinkle, and grab yourself a bargain artwork from the bargain bucket too.

We will be Clowns of Jestminster again on Sunday August 30th at the Art Car Boot Fair Margate, please pop by to our stall!

Watch the preview for the Art Car Boot Margate bank holiday edition here

The Art Car Boot Fair
Tuner Contemporary Carpark

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Housing crisis protest signs

I started making artwork about the housing crisis in London in 2012.  Since then people have often shared their stories with me, recounting how their lives have been affected by the phenomenal and rapid increase of the cost of rent in the capital.  People are struggling to make ends meet, many are being priced out, whole communities are being marginalised and edged out of London.

For a long time I wasn't sure what to do with the stories, I just collected them.  But eventually I decided that I needed to start incorporating them into the work itself, as a way of documenting and communicating the housing issues that so many people are currently facing.  

For a long time I had been thinking about estate agent signs and how they sprout up like weeds in London.  Because the housing market is strong at the moment, flats and houses sell quickly and can be rented out within a few hours.  However there are signs advertising properties 'For Sale' and 'To Let' littering and intruding every street, their familiar colours and branding becoming a part of our surroundings.  These signs stay outside for months on end even though the houses and flats were let or sold within a few days. 

Each 'For Sale' sign symbolises money and a financial transaction, but each one also tells a human story.  The family who could no longer afford the rent when the landlord increased it by another £600 per month, so were forced to move away and take their kids away from the school where they were settled. The person whose entire monthly income goes into their landlords pocket, yet that landlord won't make any repairs.

So I started making my own versions of the signs, replacing the text with the stories and real experiences that people had shared with me.  They are a bit like protest signs I suppose, and I want them to tell the truth.

Each sign is a unique painting over a 2-3 colour screen print, which was printed directly onto existing found estate agent signs.  I've made 25 of these signs so far and I want to make more, so if you have a story to share please let me know.

This body of work was created for Banksy's Bemusement Park: Dismaland in Weston-Super-Mare.

A selection of these signs will also be on show at The Poor Door, a collective exhibition about the housing crisis, opening at A-side B-side Gallery on 1st October. 


I did the screen printing at Atom Gallery on Stroud Green Road, with guidance and expertise from master screen printer Mark Perronet (thank you Mark!)

The photographs are by the very talented Lady Ray, you can see more of her work here:

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Book Launch - 'I don't like art' by Graham Crowley

Yesterday it was the book launch for 'I don't like art', a collection of essays and interviews by Graham Crowley.  The book features an essay about mine and Twinkle Troughton's collaborative work.

Graham Crowley is a British painter, and previously Professor of Painting at The Royal College of Art. A John Moores prize winner, he is described as: “a painter of restless intelligence and tremendous energy” (Andrew Lambirth 2002).

Twinkle Troughton and I met Graham through Zeitgeist ArtProjects, a brilliant organisation that offers an invaluable support network for artists.  Separately we went for tutorials with Graham organised by ZAP.  Deciding to go for that first tutorial was for me personally, one of the best decisions I have made in a long time!  Inspiring, challenging and insightful, prior to the tutorial I hadn’t received constructive, critical feedback like that about my painting for years.

Following this Graham Crowley has been incredibly supportive to both Twinkle and I, about our work as a collaborative duo, and our work as individual artists.  He has a generosity of spirit and a fascinating mind filled to the brim with references, facts and suggestions.

It was an honour when he agreed to write an essay to accompany our duo exhibition ‘Affluence and Avarice’ in Vienna in 2013.  Following this, the essay he wrote was selected for the book: ‘I don’t like art’. The book is available in hardback and paperback via Graham's website here.

The essay:

Image by Phil Whitby

 When Mama met Dada.              

'We will teach our twisted speech to the young believers'. The Clash 1977.

Once upon a time; long, long ago in a Britain that time wishes it had forgotten, a significant majority of artists behaved in a manner that was informed by socialist and humanist values. But as the remnants of the YBA's and Thatcher's children, the 'me' generation, turn into cynical, self-absorbed middle aged ATMs and cash cows, it's refreshing to find work that is politically and emotionally engaged. No politics please; we're British.
The 'toxic' trinity of capital, celebrity and the media is now well established as the dominant culture. Young Farmers and YBAs united in Tory values.

'I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's; I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.' William Blake.

Tinsel and Twinkle are instinctive socialists. They believe in equality and collective action. Previously, much politically motivated work would have claimed it's authority by occupying the high moral ground whilst becoming - as one commentator put it - 'poor art for poor people'. It became didactic and rhetorical. A constipated mix of convention and dogma. This was also the hey-day of victim culture.
During the intervening forty years a lot has changed. Tinsel and Twinkle are aware of this rich and complex legacy and behave accordingly. Their work is affirmative and often political. Never didactic. They enjoy what they're doing. But more importantly; they believe in what they're doing - whether they're painting or making music. They strive for some sense of authenticity in an inauthentic world.
They choose to paint because it still offers them the opportunity to discourse and to 'play'. Play is an often belittled and misunderstood term that lends life value and meaning. Play makes life bearable. Play 1 - Work 0.
They're work is influenced by the spirit of Dada and the attitude of fin-de-circle composers like Erik Satie. It was Satie who sold whistles in the foyer during performances of his operas so that the audience could express their disapproval. At it's core, the work of Tinsel and Twinkle reflects the values espoused by the Guerrilla Girls of 1980's New York and the Riot Grrrl movement of the1990's.

'My karma ran over my dogma.' Anon. San Francisco 1960's.

The assertion that addressing issues surrounding identity, racism, misogyny and poverty would make work somehow relevant no longer holds water. It's seen as posturing. Particularly problematic in this context is the work of Anselm Kiefer which has come to be regarded as monumental political kitsch. Utter bombast. Tinsel and Twinkle's work addresses both performance and painting with equal and parallel conviction. This is pursued with a healthy sense of the absurd. Hogarth would've approved. The fact that the 'hard-of-thinking' regard painting that is humorous as slight is a reflection of convention and prejudice. Tinsel and Twinkle's work illuminates the fragility of understanding. They're work spins a fine but sceptical thread. Scepticism is often wilfully misrepresented as cynicism. This is done in order to neutralise any doubt. It's 'No scepticism please; we're British'. Any expression of dissent is immediately labeled 'negative'. Caring is fast becoming a liability. Conversely, in this rather apolitical climate cynicism is seen as sophisticated. We should remind ourselves that sophistication is a form of decadence. Sophistication has become a euphemism for world weariness and a form of self defence. It's too easy and down right lazy.

'The Shaggs, they're better than the Beatles - even today.' Frank Zappa.

Let's play. Anyone who still regards play as something facile, childish and dissipated should think again. How often have you dreamt of going  to shows with titles like 'We Kidnapped A Banker'?  It beats the mind numbing - Recent Paintings - hands down. What next? 'We Kidnapped A Banker And Posted His Body Parts Back To His Wife'? I'm fairly confident that I'm not alone when I say that I'd love to see that show.
 It's also worth mentioning that their approach is informed by their long-term friendship. In fact friendship and inter-dependance are central to their work. They've been 'playing' together since they were 9 years old. Playing in this context carries multiple meanings.
Within their cosmology Tinsel and Twinkle 'run' a bank. But the only currency that The Bank of Tinsel & Twinkle really trade in is hope, wrapped in gentle satire. Faith in a better future. Confidence that only they can make their lives richer and the world a slightly better place. Start small and think big. After all - this is it.

Image by Uslan Cevet

'If I had to lay bets, my bet would be that everything is going to hell, but, you know, what else have we got except hope?' Richard Rorty in interview 2003.

'Just go out and do it'. That was the rallying cry of the 70's punk movement. It's this sense of self reliance that's at the centre of their work. Don't take no for an answer and don't ask permission. Tinsel and Twinkle offer a different state of mind. There best work offers hope. Not only do they collaborate as visual and performing artists; in 2012 Tinsel and another friend, Catherine Magnani founded 'A Side B Side Gallery'. Tinsel and Twinkle have shown there. It's the kind of gallery that offers emergent artists an opportunity to exhibit their work in London. Tinsel and Twinkle offer us social awareness instead of social autism.

'There's no such thing as society.' Margaret Thatcher 1984.

Music has always been an important part of their partnership. In fact, to described their collaboration as a partnership is selling it short. What they have is a is a longstanding friendship. They seem to know how to share. In 2000 Tinsel and Twinkle along with Sparkle and Lindsay Lights started Pushing Pussy Records. The name of the venture is self-explanatory; it's a record label that specialises in promoting music by women. They take their inspiration from acts like Hole, Courtney Love, The Slits, The Raincoats and to a lesser degree The Shaggs. There's a theme emerging - the double entendre. An established ingredient of british institutions like the Carry On films and Whitehall farces. 
When it comes to performing; The Fairies Band can really cut it. The group which includes Sparkle and Tinky, at it's height became an eight piece outfit that played with the urgency of punk but with the musicality and power chords, reminiscent of bands like Guns 'N' Roses and The Strokes. Their song Random Boys should've been adopted as a post-punk, feminist anthem. It's punk, but served in a mouth-watering Gillray inspired sauce, topped off with a twist of Austen. It's all beginning to sound rather English. The Fairy Band plays tunes like the memorable Pink Socks Rock ('Fuck My Hole'), a haunting little ballad about the lives of everyday screwing folk and their unbridled lust. 

'Just go out and do it.' Anon 1976.

Since the early 1990's the market has set the agenda for the public museums and galleries. Any discourse that doesn't involve celebrity is marginalised. It's probably worth mentioning at this point the toxic effect that all that dirty money, celebrity and the media have had upon the market. This has lead to a return to the shiny, a-political wall furniture, which has always been popular with the nouveau riche. Liking things is rapidly becoming a lazy  way of expressing ones prejudices and sensibility. A blatant reflection of a consumerist mentality. The constant and nagging desire to buy stuff - to shop. The media and the internet are constantly cajoling us to 'like this'. The only intelligent response to the ubiquitous internet thumbs up logo is a middle digit. As droves of middle-brow academics 'theorise desire and consumption' - the market thrives. These texts are both esoteric and politically benign. They acquire an almost symbolic status and - unsurprisingly - go largely unread and ignored. They're tokens. The critic George Steiner has described such texts as 'academic kabbalah'.

'Oh bondage - up yours'. Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex 1977.

Tinsel and Twinkle are the kind of people that take the past and the present  personally. They're involved and  care. Their work may appear immediate, but it's always studied; they respect the craft of painting and aspire to become 'better' painters. They strive to understand themselves and their practice. Their work combines a sense of injustice and anger with good humour and common decency. They've embraced empathy.

'The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.' William Blake

The idea that they could grant wishes is as absurd as it is brilliant. A blatant suspension of the rational. An invitation to The Land of Far, Far Away for lunch with Shrek. The fact that they claim 'to make your wishes come true' is as generous as it is barmy. But isn't that what we all want to hear? All this when society is becoming increasingly fragmented and our democracies all over Europe are starting to crack. Fairies 1 - Politicians 0. Fairy culture or fairy-lore as it's described in 'The Burning of Bridget Cleary' by Angela Bourke. A fascinating and remarkable book about misogyny and female emancipation in rural Ireland in the early 20th century. The author describes fairy-lore as a guide to good husbandry which is backed up with the threat of a grave punishment meted out by the fairies. Supernatural coercion.

'The fairies break their dances
 And leave the printed lawn.'  A E Housman 1922. 

Imagine, you're on your way to work. It's an overcast, cash strapped Monday morning in London's New Cross. The rush hour traffic hurtles pas inches away and 'The Fairies' are out and about granting wishes to unsuspecting passers-by. The Fairies are dressed in denim hot pants. They're toting magic wands and wearing faux-gossamer fairy wings. It sounds likes rather like the synopsis for a new sit com on Dave.
In the early 20th century things were different. Fairies were everywhere. As a child I was told that fairies lived 'at the bottom of the garden'. One garden in rural Cottingley is particularly relevant in this context. It was here that two teenage girls, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths took their now famous faked photographs of fairies. The paintings of the victorian Richard Dadd are now synonymous with fairies. The authenticity of Tinsel and Twinkle's fairies isn't in doubt. They exist and they've been seen playing in the traffic on the A20.

'Culture is an observance. Or at least it presupposes an observance.' Ludwig Wittgenstein 1949.

Tinsel and Twinkle don't shrink from moral issues. They know where they stand and if you hang around long enough - they'll let you know too. They're aware that the kind of work favoured by the market celebrates the gulf between rich and poor, the indifference of male dominated politics and the criminality of banks and multinationals. It's not all politics though; their recent paintings demonstrate an increasingly ambitious grasp of their practice and a restlessness that is symptomatic of their need to create.
They steer a very fine course between the vernacular idiom and a subtle sense of self mockery. Generosity and decency prevail. Hogarth would have approved. There's a genuine tenderness and a sense of celebration rather than the narcissism and sense of entitlement that has pervaded so much work recently. On four; one…two…three…

'Oh, girls, they wanna have fu-un.'  Cindi Lauper - 1985.

A brief bibliography;

Blake by Peter Ackroyd.
Music in The Key of Z by Irwin Chusid.
The Burning of Bridget Cleary by Angela Bourke.
Culture & Value by Ludwig Wittgenstein.
The Banquet Years by Roger Shattuck.



Sunday, 2 August 2015

Collaboration with Harry Pye

I have been a fan of Harry Pye's work for a long time, his paintings are colourful, witty and full of warmth. So I was delighted when he invited me to collaborate with him to create a painting for his forthcoming exhibition 'Life of Pye'.

I've known Harry since 2007 (I think!), when I asked him to be in the Punk exhibition I curated with James Bradshaw.  We have collaborated on a couple of things previously, this time he asked me to paint him as a Merman.  He gave me three canvases which he had already painted, he asked if I could paint more detail into some areas like the sea and the mermaid tail.  

'Life of Pye' is a lovely project which involves 42 collaborations with different artists and musicians, Harry says:
"It’s been 21 years since I graduated from Winchester School of Art aged 21. I'm celebrating my 42nd birthday by having an exhibition that features 42 collaborations. I've also been working on a publication with the designer Keith Sargent that will feature images from the show plus forty-two 42 word quotes about the number 42"

There is lots more information about the exhibition on the Facebook event page, you can also read about each collaboration for Life of Pye in more detail here: 

Opening night: Wednesday 5th August 6-9pm

Angus-Hughes Gallery
26 Lower Clapton Road