Friday, 23 May 2014

The Corn Poppy

I became a Grandfather today, for the shortest time. 

At 6.21 this morning my daughter gave birth to a baby girl, four months prematurely.

My daughter and her husband are two of the brightest, smartest, coolest, funniest, kindest, most creative, caring people I know.  (That's them on the album cover below). 

They have always been lucky and deservedly so. 

They always fall feet first in the butter, as Slovakian grandmamas might say. 

Today, sadly, that was not the case.

This year I have spent more time visiting loved ones in hospitals than is good for the health. 

At the same time, on a more or less daily basis the newspapers have stories about the failing National Health Service. 

A massive organisation like the NHS will have its faults, its flaws, and for some individuals the results of this may be catastrophic or heartbreaking. 

But, having spent time in the last couple of months in a variety of wards from Intensive Care, Acute Surgical, geriatric, labour and maternity I want to say this: I could not have been more impressed with the level of care, the conviction and compassion of staff, the professionalism and skill exercised, the resources available and made available without regard to status or ability to pay.  Britain is privileged to have the NHS, preserve and protect it. Bless the NHS.


TheCornPoppy is going to take a little break now.  
Thanks everyone who came along for the ride. 
Thanks to Flora Borsi for the initial inspiration and thanks to all the artists who have graced the pages from Leonardo to Cr2em. 
Back in a while.


Sunday, 18 May 2014

Chapter Four - Going home

Chapter Four

"Goodbye" said Giraffe, the Giraffe. "I've found my pack. I'm going home."

"I'm going to miss you" said Charley Dog.  "I've always looked up to you Giraffe, the Giraffe"

"That's because I'm a giraffe and we giraffes are sooooooooooo tall.  We have such long necks.  Everyone looks up to us" said Giraffe, the Giraffe.

"Yes, right," said Charley Dog unconvincingly, "but I am going to miss you."

Chapter Three - Conceptual Artist or Trapeze Artist

Chapter Three

While waiting at a bus stop Giraffe had read an abandoned blog article about Conceptual Art and thought about being a Conceptual Artist.

It must be easier than being a Trapeze Artist, thought the failed circus performer.

Giraffe did some research.  He read about Bill Drummond.

Interesting, thought Giraffe. I could do that.

Giraffe looked at his handiwork. 

Hmmm, he thought.  Perhaps everything worth saying has already been said.  Art is dead.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Chapter Two - I see everything in black and white . . . and blue and green and red and yellow and purple and orange and . . .

Chapter Two


The story so far . . . Feeling full of existential angst, thinking there must be more to life than this, Giraffe had run away to join the Circus. That hadn't gone too well. 

The Ringmaster had asked him what circus skills he had.

Can you juggle?
Can you walk the tightrope?
Do you look good in a glittery costume?
Er, no.
Can you tame lions?
I don't think that would work.
Can you drive a Clown Car?
Can you ride a horse bareback?
Can you ride an elephant?

So Giraffe hadn't joined the Circus.  Instead he hung around with some other Circus rejects, Zebra One and Zebra Two, Moko Jembie the Crow, a Vulture named Moz and some dinosaurs.

"What a world of misery this surely is," said Zebra One, several times a day.

"Oh, I know," replied Zebra Two.

"All my life I've been bent out of shape," complained Moko Jembie, the Crow, at regular intervals.

"I could make a meal of that wonderful despair I feel," said a Vulture named Moz.

"Are they right, Baby Dinosaur?" asked Giraffe.  "Is life really rubbish?"

"No" replied Baby Dinosaur.  "You get to choose.  You can choose to complain all the time or you can enjoy every sandwich."

"Hey, Moko Jembie! Hey, Moz!" shouted Giraffe. "Does being unhappy make you happy?"
"Uh," said Moko Jembie, "I guess."
"Hmmmm," said Giraffe.  "I choose, I choose . . . life, sunrise to start the day, sunset to end it, sunshine to warm the days, clouds and breeze and rain to cool them, forests and fields, wild and wide open spaces to run in, trees to shelter under, leaves to eat, sandwiches to enjoy, streams to drink from, rivers to stand tall by, mountains to look up to, grass to look down on, airplanes to be amazed by, silence to treasure, bird song to listen to, my own song to sing, spring and summer, autumn and winter, day and night, dawn and twilight. It's a gift."
"You're crazy" roared one of the other dinosaurs.  "Get out of here."
"I choose . . . to go" said Giraffe and packed his bag and left.  Giraffe was on the road again.

to be continued

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Chapter One - A short story, a tall tale and a lot of neck

Chapter One

"I'm down" said Giraffe,

"I don't know what I want from life."

"What if this really is all there is?" he asked.

"Any ideas, guys?" he asked his friends.

"I want excitement and I need it bad."

"Blow this! I'm gonna run away and join the circus!"

 "Sssh, I'll hitch a ride here."
to be continued . . .

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Between the sunset and the sea

Between the sunset and the sea
My love laid hands and lips on me;
Of sweet came sour, of day came night,
Of long desire came brief delight:
Ah love, and what thing came of thee
Between the sea-downs and the sea?

Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.
Rabindranath Tagore

There's a sunrise and a sunset every single day, and they're absolutely free. Don't miss so many of them
Jo Walton

Canute, the world's largest floating crane
named after King Cnut, who reproved his courtiers, near this very spot
When King Cnut had reigned for twenty years, he died at Shaftesbury and was buried in the ancient monastery at Winchester. About the power of this king a little should be stated. For no English king ever had such wide-ranging authority. For he was at once the lord of all Denmark, of all England, of all Norway, and also of Scotland.
Indeed, apart from a number of wars in which he shone greatly, he conducted himself gracefully and magnificently in three matters:
The first is, that he married his daughter to the Roman Emperor with unutterable splendor.
The second, that going to Rome he arranged a reduction by a half in toll dues along the road that leads though Gaul to Rome. The third, that with the greatest vigor he commanded that his chair should be set on the shore, when the tide began to rise. And then he spoke to the rising sea saying “You are part of my dominion, and the ground that I am seated upon is mine, nor has anyone disobeyed my orders with impunity. Therefore, I order you not to rise onto my land, nor to wet the clothes or body of your Lord”. But the sea carried on rising as usual without any reverence for his person, and soaked his feet and legs. Then he moving away said: “All the inhabitants of the world should know that the power of kings is vain and trivial, and that none is worthy the name of king but He whose command the heaven, earth and sea obey by eternal laws”. Therefore King Cnut never afterwards placed the crown on his head, but above a picture of the Lord nailed to the cross, turning it forever into a means to praise God, the great king. By whose mercy may the soul of King Cnut enjoy peace.
Henry of Huntingdon, Chronicle, 1129

If I could lick the sunset, I’ll bet it would taste like Neapolitan ice cream
Jarod Kintz
Sunrise paints the sky with pinks and the sunset with peaches. Cool to warm. So is the progression from childhood to old age
Vera Nazarian

Thursday, 8 May 2014

light blue touch paper

After this post I promise I won't mention this again.  Last week I had a day out in Birmingham.  I went to an exhibtion of Bill Drummond's work.  I wrote about it here and here.  The second piece was a reaction to the reaction that the first piece generated.  Part of the story was that Bill Drummond went out and tagged a Ukip poster. 

A photo that I took (actually a cropped section of the one above) and shared on Twitter was reshared and reshared, hundreds of times, mainly unattributed.  Including by the gallery.  Yesterday Bill Drummond wrote about his guerilla art attack in his weekly column in the Birmingham Post.  Today that was picked up by the Guardian and then by everyone else.  I saw my picture on an extreme right wing news feed.

Part of the point I tried to make in one or other of those pieces is that for Drummond a specific art item does not stand alone.  It is a process, starting with an Idea, followed by a Notice and one of the 25 Paintings, the Work itself and finishes later with a Conversation.  The Conversation may take the form of a lecture, a chat, a book, a video statement.  It may not be over then.  Perhaps all evidence of it needs to be collected together, burnt on a North facing hilllside and buried deep in the heart of nowhere.  Perhaps only then is the art complete.


The conversation started as soon as the three guys on the left in the picture above saw what was going on.  One took pictures on his phone and the story was out there before the paint was even dry.  It has taken a week for the media to get hold of the story and it took Drummond himself to write about it for that to happen.
Drummond has written about why he carried out his act of vandalism/art.  It is, of course, a well thought out, measured piece. In five hours on the Guardian site it generated over 1000 comments.  This is what Drummond wanted.  He wanted people to notice.
I've had a look at some of the comments on some of the sites and I don't think Bill has carried the day.  People seem to think blanking out their message is stifling free speech or giving them the oxygen of publicity or just imposing his own middle class world view.  Here's what he wrote.  Obviously this is Kopyright Birmingham Post and Bill Drummond.
Why I covered a Ukip billboard poster with my international grey paint
By the time you are reading this I may have been arrested. Maybe you have already read something about the arrest in the news.

As of now I am sitting safely on the Chiltern Line train heading from London Marlylebone to Moor Street Station.

More than 10 years ago I made up a brand of paint. It was called Drummond's International Grey. I had 1,000, one litre tins of it made. I was not planning on going into business to compete with Dulux or Crown.

bill drummond
Bill before he modified the UKIP poster

These tins of grey emulsion existed for one purpose only. I was selling them for you to use to paint over anything you found to be morally or aesthetically offensive.

Basically I was in the business of promoting vandalism.

When putting my schedule together for my three months in Birmingham, I planned that I would paint over a big billboard in the city.

I had in mind a billboard advertising one of the big chain of bookies or one for the modern crop of lone shark companies. My prejudices are that these companies prey upon the weaknesses of the weakest in society.

But when I started to work in Birmingham, I was almost disappointed to find there were no current billboard campaigns for these companies, thus nothing to truly offend me.

The lids stayed firmly on my last few tins of Drummond's International Grey.

That was until last week. As I strolled along Heath Mill Lane towards Eastside Projects, I was confronted with a billboard that offended me in so many ways.

As the train pulled into Moor Street, I was girding my loins for the job that had to be done.

On my return journey the job had been done and as yet I have not been arrested.

Over these past weeks working across Birmingham I have often been asked if what I do is political art. My usual answer is 'I do not know if it is art let alone political art.'

bill drummond
Bill Drummond and his modified Ukip poster in Birmingham

And when people ask me about my own political leanings, I will usually sidestep the issue by quoting my good friend Zodiac Mindwarp: "I have a right wing, I have a left wing, I am an angel."

On the right I am for the independent shopkeeper, or the young startup with ambition and on the left I am for the teacher up against the looming Ofsted report or nurse struggling to do their best within the limits of the NHS.

But mostly I'm for politics that are about ideas.

Ideas that are fluid and evolving. What I'm against is politics based on tribalism, be that class, religion or nationalism. And I'm obviously against politics based on dynasty or personalities.

I'm Scottish. I will always want Scotland to beat England at any sport from tiddlywinks on up.
But when it comes to Scottish nationalism in a political sense, I have problems.

I have no idea if Scotland would be better off independent or not. But what I do know is that I want fewer borders in the world not more.

And I don't want politics that exploit or pander to my more romantic notions of Scotland. I don't want politics based on a notion of what we think our country once was and may be again.

Following the same thinking, I have no idea if UK plc would be financially better off in or out of Europe.

But what I most certainly know was yesterday morning I walked past that billboard in Heath Mill Lane that was very cynically trying to pander to us at our most vulnerable and negative and not to our better selves.

I may be in danger of over stating it, but this would have been exactly the same appeal the National Socialist German Workers' Party would have had in Germany in the years after the First World War when the German people were feeling at their most beaten and vulnerable.

This billboard not only offended me morally and aesthetically it also went against everything that I feel political discourse should be about.

Thus there was nothing for it, after my train pulled into Moor Street, I picked up my last remaining tins of Drummond's International Grey and got to work.

And just to avoid confusion the word GREY is also my current graffiti tag.

That was only a couple of hours ago, but already the doubts are rushing in.

Photos of my handiwork are out there in Facebook and Twitter-land, being shared, retweeted, liked and favoured.

Is all I've done pull the pose of the rebel? A mere publicity stunt? Was it done just to appeal to those that would already agree with the sentiments?

By doing this have I added to the political discourse in the country in any sort of positive way? Or does it just entrench opinions? So much of what I perceive to be political art only entrenches opinions.

Or should I be doing the same to every billboard expressing the same sentiments across the West Midlands?

If you have any thoughts on the above maybe you should join me for the knit and natter session between 2pm and 4pm on Saturday at Eastside Projects. I could show you the billboard while we are at it.

This post first appeared here on the Birmingham Post. Bill is writing a weekly column for the Birmingham Post as part of his three-month residency at Eastside Projects, Digbeth.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Faces & Names #Two

 It ain't what they call you, it's what you answer to. 
WC Fields

'No,' said the cat. 'Now you people have names. That's because you don't know who you are. We know who we are, so we don't need names.'
Neil Gaiman
we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society
Alan Watts
Names have power
 Rick Riordan

All graffiti from around the Custard Factory, Birmingham

Faces and Names #One

I always fall in love with someone who looks
The way I wish that I could be
I'm always staring at someone who hurts
And the one they hurt is me

Faces and names, I wish they'd go away
I'd disappear into that wall and never talk
Talk, not talk

Faces and names only cause trouble for me 
Faces and names, I wish they were the same
If we all looked the same and we all had the same name
I wouldn't be jealous of you or you jealous of me
Id rather be a hole in the wall
Looking out on the other side
Id rather look and listen, listen and not talk
To faces and names

If you dress older when you're not
As your really age you look the same
If we all looked the same, we wouldn't play these games
Me dressing for you and you dressing for me
all graffiti from the area around the Custard Factory, Birmngham
words from Songs for Drella by Lou Reed and John Cale