Saturday, 8 July 2017

Glitch art , the politics of software,hardware and the death of the gallery system

 As skin said ' Yes its fucking political , everything's political'.

I've just spent a week rebuilding a lot of my old laptops , it suddenly struck me that I needed to keep the systems on which I had made a lot of my earlier work functioning and intact , which meant a lot of trawling around in the loft in the hardware pile , and for one particular laptop a complete strip down and clean out after loft cat had, pre-spaying peed all over the motherboard that I had left exposed after retrieving a CPU to test another  laptop given to me by my brother in law . I also rebuilt possibly the most troublesome laptop I had ever owned - a Fujitsu Siemens v5535 . I think I've spent more time stripping and rebuilding that machine more than any other . I return to it every so often and try and run Linux on it , again to be failed by the graphics card ( a sis m671 ) for which there are no working 3d drivers - you can get a flat 2d interface but that's about it , so inevitably it ends up being reinstalled with its original os , windows xp ( well it was vista originally but xp worked better as when I bought it in a fit of hopefulness and ignorance it was under-powered and just nasty - though like a lot of Fujitsu stuff , bomb proof ) .

I was first attracted to Linux and open source software in 2003 , I read something about Beowulf clusters , supercomputers put together from cheap or redundant hardware - and one day wondering around a library in Wales came across a book 'Linux for dummies ' which not only had the cds to install redhat 7.3 inside , it also said I could copy the discs and use them on as many pcs as I wanted ( I'd just paid £80 for a copy of windows 98se to install on a second hand computer I'd bought after having buggered up the windows 95 installation ) , it was an eye opener - and over the next few years tryed to wean myself away from windows and proprietary software altogether - even when using windows the software that I was installing like The Gimp, Open-office, Vlc, and Bittorrent was open source . I didn't have the money to buy things like photoshop or pay for dvd playing/burning software  other than that which was bundled with laptops I had bought .  There was always some reason I kept coming back to Windows , especially when I was working on the film Colourkeeper , I needed a good solid video editor and I just couldn't find one for linux ( I was dual booting windows and Linux on desktops ) - in the end I found a cracked version of sony vegas which enabled me to finish the video ( Sony Vegas going for something like 300 euros at the time ) . Happily this changed and now we have Openshot , Cinelerra and Flowblade to choose from . And still I couldn't get Linux to work properly on that pig of a laptop - So the next laptop I bought in 2008, an overpriced Acer Aspire 2920z,  I made damned sure that It could  run what I wanted to run , at the time, Linux-mint bought with a copy of Linux format magazine - this was before I had a full time internet connection - so It had all the software I wanted and would play DVDs , mp3s and ran really sweetly with proper screen resolution and hardware acceleration - and from there I didn't look back.

Which brings me to my first point - the hardware and software you use , just like the materials you use in traditional forms of art , help to determine and direct the kind of work you make, thus software and hardware are inherently political, If , say , a gallery or a publisher  asks for a photograph ,music, a video or a piece of written work in a particular format and that particular format is only available through using a piece of software which will only run on one type of computer this naturally shuts out those who do not have access to that computer and that piece of software. Which also predetermines to an extent the socio-economic status of those who can and will take part .   Sometimes software will also place restrictions on what can and cannot be played by inserting itself into the playback process - I have applied to open calls in the past where thinking ahead I created a DVD which would play itself on any windows computer which didn't have video playback software of the kind needed to play my content , upon insertion into the gallery's computer the computer declared that the content couldn't be played as a particular piece of software which was set as the default to play content declared it needed updating - if the software hadn't been set as default the computer would have played the disc .  

This is why I use Linux , and this is why I use open source software , I don't want restrictions placed on what I can and cant do on my own hardware - I don't want a computer made out of components which are deliberately crippled to only use certain operating systems or software . I also don't want software which directs my use of it or which leads me to easy results which look like everybody elses work - to use the computer as a tool for making art the final results must be open ended and not guided by templates or presets . We must meet the computer and software as tools which can be adjusted and modified ( by us , the users )as our needs change , just as I can mix paint with water , oil or any other damn ingredient I choose , wise or foolish, and paint on to any surface I choose , be it canvas , door , skin , metal or dirt .

Which leads me to glitch art , as circumstance breeds response so computer and the internet bred glitch . In an increasingly computerized and data-centric society it would seem inevitable that the fetishization of error as a response to technology and its colonization of both our public and private lives is the new art. If  hardware and software try to direct us into paths of doing and thinking ( hardware and software also being a product of economic and political thinking ) what else would we do but applaud when that which determines so much of our lives breaks down leaving the visual traces of a failed photograph, a digital advertising hoarding that no longer tries to program us with a corporate message but instead melts and screams in dying colour and fading electronics - if computers and software create a false ideal of perfection ( photo-shop perfect model advertising , film digital-post production , the illusion of flawless surfaces, pro tool vocals from tone deaf singers, the power to edit in real time the perceived reality we are asked to accept through the ever present screen  ). 

In glitch art we try to force the hand of chance by choosing to break files and machines in a way which brings results akin to the frozen moment   when a graphics card fails or a cd sticks , to forge a different view , a glimpse outside of the simulation of appearances . In some of the groups I belong too ( loose affiliations within electronic meeting places , themselves guarded by the politics of the machine) we argue about acceptable software and methods - slapping a filter on something is not regarded highly , the easy photoshop glitch setting or preset also denigrated - the tools you use say something about the kind of work you make , Photoshop assumptions or after-effects prettification are seen as amateur or worse not serious or the derisive tag of 'wheres the glitch fam' -  we look for the authenticity of effort and the struggle to find and innovate , though file formats may produce similar results , the flexibility of method equates to the difference of individuals drawing hand - no two are alike . We are also archeologists , seeking out old hardware and software which adds different texture or pre-internet exotica to our arsenal . 

I abandoned painting sometime in 2015 ( a flexible year zero ) when it finally dawned on me that the gallery system was dead, more and more open calls coming with submission fees , competitions you could enter at a price, dishonest magazines saying how much they loved my work and pay such and such a fee for so many pages in one issue . As the unemployed have become profitable to workfare companies taking contracts from government to massage statistics and feed into the zero hours economy so the gallery system has ceased to invest in all but the easiest fruit and become a pay to play model ,which favors rich Sunday painters and the children of the wealthy ) any other money left in the system from arts councils or government hoovered up by special interest committees channeling money into this years approved cultural celebration ( money going into corporatised pockets modeled on shock doctrine capitalism - the charity business that perpetuates itself).  The gallery business is a self filling pool becoming ever narrower through the myopia of money and the illiteracy of bankers and the 1% investing in art as a hedge fund , art created as investment becomes tomorrows Bougereau's . It is hard to fit that which exists within the environment of the internets immediacy and constant comment and frenetic pace into the dead world of curation and career mapped from art college to bank vault - career art made in cold studios to be seen by a few, assigned a value then hidden away in a vault to accrue more value depending on reputation and  market conditions - this is a moribund format , an old model for old times .

What then replaces it ? 
My second point - in 2017 we find ourselves in a very different place , the internet has become in some sense a leveler - the price of access is the same , every one who has access can play , we discuss sometimes in our groups what hardware do you need to make what we make , well most of my hardware is second hand , coming to me broken and out of date , you don't need up to date all singing photo-shopping hi ram hi spec apple , the price of play is connection only , software is free ( open source won't cost you a  penny ) the laptop I'm writing this on was bought from a local second hand market for a tenner - nothing drops in price faster than technology you are told is outdated ( but that's another rant )  the operating system downloaded and written to a USB stick . The memory, processor, hard drive and psu pulled from a laptop a friend found abandoned at the local dump - the cost of admission is knowledge and the willingness to play if you use the technology you must learn how it works . As glitch becomes more seen and more available ( a network of infinite connections expanding ) I start to see where the new gallery is , its here , and I know what its currency is , Reputation , likes and novelty - it may not last longer than your flicking through it , but its there - a new aesthetic that any one can make - it does not exist within gallery terms or career terms , I suppose eventually the establishment will catch up with us , already advertising , that whore of a profession has started to co-opt its language and appearance but not its purpose - you can create the art of the future with the tools of the past - throw away your mac pros boys and gals and get down to the junk shop - the bots are going to take your jobs anyway .

postscript -


Thursday, 29 June 2017

Pretty broken things

When I'm making the videos and stills that I post on YouTube, Tumblr and my favorite group on Facebook , Glitch artists collective, I use three separate forms of source material : my own original content , out of copyright or creative commons , or very rarely contemporary news video or other work still under copyright . I try to credit if I'm using material I've sourced online - but generally the final work bears no resemblance to the original - that is the nature of glitch art , online content becomes raw material to be used and reused within the context of online culture , the raw material is just the carrier for what comes after .

I've spent the last week working on this video :


I found the original on archive.org ( a good source for sauce) , I was looking for something to play with that reflected the spirit of 68 in response to an open call for video work I'd found on Artconnect ( http://www.artconnect.com/ )- a good resource for finding exhibitions and opportunities for artists ( if you are interested heres the link for the open call - http://www.artconnect.com/opportunities/vos-6-summer-of-68 ). This is the link to the sauce video - https://archive.org/details/gov.archives.arc.13260.

So just for the hell of it and to give an insight into some of the processes I use these days I'd thought I'd create a walk through of the tools and commands that I used .

So first off I sourced the video from the above link - but the resolution was below what I needed to play with so I had to upscale it in Openshot ( an open-source video editor common to most linux distros http://openshot.org/)  to 720p ( 1270x720 ) - left that running for a while until I had the final file which I then divided into two films of equal length , as I wanted to divide the film into individual frames for the next part of the process.

When I'm outputting to single frames it usually ends up as 1000 plus stills , so to make it easier I'll set up two folders within a master called a and b - . A contains the original stills , b is where I output the worked on frames . The first command to use (from the terminal) is within the a folder where I've also put the video section : 'ffmpeg -i acidclip1 -vf fps=23 image-%03d.xwd'  ( it took a few hours to do this and resulted in over 17000 frames ) so that command  uses a program called ffmpeg ( http://ffmpeg.org/ ) to divide each second of the video ( hasty calculation to make sure I have enough space on the external hardrive ) into 23 frames and output each frame in xwd format ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xwd ) , xwd is an interesting image format similar in texture and the way it can be made to break to ppm or bmp .

So now I have the raw frames I want to do something to them , ie break them in a particular way ( in the video you can see progressive lines and broken multicolours in bands and edge waving into the black edges of where the video was upscaled - one of my favourite effects ) . For this I use a bash script that I've worked on for a while , the original was created by Mandy Tonks as a way of creating what is know as the wordpad effect from the command-line , I found her website back in 2012 but the links have since disappeared - so Mandy if you have a new website that I can link to drop me a line ) . A useful explanation of what the wordpad effect is can be found here ( from 2008 ) http://blog.animalswithinanimals.com/2008/08/databending-and-glitch-art-primer-part.html . The command I use looks like this :

find . -type f -name '*.xwd'|while read filename; do echo ${filename};xxd -p ${filename} | sed 's/ddd/eee/g' | xxd -r -p >/home/ian/Desktop/ck/b/${filename}; done

It looks for a file with the .xwd extension ignoring anything else , then converts it to hex ( xxd http://www.linuxcommand.org/man_pages/xxd1.html ) then does a global replace (using sed https://www.gnu.org/software/sed/ ) of the first hex value ( ddd) with the second hex value ( eee) , then converts the output from hex back into the original file format , but in the new directory I've specified (b). It keeps on doing that until it has worked on each file in the current directory , its an automated form of hex-editing , one of the cornerstones of glitch art ( I will usually try a few different values before settling on a final overall run - its easy enough to let the command run through a few files then press ctrl c to halt it - I use imagemagick viewer or xnviewmp to check out they are interesting enough to carry on - some values will stop the file being readable so it takes a bit of experimentation ) imagemagick can be found here http://www.imagemagick.org/script/index.php.

When all the files are converted ( in this case for both halves it took maybe a day to convert to images then hex edit  ) I change to the output directory and convert the stills back into video using ffmpeg again ' ffmpeg -i image-%03d.xwd acidclip1.mpg ' . I then remove all the xwd files - they take up a lot of space - in each directory with ' rm *.xwd' . 

Having done this to both files I then open openshot and recombine both files with the audio from the original - but now I want to change the audio so having experimented on the original file being converted to cavs ( http://xavs.sourceforge.net/ ) and hex edited producing some intriguing sounds ( see this earlier video on youtube 



I wanted the sound to be like this , almost legible as speech but not quite . Like aliens talking in the next room. So the file wouldnt convert back in full length after hex editing but it would play through using ffplay ( a function of ffmpeg - you can play a video from the commandline if you have x running say ' ffplay -i acidclip.avi ' . So with the video playing on one computer I fed the output throught the headphone out to the input of another laptop and recorded it using audacity ( which can also be used to glitch images and video ) find it here http://www.audacityteam.org/

So to assemble the complete video and audio I then opened the final files in flowblade  ( https://jliljebl.github.io/flowblade/ ) placing the audio over the final video and silencing the audio  that I didn't want - the audio that I recorded through the second laptop was only ten minutes long as opposed to the final 22 of the video so I had to play about a bit to get a full length , so I muted the original ten minutes and replaced it with the glitched audio, the placed it over the final ten odd minutes so they play against each other . I kind of like the effect .

And thats pretty much it for the process , it seems involved and complicated , a lot of it is waiting around for files to process when its something this long , and often because all my equipment is second hand and long in the tooth I'm carefully watching heat stats and loads so nothing breaks down - you have to know how far you can push your equipment , especially if you can't afford to replace it . 

Oh yes - I only use linux , that's it , nothing else , I distro hop quite a lot so the machines I use are a variety of debian based Lmde 2 and linuxmint 18 - both to be found here https://linuxmint.com/ .





Friday, 23 June 2017

Cavs hexediting and screengrabs

So after declaring year Zero a while back I thought I should really start posting some more of my Glitch art . The source video for these started off life as a Vhs-c found at a car boot  in Wales transferred to computer using a capture card and a program called cheese webcam booth ( in Debian/Ubuntu) . Having transferred them to computer ( webm) I then edited and stitched a number of captures together using openshot and flowblade ( linux native video editing software ) and outputted to hd video 1270 x 720 . Then cut the film into something like 2 to 3000 individual stills using ffmpeg ( from the command line ) and batch hexedited them on the command-line using xxd and sed . 

Having hexedited the stills I then reassembled everything into video again resulting in this ( after converting to xvid and datamoshed using aviglitch )

 
But of course I couldn't leave it there , then converted that video to a different codec , as each codec has its own textures this codec is Cavs ( a chinese video standard which gives quite interesting effects when hex edited or sonified ) and these are a group of screen captures from that video.








Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Don't take your eye off the prize

Dirac in mkv wrapper


Attached to our house is an old concrete farm water butt, it collects the rainwater from the roof and throughout the winter its full to the top, deep and dark water like a natural mirror that shows the bare trees at the side of our neighbours milking shed. 

Last few days I've pulled out some of my old painting props, heads and skulls and dollys and started floating them in the water and filming them with my tablet . I didn't realise until recently that the tablet filmed in 720p , and I'd been looking to buy a camera which shot in HD , with, as my partner laughingly calls ' our no monies' , but anyways by accident I found that it did , takes rubbish photos but great video, the more information there is in a video or image the more its possibilities for creative breaking increase.

A lot of what I do with video and Glitch art in general has its roots in movement , adjacent images next to each other set free of constraints bleed into each other , each codec responding differently . Webm is troublesome and open to misinterpretation by other programs , but also a favorite , so I took a dolly and spun it round on a turntable that I made and in the background a spinning wheel
and mirrors.


so this is a spinning baby ( the dolly subject of several of my earlier paintings )

And the water butt outside the house gave me this


When I make videos my intention is to break them and search through them for images that work

 
Or these captured from the video above





But I can't stop, I have to keep on making , everyday something new , every day novelty , once you've got a bit of momentum going you can never never stop , and whats happening in glitch at the moment feels like being on the frontier of a new form of art and a new way of seeing and speaking.

Monday, 13 March 2017

What do I do all day? (2AM worry wolf)



Ask an artist what they do all day, and you will probably get a range of answers from  applying for exhibitions, chasing grants, updating social media, trying to convince social welfare that yes being an Artist is a job ( though I am lucky enough to live in Ireland where I've always found the social welfare system accepts being an artist as a valid profession ) - up until the crash in 2008 I'd supported my works as an artist though various jobs including bicycle mechanic and craft worker - work I still do part time when there is work available. 

You might notice none of the above is actually anything to do with being in a studio or picking up a paintbrush. Not a lot of being an artist is anything to do with being in the studio ( mine is cold and wet in winter and having neither the funds to install insulation and heating nor the constitution to tough it out through the dark wet months of an Irish winter I leave it until the spring ) , at the moment I'm looking for a job because in my panic at our growing lack of money I've wondered whether I should just give up the whole thing and join the real world again where real people go out everyday and work and earn money and get on with their lives.

But as I know from bitter experience once I give up on being what I am and allowing myself the space and time to create what it is I make my life and mental well being goes pear shaped - nothing else satisfies me or keeps me happy and or gives me the sense that I do actually have a reason for being on the planet .

I wake up late , around 9.30 or 10.00 , but then I might be working until 2 or three in the morning , the quiet hours of the day suit me better , less distraction. Today I might do some gardening , finally the sun is breaking through , but not too much exposure to sunlight as I have a skin condition made worse if I spend too much time outside . At the moment I'm working through what I make as a Glitch artist , what usually involves sourcing videos , short films I make using feedback and mirrors ( a few weeks ago ) to now making short videos with the tablet I bought for my birthday , a cheap lenovo , (which I thought had a useless camera but takes a reasonable hi definition video)  but I take these videos which have to have movement in them ( my latest obsession is with water and floating heads ) then put them through the data mill , using audacity to add effects ( sonification ) then if the video is still playable trawling through the output to find reasonable broken Images . Movement is important because breaking the links in a video which tell the file what to do with it creates some of the better breakages ) - what is funny about the videos is there are sounds on them of what is going on around me , the dogs running around barking , birds starting to nest , me and my partner in conversation - the stuff that goes on around me while im busy doing this - in other words the other bits of my life which aren't art.

So 2.00am in the morning you might find me posting work like this 






Or this

or this



But then I might go back to worrying how am I going to pay the electric , or Car tax or any number of bills which though not in arrears will sooner or later have to be paid . So I suppose If an artist tells you what they do all day , sometimes if they are being honest they will tell you ' Trying to keep the wolf from the door ' , or multiple wolves because there ain't just one and the worry wolf is worst of all.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Foundation 14 - all your data is art (how to break nearly everything)

In 2013 I was part of the first Foundation series of art exhibitions in Tullamore Co.Offaly http://www.offalyindependent.ie/whatson/roundup/articles/2013/09/27/4017709-foundation-13-officially-launched/  curated by Brendan Fox http://www.brendanfoxart.com/ . During foundation 13 I gave a talk and workshop about circuitbending and glitch art which was well received, and showed one of my first databent videos https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T7Q2VVE8qpY which sat in the basement of an old shop and growled and grumbled threateningly . Next year they asked me back to do a further talk which I called ' All your data is art ' , except that year nobody turned up ! This blog post is more about what I would have talked about then and gives the background to how I started to work more in digital than paint .


Databending and circuitbending – web links

Databending - BEFORE DOING ANYTHING TO A FILE ALWAYS MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A BACK UP COPY DATABENDING IS SOMETIMES NON RECOVERABLE ( THOUGH THE FILE MAY PLAY OR BE READABLE IT WILL NOT BE THE SAME , EVER) YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED BACK UP BACK UP BACK UP..

Start here – probably the clearest and simplest explanation as to method. Databending primer -http://blog.animalswithinanimals.com/2008/08/databending-and-glitch-art-primer-part.html

Philip stearns – puts the glitch to work , very important in popularising the ideas of glitch aesthetic

Rosa menkman – her vernacular of file formats is essential reading , but her website sunshine in my throat is more fun http://rosa-menkman.blogspot.ie/


essential reading for messing with jpegs http://www.ffd8.org/header_remix/ gives good overview of file format construction.

For all your header file needs and understandings http://afruj.wordpress.com/2008/08/01/image-file-header-formats/

find out what colours are in your files ! http://www.javascripter.net/faq/rgbtohex.htm

Definitions definitions definitions http://www.jameshconnolly.com/glitchtalk.html


the inestimable Antonio Roberts aka hellocatfood http://www.hellocatfood.com/

Datamoshing ( its all about the i frames )

see some glitch art !
http://gli.tc/h/gallery.html ( because it hurts my eyes)

https://www.fastcompany.com/3034296/inside-the-bizarre-phenomenon-known-as-glitch-art

more Rosa Menkman ( her online work) http://vimeo.com/r00s

on facebook many many groups but this one is open and accesible


Circuit-bending (break some stuff)

Circuit bending is more , shall we say ........ risky than databending . I advise caution and never to work on anything connected to mains power . Start with battery powered devices , like childrens toys , if working on cameras be aware that the flash capacitor if there is one ( large black round long thing near flash itself) holds a very high charge and can give you a nasty shock .so start at the first link and read carefully .


that's the site of Rheed Ghazala read more about him on wikipedia – he is a seminal figure in circuit bending ( especially for musical instruments and how to make things do things they really really shouldnt) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reed_Ghazala

karl klomp for dirty video mixers and making things look wrong



mess with your monitor – I advise extreme caution here , if your playing with crt displays and you dont know what your doing you may end up dead , the voltages are that high , maybe chance the vga flatscreen hack ( its a cable splice project ) – but proceed carefully. So having said that heres the link , read everything carefully , download the pdf etc before doing it if your going to do it)


open source software.

I use linux , Debian to be precise , it works and keeps working  .You don't have too , but some databending stuff just works better . This one command line script

xxd -p somefile.mpeg | sed 's/a0/b0/g' | xxd -r -p > somefileglitched.mpeg ( where a0 and b0 are hex values which can be changed from 00 to ff or from 0000 to ffff or 000000 ffffff and all hex values in between) depending on target and file format

is the basis of most of my work , that and transcoding using ffmpeg, ( you can do it in windows but its so much easier from the linux command line) , though glitch is os agnostic flexibility is better.

Having said that here is a list of software to find which is all open source ( to see what i mean by that go here http://www.fsf.org/ it explains why you cant do certain things on your windows or mac laptop and what the alternatives and issues are) some Ive included on this disc , some you will find yourself.

Avidemux ( good for iframe removal for that squishy datamosh feeling – also for converting your mpegs to mp4s and general format tomfoolery)
The gimp – photoshop replacement – open-source and free
vlc – the only media player to use ( good snapshot function for capturing that lovely glitch – plays corrupted files quite well also)
virtualdub – primitive non-linear editor
Audacity – sound ( and video editing he he he he)
yawcam – webcam monitor
picasa ( fault in file reading in wndows makes corrupted mpegs even more corrupt nice) though as of 2017 discontinued boo.
ffmpeg – commandline but can convert anything to anything really quickly.
Frhed – hex editor
notepad++ editor of choice for many .

The fun is finding new ways to do things , and that should be your guide , its all 0s and 1s a computer is agnostic , be prepared to break stuff , but remember always backup!

all of the above over a period of years led me to this  which is what I am doing now ( moe to follow in the next post )

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Tabletop town 2011 ( with a nod towards Dr Caligari )

I'm fascinated by the film The cabinet of Dr Caligari , if you haven't seen it already stop reading this and go and watch it , its in a number of places online , you can see it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BuocVLKdSqQ or alternatively you could download it from the internet archive here https://archive.org/details/thecabinetofdrcaligari .

I'd started watching it roughly the same time I'd started painting still life again in 2008 , later on after looking at the paintings of De Chirico it struck me that I could build my own tabletop towns in a manner similar to the stage sets in Dr Caligari , And light them in a similar way , but my towns would be empty , to reflect what was happening around me , the lack of bustle in towns, empty shops quieter roads , the change in 2009 to 2010 Ireland was that dramatic, it was almost like the country had hidden itself away . So after a few earlier experiments with small red houses and one white house ( also see Angelheart )

Wolf at the door

I built a small village or town twisted and angled like the streets in Dr Caligari but empty .

Ghost town 1


Ghost Town 2


Photograph of models made for paintings
And deliberately painted them in near black and white , though the shades are much more subtle than that , involving greens and umbers and reds . Then I wondered to myself if I could reconstruct the type of house I grew up in . ( these were all made in the garage of my girlfriends house which I took over as a temporary studio whilst visiting her ) 

Fifteenth step
 And what if at night the houses crowded round with those sleeping inside and something surreal or strange happened but nobody opened their curtains after the hush of midnight had occured . Again referencing De Chirico's empty streets , shadows and lone statues . ( the streets and the square were composited using the gimp from photographs I'd taken of the houses , I had to continue them and squash them together through layering and cut and paste )

That we should startle the empty streets
There is one more painting in this sequence but it remains to this day unfinished






Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Irish castle magic and Angelheart





Over the winter of 2008 to 2009 I'd been house sitting for a friend at the gate lodge  near Charleville castle , having been made redundant all I really wanted to do was paint so having bought all my materials and props I'd been collecting for a year or so I began to paint , and whilst there I saw a castle that my friend had made for his two sons and I thought hmm I should paint that ( my girlfriend of the time had a friend who was into castles and we'd been around some of the ruined and not so ruined , the Rock of Dunamaise castle near Portlaois and Kilkenny castle ( great gallery in that castle if you get to visit go and see it ) so I picked one of the kids toys and started painting

Before the thought occurs the panic will pass



 But then of course I wanted to paint something a little more too my liking , as a digression I see painting still life as very much  a controllable experiment , by varying the elements of light, subject and composition story and drama unfold , so I built my own castle 

The empty castle

Then expanded it 

The castle before its capture



And acted out dramas and stories within it 

The emptiness of Pandora's castle
(The Pandora in the painting above is a reference to a character from one of my sisters paintings , this character reappears in the later paintings ). Buildings and houses tend to appear in my paintings from this time , partly due to my obsession with De Chirico , and partly because of the economic crashes effects on the people and society around me  , wandering through Ireland by bus and train , seeing ghost estates , half finished shopping centers and a feeling of desperation and desolateness that could not be shaken .

Ireland is also littered with the ruins of old castles and cottages and pasts. Walking out of a friends house one morning I passed these gates , one of the main entrances to Birr castle ,


the day before I'd been at a meeting to discuss taking part in Birr vintage week , funnily I'd sent on pictures of my work and at the meeting to discuss what I'd show they had thought from my work that I was a sculptor , and they were very surprised that in fact I was a painter , the drawing practice was paying off ! So anyway I had an idea for a painting which might fit into the space in the Maltings I'd been allocated and walking past the castle gates gave me an even bigger Idea . I'd been walking along the road thinking about my past and sprouting a pair of black wings ( thinking black angels death song ) and thinking about the film Angelheart ( a favorite of mine ) , and I wondered is it possible to make a painting around that ?

 A castle is foremost a place of refuge and defense , a wall against an invader or injustice , a place to defend against the barbarians , and this is how I saw the painting that came to be Angelheart  , the largest painting and the only triptych I have made to date   . The initial model setups and shots had to be combined into one overall image within the computer to give a coherent perspective and layout , and lighting - I did the photo-shoot of the middle panel at night hilariously running around naked trying to leap into and out of the castle that I'd made in the mobile I'd cleared to work in ( the painting being to big to work in the mobile I was living in ) whilst holding a wooden sword and a pair of scales which held a baby and a skull whilst trying to make it back into the castle before the timer on the camera went off . Id taped a webcam to the viewfinder on the camera which fed into a laptop so I could position myself as I wanted .This is the layout as I composited it  on the computer .


I took a photograph of the basement in the Maltings where it would be shown and cut the boards I would use to paint on to the curved shape of the vaulted rooms , so when it was displayed finally it looked like this (on display at Birr vintage week in 2009)


and a better photo of the finished piece ( this was taken when I took the painting out of storage in the garage , there's some damage to it but paintings this size are awkward to handle and store )


The painting was finished in a mad dash in 24 hours , I'd been going up and down to see another girlfriend in Sligo so had only half completed the painting so I finished the whole thing in a mad rush and delivered it to the exhibition the day before it opened . Painting for 24 hours straight is not to be recommended.



Monday, 23 January 2017

cannabilise everything

Sometimes , as in the previous post , paintings are made in the heat of the moment , without consideration for drawing or quality , they exist in a strange no mans land between sketch and finished work , sometimes a painting may have the germ of an idea in it that needs to brought out . Paintings, like words in digital space can be cannibalized . 

In a brief return to realism back in 2008 I'd made this painting 

Suddenly A horse ( state 1)




In the winter of 2009 - 2010 I was house-sitting for a friend whilst preparing for my first solo show in Ireland , the first of three that year  at Birr theatre and arts gallery http://www.birrtheatre.com/ 

I'd bought all my painting gear with me , easels , paintings to finish , boxes of the models I use in my paintings ( and thanks Monica and Mauricio for letting me use your house and workshop a lot of the paintings wouldn't have happened without the opportunity you gave me ) and a few paintings which I thought might become something more . So I set to work on the painting and it became this, one of the few paintings I have ever actually sold .

dark star dark horse

Originally I'd used tracings and hand cut templates to draw it out , but having spent a while drawing over 2007 - 2010 I could finally realize the germ of the idea as it had presented itself , and I still consider this to be one of my most fully realized paintings.

Another painting I had made in 2008 took the same treatment ( it kind of ties in with the box paintings as I took the initial photograph of the work when I was trying to remake the paintings from 2009) 

Box of laughs ( state 1)
This painting was done directly from life , at a time when I was trying to teach myself  observational drawing all over again , I found it hard to keep up with the changing light involved and the constant repainting , at one point I had also drawn lines on the floor of my mobile so I could keep track of where I was sitting and where to place the light source I was using ( as a lot of the paintings from around this time were done at night after coming home from work ) . Photography and the computer screen freed me from this and allowed me to concentrate on exactly what it was I saw in the still life set ups I was working from ( a photograph of the initial set up , transferred onto the board using a primitive image projector then using the computer screen as reference for colour , shadow and detail - the zoom in tool is your friend ) . So this painting became this 

Box of laughs v2 

Its one of my favorite paintings, and has a few in jokes as well , the painting is a box within a box   , the skull is a childs toy , part of a magazine serial to collect and build a human skeleton , so people are shocked by the skull , but it is a toy , the camera is a childs toy also , so it represents a camera , but a camera which can never be used, or rather a painting of a toy imitating a camera within a frame which is read as a box but is a rectangle filled with paint.

Sometimes its worth going back to old ideas to reinvigorate or reinvent them, this painting from 1997 has gone through at least three iterations 

Still life no1 1997

Still life no1 2008

Still life no1 2009
Each time I make the painting I have to recreate the props from the original ( I now have a box of these , that I cut out from plywood staying at my friends house ) and each time the painting turns out slightly different , the final version from 2009 is much smaller than the original from 1997 ) - sometimes ideas nag at me or they become something of an obsession .

Sunday, 22 January 2017

The Devil's borrowed my clothes

The devil's borrowed my clothes
So mid way through 2009 I broke up with my then girlfriend , at first I was okay with it , but then gradually my mind went into meltdown , not only had I been made redundant and joined the lengthening Irish dole queue now I had lost my girlfriend as well, one day I just sat down and tried to record the frustrations I felt . Just paint really quickly , no edits .

The colours such as they are , are just raw earth colours , black and white and umbers , and to add to the drawing such as it is I started carving into the board with my stanley knife creating curls of muddy and stagnant paint , painting so quickly that the paint had no time to dry . The objects I used are ones I've used before , all images present in my paintings since the 80's but


drawn from life , some of the objects collected from charity shops in the town my ex lived in , arguments between the skull and the mannequin head just violent emotions and arguments made into paint , conversations had or not had ( mainly not , by the time you get to realise how much you miss someone the moment has passed and the only communication you can have is with a voice in your head , if like me you replay scenes in your head over and over with different dialog and different outcomes .

 I used the same box I'd painted the first horse painting in back in 2007/8 ,

Horse ( 2008)

 I like the confinement and claustrophobia of it , objects forced into contact and conflict - I've always admired the paintings of Max Beckman and how he uses confinement to suggest and imply conflict  ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Beckmann ) .

Now I really liked the energy of the paintings and their spontaneity but the drawing and painting were letting them down , especially the colour such as it was , so I took the original paintings , photographed them all within the box ( the originals are all drawn from life ), very carefully then spent until 2011 trying to do justice to original ideas - some of them accompanying me on my travels between 2010 and 11 on ferry journeys over to Wales to see my new girlfriend and now partner , one of the drawings working out the way I would paint one of these was worked on around 2 or 3am in the morning at the ferry terminal in Holyhead , waiting for a train. So after two years work this is how they turned out :

3 steps 2 heaven
Baby's got a gun


Nag nag nag

The death and resurrection show
The devil's borrowed my clothes 



 









The final painting in the sequence ( 'despite all my rage' ) took two go's to complete , the initial painting worked back into the original eventually got put across my knee and snapped into four pieces and deposited into a wastebin , sometimes no matter what you do the surface of a painting becomes dead ( especially true with acrylic ) so I started all over again , and as I worked into the new version my Painting technique had started to change into something looser and less clinical finally I'd found a way to paint that allowed speed and expression .

Despite all my rage ( I am still just a rat in a cage )