ARTISTS: Bill Lewis

Bill Lewis at his exhibition, “The Dream in the Orchard”

June 2017, Below 65 Gallery, Maidstone, Kent, UK

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  “In our lives as creative people we can encompass every movement in the Arts from the days of cave paintings through the Renaissance to Modern Art.  However, we do this in a way that is individual to each of us.”

-Bill Lewis

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Part of the thrill of being involved with the international art movement Stuckism is getting to interact with talented artists from around the world. Through the group, we start off with much in common already. Stuckism appeals to those with a passionate belief in art as means of communion. It encompasses an idealistic view of what the arts mean both personally and for society as a whole. It’s exciting to see how every person contributes their own vision within the framework of these principles.

I discovered Stuckism, and its overarching philosophy of Remodernism , during some late night web browsing. I worked up the courage to ask to be an official part of the movement in 2010, and was granted the status of the Phoenix AZ Stuckists. We’ve hosted a series of exhibits in Phoenix in the years since, including 2014’s International Stuckists: Explorers and Inventors, which featured 28 artists from across Europe and the United States.  Through the Stuckist group website and social media, I was soon communicating with people from all over the globe who had embarked on their own versions of the same artistic journey.

English poet and artist Bill Lewis  (see his website here) reached out to me initially about an idea we shared. He too saw Stuckism as just one facet of the broad potentials of Remodernism, a system of ideas that can renew our whole culture, a potent alternative to the deceits and manipulations of Postmodernism. I was amazed to learn this artist who was sharing his thoughts with me was one of the original members of the whole endeavor; in fact, was a big part of what had brought all those creative people together in the first place. For my part, I had one of the clearest episodes  of synchronicity in my life instigated by Bill. Something is at work here.

In his writings and art, Lewis is a story teller. He has a way of homing in on the significant expressive detail: with a gesture, an expression, an image created by either paint or with words, Lewis is able to capture the heart of the matter. I believe his spiritual sense of life and years of studying myth have trained him to look to the essence of things, and to present his discoveries with the proper sense of significance. The works are graceful because they are true. They are elegant because of the care shown in their creation. Despite their profound themes, these are not heavy and ponderous pieces.  They are enlivened with playfulness and rich colors. His poems use sly humor with great impact.

Bill Lewis ” Donde Esta Don Quixote

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Bill Lewis “The Sleeper”

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In 2017 Lewis produced a new book of poetry, “The Long Ago and Eternal Now” (Amazon Link Here). The work incorporates his own black and white illustrations.  It’s his second collection, and expresses his sensibility and interests in clear, evocative language. They say the way you do something is the way you do everything. When I look at the paintings of Bill Lewis, and read his poetry, I think of Magic Realism. Not just as a literary convention, but in the context of looking through the mundane and seeing the miraculous underpinnings of it all. It’s a gratifying experience to see the world as he presents it.

 

 

As someone who was there from the beginning of the ongoing revolution in the arts, Bill Lewis has much to say about how it has unfolded and influenced his creative work. In the interview below, Lewis shares stories and insights about his experience as a Remodernist poet and artist.

Question: You are one of the original members of both the Stuckist movement and its predecessor the Medway Poets.  How did you come to be involved with these groups?

Bill Lewis: First I should tell you how the Medway Poets came about. In the early 1970’s I was living in a little village outside of Maidstone (which is the County Town of Kent).  A small group of us formed a poetry reading group which met regularly at a pub called ‘The Lamb’, a Fifteenth Century building by the Medway River.  The group was called ‘The Outcrowd’ and the core of it consisted of me, my oldest friend Rob Earl and his wife Betty.

In 1977 I got onto the Art Foundation Course at the Medway College of Art and Design (as it was then called) in Chatham (one of the Medway Towns).  It was here that I met Billy Childish.

I invited Billy to Maidstone to read with ‘The Outcrowd’ and in exchange Rob came over to the Medway Towns and read with Billy and I at a gig at the college.  About this time Alan Denman who was a lecturer in English at the college, started a regular cabaret/poetry evening at a pub called ‘The York’ near Chatham railway station.  Incidentally, ‘The York’ was not only one of the roughest pubs in Chatham but in the whole of South East England.

At one of these evenings we met Sexton Ming who was one of the most eccentric and funniest poets I have ever met.  The night he first arrived it was raining really hard and he asked if he could read and Alan said yes, but before he did so Sexton asked if he could bring his mistress, Mildred, in out of the rain.  We said of course, the poor woman must be soaked.  Mildred turned out to be a broom handle with a papier-mâché head and a wig.  Later whilst Sexton was reading a poem her head fell off.  The audience were in fits of hysterical laughter.  This became a pattern over the next few years; you never knew what Sexton was going to do next.  Everyone I know has a Sexton Ming story.

Billy and Sexton got on really well and started to produce fanzines and booklets together.  Billy was in a band at the time called the ‘Pop Rivets’ which later transformed into ‘The Milkshakes’.  Very soon a Medway sound developed and in the next few years there were hundred of bands in the Medway Towns playing the Medway Delta Sound. Lots of people read at ‘The York’ but gradually it became clear to us that several of us could work well with each other as a group.

The last two poets to join the group were Charles Thomson and his then girlfriend, Miriam Carney. At this time we still hadn’t got a name for the group but as were starting to be asked to read at other local venues, we needed to get a name.  I came up with the idea of calling ourselves ‘The Medway Poets Group’ because at that time the Medway Scene was becoming well know outside of the region.  We didn’t have a “house” style as we were all into very different things. Charles was influenced by Betjeman and Auden at the time and Billy had discovered Bukowski and Fante.  With Sexton it was Zappa and Beefheart and I was reading a lot of Neruda, Ted Hughes and French poets liked Jacques Prévert.  Miriam’s poems were very personal and about her relationships.

Medway Poets

We had started to get some interest from outside the Medway area, especially when a well known poet called Richard Berengarten from Cambridge (who was writer in residence in the nearby town of Gravesend) brought his entire creative writing class over to see us perform.  In 1980 Richard got ‘The Medway Poets’ their first major gig at the Kent Literature Festival and in 1981 at the prestigious Cambridge International Poetry Festival.

Whilst we were performing at Cambridge I met Robert Parker Sorlien who was a Professor of English at the University of Rhode Island.  It was Robert who was to arrange some of my first readings in the USA.

The Medway Poets split up in 1982 not long after a television company called TVS made a documentary about us.  By then Charles and Billy were not getting on and it was clear that the group couldn’t function with their animosity towards one another.

In 1987 ‘The Medway Poets’ attempted to get back together for a tour that I arranged with Amnesty International.  We were supposed to read in five towns throughout Kent but by the third town old animosities broke out and so it was only a part of the group that finished the tour!

We all carried on working separately over the next decade.  During that time I was doing readings in support of Chile Solidarity.  In 1988 Carlos Rigby, a Nicaraguan Poet and storyteller, performed in London where he came across some of my books.  He ‘phoned me from the Nicaraguan embassy before he left London and suggested that I might like to witness what was happening in the Revolution.  My wife Ann had just been made redundant so we paid the mortgage for 4 months and took ourselves off to Nicaragua Libre.  Whilst there I gave several poetry readings, met and became friends with Claribel Alegria (the award wining Salvadoran poet) and Alicia Partnoy (the Argentinean Writer whose book ‘The Little School’ gave a harrowing account of her incarceration in a concentration camp during the ‘Dirty War’).

Darwin J. Flakoll (Bud), Bill Lewis, and Claribel Alegria. Photo by Anne Lewis

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1989: Sandy Taylor, Bill Lewis, Alicia Partnoy, and Adriana Angel

 

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I also met Sandy Taylor, the poet, translator and co-founder of ‘The Curbstone Press’.  It was Sandy who arranged for me to read at a literary festival in Connecticut. Sandy, along with Robert Sorlien introduced my work to an American audience. Almost every year in the 1990’s I would do a mini poetry reading tour on the East Coast.

In 1997, a miracle happened.  Having pursued our individual careers for a decade, ‘The Medway Poets’ managed to get together for one last gig at a literary festival in Rochester, UK.  Charles and Billy seemed to be able to tolerate each other and there was a brief period of entente cordial.

Reunion Tour: Bill Lewis and Billy Childish

In 1999 Charles and Billy started a group called ‘The Stuckists’.  The group got its name after Tracey Emin (Billy’s ex-girlfriend who was now one of the ‘YBA’s’) left and angry message on his answer phone telling him he was “Stuck, Stuck, Stuck” in the past as he still painted. The ‘YBA’s’ didn’t think much of painting and were more interested in post-modernist theory and conceptual art.

Charles approached me and asked me if I was still painting (because as you know Charles, Billy, Sexton and I were the members of ‘The Medway Poets’ who also painted), I told that I was but didn’t show my work as I was primarily interested in writing. He then asked me if I wanted to join ‘The Stuckists’ and I thought, why not?

‘The Stuckists’ had their first show in the autumn of 1999.  It was called ‘Stuck, Stuck, Stuck” after Tracey’s angry ‘phone message.  ‘The Stuckists’ were billed as the first Remodernist Art Group.  We thought there would be lots of other Remodernist groups emerging but what actually happened was that lots of groups calling themselves ‘Stuckist’ began to appear all over the world, in part thanks to the Internet.

Q: How do you create your paintings?

BL: They usually begin with an idea or image that I can’t get out of my mind.  I attempt to put that image down on canvas and then quite often strange symbols and figures appear.  I don’t always understand what these mean.  I think of my paintings as magic mirrors that reflect back to me the inner working of my psyche.  Sometimes it can take years before I understand what a painting means in its entirety. For example, one of my better known pictures entitled “God is an atheists and she does not believe in me” has a woman wearing a blindfold whist applying lipstick, at her feet, kneels a man, holding a menorah and a crucifix.  The woman is sitting on a chair and under the chair is a small white dog, a bull terrier.  Years after I painted it someone pointed out to me that ‘dog’, in English is an anagram of ‘God’.  This never occurred to me when I was painting the picture.

Bill Lewis “God is an Atheist and She Does Not Believe in Me”

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Q: Do you feel your work as a poet influences your paintings?

BL: I don’t really think of myself as a painter.  I am probably the odd one out when it comes the original group of ‘Stuckists’ because I can go long periods without painting but not so with my writing.  I am always thinking about writing, working on things in my head even before it hits the page, but sometimes I need to see an image and I have to make it a visual image.  I have certain obsessions.  I think all artists, whether they write, paint, make films, are obsessive. The same images often crop up in my work.  I understand some of them but others are a mystery to me.  I actually don’t think I am a very good visual artists, whereas I do know that my writing is of a higher quality, although my friend, Simon Mills (www.simonmills-artist.co.uk) who is an absolutely brilliant landscape artists, tells me that he thinks my visual work is an extension to my poetry.

I think it is the poetry of things which is the truest part or reality.  I believe that reality itself is metaphorical. Once you understand that you can slide between metaphors you can avoid unnecessary conflicts.  The problem arises, of course, is when someone believes that their metaphor is the only true one and that metaphor is a fact.  A fact is of little use to me when it comes to art or poetry. I always prefer fiction to non-fiction because it is true and non-fiction isn’t.

Q: How do mythology and spirituality inform your work?

BL: I have studied mythology for about 40 years.  I am not an academic.  As I said before, my only further education is one year at Art College, but my study of myth has been extensive.

I discovered the work of Joseph Campbell about the same time that I read the work of the radical American theologian and Prophet Matthew Fox, who I later met and had many enlightening conversation with.  Joseph Campbell’s theory of a hero with a thousand faces is something that I have used in my illustrated lectures on myth and Matthew Fox’s holistic and inter-connected view of spirituality is very useful when coming up against the ecological disaster that we call the modern world.  I gave my first lecture on mythology during one of my poetry reading tours of the USA.  I was due to read my work at the University of Rhode Island and it was suggested to me that the night before my reading I might like to talk to a group called ARIL (The Association for Religion in Intellectual Life).

I was a bit nervous as I had left school at the age of 15 without any qualifications but Robert Parker Sorlien said that it was a friendly group and that my extensive studies did not need pieces of paper to validate them.  I thought to myself ‘I can talk to a group of students’ but when we arrived at the hall and they started to file in I noticed that the youngest were in their forties.  I turned to Robert and said ‘you have got a lot of mature students at your university’, he replied ‘No Bill, they are all faculty members, they are Professors’ … it was my baptism of fire but the evening went well! Since then I have given talks to a very varied groups of people.

I think all great art is spiritual.  I don’t believe in God in the way that most people would use the term but there is a mystery at the centre of all things.  Sometimes I call the mystery ‘the Universe’ or sometimes just ‘the Great Mystery’.  You can find this mystery in religion but not always.  I think we need more spirituality and less religion.  I think my personal view of reality can be summed up in a line by the Nicaraguan poet, Ernesto Cardinal.  He writes in his long poem ‘The Song of the Cosmos’, “When I look at a star, it is the star looking at itself with my eye”.

An installation detail from the exhibit

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Q: What are your observations on the renewal of the Arts?

BL: I am not sure how we can have post-modernism because it implies that Modernism is dead and yet there are really great modernist writers still writing.  Jeanette Winterson, for instance, refers to herself as a Modernist and the late, great, Angela Carter also referred to herself in a similar way.  The fact is the Establishment never liked the idea of Modernism because Establishments by their nature are conservative.  They claimed that the writings of James Joyce made an end for Modernism this just isn’t true.  Stuckism and Remodernism for instance have within their rank and file Neo-Expressionists, Neo-Cubists, Neo-Surrealists, in fact, all of the styles of painting that came out of the Modernist experiment.  Modernism was not a movement as such but an umbrella for all the experimentation of art that emerged in the 20th Century.  In our lives as creative people we can encompass every movement in the Arts from the days of cave paintings through the Renaissance to Modern Art.  However, we do this in a way that is individual to each of us.  If you make a Cubist painting no other Cubist will have made a Cubist painting exactly like that before because it comes through your own personal intelligence.  The same goes for all the other styles and “isms”.  There are as many styles of paintings as there are human beings.

One of the things that I think Stuckism achieved is a renewal of interest in figurative painting which only a decade ago we were being told was dead.

One last point; most people think that Stuckism was anti-conceptual art but in fact we were conceptual artists but we painted our concepts instead of putting a found object in a gallery and sticking a piece of paper on the wall explaining why it was art.  Damien Hurst claimed to be a conceptual artist and yet in a recent interview he said ‘I don’t like art that makes me think’.  I wonder what kind of conceptual artist would say that.

Bill Lewis “Feathers”

Inspired by the novel “Night at the Circus” by Angela Carter

 

STUDIO: A New Painting in Progress, Part 3

“The War You Will Always Have With You” starts to darken

One of the mottoes Michele Bledsoe and I share in the studio is “Darker than you think.” It’s a reminder to push the painting further, to increase the intensity of contrast. The highlights are brighter when interacting with a truly rich darkness which takes a long time to build up.

Here I have begun leading my newest painting into the darkness. First the background, then the body. The initial colors laid down are just a base coat, a foundation to work off of as I create multiple layers of interacting colors.

“Painting is the medium of self-discovery. It engages the person fully with a process of action, emotion, thought and vision, revealing all of these with intimate and unforgiving breadth and detail.”

The Stuckism Manifesto

Earlier Installments:

A New Painting in Progress, Part 1

A New Painting in Progress, Part 2

Starting the Mane

 

 

MUSIC: Theme Songs for Our Artistic Methods

Richard Bledsoe “At the Crossroad” acrylic on canvas 24″ x 30″

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I’ve written before about how vital music is in our studio, as the soundtrack of our art. Recently my wife Michele Bledsoe and I took our musical influences to an even greater intensity. One afternoon while we were painting, we identified songs that we felt epitomized the way that each other approached creating our art.

You see Michele and I have very different methods to the way we paint; we are diametrically positioned, which is why being a married artist couple works so well for us. Opposites attract. We both act as conduits in our artistic expression, but it’s very different forces that we channel.

Michele has spent years watching me paint in a kind of frenzied trance, taken outside of my normal senses in service of the art. While I paint I tend to pace, curse, pray, rant. It’s an ecstatic process for me; not just in the sense of happiness, even though it fills me with joy. It’s so intense I’m not paying attention to the way I’m behaving. An unknowing witness would not understand all my frantic swearing is actually a sign of overwhelming engagement, as I push further.

Michele’s song for me is “Crossroads” by Tom Waits, a collaboration with writer William Burroughs. The story it tells shows the sense of abandonment to the demands of creation, no matter the personal cost. There is nothing diabolical about what I’m going for, but the reckless commitment is there. I always say painting is my healthiest addiction.

Click the image to see the video “Crossroads” here:

The lyrics:

Now, George was a good straight boy to begin with, but there was bad blood
In him someway
and he got into the magic bullets that lead straight to
Devil’s work, just like marijuana leads to heroin;
you think you can take them bullets or leave ’em, do you?
Just save a few for your bad days
Well, well we all have those bad days when we can’t hit for shit.
And the more of them magics you use, the more bad days you have without them
So it comes down to finally all your days being bad without the bullets
It’s magics or nothing
Time to stop chippying around and kidding yourself.
Kid, you’re hooked, heavy as lead
And that’s where old George found himself
Out there at the crossroads
Molding the Devil’s bullets
Now a man figures it’s his bullets, so it will take what he wants
But it don’t always work out that way
You see, some bullets is special for a single target
A certain stag, or a certain person
And no matter where you aim, that’s where the bullet will end up
And in the moment of aiming, the gun turns into a dowser’s wand
And points where the bullet wants to go
George Schmidt was moving in a series of convulsive spasms, like someone
With an epileptic fit, with his face contorted and his eyes wild like a
Lassoed horse bracing his legs. But something kept pulling him on. Now
He’s picking up the skulls and making the circle.
I guess old George didn’t rightly know what he was getting himself into
The fit was on him and it carried him right to the crossroads
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 Michele’s mode of painting could not be more different.
Michele Bledsoe “The Great Fear of Falling” acrylic on canvas 14″ x 11″
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I have spent years watching Michele work tranquilly at her easel. She sits down and the art just begins to flow out of her, methodically, with great order. Layer upon the layer the intensity builds without interruption until she has crafted a mysterious and moving environment. She calmly renders complex compositions with profound depths and eruptions of otherworldly expressiveness.
What musician other than Ludwig Van Beethoven could reflect such a method?
My song for Michele is Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7 in A major, Op. 92, the second movement, Allegretto. It starts so quietly, but goes through cycles of growth until it is truly cosmic in scale. Such precision and feeling. That is how Michele makes her art.
There aren’t any lyrics, but there’s no need for those when the music speaks so eloquently on its own.
Click on the image to see the video for the 7th Symphony, “Allegretto” here:
What would be the theme song of your artistic method?

“The Remodernist’s job is to bring God back into art but not as God was before. Remodernism is not a religion, but we uphold that it is essential to regain enthusiasm (from the Greek, en theos to be possessed by God).”

-The Remodernism Manifesto

MEMORIALS: On the Veteran Portraits of George W. Bush

George W. Bush “Sergeant Daniel Casara

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Last March, one morning on the way to work I was fortunate to hear on the radio an interview conducted by Hugh Hewitt. Although he’s often profundly off base on his analysis of events, Hewitt has interesting guests. On this program he was speaking with former President George W. Bush, about a subject I find endlessly fascinating: painting.

George W. Bush’s book of paintings “Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to American Warriors” is a major best seller. It’s currently number one in many of the Art categories on Amazon, a reflection of people’s desire to support our veterans. However, it also reflects a positive response to a surprising development for our retired 43rd President –  his unsuspected creative talents.

Mr. Bush is characteristically humble about his work. He plainly states in the forward of his book he is an amateur: “I’m not sure how the art in this book will hold up to critical eyes. After all, I’m a novice. What I am sure of is that each painting was done with care and respect.”

I always say in real painting there is nowhere for the artist to hide; those reverent emotions towards the veterans the former President depicted are present in his paintings.

It’s an interesting story how Bush came to his art. “I had been an art-agnostic all my life,” he admits. However, as he was leaving office, he became intrigued by the dedication to painting shown by Winston Churchill. Inspired by Churchill’s essay “Painting as a Pastime,” Bush started working with a series of instructors to learn the craft. To his first teacher he stated: “‘Gail, there’s a Rembrandt trapped in this body…Your job is to liberate him.'” He was 66 years old.

The world was surprised in 2013 when hacker Guccifer revealed emails connected to the Bushes had been compromised. Unlike recent leaked Democrat emails, these messages were not full of dirty tricks, backstabbing, and fawning communications from reporters. However, the hacked accounts did expose George Bush paintings, including two sly self portraits in the shower and bath.

bush paintings

Out of the painting closet now, Bush started sharing his new passion openly. He disclosed he had painted pets and landscapes. At the advice of one of his teachers, Bush embarked on a series on world leaders he knew, including his own father:

George W. Bush “The Dalai Lama”

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George W. Bush “Hamid Karzai

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George W. Bush “George H.W. Bush”

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The real focus of Bush’s post-presidency has been supporting wounded veterans.  Through the Bush Center Military Service Initiative, post 9-11 veterans and their families gain assistance transitioning back to civilian life. It was natural Bush’s two great interests came together. “Portraits in Courage” shows paintings of some of the veterans Bush has come to know. Proceeds from the books sales are going to support the Bush Center’s programs.

George W. Bush “Sergeant Major Christopher Self”

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In addition to painting the veterans’ portraits from photographs, Bush tells their stories as well. He describes why they joined the military, how they served, how they were wounded in the line of duty. He then shares the triumphs and challenges each faced during recovery, and how he met them during his presidency and Bush Center events. These stories are not sugar coated; they acknowledge the true difficulties involved. But the overarching theme is inspirational, as the veterans speak of their determination and pride to be part of the United States Military.

There is much discussion about the gap between the experiences of the armed services and civilians. “But that civilian-military divide, I think Portraits of Courage may help bridge that by giving people glimpses into their lives, not just the painting,” Bush says; “… the stories are more important than the paintings.”

A notable example of these differences are attitudes about George W. Bush himself. While the civilian population,  agitated  by a relentlessly hostile media, turned very negative towards Bush during his presidency, he was always well regarded by the troops who served under him. As recently as 2014, 65%  of post 9-11 veterans stated Bush was a good commander in chief.

George W. Bush “Staff Sergeant Jack Schumacher,Sergeant William J. Ganem”  

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Time has been good to the reputation of Bush, perhaps because the current White House occupant is the subject of persistent histrionic Establishment meltdowns. Now partisan media types think it’s okay to make some positive comments about Bush, while still pouring on the typical gallons of bile and venom. Even cultural critic hacks have been cautiously laudatory. “The quality of the art is astonishingly high,” the New Yorker mentions in their column of recycled insults. “An evocative and surprisingly adept artist who has dramatically improved his technique,” The New York Times grudgingly admits during their litany of blame. Fake news CNN headlined their 2014 article that Bush’s paintings show “his softer side.”

Filtering out the ideology, I agree with the critics. As a painter, I recognize the work that went into his paintings, the ongoing series of judgments needed to reimagine the dimensions of life onto a flat canvas. Bush seems to have developed the instinct for applying paint so that it communicates. The works are full of personality, mood, and incorporate real moments of finesse. Other more awkward passages just enhance their expressive power. As noted by the co-founders of both the Stuckism and Remodernism art movements, amateurs willing to take chances, to reveal their own shortcomings, are the ones who push us forward:

The Stuckist is not a career artist but rather an amateur (amare, Latin, to love) who takes risks on the canvas rather than hiding behind ready-made objects (e.g. a dead sheep). The amateur, far from being second to the professional, is at the forefront of experimentation, unencumbered by the need to be seen as infallible. Leaps of human endeavour are made by the intrepid individual, because he/she does not have to protect their status. Unlike the professional, the Stuckist is not afraid to fail.

-Billy Childish and Charles Thomson, The Stuckist Manifesto

In that previously mentioned Hewitt interview, it was exciting to hear former President Bush speak in terms I could relate to as an intuitive artist. It’s worth reviewing some of the words he used that showed me here was a fellow artist, working to coordinate his hand, eye, mind and heart, to share his vision of life and his connections to humanity.

George W. Bush Quotes About Painting

“The thing about painting is you never finish a painting. I mean, there’s always something, at least in my case, there’s always something I could do to improve, and so at some point in time, you had to have the discipline to say I’m moving onto another portrait.”

“A really good artist came to my studio with my instructor, and he said you know, I think you can paint. You ought to try to paint the world leaders with whom you served. And it was such an uplifting statement, because what he was saying was seek new heights. Try something different.”

“First of all, the painting has got a lot of paint on it. And, which I think conveys a sense of confidence in painting. The first ones I painted, the world leaders, it was real tight brush strokes. You know, I was trying to get it exact. And these are much looser. I think it’s a tribute to my instructors, and a tribute to time at easel.”

“…I don’t think the quest to develop a style that you can express yourself as fully as you want ever ends.”

“…painting is ahead of me for sure. It’s one of the great learning experiences, Hugh. It’s, you know, I think about it all the time. When I get back this weekend, I’ll paint. And I’m looking for a new project.”

George W. Bush in the studio

UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers! Please visit other entries for more commentary on the state of the arts.

STUDIO: A New Painting in Progress, Part 2

At Work on “The War You Will Always Have With You”

For me, making a painting is a process of continual adjustments.

Define and revise big areas before focusing on details-the finer the detail, the later in the painting it will occur.

Start working on the background, moving towards the foreground. Go back and make changes to the background, working forward again, over and over. The idea is to keep moving the piece towards an overall level of consistent finish, layer by layer.

Creating a space

At first the lion was floating in a yellow void. That has very little resemblance to the vision in my mind. I needed an environment to enclose the animal. I think about Medieval art, and the fantastic Bestiaries they used to render. The influence appears in the painting.

One of my painting mantras is “It’s just a base coat!” I am open to covering every inch of the existing painting over with new colors and brushwork, obscuring what came before, if needed.

The trick is seeing along the way what passages work, preserving them, enhancing them. It’s an intuitive method. Recognize which mistakes to keep.

I preserve the integrity of the initial composition, unless I find I made a catastrophic drawing mistake. When that happened on some of my pieces in the past, I’ve flipped the canvas upside down and started the stage one drawing all over.

Highlights

I went back in with white and loosely defined some areas, working fast and brushy. Some will indeed wind up being white. In other places, the white is a base coat for glazes: transparent layers of color laid over the white will create quite a glow, one of my ongoing painting fascinations.

This is still the early phases of this image. I anticipate I will be working on it for several more months. Additional progress reports to come.

Painting is the medium of self-discovery. It engages the person fully with a process of action, emotion, thought and vision, revealing all of these with intimate and unforgiving breadth and detail.

-The Stuckists Manifesto

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Earlier Installment:

A New Painting in Progress Part 1

EXHIBITIONS: The Stuckists at Cass Art Islington, London England

Richard Bledsoe “The Portrait of Emmeline Grangerford” acrylic on canvas 30″ x 24″

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The Stuckists at Cass Art Islington

April 18 – 28, 2017

The Cass Art Space

66-67 Colebrook Row

London N1 8AB

Mon-Sat 10am-7pm (Wed 6pm)

In April, I am honored to be included in an exhibit with an international group of artists. In “The Stuckists at Cass Art Islington,” I will be showing alongside artists from the UK, USA, Spain, France, Australia, China, Russia, Greece, and the Czech Republic.

There are a lot familiar names participating in this exhibit. Many of the same artists were featured right here in Phoenix, Arizona’s 2014 exhibition International Stuckists: Explorers and Inventors. In this blog I’ve previously featured Ron Throop and Alexey Stepanov in their collaborative project, Round Trip Stuckism. And I’ve been fortunate enough to interview Charles Thomson, the co-founder of both Stuckism and Remodernism.

The ideas Thomson documented in his writings have inspired artists from all around the world, as this show demonstrates. Along with co-founder Billy Childish, they created manifestos which describe an open source art movement entirely different from the corrupt, elitist art market status quo.

Their passionate articulation of art practices based on authenticity, revelation, and connectivity changed my life when I stumbled across them so long ago, during some random late night internet surfing. They communicated in bold, frank language observations I had also made, mostly to myself, about the failures and potentials of the contemporary art scene. I never was able to present my thoughts in such a concise fashion before though. I learned much from their example. Stuckism/Remodernism has been inspirational to me not only as a painter, but as a writer and an arts activist as well.

Billy Childish moved on to follow his own idiosyncratic path, but Charles Thomson has stayed to do the hard work with the movement. He has lent his organization skills, encouragement, and enthusiasm in creating opportunities throughout a worldwide community, currently listed as 236 groups in 52 countries. He has made the grassroots go global.

Some day I hope to be able to make a personal appearance at one of Stuckism’s international shows, wherever it may be.

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The Stuckist gives up the laborious task of playing games of novelty, shock and gimmick. The Stuckist neither looks backwards nor forwards but is engaged with the study of the human condition. The Stuckists champion process over cleverness, realism over abstraction, content over void, humour over wittiness and painting over smugness.

-The Stuckist Manifesto

 

 

An Artist Against the NEA, Part 1: The Case of Karen Finley

Karen Finley: This is what you get when art and politics mix

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“All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”

-Benito Mussolini

The wailing commenced as soon as the numbers appeared. After decades of threatening noises from concerned conservatives and fiscal hawks, a Federal government budget was produced that eliminated funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

As an American artist, I think this is a wonderful development, long overdue.

Defenders of the NEA make the usual accusations, conflating being anti-government intervention in the arts with being anti-art. They justify the expense by pointing out how little the expenditures are out of a budget now reckoned in trillions. And they make the great leap to define withholding state funding of the arts as censorship. All of these assertions dodge accountability for results. How has the NEA improved the artistic life of America?

The NEA was the creation of the corrupt President Lydon Johnson in 1965. One quick measure of the program’s success is whether the visual arts are in better condition now than they were then.

On the contrary, contemporary art is undergoing a crisis of relevance, with hardly any interest and engagement from the public. I would suggest it’s the top-down direction of arts development encouraged by the NEA and its fellow traveler, grant-giving foundations which have helped cause this great alienation. Far from encouraging a vital, thriving culture in the United States, the handout and non-profit mentality is propping up a sick and decaying model of art as an elitist virtue signalling endeavor.

Make no mistake, the cultural institutions supported by such programs hold the values and founding principles of America in contempt. It’s key for acceptance. The long march was so successful that the entry to the establishment now requires allegiance with globalism, Post Modern relativism, and Cultural Marxist deconstruction. It’s the partisans of these ideologies that get the funding and support.

The art world has been warped by the priorities of the subsidizers. If you want their checks, better get on board with their agendas. Leftists have to taint everything with their politics, their own petty little version of God, and their fantasy of the all powerful state as a benefit dispensing Utopia. There’s no way I want anyone subject to such delusions in charge of recognizing artistic achievement.

Many years ago, I had my own special encounter with a NEA star, a typical example of what elitist culture has to offer.

She’s nothing but a historical footnote now, but in the early 1990s performer Karen Finley was big news. She was one of the so-called NEA Four. These controversial artists were up for the federal agency National Endowment for the Arts grants, and came under intense political criticism. The artists had their grants vetoed, although they eventually won a court case about it, and got paid.

However, as a result of the firestorm the NEA ultimately stopped funding individual artists. At least Finley can take credit for helping end that particular abuse of tax payer resources. But at the time I encountered her all the legal maneuverings were still in flux. When she came to speak in Richmond, at Virginia Commonwealth University’s  sculpture building, Finley was still notorious as a casualty of the Culture War.

Finley is a performance artist. Her claim to fame was hooting obscenities while smearing her naked body with yams. I wish this was a joke or an exaggeration, but it isn’t. Of course it was all about gender roles and social critique and whatnot, so that made it Serious Art.

We students didn’t know what to expect. Would we be spattered with tubers? Should we wear raincoats like we were going to see a Gallagher routine? Anticipation ran high.

As it turns out Finley kept her clothes on, and no vegetables were applied anywhere unusual. I suppose a group of mere students didn’t warrant the full Karen Finley experience.

She addressed the standing crowd gathered around her from a podium. I can’t tell you anything she actually said, as nothing she said was memorable. But we weren’t there for an insightful or intelligent lecture, we were there for a Serious Art Performance. And after her remarks, still standing behind her podium, Finley let us have it.

A Serious Art Performance, to Karen Finley, apparently meant yodeling, rolling her eyes and whipping her head around for a couple of minutes.

It was an annoying and mannered display. I felt the burning sensation of folly receiving the institutional stamp of approval. If that was art, then I’ve seen plenty of schizophrenic meth addicts hanging around convenience stores dumpsters that must be undiscovered geniuses.

Coming from her, it was all so phony. Her actions didn’t seem passionate or intense at all. It was clearly a ploy, a unconvincing simulation of being in a shamanistic frenzy.

My problem with Karen Finley’s art wasn’t because it was immoral; it was because it was stupid. There wasn’t an issue with obscenity, the issue was the failure to present a genuine and creditable work of art. And this is representative of the cultural experience our Washington elites wanted to throw money at.

As a bit of compensation for the dumb histrionics, Finley did show us a few nude video clips. She apparently liked to strip down in museums and pose next to actual art. That was kind of funny. The University was obviously putting all our student fees to good use, bringing in talent of such caliber.

During her fifteen minutes of fame, Finley got to play cultural martyr. She became a symbol, the fulfillment of the art world’s conceit of itself as an oppressed band of brave rebels.

The fact that what she called her art was a contrived, pathetic display was overlooked in the rush to the barricades. Her stated political agenda trumped any concerns about quality.

Finley has drifted into obscurity now, safely cloistered away  in New York City’s Tisch School of the Arts (annual undergrad tuition over $53,000.00), still trying to spark some interest in her sagging shock art. Museums are willing to throw her an occasional opportunity. In 2014 she did AA one better, and came up with a 13 step program for artists whose “lives have become unmanageable because of art.” Here’s a helpful hint: I wouldn’t blame art for the need to seek attention through grotesque displays.

Finley serves as a nice bit of trivia and nostalgia, a walking wounded veteran of the culture wars. The establishment takes care of its own. What they haven’t been taking care of is our society’s need for real art.

The NEA has failed in its mission. They’ve squandered their credibility. We will be better served by trying to find new ways to express an authentically American culture, one than the bureaucratic ideologues of the NEA never believed in.

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“It is quite clear to anyone of an uncluttered mental disposition that what is now put forward, quite seriously, as art by the ruling elite, is proof that a seemingly rational development of a body of ideas has gone seriously awry.”

-The Remodernism Manifesto

“I was not expected to be talented.”

Karen Finley

Update: Welcome Instapundit readers! Please see other articles here for more commentary on the state of the arts.