EXPLOITS: The Case of the Condescending Curator

*Update: Richard Bledsoe will be offline for an extended period due to an unexpected medical situation. I am Richard’s wife, Michele Bledsoe – and for the interim I will act as his hands and eyes. 

The following is a section from a major work-in-progress about art and culture Richard is writing. 

“It’s a fashionable world and even good artists go out of fashion.”

-Robert Storr, art world academician 

 

Through my early art school days in 1980s, while I focused on keeping up in classes and learning about the distant geniuses of the past, I was less knowledgeable about contemporary art. Although I was highly engaged with cultural interests, I didn’t know a lot about the art world yet. My punk habit lent itself more to musical trends, and film operates in an entirely different realm than the rarefied atmosphere of the art gallery.

It was my second year studying painting when consciousness of the dominant contemporary visual art scene started to seep in.

First of all, I was surprised to learn in my painting and drawing courses that painting was, in fact, dead.

To understand the logic of that idea requires understanding that the institutional art world is a fashion victim. Despite the airs of conviction and sophistication participants in the arts like to flaunt, the reality is many of them are desperate followers of trends, fads and cliques.

In this particular era when I was at Virginia Commonwealth University, the correct jaded and ironic pose to strike was that painting had run its course as an art form, that it was exhausted and had nothing left to say. We were meant to be embracing new means of expression.

In the early 1990s, while I was still at college, VCU imported a genuine New York museum curator for a lecture to demonstrate this for us. All that traditional stuff was passé, he inferred. He had seen the future; in fact he’d be one of the ones who got pick what the future would be. He was doing all us Virginia hicks a favor by coming to give us the inside scoop.

And what was the glorious destiny of the art world to come, according to this bigwig?

That’s right: political installation art!

If you don’t know what political installation art is, you probably haven’t been in a gallery or a museum for the last thirty years. This curator and others of his ilk created a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Under their stewardship every serious arts venue has become saturated with various forms of propaganda instead of art. Political installations indeed became the future of art, because that’s precisely what the few people entrusted to make the decisions about such things for our entire culture wanted to happen. They were partisans for the Postmodern corruption of the arts.

A recent example of what happens when “art” gets political 

During his lecture at us, the curator displayed a series of slides. I forget exactly what they depicted; they were recent works from some Biennale or something. What the pictures showed were rooms full of trash, misplaced mundane objects, and pointless aggregations of random items.

Fortunately the New York intellectual was there to translate for us, explaining how what we were seeing were not presentations of craftless junk, but Important Statements on homelessness, nuclear disarmament, and gender roles.

I left this lecture baffled yet angry. If painting was dead, what the hell was VCU charging all that tuition for?

It wasn’t the money that made me mad. It was the sheer folly of it all.

There’s some idea floating around in pop psychology that if something makes you angry it means you feel threatened by it, that it’s a challenge to your preconceived notions, and it’s an opportunity to grow.

In some cases this is true. However, often I’ve seen that concept thrown out as an attempt at misdirection, to change the subject away from some blatant travesty or transgression.

If you don’t put your values and beliefs to the test consistently, then you can be vulnerable to the suggestion that the problem lies in you, not with whatever absurdity raised your ire. Next thing you know, you are on the defensive, filled with doubt, and ready to eat whatever they’re trying to feed you. It’s a horribly manipulative process, and the gatekeepers of our culture have made themselves masters of this kind of distraction.

The only defense is to know yourself well, flaws and all, and recognize Who the only true source of authority is.

We’re all far from perfect, but that does not mean we have to succumb to the devious machinations of the wicked.

I recognized this so-called art was a lie. I felt it in my bones. It was as instinctual as breathing. I couldn’t put it into words at the time, but I understood I was witnessing a betrayal, a coup, an assassination.

What I experienced was the entirely justifiable rage felt when witnessing an attempted swindle unfold, perpetrated by a type of huckster who wasn’t nearly as clever as he thought he was. It was the classic fallacy of the appeal to authority. This guy was some big shot curator, thus his declarative statements were to be supposed to be received as wisdom. But what I saw was some patronizing poseur projecting all sorts of ridiculous significance onto heaps of torn cardboard.

He was just about the most naked emperor I’d ever encountered up to that point. Unfortunately I would soon be exposed to many more.

 

Advertisements

COMMENTARY: 1962 – The Changing of the Avant-Garde

 

Andy Warhol, 1962

“As disturbing as it was, we continued with the Pop generation, which in the meantime has made its own reputation.”

-Sidney Janis, American gallerist, 1896-1989

*Update: Richard Bledsoe will be offline for an extended period due to an unexpected medical situation. I am Richard’s wife, Michele Bledsoe – and for the interim I will act as his hands and eyes. 

The following is a section from a major work-in-progress about art and culture Richard is writing. 

1962 was the end of the Modern Art era. Much like the Salon des Refusés ushered in the Modern Era in 1863, it was another art show that gave evidence of a definitive shift in the culture.

The influences had been gathering for years, before coming together in a definitive event. In this case the tipping point was an art show located in a temporarily rented store front – a pop-up gallery, we would say these days.

The International Exhibition of the New Realists opened on October 31, organized by New York City gallerist Sidney Janis. With this show, the Postmodern era had arrived.

International Exhibition of the New Realists, 1962

We’ve come to call it Pop art, the opening gambit of the generational shift in art and culture the Janis show encapsulated. It featured future superstars Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claus Oldenburg, Yves Kline, Christo, and many others.

The reigning dominant critic Clement Greenberg’s grip has slipped. His preference for abstraction had dominated the 1950s art world. After the exile of representational art, it was back with a vengeance, but also with a twist.

Pop art was easy to like. On the surface it was bright and playful; instant gratification art. It aspired not to inspire, but to be ironic. The recognizable imagery depicted was coming not directly from life, but was reproduced from the filtered and stylized presentations of industrial mass media: advertising, Hollywood, newspapers, comic books and television. From its inception, The Postmodern era was informed by the illusions, distortions, and manipulations these mediums employed.  Postmodernism is very useful for those who have something to hide.

But back in 1962, it was a scary Halloween for Janis’s existing stable of abstract expressionist studs. Some of the biggest names in Modern painting quit his gallery after the audacious show. Departing artists Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Philip Guston, and Adolph Gottlieb had struggled for decades in obscurity before the agendas inflicted on the art world turned in their favor. For a brief time, they were the pinnacle. But in the early 1960s a new set of ideas was rising.

The art on display in The New Realists show was not just another variation on Modernist priorities, another facet of Modernism’s typical fragmentation. The new way was basically a repudiation of everything the aging Modernists thought they stood for.

I select this Janis show as the Postmodern starting point because of its consequences. The changing of the guard was plain for all to see in the tempest in a teapot scale of the art world. The Action painters were driven to take action, but it was already too late.

Displaced: Philip Guston, Jimmy Ernst, Seymour H. Knox, Jr., Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, and Mark Rothko

EXPLOITS: The 1990 Still Life That Changed My Life

Richard Bledsoe “Still Life 1990″ oil on canvas 12″ x 9” 

I spent too many years in college. Not because I didn’t know what I wanted to do; because I didn’t know how to get there.

I thought I wanted to be a film maker. So in 1987 I enrolled in Richmond’s Virginia Commonwealth University, the in-state school that offered the best artistic programs. The introduction year was called AFO: Art Foundation. We students called it AFO: Artists Following Orders.

AFO was intense and demanding, made to weed out those who weren’t serious. They exposed you to a little taste of all the disciplines: drawing, painting, sculpture, design. We even got to make a little animated film. I found I really took to art, and made it through the freshman year.

The problem was I found out during the foundation program, film classes were part of the Commercial Arts school. This was before digitalization had taken over everything design related. If I went into Commercial Arts I would have spent years working on designs with Press Type transfer lettering, a methodical hand-done system that required exacting precision. Not my skill set.

So still trying to get into film, sophomore year I changed my major to Theater Tech. I thought I’d get into the movies from learning how to create theatrical productions. Not a bad idea, but I quickly learned how hard it was to work collaboratively with all the dramatic personalities drawn to theater. Also not my skill set.

I was only 19 years old, and still had my options open, especially since my family was supporting me. So in what should have been my junior year, I started over again, in the English program. I’d write my way into the movies. Still not a bad idea, and I did well in this program.

These were still pre-computer days for me personally as well. I had a bulky electric typewriter, fortunately with a correcting ribbon built into it; this was my workhorse for my writing intensive courses. I set myself up at the kitchen table of the apartment I shared with roommates, drank beer and typed for hours, alternating between bursts of frenzied writing and periods of tense review and contemplation.

By the spring semester, I had turned 20, and my academic results were good, except for math class. Unfortunately I was still feeling frustrated. The words were coming, but were they enough?

Apart from my assignments, I was trying to write creatively, on my own. When I tried to write expressively, I felt the visions inside me were not being set free, but being trapped in cages of words. Language just felt so limited, not capable of the nuance and impact of visual imagery. The most important aspect of any vision is the part of it that can’t be reduced to words.

The authors I most enjoyed reading were craftsmen, technicians of language who still managed to tell a good story. This was a very different approach to the epic rushes of sublimity I yearned to evoke.

Hunched over my typewriter, pounding out yet another three page essay, my mind turned back to my early days of college. I remembered what satisfied me the most, moments that had little to do with my fantasies of film making. Pouring over library books of visionary artists. The spontaneous joy I felt coaxing big images to appear by the application of brush and pigments. A hands-on, tangible process compared to endless calculations and ponderings. Actions instead of words.

Unlike film, painting provided a combination of self-directed creativity with the graceful, ineffable presentation of visual imagery. I’d barely touched on the practice of painting, only had a glimpse of the possibilities, before practical careerist plans had led me elsewhere. Now I wondered if I hadn’t overlooked something very important.

I performed an experiment. For the first time in a few years, I made a painting. I bought a small pre-stretched canvas; I don’t even remember where I got the rest of the supplies, the oil paints and brushes I used. Maybe I borrowed them, or had them laying around from my freshman year. I set myself up a little still life: a candle, a rock, some folds of cloth. And in an afternoon, I made a painting, working to make the objects look as realistic as I could.

Even though the candle was white, I painted it as pink. That and the position of the stone I arranged ended up being super suggestive. After I was finished I didn’t need Freud to identify what I ended up creating was an unconscious phallic symbol. I took this to be a positive sign.

While making this small piece of art I managed to get paint on the wall, on the floor, in my hair, even on my underwear somehow. But even though it was only a small canvas, the fascination with the process quickly reemerged. I was creating objects that looked like they had volume; they cast shadows, occupied space, were illuminated with an imaginary light. Summoning these illusions felt magical.

The outcome was simple enough, a nice study in blue, pink and gray, a bit sloppy. But that plain little painting held vast implications. By the time I was finished, I knew I was going to have to tell my long-suffering parents I needed to change my major again.

My life as a painter had begun. The work hasn’t stopped for going on 27 years now.

.

“A true art is the visible manifestation, evidence and facilitator of the soul’s journey. “

The Remodernism Manifesto 

 

STUDIO: A New Painting in Progress, Part 5-Completion (The Work Must Speak For Itself)

“The War You Will Always Have With You” acrylic on canvas 36″ x 36″

Richard Bledsoe

The months went by and the painting progressed. I dedicated as much time as I could to it in between all my other obligations. And finally the time came when I stepped back and didn’t see anything left to adjust.

The painting is done when it speaks for itself. If what I put into it cannot be seen, no amount of explanation can fill the gaps. Here is what the spirit of this age looks like to me.

New paintings have already been done, and others are in process too. The work continues.

.

” The making of true art is man’s desire to communicate with himself, his fellows and his God. Art that fails to address these issues is not art.”

The Remodernism Manifesto 

 

Earlier Installments:

A New Painting in Progress, Part 1

A New Painting in Progress, Part 2

A New Painting in Progress, Part 3

A New Painting in Progress, Part 4 

ART QUOTES: On the Role of Risk in Art

Mark Rothko “Untitled”

“Art is an adventure into an unknown world, which can be explored only by those willing to take risks.”

-Mark Rothko

.

 

William Baziotes “Amorphic Forms”

“This particular time has gotten to a point where the artist feels like a gambler. He does something on the canvas and takes a chance in the hope that something important will be revealed.”

-William Baziotes

.

Kurt Vonnegut “Tout in Cohoes”

“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can’t see from the center.”

-Kurt Vonnegut

.

 

Graham Sutherland “Hydrant II”

“In painting, you have to destroy in order to gain… you have got to sacrifice something you are quite pleased with in order to get something better. Of course, it’s a risk…”

-Graham Sutherland

.

 

Louise Nevelson “Royal Tide IV”

“The outside world pressures you into a mold, but if you don’t accept that – you gamble with life. Call it gambling.”

-Louise Nevelson

 

STUDIO: A New Painting in Progress, Part 4 (Why Painters Go Mad)

Work in Progress: “The War You Will Always Have With You” starts to stare back

.

I have a saying that is only partially in jest: “Insanity is an occupational hazard  for painters.” Look at art history, especially during the Modern era, and the trend is pretty evident.

Now I happen to be a very sane and stable individual myself. At least I think I am. But I can understand why going through the process of creating art opens the psyche up for derangement.

The smallest dab or gesture on a painting can make it or break it. My wife Michele Bledsoe  and I are intuitive artists. We work it out on the canvas, trying to convey the contents of our minds without relying on preparatory sketches or source material. When it works, there is the thrill of discovery.

The problem is we never know in advance what the smallest dab or gesture might do to the entire composition. Until I see it myself, I don’t know if that little adjustment will make the canvas sing, or drag it into the abyss.

Fortunately painting is a very flexible, forgiving medium. Mistakes can be fixed. Lots of my painting process consists of reworking elements that just didn’t work well enough.

I had been working on my latest major painting, “The War You will Always Have With You,” for about 2 months before I had that eureka moment. I gave my lion pupils, simple little circles of white, and it was like suddenly there was another presence in the room.

The art was looking at me even as I was looking at it.

Since I took the photo above, I have completed this painting; it took about another month.  My next post on the subject will show the finished piece. But even after 25 years of painting, I am still amazed how a little change takes the art abruptly from raw to finishing touches.

I don’t buy into the romantic myth of the crazy genius. Real mental illness is a drab and frustrating experience, an obstacle to where great art really comes from. That’s why I’m glad to be a Remodernist artist. It’s a much more integrated and healthy philosophy than the fragmentation of Modernism, or the deceptions of Postmodernism.

“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 Remodernist Manifesto

Earlier Installments:

A New Painting in Progress, Part 1

A New Painting in Progress, Part 2

A New Painting in Progress, Part 3

ARTISTS: Bill Lewis

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

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

.

  “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

.

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

.

Bill Lewis “The Sleeper”

.

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

.

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

 

.

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”

.

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

.

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