All of a sudden my life is beginning to happen. ‘It’s almost as if the stars are tangled in a ghostly spider’s web. The whole network is beginning to glow, to pulse with light, exactly as if it were alive…’ (p. 166, Tom Wolfe in Cool Aid Acid Test).
I spent 65 years ‘trying’ to ‘get there’ and suddenly somehow I arrive! Like Clementine, I’m on tea & croissants. On Friday night last when I turned on the Mercury prize I discovered a man/voice which was as big a revelation to me as hearing Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks on vinyl way back in 1968 on an old Dancette record player exactly like this one.
Benjamin Clementine was chosen as the top album (?) and what a phenomenon! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a68KJWe_Tfk
Although I am not a phenomenon I did surprise a few folk at the IPA fortnight (http://www.ipapress.i-pa.org/official-news/ipa-autumn-2015-official-news/great-blog-from-pete-kennedy-about-ipa-autumn-2015/ recently but I been a long time gestating. During the time of my ‘working life’ I never ‘made it’, that’s for sure, partly cos I were too busy working for a living. But I never gave up my pursuit of the goal which was to make a mark on the consciousness of the era in which I have lived.
It was a long hard battle. I wrote, I painted, I did graphics (‘comic’, caricature and stuff) and I drew. I drew cos I could. I actually draw because of the battle I had to fight to acquire the ability to draw. It wasn’t easy cos as a 16 year old I was cack-handed (kakˈhandɪd; ‘clumsy, awkward or inept way of doing something; originally meaning left handed’, in other words I couldn’t draw for toffee but now I’m ambidextrous and am proud of that. Although I perform across a number of media it was the ability to draw which I chased hard until I achieved a certain skill which allowed me to draw the likes of Feliks Topolski, Miriam Patchen and more recently Vest & Page.
When Richard Morphet, the then Keeper of the Modern Collection at Tate, said to me in c. 1994, ‘Your work has a very German feel’, I think he was referring to the new breed from Germany like ‘upside down man’ Baselitz, yes there was a similarity but it stemmed from our all having the same influences in art history. Here’s one of my portraits (of Michael McKell actually) showing the similarity in technique. This is one of the illustrations which are reproduced beautifully in my article in JAB38 but here I am showing it in colour, it needs colour as does much of my oeuvre.
When Brad Freeman gave the go ahead on my article for the Journal of Artists Books (JAB http://www.journalofartistsbooks.org/current/) and I pondered on being asked to feature my own work, mainly in book and print but also in paint, and those who had inspired, directed and influenced it. It soon became apparent that many of them were of German origin. My father and his father’s generation had been embroiled in war with Germany yet I was inspired by so many German artists and writers. Significantly many of my influences had been on the Nazi regime’s list of ‘degenerate art’. The writer, artist and mountain walker Hermann Hesse, significantly, even stood up against the First World War. Anselm Keifer, Dieter Roth and Joseph Beuys all had to cope in their various ways with having been born in Germany and the aftermath stigma of the Third Reich.
my portrait of Anselm Kiefer
Luckily my embroilment has been with the positive creative side of the German spirit. The list is long and the work they did will give insight into my own output, about which the article will further inform you. Beneath German military imperialism lays a deeper current, German humanism as manifested in the work of writers like Hesse, Walser and Klee, each has had a profound effect on my work/output which I shall be linking to the work of the following artists showing how they have had an impact on my thinking:
Expressionists; Shmidt-Rotluf, Franz Marc (Post Card To Prince Jussuf), Kokoshka with his very literature base and liberal brush.
Dada etc; Max Ernst Collage books (La Femme 100 tetes) and his Livres d’artists,
Bauhaus; Klee, Schlemmer
Post war; Anselm Keifer, Dieter Roth and Joseph Beuys
Add to these Munch and Soutine, both of whom have a similar ‘feel’ and indeed the former certainly influenced the Expressionists. https://www.google.co.uk/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=expressionist+painters
*Kokoshka was born in Austria but was associated with German Expressionism and dada.
Wikipedia says that Kokoschka (who became involved with Performance Art) was a master of ‘innovative oil painting techniques anchored in earlier traditions’ which resonates with my lifelong observation about ‘art’ or rather ‘the creative process’ passing down a (transcendent) chain or down a line/ lineage.
I see my portraits as descendent from the work of Rembrandt or El Greco, then Van Gogh and Soutine yet it never lamely mimics any of them. They set the example but I always looked to move it on. I was born into a generation which experimented with and pushed the barriers, sometimes too far, too quickly. I have always looked over my shoulder or down to see my feet standing on the shoulders of giants. I fought hard with my own inadequacies to overcome my incompetence in various media. I did find my way to doing some oil paintings which had considerable skill. All of the time I heard Max Ernst whispering in my ear that ‘painting is dead’, yet I refused to allow that to happen, I love the push of the wet gooey brush across the dry canvas surface and my attempts to make a difference. I was aware that so many great artists had (before I began) created a great legacy of amazing works which I could hardly hope to match, so I would push off in another direction. To find that direction I would look intensively into the history of ‘art’ and into the practice which was going on around me from the time of my first successful paintings and prints until today.
In the early 1970’s I was lucky to see the work of Soutine, de Kooning, Barnet Newman and Dieter Roth all of whom did what I considered to be ground-breaking work which itself was keeping to the lineage of the greats that went before them. I wanted to create new and original work which proved ever so difficult when the art market only really wanted to have the work of established masters or people who were following in their footsteps. They wouldn’t look at my work because I was not in the canon or established or I didn’t have the right track record or had not been vetted by the right colleges. And who can blame them when so many artists were being produced, choosing who to back and add to the canon must have been difficult. But I carried on making my art regardless, for 48 years now. Now it can be seen that I have created a large oeuvre which has a wide variety of differing styles and ways of working, yet another taboo in the ‘art-world’ where they like it if you concentrate on a small area then you can be boxed up and sold.
I was inspired by Ernst. I saw Roth as an oasis on my starving journey. And later I saw Beuys and Keifer doing things I had done as a result of pursuing my own star only they did them more than I ever could with my limited time and resources.
‘Beuys never made a painting on canvas; he explicitly rejected this traditional artistic production.’ P68 JB-A Colourful World, pubr. Schellmann Art, Munich 2011. Here is a difference because I did do paintings and other things onto canvas, I wouldn’t stop because Beuys did not choose this medium, but I would be able to consider many materials for use in my own work having been given permission so to do by Beuys having used them either before I did or without my knowing that he had and my later finding out he had used materials I had chosen, except before me. What Beuys, Ernst and Roth did was encourage my daring when it came to which materials could be used to make my work with. Had I stuck to the limited media which my educators and many British artists before the sixties had stuck to my output would have been severely limited. Even today many of my pieces are frowned upon by people from all walks of life because many have little idea as to the way art and its use or abuse of materials has moved for better or worse in the past 50 years.
On 23.7.14 I got a note from David Jury about our collaboration for an artists book Inside This Clay Vessel http://www.abebooks.co.uk/9780950426716/BATCH-Introduction-Thoughts-Clay-Jug-0950426717/plp :
‘I did a lot of work on Vessel page 2 (V2) today but had to make quite a few changes from yesterday’s efforts. I expect to get a printed result tomorrow. It was Braunschweig University that I visited, but they have no link to Beuys. The permanent exhibition of Beuys I mentioned is kept at a fantastic gallery in Berlin, the Hamburger Bahnhof. They have a couple of fabulous Keifer pieces too, but they are not always on display.’
I had been asking him about his visit to Braunschweig and the artists that he’d told me about with a view to me going there one day(?). In 2015 I produced a book about the making of my picture called Venus Stairs which was inspired by Schlemmer’s Bauhaus Staircase. The more I see of Schlemmer’s oeuvre the more I love it, especially the stuff he did related to performance, especially now that I am so involved with Performance Art.
Two weeks ago I recited my Beuys poem at firstsite Gallery in Colchester. The poem pokes fun at Beuys and his ways but it’s also an homage to him. When I spent 2 weeks in the company of Performance Artist Jurgen Fritz I was aware that I am still a novice in the field of Performance Art but Jurgen said encouraging things about my efforts. I have been eating, sleeping & dreaming up Performance Art pieces since then and my next blog will be about the IPA fortnight.
Here’s me reciting my Beuys poem. He had gold on his face, I couldn’t afford gold so I used black.