Category Archives: Tod Road School, Burnley

What’s in a name?

What’s in a name, Everything & Nothing?

Naming things also means everything & nothing like the famous conundrum about a doctor:

A father and his son are in a car accident. The father dies instantly, and the son is taken to the nearest hospital. The doctor comes in and exclaims “I can’t operate on this boy.”

“Why not?” the nurse asks.

“Because he’s my son,” the doctor responds.

How is this possible?

The answer is in the ingrained assumption that the word ‘doctor’ denoted a male practitioner which in the ‘old days’ it usually did. The assumption was ingrained over centuries of the ‘male-dominated’ world which allegedly no longer dominates the ‘norm’ but in the collective mind it seems the natural assumption falls to the male interpretation. Now this is not an article about doctors nor prejudices, I am merely pointing out that altho a name is important it often misleads our perception, even when there is no intent so to do.

I mention this because I have been involved in making art & books all my adult life which is (on paper) 50 years, in fact 56 when you take into account I made my first book as a ten year old (of course I weren’t a adult then tho) as an end of summer term project at Tod Road Junior School and my first comic, Big ‘Ead was in that book which had old wallpaper as a cover. In my first year at Gwamma Skewel (as an ex pupil of the old grammar school system I firmly believe that they are a relic of a past (male dominated) culture, so no don’t bring them back, but you’ll ignore me anyway, won’t you Tess?) I made more sophisticated books with bookcloth spines and all. In my 6th form I made my own sketch books, had to cos I couldn’t afford to buy one. At (teachers’ training) college I made several books for projects and did my first concertina book with 6 screenprints in which I have just ‘published’ in an A5-ish book.

apulscreem 2017 cover sm
‘Apulhed Sees’ is on sale at Bookartbookshop.

Then I taught how to make books to the kids in my classes but didn’t make my own again til I embarked on my MA course in my sixties after retiring hurt from my role as a ‘teacher’. You may ask, “What’s he on about?” well my answer is I’ve always been making the contents of books and sometimes the books themselves book I am not a bookbinder per se. Many of my ‘books’ tease and stretch the definition of ‘book’ which takes me back to my point at the head of this piece, What’s in a name?

Artists’ Books?

There’s a term ‘Artists’ Books’ which is quite popular nowadays denoting an infinite variety of ways to make and stretch the curve in what a book can be. There are a growing number of Artists’ Books Fairs or markets etc. I’ve frequented a few but my work doesn’t sell in droves so I cannot really afford to have a stall unless I wish to make some new (networking?) links thru meeting new folks and advertise my wares, basically I have to tell myself, “This is like a holiday Pete. You’re running a table during the day then ‘after hours’ you can take a look at a place you wouldn’t necessarily visit, like say Oxford, Newcastle or even Edinburgh. Recently I was able to walk around the Bristol Artist Book Event (BABE) [wearing my new Apulhed mask] and witness the wonderful atmosphere and the way so many folk of like mind share a big space and fill it with beautiful artistic output. I spoke with a couple from Kent but have forgotten their details, so if you’re out there I’d love to connect up and discuss making 3D masks! The people who make the books are very talented and ‘artist’s books’ are a wonderful vehicle for all manner of ideas and projects and many of them are beautiful objects. Some of my work falls under the category too but I prefer the term ‘Books Artists Make’ (BAM) for my works.

I know that not everyone involved in artists books claims to be a artist but I did before I realised am not a artist, I am a man, I am me! But all my adult life I been involved in ‘art & writing’ but once again, What’s in a name? What does ‘art’ mean? What does ‘writing’ mean? In my case they both often meant under-mining or undermining or under-mine-ing. I would undermine my own stuff, I would often do something real good then undermine it with my next work.

I have this penchant for undermining, reaching under, looking past, looking beyond. I think it came from doing ‘History’ with the late David Clayton at school where we were encouraged to question things and this continued in my Philosophy tutorials with the late Bill Josebury at St Lukes. I hated the art dept at my college so I did everything I could to undermine the tutors. I disliked the politicians in the early 70’s like Thatcher who did her infamous cuts in Education then went on to destroy mining communities so I did scathing cartoons about their lack of consideration or conniving. One of Thatcher’s best buddies was Pinochet and she must have learned a lot from his methods, he, like other dictators smashed the poets, artists and educationists. So when it came to undermining the book, wow, I was in heaven.

Which brings me to the work of Tim Hopkins and his subject Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet. Tim  has a day job, but when he gets home he must work thru the night on his little Adana press. http://britishletterpress.co.uk/presses/small-presses/adana/

Tim has produced a wonderful box of prints, which may be called an artistsbook of The Book of Disquiet. https://twitter.com/halfpintpress a bk o disquietLaunched on Thursday 6th April it’s on display in the window at the Bookartbookshop  near Old Street station, London. It’s difficult to describe but it’s very beautiful. Fernando Pessoa wrote his book (never published in his lifetime) during his final days on lots of ephemera and Tim has printed Pessoa’s writings onto many ephemeral objects like beermats, pop bottle labels, stamps, pencils, lolly sticks. This is a labour of love. He did 50 boxes/copies for sale and sold out almost immediately! I bought two packs with for pieces in each and they seem to be beautifully printed but Tim’s attention to the detail of Pessoa’s writings is astonishing.

a Pessoa

Pessoa had a strange view of What’s in a name?, he invented what most of us call alter-egos but he coined the term, ‘heteronyms’ to explain his use of a myriad of ‘characters’ in his writings who spoke with different tongues and names in his work. Fernando Pessoa says ‘my habit of placing myself in the souls of other people makes me see myself as others see or would see me…’

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7816.Fernando_Pessoa

and well done Tanya for arranging the show!

By strange coincidence I had come across Pessoa’s work for the first time ever a couple of weeks before this launch at Bookartbookshop as I was doing a poetry workshop (the same night as the launch!) at the Poetry school in Lambeth led by Saradha Soobrayen:

Session 4 Pessoa Task (for Thursday 6th April): Describe and create heteronyms to unlock hidden parts of your writing…

Pessoa’s on his term ‘heteronyms’. “A pseudonymic work,” he explained in a 1928 article, “is, except for the name with which it is signed, the work of an author writing as himself; a heteronymic work is by an author writing outside his own personality: it is the work of a complete individuality made up by him, just as the utterances of some character would be.”

Now you know my tendency to undermine don’t you? I’ll finish this blArt with my own slight consternation at Pessoa’s notion that a writer can, ‘write outside his own personality’? I tend to agree with this comment from the goodreads link above, that Pessoa wrote from 4 differing aspects of himself. ‘It is sometimes said that the four greatest Portuguese poets of modern times are Fernando Pessoa. The statement is possible since Pessoa, whose name means ‘person’ in Portuguese,…’

 

 

A lifelong friend

A lifelong friend, Trevor C., said (3.1.16) ‘Happy New Year Pete. Even though I just about made it passed the first line [of your latest blog]! All the best to you and hope that your family are all well.’

He was referring to his lack of comprehension of my blog, but I had given him an in to his comment by saying ‘many folk may fall asleep after the first line’ in it.

The two working class boys shopping for their mum could be me and Trev but we weren’t born when this photo was taken in Glasgow (where I was in fact born two years later! Trev were born in Burnley where I settled in 1954).

gorbal boys by hardy

(image Bert Hardy 1948).

http://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2013/mar/24/bert-hardy-photographs-in-pictures

pete, an mates tod rd trio

Pete, Roy & Trev (capt.) drawn from a photo of Tod Road Juniors taken by Roy’s dad when we were about to play in the Centenary Cup Final as one of the top two primary school teams in Burnley in 1961.

 This blog is about relationships.

I’ve known Trev since we were 5 year olds. We played football together at Primary and Secondary schools then for NALGO and The Old Boys’ teams after we left school. We used to drink beer and chase girls together during our teens in his Wolseley Hornet, which can be seen in the background of this group photo.

pete bly boys 1971

Pete (sporting his six pack and Lennon-specs), Steve Hezzlewood, Trev
with Stuart in foreground at campsite near Woolacombe.

Steve and Pete in the sea off Polperro, shortly before we rescued Trev who had an attack of cramp. Steve was to die in his early forties from a congenital heart problem.

a wolesley hornet

Five of us were driven back from the great festival at Shepton Mallet in it in 1970!

For many years I always would visit him whenever I returned to my home town (which I hardly ever visit now since both of my parents died). He’s one of a handful of friends I’ve kept touch with since 1955. Those relationships are precious reminders of Burnley where I went to school.

Last week’s TED lecture flagged up the vital part good relationships play in longevity. Mutual support, community, compassion* and camaraderie help support a long healthy life. https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#section_query/in%3Ainbox/15203661e1e6c780

* In his chapter called ‘Monks In The Machine’ in The Wisdom Of Compassion Victor Chan reports finding out that Richard Davidson uses an fMRI machine to show activation in parts of the brain to explore brain functions when people think. Davidson discovered that people who have a high register of an electrical signal called ‘gamma’ tend to be in heightened feelings of happiness, joyful & optimistic. He found that one monk who had done over 34 thousand hours of meditation entered a state of euphoria when meditating on Compassion, joy and fulfilment permeated his entire nature. Most of the monks showed large increases in gamma waves in their left pre-frontal cortex- a sign that they were experiencing intense periods of well-being. It may be possible to intentionally cultivate positive traits such as empathy & kindness and use it as an antidote to anxiety & depression. The Dalai Lama’s insight after 80 years of meditation is that altruism is the surest way to bring about genuine life satisfaction.

 

Since the late sixties, when I began taking ‘art’ seriously, my relationship with ‘the gallery’ has been anything but healthy. In fact it’s been heartily non-existent. It’s interesting too that this week I went to talk with an accountant cos HMRC in its wisdom (not) decided I need to do self-assessment returns on the basis that a gallery put me on its wages forms in order to gain some tax allowance on the £100 bursary they gave me. The accountant laughed at my finances which show my outgoings to make my art are easily a hundred times greater than my incomings. Which brings up the question of what a fool believes. I believed for the past 50 years that one day my art would pay back all the time and effort. It hasn’t, not financially anyway. It has in terms of my learning, my extended skill base, my fairly prodigious output (most of which I retain) and of course my job as a teacher of art which kept the wolf from the door.

I’m working on re-viewing my attitudes and expectations in order to move thru my next phase in life. Not expecting ever to sell my art, never being made welcome in the gallery nor being asked to lecture at any higher level institution must be taken as a definite, it’s not what might occur, it happened already. By doing that I am no longer chasing what I call ‘wil o’ the wisps. I can just continue to make what pleases me, which is what I mostly did all along. I intend to complete the masters of several books I am designing most of which I have written and made images for already but I won’t create editions. I am doing them to prove to myself I can. I don’t wish to create more than the master any more, there’s no need, there’s no market. The resounding silence I have received for the 3 articles I wrote for some journals and the quiet noise my books have generated in the past 40 years indicates to me that people are not gagging to see them even less own them or even write columns about them. To those of you (I can count you on my two hands) who have gently expressed your liking for some product I created, thank you, but the remainders of past books and paintings, prints, bronzes etc indicates to me it’s time to retract. I am not sad, but just being realistic. I am changing my focus, I am reading the signs more clearly. I ploughed on regardless for 50 years thinking people would eventually understand, ‘get’ what I am saying and all. Now I am going to clear the clutter in various aspects of my life, stop chasing my dreams and start taking notice of the need to weed my ground, paint my house, cook some of our food and all the things that ‘normal’ folk do which I have neglected whilst chasing the dream.

Performance Artist (PA) Alastair MacLennan once said that ‘a society gets the art it deserves’ and it seems the society I lived in didn’t deserve my work because it didn’t ‘get’ (or receive) it. Individuals, other artists, players, writers all have ‘got’ my work but society at large, especially represented by the gallery, the media and the critics, didn’t ‘get’ it. Ironically the absence of accolade & ‘success’ for my werk aided my own freedom to explore my very own path & produce outcomes untrammelled by the expectations of others.

‘In a debate concerning freedom Karel Teige discussed the relationship between society and the production of art which he saw as ironic in a society primarily concerned with profit making’. (Slavka Sverakova, p10 in Alastair MacLennan Is No 1975-1988, 1988.) In 1985 MacLennan had said, ‘Realising the bottom line is never ideological, but human; that art is not in, of, or onto itself. It’s for people.’ (ibid)

Here I want to quote some more from Slavka’s preface because it seems to me to be a perfect manifesto for my own future-work:

‘MacLennan…insists that periphery is the cutting edge of culture’ [My work has always been on the periphery, it’s even on the outside of Outsider Art! I have always stood at the side watching, trying to get in, crying cos am rejected and all those emotions which everyone who ever tried to make art feels in varying degrees. Escher^, seems not to have bothered with the circuit and his stuff has had lasting quality, I must say it’s influenced my work on occasion. One example is my etching below. (^I mention Escher cos his art was all to do with transformation from one state into another, very much like what my PA is about, creating magic moments from seemingly mundane things through interesting juxtapositions

– I PK (or DAN I OOPAPA) said that, sounds profound to me!),]

etched scheffler part

Part of my etching about knowledge

MacLennan…’the art centre is wherever you are’. [compare with Jurgen Fritz, ‘Performance Art is what the Performer declares it to be’]

Plato in Timaeus formulated the idea that ‘human dignity does not depend on a hierarchy of wealth and power. ‘Plato’s Demiurge is not an object of worship he is a builder and maker, he puts things together, joins them, blends them, splits them up, divides them’ (ibid). [Isn’t that what I always do, done, did?]

MacLennan talks of, ‘What we perceive is a certain combination of shifting qualities in a certain place at a certain time.’ [this makes the ‘event’ the art. So many Performance Artists don’t like their work to be recorded. It is what it was at the moment it happened, it cannot be replicated. Beuys said that the event not the notes left on the piano was the art]

MacLennan says he performs, ‘Installed, sited action/ritual, evolving  thru stages of transition for pre-determined durations with content engaging political, social & cultural issues…highly sensual & chaotic…as Heidegger said ’the matter-form-structure content tends to be submerged in the creator’s own participation as the source of the object’s presence’. [There, my permit to place ‘me’, costumed, masked, or in my birthday suit, in my art, my go-ahead to bring my (past*) art & artefacts into my PA! And so it shall Be.]

*’past’, it’s always ‘past’ if you make it, no matter when you make it.

So, the artist who is ‘creative’, one who creates new ideas/product/challenge, has few outlets (if any). In PA, as Jurgen Fritz (JF) and Vest & Page (V&P) said during a discussion at IPA, in order to get paid venue work you have to more or less guarantee your product is of appeal to a potential audience, in other words, reliable in a predictable form. However, one of the excitements of PA is that it seeks out & thrives upon the unexpected. As JF and V&P all indicated, when the going gets difficult/tough/surprising/unpredictable “It has begun”. The very nature of creative art is that it is challenging and it can be (delightfully/scarily) surprising. MacLennan said, “Realising the bottom line is never ideological, but human; that art is not in, of, or onto itself. It is for people.”(Performance Mag 1985 No 37 p11)

Now I understand that when I do more PA I’d need to be able to communicate with or ‘get’ to the public mind, without demeaning my ideas nor intelligence & sensibility of the watchers of course.

I shall develop some of this in ma next blog.

They say The Duke if 70’s Cool died just after his 69th birthday. Respect, The Man Who Fell To Earth has returned to the Ether from whence he came to gift us with his Ziggy songs.

a sunset fer Bowie sm

So, to my tribute to the great innovator David (Jones) Bowie. I went to see him in Boscombe in summer 1972 just as he was developing his Ziggy character on a wing and a prayer. He wore a denim jacket with some fur embellishment on the collar, which style I adopted on my return to college for the jackets worn by the male dancers in St Luke’s College Performance ‘Catulli Carmina’ in the late autumn of that year. I love his China Girl stuff best. He’ll be walking along the beach with his mam again now. Here’s Ashes to Ashes and an unusual instrumental, just watch him dance 2.30 mins in. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T7KSM5j4-Zg .