Telling stories about Extinction
By Gordon Liddle
What influences an artist? Why does one artist paint in a manner recognisable to that artist alone and above all why does the artist pick that subject matter in the first place? What is art?
For most of my life I have had the ability to translate what I see into paintings or prints. At will. I can do a portrait which looks like the person as I see them. I can paint a cat. Or a dog. Or a tree. When I was a young man I tried over and over again to paint the likeness of an object so that other people could see it as I saw it, then, after years of practice, almost overnight, the ability to do so was readily available. It wasn’t learned at Art College.
The tutors, if they were there at all, had no inclination to teach the fundamentals of applying paint or ink. We had passed the days of the artist as an apprentice to another artist till he learned his/her ‘trade!’ If you wanted to learn how to apply paint so it doesn’t crack two years later, or to apply glazes to allow colours to shine through each other, or to understand why light reflects off neighbouring objects to change each surface, it had to be done on your own.
I keep hearing Rosa’s maxim ‘socialism or barbarism’, and I believe it to be so.
Most art tutors have been stealing a living for decades. The only reason to be there was to get a very decent wage and to shag the freshers before retiring early with a decent pension. No, if you need the fundamentals of how to paint, you are on your own. By the way, the life drawing tutor was brill, the rest, not so much. This applies, I find, to much of education. The system may give you a start (or puts you off for life), but real education happens when you take a personal interest, then teach yourself. Then the world of knowledge becomes astounding. As Frank Zappa said, ‘if you want to get laid, go to college, if you want to learn, go to a library!’ Now the library is on Wi-fi, as well as on paper.
Then of course, you need a subject matter. What do you paint, but most of all, why? If you’ve mastered the basics of putting paint on canvas (even that seems dated now), you want to know why you are putting the paint on and what for. You have the whole of the history of art to be influenced, to look at how and why the great and good, and not so good fared. If the simple manner of defining an artist is by how much of his/her stuff is selling, or how much press they get, then Emin and Hirst are both geniuses’, and Van Gogh was a complete failure. This is nonsense of course, but defining art is like trying to nail down a jelly. Apparently nowadays, everyone is an artist, and I suppose that is true in that everyone has the potential to create art. But I remember the Hitchens quote, ‘’Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.’ Most children are instinctively drawn to art, to them it is a natural as speaking, but like many things they are ‘educationalized’ out of it, which is a terrible shame.
Radicalism is absorbed, or purged so things carry on a ‘normal!’
In our neoliberal capitalist world, art has become just another method of asset storage and wealth hoarding. Most of the ‘leading’ artists supply nondescript tat for ‘collectors’ or billionaires and like every other activity, this is seen as somehow proper by our supplicant and corrupt media. If a work comes to public attention the whole focus is on the auction price. How much it sold for. The work itself is rarely examined. Artists, for the most part, have gone along with this, their radicalism, if it existed at all, sold for a few pretty pennies. It’s how the establishment works. Radicalism is absorbed, or purged so things carry on as ‘normal!’ If you aren’t absorbed, you are locked out. Your work is rejected and there is no-where to show it. You have to work at something else to survive.
I was so disillusioned after finishing art college; I didn’t paint for years. It seemed somehow much easier to throw some used condoms on a bed or make childish balloon shapes instead. The physical and emotional lift of standing in front of something truly moving and inspiring didn’t seem to be a thing anymore. But you cannot suddenly stop being an artist.
I see things in colours. Or shapes. Or shades. Everything. Even conversations. Even bird song. And I see things as stories. And for many, art has stopped telling stories. When I was just finishing college, I did a large painting of an imaginary Egyptian mural. The murals told stories (I wish I had done the hieroglyphs correct). On the right-hand side is a workman plastering around a newly fitted urinal, completely overlaying the old and ancient narrative of the wall behind.
I see things in colours. Or shapes. Or shades. Everything. Even conversations. Even bird song.
Obviously, it was a tilt at Duchamp but could be of any of our modern art ‘elite.’ The problem for me is that the Duchamp urinal seems to have been repeated ad-nauseum ever since. I remember listening to Hockney recently when asked about the new flush of ‘artists. ‘Hand, eye and heart. If you don’t have all three, it isn’t art.‘ I tend to agree with him. I realised early on that art for me was not a choice. I didn’t immediately understand my slight autism until later in life, but I did understand that when I’m not being creative, I am destructive. If I’m not writing about something or altering the garden, or growing plants, or painting or making something, then I’m destructive.
I don’t like talking much and I’m not gregarious. Lockdown for me and being in my studio or garden was glorious. I have also come to understand that telling a story is political, as is seeking the truth. We live politics, we also live a lie. And our establishment rulers fully understand this. For years we have lived like mushrooms, kept in the dark and fed bullshit, as a very wealthy few have looted the planet, hoarded wealth and resources and put us on the edge.
Climate change and ecological collapse is very real. It has been added to the Doomsday Clock by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and this has placed us 100 seconds to midnight. If that doesn’t frighten you then you aren’t thinking. For decades the corporations and Oligarchs responsible have been spending billions gaslighting and lying to us, and that capitalism and the free markets are the only way, nothing else is conceivable, that wealth will trickle down, and climate change is a hoax, actually no, now it’s real but it wasn’t our fault, and you need to stop using plastic bags, it’s your fault and now it’s too late we will have to adapt! None of this is true. It certainly isn’t too late, but it will be a damn close shave, even if we move all our resources immediately. A very clever young girl from Sweden has realised this, and her ‘condition’ has given her a laser like focus. We can make a difference, but only by changing the system.
For the last few years, I have painted about ‘stuff!’ I decided that my way of making a small ripple in the pond, my contribution to the fight as it were, was by writing about the issues and painting about them. Telling stories. I set about painting six large canvases regarding climate change and ecological collapse, as well as six large-scale woodcuts and a series of etchings, as well as a book. Three of the woodcuts are nearing completion, one painting is finished and four more are on the easels. A large sculpture is also half finished and looking for a funder and a site. They will take me a long while, as I have to fund them myself.
the Doomsday Clock … has placed us 100 seconds to midnight.
These works of art are links to the symptoms of climate change, refugees, oceans collapsing, biodiversity loss, and they are all under the Gaia banner; The Sixth Extinction Series. They are warnings. I think Lovelocks Gaia hypothesis is the nearest scientific theory for life on earth I’ve ever read, that everything is connected and, like a game of Jenga, removing one tiny part of an eco-system can cause total collapse of the whole. If you are of religious persuasion (I am not), then this is the God of small things. God is in everything, of which we are a part. Without the other parts, we are nothing.
like a game of Jenga, removing one tiny part of an eco-system can cause total collapse of the whole
Bereft. I read the Oligarchs views of the mess and their solutions, that we can move to Mars, engineer our way out of this mess, that we can adapt, we can transhuman, we can transcend, but only through capitalism, and I reject it. Humans are collaborators. We succeed by co-operating and are happiest when doing so. Our current perversions are the results of slavery and colonialism by a wealthy few who have poisoned the well. I keep hearing Rosa’s maxim ‘socialism or barbarism’, and I believe it to be so. Art is what makes my heart beat. Without the art of Gaia, we have nothing. As our leaders meet this week to discuss their approach to the crisis we face, expect nothing. Crumbs from the top table. Boris has already condemned us with scorn. Bunny huggers! We live on Paradise, Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot. On my latest woodcut is an Albatross with a crossbow bolt through it. Let’s not make the same mistake as the Ancient Mariner. Art is life. Life is art.
Gordon Liddle was born 1956, Horden, County Durham, United Kingdom Married, lives and works at his Derbyshire studio. BA Hons, Sheffield Psalter Lane Art College Gordon has had numerous positions and travelled extensively through the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Yemen, Lebanon, Bahrain, Africa and Europe, with particular interests in religion, democracy, politics, economics, MMT, and culture. The results of these studies form the basis of the series of works now under way. Numerous works bought by private collectors #Madonna Victorian Mood Bought by Andrew Cavendish the 11th Duke of Devonshire is owned by the Chatsworth Collection. ‘Celestial Teapot’ was exhibited at La Galleria Pall Mall in London for one week in 2013, 4 days at Art Basel in 2014. Currently working on Gaia, The Sixth Extinction Series, of paintings, woodcuts and hopefully etchings soon. Also writing two books and a book of poems and rants. Gordon is on Twitter @sutongirotcip and his website is pictorignotus.com