Remembering memories - where things began - how they infected and influenced your life.
I was still at school, it must have been 1970, I am not sure. We were taken by an enlightened teacher to see HAIR at a theatre in the West End. We got there by coach from East London. I sat at the very back in seats, so far up that they were called the gods. Looking down, I was scared. Then the lights dimmed and i watched, spellbound by the actions and the music and the sentiment. It felt completely liberating.
The thing about true liberation is when you are liberated from a situation you had no idea that you being held captive.
My school was a dark victorian school for boys. It looked like prison and felt like an asylum. I saw this performance of HAIR, and from that moment everything changed, I went back to school and to my life, a different person. We moved the following year into a new high school, mixed boys and girls.
I only had one year left at school, I did very little and was bored out of my mind everyday. We were basically kettled and held against our will and subjected to endless hours of light clerical work. They tried in vain to get us to remember things we had no interest in, like dates of battles and catastrophes. The most remarkable thing I learnt in my entire time at school was the rubber came from trees. trees in Malaysia. That was mind blowing. So school trips were escapes and I had two that changed my life, one was seeing HAIR the other seeing Edward Kienholz at the ICA in 1971 (more on that later). So we had no power, but the headmaster decided that each class had a moment to take assembly. When our class had its turn it was the usual bible story read out, followed by a hymn.
Then our class turn came around again and I said I want to do this. So they let me, not knowing what I would do. I got some friends to help and did not tell our teacher what I would do. Everyone arrived for assembly. As soon as they all sat down, i made a signal, the lights went out, we read an anti-war poem, followed by machine gun noise and then we straight into a song from HAIR blasting out into the darkness. The kids stamped on the floor and joined in with the music and it was almost a riot.
The headmaster must have been beside himself and eventually the teaching staff turned on all the lights. I think I got into trouble, but I was so often in trouble it made no difference to me. It was a huge success and I have been working my way down ever since.
But I fell in love with the theatre and it took me just over 40 years to pick up where I left off.
I made my first moving images with my dad’s Russian Standard 8mm camera when I was about thirteen. It had a wind up mechanism three different lens and a soft leather case. I also had a film splicer and cement and I loved cutting the film.
When I went to college I was lucky to have Peter Logan teaching film, he got his friends in too teach as well, so I had a few lessons with Derek Jarman. He showed us his films he made by the Thames, with mirrors reflecting the sun into the lens and making the world go dark.
Then I made my first video works, on half inch reel to reel video tape. I then found Super 8 with sound. Super 8 had a more widescreen format unlike standard 8 which was half of 16mm.
WOrks on Paper (Drawings)
I have been working on the same paper since 1988. Occasionally I cut the paper to a specific size., but usually I accept the given size of 128 cm 90 cm. I like the idea of a given - something I take for granted. I feel one of the common treads of my work is this acceptance that the site, whether it be a building or a piece of paper comes with an existing set of circumstances. These situations are the material I work with.
The method I use on the paper is almost completely the same. The paper itself is a tough industrial paper that I buy direct from the manufacturer. Its usually for printing high gloss images. This means it is coated and has a shiny water resistant material.
I pencil in a drawing first the using an etching tool scratch in the pencil marks. Sometimes I cut a layer of the paper away. This exposes the fibre beneath.
I then rub oil stick into the scratched and exposed areas. The next method is erasure. I may leave the oil on the paper for a few weeks or minutes and the kind of line that I get depends on this and also on the persistence of the erasure with white spirit.
I have different levels of control, the weight of my hand the speed, the amount of white spirit are all variables.
Sometimes I scratch on to the oiled areas
I first began taking photographs with my dads old bellow camera. It took 120 film. I still have the camera. I progressed into my own cheap cameras until I begged for a 35mm. I got a Praktica Camera, from East Germany which I still have. It was a SLR, single lens reflex. I was very interested at school in only two subjects photography and drama.
Although I hated science I loved the chemical alchemy that turned a blank piece of paper into an image. I studied the technique very carefully. By the time I was thirteen i was developing photographs in the bathroom at home. The large negatives of the 120 film were perfect for contact prints.
So photography has been one of the media that I use constantly. I love the mechanism of the camera and the developing process, I like doing things.
When digital cameras first came out I did not like them, but now I love them. I love that it is adaptable and you can push it too its limited and I specially like that the results are instant so you can see what you have done.
My most recent camera is a Polaroid pogo camera that produces instant digital prints.
I had been cutting into things throughout my life. I had made works back in 1981 cutting shapes and lines in cardboard constructions. Since 1988 I have been cutting, scratching and slicing into sheets of paper, in a series I still continue today called Page-Specific.
I began making a series of proposed and invisible works. I made a piece just of labels. One of the ideas was to make a wall cuts. This came about after doing massive building work on my own house.
I saw the possibility of using the wall like the paper as a material. As usual once i had this idea i tried to find somewhere to try this out.
I had friends living in Leytonstone whose ACME houses were about to be demolised. I tried to get permission to work in these houses but it was denied.Well, I just gained access illegaly and made my work. I had to be quick to avoid detection from the police and security guards that were all over the area as it was the centre of massive demonstrations and occupation.
Text, Talks and Broadcasts
Objects and ADD ONS
I have always made things, my first works were sculpture, abstract ready made when I was fifteen. I had never heard of a ready made but by chance i was on a school visit to the Commonwealth Institute in London. In the foyer was what looked like bits of metal randomly assembled. I asked my teacher what it was “sculpture” he said.
Later I found out it was by Anthony Caro. What amazed me was that it was made from ordinary materials, things I recognised and I thought it was amazing. A few months later I was taken to the ICA and saw the work of Kienholtz. This was like a revelation. All of the small water colours, sketches, cartoons and poetry that I had been doing in secret made sense. I always knew I was different - I was an artist.