The story of the red-and-black silk pants

On my travels around Newport today, looking for beauty, I came across a pair of red-and-black silk pants.

The mysterious pair of pants

The paints had been left / flung / abandoned next to Travis Perkins Builder’s Merchants at some point before 11.18am on Monday 2nd October 2017.

Where I found the pants

These pants have since been on my mind. They are not cheap and nasty pants. They are good-quality pants. They are not dirty. They are surprisingly clean. I think they had recently found their resting spot. I can’t stop thinking about these pants.

What I need to know is: how did they get there? 

When I find an abandoned object (whether it be a balloon or an odd shoe) I have this odd desire to construct a narrative for it. As I can’t find out the true narrative, at least not easily, I have to come up with my own (and that is the fun part for me). I suppose I could stand in the area over a 24-hour period, by the object in question, and ask everyone who passes by whether they either own the pants, know who owns the pants, witnessed the arrival of the pants or have any way of finding someone who might be able to help with one of the above.

Since I haven’t got time to be a sleuth, I simply must rely on my imagination. This is the story I have come up with for these pants.

I think that the pants were thrown out of a passing car window. It happened on the night of Sunday 1st October 2017, at approximately 8.22pm. It was dark when it happened. There were no passers by to witness the flying pants. The pants arrived just to the soundtrack of a passing car.

I came across the pants at approx. 11.18am. The pants must have been spotted, and ignored, between the hours of 8.22pm and 11.18am. I suspect I am the only person to stop and photograph the pants. I expect that if more than one person saw the pants, they might have exchanged a few words of amusement about the pants, wondering at their circumstances, but left it at that and moved on. Nobody else, I don’t think, went to the extent that I am now going to go to to create a history for the poor, abandoned, unloved pants.

Here is my story.

As I have already said, I believe that the story of the pants started at 8.22pm on the night of October 1st 2017. Picture this.

A car is driving down Station Road in Newport on the way to Waitrose carpark. It is maintaining a steady speed. There are two people in the car. The car is dark blue. I don’t know what make it is, though, as I don’t really do cars. I see a middle-aged couple in the car, on their way to an anniversary dinner. She is dressed elegantly, with a bit of bling. He is wearing a smart suit. I think it is their 14th wedding anniversary. They don’t have any children. As we see them pass by at 8.22pm, they are both feeling cross and hurt. Here is why.

For their wedding anniversary, he had bought her what he imagined was a thoughtful gift. He had previously hid the gift in the glove compartment of the car as an odd, romantic gesture. At 8.12pm, he had told her to look in the glove compartment. She had easily found the gift. She had been delighted to find a gift in the glove compartment, and so beautifully wrapped as well. She had been touched at his spontaneity. He isn’t usually a romantic soul.

Shortly before 8.22pm she had opened the prettily-decorated package. He had beamed at her with a sideways glance, not wanting to take his eye off the road for too long. He had thought the gift would be perfect; he had thought she’d look stunning in the expensive red and black underwear he had bought her from Rackhams in Birmingham. He adores her and this gift had meant to be a sign of his long-lasting deep love for her. However, the mood had soon changed. The gift hadn’t had the desired effect. Rather than with warmth and desire, she had reacted with anger. Her face had reddened. Her neck had reddened. She had turned to him, accused him of not knowing what she needs or wants. ‘Red pants it is not!’ She had shouted.

So as the clock strikes 8.22pm and as we join the couple, she angrily and haltingly opens the car window and flings the offending garnet out of the window in disgust. They fly through the air, high, over towards the pavement, and land, ironically softly, by a sign for Travis Perkins Builders Merchants. The car keeps going. It doesn’t slow. He stares ahead, fighting the confused emotions he feels, drives on, feeling misunderstood and hurt. Exhausted by her burst of anger, she slumps to the side, feeling exactly the same as he does. All that remains is silence, the air in the car pregnant with years of unsaid desires.

This is the first of my one-finger narratives.

There are many possible narratives for these pants. This is just one of hundreds of scenarios, like those that could occur in parallel universes. Perhaps there really are parallel universes at play here and the spot where the pants landed is a portal to all of them. Perhaps there were hundreds, thousands, millions, an infinite number of pairs of pants that all landed in that very spot at the same time.

Whatever the truth of the matter is, all stories end in a single pair of pants lying next to a sign for a builder’s merchant in Newport, Shropshire. 

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Beauty in Newport – it exists to those that seek it

Two years ago I went out one day and sought beauty in Telford. Two years ago, I found some beauty in Telford. Admittedly, not a great deal, but some. I wrote about that beauty.

Today, I felt inspired by a chance conversation with a good friend to seek some more beauty. This time, I decided to look for beauty in my new hometown of Newport. So my Canon camera and I took ourselves off with high hopes and a light heart. Newport, after all, isn’t Telford. Newport has a long history. Newport is pretty. Newport has a certain gentle, pace of life which differs to Telford’s more frenzied feel. Newport is old. Newport is quirky and eccentric. Newport has lots of lovely coffee shops. Newport has a Waitrose. Newport is an expanding town with much to offer. 

Ironically, I didn’t take as many photographs as I did on my visit to Oakengates and Telford two years ago. Newport is a very beautiful town, and I feel I need to go out again another day to discover more of its wonder. I found some elements to capture, just not quite as much as I felt I found in Telford. Is that because the pockets of beauty in Telford lept out at me, being perhaps fewer and further between? Is it because Newport is all-over beautiful so that renders it more difficult to pin-point pockets of beauty here? Or is it because my idea of beauty is a little off scale and my love of the 20th-century urban landscape means I found more to seize in Telford? I think it is a combination of all of the above.

There were a few photo opportunities that I reluctantly shied away from, such as the line of mobility scooters waiting patiently outside Waitrose; the two elderly ladies huddled under a blanket on a bench in the centre of town, heads bowed close together sharing a delicious piece of gossip; the downtrodden-looking pregnant woman with the Boots bag under her shoulder, complaining into her phone in the underpass between town and Waitrose; or the permanent resident who I see every time I go to town pensive and deep in thought as he stared at the offerings in B&M’s window. As I have said before, I am no Martin Parr. I’d love to be more like Martin Parr. That status is ahead of me, somewhere. I need the confidence to be more Martin.

In the meantime, I did manage to find some tiny gems of brilliance (in my eyes at least) and I offer them up here. I always find myself attracted to abandoned objects, whether they be purposefully abandoned, loved and then hated, or just other people’s rubbish. To me they are pregnant with potential narrative, often more than one, and that is what excites me as I wonder the streets whenever flâneurdom strikes.

Everyone’s ideas of beauty differ of course. Here are a few of mine.

First find: colour, contrast, simplicity.

What’s not to love about the contents of a bin?

Oh the stories I could come up with for these. That is a blog entry all by itself.

Newport is full of such cobbled streets.

I don’t think there is a Weatherspoons in Newport so how did this end up there?

It’s a cliche but I can’t resist a good line of bins.

Newport is a very British town.

Last but not least: a rather poorly executed balls and giant penis.

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Art galleries should allow solo entry only

In an ideal world, or parallel universe if not in an ideal world (or is that the same thing?), art galleries would allow solo entry only.

Last weekend I went to Washington D.C. for a short holiday. While I was there, I visited the Phillips Collection, for my first of many injections of art that weekend.

Last weekend

The Phillips Collection includes what is called the Rothko Room. My first impression of the Rothko Room was to exclaim in that know-it-all art student way: ‘I don’t think Rothko would like this room’. To me, the room felt cramped and not at all soothing and condusive to Rothko contemplation. While I was in the Rothko Room, there were about five other people looking at the Rothkos at the same time as me. I thought to myself: ‘These are Rothkos, I need to spend a few minutes looking at them and feeling the sublime he meant to convey’. In that room, I felt that I had to ‘force’ the feeling. This felt wrong. To me, this went against what Rothko aimed with his abstract pieces. So I concluded that the error was in the room (its dimensions or lighting, I wasn’t sure which) and that Rothko would be frowning.

The Rothko Room in Washington D.C.

So I sat on the bench in the middle of the room (see photo above, that’s the bench) and contemplated one of the four Rothkos. I looked at it. I tried to feel the sublime. I started to feel it. It was coming. The feelings grew. It was good. It just needed a bit more. I shifted slightly in my position. It helped. It was almost there. I just needed to wait a little longer and I’d reach Rothko nirvana. 

While I was going through this, the other visitors left the room. And it was at this point that I realised what had been wrong with the room; it wasn’t the dimensions, or the lighting, it was the fact that other people had been in the room at the same time as me. They had been the element that had ruined the experience for me. 

At this point I decided to read the blurb about the room and in doing this I found out that Rothko had been heavily involved in the design and intention of the room. He had liked the room, despite my first impressions of it. He designed the room himself and actually spent time in the room contemplating his paintings. It was designed to be a sort of ‘chapel’ to the four paintings and to silent contemplation of the colours and juxtapositions in the paintings. Other Roktho spaces have since used the Rothko Room as a guide to their own Rothko requirements. 

It worked. It really did work. Rothko was right. But for me, it only worked when I was alone in the room. It was if something suddenly clicked. I ‘got’ it once the distractions had left the room (the five other people). And ‘it’ was amazing. ‘It’ is too hard to describe. The only way to experience ‘it’ is to go to Washington D.C. yourself and experience ‘it’ for yourself. If you do, I urge you to wait until the room clears. 

As the weekend progressed, I saw much, much more art. I went to the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery of Art (particularly the East Wing). I saw a lot of amazing art. I was awed, I was amazed and I was dazzled. However, since my trip to the Rothko Room I realised the extent to which other people distracted me, almost to the point of irritation.

People looking at Pollocks

The issue arises from the fact that I actively enjoy people watching in art galleries. I like to observe how they look at art. It fascinates me. There are those that aim to look at everything and give the same time span to each piece. There are those like me that flit about from work to work and just see what grabs. There are those that come to see a select few pieces and spend more time on those few. There are also families, couples, single people, students and arty farty pretentious moi? types. I love it all. However, they are a distraction. They stop me really appreciating the artworks on display. What is the solution? Get rid of them of course.

Art, art and more art

So if there is a parallel universe where art galleries don’t need to count foot fall, I’d like to see such art galleries permitting entry to one person at a time so that that one person could choose what they want to look at and not be distracted either physically by bodies in the way of what they are seeing or mentally by the activities of behaviours of those bodies. 

All I need to do now is find a portal to this parallel universe I can imagine and go there and experience the sublime, the awe, the wonder and the essence that is art.


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More musings on the nature of creativity

Today I came across this quote in an article I read online about how Facebook uses algorithms to manipulate our thinking. 

A provocative quote

So, without irony, I asked Facebook what they thought (by Facebook, I mean my circle of friends, my Dunbar’s number, my like-minded thinkers, you know, the ones filtered by Facebook algorithms).

One friend responded straight away disagreeing with the quote, with the argument that algorithms need to be created by the human hand (selected, manipulated) so therefore they are creatively generated. He argued further that someone has to craft the algorithms with ideas of taste and aesthetics in mind. Without those, there is no control on the output.  This friend is someone who does this. He is someone I consider an artist. He is certainly creative. He has created his own ‘art’ using algorithms (by art I mean something made from an initial thought that effects the senses and / or provokes thought). The examples he gave today were the MinusEveryone artbot which he has made which creates cartoons sans living creatures, and ThreeKissesADay which generates Briget Riley inspired Op Art images, which are, well, rather aesthetically pleasing I have to say. However, he speaks code (lucky him!). His medium of choice is code. He doesn’t need to outsource this aspect of his artistic practice.

I agree that algorithms used for artistic purposes need a creative manipulator (i.e. an artist) or, at least, creative input from somewhere. I have recently used algorithms for the sake of art with my meme machine which I made for the fine art degree show. The use of algorithms in art is an an area I want to explore further as well. I feel, however, in my case (as opposed to my friend’s case) that I am hampered by lack of expertise in the area of computer code and algorithm generation. I simply don’t know how to do it. I only have the ideas.

One of my generated memes

So a second question that came up from this discussion is: is the algorithm (or creation thereof) a medium of art (the same as oil paint or video editing software) or is it part of the creative process itself? As I outsourced the code writing, is the artwork 100% mine and 100% authentic? I’d like to think it is. I recently came across EmpathyDeck on Twitter which uses algorithms to generate empathy tarot cards that are tweeted to followers. I have received one already since I started following EmpathyDeck. EmpathyDeck was created by an artist who had help with the computer code to create the program. She is still the artist. So the computer code writing (or writer) is the medium. If you can do both, like my friend mentioned above, then you are lucky.

However, a third interesting question arose from the discussion I had on Facebook. If you can use algorithms to create something aesthetic and emotive (such that a good artwork  made by hand does), to do that you are presumably injecting into the algorithm theories of what constitutes an aesthetic artwork. In other words, you are using science to create art. You have to tell the code something in order for it to generate something back. This made me ask myself: can science explain creativity in the same way that science can be used to generate creative output, as we see with the above two bots made by my friend? Is it my ‘gut’ feeling and my natural sense of aesthetics that create my artworks or is it my neurons, my brain’s innate mathematical abilities and psychology and biology that are creating the artworks? Am I using maths and science without realising it? Can my creative output be explained, mapped out and fed into a machine in the form of code to create more similar artworks? I suspect that the answer is yes.

I’m not depressed by this thought. I’m curious. I think I need to learn more. Is it science that is thinking that? Is it science writing this blog?


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Graduation Day – strive for imperfection

Today, I graduated. Today, I got to wear a cap and gown, sit, clap a lot, walk across a stage, smile, and sit and clap a lot more. It was ace. I loved it. I loved every minute of it. I love everything about it: the tradition, the outfits, the emotions, the clapping, the sitting, the whole lot.

Today’s pomp

This wasn’t my first graduation ceremony. It followed on from a BA (Hons) in Economics and Politics with European Study (2:1) in 1994, a Foundation Degree in Contemporary Art Practice (Distinction) in 2015 and now a BA (Hons) in Fine Art (1st). I haven’t yet got bored of degree ceremonies. I really hope there will be more to come.

I don’t remember much about the first one. I was very proud of my achievements at that time. I only just managed to get a 2:1 and that was the result of a lot of time spent in Exeter University library (I loved that place). I think I graduated with 61%. It had been close.

My first graduation

The second one, twenty years later, just sort of happened. I was just doing art and decided to do it at Shrewsbury College rather than at home, and ‘they’ decided to reward me for it. For that, I thank them! 

The second time – I look so happy

I feel very much the same about the third one. I was just doing more art, and ‘they’ seemed to think it was worth giving me a certificate for. Here’s me today with an expression of amused disbelief on my face (either that or ‘hurry up and take the photo’). They seemed to think I was better at fine art than economics and politics, and that made me happy. I agree; I am better at fine art than I am at economics and politics. Why? Because I love it.

Third time lucky

However, I’m now a teeny tiny bit addicted to academia and graduating. At the end of the ceremony today I told me dad that he would get a year off before the next one. I’m going to be doing a part-time MA now. Shhhh don’t tell anyone but I secretly would also like to carry on after that and see what a PhD could do for me (and what I could do for it). Learning is hard to give up (and my middle son tells me that he really wants to boast that his mummy is a doctor of fine art). As for myself, the floppy hat is totally ace and I so want to wear it! One of my tutors today admired my dad for his inquisitive mind. I have inherited that mind. It just wants to carry on.

This chap has it right

But whatever was achieved today by myself and all of my fellow graduates: all their personal goals whatever they may be, we all did A Good Job. It sounds a bit cliche but it is true: we should all be proud. As one of my fellow graduands (see below) said to me today as we sat waiting for the ceremony to start: ‘I didn’t think I’d be here today, I didn’t think I’d get to university in the first place.’ She was, and she did. 

This comic (below) appeared by coincidence on Facebook this evening and this sums up how I feel about today accurately. I believe that if you stop worrying about striving perfection, you will succeed regardless (and possibly despite). It doesn’t matter whether you get to a state of perfection or not. In fact, who wants perfection? It is overrated. Does it even exist? Without achieving perfection, you have achieved Something. You have Followed Your Dreams. That in itself is a sort of perfection: a personal perfection.

Perfection is over-rated and not necessary – (c) Grant Snider and Jon Acuff

I have spent the last five years full of self-doubt. Yet I carried on regardless. I am still full of self-doubt. Yet I will carry on regardless. Perfection is illusive. So what? Do what you love, that’s what I say. Do it for the sake of doing it. Do it for yourself. Perhaps you will be rewarded for it and you may be surprised by that reward as I was. That’s how I feel today. Does that make sense? If not, blame the chateauneuf du pape, which is going down, very, very nicely.

Going off on a slight tangent to end this blog entry, I love the word ‘graduand’ which describes someone about to graduate – how cool and oldy worldy is that? I was a graduant for a short time today. I liked it.

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The identity crisis continues, but does it matter?

My current artistic journey began in the autumn of 2012 when I started a Foundation Degree at Shrewsbury College (in fact, what launched this blog). At that time, I was a painter. Then, as I began my studies, I became a video artist and a painter combined. Then for a while I was an animator and digital artist. Then I returned to being a video artist again. Three years later at Wolverhampton I returned to paint but was also a video artist. That got boring so I took my hand to sculpture. Finally, I ended as a drawer and maker of weird post-post-modern ironic posters. In fact, I haven’t yet stuck to anything for any length of time. After five years, I concluded that I was a conceptual artist. In other words, the concept comes first and the medium to express that concept follows. That sounded good.

However, more recently, I’ve began painting again. I just had the urge to paint and I followed it. I’ve been painting real things – objects and myself. I’ve been experimenting with technique rather than thinking as deeply as I normally do about the original concept. I haven’t been engaging with an audience so much as I usually do. I’ve just been painting for myself and ‘playing’ for want of a better word. This is not what I normally do. 

One of my recent experiments – my knees

So, now I am questioning my identity again. Am I really a conceptual artist? What is the concept behind these recent paintings? If it isn’t a very strong one (an absence of colour), can I keep that label that I like so much? Perhaps I am someone who doesn’t really know what they are? I think I just create. End. That’s all. There is no direction. Or, I can’t easily discern a direction. Perhaps there is. I think I am lost.

Another recent creation – a black and white egg.

At the end of my final year on the BA course in Fine Art at Wolverhampton I had to give a presentation about my art practice and I created a new term for what I think I am: a rhizomic artist. By that, I meant that there is no hierarchy to what I do. I just go forth and do. My recent creations fit into that particular bucket. Perhaps that term is a cop out. But it is the cop out I’m going to stick with for now. As for my recent experimentation, I hope to do more black-and-white only oils. What of next? Who knows.

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Can art save us from the chaos of life?

Currently I’m reading this book: At the Existentialist Cafe, by Sarah Bakewell.

My current book

I am struggling to put this book down. It has become my bible of the moment. I first came across it when it was in hardback. I saw it in Waterstones. I picked it up. I put it down. I picked it up again. I put it down again. I left the shop. Then I encountered a reference to it on Twitter last week. Someone I follow on Twitter was about to read it. I saw that as a sign. So I decided to buy it. I’m so pleased I did. I believe in signs. It came at the right time for me to read it.

Today, a piece of text I read in this book included this question: can art save us from the chaos of life?

This is a really good question, which I have been pondering ever since I read it. So I ask here: can art save us from the chaos of life? Art in this sense includes drama, film, fine art, performance, literature and poetry. Basically, ‘art’ here is anything creatively enjoyed or creatively persuaded. 

Life is chaotic. That’s a truism. We all feel the emotional highs and lows of just living. Life can be exhausting. But, the question is, can turning to art, help us get through those highs and lows? The ‘us’ here is you, me, the man next door, John Snow, the postman and the man I walked past earlier today. To me, the answer is obvious.

There is another dimension to this question: can art save us from the chaos of life? This time, I mean the chaos of the macro: politics, economics and society. Can art save us from that chaos as well? ‘Us’ here being the wider definition of the term: the community ‘us’ which includes me, the man next door, John Snow, the postman and the man I walked past earlier today. Art has got this particular ‘us’ through many a prickly situation before, world wars, dictatorships, civil wars, famine, earthquakes and the like. So surely the answer is again a resounding ‘yes’. 

In 1966, Saul Bellow talked about the role of art in the midst of chaos: Art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos…Art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction.’

Oscar Wilde, was also of this persuasion: ‘The temperament to which art appeals…is the temperament of receptivity. That is all.’

Oscar Wilde with his pussy cat

For me, when I am feeling the chaos of my life taking over, I feel compelled to read, paint or draw. Reading helps the least, painting the most. However, for me, the relief is deep yet it is fleeting. When I stop, the chaos returns. Sadly, I can’t just paint. I have to earn a living. Art is my drug of choice but it stays in my bloodstream just but a moment.

As for the wider chaos of life, I firmly believe that art will save us every time, whatever is thrown at ‘us’. The anxieties and paranoias which every generation views as unique to its era are anything but. However, there are ebbs and flows. Whenever the political system gets out of hand, when it turns uncanny and when the balance is out, artists draw, paint and write. They do so in the face of opposition. They do so with a greater awareness of what they are fighting against and in greater quantity. They can’t help themselves. This art, I think, stays in the bloodstream for longer than the fleeting moment. It sticks.

This is a good thing.

Keep creating, people. I could not conduct my life without art, I am sure of that. So even in the face of an outer adversity, as well as my own inner turmoil, I will keep going.




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