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Summer in the unsettled

27 Sep

The drawings below are from Long Beach Island New Jersey and New York City. Vacationers at the beach were in short supply or so the locals said at any given opportunity. It would seem the hurricane Sandy damage may have kept people away although the island had made a remarkable recovery with reminders at every restaurant and deli. A defiant ‘we will not be defeated’ seemed to ring out of every establishment. This was even with flood waters the year before being over a meter in height in the same places.

Long Beach Island was not what I expected. After years of seeing the classic circular LBI stickers on the back of wealthy SUV’s in Westchester NY, I imagined a more prosperous and, to be honest, more boutique beach side destination. It was a more down to earth New Yawk kind of place and I appreciated that. After living in England for 3 years, I am even more aware of the amount of money that Americans have to play with. It is decadent but it is a culture that I understand. This is how we roll so to speak. After a week of drawing, socialising with my family and eating for Uncle Sam, I remembered how seductive abundance was and how it was like a sedative, dampening my inclinations toward dissent. I was packing on the pounds trying to temporarily ignore my better instincts. It would seem from looking at my drawings, that the problem persists for many.

In this unsettled and uncertain moment in American life, America is doing better than most. It seems less to do with the facts on the ground than a powerful optimism that quickly shakes off set backs. It is hard to see an America that would ever fully embrace modest living and the sensible, conservative, well worn habits of its European fore fathers. History would suggest that transitions so extreme are less likely than out and out collapse. It would seem the ride isn’t over yet.

Pumpkins and incarceration

27 Jun

It occurred to me recently when I was trying to describe free association to a student that we make very strange connections in our mind that although outwardly absurd, reveal a distinct strategy. In this particular case I was demonstrating how one might think around the idea of Halloween and I started with pumpkins, and then went to face paint, throwing eggs, vandalism and finally incarceration. It was a tidy narrative, even moralistic! Drawings are also associative in that they are the summative combination of various ideas that may be related only by their cooperation in seeking a form. It is a confusing task to teach drawing and creative problem solving to budding artists. You want them to own their work but a significant truth lies waiting to be understood. Drawings, like our unfettered thought processes, cannot be tethered to some notion of control and ownership. The bad cliché ‘if you love something let it go’ is almost accurate. Just be careful you know what your drawings are saying behind your back.

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Impenetrable gray

31 Oct

John Berger said that every drawing is autobiographical by nature. What must people think about my drawings! My drawings are actually about people. People who have earned their faces. Good, bad or weird, there is a celebration of the well lived life. Even when that life amounts to gross excess or even callous disregard for others. We are the sum total of the granular day to day, minute to minute life we lead. Drawing for me is a kind of topography of lives lived and to extend the map metaphor, I am drawing destinations on a journey. It is a knowing wink and a nod that my drawings give back to me because they know that when I see them sparkle with decay, I too am equally doomed. Under the impenetrable gray English sky we can both laugh at the absurdity of it all.

The bright yellow thing in the sky

24 Jul

After a miserable summer even by English standards, the first day of unadulterated sun and clear skies was like a gift from a god I thought had long abandoned us. Southsea was truly on parade with heavily tattooed men with wives or girlfriends in revealing questionable outfits and kids running feral and throwing beach pebbles at people passing by. I even managed to witness and capture that distinctly English rite of having a flask of tea regardless of the heat. It was glorious and the heat of the sun was making the lead of my graphite stick move across the paper like dirty butter. So at the end of the day, I had a bad sunburn, 5 drawings and a well deserved pint. Enjoy.

Indian Summer

9 Oct

These drawings are from last weekend’s heat wave. Well, it was actually the crest of a weeklong wave that had the UK bathed in sunshine and a temporary, if not illusionary sense that summer had not left us. For those here in August (I was in NY) it sounds like it was the summer weather that was poorly missing. Southsea beach in Portsmouth was more crowded than I have ever seen it and it was clear that many outsiders made a b-line for the beach, eager to savour every minute of the precious warm sun and air. So, beach goers were predictably in their swimming costumes and lying out like seals on rocks, limiting movements to occasional dips into the water (which for my unadventurous and feeble body was absurdly chilly). The human display was fantastic. It is too bad really that we only get to witness that parade of flesh on warm days. It is both a visual and intellectual treat (intellectual in that the informed viewer can see the display with some distance, a look at a species at play. Never mind we are one of them). The drawings largely drew themselves. Characters leapt into the sketchbook, demanding a rendering and asserting their existence. Tenderness is creeping more and more into my drawings. Times are tough and the pain is spread all around. While art is never beholden to societal expectation, I can’t help but feel more camaraderie with my fellow man as we all feel the tug of some impending crash or maybe flush, like a toilet. And with the value and relevance of art and art education being debated in society, it is ever more important to shout its contribution. Even when it is as simple as holding up a mirror to our own wonderful strangeness.


13 Sep

These drawings are from Southsea, the Isle of Wight and New York City. As diverse as these places are, there is the common thread of summer pastimes. For many, especially New Yorkers, the idea of free time is foreign so every moment of vacation/holiday is precious. Still, the ultimate goal of time off is to relax and when people let their hair down, I like to be there with pencil in hand. There is also something apolitical in my drawings this summer. Instead of my typical posture of ridicule and sneering cynicism, I feel real sympathy for my subjects, especially the Americans who have had a rough 3 years with economic doom at every corner. I realized as well that Americans are big hearted and kind people. It is a shame that the political face of the nation and our foreign policy has put the ugly american forward,  resulting in its true nature going unseen by much of the world. True there are still the nutcase right wingers and people with old hate in their hearts but much of that can be written off to pure ignorance and people pushed to the edges of society. The recent anniversary of 9/11 reminded me of course of the heartbreaking tragedy of the day but also, how proud I felt to be in a country that, when pushed to the brink, would take care of its own. It was a brief moment when America restored it’s moral place in the world, not by political action, but by honest to goodness citizenship. With so much petty political turmoil today, Americans forget that the country was founded on the principal that the people are running the show. 9/11 showed that when push comes to shove, our better instincts, our bravery, and big hearts rule the day.

Pompey Delight

28 Apr

The following drawings are from Portsmouth (Pompey) and surrounding areas. Portsmouth is a complicated city. It is really several distinct neighborhoods knitted together but not blended. The city has a multitude of textures from a seaside destination which is a favorite of locals and tourists alike, to a super mall (maze) in Gunwharf Quays, and a large council estate in the centre and north of the city. Within all of that are neighborhoods that draw sharp lines between rich and poor, student and non student and middle and working classes. With a strong naval history, Portsmouth has not shed the rough and tumble lifestyle of the sailor and in at least a few parts of the city, there is a menace and wildness that always feels like the dangerous hours of the early morning. Enjoy the ride.

More sand in the sketchbook

8 Sep

This years beach drawings come from the upscale beach of Rehoboth Delaware. Unlike the unbridled un-girdled girth of Ocean Isle Beach, Rehoboth was filled with mostly attractive, well to do (at least better than most) people with enough money to pay for the overpriced beach side hotels and condos. Still, if you are looking closely, a kind of wildness is still bubbling under the surface. The elephantine bodies are still pounding the boardwalk and people are still staring off into the great ocean baking their bodies brown and leathered.

The beach still fascinates me. People are literally putting it out there, hanging their sins on their burdened frames like permanent luggage. Bathing suits just exacerbate the impression that they are bursting at the seams. Flesh is stuffed in colorful beachwear almost always failing at the goal of distraction.


New Work

6 Aug

This has been a long time coming. This is but a sample of the new work that I have on the burner at the moment. Some of this is complete, some I am still thinking about. I am also planning on returning to the comics which I am enjoying because they feel like elaborated political cartoons. Perhaps more akin to comic editorials. Also, I am developing a narrative approach which for me is about retaining the weird and personal in the conventions of the comic (or traditional narrative). I am working on a new book which I hope will be ready by early next year. I would love to hear what you think. Thanks for looking!

Elizabethan Drawings

28 May

Every Thursday at the Society of Illustrators in NYC they have a costumed drawing session. This wonderful event in the magnificent society building is packed with seasoned and beginning artists. The tone was serious but breaks were relaxed with drinks and great conversation. The models were in Elizabethan garb. I couldn’t help but wonder how this decadence with it’s over the top dress and ornaments, was some flamboyant alarm for the impending collapse of the aristocracy (at least as an open institutional power). The same hubris of Wall Street (without the fancy dress) pointed to a collapse but again, we refused to see it. It seems denial is more seductive than reckoning. After the drawing session, I was walking the streets and noted another celebration of decadence, the opening of the latest Sex and the City movie. Like the wealth parade of the Elizabethan era, the Sex and the City girls flaunt excess and even shallow self involvement. Although all of this may seem out of sync with the times, in a city like New York, there are still plenty of people with plenty of money. You can bet when things get a little better, they will be back on the streets with their fancy dress and decadent displays, the scale of which we can only imagine. Well, minus the wigs of course.

This is what I drew. Enjoy.