Between 2011 and 2018 I have been occupied with a large piece, The Garden of Earthly Delights. The following text relates to that work.
Before I started this big green painting I was pretty sure that it was going to look a bit like Bruegel, specifically like a contemporary version of his Netherlandish Proverbs. I wanted to make a painting that was as visually complex and confusing, as if the viewer was spending time observing an ant colony: A mass of activity from a distance but clearly a world with it’s own unifying threads once you get really close up.
By making a painting densely packed with contemporary populist references, I could paint us, a portrait of us. Obsolescence would be built in during the process through the action of referencing brands, celebrities and products that may or may not stand the test of time.
Fixing it in past history much as Bruegel had done with his proverbs.
If elements of our popular culture seem ridiculous now, then how they might be understood in the future is interesting. The cultural significance of for instance, buttock implants, selfie sticks and eating competitions will surely change.
The second reference I looked at before starting the big green painting was a work I’d been transfixed by as a child: The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke by Richard Dadd, it follows the observational process I was after, in that it is a densely patterned canvas from a distance but close up an intricate and coherent world of little figures smaller than the grass leaves and daisy stalks that Dadd uses as compositional devices. There is also a level of finish and a hardness of light that if I could work out how to achieve it, I wanted for my piece.
When it came to the content of the big green painting the initial idea had been to depict humans engaged in activities that could reasonably argued to be universally human. If you make a list of what those activities might be, eating, sleeping, sex, music, dance, sociability and narcotics would all be there, but the list also has to include sexual violence including paedophilia, exploitation, racism, theft, murder and war. Not being in the right frame of mind to spend a year or so depicting the utter horror that our species excels at, or worse still, having to spend hours daily sifting through online images of human misery and carnage to find visual references to work from; that idea was deferred to be addressed at a later date and the decision was made to concentrate on human pleasures only, and then only those pleasures that were pleasurable for all concerned. To underscore the delightful nature of the painting, no one would be depicted in the painting working, unless his or her work could also be a pleasurable activity.
Another working protocol was that the colour saturation would be cranked up to full Hockney to enhance the feeling of fervid activity. Having been working with a muted and restricted palette for some years this has been strangely liberating.
So the three panels were lined up together in the studio and soon what was supposed to be three separate paintings became a triptych, that’s where Bosch comes in. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even come up with appropriating ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ title but it stuck anyway. Thematically, the link between the painting that I’m working on and Bruegel’s depiction of secular Netherlandish proverbs is a closer relationship than is the one with Bosch’s surreal and religious masterpiece. But Bosch had the transparent people eggs and the giant cherries on the head and the pink fountain, so I’ll run with it.
CV & Education
Qualifications and training
1998 - MA, Illustration, Royal College of Art, London
1983 - BA Hons, Fashion, Central St Martins School of Art, London
2002 - Everything We Have Is Yours, Sutton House, London
1993 - Solo show, Hyde Park Gallery, London
2011 - Same place/different faces, Idea Generation Gallery, Shoreditch, London E2
2007 - Mapping, Bury Art Gallery & Museum, Bury
2007 - Mapping, Bury Art Museum & Art Gallery, Bury, North West UK
2007 - Memories, Moments and other Curiosities, Saltburn Artists' Projects, North East
2006 - History, Leicester New Walk Museum, Leicester
2000 - Hidden Art, Hackney, London
1999 - Art 99 with Rebecca Hossack Gallery, London
1999 - Sotheby's Contemporary Arts, Sotherbys, London
1997 - De la Rue Awards, Royal Academy of Arts, London
1997 - Folio Society Awards, Royal College of Art, London
1993 - Open Exhibition, Argile Gallery, London
2011 - Beige Magazine. Interview