The week before the exhibition at Greyfriars Art Space, and I’m panicking. Not about the show, in and of itself (I’m not nervous in that respect at all – not sure why). No, I’m actually panicking about the bloody dead insects I need to create the gallery window display. It is nigh on impossible to buy dead houseflies from the net. Ebay, once rumoured to sell them in abundance, is currently bereft of deceased insects, and I’m googling wildly with just days to go. I’ve found one place in America that sells small cans of flies for around £7.00 a pop (+ p&p). No good; I need a lot and I need ‘em NOW.
Scouted round King’s Lynn and found one pet shop that sells whole dead crickets in cans. I’ll have to go with that. Three cans of these damned insects duly purchased.
The Lynn News conducted a telephone interview with me today. The interviewer was very pleasant, but I felt that she wanted me to admit to seeing knife attacks in town. A bizarre situation then occurred when I began rattling off all the violence I’ve personally witnessed ‘on the street’, but NO knifings; “throttling, kicking, punching, gouging, pushing, shoving, cake baking, spitting, generally aggressive physical intimidation, and so on. The more alert readers amongst you would have spotten a deliberate gag in that list of woe; ‘tis true, I’ve never witnessed anyone spitting on each other.
I sent The Lynn News some hi-res shots of my work for the article, as requested, but they decided to pull the low-res jpeg of ‘Synaesthesia’ from my site and print that instead. That work seems to attract more attention than most of the other works of the series combined (even though I admittedly play upon that by prominently using it in my promo material). Strange. But fine. Though I hope it is not my ‘…Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion.’
A freelance journalist from Venue Magazine (an art-based quarterly) came to my lair for an interview today. A sea of positivity and interesting insight about my work came forth from him, explanations for individual works often articulated better than my own (which was a bonus) and a fun time was had by the both of us, I think.
I get the slight impression that people initially assume I’m this kind of intense, deadly serious and unapproachable person – until they meet me. When I think it then becomes clear that my over-excitable and rapid-speed mumbling makes all conversation totally incoherent. Do you ever get people squinting whilst listening to you?
I’m now beginning to realise how lonely it can be, to be a single modern artist in a rural area, ploughing ahead with his little project without a ‘movement’, existing local fanbase for similar subject matter, cash supply from tourists, or ready-made ‘scene’ to support it. Who even knows if any kind of audience is out there for my work at all?
Even if there isn’t, I’d obviously still continue to create the works that I like. It would just be nice to know in advance how many canapes I’d need to order for the opening night.
Picked up the remaining 21 pieces of framed work from the framing studio today (24th January), way ahead of schedule – which is nice. Was informed by the staff there that a member of the public wandered into the studio a few days ago, saw one of my works in the process of being framed, and promptly “ran out in disgust”. It never fails to baffle me that, in the 21st Century, people can still be shocked by images of ‘make-believe’, or photographs of staged events, whatever the original intent.
I wonder what kind of hostile reception I’ll get from upstanding members of the public when my show actually opens. There’s just going to be me, myself, and I invigilating at the Greyfriars Art Space gallery every day, from 9.30am-5.30pm, so snipers, stalkers, religious zealots, and angry loners could have a soft target on their hands.
Brutal landscapes and works of industrial decay at Greyfriars Art Space gallery from Monday February 9th 2009.
Barrington Arts and the Greyfriars Art Space gallery invite you to Phil Barrington’s new show ‘Cracktown v1.0’.
Known for his stark, oppressive landscapes and figures with obscured faces, Phil produces and near-destroys stunning contemporary photographic works (and ‘other things’), which are executed with a morbid attention to detail, lovingly enhanced with scratches, bleach, acrylic and spray paint with varying degrees of subtlety. National Geographic this is not.
Come and inspect this collection of truly unique photographic works that exude contemporary feelings of media-enhanced doom with a healthy dash of nihilism. This distinctive show will feature memorable works of sociopathy, disgust and moral failure, fused with beautiful images of grue and rust, also including brand spanking new versions of some well-known works.
Open to the public from Monday 9th February, Phil Barrington’s show runs until 21st February before moving on to other venues around East Anglia as part of his Cracktown v1.0 Tour 2009 (see http://www.barringtonarts.com/ for details of all forthcoming events)
Opening times specifically for the Cracktown v1.0 exhibition; Mon – Sat 9.30am – 5.30pm Sundays by appointment only [Barrington’s Lodge studio tel. 07901 780882]
My experiences at the Tate Britain’s Francis Bacon retrospective
Waiting at the Entrance. 29th November 2008
I found myself shivering and staring at the formidable, Bosch-esque doors at the Tate Britain far too early last Saturday morning, after being the unexpected recipient of an early Christmas gift from my better half; a ticket to the day’s first showing of the Francis Bacon exhibition, holding around 60 of his original works plus archive material and film footage. The wait to enter the show seemed like an age, and it wasn’t just the cold weather that made me desperate to enter the Tate’s darkest chambers. Eager to see a fairly representative selection of works from the finest artist of the 20th Century – and arguably the first truly important retrospective exhibition of the 21st Century – I had only ever personally seen one of his original works before, and that was hung far from his homeland, in Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum in 2003. My long-unresolved anticipation was beginning to piss me off a bit, and I was in very real danger of reverting to a giddy, stroppy bastard schoolboy when I heard some deep metallic clunking and the doors swung upon with a heavy squeal.
Arriving at the Bacon floor of the building, being the first one in the queue, I knew I had a very real choice;
1. Strip off all my clothes and run through the currently empty exhibition whooping and cackling, like a starved incubus looking for an open vessel.
2. Or rush past everything first (fully-clothed) and immediately seek out the original ’…Figures at the Base of the Crucifixion’; in my opinion the most important work of paint in modern times. A picture whose raw horror/beauty urinates ad infinitum over any other notable work of the past 100 years that you could care to mention (yes, even bloody Guernica). A piece of work that arguably changed everything in artistic expression that came after it, especially and most obviously modern art and pop culture interpretations of human savagery and moral voyeurism, an influence crossing one millennia to the next.
I plumped for the second option (thus avoiding the courts once again) and, being strangely guided to the works like a magnet, I soon found myself there, perched in front of the gild-edged triptych as a captivated disciple in a completely empty room. The room’s conspicuous silence only prickled the hairs on my neck even more, and…well… I became that giddy schoolboy.
Mesmerised by the mourning, participatory voyeurs that are the Fates, the central penis/chicken anthropomorph specifically gnashing its teeth just for me, I managed to fumble for my cameraphone to take a sneaky shot in honour of the occasion (and because the triptych, in reproduction, is rarely seen with its gilded frames);
My ‘covert’ shot of Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) at Tate Britain.
Although I already felt somewhat spent by my experience at the altar of Bacon’s first major work, I eventually hauled my bones from its accompanying seat and viewed the Tate’s broad selection of other works in an almost frantic manner. Yes, ok, I was over-excitable. But hey, its very rare these days that I feel so ageless and invulnerable as I did then, no matter how brief the experience.
With the ever-present risk of exaggeration in these bloody blog articles, I have to say in hindsight that I felt like I had entered the Tate a cold and tetchy 30+ shell of a man, and left a rejuvenated being, warm-of-spirit and quick of step. God knows what I am rambling on about, but lets just say that the Bacon exhibition changed – no, actually reaffirmed – my direction in both life and art. It was that good.
Sure, there were some disappointments; ‘Figure With Meat’, ‘Painting (1946)’, ‘Man in a Cap’ and other personal favourites were absent (most of them in the ever-tightening grip of American modern art museums). I also prefer to see retrospectives of an artist’s work in chronological order and not put into themes like this show was. Having said that, I thought it was a very moving idea for the Tate to include a room dedicated to Francis’ doomed muse George Dyer.
I am a bit of a Bacon nut, it has to be said; he’s simply a major inspiration to me, if not a constant influence on my actual art. His canon of work, though often seen as mostly figurative, is really stunningly varied – as the Tate’s themed rooms highlight above almost everything else; you’ve got something special for the Bacon baboon fans (and there are many), you have his take on Impressionism with the Van Gogh section, a healthy selection of mouths, portraits and figures, and a section devoted to his more technically accomplished later work (though not his best). As mentioned, there is also the archive room of important studio material that I found myself losing about an hour in, just wandering around from one semi-destroyed photograph to another in utter silence and pure bliss.
For me though, I think I will always prefer his anthropomorphs; those strange, fleshy creatures curled up in a corner or thrust into the light, ready to kiss your cheek or bite your hand off with those glistening orifices if you so much as brush past them on your way to the exit.
Once you finally leave such a landmark exhibit and step back out, onto the cold grey streets of London once again, its really hard not to get philosophical about the contemporary human condition, with such stunning and luridly surreal works spinning around your head; mouths screaming in pain/ecstasy, gore-soaked mounds of flesh shaped into faces, naked human beings ready to pounce and kill like animals, etc. Living in the frail beginnings of the 21st Century, seemingly stuffed with just as many streaming images of grotesquerie as in Bacon’s time during World War II (one of his main inspirations, lest we forget) and, with the Chuckle Brothers recently winning a BAFTA, no sign of things getting any less sinister and perverted, where do we go from here? As a race of beings lurching from one catastrophic humanitarian crisis to another in endless cycle, why not take Bacon and his work as founding life lessons for us all to learn and build from? Doesn’t sound so daft if you think about it.
Mirroring Bacon’s own philosophy, in art as in life, we have nothing to lose; no heaven to reach and no hell for the wicked, so why not live, as individuals, for the ‘now’. Recognise the moment for what it is, indeed as life itself only ever truly is; fleeting, often horrible and heart-wrenching, but with clear potential for fun, ecstasy and vibrant excitement. There is a pertinent humanist message that I get from Bacon’s work that is impossible to ignore; perpetuate the misery in your daily lives or grab the love, excitement and fun while you can – because we’ll all be corpses in no time. It’s that ever-present sense and importance of the ‘now’ that Francis Bacon reaffirms in me.
Start with Bacon’s inspiration and I don’t think you can go far wrong, mate. Francis Bacon, from the Base onwards.
The major retrospective of Bacon’s work opened on 11 September 2008 at Tate Britain, London. It is billed as the largest retrospective of his work ever mounted, containing around sixty of his works. In January 2009, it will travel on first to the Prado Gallery in Madrid, Spain, and then the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where it will end in the summer of 2009.
One sunny Winter day, towards the end of January 2009, an old man approached the White House from Across Pennsylvania Avenue, where he’d been sitting on a park bench. He spoke to the U.S. Marine standing guard and said “I would like to go in and meet with President Bush.” The Marine looked at the man and said, “Sir, Mr. Bush is no longer president and no longer resides here.” The old man said, “Okay”, and walked away.
The following day, the same man approached the White House and said to the same Marine “I would like to go in and meet with President Bush.”
The Marine again told the man, “Sir, as I said yesterday, Mr. Bush is no longer president and no longer resides here.”
The man thanked him and, again, just walked away.
The third day, the same man approached the White House and spoke to the very same U.S. Marine, saying “I would like to go in and meet with President Bush.”
The Marine, understandably agitated at this point, looked at the man and said “Sir, this is the third day in a row you have been here asking to speak to Mr. Bush. I’ve told you already that Mr. Bush is no longer the president and no longer resides here. Don’t you understand?”
The old man looked at the Marine and said “Oh, I understand. I just love hearing it…”
The Marine snapped to attention, saluted, and said “See you tomorrow, Sir.”
I am not going to bore you by explaining at any kind of great length as to why Kings Lynn, the cheeky little town stuffed into the wet crack of West Norfolk England, is a major influence on my Cracktown v1.0 work.
Instead, as a life-long resident myself, I thought it’d be more entertaining to share a few of my photographs of the place, intermingled with a few amusing quotes from fellow residents that I have shamelessly plucked from other websites. Just for fun.
“We Might Live Through Him”. 2008. Town Centre.
“Round here, somehow everyone knows everyone. You slag off someone in a pub, it’ll probably turn out their whole family live in the same house and will soon turn up with their very own chav clan. In that respect, Lynn is a weird place. Not weird as in strange, we’re talking a whole new level of weirdness. It’s like people come here and can’t possibly escape.” Chavtowns.co.uk
“Playing Zeus (revised)”. 2008. Statue of Frederick Savage, founder of the mechanised fairground ride. London Road, South Lynn.
“Having lived there all my life I’ll give my view of the town. I think that Lynn would be a much nicer place if half the residents were got rid of – King’s Lynn seems to have more weirdos, wankers looking for fights, and generally anti-social messed up people than anywhere else in England. Most people are out for a fight when they go out at night. The town itself is alright, the shopping area may not be the best but its got character. Lynn has also got its fair share of toffs, mainly rich farming types etc. ” knowhere.co.uk
“Dump”. 2008. nr. London Road, South Lynn.
“The Bus Station. From around 8am to 11:30pm, 7 days a week this is strictly for the chavs and chavettes, at any given time you are guaranteed to see at least 5 specimens male or female (female usually with kids named Brooklyn, Jordan or Connor!) all communicating in chav-speak. Usually quite a dangerous place in the evening when the males gather with their cheap fags and warm Stella although earlier this year, three chavs were given a year in jail each after launching “a drunken, vicious attack” on two Portuguese gentlemen, at 1:30pm on a Saturday afternoon!” Chavtowns.co.uk
“Northern Skyline in Storm”. 2008. North Lynn.
“Jarvis Cocker of Pulp considered living here, but then he obviously visited the town. Don’t get me wrong- Kings Lynn is a pleasant enough town, with some very picturesque areas. The problem is, Kings Lynn is full of Lynners. Take all the Inbred Londoner wannabes with rat tail haircuts covered by baseball caps out and replace them with normal people, and you could get quite a nice town here. ” knowhere.co.uk
“Anyway, that was chav Lynn, after reading that I hope you all do the right thing and stay away. Trust me, you don’t want to come here, if you’ve ever heard of the phrase “a fate worse than death”, then you’ve got an idea of what life around here’s like already. Just remember, Micheal Caroll lives round these parts, and he’s possibly one of the biggest c**nts on the planet.” Chavtowns.co.uk
“The man who wrote this report is a complete arse hole and shud be shot…. there are a lot of fit birds walkin round if ya come on a friday and saturday nite.. SO FUCK YOU GOTHIC TOSSER” knowhere.co.uk
What is ‘Creative Photography’? Seems obvious. Its when you hold a camera a certain way, maybe diagonal, to make things seem a bit ‘kooky’ or ‘strange’, innit? Or when you fiddle with shutter speeds to creative a blurring effect on a passing car, perhaps?
Nope. That’s not quite right, in my book. In fact, its deadly wrong. I consider myself a fairly useless ‘photographer’; one that isn’t bound by, or even particularly knowledgeable of, technique and process such as the above.
But I DO consider myself, by way of conceptual art, at least an effective and competent ‘Creative Photographer’.
Okay, so we’ll ask again, “what is Creative Photography?” Let’s look on the web to find the answer… nope… not much info there… not even a bloody wikipedia entry. And its taken long enough to find absolutely nothing that my faithful glass of Pinot Grigio, my favourite googling companion, has depleted to a pitiful amount.
So, as you are already here, let me refill my glass and give you my definition of ‘Creative Photography’. Don’t worry, I’ll be brief;
In my mind, C.P. is all about two words, and two words only;
I. Control. II. Imagination.
That’s it. There you go. But before you shrug in disinterest, get startled by a passing squirrel, or haplessly click away onto your favourite porn sites, let me just expand a little on the definition of the above two words for a moment…
If you are a C.P.-er, you are in almost total control of your environment. If you are a C.P.-er, you do not wait hour upon hour in sub-zero temperatures to capture a Hawk Moth on a brick, you do not sleep in your car beside a field to capture a pheasant in flight at dawn, nor are you even a humble pap who preys upon Jade Goody as she drunkenly staggers out of her GP Surgery (inevitably with a monstrous kebab in one hand and her chemo prescription in the other).
Instead, YOU are the one who has responsibility over which environment or what fabricated incident you shoot, when, and how.
It is YOUR job to collect curio objects and suitable items of interest to place in shot, scout for interesting models and wardrobe garments. Indeed, it is your job to pull the whole shoot, with its many different elements, together. No one else is gonna do it for you, buster. Not even Mother Nature herself.
As a Creative Photographer, you are not controlled by your environment. You ARE your environment. You have the ultimate Control over space, time and subject. The importance of this fact far outweighs your technical competence with any camera. Control supersedes ‘correct’ Aperture settings any day of the bloody week.
All the above doesn’t really amount to a hill of beans without the conceptual imagination/creative savvy/natural artistic flair to pull it all off successfully. In fact, you obviously require the Imagination to create long before you need the Control to shoot.
It’s a simple thing, I know, but without a foundation of vivid and vibrant Imagination you do not have the right as a C.P.-er to exert your Control on the environment, its distinctive objects, nor your subjects.
You could always tell any bloke to stand around in public in a gas mask while you cheerily click away. But without the imagination to provide the whys & wherefores, without the conceptual forethought up to that point and beyond, without the benefit of hindsight or perfect choice of location, and the flair to not only link it in to the rest of your body of work, but to even chain it to contemporary issues, moods, or genuinely interesting cultural reference points, you have nothing BUT a man in a gas mask.
Again, it is essential to the C.P.-er to utilise the imagination to conceive of an idea or theme that speaks to you personally (and hopefully to attract a connection to other people in the process), together with the almost total control of your subject and environment. If you do not do this, and its always something I personally strive to do 150% of the time, you will never have a distinctive or lasting work of art.