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If, as Keats so famously wrote, beauty is truth and truth beauty, surely a pertinent exemplification of this has to be the result of a simple but primordial chemical reaction, the product of which we named Fire. Fuel+O2+Heat incited by pressure, equals. Darkness into light; a way out of the malicious shadows, yet the creation of a state charged with it’s own instinctively vicious propensities. Bearing in mind the hypnotic and electrifying effects which fire continues to inspire in us today, in our info-heightened, over-subscribed, post-hacking world of anti-innocence, it is mind boggling to attempt to imagine the not just life-changing but existence-changing effect the unearthing of this awareness must have had on its discoverer. For unlike today, a Neanderthal person would not have been able to share an enlightening experience with their fellow earthlings across the way. Each community would have had to come to the knowledge in their own time, the technique passed down through generations for millions of years until the fateful day someone invented the match, reducing the skill of fire inception to merely owning opposable thumbs. Have you ever tried to light a fire using just a pile of brush and sheer will, imploring your hands to spin, spin those sticks faster!? It’s hard. I failed. An embarrassingly cliched product of my upbringing and environment, I soon scrambled off to find matches; the enveloping cold air surpassing my desire for that particular scouting badge.

The physical and psychological powers of fire are often tragically underestimated, lending an ominous counterbalance to its intense beauty. So why do we find it so mesmeric? Is it aesthetic? Or, as is more likely, it is rooted in our dependence as well as in our fear. We all know that fear and power hold a certain attraction, despite our protestations of distaste for that fact. Both embody an element of excitement, our adrenaline levels rising to combat a potentially dangerous situation. It’s sexy, it’s kind of taboo, it’s what drives almost every kind of pornography you can think of and despite your protestations dear reader, statistics suggest you are likely to be in some way a consumer of that particular industry. We fear it, thus we are entranced by it, it thrills us; car-crash rubbernecking. It’s also undeniable that we must have an instinctive basic attachment to something so key to our very survival. Although it is powerful, we often, as I said before, underestimate its speed, force and completely indiscriminate nature. We have ‘controlled’ fires, we use it for fun, it warms us and cooks our food; we believe we hold the power. But despite all of this, the visual spectacle of a flame, from the endearing initial flickering to awe-inspiring and terrifying explosion, continues to capture us in a unique way.

To photograph a flame, a fire, is fantastically easy or frustratingly difficult; satisfaction being entirely dependent upon the effect you’re after. A good while ago I gave up trying to portray exactly what I was seeing, when I realised that the outcome of my shots captured less the exact visual image I was perceiving and more the behaviour of the process and material. I now realise how much more interesting this is to me, the frantic jitters of the flames caught in a series of moments; the longer exposure tracing their journey back and forth, up and down, like trapped insects searching for freedom without knowing why. Colour of course plays a part, the brilliant purity of the red and yellow flame providing the ultimate contrast with the blackness of night. The scenes beg to be photographed, painted. As I’ve always said, Nature herself is most certainly an artist.

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An old friend, sitting high on some comforting moral ground, once said to me that tattoos are now so ten a penny that it is more of an original act to not get inked than to tread that historically well-worn path of pleasure and pain. Although this is probably statistically incorrect, the point addressed an interesting truth in that we are part of the first generation where the concept of body as canvas is more or less mainstream. I found out years later that the same friend had eventually scrambled down from his ivory tower and happily succumbed to the temptation. The truth is, it is both compellingly tempting and delectably addictive.

I in fact spent last Friday morning having an old and ill-advised tattoo covered with a rather spectacular abstract design by Flaming Art Tattoo in my nearby Crayford. Technically this is my 3rd tattoo, although I am left now with only 2, my initial choice a Celtic triangle design on my right shoulderblade dating from 3 days after my 18th birthday (11 distant years ago); it’s attraction was part rebellious indignation at parental disapproval, but mostly just an instinctive connection with the idea that skin can be as much a canvas as vellum, wood, paper, board etc. I had already started to develop, at this young age, feelings which would continue and expand; passionate beliefs I still hold today and which run throughout everything I say and do.

Listening to a radio programme yesterday I was reminded of this as I realised that the question which blighted my whole university experience is still grinding on and is likely to do so for as far as I can foresee. ‘What is Art?’ To me the definition is clear, it is indefinable. In the same way people will continue to ask ‘What is Love?’, which I suppose is an attempt to search for guidance, to know which decisions to make, which artworks to buy, which ones to like. But, despite claims to the contrary, to know the history of art does not mean you are able, or qualified, to designate between good Art and bad Art; of this, as a graduate of the subject, I feel certain. Many people disagree, Grayson Perry spoke in Start the Week recently of what he considers to fit these categories (although he did detail in his first Reith lecture yesterday an interesting view that the quality of artworks is judged via a natural distillatory process whilst they move through the art world) but I have always been strongly of the opinion that Art itself is both everywhere and everything. To classify Art only as within the man-made sphere is to me a shocking oversight of the absolute beauty of nature. We FEEL it. Not only nature in the traditional sense; flowers, plants, living creatures, geology, but also in circumstance, coincidence, the way things look and are seen. Every day, even in the seemingly most dull situations or moments; light shining through trees, reflections on windows, line formations in buildings, landscapes, the way a gum mark and a puddle on paving can create an interesting composition. But conflicting definitions of art continue and tattooing in particular, like graffit art, has always been considered a ‘low art’ amongst the contemptible Brian Sewells of this world, if they would deign to consider it Art at all. Rejected by the high-brow crowd as being the domain of prisoners and sailors, it was always written off as being for a class of people deemed unqualified to know what art is. As technology speeds ahead and tattoos become increasingly beautiful and complex, I hope these people are beginning to eat their words.

Anyway, entering my local (but extremely well-renowned) tattoo studio on Friday morning at 11am, I hastily produced from my handbag a large sleeve bursting with example images. Not entirely sure what it was that I wanted, this was my last chance at a design on this very painful spot; an entirely necessary cover up of the result from a disastrous spur of the moment decision, of which the story goes something like this:

Towards the end of a debauched hen weekend in Ibiza in 2010 (need I really say more?) a friend, the hen, stated boldly that she was planning to get a tattoo on her foot proclaiming ‘I *heart* Ibiza’. Having already planned to acquire another design myself at some point in the near future, I went foolishly with the spirit of the moment and decided to immortalise the signature experience of the holiday (a distinctly raucous evening at Pacha nightclub) through imprinting the club logo, a pair of cherries, on my ankle. Not only was this a terrible, terrible decision on all fronts, but add to it that 1. Said friend sensibly bottled out at the last minute, leaving me to venture forward on pride alone and 2. The inevitable language barrier culminated in me being utterly certain that the tattooist sternly instructed me to keep it entirely dry. He didn’t, of course, a fact which became all too clear in a moment of horror two weeks later when the huge scab which my tattoo had become, suddenly made a swift exit. Rather ironically, I was away on another hen do, this time in Brighton. As we all leaned in to see what was left, my strangled cries of ‘MY TATTOO FELL OFF!’ rang echoing through the corridors of the premier inn, followed swiftly by bursts of cackling and roaring laughter from my companions. The result of this debacle has been quite at home on my ankle for the past 3 years, but thankfully, no more.

After a mere 20 mins of discussion with my esteemed tattoo artist Martin and another 10 mins of his instinctive freehand drawing, I was shown an outline sketch of his proposal. Very nice, I thought, but seeing it without colour or shading makes it pretty difficult to judge the final result. You are entirely dependent on the vision of your artist, the imagery which is forming in their mind’s eye; it’s a highly pressured and skilled role which they step into bravely. They don’t get to spend weeks doing studies or  have the option to start again if they don’t like how it seems to be going. One chance to get it spot on; now that’s skill.

The final result (after 3hrs of just about bearable pain) was exactly what I wanted; an abstract composition combining my favourite colours, the hummingbird (national symbol of Trinidad, the home of my father’s family line), monochrome vintage flowers and the symbol of peace, an achievable yet still mostly uncharted territory in which I believe passionately. Although there are many morals to this story, the most obvious being do not get nightclub logos permanently printed onto your body, the most important, I think, is to respect the art of tattoo, it’s beauty, skill and intricacy; it’s veterans of craft producing unique works of art, to whom I will be forever grateful and utterly in awe of.

My tattoo was envisaged, designed and produced by Martin Ellis at Flaming Art Tattoo in Crayford.

BEFORE - The infamous cherries

BEFORE – The infamous cherries

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AFTER

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Initial stencil

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The Artist’s Palette

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The press was cruel, because they didn’t just dislike my work; they disliked me, personally—my voice, the way I dress, the way I look, my attitude. I’m sure they wouldn’t have carried on that way if I were a man. I’m absolutely convinced of that.” Tracey Emin – Vanity Fair

How very silly and presumptuous of us girlies to think that seeing as we make up the latter 101:100 of the population we might then also be entitled to the same ratio of representation in government, business etc. I mean come on ladies, surely the reason that only 3 of the top 100 CEOs are women is just that we aren’t good enough to be achieving these top jobs? We are, as Gerry Holt says, our own worst enemy; meek and simpering at the feet of the cigar-chomping old boys. We really don’t deserve these positions if we haven’t (and we clearly haven’t) earned it. This is the ever-present attitude, spouted by those same miscreants who bluster about poor people being poor because they don’t work hard enough, an opinion usually spat through a mouthful of silver spoon. It amazes me on an almost daily basis that this debate continues to grind on, defended by men and even worse, women. Headlines detailing misogyny seem now a permanent feature, gradually desensitising us to the importance of these issues, like a horrific TV ad for charity aid which we auto-block as we change the channel; that’s life, just the way it is.

Architecture in particular has recently seen a backlash after industry mag the Architects Journal published the results of a survey showing that 47% of women in architecture believe they are paid less than their male counterparts for the same work. I have yet to see Mr Silver Spoon defend this, but I cynically suspect more for PR damage limitation than any heartfelt moral stance. Zaha Hadid will only this year complete her first permanent UK structure, a mere passing decade since receiving a CBE and being widely regarded as the most influential living female architect.

And what of the infamous Tracey Emin (I can sense noses wrinkling up in distaste at the very mention of her name, accompanied by those meaningful ‘hmm’s’). Hated instantaneously by the press and the Sewell ilk under a thinly disguised veil of ‘ that’s not art’, it’s no real secret that her matter of fact treatment of sex and what was seen as her ‘vulgar’ honesty on the subject veered dangerously out of a woman’s remit, bruising more than a few egos on the way through.

For many, the female is still not expected, nor allowed, to share the territory of the male. Their true place is as insipid watercolor painter of flower arrangements, or even better, as ‘the muse’ whose modern incarnations continue to perpetuate the idea of woman as being of a purpose to the male genius or libido. In fact, sexual exploitation is the one area in which our representative roles are reversed. Perhaps the misogynists are right, equality and all that, we ladies should be glad we’ve got an industry in which we dominate. We are better at something. What a relief.

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