"Earth’s distant orb appeared the smallest light that twinkles in the heaven; whilst round the chariot’s way innumerable systems rolled and countless spheres diffused an ever-varying glory. It was a sight of wonder: some were hornèd like the crescent moon; some shed a mild and silver beam like Hesperus o'er the western sea; some dashed athwart with trains of flame, like worlds to death and ruin driven; some shone like suns, and as the chariot passed, eclipsed all other light." From "Queen Mab" by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1813)

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The Future of Mankind

I’ve been off the blogosphere for a while as I haven’t been in the best of health. I’ve been able to do little other than play spider solitaire and read Tacitus for the last month. Reading Tacitus is brilliant but spider solitaire is not so much “fun” as just a way of passing the time. Anyway, I must be on the mend as I now feel able to get back to writing this blog. And the subject of my latest blog is...Facebook.

To be specific, it’s one recent development on my Facebook account. I’ve had a friend request from a woman in Malaysia called Mima Md Ramli. Here’s her photo.

I have no idea who she is. Fair enough, maybe she just likes the things I’ve been writing or possibly, and this is stretching credulity a little far I know but, she may just like my face. Maybe she just wants to make friends with people outside her own county and culture. There are very few clues to her personality, likes or dislikes, opinions etc available to people who haven’t accepted her friend request, except for one. She only has three friends; OK, it’s not about the numbers, I know that. But all three of her friends are called Gary Smith, which is also my name.

Now, is it me or is that a bit weird? Maybe she likes the name. Maybe it’s some sort of game where a number of people pick a name at random and the first one to get, say, fifty friends of the same name wins. It could be quite innocent. But just perhaps, just perhaps it may have more sinister overtones.

As you will recall, in the film Terminator, the killer robot is sent back through time to exterminate anyone called Sarah Connor, to prevent the human rebellion against the machines. Maybe this Mima Md Ramli is in fact a killer robot from the future sent back to wipe out all Gary Smith’s as one of them, I’m not saying it’s me, could hold the key to the future survival of the human race in a time when machines are trying to take over the world, and she is using Facebook to track us all down. Yes, spooky ain’t it?

Do I or one of my fellow Gary Smith’s really hold the future of mankind in our grasp? Is Mima Md Ramli really a killer robot from the future? It seems the only likely explanation. So future world, cherish us Gary Smith’s, for your own survival may depend on it.

And as for the killer robot from the future’s Facebook friend request...request denied.

If you, dear reader, are not a killer robot from the future and intend me no harm of any kind and would like to have me as a friend on your Facebook account, then please go here and put in a friend request. If you are a killer robot from the future trying to wipe out all Gary Smiths, then please do not ask for a friend request, as refusal may offend.

Suggested viewing/listening: “Bronnt vs Terminator 2: Judgment Day


Thursday, 14 October 2010

Miner Achievement

It is heart warming news that the 33 Chilean miners have all been rescued and I am genuinely pleased that what could have been a potentially tragic situation has been averted. It does annoy me, however, that the media reporting on the events of the rescue operation as well as many of those directly involved themselves have been using the word “miracle” to describe the rescue.

Can anyone tell me which bit of the rescue was actually “miraculous”? The hole that the miners eventually reached the surface through didn’t open up by itself, it was made by humans using engineering techniques and modern mining equipment backed, it would appear, by a government keen to be seen by the watching world as caring and capable. It may be surprising that so many people and politicians worked together with little care for the financial cost of the operation and it may be astonishing that what was thought would take months to achieve actually took only weeks but it most certainly wasn’t “miraculous”. Human determination and effort rescued the miners, not an act of divine intervention.

The hole didn’t appear by itself, the rescuers didn’t have wings or halos and the miners were brought to the surface in a metal cage not in the arms of the virgin Mary. So I ask again, which bit of the rescue was “miraculous”?

It’s the same whenever something like this happens; a baby is rescued from the ruins of a building almost a week after it was brought down by an earthquake; a plane crash lands on the sea but doesn’t sink straight away allowing all aboard to be rescued; someone recovers from cancer after being told they would die, etc etc.

Why is it that no-one ever seems to blame their god for causing these things to happen in the first place? How come he doesn’t rescue the baby’s mother and father? Why did he save this plane but not countless others? And why give someone cancer just to cure them later anyway?

The baby is saved because you can survive for almost a week without food and water and importantly people kept searching; the plane doesn’t sink because it is buoyant and the pilot had the experience and training to land it on the sea successfully; the patient is cured of cancer by dedicated health professionals and research into the disease. No miracles there and none to be found in Chile either.

If I am ever involved in a life threatening situation, I hope that there will be enough skilled people around to help me and that they don’t waste their time saying prayers. And if I get through it I’ll thank those real people not some imaginary divinity.

Suggested viewing: “Alive

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Museum Memories

Here are a few cool moments and highlights from The Smith & Jones Museum of Folk Art.

A lovely woman called Lou from the second hand clothes shop next door came in a few times. She gets to see all the exhibitions at Room 212 and she said ours was easily one of the best she had seen there. Lou recommended the exhibition to a number of people who then came to check it out, including her partner who also really liked the show. I think he particularly liked The Dolls Have Eyes exhibits, and showed a lot of interest in Mrs Kitsch’s brilliant but bonkers Barbie picture.
Lou liked the atheist aspect of my work as did someone she brought to see the show who purchased one of the atheisticks. I need to make more of those.
I’d had a chat with one bloke who liked my work and he told me that he had a friend in Arizona and he went out there at least once a year for a visit. Apparently, he also has a massive Arizona state flag which he puts out when his friend comes over here to stay. Anyway, this man came back to the gallery later in the week with this amazing thing as a gift for me.
It’s the dried up innards of a cacti and will look great next time I do a shrine display. How sweet that he came back to give that to me. The most gob smacking moment of the week though was when on the Wednesday, just 15 minutes before we closed the gallery for the day, I sold this painting “BANG! BANG!” for £300.
It was bought by a couple who chose it after deciding between it and this one, “Helldorado Cantina”.
I was stunned when they bought it. Having taken the painting over to their house after the exhibition I’ve also seen where it’s going to hang. It’s going in their living room over the dining room table. It’s going to be hard to miss.

My favourite moment though was when a guy called Valentine came in and bought a small painting. He had a good look round first and told me that he was driving to work taking a different route to normal. He saw the exhibition as he was driving by, stopped his car, parked up and came in to check it out. I think it might be stretching a point to say I stopped traffic but it’s one thing to pop in for a look as you are walking by and quite another to stop your car on the way to work. He also enjoyed hearing “Ace of Spades” being played in the gallery.

I think it’s fair to say that I connected with some people through the art, or at least differing aspects of it mean something to some people, and that’s something I hadn’t even considered. I thought some people might like it and others would hate it, but I hadn’t thought about it in terms other than that.

Not everyone connected with the work though. When we were setting up one man stuck his head into the gallery and asked why I had so many of the same cacti books. “It’s part of the display” I told him. “Oh right. Well, I’ll have one of those then” he said. “Er, no, they’re not for sale, they’re part of the display”. “Oh right. Are you getting any more books in?” “Well, I’m going to be using some other books in another part of the display but they’re not for sale either, this is a gallery not a book shop.” “Oh right, OK.” Not a word about the art.
A little later someone else asked how much the cacti candles in the window were and another person wanted to buy one of the plastic display flowers but I suppose it’s a compliment that my choice of display items was popular. Oh yes, one bloke with a dog told me he thought the art was a bit morbid. I tried to explain that the Day of the Dead was a celebration of life but I’m pretty sure he didn’t know what I was talking about. I thought I was going to get more comments like that but he was the only one who said anything to me.

I was really apprehensive about showing the work when I was setting up on the Sunday but now that I’ve had a week at a gallery, I can’t wait to show it some more.

Finally, with some of the many peppers and chillis I used in the shrines, I made a chilli for dinner.
As you can see we also used up the last of the tequila too.

You can see a video of the gallery at http://smithandjonesmuseum.blogspot.com/

Suggested listening: “Left Bank Two” by The Noveltones

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Show’s Over, There’s Nothing To See Here

The week of my first exhibition has come and gone. It went by so quickly. I suppose it’s bound to feel like that, especially after locking myself away to paint and create for just over a year. It certainly was the most important week of the year for me and, as I mentioned in the last blog, the positive comments came as something of a validation of the work and the concept behind it. I loved being in the gallery, the whole experience was amazing. I hope I get a chance to do it again soon.

Mrs Kitsch and I are a bit knackered after such an intense week and I think we’re entitled to a short break now. We’re off to the Bengal Raj for a celebratory meal tonight, which I’m looking forward to.

So what’s next? Well, I really have to get myself a job, so I’ll be looking into that. I’ll continue painting and I have a great idea for an art show involving music and members of the public, which I’m quite excited about. I just need to persuade a gallery to let me do it.

Thanks if you came along to the show this week. Even bigger thanks if you bought some of my work. If you didn’t make this time, I hope to see you at the next one. Watch this space.

Suggested reading: “The Observer’s Book of Cacti” by S.H. Scott

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The Folk Art of Cactus County #22

I’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging front of late as it’s been full speed ahead for the exhibition. Well, I’ve got a spare moment now so I’ll bring you up to date.

Sunday we had the preview show in the evening but before we could get to that we had to put all the pictures up and decorate the windows. This took all day and even by the time of the preview opening we still had a few things left undone. Little things though, nothing major. I got a bit worried during the setting up when one guy poked his head into the room asking if he could buy one of the books I was using in the display, followed a little later by another bloke asking if the candles were for sale. Again, they’re part of the display. They completely failed to show any interest in the actual work. This spooked me a bit I can tell you.

Anyway, we had almost 30 people attend the preview and everyone was very positive about the show. Both Mrs Kitsch and I even sold a couple of pieces, which was nice.
The next day we opened the gallery up to the general public for real. Monday was a bit quiet but we sold a few items, mostly badges and postcards but we had some good feedback. Tuesday Mrs Kitsch stayed at home while I held the fort. A few more people came in and there was more positive feedback. I even sold a very small picture. Not a bad day.
Today, the weather was much better and we had a lot more people come in for a look. I sold quite a few badges, a couple of postcards and had loads more encouraging comments. Then with about 15 minutes to go before we closed for the day this couple came in with their young daughter. The mother and daughter had popped in the day before for a look. This time she wanted her partner with her to see the paintings. At this point, Mrs Kitsch and I were being distracted by another person in the gallery who was intent on chatting at us about her trips to the States, when I realised the couple were trying to decide which of two large paintings they wanted to get. It appeared they were going to buy a painting. A large painting. A quite expensive large painting. After a short chat they had made their decision and wanted to buy this picture.
I was absolutely chuffed. They talked about the picture being up in their home and it being something of a talking point. They genuinely liked the painting, obviously, or they wouldn’t have bought it but it’s a new experience for me to have someone like my work so much that they would part with a three figure sum for it. And the fact that they had to decide between two pictures, well, how cool is that?

Now I’m going to have to sell a lot of paintings at this price before I’m bringing home a living wage but it’s a start. And as much as I hoped that I might sell something at the show I really didn’t expect to sell one of the large pictures on a Wednesday just a few minutes before we closed up. When they left the gallery, I was in shock. Now I just want to jump up and down shouting about it!
Today has been something of a validation of what I’ve been working on for the last year or so. Not just selling a big picture but many of the comments have confirmed that I’m on the right track with the concept behind the work. Earlier today, one woman said she liked the fact that I was doing an atheist version of the Day of the Dead; there have been a number of similar comments about the secular nature of the work; also other people have said how much they like the bright colour I use. It’s always felt right to me but until someone else says, ‘yeah you’re right, I like that’, well, you never really know for sure.

So, just three more days to go and if we don’t sell another thing, it’s already been worthwhile.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The Folk Art of Cactus County #21

Here’s a new piece just finished, a papier mache skull.
I’ve been working on this for what seems like ages and it seems that way because it has been ages. Painting it only took a couple of days, it was waiting for the thing to dry out that took all the time. I made the mistake of building it up from a small ball of papier mache instead of putting a thin layer over a balloon scaffold. But this means that the skull is quite weighty as opposed to being very light, so although I went about it the wrong way, I actually ended up with something better. But it did take ages to dry, I’m talking weeks and weeks.
I’ve had him sitting out in the sun for days at a time, building him up with more papier mache then having to dry that out. Then I kept spraying him with stone effect paint from a can, which made him wet all over again so I had to have that dry out before I could continue. Anyway, I got there in the end and I think he’s been worth the wait. I’m definitely going to be doing more of these but don’t hold your breath, it’s going to take a while.

Things are moving on a pace for the art show in September. Mrs Kitsch has created a blog especially for us to publicise the exhibition and she’s come up with a fab design for the poster, and here it is.
Double kudos to Mrs Kitsch, not just for doing these things but having to do them quickly and on a new laptop after her old Mac died last week. Not the best time for that to happen but then when is it ever a good time? Anyway, well done Mrs K, she’s a ruddy marvel an’ no mistake.

I’ve spent a lot of today sending out a press release about the show, so hopefully we’ll get a bit of local press coverage to draw in the punters. I’ve already had a reply from Steve, the art guy at Venue Magazine who said he thought my work was “by turns macabre and cartoonish” which is a pretty good reaction. I’ll be using that quote a lot I think. He’s going to try and get a photo in Venue in a couple of weeks, which will be great if he does.

Still so much to do like making and painting frames, varnishing, writing accompanying short stories or commentaries for some of the paintings, getting postcards made, and about a hundred other things. I’m really enjoying doing the work towards the show but the stress levels are starting to rise.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The Folk Art Of Cactus County #20

Three shrines to celebrate some important themes in Cactus County. This first is a shrine to the philosophy behind Cactus County, which is pretty much Epicurean; happiness achieved through a knowledge of how the world works, eschewing religion, superstition and an afterlife, as espoused by the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus and the Roman poet Lucretius.
Then there is a shrine to remember loved ones who have died. The dead live on in the memory of the living, so in Cactus County they celebrate their own secular version of Dia de los Muertos to remember those they have loved who are no longer with them.
Finally, a shrine to the old Wild West history of Cactus County; a rootin’ tootin’ shootin’ kind of place back in the day, apparently.

Monday, 16 August 2010

The Folk Art Of Cactus County #19

The date of the exhibition draws ever closer (13th-18th Sept at Room 212, see you there) and there is loads still to do before I’m ready. However, I have finished one new work, quite different from my other pieces, which is something of a relief. Here it is with the lovely Mrs Kitsch modelling it.
I started sewing the skull for the jacket ages ago but hadn’t got round to doing anything more with it till last month. In the end I think it must have taken me about a week to do the whole thing. The idea was that I would do a bit of sewing in the evening while watching some telly instead of being idle but I got so caught up with it that I spent all day working on it. I even had a dream about sewing when I finally finished it.
Still, I really enjoyed the process of stitching and sewing (is there a difference between the two?) and have plans for more work involving needle and thread, though not necessarily on to a jacket. Mrs Kitsch has been teaching me new some new stitching techniques (chain stitch looks like a good one) which I’ll have a go at next time.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Star Light, Star Bright

It’s that time of year again, the Perseid meteor shower. In the past I’ve ventured out on cloudy nights and seen nothing. I’ve also dragged Mrs Kitsch out a number of times to watch the skies with me; on one memorable occasion we sat freezing on deck chairs in the middle of the night, on the seashore wrapped in our coats and for extra warmth covered in towels from the B&B we were staying in. We saw a fair number of shooting stars that night as I remember but mostly I remember being very cold.

This year the weather was much warmer, the meteor shower was at a much more reasonable time; between 10.30pm and 1am rather than 2am to 3am previously; and we get a pretty good view of the sky from just outside the house, so it’s very handy. However, none of this was incentive enough for Mrs Kitsch this time round. I think she may have had her fill of the Pereids. Saying that, she did come out and check on me at one point tonight, which was lovely of her.

Although it was quite cloudy when I first went out this evening, the clouds soon disappeared leaving a relatively clear sky. I saw about a dozen shooting stars in about two hours and only came in when I couldn’t stand stretching my neck skyward any longer and my feet were aching. I expect there are loads of shooting stars shooting over head as I’m writing this but I just can’t carry on tonight. And a dozen is pretty good. Number five was particularly amazing, a very bright tear ripping through the night sky, gone in a flash but burning an image in my mind that will last much longer.

Apart from a number of satellites and planes, the night sky also yielded some geese flying in a “V” formation, white against the black of the sky, one of them saying hello as they flew overhead, making that unmistakable goose “honk” noise. And they weren’t the only wild life out there tonight. When I first stepped out I saw Mr Badger trolling along the pavement, going out of one garden and into another. He wasn’t the only one doing his nightly rounds this evening as Mr Fox also put in an appearance, walking right in front of me. There were a lot of moths out tonight as well.

So all in all, a worthwhile effort, even if I only manage to see a handful of shooting stars. And there’s always next year at this time.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Ancient And Modern

I’ve been mightily attracted of late to the ancient world, particularly the ancient Roman and Greek worlds.  A couple of years back, after visiting the eternal city of Rome for the first (and hopefully not the last) time, I wanted to read about Rome and find out more about things Roman. I'm finally getting round to it. Also more recently I saw a brilliant documentary about Leonidas and the 300 Spartans at the battle of Thermopylae followed by watching the film “300”, so the Greek world was opened up for me too, although I had read Homer’s “Odyssey” after seeing the film “Oh Brother Where Art Thou?” at the cinema a few years back. More recently I got hold of a copy of “Herodotus: The Histories” so I've got that to look forward to as well.
I’ve just started reading Tacitus’ “Annals and Histories” after finishing “The Letters Of Pliny The Younger”. I’d wanted to read Pliny for some time, as I explained in a previous blog but reading him made me want to read “Natural History” by Gaius Plinius Secundus, the elder Pliny, uncle of the younger letter writer. “Ta met’ alla” - one after another.
The Oxfam bookshop at the top of Park Street came up trumps for this particular volume just a couple of weeks back and while reading the introducing by John F Healy I came upon a passage referring to the Roman poet and Epicurean, Titus Lucretius Carus and his epic poem “On the Nature of Things”. Healy says that Lucretius believed that “a knowledge of the laws of physics” would dispel the “mental fears and forebodings that ‘religion’ instils”. Now that is right up my street, so I had to know more about both Lucretius and Epicurus so I followed this up with some brief online research. Can opened, philosophical worms all over the place, including profound implications for the philosophy behind Cactus County, one result of which is that I am going to have to rename one of the towns in the county.

There is much to commend the Epicurean philosophy and I am very drawn to it from the small amount of research I have done so far. Is this to be my new philosophy? Further study needs to be undertaken but as I say, so far I like what I have discovered about it.
So what do Epicurean’s believe? Well, if I’ve got it right, it’s that life should be spent seeking out modest pleasures rather than excess in order to attain a state of tranquillity and freedom from fear known as “ataraxia” and also life without physical pain known as “aponia”. The important thing for me though is that Epicurean’s believed that this could be done through a knowledge of the workings of the world, and they did not believe in superstition or divine intervention. They also believed there was no life after death and that death was not to be feared as we would return to the same state of nothingness there was before our birth.

Now this in particular is something I want to get my head around, because for as long as I can remember I have been afraid of death. Not dying, I’m not so worried how I will die or even of the possible pain or indignity of death but instead of the absence of life, of missing the sensations of being alive. There I times when I think about this and I experience a sensation of utter dread, of complete aloneness in the universe, of an inkling of what it might be like to experience being dead. It only ever lasts a few seconds but for me it is the most awful thing I ever feel. It is worse than physical pain because it seems to stretch out for eternity, an unending nothingness and isolation from everything and everyone I know and love. It’s accompanied by a physical sickness in my stomach, like being in a lift that seems to drop very quickly.

Now I know in reality that once I am dead there is no way I will feel the absence of life, I won’t feel alone, I won’t feel anything. I know that, I understand it rationally. But trying to marry that understanding with this fear and dread of death I have is very difficult. So anything that helps me deal with my fear of being dead definitely needs looking into.
By the way, the modern use of the word “epicurean” meaning one who seeks excess pleasure in all things, particularly food, is quite at odds with the original philosophy that I’m talking about here. Although, given my love of food and the quantities of it I indulge in, it may not be totally inappropriate.

It’s given me a lot to think about both personally and also because the Epicurean philosophy has so many connections with my view of the philosophy of Cactus County. I think the founders of the county would have known about Epicurus, Lucretius and the elder Pliny. They would have been inspirational to such a scientifically and atheistically minded people as much as Darwin was to them. So, the three towns that make up Cactus County are now to be called Cactus: the original settlement and administrative headquarters for the county; Evolution: where the mines of Cactus County are located and where many fossils have been found and also home of Carson’s Robot Factory; and Ataraxia: the location of Cactus County’s world renowned university, telescope and particle accelerator and named for the Epicurean state of tranquillity which according to Wikipedia is “synonymous with the only true happiness possible for a person. It signifies the state of robust tranquillity that derives from eschewing faith in an afterlife, not fearing the gods because they are distant and unconcerned with us, avoiding politics and vexatious people, surrounding oneself with trustworthy and affectionate friends and, most importantly, being an affectionate, virtuous person, worthy of trust”.
So, my recent voyage into the ancient world has born some philosophical fruit. And it makes a change from reading books about space. I have a long way to go in my reading about and understanding of the ancient world and still further to go in my personal philosophical journey through life. But having discovered this Epicurean philosophy I feel, I believe, I have found something that connects me more strongly not only to the world around me but also to the ancient world of the past, and there is much comfort and pleasure in that thought.

Suggested reading: “Natural History: A Selection” by Gaius Plinius Secundus, Pliny The Elder, translated by John F Healy.