Archive for the ‘three’ Category

Before reading further remove your clothes and turn out the lights

Before reading further remove your clothes and turn out the lights

Visitors to  the National Gallery of Australia have been asked to take off all their clothes before they can view  James Turrell: A Retrospective,  an exhibition which celebrates Turrell’s work with  light and colours.  About 50 people at a time duly stripped to attend the show which ran after hours on April 1st and 2nd and was emphatically not, the Gallery insisted,  an April Fool’s joke.

Viewing art naked as a way to remove the last material barrier   between artist and audience was a favourite idea of Turrell’s,  who first introduced it in Japan, where an unclad audience viewed one of his “Perceptual Cells”.  When Turrell, now 70, suggested to the National Gallery in Melbourne that they give the notion   a try, they asked well-known    absurdist artist Stuart Ringholt, who is based in the city, to  guide the unclothed tours.

Ringholt was enthusiastic. ‘Intellectually’,  he says, ‘it’s an interesting idea, nudity. …Turrell’s work is minimal — he doesn’t work with materials like clay, paint and other traditional materials: he just works with light.’  He quotes Turrell,  ‘Light is very difficult to shape.  You end up shaping everything around it.’  Precisely why, says Ringholt,  these immersive light installations are best experienced without clothes.

Indeed, looking at images of clothed people bathed in the colours of  Turrell’s Ganzfield Room, their clothes seem banal, almost ridiculous. It is easy to imagine how subtle and enchanting would be the play of light on bare bodies.





Clothing, Ringholt told   a reporter from Australia’s NewsCorp,  is a kind of second skin, a barrier  which itself carries colour  and thus  doubly overwhelms the direct relationship of light  and body. ‘The nude viewer is reduced to just themselves, because there is no second skin… the body can [directly] feel the vibration to colour.’ 


Looking at pictures of  the nude audience inside the exhibit, it is hard to dispute that they are beautiful and this beauty has little to do with body shape or size.  Rather it is a sort of serenity that comes from having overcome  embarrassment and  fear of the body.  

Only when  you  stop  trying    to  be  beautiful do    you discover   that you   already are.

That’s what I take out of it, anyway, even though  I am far too repressed to give it a try myself.

But look, in this gathering of  people made   innocent and vulnerable by having shed their protective layers it is only the fully-clothed gallery attendant who seems ill-at-ease.  


Stuart Ringholt (born 1971, Perth) has had solo exhibitions at institutions such as Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne; the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne; and Club Laundromat, New York. His major group exhibitions include Melbourne Now, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2014); The Last Laugh, apexart, New York (2013); and dOCUMENTA 13, Kassel, Germany (2013). He is represented by Milani Gallery, Brisbane.

ringholt explains

Ringholt has led many nude art tours, partly because ‘It is against the law to be nude in public in Australia, and by being nude you are breaking the law: but because we closed the museum to a certain few, it becomes private space and also a space of protest.’

Having the courage to disrobe  in public, he says,  is also a stance against sexism and a culture of sexualisation:  ‘We’re actually less sexualised with our clothes off — when you’re clothed, it engages the imagination: there is something very sexy about a beautiful ankle in a beautiful shoe, or clothing that frames the body beautifully.  Whereas when it’s all out, people start focusing on the face — it’s no longer about the butt, the hairy bits and the nipples.’

However, as he explained to the Newscorp reporter, ‘There are always more younger women than younger men,  because younger men are very fearful of getting shrinkage.’

naked viewing

Ringholt’s video Helen Lane (2009), filmed in a lane outside his North Melbourne studio, was featured for four years on before the site decided that it didn’t meet its terms of service.  The excellent article on Ringholt  at Frieze magazine,  describes the video thus: “a thin man precariously grasps at the handle of a ‘Wacka-Packa’,  (a powerful motorized device typically used for compacting earth on construction sites), that thuds across the lane releasing shards of cobblestone and sending the tree attached to its top into orgasmic quivers. The… video  is, quite simply, absurd.” 

James Turrell (born May 6, 1943) is an American artist primarily concerned with light and space. Turrell was a MacArthur Fellow in 1984. Turrell is best known for his work in progress, Roden Crater, a natural cinder cone crater located outside Flagstaff, Arizona   that he is turning into a massive naked-eye observatory.  (Source,  with no trace of irony: Wikipedia)

Sources: Art Daily, ArtNet,, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane,  Frieze magazine,,  Wikipedia

World’s rarest diamond goes on sale at Sotheby’s

World’s rarest diamond goes on sale at Sotheby’s

21 April 2015 | 10am EDT | NEW YORK

Sotheby’s are calling it The Ultimate Emerald-Cut Diamond. Well,  you’d expect them to speak highly of it. They’re hoping   to part someone from  $25 million for the pleasure of owning it.  This is small change   compared to the  $300 million paid  in February this year for Gauguin’s  Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?) ,  and perhaps this is  because immensely rich people realise that gems are ultimately  baubles with no instrinsic value and any fool with enough money can own one, whereas a good painting will keep you warm forever.

Anyway, the stone in question is a mysterious 100-carat emerald-cut,  D colour, Internally Flawless diamond unlike any offered at auction before.  It is thought to have been found in  a De Beers mine in Angola  (or another West African location,  I  wasn’t interested enough to have  made a note of the place) and  thence travelled to Amsterdam, where it was cut from its original rough weight of 200 carats to the 100.2 carats of  masterly  precision we see here. Who owns it? Who cut it? Nobody knows, except presumably Sotheby’s and they are not saying.


Sotheby’s  New York saleroom will offer the   diamond at its April 21 Magnificent Jewels sale. Only   six  diamonds of over 100 carats and comparable-quality have ever been   sold at auction, and Sotheby’s estimate this one   will fetch   between $19 and $25 million.

The size and spectacle of this huge stone seem to have reduced Frank Everett, Sotheby’s vice president of sales for jewellery,  to a kind of breathless  babble.


Struggling for some way to describe the uniqueness and presence   of the gem, he told  the Observer.  “It could be considered a kind of object of art.  When you hold it in your hand it’s such a unique experience—–you can see the mastery of the cut and the entire geometry––the size is what makes it rare and beautiful.”  This, geometry aside, confirms  me in my  belief that the best that can be said of a stone like this is that it is rather   large and very shiny. (More about diamonds when I write  up  several years’ worth of  notes on  the Kohinoor.)



Hats off to Sir Terry

Hats off to Sir Terry





“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”


“Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened.”


“Books must be treated with respect, we feel that in our bones, because words have power. Bring enough words together they can bend space and time.”


“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.”


“The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.”


“People aren’t just people, they are people surrounded by circumstances.”


“In the beginning there was nothing, which exploded.”


“I meant,” said Ipslore bitterly, “what is there in this world that truly makes living worthwhile?”
Death thought about it.
CATS, he said eventually. CATS ARE NICE.”


“Night poured over the desert. It came suddenly, in purple. In the clear air, the stars drilled down out of the sky, reminding any thoughtful watcher that it is in the deserts and high places that religions are generated. When men see nothing but bottomless infinity over their heads they have always had a driving and desperate urge to find someone to put in the way.”


“It was like being in a Jane Austen novel, but one with far less clothing.”


“He’d been wrong, there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and it was a flamethrower.”


“Sometimes it’s better to light a flamethrower than curse the darkness.”


“It’s not worth doing something unless someone, somewhere, would much rather you weren’t doing it.”


“The truth may be out there, but the lies are inside your head.”


“A lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on.”


“Nanny Ogg knew how to start spelling ‘banana’, but didn’t know how you stopped.”


“You’re not allowed to call them dinosaurs any more,” said Yo-less. “It’s speciesist. You have to call them pre-petroleum persons.”


“Mind you, the Elizabethans had so many words for the female genitals that it is quite hard to speak a sentence of modern English without inadvertently mentioning at least three of them.”


“People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around.”


“I don’t hold with paddlin’ with the occult,” said Granny firmly. “Once you start paddlin’ with the occult you start believing in spirits, and when you start believing in spirits you start believing in demons, and then before you know where you are you’re believing in gods. And then you’re in trouble.”
“But all them things exist,” said Nanny Ogg.
“That’s no call to go around believing in them. It only encourages ’em.”


“Getting an education was a bit like a communicable sexual disease. It made you unsuitable for a lot of jobs and then you had the urge to pass it on.”


“His philosophy was a mixture of three famous schools — the Cynics, the Stoics and the Epicureans — and summed up all three of them in his famous phrase, ‘You can’t trust any bugger further than you can throw him, and there’s nothing you can do about it, so let’s have a drink.”


“It’s going to look pretty good, then, isn’t it,” said War testily, “the One Horseman and Three Pedestrians of the Apocalypse.”


“You can’t map a sense of humour. Anyway, what is a fantasy map but a space beyond which There Be Dragons? On the Discworld we know that There Be Dragons Everywhere. They might not all have scales and forked tongues, but they Be Here all right, grinning and jostling and trying to sell you souvenirs. ”


“The trouble was that he was talking in philosophy but they were listening in gibberish.”


“The trouble is you can shut your eyes but you can’t shut your mind.”


“The entire universe has been neatly divided into things to (a) mate with, (b) eat, (c) run away from, and (d) rocks.”


“The purpose of this lectchoor is to let you know where we are. We are in the deep cack. It couldn’t be worse if it was raining arseholes. Any questions?”


“Using a metaphor in front of a man as unimaginative as Ridcully was like a  red flag to a bu… was like putting something very annoying in front of  someone who was annoyed by it.”


“Let’s just say that if complete and utter chaos were lightning, then he’d be the sort to stand on a hilltop in a thunderstorm wearing wet copper armour and shouting ‘All Gods are bastards.”


“Everywhere I look, I see something holy.”


“The gods of the Disc have never bothered much about judging the souls of the dead, and so people only go to hell if that’s where they believe, in their deepest heart, that they deserve to go. Which they won’t do if they don’t know about it. This explains why it is so important to shoot missionaries on sight.”


“Gravity is a habit that is hard to shake off.”


“Humans! They lived in a world where the grass continued to be green and the sun rose every day and flowers regularly turned into fruit, and what impressed them? Weeping statues. And wine made out of water! A mere quantum-mechanistic tunnel effect, that’d happen anyway if you were prepared to wait zillions of years. As if the turning of sunlight into wine, by means of vines and grapes and time and enzymes, wasn’t a thousand times more impressive and happened all the time…”


“Few religions are definite about the size of Heaven, but on the planet Earth the Book of Revelation (ch. XXI, v.16) gives it as a cube 12,000 furlongs on a side. This is somewhat less than 500,000,000,000,000,000,000 cubic feet. Even allowing that the Heavenly Host and other essential services take up at least two thirds of this space, this leaves about one million cubic feet of space for each human occupant- assuming that every creature that could be called ‘human’ is allowed in, and the the human race eventually totals a thousand times the numbers of humans alive up until now. This is such a generous amount of space that it suggests that room has also been provided for some alien races or – a happy thought – that pets are allowed.”


“This is very similar to the suggestion put forward by the Quirmian philosopher Ventre, who said, “Possibly the gods exist, and possibly they do not. So why not believe in them in any case? If it’s all true you’ll go to a lovely place when you die, and if it isn’t then you’ve lost nothing, right?” When he died he woke up in a circle of gods holding nasty-looking sticks and one of them said, “We’re going to show you what we think of Mr Clever Dick in these parts…”


“I’m not the world’s greatest expert, but I would have thought that the wizards, witches, trolls, unicorns, … broomsticks and spells would have given her a clue?’ – when J.K. Rowling insisted she wasn’t writing fantasy.”


“It is often said that before you die your life passes before your eyes. It is in fact true. It’s called living.”


“This I choose to do. If there is a price, this I choose to pay. If it is my death, then I choose to die. Where this takes me, there I choose to go. I choose. This I choose to do.”


“Build a man a fire, and he’ll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.”


“I commend my soul to any god that can find it.”


“Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?”


“It is at this point that normal language gives up, and goes and has a drink.”


These quotations from Terry Pratchett are chosen from the enormous collection contributed by grateful readers at




Napoleon storms Windsor Castle

Napoleon storms Windsor Castle

It is two hundred years since the  Battle of Waterloo. In commemoration,   H.M. The Queen has opened  Windsor Castle’s famous Waterloo Chamber  to the public for  a special exhibition of Waterloo-related artefacts from the Royal Collection. The exhibition opened on 31st January 2015 and will run for a year.  Throughout 2015,  visitors will be able to  walk into and around the chamber  for the first time.

The pieces on display, many of them acquired by  George, Prince Regent (the future George IV), include contemporary prints, drawings, maps and ‘souvenirs’ from the battle.


The Imperial Cloak, modelled on an Egyptian burnoose

Among these are  Napoleon’s red cloak, made of felt and embroidered in silk with elaborate scrolls and arabesques around the hood and breast, was removed from the Emperor’s baggage train in the aftermath of the allied victory and presented to the Prince Regent by Field Marshal Blücher, who fought alongside the Duke of Wellington. Lined with yellow brocade, it is appliquéd with Napoleon’s Imperial Eagle.

Napoleon’s silver-gilt porringer, a small bowl used for food, was also taken from the Emperor’s train.

waterloo-chairThe Waterloo Chair, made from the elm tree that marked the Duke of Wellington’s command post on the Waterloo battlefield, was presented to George IV in 1821. Commissioned by John Children from Thomas Chippendale the Younger, it is carved with a lion trampling the vanquished French standard in the village of Waterloo.  A drawing of the elm tree by Children’s daughter Anna, made during a visit to the battlefield with her father in 1818, will go on display for the first time.

table-des-grands-capitainesThe Table des Grands Capitaines (Table of the Great Commanders),  commissioned by Napoleon to celebrate  his   victories, is decorated with the profile of Alexander the Great and other great generals   and philosophers. Considered one   the finest works of Sèvres porcelain ever produced, it never left the factory but was presented to George IV by the restored French king, Louis XVIII, in gratitude for the allied victory. The table appears in all of George IV’s state portraits, including the painting by Sir Thomas Lawrence which hangs in the Waterloo Chamber.
Source for full article



Turn off your mind, relax and float up to the Wellcome

Turn off your mind, relax and float up to the Wellcome

London was swinging long before the Sixties. At the start of the 19th century, the drawing rooms of Regency London were thronged with smart people dancing their wigs off after sniffing hits of dephlogisticated nitrous air, or nitrous oxide as it is nowadays known.

Hardly had the gas been discovered than it was being snorted by the likes of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who declared that it afforded him “more unmingled pleasure than I have ever before experienced”.

Humphrey Davy, who recommended it for use as an anaesthetic, described “a sensation analogous to gentle pressure on all the muscles, attended by an highly pleasurable thrilling, particularly in the chest and the extremities. The objects around me became dazzling and my hearing more acute.”

“Laughing gas” parties were so much the rage that they were even satirised by cartoonists, as in this 1823 example from Thomas Rowlandson.


Two years before this cartoon appeared, English society had been shocked by a little-known translator of German texts, one Thomas de Quincey who burst on the literary scene with his Confessions of an English Opium Eater, which contained some of the most brutal and brilliant prose ever written.

Under the connecting feeling of tropical heat and vertical sunlights, I brought together all creatures, birds, beasts, reptiles, all trees and plants, usages and appearances, that are found in all tropical regions, and assembled them together in China or Indostan. G From kindred feelings, I soon brought Egypt and all her gods under the same law. I was stared at, hooted at, grinned at, chattered at, by monkeys, by paroquets, by cockatoos. I ran into pagodas, and was fixed, for centuries, at the summit, or in secret rooms: I was the idol; I was the priest; I was worshipped; I was sacrificed. I fled from the wrath of Brama through all the forests of Asia: Vishnu hated me; Siva laid wait for me. I came suddenly upon Isis and Osiris: I had done a deed, they said, at which the ibis and the crocodile trembled. I was buried for a thousand years, in stone coffins, with mummies and sphinxes, in narrow chambers at the heart of eternal pyramids. I was kissed, with cancerous kisses, by crocodiles; and laid, confounded with all unutterable slimy things, amongst reeds and Nilotic mud.

De Quincey’s descriptions of the pains and pleasures of opium influenced writers from Poe and Baudelaire to Arthur Conan Doyle, whose The Man With The Twisted Lip, is about a wealthy man driven to filthy opium dens by his addiction. The theme found expression also in art, as in this pair of oriental gouaches on rice paper from the Wellcome collection.


The success of De Quincey’s Confessions ensured that the fascination with chinoiserie and all things Egyptian and oriental would gain momentum. This watercolour of a Constantinople (Istanbul) bazaar was made by J F Lewis in the early 1840s.


Hookahs were a favourite subject for ‘orientalist’ painters, and soon replaced dephlogisticated nitrous air in the water pipes of the fashionable set. Byron’s publisher John Murray was often to be found, wrapped in a silk dressing gown, gurgling on his narguileh. By the middle of the century the hubble bubbles were still chortling away. Lewis Carroll’s caterpillar on his mushroom in 1865 is perhaps happily dreaming of two sorts of hallucinogens. Mervin Peake’s 1946 drawing has a rather phallic caterpillar, adding a link between psychedelic experience and sex that spoke more of his own time than Carroll’s.


As the nineteenth century grew old, the once innocent enthusiasm for things eastern acquired darker undertones. After the 1857 Indian Mutiny, things could never be the same. Queen Victoria’s glorious Kohinoor diamond, acquired in 1849 and literally the jewel in the crown of empire, has by the late sixties become a cursed moonstone, hunted by fanatical and vengeful natives who will murder to regain it. The theme recurs in Conan Doyle’s Sign of Four, who makes his fanatic a blow-pipe toting Andaman islander. (The Andamanese did not use blow pipes, and the story is one more undeserved stain on their character).

The opium pipe, if not the blow pipe, continued to claim victims in the upper echelons of English society. Conan Doyle’s The Man With The Twisted Lip saw light in 1891, and the opium dens were still going strong in the East End, every bit as squalid as they had always been. This engraving was made in the 1870s.


Drugs had the power to intoxicate the imagination as well as the body, and the tradition of Coleridge and de Quincey passed on through a long line of artists, Van Gogh, Gaugin, Dali, Manet, Gautier, Redon, Magritte. Aleister Crowley, as recorded in his Diary of a Drug Fiend, combined drugs and sex and orgies when he could get them. But he lacked rock and roll, and not until the sixties of our own era (well, I am old enough to remember the sixties), did the three great ingredients of the high life come together.

Through Timothy Leary by way of Aldous Huxley, the Beatles found a place where rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies, and everyone smiles as you drift past the flowers that grow so incredibly high.

Blotting paper, little squares soaked in LSD were the tickets to Lucyland, postage stamp sized pieces that melted on the tongue. The blotting paper came in peforated sheets. Some were printed with miniature works of art, like these signed examples from the collection of psychedelic researcher Thomas Lyttle.



This note was originally written to flag the Wellcome Museum’s exhibition “High Society: the rich history of mind-altering drugs” in February, 2011. All the pictures came from the Wellcome



Who were the cybergypsies?

Who were the cybergypsies?

Jarly mainlined the internet. If he could have plugged it directly into his body he would have done. Nowadays that sort of thing is on the cusp  of possibility, but in those days all we had to guide us was William Gibson and our own experience of wandering  around cyberspace.


It  was not like now.  The world, in the words of the old calypso, was full of empty. It had no features, no well mapped topography. Darkness hid everything, but in the darkness a few lights glimmered. Imagine a   night   sky with no more than  a handful of  stars scattered  across the whole of  it.  



[Work in progress]

A curious sighting in the Australian desert

A curious sighting in the Australian desert

I dream every time I fall asleep. Sometimes the dreams are vivid enough to recall clearly on waking, but generally they evaporate before I can remember them. One dream has stayed with me for more than a decade. If I close my eyes I can see it now: a brilliantly coloured parrot wrasse, hanging in mid air above a red Australian desert. I was pleased to find this fish and planned to catch it, however I was called away. To stop the fish swimming off while I was gone, I draped a tea towel over it.

This image was so intriguing that about two or three years ago, I tried to recreate it by combining pictures of a wrasse and desert. So far so good, but I could not find a suitable tea towel. I made this one in Photoshop.


A few nights later a voice spoke to me when I was sleeping. ‘I was born in the dark where dreams begin, in the low halls of the australopithecine mind.” I knew at once that this was the beginning of a story. I didn’t know what the story might turn out to be, but I began to dream more pictures.

There was a skull, decorated with writing which had been carefully engraved in the bone. I tried to recreate the decorated skull and connect it in a sequence to the fish. The result was a set of images that I’ll post here when I can find them.

‘Broken bottles and ashes’: an interview with X-8

‘Broken bottles and ashes’: an interview with X-8

The idea for an extended conversation between X-8 and myself first came up in October 2006. It was to be called “Wine and Cigarettes”. Some months went by. He wrote to me: “I figure you’re really busy or have drunk so much wine you can’t type anymore. I should have named this interview ’300 Wines and 40,000 Cigarettes’.”

Good things can’t be hurried, however, and by the time the piece was finally ready, X had renamed it again. Welcome to ‘Broken Bottles and Ashes’.



You know I’ve admired your paintings for years, and am pleased to be having this conversation with you. You came up with the title for this discussion, tell me, why did you call it ‘Wine and Cigarettes’?



Why ‘Wine and Cigarettes’? Well I know we both like to imbibe once in a while and I do appreciate a relaxing cigarette with friends, so I thought that evoked a properly intimate setting. I’d rather have wine and cigarettes than an SUV and cell phone.



I wish I could join you in a ‘clope’ (French slang) but gave up a few months ago, still miss the aroma of fresh tobacco with coffee. As for wine, we live bang in the middle of the Cahors wine region in France. I wish you could have seen it last month. The vines were still dormant, black gnarled stumps, but in between was a carpet of yellow hawkbit.

What is your favorite wine?



Top of my list at the moment is Chateau Bovila, which is local and organically made.



I’ve posted a Chateau Bovila label on GOD. I will try and find a bottle here in LA.


I ought to send you a couple of bottles. Well, let’s suppose that we have smoked our clopes and are well into the Bovila . . . Now there are two things in my mind . . . first, the subjects of your paintings are so dark, they are about pain, loss, disgust, murder, death, yet the paintings themselves are full of light . . . the light in fact comes bursting through them. How do you explain this?



I’m not sure what you mean by ‘light’. The luminosity of the paint? Or the statement of the work?



I mean the luminosity of the paintings.



It may be the result of my painting technique. I like to paint in a dark studio with only a 15 watt bulb. Like a cave. The paint on the canvas must reflect what little light there is to be effective. So you end up with a luminous palette of rich and contrasting colors. I also like to use ‘happy’ and vibrant colors sometimes to counterbalance the subject matter. It makes the work more digestable to the viewer.



Painting in low light, near darkness . . . apparently it’s something Rembrandt also used to do.



I didn’t know that.



Yet these light-filled paintings are so dark, subject matter wise. One of my favourites among your work is this painting. When I first saw it I was bowled over by its beauty.



Indra (contd):

It looked to me like a human figure with bracken fronds growing out of its belly. I thought of the Green Man carvings you find in medieval churches with leaves bursting from their mouths. So here was an image of the common life shared by man and nature, a growing tree-man in an autumnal sort of coloration …Then I read the title, ‘Suicide Bomber’, and it hit me in the gut. I hadn’t been expecting that – Palestine and Baghdad, blood, horror and injustice – suddenly all this pain was in the painting that a second before had seemed so calm and beautiful. I feel that wrench whenever I see this painting and I still look at it in two ways in order to recapture the feeling I first had, then seeing its bitter politics. I wonder, did you intend it to be seen this way?



I wanted the painting to be pretty and violent.



Here’s another painting that at first glance looks full of life, exuberance, dancing figures, reminiscent of Matisse, only at second glance do you see bullet wounds, blood and the title and realise that these figures are not dancing, they’re sprawled in death. Or perhaps they’re both, the painting contains the before and after, the energy of the living as well as their corpses.

X-8: Sniper. Acrylic and enamel marker on canvas. 6 feet by 5 feet. 2004.



The painting is joyful and happy from a distance and full of death and chaos up close. I liked that effect. Instead of dancing people in the park you have a massacre in progress.



Where does all this darkness and violence come from? Tell me about the things that left a mark on you. I know some of this is already on your website, where for example you talk of seeing your father’s body, shot dead in the street. I’m guessing that a lot of this stuff must be painful for you. Yet you talk of this damaging childhood with a kind of nonchalant bravado as if it didn’t matter.



Thank you. It was 35 years ago. Only now have I been able to acknowledge it. I am no longer connected to it emotionally. During my 20’s, there was a game called “Punk Rock Childhood” in which you try and prove that your childhood was the worst. Whoever had the worst was the winner. Others definitely had worse. But it was a way to wear your unfortunate circumstances as a badge of honor. Kind of like a battle scar.



Tell me about your childhood.



I had a dysfunctional family. My father tried to kill my mother when she was pregnant with me and she went to a psychiatric facility of some sort. There are no pictures of my mother and me from that time. I saw pictures of me and various social workers. (I received prison made wallets from my father but I never saw him. Met him a couple of times.) She was released when I was 4 and we became a welfare family. Sometimes she would have medical appointments at these state facilities where the severely deformed lived. I remember a boy whose arms were shaped like corkscrews. It was all very surreal.


We moved every year and soon I was a content loner at home – inventing games to play on my own. We eventually settled in the city of Whittier – which is Richard Nixon’s home town.


She gave me some .38 caliber bullets one year and said they were meant for her. I was 9.



What did she mean by the .38 bullets?



From what I have pieced together, my father apparently tried to shoot her when she pregnant. I guess it was my mother’s way of showing that my father was a very bad man – he robbed banks and tried to kill her as well.


At the time I thought of the bullets as toys or trinkets. I used to play with them and stare at them and wonder what they were filled with. I liked the sleek silver cases and copper tips. They were pretty and shiny. I used to spin them on the ground over and over. I eventually used .38 caliber bullets for art and embedded them in wet tar in a piece I did in 1986. It hung at Al’s Bar, the local artist’s bar. until all the bullets were taken as souvenirs by patrons.

X-8: Slaughterhouse, 6 feet by 5 feet, 2005



Your mother had a bad time, you grew up with her. Did you feel protective of her?



We slept in a small bedroom throughout my childhood. She cried in the middle of the night. I felt sad and wondered what was wrong with her. Again, I thought all this was the norm – you’re naïve and innocent and you don’t know and you don’t ask.


She tried to be a good mom. I look back and have to give her credit. She did make an effort to bring me up ‘right’, even though it was extremely strict. I wasn’t allowed to have anyone visit. A lock was put on the phone so I couldn’t make calls. I would be locked out of the house if I went out for the evening and then would have to sleep in the park. I wasn’t allowed to shave.


I just thought it was the norm.



The strictness of it seems quite extreme. For example why weren’t you allowed to shave, or don’t you know?



It was simply suffocating. And as I grew up I realized how bizarre the whole thing was and I became resentful of her.


I look back and realize she didn’t want me to grow up. To her shaving meant I was becoming a man. She wanted me to remain a child forever. She detested me becoming independent and hanging with others besides her. She didn’t want to know or meet those who were my contacts to the outside world.


Toward the end when I lived with her, she tried to commit me to a mental institution because I began hanging with other people besides herself.


The doctor talked with me and told me not to worry. He prescribed her more pills. She was pissed. We didn’t speak to each other for a year.






When did you become aware that your childhood wasn’t the norm?



I think when I was forced to pull a discarded Christmas Tree from a trash dumpster on Christmas morning so we could have a tree. I was seven.


People with smiling faces used to deliver fruit baskets and boxes of food during holidays. I thought everyone got free food. But I found out no one did. Only the really poor.


I left home at 17 and never looked back. My father was eventually shot to death in front of his house.



You do extraordinary things like put a picture on your website of your father covered by a blanket in the street. How did you feel about your father?



I met him a couple of times. He promised me a bowling ball when I was 10 but it never arrived. I never forgave him for that and I lost trust in people.


When I was 15 I met him on Father’s Day and he said I didn’t look like his son.


He worked in a factory and glued the soles on shoes for a living. He was also an alcoholic. He asked to be dropped off at the liquor store after our Father’s Day breakfast. I never saw him again until I saw his dead body on the news.


I was an unwanted child. My mother told me that. So I clearly was a burden to him. Why they didn’t have an abortion I’ll never know.



I think you say on your website that you were brought up by your grandparents.



My grandfather and grandmother were the center of the family. We met during weekends. They lived in a barrio, which is a poor neighborhood where latins lived. It still had dirt streets.


My aunts and uncles partied and drank liquor while we played in the backyard playing and stealing cucumbers from my grandma’s garden. I ate like 10 cucumbers one time and got sick. To this day I can not stand cucumbers.


My cousins and I would drink the leftover cocktails. We would play with matches and start fires. We burned down the neighbor’s wooden shack one time and the fire department figured out it was us and found the matches.



Sounds like fun.



Then religion overtook the extended family. They all became born again Christians. Anyone who didn’t embrace Christianity would face eternal fire in hell. I thought they had all become mental.

X-8 Crucifixion, 6 feet by 5 feet. 2003



What sort of Christianity were they reborn into?



We were Catholic. When I was 5 I was taken to church in a new suit. I hated the suit and it was a Latin Mass, so I didn’t understand anything the guy up front in the white robe was saying. I threw a tantrum and I never had to go to church or wear the suit again.


My family was all into gangs and crime. Many of my uncles and cousins were in and out of jail. I guess one day they all decided it was best to become ‘born again Christians’ as a way to change their life.


They still all are part of the same Christian Fellowship but I avoided them because they were so aggressive about converting others.



How aggressive?



I was chased out of the parking lot of a relative’s wedding when I was 17 with a friend of the family yelling at me telling me I was going to Hell if I didn’t accept Christ as King of The World. Very psycho.



What were your feelings about religion? You’d had a very rough deal.



I question those who try and control people. I’ve read that religion has killed more people than all natural disasters and fatal diseases combined. I think it’s good for some people if you are weak and need a crutch to help you along. I understand for some people it’s a tradition. But I don’t think killing each other over an invisible entity is really healthy. I don’t think the values and rules they set up in the name of ‘morality’ are useful. For example I think suppressing the natural sexual drive only creates sexual deviants. Just look at all the priests who become child molesters.I was taught that sex was bad and I became a very promiscuous person.

X-8: Falling Through The Snow. Acrylic on canvas. 6 feet by 5 feet. 2005.



Your early life sounds like unrelieved horror. Were there any good moments?



I excelled in school. It was an escape from my dreary homelife. To be involved in other creative things showed me there were other things in life. I knew that if I learned I could escape the cycle of poverty and despair.



What were your favorite subjects?



I liked everything. My cousins used to tease me because I got A’s and they got C’s and D’s. I liked music. I played the trumpet.


I hung out at the local library and pored over all the non-fiction books and foreign magazines. Der Speigel was a favorite. German magazines always had naked ladies in the back pages. It was a whole different world. An exciting world. I decided I wanted to be a journalist and write for a cool magazine. I took journalism classes and soon became an editor at my high school paper.



Did you have friends among the other pupils?



I had a little boy’s bowl haircut in 3rd grade and the girls used to chase me at recess screaming “Beatle! Beatle!” The Beatles were just happening at the time. They used to pin me down in the schoolyard and kiss me and then run away. I hid in the boy’s bathroom during recess after that. They used to stand by the door screaming “Beatle! Beatle!” I obviously had no clue about sex.


I got taught about sex by boys at school. They had dirty magazines. I couldn’t understand how a penis could fit into such a bizarre looking thing. The vagina fascinated me. It was like a strange creature.



How did you get started painting?



At 15, I got a skin disorder called vitiligo. It was a blessing in disguise. I withdrew from ‘normal’ society. I began to draw. I created pictures of devils, nazis, monsters and suicides.

X-8: Suicide Siva, 6 feet by 5 feet, 2001


I did take a design class in college one year and the teacher really liked my drawings. He pulled me aside one day and said I didn’t need school to be an artist – just go for it. He liked the splatters and drips that I left on the bottom of the drawings. He was an inspiration. Even to this day.


So I listened to him, quit college and moved to downtown Los Angeles after that and eventually lived in an large artist loft. It was 5000 square feet for $600 a month. I lived with two others. We had to put the toilet and sinks in ourselves. It was raw space. It was so big we used to ride a Vespa in it.



Where and how did you train?



I am self-taught and I support self taught music and art. Schools naturally teach technical ability. I like it when it’s crude. That’s why I liked punk. Anyone could do it. You didn’t need schooled talent. Academics were shunned. I feel the same way about art. I don’t like mainstream stuff.


Moving to downtown Los Angeles I did abstracts for awhile. In 1993 I began creating large figuratives and began to dig up the rotten stuff inside me and release it on giant canvases.



You view your art as a catharsis.



I think it’s healthy to create when you are angry or depressed. That way you don’t become a serial killer. There’s a certain magic to catharsis.


I see my paintings as enlightening. I am killing my internal devils through catharsis. All the paintings are essentially self-portraits. That’s the essence of exorcistic art. It’s a healthy process. I use simple imagery and universal symbols in my work so it’s no surprise that devils and angels play a prominent role.


I love creating alone. That’s obviously traceable to my childhood. I like the feeling of releasing secret emotions and feelings, and to do that, you create in a dark environment alone. It’s pure and peaceful.

X-8: Inside the Skull. Acrylic, latex, oilstick, urine and cigarette burns on canvas. 6 feet by 5 feet. 2002



You use a lot of unusual media – mud, blood, urine, if memory serves. Why? How do they make the painting better for you? A technical thing? A visceral connection with work? Transference of life force?



Living in Downtown Los Angeles, I started with mud because it was natural and primitive. I mixed the mud with urine because I felt that it combined elements of both man and nature. It was also anti-academic. It was a great way to separate yourself from the college taught brainwashed artists in the neighborhood.


Mud had a wonderful texture too.


The blood and hair paintings had a more urban overtone. Blood and hair samples are major evidence in homicide cases. It was no surprise that images of serial killers soon followed.



I have been following discussions on an alchemy forum with some interest (albeit little understanding) they talk of a “spiritus mundi” which alchemists through the years have tried to capture in various ways… starting with piss, shit, organic materials etc. Without this magic life force, their “work” is inert. I find the same sort of thing in writing . . .



We are all DNA and stardust.

X-8: Speeding Under A Black Sun (Octopus). Acrylic on canvas. 6 feet by 4 feet. 2003.



We’ve already touched briefly on them being infused with light. Of course how one views a 6 x 6 foot canvas in reality must differ from how it’s seen via the web.



People are usually amazed at the size of the paintings. Viewing them on a website doesn’t give the whole effect. It’s a much more bold emotion when you see the carnage up close and life-size.


In regards to presentation, X-8 is a pseudonym that comes from my favorite letter and number and it remains a pen name. It is somewhat a brand name. Tony Curtis once remarked he would have been more well known if he had named himself ‘Cosmo 5000’ or something. Pseudonyms are common in the music world, so I don’t see a problem.


I often use the music industry as an analogy for how I approach the art world: The paintings are songs. The individual series are the albums. Using this analogy, art galleries are the record labels and clubs rolled into one. When you don’t like the labels and clubs, you start your own thing.



Like you did with your music and your involvement with the LA punk scene?



When I was about 16 punk began and it was all about disaffected youth from bad homes, abusive families and everything. And revolting against it. For some it was fad but I totally related and embraced the anti-social aspect of the music and the scene. It was freedom from one’s shitty childhood and you hung out with others who experienced the same hardships. There were no rules. And it was fun.


Coma. Acrylic, urine and colored gel on canvas. 6 feet by 5 feet.2005.



Do you have music on when you paint?



Yes. Most of the time.



What kind?



I sometimes wear headphones with classical music or German industrial music playing full blast as I paint at 3 o’clock in the morning. I love the sun rising as the work dries, like a silent remnant of a nightmare or evidence of a dark horrible adventure.



I am really interested in how painters use paint, as a physical substance to work with, whether with brushes, knives, whatever, the physical side of painting –



I love the texture of paint. I love the smell of it. You name it- oil, latex and acrylic. I love large pieces because they seem so powerful.



When looking at paintings on the internet, I miss the experience of seeing them close up. Brushstrokes and textures and nuances disappear. Nothing will ever beat standing near the picture of course, almost smelling the paint. In the website image of ‘Suicide Bomber’ one can’t really see the texture of the paint, but I’m imagining it laid on quite thick, maybe allowed to crack, and perhaps scraped off again.



That one is more textural than the others. I liked the matte opaque paint I was using and laid it on thick.


X-8, Suicide Bomber, 6 feet by 4 feet, 2005



Suicide Bomber detail



Suicide Bomber detail 2



Painting is a very physical activity and must be tiring, if you’re hours in front of a canvas. How do you work?



I use sleep deprivation and psychotropics.



Do you have a routine?



I work on several large canvases at a time. All in various stages. Some are in a ‘ferment’ stage and are photographed after a couple of months.



How many hours will you put into each painting, each stage?



It depends on the work. Some take a year, some are done in 24 hours. “Reincarnation” was done in 24 hours.



How do you begin?



Staring at a blank canvas loaded.



Do you sketch first, or go straight in and let the theme emerge?



It’s mostly stream-of-consciouness. I sometimes draw but I find it undesirable.



Where do the ideas come from? I was pleased that a passage in The Death of Mr. Love gave you one idea).

X-8: Drunk Or Dying, 5 feet by 6 feet. 2007



I don’t know. I’ve always liked the macabre so I tend to start there.



What is it that I can feel in these paintings? I don’t believe it is rage. It’s too intense to be cynicism. I know you said you were detached from the pain of your childhood, but there is something vulnerable about these pictures.

Derangement (Lost in Rivers), 6 feet by 5 feet, 2004



I try and mix sorrow with anger for balance. I think that gives them a balance.



I’d like to send you a copy of Animal’s People. The narrative from that crippled boy’s mouth is perhaps an analogy to your outpourings on canvas. Animal does feel rage, although not all the time, occasionally he allows himself to feel gentler emotions but despises himself for it. He is not telling his story in order to change the world although I, his surrogate author, am on record as naively saying that I would like to help shape the future. Do you have any such concerns?



My interests are all subversive. (laughs)



Is it ridiculous to ask how you would like people to react or respond to the paintings?



I don’t think about it.



Finally, I’d like to ask you to talk about two more of your paintings. This figure reminds me of Nijinsky as the faun in L’Apres Midi D’un Faune – in the costume by Bakst.

Addiction and Perversion, acrylic and latex on canvas. 6 feet by 5 feet. 2001



I see your comparison. “Addiction And Perversion” is a self-portrait of my possible future. The skin disorder vertiligo slowly spreads all over the body with time. If I’m going to be a spotted man, I might as well go down in flames with drugs and sex, hence the title. It will make a great movie.


“End Of The World” pre-dated 9-12 but had symbols of it in it – an aircraft disaster, a dark messiah and his followers, the abuse and torture of women and a crescent moon in a mountainous desert. It was supposed to be a vision of hell.


At this point in the conversation the phone rang with news that Animal’s People had been long-listed for the 2007 Booker Prize.



Congratulations on your Booker nomination. I’m having an incandescent experience with this interview. Given this pace, I think we’ll be done in 2013.

More work, information about the artist and information about
acquiring paintings at X-8′s website


A stroll through ‘A Walk Through H’

A stroll through ‘A Walk Through H’


 We are moving through a large room in a museum, past a desk at which sits a curator engrossed in a book. She does not look up as we pass through a doorway into an airy exhibition of drawings. Our calm reverie is ended by a voice, clipped and irritable, which informs us that, “Tulse Luper arranged all these drawings in order for me one Monday afternoon when he heard that I was ill.”





Thus begins a tour of the drawings. Some the narrator has been given, others acquired in various ways, including stealing them. At first, naively, we see them as artworks, but it’s soon clear that for the narrator they have a great value that has nothing to do with art. To him they are maps. If he can thread their mazes and find his way through the empty spaces between them, he will at length come to H.




What H is, is not explained. The narrator himself will not know until he gets there, and by then, he accepts, it will not matter. His long walk begins at Hestergard, a place impossible to return to, once you have left it. The road, marked in red, like a blood orange, or real blood (type A), a sinister analogue to yellow brick, leads from one drawing to another, through towns with names like Canter Lupis, Hesgadin, Manephia. As artworks they are exquisite (and this film surely began as an attempt to explore their details), but although the narrator always has some anecdote, some trivia to relate about each one, he entirely misses their beauty.




The world of art and art galleries is soon left behind as we pass along lines and through channels and lanes into the drawings themselves, lost with the narrator in a strange world of competitive ornithology. Now and again our attention is distracted by the flutter of birds’ wings. The narrator is aided by the mysterious Tulse Luper (a legend among Greenaway devotees) and thwarted by Van Hoyten, a man who looked after the owls at Amsterdam Zoo and who now lives in Assidium in a room full of feathers, going out on nights of the full moon to count birds.




Tulse Luper warns the narrator that an audit of European birds should not be undertaken by someone with an ulterior motive. The narrator obligingly thrice lights damp wood fires in the hope that the smoke will obscure the moon and prevent the count. But it is Van Hoyten who prevails, by beating the narrator to an important map in the bazaar of Assidium, preventing him from taking up the post of Keeper of Owls at the Amsterdam Zoo, which Van Hoyten had given up, but which he now selfishly reclaims.




Gradually, with Michael Nyman’s score heightening the tension, the narrator has to admit that he is lost. For a long time, we wander with him through the alleys and labyrinths of a single drawing, from which there seems to be no escape, but then we are in marshes, large reed-fringed meres in which birds plunge and play.




I will leave it to you to discover this glorious film and find out how it ends. It is often called “surreal”, but I find no surrealism in it, just as I find none in Jorge Luis Borges, whose spirit, armed with maps, ciphers, labyrinths and mystical alephs, hovers over these deep waters. This is the landscape of the mind and we are on an alchemical journey.

Noi andavam per lo solingo piano
com’om che torna a la perduta strada,
che ‘nfino ad essa li pare ire in vano.
Across the desolate plain we made our way
like someone looking for his proper road
who till it’s found again must aimless stray
Purgatorio, I. 128-20
In time the narrator’s voice, with its unending stream of complaints, small failures and pretty resentments, seems to fade, becomes like an inner voice to which we cease to listen and we are once again lost in the reverie which he, the narrator had interrupted. For this was always our journey, and it is we who are lost, looking for H, whatever H may be.


Peter Greenaway, talking about this film, said, “I’ve always been fascinated by maps and cartography. A map tells you where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going – in a sense it’s three tenses in one. It’s also an amazing ideogram of information that is very useful and, perhaps most pertinently, also not at all useful. My father had recently died, and the subtitle of the film was ‘The Reincarnation of an Ornithologist’ – my father was one. Through his life he had amassed an extraordinary amount of information about bird study, and I was very aware that with his death – as indeed with any death – a vast amount of very personalized information had gone missing, was totally irrecoverable. The film is on the journey a soul takes at the moment of death, to whatever other place it ends up – H being either Heaven or Hell. I devised 92 maps to help this particular character get there. The whole film was divided into five sections that represented movement from a very urban landscape to a wilderness landscape, and there were references and cross-references to all sorts of systems.”