A couple of days ago, I thought to myself, "What can I do next? I know – I'll paint a picture!" You see, just recently I finished typing a 282,000 word document that I wrote by hand in 1995. And if you've ever typed a 282,000 word document, you know how time consuming that can be – it took me seven years. But now that it's finished, the time is right for starting another big project. And painting a picture would be ideal. But the big question was, what sort of paint should I use?
"Well that's easy", I thought. "It should be acrylic paint, because I have some tubes of that left over from previous paintings." But what sort of surface should I paint on? Canvas? Paper? "Well paper tends to go all bendy when you paint on it. And as for canvas, well if it's very big then it could be awkward to find a place to store it, later." So in the end, I decided on masonite.
Click to enlarge
Yesterday I went up the street to the hardware store and bought a big piece of masonite, twenty-four by thirty-six inches. Then I took it home and gave it four coats of white gesso primer, the way my art-teacher taught me many years ago. "But wait!" I thought. "What should the picture be of? I haven't had any artistic ideas yet!" So I had a look through some of my recent photos, and some magazines, hoping to find some photographic reference that would look good in a painting. Finally I decided that the picture should be of a young man, no shirt, holding a microphone up to three young ladies – while in the background, soldiers with guns stand with their eyes hidden by the shadows of their helmets.
This afternoon I laid down some newspaper on the floor. I don't have an easel so I have to paint sitting down with the picture leaning up against the wall. I used a piece of foam mounting-board as a pallette. Then, I took out my acrylic paints and started mixing a greyish-blue colour for the sky. It was hard to get the right colour. I thought to myself, "This blue is not blue enough. It's too dark. And when I mix it with the white, it looks too grey." But anyway, I had to make do. I worked on the sky for a long time, knowing that I had to get it just right as it would be very hard to change later.
Then I started painting the rough shapes of the young man and the women, but I didn't get far with it before it was time for dinner. One day soon, this will be the best painting I've ever done. But at the end of the painting session, it looked like this:
It doesn't look like much, but it's a good start. One problem was, the red has gone a little bit hard and it's difficult to squeeze out of its tube. And the blue has separated into its consituent chemical components, like ice-cream when you leave it. My paint tubes are very old. So I thought to myself, "First thing tomorrow, I've got to go out and buy some more red and some more blue." Mmmm I want to do this properly – I've got to spend a long time on it and make it perfect in every detail. That way, people will look at it and say "Oh, Stephen Clark is so great, his artistic talent more than makes up for his lack of talking."
It's been a long time since I did a painting. I'm a bit "rusty" – after all, I've been focussing on computer art and photography for the past five years and the only physical pictures I've drawn have been with ink or pencil on a very small scale. But if I want to be taken seriously as a visual artist, like Goya, or Michaelangelo, or Renoir, then I have to do a big painting or maybe several. And then people will talk about me after I die.
Perhaps I would have returned to the painting after dinner, but I couldn't because I had to go out to see a lady singer named Ember Swift at the Corner Hotel. Ember Swift is from Canada – she tours all over the world with her band. So when she plays in my town, it's a great and rare opportunity to witness one of the most enthralling and awesome live music shows in the world. You might not have heard of Ember Swift – she's not very famous 'cause she's like, "independent" and she doesn't try to get a record deal with a major label, she just releases CDs on her own label. But nevertheless, people were lined up around the block to get into the Corner Hotel tonight to see her with the band. She has a devoted cult following, and I'm part of the cult.
Ember Swift plays folk/jazz/funk music. With her social conscience and her biting left-wing political messages, she attracts a lot of hippies and activists. She also attracts a lot of lesbians, because she herself is a beautiful, beautiful lesbian. She also attracts me, because she has this amazing singing voice and her guitar-playing and song-writing show her to be in the highest echelons of musical talent. And she's constantly showing wit and intelligence in the things she says. So when you go to an Ember Swift show, you're getting a complete entertainment package.
It's interesting the instrumentation the band sometimes uses. Ember's colleague, Lyndal, is an expert on the electric violin. In the funkier songs, she plays bass. And there's one song where she plays guitar with a bow. Plus, Ember has these effects pedals, one of which allows her to loop guitar-riffs on the fly and repeat them over and over. Vocal loops, too. And then just when you think you've seen everything, the stage goes all dark and Lyndal does a long spoken-word piece about how America is such a bad country. It was like, the audience was hanging on every word. And later on, everyone was dancing. And at the very end, everyone was singing along. This was the perfect gig. It had everything. Afterwards, I bought two of her CDs, each one twenty-five dollars.
One thing I really like about Ember Swift is, she has a very clean mouth. A few days ago I went to see this movie at the cinema called Twenty-Four Hour Party People, and it was a good movie but it had too much swearing and that made it somewhat offensive. So I couldn't really enjoy it. The critics really like this movie. It's a true story about this record company in England which had connections with a lot of famous bands in the 70s and 80s. But they always had a bit of a problem with money, and sometimes they were a bit irresponsible. People in the audience would be thinking, "I can't believe this really happened! These crazy, nutty, oddball people changed the face of the music industry." But besides being funny, it was full of anger and bile.
On the way to the cinema I saw this old guy in the middle of the city, he was a busker with a guitar and he was singing that old song called "How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?" He had his two dogs with him and he had somehow trained them to bark in the right places in the song. They went "Woof! Woof!" It was an amusing trick, although it would get pretty boring listening to the same song over and over again whilst waiting for a tram. He never even tried singing the second verse.
I told my friend Grainger that I saw Twenty-Four Hour Party People, and he said, "That movie's old, isn't it?" But then he remembered that it was released in England a long time ago, and he used to live in England. Then he said I should check my email, because the bass-player in our band sent a somewhat disturbing email to all the band-members and it had worried him. "That's why I called you," he said.
There's been a bit of tension between the members of my band Positronic – it seems to have cleared up now but maybe it's still bubbling under the surface. You see, the songwriters in the group have recorded their music at home, using a computer, without the need for real instruments. It was always understood, that it was going to be done that way. But that means that the musicians in the band who don't write the music don't get any money from the CD sales. We only get paid for the live gigs. So even if we hit the big time and become really famous, the non-writing musicians don't get paid enough to quit their day jobs. And yet we still have to pay an equal share for practice-rooms and such. It's hard to tell exactly what a person is feeling, just from reading their email – I'm not sure if Geni the bass player is really concerned about how much money she'll be getting, or if she's just concerned that Grainger is with-holding information from her. But you know, I get something out of the band much greater than money – something that can't be measured. So there's no tension with me.
Flash animation – move your mouse over it
Last Friday I went to see this band at Revolver Upstairs, called Architecture In Helsinki. They are an eight-piece band. I really like them. They're like a happy-medium band – not very heavy, not very electronic, but always with original ideas and innovations. They have a few vocalists and their voices are often gentle and breathy. They have a brass-section, and when the brass section are not playing they're providing claps and knee-slaps as carefully-worked-out rhythm patterns – I love it when they do that. At one point they did a cover of that Cure song "Close to Me" and it sounded just like the original. Architecture In Helsinki is a cute band – they make the sad day seem cheery.
Historical photo of the week:
Stephen Clark, three years old
At the start of my painting career
This Wednesday I went to the karaoke and I sang the song "Mambo #5" by Lou Bega. This is a song that everyone hates – the MC even said before he pressed start on the karaoke machine: "I can't believe I'm playing this." But "Mambo #5" is one of the songs that I used to sing with my old covers band in 2000 (they forced me to learn it) and I've sung it so many times that I've mastered every note, every inflection, so that I can do it perfectly without even thinking about it. So that's what makes it an ideal candidate for karaoke. Straight after I came down off the stage, a guy came up to me and said, "Gitchi!" ('cause that's my stage-name) – "Can you sing Hash Pipe again? Like last week?" But I said no. I never do the same song twice if I got it right the first time.
I've been watching that show Dharma and Greg – it's about this hippy lady (Dharma) who's married to a rich lawyer (Greg). It's just your average sitcom, following the old traditional formula – I probably wouldn't be interested in it but my friend Ginkgo said she used to watch this show, when she was alive, because she and her husband had a similar relationship like Dharma and Greg's relationship. And I tend to like most of the stuff that Ginkgo liked, so I have to check this show and appreciate its good qualities. I like that actor who plays Dharma – she's pretty.