28 December 2009

I am not a New Zealand artist

I am an intertemporal avant-garde artist.

For some reason that I am not at all sure of, I thought it important to clear that up. I am not going to go into a rant about the disgusting spectacle that is the ridiculously bombastic nationalism that makes up such a large part of what for a lack of a better term we are forced to call New Zealand culture. I do not contribute to that culture. I am not a New Zealand artist.

I went out of the house for the first time in about a week today. I've been avoiding the world, speaking of disgusting spectacles.

This is the prologue to Werner Herzog's Conquest of the useless (a title I'd like to steal), taken from the journals he kept during the filming of Fitzcarraldo:
A vision had seized hold of me, like the demented fury of a hound that had sunk its teeth into the leg of a deer carcass and is shaking and tugging at the downed game so frantically that the hunter gives up trying calm him. It was the vision of a large steamship scaling a hill under its own steam, working its way up a steep slope in the jungle, while above this natural landscape, which shatters the weak and the strong with equal ferocity, soars the voice of Caruso, silencing all the pain and all the voices of the primeval forest and drowning out all birdsong. To be more precise: bird cries, for in this setting, left unfinished and abandoned by God in wrath, the birds do not sing; they shriek in pain, and confused trees tangle with each other like battling Titans, from horizon to horizon, in a steaming creation still being formed. Fog-panting and exhausted stand in this unreal world, in unreal misery – and I, like a stanza written in an unkown foreign tongue, am shaken to the core.

In the latest Doctor Who, John Simm turns in another great performance as the Master. He has all the best lines.

19 December 2009

What the righteously dressed man is wearing

This is what I'm wearing to the Evil Ocean CD release party at Mighty Mighty tonight:
Like primordial beasts rising from the algae-blooming seas, Evil Ocean's self-titiled debut album scuttles uncertainly into existence on ill-formed flipper-like feet, rudimentary limbs that will one day take over the world after having been honed by genetic drift, random mutation and natural selection, processes which will eventually prompt this unfortunate creature to rise on its two hind legs and claim, 'I am the son of God!' and 'I think therefore I am!' – and other such expressions of wistful hubris.

17 December 2009

Next year

Today in the mail came confirmation of my acceptance into the PGDip FA programme at Massey next year.

And a challenge

If anyone would like to dispute my title to the avant-garde, they may do so in the comments.

16 December 2009

Nietzsche's criteria for warfare

Tempted though I am to go to war with some bad artist fools, they do not meet Nietzsche's criteria for warfare:
First: I only attack causes that are victorious; I may even wait until they become victorious.

Second: I only attack causes against which I would not find allies, so that I stand alone – so that I compromise myself alone. – I have never taken a step publicly that did not compromise me: that is my criterion for doing right.

Third: I never attack persons; I merely avail myself of the person as of a strong magnifying glass that allows one to make visible a general but creeping and elusive calamity. Thus I attacked David Strauss – more precisely, the success of a senile book against the 'cultured' people of Germany: I caught this culture in the act.

Thus I attacked Wagner – more precisely, the falseness, the half-couth instincts of our 'culture' which mistakes the subtle for the rich, and the late for the great.

Fourth: I only attack things when every personal quarrel is excluded, when any background of bad experiences is lacking. On the contrary, attack is in my case a proof of good will, sometimes even of gratitude.

15 December 2009

Idle thought

I have been considering having a go at writing a novel. It occurred to me that I have a good outline for one in the comic I played around with a couple of years ago, and then left on the shelf. Yes, it is somewhat self-indulgent casting myself as the main character and bossing round famous artists from history, not to mention the plot being silly and far-fetched, but so what?

I am not considering a straight novel, however. I am thinking of a mix between words and pictures, though I'm not entirely sure how that'd work. The idea is to use words for the bits that are best conveyed through words, and pictures likewise. I'm not thinking an illustrated novel, but one where pictures play an integral formal role.

I think that this approach has two main benefits. One is that getting it to work would be an interesting problem, and a good solution would be a good thing in itself. The other, and more important one, is that I find writing anything of any length an intensely boring experience, and so when I get bored with writing I can play around with some pictures.

I am far from sure that this idea will come to anything, but I've been contemplating it for a while now, and have concluded it's worth having a go. I haven't got much further than that though. I haven't even solved the first problem, which is how to go about it.

Do I write on the computer? That's obviously the best way to write, so that you can go back in and rework things without having to cross out lots of stuff and connect it back up with arrows and numbers and things. But then how to integrate the pictures? I sure as hell am not going to draw on the computer. Do I do the pictures separately and include in the text things like '[insert picture A]'? That could get very tricky very quickly.


12 December 2009

How very interesting

So, it's 3-odd in the morning, and you're quite pissed (again), but you've run out of cigarette papers, so what do you do? Your partner, roused from sleep, suggests you go to bed and get some more in the morning, but is that the proper spirit? Is that the right cigarette smoker attitude? No! You say. No, it is not.

So, you take a piece of drawing paper, which could've been a self-portrait or something, and rip off a cigarette sized paper bit, and roll your cigarette with that. Sure, the taste may be a little sullied, your lungs may burn afterwards, but even without adhesive it still smokes like a cigarette. It's not too bad at all.

I might go to bed now. I might get some cigarette papers in the morning.

11 December 2009

Who gives a shit

One thing about being a mentally unstable nihilist who drinks and smokes, well, some people would say too much, but I think not enough, fuck, where am I, oh yeah, drink and smoke a lot, should I have another now, I wonder, no, David, get back to what you were saying, that's right, the benefit of being a cunt is that you don't have to make small talk with other cunts if you don't want to.

In fact, I've alienated a whole lot of people. Some would say, and have done, 'oh no, you've alienated another erstwhile friend', and I say, 'good'.

There's a really good line talking about erstwhile friends, 'When I've smoked a cigarette, I'm not in the habit of keeping the butts.'

No points for guessing who that was.

Right, where was I? Oh, that's right, drinking and smoking some more.

You think this blog's entertaining? Fucking hell.

Ha ha fucking ha.

James Kalm's studio visit with William Powhida

These are from a couple of years ago. There's more recent Powhida here.

I don't like the trompe l'oeil aspect of his work, but I do like his sense of humour.

10 December 2009

Oh dear

I've scorned what some people consider to be the cardinal rule of blogging – never post while drunk – but there may be something in it.

I do want a pet pig and a parrot though.

Time for some drunk sentimality

I like the wind in the trees. They make good patterns. But I miss my cat Yog Sothoth. I miss him quite a lot.

A lot.

Those of you reading this who remember him, remember him. The rest of you can just fuck off.

I want a pet pig and a parrot.

Bloody gin.

09 December 2009

Stealing a self-portrait idea

The evil Barrs are on my case again. Damnit, why didn't I think of a self-portrait as Don Quixote!?! That's a really good idea.

I'm going to do it.

08 December 2009

Romantic Classicist

It was a couple of weeks or so ago now, but I was called both a Romantic and a Classicist by different people within days of each other. I thought that was pretty funny. I also thought that for different people to see what I do in diametrically opposed terms I must me doing something right (as opposed to the many things I do wrong). Admittedly, the person who made the Romantic comment is a fool, but hey.

I've also been told recently that I can churn out the paintings and drawings I do while blindfolded. If only that were true! However, rather than being offended (which was my initial response), I took it as a compliment, and one that ties in with the Classicist comment.

I'm a big fan of the Renaissance virtue sprezzatura. This term was coined by Castiglione in his book of manners for the young man about town, The book of the courtier, where he defines sprezzatura as 'a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it' – that is, appearing to do what you do with effortless ease, regardless of the actual effort that goes into it.

Unfortunately, I don't think I am a Classicist (and if I wanted to claim to have sprezzatura I really shouldn't keep this blog). Yes, as part of my preparation for painting I read both Alberti and Piero (both well worth reading), and I like centralised, unified, and cooly restrained compositions rather than those that are overtly emotional and expressive (which reminds me that Bernard Berenson's The inexpressive in art is also a great little book). But I don't have any time for idealism, especially that fucking stupid Platonic idealism, and that probably counts me out. I mean, come on, a world of ideas or essences or will behind the world of appearances? You've got to be fucking kidding me. It doesn't make any sense.

This is just a long drunken prelude to saying that I'm thinking of doing a self-portrait as a Renaissance man about town. I think it's time for some more self-portraits. Fuck they're fun, and in the final analysis that's all that counts. After I've got the Classicist one sussed, I might do a self-portrait as Romantic. Facing each other perhaps.

Update: Rose just read this post. Her response: 'That's a real narcissistic self-portrait.' No, no! 'Self-portrait as narcissist' is another good idea!

04 December 2009

Stranger in a strange land

So I had an interview for the postgraduate diploma course the other day. I don't know about you, but I find that, if a certain aspect of an event makes an impression on my mind, that aspect overshadows all other aspects of the event in my memory of that event.

I can recall the start of the interview, where I was asked about my impressions of the year just been, and I can recall talking about what I want to do in terms of using pictures to formulate and convey ideas – 'conferring plastic reality on inner states of mind' (which is a nice phrase of Picabia's I quoted in my proposal).

However, that discussion is pretty nebulous in my memory. It is completely overshadowed by the startling statement the head of the school made to me, more than once: 'You would need to conform.'

It was as if he'd suddenly reached across the table and smacked me upside the face with a dead fish. Suddenly the years fell away and it was as if I was in one of those awkward encounters I had fairly regularly with authority figures at boarding school, involving as they did such level-headed and non-hyperbolic assertions as I was the reason our seventh form was the worst in living memory and that if I carried on the way I was going I'd be dead before I was 21.

I think it fair to say that from this point on in the interview I struggled. I couldn't get over the extraordinary suggestion that the most important thing for postgraduate research in fine arts is conformity.

Oh well, apparently I'll know whether they want me in their course next year in a couple of weeks. Someone suggested I should cover my bets and apply for Elam as well. I did consider doing that – and asking one of the people on the Massey interview panel to be my referee for it – but I don't think I will.

In the interests of transparency, I'll include my proposal. There is one small section that is the token ticking of academic boxes that I shouldn't've included (namely, 'specific placement of your research within the current contemporary art context'), but I'm happy with the rest. This is what I thought we'd discuss. I expected their concerns to have been with what arrant nonsense it is:
Towards a common-sense nihilist guide to life: A research proposal


The true artists of our time are philosophers. I have no time for the sterile arguments of the professional philosophers in the universities, politicians whose axes are ground very fine indeed, who only exist to serve the status quo. I speak of the philosophers of living, those who have something to say to those who would be human, truly free and independent, and reject the tyrants both without and within.

Like most small, isolated communities, New Zealand is a conservative and conformist society. There is no nihilistic tradition here, and no art made from a nihilistic perspective – until now.


I propose a research project to investigate ways to formulate and express the common-sense nihilist philosophy through drawing.


Death – The certain prospect of death could sweeten every life with a precious and fragrant drop of levity – and now you strange apothecary souls have turned it into an ill-tasting drop of poison that makes the whole of life repulsive.’ (Nietzsche 2000: 165.)


What is common-sense nihilism and what does it want?
– Nihilism is a philosophical doctrine that holds that nothing is true or real, and that life has no intrinsic meaning, purpose, or value. Common-sense nihilism is my version of this philosophy. While it shares many characteristics with nihilism proper, there are important differences.

Nihilism is often characterised as a pessimistic philosophy. It is also often mischaracterised as being purely destructive, and so dismissed. Common-sense nihilism, on the other hand, holds that a belief in nothing forms the basis for a positive approach to life, as creative.

Is common-sense nihilism viable as philosophy, as art, as life? What are its implications and consequences? Is it possible to be meaningfully free in an advanced technological capitalist state? These are the questions this research proposal seeks to examine.

Many people seem to have a problem with the term common-sense nihilism. The ‘common-sense’ refers in part to the self-evident nature of a belief in nothing – as in Marcel Duchamp’s answer when he was asked what he believed in: ‘Nothing, of course!’ (Mundy 2008: 57.) ‘Common-sense’ also refers to how we approach the world of appearances. Although there are several good reasons for concluding that the world does not really exist, it appears to exist, and we should treat it as such, without losing sight of its meaninglessness and absurdity.

If everything is meaningless, it is we who must invest things with value. Rather than using received values from religion and politics, based as they are on a false representation of things, the common-sense nihilist creates their own values and purposes. However, the common-sense nihilist does not create consoling fantasies. The meaning and purpose they create has as its foundation the recognition that life is absurd and that the world of appearances is hostile and contingent. This can involve an antagonistic attitude to society, especially society’s institutions, and a joyful contempt for everything, including themselves.

Fundamentally, common-sense nihilism is about individual freedom, freedom through art. In this, it shares a defining characteristic of the historical avant-garde, and as such is an intertemporal avant-garde art movement. At our present time, when societal conditions have functional similarities with those of the early twentieth century, any definition of freedom that goes beyond the ability to buy and sell material goods is important.


This proposal takes the form of a manifesto, with more than a nod in the direction of the way Nietzsche structured his books. A manifesto is a programmatic declaration of a plan of action, much like a proposal is. As common-sense nihilism is conceived of as a one-person avant-garde art movement, in the vein of Picabia’s Amorphism and Instanteism and Malevich’s Suprematism, a manifesto form is doubly appropriate.


I propose to examine the questions raised in section 4 using drawing. For the purposes of this proposal, drawing is defined as a form of painting. That is, drawing is lines and colour on a flat surface that physically manifest through representation. Representation is defined as the portrayal (presenting again) of a thing by using something else in place of that thing, such as a visual metaphor or a schematic. As Francis Picabia put it in a different context, ‘Photography has been a great help in forcing art to realise its own nature, which does not consist of becoming a mirror of the external world but in conferring plastic reality on inner states of mind.’ (Borràs 1985: 98.)

Ideas, especially philosophical ideas, are usually presented through words. But are words the best way of conveying ideas? Take Descartes’ formulation ‘Cogito ergo sum’ for example. This tells us nothing about whether we exist, but rather only something about the grammatical construction of sentences. The verb ‘think’, like the verb ‘exist’, requires a subject ‘I’. Descartes’ sentence does not demonstrate that he exists, but that words go together in certain ways. (See Nietzsche 2000: 256–7.)

The physicists tend not to use words to convey the complex ideas with which they deal. They use diagrams, such as the diagrams invented in 1908 by the mathematician Herman Minkowski to represent the properties of spacetime in the special theory of relativity: ‘Whatever exists as a movement, as something happening in a space with a specific number of dimensions (n), can be represented as a form in space which has one additional dimension (n + 1).’ Similarly, the physicist Richard Feynman invented a kind of diagram to represent quantum field theory processes in terms of particle paths. (See Nahin 1993.)

To present common-sense nihilist ideas, this research project will focus on the interaction of image and text. Visual art is rich in associations, associations not just with what is represented but also with how it is represented. Is incorporating text with a picture a way of focusing those associations? Does the text limit the picture, and the picture expand the text? Can image and text be combined to convey abstract thought in all its complexity, to ‘confer plastic reality on inner states of mind’?


Art is the worship of error
– This research project proposes to begin with an in-depth study of the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, and how they have been interpreted and adapted by later thinkers such as Heidegger, Sartre, Camus, Deleuze, and Foucault.

As well as examining contemporary artists who incorporate image and text, such as William Powhida, David Shrigley, and Raymond Pettibon, the project will look at ways pre-literate societies used visual art to present abstract ideas, particularly in early Renaissance Italy and pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. How do such considerations as the relative size and placement of images affect their meaning?

In particular, the project will focus on how Francis Picabia, the living embodiment of Dada nihilism, adapted and implemented Nietzsche’s ideas in his painting, his writing, and his person. ‘An artistic temperament which demanded spontaneous self-expression was matched in [Picabia] with an intellect that could no longer see a “meaning” in this world at all. He was, at one and the same time, a creative artist, compelled to go on creating, and a sceptic, who was aware of the total pointlessness of all this creative activity, and whose Cartesian intellect ruled out all hope’ (Richter 1978: 72).


An important Dada strategy is its use of humour, and especially its mockery of ideals. Humour has no respect for self-important persons or institutions. It deflates those who are puffed up. Perhaps most importantly, it mocks itself. Can humour be used to create a space for freedom to exist? Given our current societal conditions, is the time ripe for a resurgence of a nihilistic avant-garde movement using humour as a weapon?


Nothing matters! – This research project will result in a series of drawings that combine visual metaphors and schematics with slogans and aphorisms to present the foundations of the common-sense nihilist philosophy. This series will build on Where art belongs, which was produced as part of the Adam Art Gallery’s Wall Works exhibition from 8 September to 4 October 2009, and which was the first tentative step towards ‘a common-sense nihilist guide to life’.


Borràs, Maria Lluïsa, Picabia, United States of America: Rizzoli, 1985.

Mundy, Jennifer (ed.), Duchamp Man Ray Picabia, United Kingdom: Tate Publishing, 2008.

Nahin, Paul, Time machines: Time travel in physics, metaphysics, and science fiction, United States of America: American Institute of Physics, 1993.

Nietzsche, Friedrich (trans. and ed. Walter Kaufmann), The basic writings of Nietzsche, United States of America: Modern Library, 2000.

Richter, Hans, Dada: Art and anti-art, United Kingdom: Thames and Hudson, 1965.

01 December 2009

Some results

I have finally got some results from school. There is one missing, but I think I can predict it with a reasonably high level of confidence.

Without further ado, here they are:

Critical Studies IIIB – A-
Critical Studies IIIA – A-
Fine Arts Elective E – A
Contemporary Art Studio III – A

The mark for the one paper that's missing, Introduction to Fine Arts Research Methods and Practices, is made up of three components, two of which are each worth 25% of the final mark and one of which is worth 50%. For the 25%-ers I got an A- for each, and for the 50%-er an A+. Therefore, I predict an A as a final result.

I have yet to get my clammy hands on the written feedback for the studio paper, which seems to have strangely gone missing in action. By themselves, marks tell you very little.

Even without that though, I am going to proclaim this year's experiment a success.

Tomorrow I have an interview for next year's post-graduate diploma course.
visitors since 29 March 2004.