30 January 2008

Portrait of the artist as an anti-chameleon (in the manner of Nietzsche)

To succeed in making mankind ‘better’ is the last of my intentions. Naturally, I find knocking down idols much more amusing.

How is it that I am so shrewd? I have never stopped to reflect on problems that were not real problems, never wasted my time on such things.

Painting an icy waste

Anyone capable of breathing the atmosphere that pervades my work will know that it is lashed by an icy wind. You need to have been born for such a climate if you do not wish to catch cold. Painting, as I live it, is a deliberately chosen existence in an icy waste, a quest after everything that has been proscribed by the established order.

Needing nothing

I do not remember ever having made an effort to obtain anything. I am the contrary of the heroic nature. ‘Wanting’ something, ‘aspiring’ to something, or having an ‘objective’ are all things totally outside of my experience. But that is how I have always lived. I have never had any ambitions. In fact, I can say that I have never been excessively preoccupied with men, women, or money.

Thus, the relations I maintain with people test my patience to the utmost. My ‘humanity’ does not consist in sympathising with my neighbours but in putting up with the fact of feeling them so close to me.

The anti-chameleon

Needless to say, I am not a chameleon. I have proved this by always choosing, instinctively, the atmosphere that would first change my skin. I do not take on the colour of my surroundings, however, but adopt one totally opposed to them. On the whole, I have always been the same; superficially, I have changed on many occasions, to become exactly the contrary of all that surrounded me.

I have always condemned myself to being different at every moment, to being beyond all conventions. The pressure I put on myself to avoid ever being assimilated by anybody or anything shows that I possess the instinctive, absolute certainty of what I need on any particular occasion. I enjoy all the good things – and even those little things that others are hardly capable of enjoying. And thus, out of my will to continual change, my will to live against the grain, I make my art.

The grammarian and the dervish

This story was told by Jalaludin Rumi in the 13th century:

One dark night a dervish was passing a dry well when he heard a cry for help from below. 'What is the matter?' he called down.

'I am a grammarian, and I have unfortunately fallen, due to my ignorance of the path, into this deep well, in which I am all but immobilised,' responded the other.

'Hold, friend, and I'll fetch a ladder and rope,' said the dervish.

'One moment, please!' said the grammarian. 'Your grammar and diction are faulty; be good enough to amend them.'

'If that is so much more important than the essentials,' shouted the dervish, 'you had best stay where you are until I have learned to speak properly.'

And he went on his way.

Let those who can, see.

29 January 2008

Roads to nowhere

I’ve just got back from a couple of weeks in Ancient Rome. We had fun seeing the sights and all, but it all turned to custard when we went to a party with a bunch of Roman painters.

One of them quoted approvingly that old story about the painting competition where one painter painted some fruit and birds tried to eat it. Then they went to draw back the curtain covering the other painter’s work and discovered that the curtain was the painting. He won, because while the other guy had fooled birds he had fooled humans (which is not that difficult really).

I laughed and said what a stupid story that was. The Romans got all huffy and started quoting Aristotle at me. The exchange went something like this:

Me: ‘Bollocks to Aristotle. He was Alexander the Great’s tutor, and look how that turned out.’
Roman: ‘Yes, Alexander the Great conquered the known world!’
Me: ‘Exactly. The murdering bastard.’

Picabia intervened at this point. He tried reasoning with them and used the example of music. Aristotle reckoned art was mimesis. However, music doesn’t imitate anything. It is a purely abstract art. Picabia then tried to lead them through the way he developed abstract painting through the analogy with music. They just looked at him blankly.

I reckon the problem was with their assumptions. They assumed that Rome was centre of the world. All roads lead to Rome and all that. Because it was the centre of the world, it was necessarily the most advanced city in the world. And since they were Roman, they were the most advanced painters in the world, by definition. These assumptions actually made them very parochial and insular. They assumed they had nothing to learn from barbarians from the sticks, which is what they took us to be. Idiots.

Poor old Piero. He had all his illusions shattered.

Update: Well, I've just had Picabia on the phone. My first clue that he was a little irate was his opening line: 'You fucking idiot!' He thinks I misrepresented him in this post and wants me to stress that the the whole abstract painting through analogy with music thing only reflected his thinking for a short period between about 1911 and 1913. He moved on fairly quickly from there. (I won't quote him on the subject. He did go on for a bit.) The only reason he mentioned it to those Roman gits was because he thought they needed to start with the basics. Fair call. They didn't even get that.

I'm fairly sympathetic. He's a bit sensitive to being misinterpreted at the moment. You should've seen him after he'd read some of the stuff art historians had written about him, especially when he read the one who thought he'd ripped off Duchamp. Of course, it was the other way round. He was a little disappointed no-one realised Picasso ripped him off either (to say the least).

28 January 2008

How dare you assume I want to parlez vous with you?

I reckon it's very important, if not vital, that art be made purely for the artist's benefit. There's a range of reasons for this. So I've decided not to make many changes to the comic when I do the final version. If a reader can't follow it, that's their problem, not mine.

26 January 2008


I'm not a fan of graffiti art, but what kind of plonker would you have to be to do this?

I'm tempted to go and stick up a response to the response.

25 January 2008

Can't take them anywhere

I was hanging out with Francis Picabia and Piero della Francesca the other day. We’d gone to see the Fall in early 80s London, and Picabia was ranting about how punk rock just ripped off all the least important aspects of Dada and failed to get what it was really all about.

Piero had spent the day in the library reading up on what art historians made of his work. Apparently he got told off because he was laughing too loudly. We got into a bit of an argument about when was the best time to be a painter. Each of us maintained that we’d been born at exactly the right time.

Piero made the point that people were a lot more visually literate in his time than people in either Picabia’s or mine. He pointed out that a lack of standard weights and measures meant that people got really good at judging areas and volumes just from a single glance. He also mentioned that widespread illiteracy meant that the visual communication of ideas was a lot more important.

He used the example of gestures. In the 15th century there was an established vocabulary of gestures, with individual gestures having a highly specific established meaning that viewers in his time would understand. That’s just one example of the highly sophisticated system of visual symbols that were a part of the general culture. They didn’t need to be explained. Not knowing this vocabulary, we miss a lot of the meaning of Renaissance paintings and often misinterpret them. He went into some detail, but I missed a lot of it because I had to go break up a fight between Picabia and Mark E Smith.

24 January 2008

Views from the couch

I'm not sure why I took these pics or posted them.

23 January 2008


I'm going round and round in circles trying to decide what to do with my comic. I start by thinking I'll make minimal changes. I then think that a bit more explanation is not a bad idea (such as the somewhat important idea that it was the Spanish gold flooding into Europe from America that allowed capitalism to develop). I then get carried away and start chucking in all sorts of things (I've even drawn up plans for the Time Ship Cassandra - not that it'd be a time machine per se). Then I realise it's got stupidly huge and unwieldy, and decide to only make minimal changes. Then the process starts all over again.

I'll get there in the end.

20 January 2008

Advice for public galleries

We popped out to the Dowse yesterday. I won't go on about the depressing display of derivative work that was the Wallace finalists. It's not as if there were any surprises there.

I will, however, mention the wall labels for other exhibits. It is not reasonable to mention one or two spelling and grammatical mistakes in a piece of writing. With the best will in the world, these can still slip through. However, when you have one every three or four lines (and the lines are only five or so words long), that's a problem.

It's not just retired English teachers with nothing better to do than write letters of complaint who pick up on these things. Having a lot of mistakes like this destroys your credibility. It tells me you haven't taken much care about your work, and makes me wonder whether you've taken as little care over the factual accuracy. It's simply unprofessional.

Running a spell-checker over it isn't enough. A spell-checker won't tell you that 'hay day' should be 'hey day'. What you need to do is hire a proofreader. The benefit significantly outweighs the cost. Their hourly rate will probably be a quarter or even a fifth of a graphic designer's. It's not that hard people, and it stops you looking like lazy illiterate arseholes.

17 January 2008

Dead phone

I don't have a phone, TV, or Internet connection at home. Now I don't have any means of contacting the outside world at all. Yesterday, I managed to kill my cellphone by inadvertantly detaching the top half from the bottom half. Given the state of my finances, I'm not likely to get another one soon. It's quite liberating.

Update: Oh well, it didn't last. I have a new phone, but with the same number.

15 January 2008

Idle sketching

14 January 2008

Black square painting

Intertemporal avant-garde agents in Auckland report that, at the Dizengoff cafe, you can enjoy a black square wall painting by Andrew McLeod with your coffee and glossy magazines:


This is an old photo from when I was up in Auckland last year:

Unfortunately, you can't see the black square on my right arm.

08 January 2008

Magic art powers

As an intertemporal avant-garde painter, my magic art powers allow me not only to travel in time but also to read minds and become invisible. Although this can be useful now and then, it's not really the point.

Recent telepathic experiments have established that the black square is the main conduit for the avant-garde thought virus through the ur-dimension. Unfortunately, we inhabit one of the minor hell-worlds, far from the centre of things. This is why the thought virus is so attenuated when it reaches here and can only infect a few select individuals inhabiting separate spacetime locations (with the notable exception of the early 15th and 20th centuries).

The dog

On the way out to the Pinnacles, I reached back and lowered the electric window in the back seat so the dog could stick her head out it and take in all the exciting new smells. I did this three or four times during the trip.

On the way back, we wound all the windows up and had the air conditioning going (to stop the kamikaze bees). I turned around at one point and was surprised to see the back window open. I didn't open it. I asked Rose. She hadn't opened it. We concluded it had to be a fluke. Surely the dog had trodden on the button by accident.

To test this hypothesis, we wound the window back up. A little later, I turned around again. Sure enough, the window was down. I find it very difficult to credit, but it looks awfully like it was deliberate. It was done twice, and it was the same window that I'd demonstrated how to open both times.

07 January 2008


I spent most of the last three weeks painting, though I did have a wee break where I did nothing but read books, watch DVDs (lots of Doctor Who), eat, drink, and smoke. Then Rose had the brilliant idea to go camping in the weekend before returning to work. We packed up the car, left Welly at 5 o'clock on Friday arvo, and an hour and a half later were setting up camp at the Putangirua Pinnacles.

Due to technical problems, I didn't take any photos of the Pinnacles themselves, but this should be enough to remember them. They were pretty spectacular.

Rose and I have slightly different ideas of what camping entails. I've usually done it while hitching or tramping, where you have to carry everything you take. Being such a skinny bastard, I try to minimise this as much as possible. But when you roll a car up next to where you'll pitch your tent, it's a little different. We had beer and wine, and lots of fresh food for it to wash down. It was fantastic.

04 January 2008

Here we go again

The last of 2007:

And the start of 2008:

visitors since 29 March 2004.