Dead: Paintings of singers and musicians who died tragically young. New exhibition in Hastings.

Why I decided to paint for the first time in 30 years

On Tuesday 12 June 2019 my first ever ‘art’ exhibition opened at the Hastings Arts Forum, 36 Marina, St Leonards on Sea, TN38 0BU. The show finishes on 23 June and features watercolours of artists who died tragically young. People such as: Amy Winehouse, George Michael, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Keith Flint, John Lennon and many others.

At the age of 56, this has been a long time coming. Given that I abandoned painting back in 1988 in favour of trying my luck with the written word it is as much a surprise to me that this is happening as I’m sure it is for anybody else who knows me.

I resumed painting in 01 January 2017. I decided to do so because I was taking a three-month sabbatical from alcohol and needed something to fill in the hours. My wife in the meantime, went out partying and clubbing with a much younger set of friends that she had suddenly commenced socialising with. I thought she was having a mid-life crisis and tried my best to be supportive.

Except that she didn’t got out with her new unblemished friends. Although she was occasionally to be found shaking her booty with her ‘hip’ young crowd what she was actually doing was having multiple affairs behind my back. I’m more than a little humiliated to admit that I simply didn’t have a clue this was going on. I feel stupid and foolish beyond words that I was so easily deceived. We’d been together for 18 years and I trusted her more than I trusted myself. I thought that were both going to grow old together. So did she – or so she frequently told me.

But everything exploded in my face in early July 2018 when I discovered – via Find My Phone of all things – that my betrothed wasn’t actually working abroad as she was supposed to be. She was in Hammersmith playing tonsil tennis in the grubby council flat of a 31-year-old Italian ex-soldier.

Four months later, after our once incredible, amazing relationship had at light speed devolved into something that went beyond toxic, I reluctantly left the woman I loved and moved to Hastings alone. There was no other option for me. I simply had to get as far away from the nightmare as I possibly could.

After almost two decades together it was took only four days for her to openly, brazenly and cynically parade her lover before me. He is 25 years younger than I. Impossible to compete with. Whatever I thought my reality was crashed and burned before the now distressingly alien and gloating eyes of the ‘love of my life’.

I moved out of my own house on 26 October 2018. It was without doubt the saddest day of my entire life. Worse than the death of any loved one that I had ever experienced. It was the death of everything I knew. I was lost. Abandoned. Betrayed. Hopelessly alone. Not so apparently for my wife, however, who, after 18 years during which we had spent almost every day together as partners, lovers, including 13 as man and wife, promptly took my shiny Latin replacement to meet her parents and my 15-year-old daughter in Brighton.

It took her less than 24 hours to do this. It was absolutely astonishing to me: heartbreaking, devastating, that the woman whom I thought I knew better than anyone on earth could be so callous, so cruel, so lacking in empathy. It was as if I had awoken to find myself in The Twilight Zone.

Evidently she’s now with this individual full-time. Her regular postings on social media reveal that they make a handsome if slightly incongruous couple. No amount of expensive cosmetic surgery or bottles of hair dye are, however, ever likely to conceal the fact that she is 17 years older than her youthful paramour. And with the onset of menopause looming ominously on the horizon one suspects that this yawning disparity in years will only become more apparent as time rolls on.

My deep, heartfelt love for my soon-to-be-ex-wife has turned into indescribable hatred. Particularly as I later learned that the Italian was just the tip of the iceberg. One of countless lovers consumed over a very long period. All happening in plain sight of me. At the same time as my wife and I continued to have an apparently ‘normal’ physical relationship. At the same time as she regularly assured me that I was the ‘love of her life’. Her ‘soulmate’. It still beggars belief that she could behave like this. It always will.

How could I have been so blind? So stupid? So completely deceived by the person I loved and trusted more than anyone in the whole world? It’s going to be very difficult for me to ever trust anyone again. I know that for sure.

In my new hometown of Hastings I had the worst Christmas imaginable. I spent the entire day in a deep, dark depression and ate precisely two slices of bread. Despite everything, still missing, yearning, craving for my estranged wife. Heartbroken over the loss of my beatific, fragile daughter. Needless to say there was no Christmas turkey for me that day. Although It has to be said that I imbibed more than my fair share of alcohol.

As January arrived the weather was cold, wet and bleakly appropriate. I trudged the streets in a shell-shocked stupor. Then, for a reason I simply will never be able to understand or explain, I decided to contact the Hastings Arts Forum on the seafront and show them my paintings. Silly little watercolours of nothing in particular. To my very great surprise they agreed to an exhibition later in the year.

By February, however, I was beginning to grow increasingly concerned. By that time I was regularly visiting a trauma therapist, taking anti-depressants, suffering from severe depression as well as a condition known as Complex Post Traumatic Stress, not to mention self-medicating with gallons of alcohol and a colourful assortment of recreational drugs. In attempting to dull the pain through whatever means necessary I had completed a grand total of zero paintings.

In a cold sweat I began to paint. I had no choice really. The clock was already at two minutes to midnight. Dead people. People as dead as I felt inside. People as lost as I. People as hurt. People with nowhere to go but down. I’m not going to attempt to play the melodrama card and claim that painting these people saved my life. It didn’t. Nothing is ever as simple as that. Indeed, whether that will ever happen remains to be seen.

What it did give me, however, was a sense of purpose brought on by nothing more than fear of failure. Me and my hangover began getting up early each morning – not that sleep was really possible – and painting until I was too exhausted to continue. A pleasure it was not. By the time that June arrived, however, I had somehow managed to produce 32 watercolours, some quite large in scale. Given that the gallery had only requested that I produce 25 paintings I actually had the luxury of choosing only the less rubbish ones.

I’m not going to claim that they are any good. I’m not qualified to make such judgements. I am certainly more artisan than artist. Craftsman rather than creative. Moreover, I can’t even be sure if I will ever paint again. What point is there in painting stupid little pictures on pieces of paper when your life has been ripped to shreds? But at least they exist. They’re out there for people to look at. To like or to not like. To ignore if they want to. If I’m honest, I’m not particularly bothered either way.

I’ve a long way to go yet. I doubt that I’ll ever be the person I once was. The pain of betrayal strikes me on an almost hourly basis. The agony of losing my daughter is even worse. I feel physically sick most of the time. It’s simply impossible for me to enjoy even a single minute of the day. Recovery, if it is ever to happen, seems a very, very long way away.

This Friday. Tomorrow. 14 June 2019. There is a sort of posh-ish opening in the gallery on the seafront. Wine and all that. Banter, one assumes. Chatter. People talking about things such as ‘composition’ and ‘colour’ and ‘hue’. Meaningless words. It would be great, however, if anyone living in Hastings who happens to stumble across this aimless little blog could come and help make a pretty broken man feel just a tad better about himself. So do drop in and have a look at this old duffer’s daubings. It would be a shame if you’re in the area and can’t spare a couple of minutes. At the very least there’s a glass of cheap plonk in it for you.

In the meantime here are a few of the daubings in question. Please be kind.





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‘Dead’: Exhibition of Paintings, Hastings Arts Forum, 11-24 June 2019

On 11 June I will be having my very first exhibition of paintings. Entitled ‘Dead’, the theme of the work is singers or musicians who have all died tragically young. All of the work has been painted in watercolour over a three-month period.

There will be an opening night even at 6:00 pm Friday on 14 June at the Hastings Arts Forum. Being quite nervous about something I’ve never done before I’d appreciate as much moral support as possible.

It would be really good if you could Tweet this page or put it up on other forms of social media, FaceBook, Instagram, etc. I need as much support as I can get.

Below are a few examples of my work.

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Remembering David Bowie


At the back of the house in Bristol where I spent my teens were playing fields. At the top of the fields were swings where the older boys hung out smoking cigarettes and snogging girls. One day on the way home from the library I walked past those swings and saw two boys fighting. No punches were being thrown but there were plenty of kicks. 

The boys sported obligatory bumfluff and were wearing half mast white flares with tartan turn-ups and dangerously stupid platforms. There was a reason for the lack of punches: one kid was clutching an LP under his arm which made it impossible to use his arms and the other boy seemed to unwilling to use his own as a mark of respect. On the cover of the record was the picture of a strange looking man with a flash of colour painted across his chalky face. The youths were apparently fighting over a girl. It was the first time I’d ever seen boys of such an advanced age fight and I remember being a little taken aback at the lack of meaningful blows that were being exchanged. More verbal abuse was doled out than any damage.
That image places this random memory at some time around 1973. My first memory of the Thin White Duke. I was 11-years-old but I knew who David Bowie was: he was that weird skinny bloke on Top Of The Pops whom my dad used to hurl abuse at. And even though I didn’t own any of his records I knew some of his songs. I knew ‘Life On Mars’ and ‘Starman’ and I’d memorised the lyrics to ‘Jean Genie’ courtesy of a teen magazine called ‘Disco 45’, which printed the words to all of the hits of the day. 


Two whole years later I finally owned my first David Bowie single. In 1975 he re-released ‘Space Oddity’ and it went to No. 1 – his first No. 1. For some reason it was my five-year-old brother who actually bought the record. I can’t remember how or why he managed to do this and it’s certainly a claim to fame for him whenever one has those ‘what was the first record you ever bought?’ debates, but I was the real owner of that record. I played it and I played it. And I played it. I played it with the monotonous and desperate regularity of someone who only owned three records in total. And I memorised the words to its two b-sides, ‘Velvet Goldmine’ and ‘Changes’. 

Although I was not to know it at the time ‘Changes’ was/is probably David Bowie’s marquee song. Concealed within one of the singer’s more conventional arrangements was an attitude that was to define him: change. Metamorphosis. The idea that in order to progress, to grow, to make one’s way though life in a way that challenged and confronted, one had to change. 

And change Bowie did: dramatically, regularly, physically and metaphysically; in a manner that left those who admired his work trailing in his jet stream.


Five years later Bowie had his second No. 1. With ‘Ashes To Ashes’ and we saw an artist self-consciously highlighting the fact that he was older but with a desire to demonstrate that he was still cutting edge. And he most certainly was. The fact that the video for the song featured many of the rising stars of New Romanticism was an acknowledgment that Bowie was the Don Corleone of that movement. And the accompanying album, ‘Scary Monsters And Super Creeps’ showed Bowie to be master of the domain that he created. 

The record also provided an ideal accompaniment to my own life. I was now at art college, painting pictures that owed much to Bowie’s lessons of change. I, too, had changed. I had outgrown the life that was earmarked for me and reinvented myself. Bowie was never really a hero for me in the way that he was for many of my friends but he was the supreme example. The journey that took me from apprentice dogsbody to ‘artist’ was in no small part due to the influence of David Bowie. 


However, my devotion to Bowie was not blind or mindless. When he released the mainstream ‘Let’s Dance’ in 1983 I smelled a rat. Although the record certainly had polish and spawned many hits it lacked substance in my opinion. It was if Francis Bacon had turned into David Hockney and I was a more or less a lone voice of dissent. Things got worse a year later when Bowie released ‘Tonight’, which seemed a self-conscious attempt to return to former glories by giving himself a lick of paint. But eyeliner and lip gloss and songs about aliens could not really conceal the lack of moisture in his creative well.

As I came to the end of my degree in fine art I had already more or less consigned David Bowie to history. It didn’t matter much. I still had the – excuse the pun – Golden Years: I had Hunky Dory, and Ziggy and Diamond Dogs and Aladdin Sane (sic), Young Americans and Low and Heroes, Lodger, Station To Station… Each one of these a ground breaking album in its own way. And if I felt like a laugh I always had Laughing Gnome. 

It didn’t matter what the modern Bowie produced, there was a wealth of material out there to last a lifetime.


And things really did get worse. As the 1980s drew to a close and Bowie dallied wth the ridiculous Tin Machine I could scarcely be bothered to listen to his output. He was irrelevant. As was the awful ‘Never Let Me Down’. By now had I moved to London and changed myself again. I was now working in publishing and even though I noticed that some of the younger members of staff were playing ‘Black Tie White Noise’ I was largely indifferent to David Bowie.


Instead of being an innovator Bowie seemed to always be one or two steps behind the times. Witness 1997s ‘Earthling’, which attached itself to the shirt tails of drum and bass rather like the Warmington-On-Sea Home Guard putting shoe polish in their hair to look younger. Strangely enough, on a visit to France during the late 1990s I found myself in a room full of young men studiously listening to this mess of a record and solemnly proclaiming it to be the return of Bowie from the wilderness. It wasn’t. And frankly Bowie was destined never to leave the wilderness.


But even I was not immune to trying to believe. In 2003 I was browsing through the shelves of a dying Virgin Records in Oxford Street only to hear them playing a track from Bowie’s new album ‘Reality’. In retrospect it was an ordinary enough piece of music but I somehow managed to convince myself at the age of 41 that this was it, this was The Return. It wasn’t, and the twice-played copy of ‘Reality’ that is buried away somewhere in a cupboard remains a testament to that false dawn. 


And then in 2013, a whole decade after ‘Reality’ came, in my opinion, a genuinely good Bowie record. Maybe it was that ten years of inactivity that had exaggerated the loss so that any new Bowie product was sure to be gratefully received but there was definitely something about ‘Where Are We Now?’ that struck a chord for many people. Certainly it was a song that I played on more than two occasions. The sound of an ageing David Bowie no longer obsessed with the notion of having to appear contemporary saw him concentrating solely on music and melody. The end result was compelling and infused with melancholy.


Three days ago Bowie released Blackstar. Accompanied by nine-minute video that had some of my Facebook friends moaning about its ‘gloominess’. We can now understand why it’s so depressing. I spent this morning listening to this album in its entirety. It will take a couple more listenings  before an opinion is fully formed but on first impressions it hits the spot. Of course, because of the sad events of the last 24-hours the album’s context will always be compromised. However, for a man who knew that he was about to die it’s an impressive last word.

The strange thing is that we had friends over for food yesterday and for some reason I listened to pretty much nothing else but Bowie as I was cooking. I played – to my mind – his best music, those three albums he made in Berlin during the mid-1970s: Low, Heroes and Lodger. I also threw in a little bit of Station To Station. Later I was compelled to mention it on Facebook and called Bowie a ‘God-like genius’. 

And for a while he was.