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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.

Thanks,

Ian

 

 

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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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Missing George

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Why do I miss George Michael so much? This in various forms is a question that I’ve been asking myself for most of 2017. I never met him in person (although his house in Highgate is a 15-minute walk from my own and over the years my wife and I have often walked by and taken a sneaky peek), I never saw him perform live, I owned most of his albums but not all. And I never bought a single record by his former band Wham!. Yet still I miss him. Deeply. Painfully. Mournfully. And since his death I’ve been to the modest shrine erected in a small park outside his house – which mourners have still not completely abandoned – and planted the odd flower or two.
Moreover, of all the many people – ‘stars’ if you will – who died during the cruel, relentlessly unforgiving days of 2016, the Bowies and Princes of this world to name but two of so very many, more than anybody else it is the music of George Michael that has been on my turntable most of the year. By turntable, of course, I mean the music that I have asked Alexa to play for me.

In many ways I’ve found myself missing George Michael more than I’ve missed real, flesh and blood people whom I’ve known that have died; some of whom, I’ve been present at funerals dedicated to.

It’s not even as if I can claim that George Michael was even loosely linked in any way to my own life in the way that someone like David Bowie was. Bowie, who I again never met personally, I could claim formed some sort of backdrop to my own personal journey through life. Bowie was ever-present during my youth; his music provided some sort of soundtrack as I shed my teenage pimples, began going to clubs, discovered girls and hair gel, dallied with punk and New Wave, became a ‘serious’ muso, drawn in by the music of Kraftwerk, Eno and other so-called ‘intellectual’ musical artists. Bowie was in the foreground when I went to art college and put on make-up to try and look a little like him.

Yes, George was there while all this was happening but I bore no allegiance to him. I liked his music but wasn’t mad about it. I recognised that he was a good looking boy but never felt any desire to dress like him or rearrange my dwindling barnet to resemble his own. He was just there. It was quite obvious to me that he had talent, that his vocal chords were clearly impressive, that his songs were pretty good, some very good. But he wasn’t part of me in the way that plenty of bands and performers were.

A little background: it was probably in a club in Bristol in the early-1980s that I would first of heard George Michael during his Wham! incarnation. I can’t, of course, remember my precise reaction to what must have been something like ‘Bad Boys’ or ‘Wham! Rap’, but I can tell you that I definitely wasn’t impressed. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that at one point I totally despised it. I despised it so much that wouldn’t even have spoken about his music to my own friends. It was as relevant to me as the Bay City Rollers or The Wurzels.

This opinion changed slightly, albeit grudgingly, when I first heard ‘Everything She Wants’ by Wham!. This, I immediately recognised, was something different, a mature piece of work that had style and even gravitas. I wouldn’t have admitted this to anyone at the time but I found myself sort of liking what could only have been a freak aberration. This seed change was, however, further exacerbated when I heard ‘Careless Whisper’. Again. It wasn’t really my ‘kind’ of music but no one could argue that it was a particularly brilliant piece of pure pop music; it had an instant hook that reflected the work of a mature artist. Not some good looking blonde idiot in a suit with rolled up sleeves.

By the time that I had heard ‘A Different Corner’, however, there was no denying that I had become an admirer of George Michael. Here was another special song, mournful, yearning and beautiful, sung in a voice that sent a shiver down the spine.

But there was a little respite: when I heard ‘Faith’ the first single from George Michael’s upcoming solo album my admiration began to dissipate somewhat. I saw the song as a pretty weak copy of something throwaway such as ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ by Queen; derivative in a bad way, a sure sign that the George Michael bubble had burst.

Not so, of course, because its entirety the album ‘Faith’ was/is close to perfection. Songs such as ‘Father Figure’ ‘Kissing A Fool’, ‘One More Try’ and ‘Last Request’ were/are simply sublime; strong enough to project George Michael to a level of superstardom that rivalled and even surpassed contemporaries such Michael Jackson and Madonna. The kid from the kebab shop sure had talent.

By the time that ‘Listen Without Prejudice’ came out in 1990 I was by then doing a bit of music writing for cash and was actually commission by one mag to review the album. With very few reservations I enjoyed it immensely, giving it four out of five and advising George to quit looking for respect and just stick to making great dance tunes.

Evidently this was advice that George chose to ignore because it was a whole five years before the appearance of ‘Older’. Yes he’d filled in a little time with singles with Elton John and that appearance at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert (in which he proved to be the only performer capable of matching Freddie’s range – I, for one, will never forget the ‘will-he-won’t-he’ moment that preceded him not only hitting but totally obliterating that positively inhuman high Ab5 at the end of the song) but he’d kept well away from dance songs.

George was the first to admit that ‘Older’ – his next album five years later – was his best work and it’s difficult to argue with him. I could wax lyrical, or try to, for a long time regarding the qualities of this incredible album; suffice to say that it’s brilliant from start to finish. The jewel in the crown in most people’s opinion being the sublime ‘Jesus To A Child’, surely one of the most powerful songs about loss that has ever been written or performed.

After this there was the court case, the disappointing cover album and the underwhelming Patience, which came out in 2004, comprising already released singles and a disparate collection of new material (or so I thought at the time, however, recent plays have compelled me to change my opinion.)

Back to my original question: why, then, am I missing him so much?

It has, I suppose, to be down to a combination of factors: first of all it’s the inherent vulnerability of the man and his music that seems to strike such a chord. Like many of us, George was a flawed human being: despite clearly being handsome he was unhappy with his appearance (indeed, having gained weight in his middle years he refused to be seen in public during the last few months of his life); he was unbelievably successful and had far too many friends to count yet still considered himself alone. And his music came without embellishment – always stylish and produced to perfection. Some might say overproduced but I tend to disagree.

My feelings may also have something to do with his relatively close geographical location to my own. For a while I lived in South End Green and can remember laughing with my wife whenever we walked past the public toilets that he once got caught doing something in. Likewise, we were often on Hampstead High Street and were able to witness first hands the marks that were left when he crashed his Range Rover into Snappy Snaps.

More than anything, of course, it’s the music: the songs and the voice that leaves the world a sadder place. Over the past year I’ve played all of his solo albums almost relentlessly; to a degree in which I’ve come to believe that I almost know him personally. A big part of me wishes that he was still alive so there would be a chance I might bump into him in Highgate Village and I could throw my arms around him and give him a hug, tell him that he was someone special. One suspects that despite the worldwide acclaim that surrounded him for most of his life, there is a fair chance that he didn’t know this.

I miss George Michael. If you’d have told me thirty years ago that I’d be writing this down in public I’d most certainly have laughed in your face. But I’m not laughing now. I miss him.