Salton Weir 3

“Is this supposed to look like the end of the world?” said Lucas. “That’s not a criticism, by the way. It’s just the canal water turned blood-red gives that impression. Maybe we just watched too much anime though.”

I looked out of the eyes of a pteranodon at him. It required a turn of the head. I could only look with one eye and then the other. I started to understand the sorts of problems that birds have, and why they tend to look quizzical, when they are merely trying to look at all.

Lucas waved off the lack of response. “I get it that the vocal chords might be different. I’ll also admit that I wasn’t really expecting a reply. My main concern is whether we have gone forward or backwards or whether I’m supposed to think of time as a helix or ourobouros. Again, I know there are no easy answers and there’ll be hell to pay, but I do expect you to stay awake while we’re on the telephone, yeah?”

The whole development of the technology, from the dream of telepathy and communication at a distance, through to Teilhard de Chardin’s Noosphere made flesh, and its ultimate annexation as a narthex or foyer to the end of civilsation was sketched upon a Rizla in the bathroom Bible. Welsh language for obvious reasons.

“The dream of flight though. That wasn’t a purely magical project, in the same way that telepathy was. It was largely a form of jealousy about birds, bats too, but it’s mostly about how something so stupid could fly. No offense.”

I considered flapping off across the endless verdant woodland after that. I considered the state of my talons and tried to envisage the sorts of nail clippers that might be up to the job. And still something vast and dark and full of festive cheer expanded exponentially in the night behind us. It couldn’t be avoided.

Salton Weir 2

The return trajectory to Salton Weir was a matter of backflips and blindside evasions through the firewall of Schiller and Beethoven’s Ode:

“Freude, schöner Götterfunken,
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!”

Somewhere along the backstreets Lucas was still and still moving towards his inevitable destination. He broke cover along Ballards Lane for long enough to be caught by the torrential rain storms following a brief ice age. We watched him from above, swept upon wings of song, and the warm updrafts of an oncoming golden age.

Salton Weir was as near as the corner shop, and also as far. The milk rounds of the incoming dawn deposited an extra pint on the doorstep. We could read its import in the tea leaves: expect an unexpected visitor. Whoever reached the galley first would be obliged to put the kettle on. That much had been agreed.

Lucas carried a parcel of gifts. Fancy goods. We practiced the motion of the words with our lips to ensure that he would gain no advantage from these bribes. “Oh, you shouldn’t have! Really!” The rime upon our faces cracked after aeons in the wilderness.

Nonetheless it followed: the Scrabble tile that Lucas’s sister had started to wrap in so many layers, so many Christmases ago, had taken on the mass of a small moon, and rolled across the dark side of the earth towards us. At its heart the small mystery of a single letter, or a wildcard blank tile.

If “ifs” and “ands” could truly be pots and pans, we could have forced our way back into the kitchen, driven that mass of paper back against her, slopping the mulled wine off of the stove top to scold the old clay tiles. Once there we could have taken all of the steak knives from the drawers, and like many-limbed Kali we might have torn open those layers surrounding the gift. Carving ever inwards towards the core of the enigma.

We do not live by such extravagant hope. The water flickers silver with the new day, and we can anticipate it before it dawns into view. Salton Weir.

Salton Wier 1

“We are never more than a hundred yards from Salton Weir.” My father would like to remind us. “However far it might seem that we have drifted.” Lucas, my best friend through boyhood took this to heart. The little narrowboat, on which we took so many family holidays, was initially an alien environment for him. His people were from the continent, alpine people full of blond energy and its consequent nervous collapses. His sister was a set of embedded neuroses that intrigued me as much as their endlessly tall town house.

“Salton Weir is as close as the next collapse.” Lucas reminded me on the phone a little over ten years later. A lad had cast him aside. There had been some violence. It felt romantic in ways beyond my meagre experience. In short, I had no idea what he was talking about.

“You’ll feel better tomorrow,” I told him. My ear was becoming large and red from the telephone receiver. “There’s a pattern to this that you can’t discern right now, but one day you will uncover it.”

There was a sound from the other end of the line that might have been a sob or a snort. The resolution wasn’t what we expect now. The decades stacked up after that phone call. We occasionally crossed paths, if that is an adequate explanation. There were bars in seaside towns with little rationale before or after. Promises that we would see each other more often. The next I would see of his world was an obituary: his father, relevant enough while he had lived to merit this attention. The conservatory would miss him, and there would be a prize for young musicians with his name attached.

I remembered him only glancingly as a bully who had turned Lucas and his sister into the stuttering confusions that they were.

Salton Weir would draw me back periodically. For births, deaths and marriages. Each time I was more of a foreigner than the last. I would reclaim my accent and my poverty of imagination. It was a smog that would cling to me for the whole of my return visit, and depart impossible to imagine on the train heading back to wherever I had chosen to call home.

There were careers and relationships in those places. I was married and I was made redundant periodically. Much of it looked like capricious behaviour on my part, although much of that might have been bluff or retrospective justification. I can tell you a lot about the smell of fresh paint on newly acquired property; the exits are more vague. Artifacts that I somehow felt emotional attachments for fell between the cracks during moments when I was not paying attention. What happened to those personal relationships, I cannot tell you. The explanations, even at the time, were too convoluted for even one, such as myself, who was ostensibly at the centre of them.

Lucas’ sister. What can I tell you about here? A Christmas at the family house, when both parents were still alive, I can still see her at the kitchen table wrapping a single Scrabble letter in seemingly endless layers of wrapping paper, while the rest of the family folded foil decorations or made pastry lids for endless mince pies.

I am still perhaps in their bathroom many floors above, soaking in a Victorian bathtub and listening for the ghosts of the staircases, watching my legs becoming ever more distorted, and wondering which Scrabble letter it was that is now so tightly encased in those thousand layers of Christmas wrap. A telephone ringing on one of the many landings of that vast town house.

Lucas got over his griefs at a measured pace. His lovers and his family, as each one fell into the irretrievable places, he would give them the correct measure of his affection before he allowed them to leave him forever. I admired his careful discrimination. As a quantity surveyor, I suppose he had some sort of appropriate training that he could apply to matters both personal and otherwise. It was I who received those long pauses between sentences on so many phone calls over the years.

And so the decades move along, and shift by a decimal scale to centuries. Each step on each of the staircases takes the whole of my energy. I revive somehow and the aroma of mince pies and fruit cake reaches me from the kitchen. How many layers are on that Scrabble letter now? It must be so large that none can escape the kitchen. Even if I could evade the staircase ghosts and find my way back down all of those centuries, the entrance would be blocked by a sheer mass of Christmas wrapping.

If I can find my way into his father’s old study, I will open the heavy casement windows, leap from the piano, upon which a bust of Beethoven stands, and fly out into the night sky. There are galactic spaces out there where the scale will expand into the thousands and hundred-thousands of years.

soma jones series

The full series of Soma Jones novels, including material going back twenty years to the Narcotic Transmissions forums of the late 90s, have now been published as four paperback books, or a single compendium pdf e-book.

All available from Polyversity Press.

Kansas Series

The Kansas Series of paintings that I am embarking on are modelled upon satellite photos of census tracts of farming land in Kansas. The distinctive circles in these grids are formed by pivot irrigation.

These photographs resemble methods of abstraction that I have deployed in previous paintings but also feed into a particular set of American modernist techniques. One of these is the grid. Notably imported into America during the war years by Piet Mondrian with Broadway Boogie Woogie and similar works.

The grid is more usually considered as a key aspect of US city planning, but what the Kansas tracts reveal is to what extent the rural landscape of America is also informed by the grid. Which brings us to the 70s Land Art movement and Robert Smithson, whose theoretical consideration of the romantic sublime in the landscape countered the 19th Century aesthetic imagining of nature with an anti-sublime that foregrounded the artificiality of landscape and its industrialisation.

Parallel with Smithson and his concern with landscape, in the portraits of Chuck Close we see the human face broken down into modular units, like myriad tiny abstracts sharing the same canvas. While it is not one of his gridded paintings, Close is also well-known for his near-photographic realist depiction of the composer Philip Glass whose composition also echoes this ethic of the grid in American modernism.

“We’re not in Kansas anymore” says Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, when actually it is impossible to escape Kansas. The Wichita Lineman in Jimmy Webb’s hit single, best known from its Glen Campbell interpretation, hopes to take a small vacation, but as we know Kansas is actually eternal: he’s always still on the line.

Hope you enjoy this series as it develops.

Monuments of the Lower Mur

On those odd moments in the small hours when I haven’t been able to sleep I have been reading Robert Smithson interviews. When I was younger I did this with Carl Jung. Which led to interesting lucid dreaming experiences.

Earlier today I was wandering along the building work on the new hydroelectric facility on the River Mur, observing the earthworks and construction work, having a little internal conversation with Bob Smithson’s ghost as I walked.

He would have been an unusually informed walking partner: local geology, tectonic strata and the like would have punctuated the space (or non-site). His Monuments of Passaic is filled with these sorts of concerns about edgelands and new sorts of unregarded (sub)urban spaces. But we would have had common cause comparing notes on such matters as the use of river paths for local cyclists on Central Park and the Grand Union Canal. Their ideal and historical uses compared with contemporary deployment.

I crossed the river at the third completed hydroelectric dam down towards Feldkirchen, near the airport. Bob would have made a half-amused wince at Flughafen Graz, like you see on statues of saints, carrying the emblems of their martyrdom. His death in a helicopter accident almost fifty years ago still not quite comfortable. I’m unsure how he’d react to the Roman ruin on the landing strip; his concerns were usually more Mayan than European.

We could disagree on that at the Hells Angels bar just up the road over a quiet Puntigamer or two.

Morning Aphorisms

  • Appeals to human nature too often act as an affirmation of our limitations; a catalogue of what we don’t have. They represent a failure to step out into the dark, go down to the 24 hour garage, and bring back ice lollies and a packet of Rizlas for everyone.

  • Dirty Harry tells us that a man has to know his limitations. However when one’s limitations are the six chambers of one’s revolver, the inability to follow department procedure, and a disinclination to observe suspect’s rights, there is a deliberate arbitrariness in operation.

  • There are times that one must say to the human spirit, “dammit, Harry!” and demand its badge and gun, and tell it that it is off the case, and that’s final. There are times that the human spirit shd take the rest of the day off. Make it the rest of the week!

    (Yeah, I know I’ve elided human nature and the human spirit here, but bear with me, I got the district attorney on the line giving me hell over the handling of this case. He wants to see results. Yesterday.)

  • When the Buddha tells us that if they don’t have a choc ice at the garage he’s fine without; he totally expects us to go a mile further up the street to the Esso where they have a bigger range or frozen products. However, when the Buddha comes out of our bedroom, and our wife is in the bed wearing nothing but a cheeky grin; everything is exactly as it seems.

    These are the two types of truth and we can only know them through direct apprehension of the Buddha nature.

  • When the Lord said, “set aside yr ox and yr ass, leave yr home and family, even unto the third generation – no, you can’t quickly take a wee before we go – and come with me.” Turns out he was being a total dick because trains are only one an hour & we’d missed the previous one.

    (Final one is the variant on the previous one found in Gospel of Thomas from the Nag Hammadi fragments)

  • The Lord said, “leave yr ox and yr ass, yr father and mother, yr brothers and elders, and come with me. Oh, and bring yr sister and yr battery-powered bong, there’s a good lad!”

Afterlife Query

At the point of death you enter a database query interface for yr entire memory. People who talk about life flashing before their eyes failed to disable the linear fastforward mode. Go into the non-linear mode and it’s far more revealing. You could relive every single fish curry you ate, or all of the best thunderstorms, maybe even a non-subject specific howling laughter search. Sure other people go through all their worst break-ups and rush hour commuting, but this is where you get the heaven/hell distinction.

From this vantage point of paused time, the purpose of life would be to stack the database with material that you could happily examine in non-linear forever. Paying attention becomes very important. If you didn’t notice it; it’s not in there. Imagine it as a space capsule travelling to a distant star with a huge VHS archive in the hold. If its entirely stocked with recordings of Later With Jools Holland: essentially, you’ve blown it.

Hot Summer

I returned to the eternal Holloway Road in a dream. I was missing a lot of buses to a lot of destinations, no matter where I positioned myself with regards to the bus stops. Then again, I’m not sure that it had been established where I was supposed to be going. This hadn’t set itself up as a dream where I was late for school or late for work. It may have been late in the evening because I told someone how bad a particular fried chicken outlet was, before leading them there so that they could enthusiastically order several items from the menu. Then again fried chicken on the eternal Holloway Road is an all-day feast.

Everywhere was filled with artifacts that carried two texts: the first text was banal to the point of infuriating, the second text was deeply sad. They might have been books or vinyl albums, but I suspect that they were everything.

One thing that they weren’t specifically was comic books. There was at least one of them, an intensely bad Star Wars spin-off in a bad imitation Jack Kirby style. It was full of explosions and chases and near escapes. I tried to explain to Hugh Metcalfe how very bad it was, but the more I told him, the more enthusiastic he became about the whole thing. As with the fried chicken shop, there was no way to warn people about the tawdriness of the goods on offer.

Meanwhile the sun-drenched pavements of the eternal Holloway Road were a racetrack of supercharged Jamaicans and Irishmen. You had to keep your wits about you to avoid colliding with them. And still the buses wouldn’t stop at the bus stops, or at least wait for long enough for you to establish where they were going. One of the supercharged pedestrians followed my spouse all the way home. I found the weighted truncheon in the chess set where it is usually kept, along with the medals for military service in Belfast, and I waded out of the front door to pursue the brute, but he was already gunning the engine of his long low Cadillac, and speeding off across the well-kept suburban front gardens of the neighbourhood.

“And don’t come back if you know what’s good for you!”

Systematic Series

Those of you who haven’t muted me over the last few weeks (I don’t judge) may have noticed that I have been working on a new set of paintings. The first few of these involved a lot of curves and the rest have been composed around subdivisions of circles. They are bold and modern, and I don’t mind saying that I’m very much enjoying them.

One of the things that I have noticed in the process is how much more planned and accurate my paintings have become in the last few years. They have eschewed the struggle with paint-as-paint, and wild improvisation in the mode of the Abstract Expressionists, and have moved on a decade or two to become something which has more in common with Op and Pop Art. When I started my engagement with painting as an adult, about twelve years ago, I wouldn’t have allowed myself to use a ruler, let alone a compass; now they are as important as brush and paint in terms of executing these paintings. It is not necessary to think of oneself as some sort of primitive. Even some quite geometrical things a few years back had a little bit of paint flung at them to keep it real. I lose patience with that sort of real.

Perhaps some of the macho and angst of the angry young painter has left my technique, or maybe it is that the intensity of the work has shifted and focussed on one level while opening up the opportunity for a more distanced approach to the canvas on another. Who knows? The actual process of the work is fairly lacking in close self-examination or interrogation of motives. In many ways it resembles musical composition or harmonic development; dancing about architecture.

There’s a large canvas somewhere in the future of this series, but the longer I hold off work on that, the richer the possibilities for that painting become, both in terms of the scale of the canvas, but also in terms of resolution. Paint is a relatively lo-res medium, although working on increasingly intricate lines on quite small canvases develops the sort of accuracy one can bring to the medium.

Oh, and some of these paintings will be available for sale soon. Possibly a book containing colour illustrations of the whole series too. Watch this space and keep yr credit card handy.