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.
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.
Scans of all of the Systematic Paintings so far are now archived here:
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.
- 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!”
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.
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!”
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.
In this morning’s broadcast from the unconscious I was in London with a friend from Sheffield, we were trying to get to the Barbican for an exhibition, and we found ourselves on a tube line that had been built since I’ve been away from the city; all of the station names were in classical Greek. This was the most straightforward aspect of this new line, because instead of sitting inside the carriages, passengers had to hang onto the outside using purpose-built hand-grips. But of course, this being London, you couldn’t just hang on, you had to keep moving along the carriage even as the train hurtled down the tunnels.
When I woke up I exchanged a flurry of messages with the friend who had made a cameo appearance. In the dream he seemed to be enjoying the process of climbing along the outside of the carriage. He is a comic artist, amongst other things, and inevitably the Empire of Termight in Nemesis the Warlock came up. From the earliest incarnations of this story as Terror Tube/Killer Watt, there is a fantastical extrapolation of the British elation and fear of the London Underground system. Interestingly, the original Terror Tube specifically references Going Underground by The Jam on its first page.
Londoners are highly adaptive creatures. They will live in the smallest shoeboxes with a shower and an electric hob arranged Tetris-like alongside the bed sofa. Every impossible challenge that is thrown at them is normalised within a week. Sure, there will be some who wouldn’t want to climb along the meat-grinder trains of a line that is labelled in classical Greek, but they’d be considered a bit snobbish, a bit up themselves. Given a bit of practice, commuters will fairly swing along on those hand-grips while practicing classical Greek on the Duolingo app. After a while, the main complaint would be about trains delayed in the tunnel for extended periods and how tiring hanging around gets.
Commuting to my early jobs in central London, the easiest journey was a Routemaster bus. Unlike the current iteration, the older Routemaster had an open back with a hand-rail. You’d see kids on skateboards gripping the hand-rail so that it could pull them along. If you arrived at the stop just as the bus was pulling away, you’d jump onto the back, matching yr leap to the acceleration of the bus; and then you’d ask yrself why you did anything so stupid and dangerous rather than just wait for the next bus, and then you’d leap off the bus before it had stopped, because who wants to wait around in traffic? Of course the new Routemaster has a closed back, but I suspect that that is less to do with safety than maximising LRT profits.
Returning to the dream it is tempting to draw simple symbolic interpretations: the hurtling tube train that is contemporary life! The constant struggle to understand the sign jungle as we race forwards, mindless of the dangers all around! There is drama, both comic and tragic, that can be drawn out of this image, but in the end it’s all Greek to me.
To the west of the cooling towers there is a freight train that is so long that it might be considered as a solid wall. In front of the train line there is a partial wall. A passage of concrete, broken by wild grasses and littered with bleached wrappers and crushed aluminium cans from consumer goods, runs its length, and voices can be heard over the endless rattle of the train. The exact origin of the voices is indeterminate, but it is clear that they are to be avoided.
The empty lot between the moving wall and the cooling towers is host to all kinds of aggregates; grit and half-bricks, broken glass, mosses and more of the wild grasses. It is a complex eco-system in itself, and demarcated rectangular patterns indicate where older structures once stood. From the viewpoint of beetles and long-legged flies this continent reveals a complex topology for hunting and foraging.
The ground floor of the cooling towers is accessible from two places on the perimeter of the northern tower, and one place on the tower to the south. As with the practically solid wall of the freight train, the basement level might also be considered impassable; it is flooded. The perimeter corridor of the southern tower, tiled on walls and floors like a hospital, offers access to the administration offices. Desks have been over-turned or daubed with paint; long splatter patterns across telephones, keyboards and fans of forms and publicity materials. Deeper inside, between walls of bookcases and filing cabinets, tiled steps rise and fall a half-meter here and there making a complex maze of the space. Sofas and easy chairs covered with found patterned material, are inclined around surfaces piled with paperbacks, CDs and DVDs. Electricity and hot water still function in these strongholds of the exploration team; instant coffee and garibaldi biscuits are available from a central kitchen.
Reports have come in from the tower to the north that chambers full of rusting machinery have been discovered, overseen by graffiti murals that reach high into the darkness of the structure. It is also reported that a window from a third floor platform in one of these chambers provides a view into a state of the world in which the freight train has passed.
A hard, gritty adventure story full of tough, competent, gritty characters, mostly male, who are engaged in some tough, dangerous expedition. Their leader, a man of undeniable experience, becomes increasingly terse and short with his team as the expedition proceeds, but not because the terrain has become more challenging than imagined, or through unforeseen assaults from unimagined foes, but because he keeps getting distracted by thoughts that have nothing to do with the rest of the story.
“Twenty metres to the right,” said Gnoll. “You see it? We won’t be able to take the ATVs through that ridge.”
Harshmann grunted. The second verse of the Flakey Bar advertisment, that he had seen when he was a child, wouldn’t come to him. It would need to end with a word that rhymed with luscious, and he wished to God that he’d packed a Thesaurus before he’d left Halifax Landing.
“We’re going to have to come up with something before nightfall.” said Gnoll. “We’ve got less than two hours.”
Harshmann nodded. He was having difficulty focussing on anything that Gnoll was saying. He shaded his eyes and gazed towards the gap in the ridge. Maybe he’d misremembered luscious. “Did you part your hair differently this morning?” he said.
Dak Harshmann’s inability to focus on the gritty, harsh realities of the expeditions must not be rationalised by some factor of local conditions or by a knowable personal flaw; it isn’t anything to do with the oxygen content of the territory or strange gravitational anomalies. Unusual phenomena may affect other members of the team, and flaws in their characters from predictable aspects of their past may lead the expedition into danger, but as far as Harshmann is concerned it’s simply that there is always something far more important for him to consider.
Raoul levelled his revolver at Harshmann. “Not even you are fast enough to reach your bootknife before I shoot you down. So don’t try it! I guess you probably knew all along that I’d killed Krueger back at the depot and swapped ID cards before you arrived. You didn’t say nothing but I could see that you knew something was wrong. It was just a matter of time, Dak, but now your time has run out!”
Harshmann’s face took on a sudden clarity. “She had a cilantro allergy! That was why she only picked at the food!”
“The hell?” said Raoul. It was all that he managed before Gnoll cracked his skull from behind with a monkey wrench.
Harshmann’s disconnection from his surroundings is a function of the shallowness of the world around him, but also that he is unwittingly a carrier of material that isn’t directly-related to the action at hand. If there is anything unusual about Harshmann’s plight, it is that he has found himself adrift in a trope that is impossible to take seriously, and that there is too little of him, other than a heroic-sounding name, to actively contest the masculine fictions that have somehow manifested around him.
His heroism lies in a form of right-attention to the manifold unrelated materials that drift through the space in the story that is named Dak Harshmann.