Somebody’s Son

Waxwork
280 x 100 x 100 cms
2007

A waxwork of the artist as a Queen’s guard in full uniform and stood in a sentry box.

The Clues and markers hidden amongst the pieces of this exhibition indicate the contemporary English national identity its sense of nostalgia, loss, and indecision. The absurd and darkly comic uniform of the Queens Guard echoes cultural colonization and war whilst being primarily an oversized toy, symbol of tourism; a combination of the souvenir shop and Madame Tussauds.

The caricature with his shiny shoes, ornate buttons and deadly machine gun stands encumbered by his huge bearskin protuberance. The artist’s face once again peering out from over the chinstrap. The black sentry box is an ornate and cartoon like packaging for the cultural toy within, framing our man in a new form of vitrine, albeit one designed by Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. The title Somebody's Son embues a sense of loss and familiarity. These most highly trained soldiers, whimsically used as cultural decoration, escape the active duty of war.

Exhibitions

Essays

  • This Is Not A Story About The Military - Hardy Blechman SHOW

    This Is Not A Story About The Military - Hardy Blechman

    In 1909, when the Victorian naturalist and painter Abbott H. Thayer published his observations about concealment in nature, it’s fairly certain he had no idea what he was starting. Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom was the first comprehensive catalogue of the many camouflage techniques employed in the natural world, and Thayer argued that nature was acting as an artist, creating optical effects with colour and light. On this basis he suggested that his study belonged in the realm of the artist as well as the naturalist. His thesis coincided with the birth of Cubism and, interestingly, with the emergence of Gestalt perceptual psychology. ‘Gestalt’ means ‘shape’ or ‘figure’, and its theorists sought to explore how the brain organizes and interprets visual material through form, context, spatial proximity and patterning. Perhaps unsurprisingly the primary concepts of Gestalt gained some credence within the art world, in particular with Klee and Kandinsky a decade or so later.

    But it wasn’t just in the art world that significant changes were taking place. The early twentieth century saw a seismic shift in the visual techniques employed by military forces worldwide, primarily as a result of the development of longer range and more

    accurate weaponry. These new technological developments negated the traditional use of the military uniform, such as the famous red coat of the nineteenth century British army. The red coat had long been a symbol of military pride and was intended to visibly intimidate the enemy on the battlefield. But the trench warfare of World War One required different strategies. Colour on the battlefield was no longer used to inspire fear, but to conceal. In an unlikely meeting of opposites – the military and the arts – many modern painters were recruited into the army and given the task of using their new techniques, developed through the study of camouflage in nature, to disguise weapons, vehicles, and ultimately, men.

    The French army led the way with its dedicated camouflage section under the direction of artist Lucien-Victor Guirand de Scevola and produced new innovations for concealment in the air, on land and at sea. The Cubists, many of whom fought in the Great War, and ever open to conceptual challenges, had already begun to reinterpret and mimic the camouflage techniques found in nature. It was Picasso who apparently first used the term ‘dazzle’, in reference to the need for warships

    to dazzle (i.e. ‘mislead’) their enemies at sea. Under the direction of British marine artist and Naval Commander Norman Wilkinson, the navy founded a ‘Dazzle Section’ based at the Royal Academy of Arts. Here a group of eighteen artists including Wilkinson and the Vorticist painter Edward Wadsworth developed paint schemes for warships that used disruptive patterns to confuse enemy gunners as to the target’s course, speed and direction. (In 2008 Jeff Koons showed a painted yacht, ‘Guilty’, that was directly inspired by the dazzle painted ships of WW1.)
    The essential role of the artist as camoufleur continued in the Second World War, and by the time the war had ended, camouflage was deeply entrenched in twentieth century visual culture. New printing techniques had facilitated the mass production of army uniforms, and the development of international mass media in documenting war had brought camouflage into the public eye on a scale like never before. The first post-war artist to appropriate camouflage was the French painter Alain Jacquet. Exploring an interest in the visual effects of disruptive patterns, Jacquet created camouflage interpretations of his peers’ works, including Camouflage Jasper Johns (after John’s Flag, 1954) and Camouflage Hot Dog Lichtenstein, both in 1963.

    In 1964, Jacquet reinterpreted Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe, which he described as breaking “reality into dots”, and thus having the same properties as camouflage. In 1964, Jacquet wore a camouflage suit recycled from a US Army parachute to the opening of his show at the Alexander Iolas Gallery in New York, attended by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.

    Italian artist Alighiero Boetti (1940-94) famously discovered surplus camouflage cloth (the ‘telo mimmetico’ pattern, created in 1929 for the Italian army) in a flea market. He used it to create works in 1966 and 1967, stretching the cloth as though it was a blank canvas and turning it into a visual artefact, thus subverting its original intention of concealment. The same decade saw the rise of the Civil Rights movement and the Anti-War response to Vietnam in America – the counter culture, in all its many manifestations, took to using army surplus as a new symbol of resistance to the Establishment, again subverting the purpose of camouflage from one of hiding to being seen, this time for political reasons.

    It was newspaper coverage rather than surplus trade that led to Warhol’s re-appropriation of the US Army Woodland camouflage pattern

    in 1986 for his famous Camouflage series. Unlike Boetti, Warhol reworked the pattern’s original colourways and scale, although he left the shapes intact. Warhol used these camouflage patterns as a base for nearly 70 works including The Last Supper, Self Portrait and his portrait of Joseph Beuys. Warhol’s fascination with camouflage as a perfect form with which to explore the possibility of pure abstraction mirrored his own personal need for disguise. Perhaps it’s this central idea of disappearing, blending in, or inversely standing out, whether personally, socially, or politically, that makes camouflage so seductive to many artists. The lure of camo can be seen in modern works as diverse as the ‘pop’ camouflage of graffiti artist Leonard McGurr (Futura 2000) throughout the 80s, the architecturally camouflaged ‘Cloud Towers’ of Emile Aillaud in Paris, and the museum performances of Harvey Opgenorth in 1998, in which the artist stood in front of classic paintings by Matisse and Rothko wearing clothes that blended perfectly with the colours on the canvases.

    More recently the idea of appropriation, the recycling (of theft?) of images has been at the heart of much contemporary artistic work that references camouflage. Gavin Turk’s 2007 exhibition ‘Me as

    Him’ projects both Turk and the Warhol, the men and the images, under a layer of silk-screened camouflage, challenging the idea of the self-portrait as something authentic with ‘deeper meaning’, and looking only to the façade for answers. Damian Hirst’s Amazing Revelations collage (2007) uses thousands of butterfly wings to make abstract patterns and inadvertently demonstrates some of the most skillful camouflage techniques used in nature. Hirst’s interest in butterflies as a metaphor for mortality is perhaps linked to the obvious visual use of camouflage as a survival mechanism.

    Despite all of this, however, and despite the continued presence of camouflage in music, fashion and contemporary culture, the fact that the use of camouflage in the twentieth century developed through the synergy of nature and art is often overlooked. We could argue that its primary symbolic association is still with the military. Today, as more military special forces adopt black uniforms along with the use of new pixelated patterns in army camouflage, the traditional disruptive pattern – the khaki or sand uniforms that have become iconic cultural visual signifiers of war and combat for over a hundred years – becomes less useful. Does this mean that we will

    be able to culturally reclaim camouflage, divorcing its original artistic and natural function from military needs? Each time another artist uses the disruptive pattern in a non-military context, will this slowly reshape our perception on the meaning of camouflage? Perhaps eventually when we see a Warhol canvas or a rap album cover or a Japanese toy that uses a well-known camouflage pattern, it might be possible for us to respond to the colour, shape and form in its new context, without being dominated by the pattern’s prior historical military associations. We have to remember that the desire of Thayer or Braque or Picasso to explore the visual techniques found in natural forms was really a desire to understand themselves. The need to hide or to reveal oneself is not the same as the need to declare war.

  • Masks or How To Be A Dandy - Sebastian Horsley SHOW

    Masks or How To Be A Dandy - Sebastian Horsley

    Dandyism is a form of self-worship which dispenses with the need to find happiness from others - especially women. It is a condition rather than a profession. It is a defence against suffering and a celebration of life. It is not fashion; it is not wealth; it is not learning; it is not beauty. It is a shield and a sword and a crown - all pulled out of the dressing up box in the attic of the imagination.

    The estrangement of the thorough going dandy is not from women, but from life. It is taking up a posture of ironic detachment from the world and living it out in scrupulous detail. Dandies are a brotherhood of higher types. The true princes of the world. And the true priests of the world. To become a dandy your days will become so ordered they will make the life of a Trappist monk seem like an orgy.

    Here are the lessons in self-transformations I apply so rigourously. You must empty yourself of the dreariness of mere personality, and make yourself available without reservation, not to individuals but to the world at large. But you will find

    that this way of life is only in a certain sense fulfilling. It is also a martyrdom of sorts. If you choose to share your life with the world rather than one person then you have to forfeit marriage, children, happiness - all the things, of course, that don’t matter. So, how exactly is it done? It is time to take off my face and reveal my mask.

    The projection of dandyism can be effected by three principal means - speech, movement and appearance.

    Speech.

    Unless you can improve on silence - keep your gob shut. To justify its existence speech has to be extraordinary. If it’s ordinary it’s less than worthless ; it’s clutter. If language is the dress of thought then there is never any excuse for denim.

    Read every day something no-one else is reading. Think every day something no-one else is thinking. Above all be witty. Wit enables us to act rudely with impunity. And wit has truth in it.

    Remember : The beginning of wit is to desire it. Read wit continually, exercise the mind, simply to keep the muscles at attention,

    like a person who tries to do a marathon. Turn your pain into humour and your anger into wit. Embrace life as a great metaphysical joke to which the only logical response is laughter.

    The key is to make people believe everything you say, though not a single word is sincere. The only terror is the terror of being understood.

    Movement.

    If all speech should be a kind of literature, every movement should be a form of dance. Every day put on your best trousers to go out to battle for freedom and truth. One must always look beautiful, look up and smile at the camera - even if it’s only a security camera - or a satellite. Contra Mr Orwell : be grateful to be worth watching. Curl your skip into a smile and your smile into a show. Your gait, should be a purposeful lope, taut with authority. Walk in the perfect glow of self adoration, striding invincibly through London's awe-struck and fawning populace.

    Clothes.

    When it comes to dress, it takes a strong man to be an extrovert. A true dandy, needs a complete conviction

    that he is right; the views of the rest of the world simply don’t matter. “If someone looks at you, you are not well-dressed“ Mr Brummell tells us. But then Mr Brummell would say that: prissily precise, he was essentially a conformist. True dandyism is rebellious. The real dandy wants to make people look, be shocked by, and even a little scared by the subversion which his clothes stand for.

    And yet, dandyism is social, human and intellectual. It is not a suit of clothes walking about by itself. Clothes are merely a part - they may even be the least important part of the personality of the dandy. Dandyism isn’t image encrusted with flourishes. It’s a way of stripping yourself down to your true self. You can only judge the style by the content and you can only reach the content through the style.

    Mr Brummell was the original and most celebrated dandy but he was no hero of mine. He was so refined that I do not regard him as a dandy at all. I am more concerned with style than breeding. And the key is to dress in such a style

    that you would attract attention at a Liberace concert.

    Being “well dressed” is not a question of having expensive clothes or the “right” clothes. You can wear rags, but they must suit you. In fact to be able to sustain an existence on nothing and rags is the epitome of style. A curious dignity and a refusal not to keep up appearances is what we want. Style is not elegance but consistency. So, take heart, you will not need any money at all. A modest sufficiency cramps style; extreme poverty, like great danger, enriches it.

    Remember : Life is nothing but a game of dressing up and make-believe. All dress is fancy dress except our natural skins.

    Occupation.

    Works of art do nothing but they do it passionately. So, retire at birth. You must have no obligations, no attachments, no wife, no child, no occupation, no possessions, no obvious means of support, visible or invisible. Basically no use whatsoever. Are we agreed about that? Good. Looking beautiful and being stylish is essential. A purpose in life is not. I have never had a career - but I do

    a splendid job as one of the handsomest men in the world. I don’t want anything. I am completely un covetous. Unless it is under the covers avec tous.

    Family life.

    As a natural loner and auto-invention you will have grasped early the irrelevance of family life. Dandies reproduce themselves through emulation and style, not through family descent. So, get rid of them. Distant relatives, are the best kind, and the further the better.

    Love, marriage and sex represent species sameness and so the defeat of individuality. And so, they gotta go. A dandy will not be link in the chain of being, exchangeable with any other and expendable in himself. They are not a piece of animated meat. A fornicating carcass. He must defeat his animal function at all costs.

    The only place a dandy would push a pram is into the Thames. Of course, it is fine to date children but never to have them. You must raise nothing but your cock.

    As for women? Women are on this planet only as trumpets of our glory. To love, even in the least elevated sense, means to desire,

    which means to be dependent. The key is to be disinterested and not become giddy from the heads you turn.

    Life trajectory.

    Dandyism oscillates between narcissism and neurosis, vanity and insanity, Savile Row and Death Row. All the great dandies have ended in the flophouse or the madhouse. Gutter or nutter. You have lived like a king and shall die like a beggar.

    Death

    As all self-respecting dandies know, suicides are the aristocrats of death. They represent a triumph of style over life. Your existence is a work of art. It deserves a frame - if only to distinguish it from the wallpaper. Suicide will look nice. It will match the home furnishings.

    Write a note. If you are young perhaps something like :

    “I have decided to stop living on account of the cost”
    Or if you are old (say 90)
    “I am committing suicide because I am worried about my future.”

    Remember : It is not enough to know how to make a dazzling entry : you need to know how to vacate the stage with the same panache. Dandyism is a modern

    form of stoicism. It is a religion whose only sacrament is suicide. Fear not : by the time you have reached the end of the run you will be as God. You will not be committing suicide but deicide. Pesticide is for mere mortals.

    ******

    From Savile Row to Death Row. Of course Dandyism fails. How can originality replicate to create a whole movement? How, on the one perfumed hand, can you talk about freedom when you willingly give it up with the other un-gloved mitt? How can you be unique and yet part of the gang? There are two universal truths about human beings. One : they are all the same. Two : they all say they are different. Two is of course the result of one. The dandy just happens to be the biggest, the best and most beautiful fraud of them all. His doctrine is a laughable conceit, a delightful illusion.

    But so what? Life is absurd and so the only way of tolerating existence is to lose oneself in a perpetual orgy of absurdity. A man gets up to speak and says nothing. Nobody listens and then everybody disagrees. Nothing

    solves the meaningless absurdity of life. But we can clothe the abyss and make it wearable.

    When you hear thunder, take a bow.
    When you hear rain, assume it is applause.
    And so like the sun, shine, having no alternative.

    You shall be a reprobate dandy; that’s your job. And the good lord will forgive you : That’s his.