Tag Archives: art

Manly

24 Mar

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I like a spot of flower arranging from time to time, and my wife lets me express my ‘feminine side’ by practising floristry in her little Tea Shop, Tea with Percie. I’m not sure the average bloke would approve.

The florist did offer to wrap my bouquet discretely before I left the shop. I declined.

“I wouldn’t be seen dead carrying flowers!” I here Manly Man say.

Well you will eventually pal,  lilies and a nice spray of maidenhair on your casket.

I also like a well parsed poem, especially sonnets by the late Gerard Manley Hopkin – a scholar and Jesuit Priest – and a genius of prosody and rhythm.

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced — fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

“Pied Beauty”

Gerard Manley Hopkins 1877

 

In the Victorian Era, it was not considered effete in a man to wax lyrical about Nature’s Bounty if God was being praised – an opportunity for men to show their ‘passionate’ side without being classed as a sissy.

When I chose flowers for my wife today I was in a speckled, fickle mood. The underlying rhythm of BiPolar disorder – the interstices between depression and mania.

I sought a bloom – a dominant colour to build a happier mood around.

The florist greeted me and asked “May I help you?”

At first, I was drawn to some fiery orange blooms  – “These look like peonies”, I said.

“They are actually peony tulips so you’re on the right track” said she diplomatically.

But then I thought, as these flowers are not for me, but, rather for my beloved – I needed to recalibrate, because my mental health is absolutely not just about me, me, me.

I saw a tall stemmed rose of subtle Jacobean Violet (always a hint of black for her) and started from there, adding cerulean blue, blood red and some spiky sea holly. Our neighbour, Hassan who owns a small Computer Engineering Shop called ‘All Wired’ passed the shop as I was placing the arrangement in the window and seemed to approve. No Northern Manly reserve here.

Like me, Hassan was born under an Africa sky (Yemen), me slightly closer to the equator in Nigeria both places where the sun will fry an egg on an exposed rock or car bonnet.

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So why are many men so funny about overt displays of love, or about expressing emotion?

Grayson Perry in his book “The Descent of Man” examines ‘Default Man’ as he calls the ruling masculine archetype of modern Western Society, and cleverly lampoons many overt and subtle forms of dominant alpha male traits. Here are some of his many pithy quotes:

“Fulfilment of masculinity is often sold on the strength of peak experiences: winning battles, pulling women, pure adrenaline, moments of ecstasy. But life ain’t like that. We rarely, if ever, take our car (masculinity) on to a racetrack, so maybe we need a version that works doing the everyday things. We need a masculinity that’s easy to park, with a big boot, child seats and low fuel consumption. Men need to learn to equip themselves for peace.”

“All of us males need to look at ourselves with a clear eye and ask what sort of men would make the world a better place, for everyone.”

“Men might need to work less on their biceps and more on their intuition.”
Grayson Perry, 

It is an exceedingly well written book, written by a masculine man, an artist, who just happens to like dressing up in women’s clothes. It shines a very powerful spotlight on the problem of what it is to be ‘manly’ in a rapidly changing world where gender fluidity is a natural byproduct of a digital world in which ‘being’ is binary encoded.

In this spirit of masculine recalibration asked my wife what traits a man should learn and she offered:

Positive traits

Thoughtfulness

Ability to show emotion

Caring

Good sense of humour

Respect

 

Negative traits

Arrogance

Machismo

Rudeness

Aggression

Chauvinism

So for Heaven’s sake lads, open the door for her, help her with her heavy bags and do it with a smile and a little playfulness so that the bouquet on your coffin will overtop the stupid mountain you want to conquer in your head, and reflect your real worth to humankind much more than the shiny motor you bequeath to your grandson or the size of your wallet.

Feminism is not a threat to masculinity, nor will gentleness make you less manly.

Bread

18 Mar

“Are you making it pay son?” My Dad, a Yorkshireman, used to ask me.

I took it to mean – ‘How’s the carpentry business going?’

I would rattle off the projects and commissions I was working on and proudly show him pictures of pieces I had made.

In retrospect I think there might have been a deeper meaning to his question.

One of his favourite aphorisms was:

“Life is a shit sandwich son, the more bread you’ve got, the better it tastes”

Pithy.

A better known Yorkshire saying would be;

‘ear all, see all, say nowt; eyt all, sup all, pay nowt

Yorkshire folk are proud of their short arms and deep pockets.

This means that trading in South Yorkshire demands a certain determination if you are trying to make a living with your hands.

So how do I make it pay?

I know a fair few talented artists and craftspeople who struggle. Many of my friends rely on a part time job to supplement their meagre income in a fiercely competitive environment. Some supplement their practise by tutoring and teaching.

Joseph Beuys famously said “Everyone is an artist”. On the face of it, every person has the capacity to be creative. But Beuys was referring to our humanity, not any innate ability to sculpt or draw.

Picasso said:

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Therein lies the key to the dilemma.

Some people want your skill and what you make for bobbins (on the cheap). Some just want to waste your time. Most who approach you may love your work, but have no real idea of what it takes to produce an original, one off piece, using the best materials, your knowledge and skill.

The people who commission my work all have one thing in common – they are prepared to invest their trust. I have the utmost respect for this powerful motivator.

For me the real Art is in the dialogue. Me – listening and responding to the wishes and desires of my clients. The Clients – showing me what they really want.

First I will make a design drawing in ink (if I can draw it, I can make it).

Then if you are happy – I’ll cost it. Time + Materials.

I give you time to consider the costs, accommodate any changes you may wish to make (adjusting costs accordingly). I will accept a deposit to seal the contract. Then I make.

Both of us are expending that most valuable of commodities on the project – time – so it’s a contract.

Clients bring desire, taste, ideas, wishes and hard earned bread to the table. I bring skill, a track record a reputation for a solid build and an ability to listen, plus four decades of experience as a carpenter.

In the end, hopefully, we have a satisfied customer.

Old School.

Mollie, my step mother, gave me this advice years ago:

“If you did a tenth as much as you have done up until now, Henk, you will still be doing twice as much as everyone else”

Slow down, listen, focus:

hear all,

see all,

But say nothing.

Make it pay.

As with bread – you have to prove yourself.

Dad can have the last word: “Anybody can be a busy fool lad.”

HL

Cowboy

7 Jun
The lone cowboy sitting astride his steed travelling the vast planes in search of Gold. Well, astride a Stokke kneeling stool anyway.
In the Spring of ’83 my mother exchanged her beloved portable typewriter (a very collectable Olympia) for this huge electric contraption so that I could finally complete my Ph.D. thesis.
We were living in Moss Side, Manchester and I was struggling to comprehend how I could finish my studies with no job prospects having just become a dad and come to the end of my research grant.
In hindsight, I realise I might have been suffering from my first serious bout of depression.
Over the years that followed and following my eventual diagnosis with Manic Depression (or Bipolar Disorder) in 2001, I developed a robust method of sensing when depression was about to strike.
Only last week our first ever, and most loyal customer to our cafe, Tea with Percie took his own life.
He was a gifted artist and beloved by many for his depth and sensitivity. In the end he lost his fight with depression, or the  The Black Dog as some would call it.
Last week I felt the Black Dog leave the artist’s house with the undertakers and the police as they moved his remains from his home.
Clare, my wife, was very upset, she really liked him, and his good friends too were distraught.
I knew I had to do something, because the manner of his passing was too close to home for me. The Black Dog loomed.
I went in to my studio and carefully took apart a distressed but beautiful old Parker Knoll reclining chair, cleaned up all the joints and rebuilt it with a bit of Love. I find this the best glue.
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 I find that if I am quick enough to take action – particularly through making, or repairing – I can usually short circuit the negative thoughts and the looming cloud of depression. Perhaps because focus is needed to make, or repair something with manual skill requires, which requires concentration. This focus allows the black thoughts to slink away.  Depression feeds when the mind is unfocussed – it is why work is so important to us, and unemployment so destructive.
I like to think of it as using the ‘mental floss’ method of escaping the accumulating plaque of depression – just like Cowboy Henk might do:
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Cowboy Henk is the maverick creation of artist Herr Seele and writer Kamagurka. He is a big Belgian Cowboy who finds solutions to life’s problem which invariably involve action, are often absurd rude and somewhat offensive – and always funny.
In the old Southwest of the USA ‘maverick‘ was a word coined to describe  an unbranded steer which had become separated from its mother. Because the calf could not be muzzled (feed from its mother) it made a lot of irritating noise.
James Garner played Bret Maverick in the eponymous hit 60’s TV show.
in which the main character always has an answer to every problem.
Not surprisingly I admired this character greatly as a young man.
Nowadays the word ‘maverick’ has come to mean a lone dissenter, an intellectual or an artist, a dissident – a free thinker.
Other synonyms include – nonconformist, individualist, loner, lone wolf.
I suspect Mavericks are particularly prone to the Black Dog, because they invariably tend to be self reliant, rarely seeking help because they are usually effective at finding their own solutions.
I have been called ‘maverick’ in the pejorative sense many times, not least by close relatives. I am, in some people’s eyes a cowboy, a rebel and a loose canon.
For example;
A few years after I finishing my Ph.D. on that monster typewriter, I was working as a postdoctoral research assistant at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in a laboratory studying insect vision. It fulfilled the important criteria of giving my daughter and her mum a safe place to live and grow in a lovely city and provide a reasonable standard of living.
Two years in to a three year research contract there I was invited to give a talk to the annual Science and Engineering Council’s annual conference in Edinburgh.
The chair of the session in which I presented my paper was a Professor to whom I had just applied for a new job. At the end of my lecture, which was well received, he drew me to one side and said
“You are nothing like I imagined Dr. Littlewood. Perhaps you need to be more careful whom you chose as a referee.”
I was a bit bemused.
He kindly gave me a copy of the reference written about me by my boss at Newcastle University for the fellowship in the Professor’s lab.
The letter began:
“Dear Sir,
Dr. Littlewood, is completely un-housetrained, he is a maverick…………” and carried on in the same vein.
Needless to say, I was not interviewed for the position, and I began to wonder how many other applications had gone awry because of similar derogatory references.
What I had done to draw this ire?
I had developed a novel brain research technique which allowed neurophysiologists to visualise the connections between nerve cells – the synapses under the electron microscope. At the time my boss’s wife (also a neuroscientist) was applying for a Royal Society fellowship & wanted to put her name to my paper.
I refused as she had not contributed. This is not how to play the game, Henk.
Cowboy Henk.
In addition to the poor references, my contract came to an abrupt end that very Christmas. My boss and Newcastle University ‘let me go’.
I was out on my uppers with a six year old daughter and no roof over our heads – because our accommodation was tied to the job.
As it turned out, this sequence of events was a blessing, because that was when I first started making furniture seriously using the woodwork skills drawn from me by my teacher, Mr Paulson all those years ago and encouraged throughout my life by my father.
I was offered a small corner in an artist’s studio at The Cluny Warehouse, Newcastle upon Tyne and I made a number of pieces of furniture for kind and encouraging paying clients.
Action will always put a smile on your face even if you are screaming inside folks. Turn a bad situation to your advantage by letting your hands pull you free,
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Esme McCall on spoons                                  Cowboy Henk on wagon wheel.