Saturday 30 April 2011

Humphrey Ocean

Last month Marcus Harvey asked me to interview a painter for Turps Banana magazine. I was delighted to spend an afternoon with Humphrey Ocean.
Here are his answers to my first three questions - the rest will appear in the July issue of Turps.

Harry: Am I right in thinking that the man how taught you life drawing at art school was Ian Dury?

Humphrey: "Yes. He was new and we were new. He told us: "You're just playing at being artists. You're just playing at life drawing." But we did these terrific life classes, two of them, that he set up. We had to get the line right. We weren't allowed to shade in until we got each line right and rather than four hours the classes went on for four days. So I did learn about what proportion meant and in a practical way how it applied to art. Those were the two life drawings I did the whole time I was at art school. I still have them."

Harry: Actors have a saying: "Enjoy the praise but don't believe it." Can you talk to me a little bit about advice for young painters just leaving college? I want to know if you think getting money and praise too early on can be damaging?

Humphrey: "I enjoy the praise and I do believe it. I don't quite get enough of it. I remember at the age of eight or nine a drawing of mine, of a tree in black with white highlights on the branches for snow, was put up on the wall. Seeing the other children looking at it gave me a boost. When I went to art school nobody sold anything at their diploma show. We found it profoundly depressing and it put some people off. I actually mistrust the coyness with which artists approach the subject of money. It's probably gone the other way now but you need money to live and paint another picture. It's a separate thing, from my way of thinking, from making. I'm certainly not thinking of money when I'm working."

Harry: Who were the painters who made you want to paint? Do you still love them?

Humphrey: "Van Gogh and my mum (an amateur painter who loved Schmidt-Rottluff and Pissarro) and yes I do. An artist I also like is Josef Albers. He is the link in American art. Somehow all the lines intersect at Albers. Well before his trademark squares he was inventive in another way, full of design and in his woodcuts, linocuts and teaching at Black Mountain College he adapted European thinking to the new world. America took over art in the second half of the 20th century and of course it was where we looked. There is a romantic idea that Pollock was a pure thunderbolt out of the blue but of course he started out doing Picasso type pictures before he really got going with Newman and everybody, rejecting the fearful weight of Europe. Albers continued like a secret agent but only really came upon his squares and his colour when he was sixty. I like Clyfford Still, but although I was aware of his work earlier it only began to make sense for me when I walked into his rooms at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1998 and saw them on American earth which they are very tied to with their hand ground colour. Goodness he was intolerant, and I love him for it. But influence works at right angles to the number you first thought of. What makes me want to paint are more likely to be unaccountable things, a fence or a night sky."










Wednesday 27 April 2011

Q & A with Jeremy Akerman (rough edit)

The Rebel: We last met at the Marmite Prize event that took part in The Nunnery. Did you have mixed feelings about entering the Marmite Prize? Do you often enter competitions etc?
"I was chuffed about getting selected, I think it is very random to get selected, I cant figure their logic forwhat they chose as a whole, its like shopping at Sainsburys, a bit this, bit of the other....;...I had some faith in my painting because people had commented on it quite instinctively and were drawn to it."

The Rebel: Tell me about the painting that is in the Marmite Prize - why did you select that particular work and how did it come about and how long did it take to make?
"I made it because Suzie commissioned me to paint that hillside, her Mum bought a plot of land had built a summer house there and turned the hillside into a beautiful garden of trees and a farm. When i painted it , it had all gone to ruin as it had been requisiioned by the local city government to be develope;, she was forced to sell up and this bit of her world was bulldozed, the house is gone. I have another painting of the hillside without the house, only piles of orange earth instead of the orange roof.
I wish that I was commissioned to paint all the time, that would solve a lot of problems for me."

The Rebel: What do you think of this recent quote from Laurie Anderson:
"Artists are just niche-ing their thing and then putting up their billboards saying - look at me."
Do you think artists all say "Look at Me" or are there a few around saying "Look at this"?
"It's just part of that poliferation of the artlike looking things industry led by Tate Modern.
I am optomistic lately about a shift in attitude. Recently I went to see Paul O'Kane and Tina Hague speak about their work at 'Lo and Behold' gallery; the gallery run monthly open discussions or crits around artists work. The following month they asked me along with Gary Colclough so I put my work up and had a great evening. I was suprised by how real and engaged the conversation was. I was talking to Tamsin Clark from Studio Voltaire about this and she said she'd been to artist's talks at Ryan Gander's place with David Batchelor (where someone had refered to David's work as 'womble art', which is funny but also OK that stupid things can be voiced and answered). Recently my friend Chad McCail held an open crit/feedback session for his new work 'systemic' at Laurent Delaye's gallery, which was brave of him. But the work gets studied and people get right into, get a lot more out of it rather than just looking at things which they do like or don't like for some irrational or momentary reason they don't even remember 2 seconds later. The other week Eileen Daly and I went up to Liverpool to interview Paul Rooney about his writing which I think is genius stuff, the effort has to be made but it is so rewarding there is lots of people looking beyond their own blind desire for recognition...I often meet Andy Graves, who is great painter, and his line in amongst our chat is 'what about this?' as he pulls out yet another brilliant painting. I can't imagine not having these conversations and that artists discussions are becoming more widespread feels like a relief in this two tier celebrity/outcast culture."

The Rebel: What else have you been working on this year? Is your painting going well?
"I've been working on photo collages, they're very simple things and very aggressive cut and paste literally I have some new paintings, interiors again, this time a very grand church interior which I am hopeful about plus some figure paintings, heads really which I am nervous about."
The Rebel: Do you like this quote by Billy Wilder "If you're going to tell the truth at least make it funny because if you don't they'll hate your guts"
"I love Billy Wilder movies, Ace in the Hole with Kirk Douglas is an old favourite, S and M circus roll into shot in one scene. The film is about a newspaper man (Douglas) and a trapped miner whose plight has been exploited by the 'hack' so he's become a national celebrity, like the Chilean miners story only Wilder's miner dies.....I guess with the truth people are going to hate you anyway, I mean if you are talking about 'the truth', if you could ever deliver something like that......"
The Rebel: What was the last painting (or exhibition) you saw that you really made a connection with?
"I saw Herzog's Cave of Dreams the other night and it was really great. I think they are more drawings than paintings, the film and archeologists insist on calling them paintings but they are so graphic, much more like language. Theyre, so it's like that thing one does as a child when with your eyes closed you trace around shapes in your head. There are shapes for animals that are set shapes and there are set movements in the hand and wrist which perfectly tune into making that line that describes them.
There is one rock with 20-30 roundish reddish marks made on it with the heel of someones hand rubbed in a circula is staggering obscure and as modern as anything I can think of, it is utterly dumb and uncompromising, thats far more mind blowing than than the pictures of the animals which in many respects are more well behaved, or can be managed through language; highly self-reflexive and contextually aware and all that curatorial justification shit explanation card stuff we have to put up with."

The Rebel: Where did you study - which tutors were most helpful to you?
"UG.Goldsmiths (Sam Fisher, Andrea Fisher, Jean Fisher, Carl Plackman, Ferris Newton, Elma Thubron, Michael Craig Martin) PG. Jan Van Eyck Academy: (Andrea Fisher, Willem Oorebeek, Yehuda Saffron, Jon Thompson)"

An A to Z of Simon Munnery

Last week I meet up with the clown prince of comedy in the Z-bar cafe in Stoke Newington. His answers to my questions have been put in alphabetic order...

A is for Andy Kaufman
Simon: "It was Mel Brimfield's idea to recreate various forms of performance art. Andy Kaufman wrestling women was part of her project and she asked me to do it which I did. The speech which is there to irritate and wind up women was entirely my own and so I haven't used any of his jokes. I had a stockpile of anti-women material that I was able to deploy."

B is for Billy Buckethead
"Billy Buckethead is resting. I haven't performed (with a bucket over my head) for a while. I did a radio show interview in Australia recently and the host said - "my parents went to see your show where you had a bucket on your head and they've haven't been to a comedy night since." So I apologised. I came up with ten minutes of material. The first line was "Good evening, nice to be here... I imagine". In Edinburgh it went down fine but in Birmingham I had the worst heckling I've ever endured. Even afterwards in the bar a man came up to me, blocked my path and said, "You're shit!" I said nothing. He said "Aren't you going to react then?" I decided not to."
is for Coffee
Simon: "On tour we heard that Billy Connolly famously never drinks coffee apart from when he's about to go on stage. (In which case) he'll have a double expresso and then go off like a rocket. I'd been on tour with Jason Freedman for 2 weeks. We were exhausted, just knackered. We were backstage in a place in Preston and there was a big jar of coffee in front of us. We decided to have the lot and drank it down like soup. It worked. We went off like rockets but the comedown was just awful. It was a sunday night in Preston. Everything was closed we were in rooms that just had a lightbulb, a sink and a bed. We'd read our books and there was just nothing left to say to each other. We just lay on our beds in these seperate rooms looking up at the ceiling wishing we could die. It was awful."
The Rebel: I prefer tea to coffee.
Simon: "Me too."
D is for Drawing
The Rebel: Do you like drawing. Could you do a self portrait for me?
Simon: "I'll have a go."
E is for Edinburgh
Simon: "I'm currently working on ideas for my next show at Edinburgh. It's going to be called "Hats Off For The 101ers". I'm sure you know about the R101 airship disaster - in 1930 the biggest airship of it's time crashed on it's maiden flight. Well, I'm going to be doing a one man musical about that. All the songs will be done in the style of Joe Strummers pre Clash band the 101ers."
F is for The Fall
The Rebel: Are The Fall as good now as they once were?
Simon: "They are as good now but not as good as they will be. I think Mark E. Smith is a national treasure. He's brilliant with his phrases. Fragments of Fall lyrics are always popping in my head... Out of England I dream of its green marine."
G is for God & Jesus
The Rebel: When I first saw you perform you were part of a double act called God and Jesus.
Simon: "I played God."
The Rebel: I can remember a lot of your material from that act. I thought it was fantastic. Have many of the lines remained in your head?
Simon: "At school I used to stand on a chair and stab myself repeatidly in the genitials with a compas - even then I was an entertainer. I had my own gang - it was very difficult to join, you had to wet yourself in class. I joined three times."
The Rebel: I think all the God & Jesus material is comedy gold. Is it on You Tube or anything?
Simon:"I have a DVD called Hello and there are a few clips of God & Jesus going down a storm in the extras section. God & Jesus either went down very well or they would die very badly."
H is for Health
The Rebel: How is your health these days?
Simon: "Oh it's ok, he said smoking another fag. no, it's ok - touch wood."
I is for Ideas
The Rebel: Where do your ideas come from?
Simon: "Mysterious sources... things just occur - it's inexplicaple. I have to force myself to write. I guess it's a kind of a trawling process."
J is for Jealousy
Simon: "It's not a very helpful emotion is it? There's no comedian I'm jealous of there's just lots of people like John Hegley and Dan Kitson that I admire a lot. Sometimes I wish I was richer but thats a universal state. In absolute terms it doesn't matter as long as you can keep the wolves from your door."
K is for Keith Allen
Simon: "Keith heckled me when I was performing at Up The Creek once. I responded by putting him down for doing ads in which he played the part of a tooth fairy. I never saw him do stand-up. I heard about him going to Northern working men's clubs dressed just in his pants and trying to get off with blokes in the audience."
The Rebel: Are you a Keith fan?
Simon: "Oh yes. I like all people called Keith."
L is for London Shouting
Simon: I did a pilot for a TV series called London shouting with Alan Parker the urban warrior. I was very ill with a cold and the producers encouraged me to make the show a spoof of The Word. I wasn't very happy with it but it got nominated for a British Comedy Award. I thought being nominated would mean they'd give me a series but they didn't."

M is for Malcolm Hardee
Simon: "Malcolm helped me and got me lots of gigs. I spent a lot of time at his house. I remember one night in the Tunnel club I went to the toilet and overheard two blokes talking about him. One said, "It's been a good night hasn't it?" and the other guy said, "Yeah, and if Malcolm gets his bollocks out it will be a great night." And it was."
N is for Names.
The Rebel: Do you like your name?
Simon: "Simon is all right. Harry Pye is a great name."
The Rebel: What is your middle name?
Simon: "Douglas."
The Rebel: Douglas Munnery sounds good. It sounds like a name a writer would have.
O is for Roy Orbison
The Rebel: He was known to his fans as The Big O.
Simon: "Yes. There's a village called Ornley and whenever I used to drive there I'd sing "Only in Ornley" to the tune of "Only The Lonely."
P is for Proverbs
The Rebel: You quoted from William Blake in your Attention Scum series. Do you like his Proverbs of Heaven and Hell? Do you have a favourite proverb?
Simon: "The cut worm forgives the plough is a good one. The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom is a famous one. The thing is that roads lead both ways so it leads away from the palace of wisdom too. There are other ways to get there - the helicopter of inherited wealth for example."
The Rebel: Blake believed that the tygers of wrath were wiser than the horses of instruction. Are you a horse or a tyger?
Simon: "As the years have passed I have become more and more like a horse of instruction... bursts of tyger wrath are quite rare now."
Q is for Queen
Simon: "My next door neighbour and I make little films and I dress up as the queen. I've written a play about Queen Elizabeth the first but it's on the back burner at the moment."
R is for Red
Simon: "I recently had a 28 hour long flight and I watched the Bruce Willis film Red. Red stands for Retired & Extreamly Dangerous."
The Rebel: I saw it being reviewed on Breakfast TV and they said it was a waste of talent.
Simon: "Well it was. And a waste of my time."

S is for Stoke Newington
The Rebel: You love Stoke Newington don't you?
Simon: "Well, I lived there for 15 years."
The Rebel: What do you like most about Stoke Newington?
Simon: "Abney Park Cemetry. It's crowded yet quiet."
T is for Tea
Simon: "Yes please: Milk, two sugars, like a roofer."

U is for Urban Warrior
Simon: "Alan Parker Urban Warrior was a character I used to do, and shall do again when it's been left fallow long enough."
V is for Vampires
The Rebel: Do you like Vampires?
Simon: "Yes. My teeth are a bit like a vampire's...look."
The Rebel: Oh yeah. Ken Dodd had his comedy buck teeth insured. Will you be insuring your vampire like teeth?
Simon: "No. Others should insure against them. Ruhahaha"
W is for Wall and Piece
The Rebel: You're friends with Banksy and you wrote some of the text of his best selling Wall and Peace book. Do you know him well?
Simon: "A man who claimed to be Bansky came up to me after a gig and asked if I minded him spraying some of my lyrics onto walls. I can't remember what he looked like but we did meet up in Stoke Newington once. It's not great when people come up to you right after a show just because I can't relax until my props are back in their box. Once in Aspen comedy Festival a man came up and said how much he loved the show and I said: "Not now. I'm tidying up." It tuned out the guy I turned away was The Simpsons creator Mat Groening."
The Rebel: "Doh!"
X is for Xylophone
Simon: "Unusually for primates my rib cage is xylophonic in structure. I often strum myself in tense situations."
Y is for Youth
< Simon: "A wise man once told me 'Use your leisure well, for the mind grows still long before the body."
b>Z is for Zoo
The Rebel: Which animal do you make a beeline for when you go to the Zoo?
Simon: "Giraffes, Giraffes you're having a laugh, your neck is so long you look like a graph."

The Rebel: So you'd make a beeline to the giraffes?
Simon: Yes. I also like monkeys ... and bees. I'd make a monkey line to the bees if it wasn't illegal."

Tuesday 5 April 2011

Q & A with Rick Wakeman

The amazingly talented keyboard player Rick Wakeman was on This Is Your Life once and Micheal Aspel quipped: "You'd had three heart attacks, two marriages and lost £10 million by your early thirties ... but then things got better"
You can read his biography and find out about the 50 or so records he's been involved with by visiting his "communications centre":
I remember one afternoon in the early 90s I was feeling really low and I turned on the TV and saw a chat show where the guests were Wakeman and Eric Sykes. I remember watching them clown about for a few minutes and then cheering up and deciding that life wasn't so bad after all.

The Rebel: Were you still a fan of Viv Stanshall after you worked with him.
Rick Wakeman: "Absolutely... the man was a poetic genius with all the trappings of depression that goes with such talent. I often wonder what else he may have achieved had he lived. He's left loads of amazing memories though and that's good enough for me."
(Above: The Bonzos - Viv is 2nd from right)
Do you have a favourite lyric by him or a favourite Bonzo record?
"Strangely enough, Jollity Farm is my favourite, which of course is not a Bonzo composition . I love Canyons of your Mind and Trouser Press... My kind of humour!"

I've always loved the David Bowie song Absolute Beginners. Can you tell me a bit about the session? Which bits did you do and which bits did Steve Nieve do?
"I played the classical paino/ Rachmaninoff type stuff. I did all this long after the track was finished. David invited me on board to add these touches and we spent a very pleasant few hours reminiscing..."
(Above Steve Nieve photographed by Keith Morris in 86)
Steve Nieve recorded a cover version of Russians by Sting. I read that you also admired this track. What is it about this song that touches you?
"With apologies to Sting, I'm not a great fan of The Police but I do admire what they do and Sting's writing, even though it is too Jazzy for my taste. When I first heard Blue Turtles and The Russians track, I fell in love with the song. Beautifully constructed and beautifully done. I've not heard the cover version so I can't comment on that."

Can you remember much about recording Going Down by Lou Reed? That first solo record of his is quite curious. Did you get the feeling it would be a hit or that there was much of an audience for Lou waiting in the wings? How did Lou Reed come across?
"I never met him. He stayed in the control room and spoke through the headphones. I finished what he asked me to do and left!"
Are there any Yes songs that have the power to move you to tears?
"Awaken... the live version from Boston if I recall. Another step on from the studio version."

I really like the you tube footage of you and David Patton performing Eleanor Rigby and I really like the footage of you playing Life on Mars. When you perform a piece of music like that what goes through your head - are you like a method actor trying to bring up painful emotions or try in an attempt to connect with the story?
"I never plan anything as regards what is going on in my head. I close my eyes and go where the music takes me... And for the record...I am one of the few who hate Youtube."

When do you think Pink Floyd were at their most interesting? Which of their records are you most likely to play?
"Early stuff when Syd was around.GG"

McCartney had help from friends like George Martin but do you think (on the whole) a songwriter needs to train classically to be any good
"No , not at all. Training just helps somewhat I suppose as your imagination is limited by your knowledge."

Do you ever cross paths with the artist formally known as Cat Stevens? Were you interested when he changed his name to Yusuf Islam and do you have many muslim friends?
"I had a chat with Yusaf a few years back and it was lovely to meet up... I was pleased that he found his personal path in life as indeed I am with anybody who finds their own pathway as regards a faith... I have no idea if I have many Muslim friends to be honest as quite simply when I meet people I don't ask them what faith they are. I merit friendship on the person, not their faith."

What's your favourite Eric Sykes sketch / what do you like most about him?
"Erik is a comedic genius and I'm proud to call him a great friend... my favourite sketch is probably V.E Day when he took over the pub... but there are so many genius moments in all of Erik's work."
What are you working on now?
"I have a radio production company that produces shows for Ireland and America. I have a spot on Watchdog coming up in the new series. I am working on two short films. I have two albums to finish by the end of the year and a third book in the Grumpy series. I have concerts of all kinds, solo, band, orchestral scattered throughout the year and loads of stuff as patron to the charities I support... no free days in the Wakeman camp."