Last month Marcus Cope made 48 drawings in Cyprus. This Thursday eve is the p.v. of his Made in Lempa show. The gallery is at 57a Redchurch Street (a few minutes from Shoreditch High Street tube)
open: Wednesday to Sunday 12-6 pm
or by appointment. Here's his press statement...
The forty-eight drawings in this show were all made by Marcus Cope during a month spent in Cyprus in the spring of this year. Nostalgia for full-scale painting, perhaps, away from home and the studio? The drawings obsessively go back over the same subject-matter: canvases, paintings, paint tins, walls. A painter's world. In just a couple of them a painter is actually there, at work on a painting, but in all the rest the human element - an artist who in any case isn't Cope himself - has been supressed, and it's the work itself that's on show: paintings, finished or unfinished, or blank canvases hanging on the wall or piled up against each other on the floor. Though, these are drawings after all, the subject is never more than glanced at, alluded to, delicately touched in. That the work is in the studio is marked by the small wooden supports it's resting on to keep it off the floor, or maybe a tin or two of paint in front of it. If it's up in place, hanging on the wall, then we must be in a gallery.
Nostalgia doesn't really come into it, in fact. For a year now it's drawing Cope has been concentrating on, not painting. The tight constraints he's working under here - a sprayed red ground, four colours, forty-eight sheets of A4 - are less a set of practical limitations dictated by the circumstances than a formal decision to keep things under control. Each drawing makes the same small moves and each next one shifts them, just an inch. The hinting and the allusiveness aren't just a witty way of getting the viewer to do some work - though they are that too - they are the point of the exercise. Aside from the few anchoring touches of realism - the deft almost cartoonish touches of a paintbrush here, a chair there - the drawings are playing games. Within the scattergun extremes of the red spray, not necessarily covering the whole of the paper and not signifying anything in itself. versus the ruled line, the basic geometry which creates the side of a canvas, there's a constant question being asked. How little information can we get away with, artist or viewer? Not just how do we make meaning, but how do we deal with the meaningless?
In the end it's the idea of reflexivity too we need to clear away; this isn't by any means drawing about painting. It's just another way of keeping things simple. An artist works in a studio (even an imaginary one), why pretend he doesn't? Why go out into the landscape, why set up the still-life? What is happening on these surfaces is a set of delicate re-arrangements of lines and angles. The pervasive pink might make us think of blood (of course it mustn't). The canvases, walls, room-corners, (all made of lines and right-angles), aren't in our heads, they're there on the paper: but that that working painter was suppressed could be significant. What else needs to dissolve for meaninglessness to take over?
And now here's a Q & A I did with Marcus Cope via e-mail a few hours ago....
The Rebel: Are you excited about this new show - is it your best show yet?
Marcus Cope: "I'm not sure that excitement really comes into it. The shows are always different aren't they? It's new work at a new stage of the journey of my life. I made all the drawings in a period of four weeks that I spent in the spring this year at the Cyprus College of Art. For me they act almost like stand-ins for holiday photos. The represented spaces are largely images of studio or gallery settings, but in there there are a lot of bits of my Cyprus experience, represented in the paintings on the walls and floors of these scenes. Parts of the studios at the college, buildings I've seen, images resulting from conversations etc. I don't believe in best. It may be the show that I feel most inspired by, in terms of taking the drawings on to somewhere else, rather than looking at them as something past, concluded."
The Rebel: When did your drawing talents first become apparent - who encouraged and inspired you?
Marcus Cope: "When I was at junior school I could draw well. I remember two drawings in particular that I did when I was about ten. One was of a tree. The other was a badger. I copied the badger from an encyclopedia and added a fence behind it and had it sitting on a pavement. Everyone in the class agreed it was a very good badger, except the teacher who made fun of me for having made the badger so big in comparison to the fence. I'd never seen a badger so this struck me as quite mean. I've got a drawing I made from when I was five that was entered into some Cadbury's competition. It was on the wall, framed, in my mums hallway for many years, along with a certificate from Cadbury. My Grandma used to like drawing and encouraged all her grandchildren to draw when we were staying over, although that was mostly to keep us quiet." The Rebel:Do you draw most days or do you have long periods of art not being made? Marcus Cope: "What these drawings have is the confidence of work that is being made everyday. I'm not able to draw everyday, not just because of working (for living) but it's also about inspiration. London is a really tiring place to live and make work in, and it's often hard or impossible to find the solace necessary for reflection and contemplation...both of which are essential aspects of my practice. I never have long periods of not drawing unless I'm involved in some paid work that is physically and mentally draining. I get a bit agitated if I don't get into the studio on a regular basis.
The Rebel: What are the best art shows you've seen lately? Marcus Cope: "The Michael Simpson show at David Roberts Foundation made me want to get on with some painting in a way that no show has done for a long time. In the last room of the gallery were four tall paintings of Leper Squint holes with ladders leaning up against them. The paintings were all leant against the wall. Bloody brilliant. The paintings are so confident, definite, direct, the palette sparse. Yes I liked them a lot. I also enjoyed the Leonora Carrington retrospective at the Irish Museum of Modern Art. She just did what she wanted and that seemed to have comfortably coincided with the rise of Surrealism."
The Rebel: Are you a happy go lucky person or do you have a chip on your shoulder? What are you most bitter about? Marcus Cope: "I'm relaxed. Bitterness is funny. Why bother? Things are how they are. The world is unfair, but there are a lot of people a lot worse off than myself. I'm very fortunate." The Rebel: "Has travel broadened your mind and made you a better person? Marcus Cope: "Travel is like a kind of equilibrium. It puts you in a position where you have none of the control of your surroundings that you build up in everyday life. I like it because it forces you to relax. You can't be stressed about how long it takes to get to the bus stop because you don't know where the bus stop is, and you don't have anywhere to go anyway, or any time that you have to be there...etc. You eat new food, you open up, meeting people is much easier and much more rewarding because you have time to have proper, relaxed conversations."
The Rebel:Can you name 3 contemporary artists you like that aren't personal friends of yours? Marcus Cope: "I've been looking at Matthias Weischer recently. Although I'm not into his garden paintings. You can't really like artists though, can you? You like some things they do, or about what they do, or have similar interests or attitudes... but that can go off the boil. Opinions change, we change. Two others? I've always found Schnabel intriguing, I mean, how can someone pull off being so bad with such bravado and sometimes get it absolutely right? Not very fashionable but there is something in Paula Rego that I'm drawn to at the moment. I'm thinking of the works made during her National Gallery residency which was probably in the 80's or 90's." The Rebel: Which famous artist do you know most about (have read the most books on?) Marcus Cope: "Probably Guston. With Duchamp a close second, followed by Picabia and Basquiat." The Rebel:Do you have a favourite quote? Marcus Cope: "You know, it's not that it's my favourite quote, and he's not an artist I care much about, but it's the one that I can't let go of, that always seems to re-emerge and I'm always in agreement with. 'You are lost the instant you know what the result will be', Juan Gris. The Rebel: If we come to your show next week what sort of thing should we expect, have you decided on what to wear, will you be jolly, shy or arrogant? Marcus Cope: "I thought I should wear flip-flops, shorts and a Hawaiian shirt...because I made the drawings in sunny days. I hope to be jolly but you never know...we all have our dark moments!"
Do you have a fave track on the album and is there one track you're more proud of than the others?
The idea behind this record was outrageously simple - to capture a band playing live in the studio, flaws and all. With most records there isn't the raw excitement; it's just machines and loops clattering away with all the character and idiosyncrasies airbrushed out. The drums are quantised, never skipping a beat. The vocals are Autotuned. Everything sounds perfect - perfectly boring. However, there are no sequencers or keyboards used on this record, it's just Dave Pope twanging his guitar, Andy Thomson bashing the bass and me clobbering the kit. A bit of a guitar overdub here, some percussion there, but it's the format that served The Who, The Velvet Underpants, Wire, Supergrass and The Kinks damned swell. A favourite track, though? Possibly 'Next' - it's an ageing Cockney Casanova recalling all his conquests. He's a braggart, a shit. All these women are notches on his bedstead, they mean nothing to him, and as soon as the situation gets out of his control, he's off. There's no poetry in his soul. He's like a more cunning Robin Askwith in those rancid 'Confessions…' films from the mid-70s. Dave sings it majestically and we play it like Jonathan Richman on steroids. It's great to write 'character' songs. I don't like the confessional school of songwriting. There has to be a twist in the tale for me.
It's hard to pick one song I'm most proud of… They are all my sweet little pointy-headed babies. Oh, if I have to decide, it might be 'It's Time I Went Mad Again'. It was very weird because we had written it in a very poppy Paul McCartney style, lots of hooks and quirkiness, a really light touch - like 'Penny Lane'. Have you ever noticed the drums on that record? Amazing. Anyway, when we got into the basement studio, we suffered a kind of collective amnesia; we didn't know how to play the song. We remembered how to approach the middle eight - and, if you hear it, you'll know it just screams 'MACCAAAAAARRRRGGGGHHHHHH!' - but the rest of it was a blank. Luckily, Malcolm Gayner, our producer, took the Occa's Razor line and said 'Play it as simply as possible, like White Stripes would do it' and we got it in about two takes. Lyrically, I love it because - although it's a serious subject; the looking for love, the fear of being left alone, to want somebody to love - it's treated in such a ridiculous way. Dave sings it with the lovelorn fiery intensity of Jimi Hendrix but the words are pure Bonzo Dog Band. On top of all that, Gemma Gayner added a small orchestra of violas which are so dramatic yet quite bonkers. Yeah, that was a major breakthrough creatively. We never knew that pretty little ditty we penned would turn out to be such a mad bug-eyed monster.
What's the idea behind the album's cover image and title?
There's a variety of possible meanings. Perhaps, in essence, it's saying don't waste your time waiting for life to happen. Or it could be saying the writing's on the wall. Or it could be like the audience shouting in pantomimes, 'Look behind you!'
We want there to be a certain amount of ambiguity about the cover. Andy is on the back cover holding a paintbrush stained with white paint. Is he Godot or just a practical joking graffiti artist? Does Godot exist?
The CD is available from the Smoking Ant website. What are your hopes for this release?
The complete destruction of Ukip; the collapse of this corrupt government; Royal Mail and the rail services to be taken back into common ownership; cancel Trident; a halt to the rightward lurch of British politics. Yellowjack have set the ball rolling, it's now up to you. Should an old age pensioner die of hypothermia this winter because she was terrified of the gas bills, then may her blue-lipped corpse be laid at your door. Only by buying this album can you save the world.
How did the members of the band get together and how did you choose the band's name?
We met in a lift. Dave Pope (See photo below) and I were at art college together and played in a band called Horrible Head - 'Have a terrible time with Horrible Head'. This is back in the mid-80s. I remember we sent a cassette tape of our songs to Stiff Records and got a reply: 'You have Van Gogh's ear for music'. They went bust about a year afterwards. We had put the Curse of Horrible Head upon them. The band broke up when Dave fell madly in bed with some babe - it was all very nasty, really. Then, after more than 20 years, we found each other again, rekindled the friendship, lovely lovely lovely, started this band with Andy Thomson who was in Reticents with me for a few years, lovely lovely lovely, made this record, lovely lovely lovely, then Dave goes to the other side of the world with another babe. Is it history repeating itself? Find out when we get together again in 2034.
Yellowjack? Well, it's a comedy reference. Nobody under 30 would get it. If we were called 'Nighty Bye' or 'Little Johnny Frostbite' then most people over 40 wouldn't know about the provenance. It's a generational thing, a shared reference and means nothing at all.
Which famous singer or songwriter would you most like to hear your CD and tell you they liked it? Is there any of your musical heroes that you'd love to get feedback from?
Well, you're a fan of David Devant & His Spirit Wife, I know. For them's wot don't know, David and his ghostly girlie were a welcome antidote to the macho, 'Loaded' generation, Britpop, Oasis scene of the late '90s. Made a classic pop record, 'Work, Lovelife, Miscellaneous',which, if it were a jungle region, would be called The Glamazon. OK, long story short - Mikey Georgeson, who is David Devant when the spirit takes him, and is a phenomenal songsmith, bought the download of the album and sent the usual van of roses and crate of the old shampoo. My forelock is firmly tugged.
Of my other musical heroes, though… Well, they're mostly dead. Wild Man Fischer, Tony Newley, Keith Moon, Nilsson, Judee Sill, Arthur Lee… And I doubt whether any of the living ones would be interested. Godley & Creme have been absolute beacons of inspiration for me. Whenever I've been stuck, whilst writing or recording or producing, and it looks like the song is going to be predictable or formulaic, I think, 'What would they have done?' and I act accordingly. In the song 'Next' I give them a namecheck - 'Like Stan & Ollie, or Kev & Lolly, we made an oddly perfect couple' - which no-one will ever pick up on, but that's all right. It's my salute.
I'd be riding sidesaddle on the cow jumping over the moon if, say, Jarvis Cocker or John Cooper Clarke raised a thumb and complimented me on some particular felicitous phrase, but unfortunately I have the same name as a comedy character created by Kevin Eldon. He has this character called Paul Hamilton who is a dreadful poet in North London - the author of 'Shadows Of Reflections'. Therefore, it's likely if Jarvis knew of this record he'd think it was really by Kevin Eldon and all a big joke. In fact, it's partly by me and a little jokey.
Do you feel life is getting a little bit better every day?
Not whilst there's this other Paul Hamilton and his rotten poetry getting in the way of me and my rotten records. Maybe I should invent a comedy character - the world's worst comic actor and call him Kevin Eldon. Oh, it could be worse; think of all the poor sods with names like David Brent and Alan Partridge. Strangely enough, I visited a music college recently and a senior lecturer had the name of Frank Pike - you know, the scarf-wearing 'stupid boy' in 'Dad's Army'. It didn't seem to affect him, though.
What do you like most about the way you look?
I have grown to like my fatness. I'm rather attached to it. Jesus died for someone's chins but not mine.
Are there any poets who have influenced the way you write lyrics?
The only poet I've ever really read in any depth is Philip Larkin. He mined a slim seam but a very rich one. I like his caustic humour, the everyday, commonplace details - 'grim, head-scarved wives', 'Love again: wanking at ten past three', 'children/With their violent shallow eyes', and in 'Dockery & Son' where he writes about changing trains at Sheffield 'and ate an awful pie' - and his atheism that doesn't negate spiritual transcendence. I don't know if I'm making any sense.
What I like about him - and I've not thought about this before, so thanks - is that his poems are concentrated vignettes and they always rhyme, adding to the intensity. I don't like songs that are vague - 'It can mean anything you like, man!' - and I don't like free verse. Allen Ginsberg and all that lot I find really boring - they have no gift for self-editing, it's so much waffle. Working to a ruthless rhyme scheme intensifies the imagination, I find. Pretty much every song I've written has been to a set agenda or scenario. Harry Nilsson likened songwriting to joking; you set the scene, introduce the characters, have a conflict or exchange, and then finish on a punchline.
Are you more of a cat person or a dog person?
Neither, really. Sorry all you pussies and puppies out there who are reading this, but I'm allergic to you. I'm a frog man. Lizards are lovely, too, but you don't really see them anymore.
Which of your songs are commercial?
You tell me, brother. I don't know what's in the charts. Is there even a chart these days? If there is, I can't see how the records I've been involved with can possibly integrate seamlessly with your Franz Fernandos and Smiley Viruses. My stuff is too misfit, too rough; it's glass in the face cream. All I can do is try and write something entertaining and fulfilling artistically, bash the drums and cymbals in an enjoyable way and attempt to produce a record that doesn't make me want to stick my head through a plate glass window. It's odd, isn't it? An artist can expound on how he or she made this certain piece but if you ask them why do they do it at all, invariably they'll be stumped for an answer. Making songs and records is such an intrinsic part of my life, I couldn't begin to explain its significance. I just have to do it. It's not for the money - I've spent a fortune and never seen a bean. But if I did make a fortune, I'd spend it on making more records.