Before The Gardeners Came

There are two men working in the garden next door.
One young, one older – fifty or more.

The garage window has frilly curtains
So I thought it might have been converted
Into a little annex, fully furnished
For people to come and stay.

But in went the men, and out they came again
With a hedge strimmer
And a lawnmower
And a leaf blower
And a hefty sack for all the grass.

So it must be just a tool shed.
Still, how often do you see a tool shed with frilly curtains?

The garden is finished now, they’re packing away.
The older man talks to his mother inside.
I crack the window but their voices are muffled.
‘Are you staying for dinner?’
She might be asking.

‘See you in a fortnight,’ I hear more clearly
As her son and his boy emerge from the house.
Then mower and blower and strimmer and sack
Are hefted and carried around to the back
To a gate in the wall, right next to the shed
And all of a sudden it clicks in my head
How this family scene has been sorely misread.

For as the gate opens, I vaguely remember
The van that pulled up half an hour before.

With a grumble of diesel
And the crackling of gravel
My story unravels.
I shut the window.
There I was, thinking of asking to borrow their mower.

A while later, I wonder if she’s lonely
Looking out over her garden
With its perfect purple flowers
And its lawn so freshly mown
And its little flock of stones
And the bushes which had grown
Over the wall
Into our garden
Connecting our worlds
Before the gardeners came.

Dusted off the projector…


…I don’t really know what to say about it. An opinion just doesn’t seem to want to form. It didn’t come from anywhere, and it doesn’t look like its going anywhere. If I thought it was worth naming, maybe I’d call it Stuck. It’s made me all the more aware that I shouldn’t use image-making to process the current moment. Either I write about it, or failing that, I wait. I think waiting is needed now.

Conversationalist Drizzle


Who even listens to this?

Sorry, never got round to it. Muddle. Just start writing. Stream of consciousness, maybe more of a stubborn drizzle of consciousness, fogging up the windscreen of the everyday. Keeps getting wiped away, no time to pull over and turn the engine off and just let the rain fall.

Conversationalism. That’s “-ism” as in “Socialism”. A Proper Thing. A way of looking at the world. Everything is conversation, I think. Particularly with art. You’re constantly trying to get someone to see things the way you see them, and if they don’t, it’s either frustrating or fascinating, or both. You have to translate, and compromise, and come to agreements. It’s maddening, as a human being, for no one to understand you. We need to be understood just like we need to sleep. It soothes us, and it keeps us going.

Putting two artworks on a wall next to each other, that’s conversation. A dusty pair of men’s slippers next to a portrait of a sad old woman. But where does that conversation happen? Not in the slippers, unless dust mites are far more intelligent than we give them credit for. It’s in your subconscious, isn’t it? Two inanimate objects are talking to each other inside your head, and you’re listening in. You glance from one to the other, and hear the little whisper: “ooh, it was ‘er ‘usband”. Because they can’t just be slippers, can they? They have to have belonged to someone. There has to be a human connection there. They can’t just be objects, they have to be things. There has to be a little bit of someone’s soul bound up in them. Otherwise they’re not important. They don’t matter. They’re just matter.

But what if you can’t listen in? What if you don’t understand the language? What if you don’t care? Many, many people are quite happy to accept the fact that they aren’t “arty” people. They look at a Rauschenberg and wonder “what’s it all about?” Or more to the point, they don’t wonder. They scoff, call it a load of arty farty bollocks, and go about their day. They don’t hear the quiet little conversations in their heads, and it has no impact on their lives. Actually, none of that happens, because they didn’t pay the 16 bloody quid for the ticket in the first place.

So who does contemporary art talk to? The artist themselves, sure. It’s self-expression, it’s identity, it’s a deeply personal conversation with the world. It nourishes the self. Who else does it talk to? Those “arty” people. People who have made it their business to speak the language of contemporary art, and have a fascination with the way that artists choose to share parts of themselves with those who will look and listen. It’s empathy, it’s the human condition to want to understand other humans. If you choose to creatively express yourself through artistic means, then you’re probably going to be more invested in what other people have to say through similar means. Amy Adams said it in Arrival. The language you speak affects who you are as a person. It changes your nature. Speak someone else’s language, and you’ll start to see the world the way they see the world.

But who else does it talk to? How many taxi drivers have you had to try and justify or explain your artistic career to? How many of your friends nod vaguely when you tell them what your project is about? How many pieces of contemporary art have changed the world? I mean really, properly changed the course of history? Kurt Schwitters reckoned artists held up a mirror to the times, but what good is a mirror if no one stops to peer into it?

I think that a different conversation needs to happen. If contemporary art is trying to talk to the world, then the world needs to talk back. A language needs to be invented, if it doesn’t exist already. What if, at school, instead of (or as well as) singing hymns every morning, kids got out their paintbrushes and painted how they were feeling that day? And then showed their feelings to the other kids? And then talked about it? It would become natural, wouldn’t it? To see meaning and emotion in the scribbles of a child, which is what some abstract art is so dismissively brandished as? After a few years of that, I’m willing to bet you could show said child a series of Rothko paintings and they’d be able to tell you which best matches their mood that day, or the mood of their mother or father. How would that change the way that people learn to visually express themselves, and recognise such expressions in other people? Maybe then you’d get taxi drivers and estate agents flocking to the latest exhibitions in a search for empathetical reassurance about a broken marriage, or feelings of intangible despondency in a world without meaning, rather than just those “arty” people. Art wouldn’t just be the mirror, it would be the world. It would be necessary.

That is, if they could afford the Tate card.


Life After Art School

The first thing you have to decide, when you start to write something or draw something, or create anything at all, is to ask yourself; who is it for? Who will read it, who will hang it on their wall, whose life is it supposed to change? If you’re not changing someone’s life, even in the tiniest, most imperceptible way, then why are you even doing it?

For most of my life, this question has only had one answer: me. My essays haven’t been educating anyone else but myself, and my pictures haven’t been hanging on anyone’s walls but my own. Maybe what makes the real world so strange is that now I have to go out and find other answers to that question. Answers which, when you think about it, should probably not come naturally to someone who’s spent their entire life up until that point in a bubble of hypotheticals and “one day…” reassurances.

But that’s what art school is for. It prepares you, it gives you the nudge, it dips your toe in. It helps you to become confident in your own unique ability to affect the lives of others. I truly believe it has done that for me, and it is something for which I am immensely grateful. In fact, in the form of a few certain people, it is continuing to support me with incredible generosity and kindness. I am certain that in years to come my debt of gratitude to these people will only grow.

As I write this I am sat in a coffee shop, sipping Earl Grey tea and tapping away on my macbook pro like a seasoned hipster creative on a lunch break. I’m surrounded by others doing much the same, and in an hour’s time I will return to my second shift at my new restaurant job. This sounds like the narrative of someone who’s fairly settled in the bustle of life, and I suppose I am getting there. I live in a lovely house with four equally lovely people, I get to talk to cool arty people on the radio every Thursday, and a few days ago I found out that a conversation I took part in will be published in CCQ magazine. Perhaps weirdest of all, last week I sat in front of a room full of students and talked about my life. And they listened! In my ears, Jamestown Revival are telling me that ‘the golden age is all but through’, and a few months ago I would probably have believed them. But now I’m not so sure.

It is remarkable to think that I’ve only been back in Cardiff for six weeks. The amount of things I’ve learnt and people I’ve met in that short time is staggering. My perception of the city and its cultural community has been blown wide open, and I am truly excited to be a part of it. The summer had been a tedious slog of boozing and working, and the last drops of post-graduation euphoria had evaporated. I was desperate to be back, with the inspirational people I’d surrounded myself with for the past three years; turning new pages rather than re-reading the first familiar chapter over and over. I needed that feeling again.

Well it’s safe to say I’ve got it now. From the very first day, even before I’d put sheets on my bed, doors started to open. Suddenly I was able to say ‘yes’ as if there was no second option, and I started looking at the world as if it was a jigsaw and in my pocket is a missing piece. I can’t wait to see what things look like in a few months’ time.

So what about that question? Have I found other answers? I think I’m starting to. As for this blog, I suppose I’ll find out. At the moment it’s nice to turn my thoughts into writing just for the sake of reflection, but there are other reasons and there will be more to come on that. Stay tuned.