Thursday, March 17, 1983

Make it new

At one Dad dropped me in Easterby and I walked up to the Martyn Building of Easterby College where I’d arranged to meet Lee. Shortly after, Grant arrived too and we eventually found Lee in his studio after climbing flight after flight of stairs.

His studio is small and quite cluttered, the walls daubed with paint spatters and graffiti’d comments. Propped up at one side was a door, ripped from a derelict warehouse, adorned with grime and a sign that proclaimed “Smoking Strictly Prohibited – Anyone Disobeying This Order Will Be Instantly Dismissed.” Lee had put a frame around the door that he was in the process of spraying with gold paint.

He showed us some of his other works-in-progress, an odd collections of objects he's assembled in line with his new policy of forsaking painting. One was a furry cow’s ear, black and crusty and stretched in a frame. Another was a 2D “photogram” image of a Coke bottle mounted on a Perspex base: the bottle had been exposed to a bright light and the resulting shadow and distorted image had been projected across the base and backboard and photographically recorded, producing a very good effect thus:

I’d never seen anything like it before.

He also showed us photographs of his performance pieces—walking around the Eastgate Centre dressed in a butcher’s apron and hat carrying a tray with carefully arranged and neatly chopped-up portions of a pig’s head, a lampshade suspended casually from a traffic lamp post, its bright red and yellow frilled shade swinging gaily from the concrete post outside a row of derelict houses.

I was impressed, and instantly felt echoes of the same mood that caught me when Lee visited Watermouth. What I do at University is so unfulfilling and untaxing and what little work I’ve done is neither good nor original. The written medium just leaves me cold. Lee on the other hand is creating vivid, vibrant art, living art, not dead mummified activity. This hit me so forcibly that I felt like instantly packing in University and trying to get in at an Art College.

I will never get anywhere doing what I do at present: I plough dutifully through books and essays . . . and for what? I’ll feel no better, no more enlightened at the end of my course than if I’d stayed in bed and slept for four years. At least with American Studies I'll actually get to go abroad and live and learn a hell of a lot more than the dull grubbing through texts and writing of dusty essays.

These thoughts swarm around me. Art is more of an education in this sense – the experience of practical things, the living of them if you like, becoming the richer for it. A different perspective and a different way to regard things and maybe this new way solves and clears up more mysteries than it creates.

The torture of empty words and pages leaves me exactly as I started! How do I get round this?

I was in a turmoil. Grant left and Lee and I went to explore the derelict, boarded-up houses on Geoffrey Road, Heaven Street and Abbot Street, in the half-demolished and neglected wasteland of warehouses, damp dirty roads and alleys between the Poly and Leckenby Road . . . a thousand decaying places filled with rubble, the green spikes of weeds springing up in the midst of rotting junk.

One house on Geoffrey Road had only just been vacated and was still full of furniture, with curtains at the windows, plates and crockery in the cupboard. A few empty cider bottles sat in a downstairs room along with a half-eaten loaf of bread. We crept gingerly upstairs, half-afraid of finding some wino crashed out on the floor or in a bed, but the topmost (3rd) floor was pitch black and we dared not go up there. Lee half-saw a dim white object lying on the floor so we gratefully returned to the damp grey twilight murk outside.

The other houses in the row were in worse condition, rotting black hulks with their floors gone, strewn with filth and plaster and all the things derelict buildings are usually strewn with. Lee uses these visits to obtain his ‘objets d’art,’ commonplace things such as telephones, door knobs, signs and pieces of household junk.

I clambered my way back into the street dusty and full of enthusiasm for this new pursuit. We had a rest in a nearby pub before saying our adieus and going our separate ways. Lee's applying to Watermouth, one of only two who's doing so from Easterby College.

Really I want to channel my energies into something lasting, something important, into something with a bit of originality and significance. But I don’t know what this means. I just don’t know anything.

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