Manga Mannequin Considering Jumping Into the Abyss

Here is a picture of my Manga Mannequin stood staring into the abyss.

He seems fearful, hesitant, afraid even. He also has no face to tell us this with. No voice and no story. These Manga Mannequins do suggest a story, or perhaps a character, or element of culture, or something like that. There is strength of pose. It’s hard to get any other type of pose. It’s almost impossible to coerce a pose that suggests deference, or fear or diminution. They’re made to model superheros. The powerful stances and limber contortions of Marvel and Andrew Loomis. There’s vulnerability here, which is satisfying.

 

Here’s another picture.


Here he’s looking a bit more confident. Looking over the edge, trying to decide what to do. You don’t need many cues to derive this sort of information. The mammalian brain is a remarkable machine, capable of extrapolation from very oblique abstractions. You kinda know what this dude is thinking. Your opinion of that (and it is opinion since, we presume, he’s actually thinking nothing at all) will likely differ from mine, but not greatly.

The fact that he’s visibly at the edge of a big drop (in reality, the edge of my desk. I think I was on a conference call at this point. It’s likely that I was paying attention to that more than taking the photo. This type of semi-conscious activity is precisely the sort of thing I need to keep me focused on conference call. Scrolling through Twitter or just daydreaming less so) suggest something of his predicament, or mind set. Were he on an uninterrupted surface, we’d maybe assume he was looking at some object on the floor, surprised or in alarm. Maybe a small dog is barking at him, or he’s noticed a clown in a nearby drain.

The next photo removes some ambiguity.

It’s on odd pose in the dog/clown scenario. He’s not stepping on or towards something, he’s stepping off. Although it’s hard to tell, we’d need to remove the context to know for sure. I’m not going to do that. I’d rather you focused on the what he’s going through at the precipice. That’s where the drama is, and that’s what creates tension and narrative.

Of course I’ve provided little narrative or characterisation, and few visual and textual hints. I needn’t even have done that much, but it’s nice to talk about it, don’t you think? What happens next? Does he jump? If so, why? Will he survive the jump? Will he plummet endlessly? Does he have a parachute? Is this really an abyss, or just a shallow hop? Maybe he’s going to jump from a bridge into water, not knowing how deep the water below is.

I have no further photos. We’ll never know the answer to these, and other questions you might have. You can provide these by creating the rest of the story in your head.

 

Finished

It won’t find it hard to believe that I find it difficult to focus when on conference calls. A random floating piece of dust catching a mote of sunlight is enough to draw me a away from the matter in hand. The ceaseless distraction that is the social web is like a black hole sucking focus to be forever lost among images of kittens and inane chatterings. In reality, I can be distracted by my own thoughts. You can lock me in a featureless, windowless room with load speakers blasting the call at me and I’d still daydream. It’s what I do, how I’m configured. It’s also fair to say that I can easily wonder during in-person meetings, but this is much less of a problem since a) people tend to notice quicker so I’m forced to make more effort, b) what’s going on in the room tends to occupy me – I like to try and read the room, understand the interpersonal dynamics, dissect what’s really happening and c) half the time, everyone else has their nose stuck in their laptop or phone anyway, in which case the etiquette is loosened due to shared defiance of the general order.

Nevertheless, on most occasions, if you’ve been invited to attend, and more so, if I have arranged a conference call, it’s customary to pay attention. To not do so is at best rude and unprofessional, and at worst results in potentially disastrous consequences due to misunderstandings and offense taken should there be someone important on the other end that you are ignoring. That moment when you catch your name being mentioned on the other end of a question, and you’ve been tuned out for 5 minutes, is never a comfortable one. I have strategies to dig myself out of such holes, but I’d rather not need to deploy them. I recognise the need to pay attention, I’m just not very good at it.

So over the years I’ve developed a technique for focusing when on conference calls, that I also use in face-to-face meetings that are especially important to pay attention in: I do something else. It sounds counter intuitive, since “something else” is precisely what gets me into trouble in the first place, but certain types of activity allow me to occupy my fidgeting mind and wondering fingers, while maintaining sufficient focus on the matter in hand. For example, sometimes I put myself on mute and run scales and exercises on my unamplified electric guitar. Fidget spinners really do help for shorter periods. Just pacing is also a short relief. But mainly I doodle. Not in a directed, specific way, I just pick up a pencil and let my hand and subconscious wonder. I have an A3 pad under my keyboard for this very purpose. Sometimes these doodles appear quasi-realistic and/or geometric, sometimes they are haphazard scribbles. Rarely do they resemble anything of this world. Somewhere from deep in my subconscious, odd creatures and bizarre, Escherian landscapes emerge. I don’t try and interpret these, they just are.

I decided to see what would emerge if I unleashed that same odd corner of my cognitive nether-regions upon canvas, which is what you see below. As it emerged over days, my environment and thoughts began to bestow some meaning and it became less “random”, but the marks that appeared continued to be driven by urge rather than conscious intent. The extent to which this is a manifestation of some facet of my subconscious or some Freudian complex I’ll leave to the those psychoanalytical witch-doctors who enjoy such speculation. I know not what it “means” outside a vague sense that there is some statement on evolution, ecosystems, the environment and Man’s influence on this, among the slops and dribbles that adorn the canvas.

I did not know at which point this painting would be finished since I had no sense of what shape the final piece would take. I stopped when I felt that further marks or textures on the canvas would be to the detriment of the painting to that point, and also because of the more practical justification that I had other stuff that I needed/wanted to be getting on with. It is partly for this reason that I named the piece “Finished” as an invitation for the observer to precis this assertion and decide whether it really is. But there is also a metaphor to be eked from that title, the sculpting of which I’ll leave to the Freudians.

Finished by Alex Loveless (2018) - Acrylic on Canvas - 60x80cm

Finished by Alex Loveless (2018) – Acrylic on Canvas – 60x80cm

Violent Random Equilibrium

Mornings are good. Spring is good. Spring mornings are all about change, and I like change. The anti-entropic thrust that brings colour and bustle to outside spaces is merely a part of a conspicuous cycle, but always feels fresh after the dormancy of winter. I walk my dog most mornings in a local park. The very act of being outside – the natural movement of things, the ever changing surroundings, the cacophony of animal and human noise – is tonic any time of the year, but the rapid unfolding of the fresh terrain, as plants and animals awaken, is a daily drama that brings every bit as much excitement and entertainment as the new season of Westworld has, coincidentally occurring at the same time this year. Every morning I see movement and progress, the building of things, and the obscuring of others as ferns spread their low canopy and leaves begin to obscure the heavens. I particularly love the vibrancy of colour, the barrage fluorescent greens, the vibrant antidote to the maudlin ocres of Autumn. Autumn brings resolution, Sprint is all about hope and optimism. You must go out and experience it, as I think many people miss it as it blurs past their car or train.

It’s a form of violence in some ways; an act of carnage. The status quo of the winter months is trampled, stretched and ruptured. Like a grey concrete wall freshly adorned with graffiti, a vibrancy of colour and creation destroys the monotony, a surreptitious act of creation brought forth via an act of destruction. And all creation is destruction. One set of states of affairs is eclipsed by another – creation and destruction go hand in hand. Nature is a consummate non-linear system, fractal at its core, and unpredictable in its essence. Without this reality no life could exist, and change would be wrought by simple (seemingly) linear entropy. It’s as magical as it is mundane.

Shallow talk of creationism is always at the fringes of admiration of nature, which is such a terrible travesty. Not only is such conjecture not required to explain this majesty, but the reduction of the act of creation via the brushstrokes of an anthropomorphic deity seeks to minimise the true artistry of chaos, make it seem so small and mundane. “God did it” is such a dull explanation, so prosaic as to belittle such complexity to the whim of creationist ego. To put man and its Gods above creation and the ecosystem that sustains them is hubris of the highest degree. Such attitudes are the type of process-group-think that is the enemy of all forms of creation. It reminds me of some remarks made by a lady I caught briefly on Radio4 recently who was feverishly asserting her belief that no person could restrain themselves from conducting ill deeds were they not to believe, deep down, in an interventionist deity. This point of view is as puerile and self-serving as it is insulting. Good things happen because of God, end of. Leaving the “what is good?” question aside, the question of the creation of good things needs no further explanation than the appreciation of one’s place within the interconnectedness of all things. Things are good because we appreciate the goodness of the states of affairs that envelopes us. Conjuring (subjective) bad states of affairs from a comfortable, homeostatic equilibrium is counterproductive. I’m not arguing that good things are only good because someone thinks they are, quite the opposite. Good states of affairs, in equilibrium, exist extant of life and sentience. Goodness is intrinsic within the system within which it maintains homeostasis (even if the things that inhabit, and benefit from, that system can’t always agree what constitutes “good”). In essence, goodness is the quality beholden to such things that maintain the current, if fleeting, equilibrium. This works on micro and macro level, individuals to collectives to whole systems. Subjectivity is only really of consequence of observing the forward and rear vanguard of the sliding window of perpetual change. Reality isn’t going anywhere in particular, but it is constantly mutating, and will never repeat itself. The urge to maintain a previously observed stable state, subjectively (and perhaps rightly for a fleeting moment) perceived to be good, is a form of conservatism doomed to failure. Obsession with with the forces of change will likely result in homeostasis being violated, and can have catastrophic results (think about the extinction of species and human cultures at the blunt end of the battering ram of colonialism).

Any stable system is only so because of its tendency to homeostasis, a regression to a sliding mean, so change is, by definition, gradual and continuous, though not always linear. This can be observed in societal systems, ecosystems, physical and biological processes, statistical analysis, and any sort of self perpetuating system. The goodness in that system is characterised by the things that allow that system to continue and flourish. On a micro level, such systems arise and are obliterated in the blink of an eye, or an epoch of history. Your body does this perpetually, trying to hold back the march of time is futile, external threats to homeostasis can be fatal, failure to maintain the homeostasis (by eating poorly or smoking for example) will eventually overcome your body’s ability to maintain homeostasis. At a macro level, systems are longer and more robust (our planet, our star). To observe and to invoke goodness, in the truest sense, is to comprehend the highest level of abstraction of your system to which you are able and consider what is most appropriate to maintain the most incidental level of homeostasis. Essentially, look after the macro system you are in – help it do what it does best, regress to the mean. That could mean, be nice to your planet, or create good conditions to your species. It probably doesn’t mean chop down trees and be an arsehole. It’s not really that complicated. Nevertheless, some groups find it hard to observe past the short horizon of their micro-system – class, tribe, country, genetic make-up, belief set – and seek only to maintain that. History has shown this to be the most disastrous of all outlooks and this, by the framework I have sketched, is the opposite of good  as demonstrated by, among others, the atrocities the reformation, World War II, Stalin’s twisted Marxism, and most recently, unrestrained capitalism.

The complexity of our homeostatic system, its ephemeral nature and infinity-reaching dynamics, transcend the ability of humanity to comprehend it, and thus we tend to reach for analogues. These may be comforting, and afford a level of imagined control, but these are not necessary. Your dogmatism really need extend to no further than “do shit that’s seems most appropriate to create good conditions to all in your systems at any point in time”. OK, that’s a bit of a mouthful. Just reach out and touch something, that’s all you need to do. See what’s around you and appreciate it. Then do what seems right based on that which you experience. You don’t need to think you understand it, or that some being has it all under control, or that you have control. It’s not really like that. Just know that, since you can experience it, so can everyone and everything else in that system. You can comprehend that right? As Master Dogen said “do not view mountains from the scale of human thought”.

Lower Your Fidelity

A recent musical binge on Car Seat Headrest has lead me to revisit the various lo-fi bands and albums I love from the 90’s. Both Will Toledo’s style and approach owe a lot to that movement, not least to Guided By Voices, but also Pavement, Sebadoh, Sonic Youth and various others to varying degree. Despite forays into more contemporary (if the current brand of revisionism can be called that) styles, and the odd nod to the music of his current home town, Seattle, his music belongs to the late 80’s and early 90’s. the whole lo-fi movement was really an extension of punk and hardcore as it mutated via bands like Husker Du and Sonic Youth into alt and indie. As such the DIY ethic and lack of any meaningful adherence to musical traditions and protocols percolated through and manifested in a mix of sweet, Beach Boys-esque melodies intermingled with chaotic noise, hissing feedback, frenetic string pummelling and frequent bum notes (deliberate or otherwise). By the time this manifested as a scene the belligerent lo-fi aesthetic had styled itself as a higher art form which concerned itself little (at least in the early days) with the commercial  arena with which they later flirted.  While song structures were frequently traditional, the composition and presentation was not. Guided by Voices and Sebadoh in particular concerned themselves with folk and rock, while grinding off the polish, atrophying, making them grubby yet spontaneous, very new, but somehow so old, like a bunch of forgotten photos from school days discovered in the attic.
The lo-fi aesthetic was an conscious inversion on the incumbent emphasis on polished production, staid song composition, production line pop and rock that had even started infecting punk. The reference to this as an aesthetic is not mere observation. Whereas punk’s lo-fi sheen, while worn as a badge of honour, came from lack of resources and ability, these future indie icons used minimal production values as an intrinsic part of their art. Song and presentation were one. Just like hearing Yes’s Close to the Edge via a Dictaphone would destroy the well honed presentation, thus GBV’s Echos Myron beefed up through a 48 track with some Pro-Tools action would sound ludicrous. Likewise, the spontaneity and throwaway nature of the recordings was a deliberate counterpoint to the prevailing obsession with perfection and homogeneity. Not only were songs presented as if recorded on said Dictaphone (I think in many cases they actually were) but little attention was paid to song selection or consistency. It would be reasonable to say that, in the early days at least, Robert Pollard recorded and released every vaguely musical idea that came into his head. Everything is filler, nothing is filler. No hits, no bullshit, just art and attitude. Pollard bragged about “sucking” as a band – from such a brilliant songwriter and able musician this is not self-deprecation, but a celebration and a victorious gangshout. Anyone who thinks that Stephen Malkmus can’t sing fundamentally misunderstood Pavement’s music.
Most musical genres experience their lo-fi epochs. Notable is the aggressive lo-fi ethic that casts its bleak pall over post-Darkthrone/Mayhem Black metal trve kvlt adherents. Find a dank cave, wait for the most gloomy, sleet-prone day, take your ancient Tascam 4-track, some fucked amps, some biscuit, adorn your nails and smear on some corpse paint, biscuit tins instead of drums, a couple of incantations  and a lot noise and screeching later, voila, Satan’s music. The sound of hell frozen over. Darkthrone and their progeny were hunting a sound that best describes the bleak perma-winter forests of the north. Sound and image alike aspired to the primal, elemental, frostbitten, misanthropic and hopeless – high technology have to part to play here, the sound of the forest could only be represented as physically imprinted on magnetic tape and etched into vinyl. Like the indie art brigade, music and presentation were one and the same, and as such Darkthrone never played live, in fitting with this approach.
Both camps were not eschewing technology, they were just railing against the way it was, and is wielded. But whereas an arch, knowing  and bone dry humour permeates GBV and Pavement’s music, Black Metal, in almost all its forms, is deadly serious, and utterly un-self-aware. Whereas Sebadoh and GBV can (usually) be played on an acoustics guitar, not one bit of A Blaze in the Northern Sky could be taken out of context – the thing as you hear it on tape or record is its entirety. Taylor Swift’s 12 month arena tour, public dramas, and fashion statements are every bit as part of the artistic package as each album track, which is wholly antithetical to both mentioned lo-fi movements.
I gravitate towards music and other types of art with this sort of approach (Peter Jackson’s early film making also springs to mind). Even though it often doesn’t move me emotionally, I feel heartened by the off-kilter stance and systematic belligerence. Polished and perfect is not something I’m really capable of, but still I spent many years striving for it, and berating myself for rarely achieving it. These days I welcome the dirt and pollution provided by a chaotic mind and environment, and beautiful entropy that springs only from poor mastery of my tools, pathological disorganisation, low impulse control and lack of ability to follow through. This bleeds through in every endevour I partake in, and now I’ve learned to appreciate this, I think it gives me a creative edge that other are incapable of, or are too fearful to try.
Most of the 90’s US alt mob found their way into professional recording studios eventually, somewhat negating their previous efforts. We can forgive them, since otherwise many talented musicians and songwriters would have been denied the limelight they deserved, and many listeners ignorant to the wonder of their music. Making something polished is also good if you find doing so essential, but don’t deny yourself the indulgence of spewing forth something unfinished, grubby and half-baked from time to time, or even all the time.

Pay to Win

I find myself increasingly concerned for the plight of the younger generations. The older generations, who supposedly should be benefactors, mentors, and protectors of their kids’ and grandkids’ futures are repeatedly selling out their futures in favour of short term self interest, base prejudice and ego. While they frown on the kids as video games supposedly rot their brains, those same kids rebuild the foundations of the future underneath the old guard, to the extent that (as Zuckerberg’s recent appearance in front of congress, and the world, demonstrates) they cannot, even vaguely, comprehend what is happening, so their natural instinct is to brutalise, obstruct, litigate, smear and propaganda-ise it out of existence. Recent history has shown that this will not work yet, in the meantime, the younger generations bear the financial and social brunt of their elder’s continued, and increasingly feverish and seedy hubris and ignorance.

Pay to Win by Alex Loveless - Acrylic and Mixed Media on Canvas 50cm x 50cm.

Pay to Win by Alex Loveless – Acrylic and Mixed Media on Canvas 50cm x 50cm.

I do not like this

Here’s a painting I made that I do not like. It is, of course, of me, but I only ever meant to use myself as a model. I tried to make it not look like me, but I failed repeatedly and gave up. Perhaps there’s something to be read into that. Pretty much as soon as the figure took shape on the canvas I realised I hated it. I soldiered on with anyway, in the hopes that I could coerce something more interesting, which has worked in the past, but ultimately failed at that too. In the end, I had some paint to use up which I just started chucking on in an attempt to debase the painting, a bit like Johnny Greenwood di with the crunchy guitar bits at the beginning of the chorus of Radiohead’s Creep. They hate that song and similarly I hate this picture. The difference is, this picture is unlikely to make me rich, or result in it’s name being screamed repeatedly from amongst festival crowds. I place it here in the spirit of not trying too hard to make sure everything is perfect and also in the spirit of celebrating failure. I didn’t even bother to take a decent photo of it. I am already my own worst critic, but feel free also to join be in berating this awful painting (presented as an object, not a work of art).

I Do Not Like This by Alex Loveless (2018) - Acrylic on canvas - 18" x 24"

I Do Not Like This by Alex Loveless (2018) – Acrylic on canvas – 18″ x 24″

David

This one kinda hacked and cajoled itself out of my brain. The collage base took by far the longest time. It is, without doubt, the most personal piece I have ever produced. Cathartic and therapeutic. It’s highly textured and features a variety of mediums, including Tetley tea! The colours mostly come courtesy of the fluorescent acrylics in Sennelier’s Abstract range. It does, of course, depict Karloff’s iconic Frankenstein’s creation, an analogy I sometimes gravitate to when in reflective mood.

David by Alex Loveless - Acrylic and Mixed Media on Canvas - 60cm x 90cm

David by Alex Loveless – Acrylic and Mixed Media on Canvas – 60cm x 90cm

I don’t write good?

I don’t. To do so would require the summation of a degree of attention to detail and figurative sense that I lack. I’m as bad at grammar as I am at subtle, emotive symbolism. I’m not saying i don’t recognise the existence of these things, and attempt to diligently apply them, I just lack the neurological structure to do this well and consistently. This fact used to irk me. I always saw it as weakness, or perhaps the result of incipient laziness. The result of this is that I write less than I could/should like to. Actually, I write more than ever sees the light of day, because I lack the willpower to overcome my neurological shortcomings to actually finish most of what I write and polish it to the level that I perceive as appropriate. This is a terrible shame. Whatever or not that things that I write are interesting, useful or entertaining to anyone is not really the point. Writing and sharing is a valuable way for me to manage my condition and I should not eschew any therapeutic outlet. Since the 1-standard-deviation-from-the-mean British education system squashed any likelihood that I would consider myself a decent writer since I messed up punctuation and grammar a lot (since I was more interested in writing interesting stuff that making sure I capitalised in the right place), for a large part of my life I did not consider that I could write at all. I turned to making pictures and writing code instead. Via my children, I can see that the education system hasn’t much changed. Luckily I can coach my kids to help them navigate the regression to mediocrity attitudes of the system. Essentially “play their game to the extent to which you are able, and don’t let them get you down, for the future offers a multitude of opportunities to prove them wrong”. It’s like learning to drive, you don’t really start doing it until they stop trying to teach you.

Anyway, my point is, I’ve decided to stop caring so much about getting stuff right in favour of getting stuff out there.  I think this is an important therapeutic step for me and one that has been a long time coming. It should help unshackle me a little to grow and evolve in both the creative and stylistic sense. As such, from here on, I will do only the amount of copy editing that I can muster the energy and time for at any point in time, then publish and be damned. This will lead to errors and ugliness, but also the beauty that blooms through chaos, failures, random mutations, etc. – the very process that fuels both creation and creativity.

The fact that I also lumped in something regarding figurative sense at the beginning of this then largely forgot about it has not gone unnoticed. I’m not going to fix that. I’d rather write this line, something new, than do that. Does that make you uncomfortable?

Aardvark.

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Self Portrait – Light and Dark

This self portrait was submitted to and rejected by Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year. I’m sort of glad it didn’t make the cut, as being subjected to an intense four hours of painting surrounded by onlookers and TV cameras would, I think, be a little much for my already hyperactive brain. I accompanied the image with a short (and not very erudite) commentary which I’ve included below.

Self Portrait – Light and Dark by Alex Loveless (2018)
Acrylic on Canvas

I’d recently got back into making pictures on the advice from my therapist as a great way to help keep my hectic, wondering ADHD brain in check. The 2017 season is the first Portrait Artist of the Year I’ve watched, and forced my family to watch, and my wife ‘dared’ me to make a submission. Since my last self-portrait was painted 20 years ago I had to create one especially. I actually painted two, of which this I felt was the better and the most illustrative of my style and of me as a person. Anyone who knows me knows I come in two flavours 1) dark, brooding, moody, with a love of the macabre, angry music, and all things dark and sinister and 2) passionate, enthusiastic, animated, gregarious, outgoing and optimistic. Some times you get one or the other, some times you get both at once, which is a little scary. With this portrait, which is referenced from a selfie taken on my phone, I wanted to illustrate the dark and the light that characterises me. In addition to this I love painting contract in light and colour and I really enjoyed making this.