On the dancefloor, you are an individual and part of a group that has convened for the purpose of joy. A temporary coming together but no less meaningful for that. A coming together sometimes fuelled by drugs or booze; but based on something which transcends them. Dancing speaks to a much deeper need for joy; music and dance supply both of those.
The fact that the paintings are constructed from memory is important. Quite early on in my thinking about the project I was faced a with a clear choice; to go and draw in situ in clubs and then transcribe the drawings as I had done with the previous projects or to rely on memory instead. I opted for memory; not least because at least two of the venues no longer exist: The Hacienda in Manchester and Rumours in Nuneaton. I also opted to work from memory because I wanted to avoid an approach that was too documentary in nature; the minutiae of dress, environment, and milieu are much less important to me than conveying a sense of joy, passion and thrill in movement and a sense of the profound emotion in the music.
The fact that the paintings look back isn’t about nostalgia. I am not interested in evoking some lost idyll. Most of the places were dreadful if you saw them in the daylight. So, it’s about trying to create universality. Going back to Helio Oiticica’s work, he was completely wrapped up in the Samba school – but his works are still uplifting and inspirational outside of their original time and context.
Why Northern Soul? It is great! Northern Soul is music from labels such as Chess, Ric-tic, Stax, and Okeh from the 60s that didn’t enjoy commercial success at the time but became popular with DJs and dancers in the industrial North and Midlands of England in the 1970s and 80s. As an authentically working-class movement it has much in common with the rave scene of the late 80s and early 90s.
I have been listening to Northern Soul since I was a teenager and it seems that it will be a lifelong obsession. The music has a profound effect on me emotionally. I think it is something to do with its combination of despair and elation.
The tunes always make me want to dance. The paintings in the exhibition are about the joy of dancing – I love it.
I always work to music and I think there’s a connection between dancing and the way these large works are made. Their sheer size means that making them is a very physical activity that uses a lot of space and involves a lot of movement.
Hal Frazier’s ‘After closing time’ was actually the starting point for the last painting I created for the show. The lyrics planted the idea of a deserted dancefloor into my head. The image could be the dreaded moment before the lights go on – or – that moment of anticipation when you are gathering the courage to go out on to the floor.
As paintings they have very particular set of characteristics:
- Size. I like working on a huge scale. Its rather like dancing. I also like the fact that these paintings can’t be read as picture s in a conventional sense; they don’t function as ‘windows’ into which one can peer to see a scene taking place. Because they are so big, they wrap around your field of vision and function much more like colour field paintings.
- Colour which brings me to colour, The paintings are deliberately discordant. They are the colour of night clubs. Pure wonder.
- Surface. I try each time to make the painting quickly and usually fail. However it is important tome to be able to think that the painting could be complete at any time in its making. I have a tendency to over-refine and complicate things so that there often has to be a purge – a complete painting over of everything and then start again from scratch. Or a deliberate option to use the wrong colour/material// brush in order to disrupt the flow and stop them becoming pedestrian and fiddly. Some of them are painted using mops and giant floor cleaning tools. Car window squeegees and blocks of wood. Many of them have layers of collages which comes on and off. Luckily I like pentimenti.The paper ones particularly are very experimental in nature, they were initially conceived as 3m x 150cm vertical portrait oriented works and were only made in to square compositions later on the process. And then only in stages – as is evidenced by the addition of individual A1 sheets rather than large pieces of paper. This echoes the point about trying to keep the process of making as open as possible for as long as possible. This is harder to do with the canvas works which are pre prepared with hems and eyelets added by an alts tailor.
- Display Straight on the wall, with nails. Paper curling up. Why? To stress the haptic nature of the work, it’s status as an object rather than as a pictures. By displaying works in the most direct way my aim is make them occupy the same space as the viewer – like the way sculpture on the floor functions with the viewer rather than apart from them.
- Form How do you depict something that is constantly moving? Dance is inherently impossible to depict – and therefore a fractured, partial, shifting, cubistic even, approach to the depiction of form makes sense to me. When you are on a dancefloor you certainly don’t see the scene around you laid out like a freeze framed tableau. And so the figures and limbs and faces overlap and shift in scale. It is my attempt to make something that is closer to the experience of being there…
The titles, with explanatory notes:
Nightclub 1, (Saturday afternoon Northern Soul).
287x300cm, acrylic, oilbar, and charcoal on canvas fitted with eyelets, 2022 Sheffield afternoon/
Nightclub 2, (Glitterball).
300x300cm, acrylic, ink, oilbar, and collage on paper fitted with eyelets, 2022.
Nightclub 3, (Hacienda). The Hacienda was a massive part of my life until suddenly it wasn’t! it’s flats now. The legendary club is synonymous with house music but in the smaller Anthony Blunt themed room downstairs (The Gay Traitor) there was often brilliant ska and Northern soul
300x270cm, acrylic, ink, oilbar, duct tape and collage on paper fitted with eyelets, 2022.
Nightclub 4, (Absolute). Based on the 1984 video for Absolute by Scritti Politti not for the music but for the club setting in the original video which is very similar to clubs I have been in London, New York – and Coventry!
287x313cm, acrylic and charcoal on canvas fitted with eyelets, 2023.
Nightclub 5, (Empty Dance Floor, for Hal Frazier). Hal Frazier’s ‘After closing time’ was actually the starting point for the last painting I created for the show. The lyrics planted the idea of a deserted dancefloor into my head. The image could be the dreaded moment before the lights go on – or – that moment of anticipation when you are gathering the courage to go out on to the floor.
282x313cm, acrylic, charcoal, wax crayon on canvas fitted with eyelets, 2023.