Richard Milward at The Social
November 11, 2013 | by Faber Social
After enjoying a three-month subterranean existence pasted to the tiles of The Tunnel Gallery under Middlesbrough train station, a new series of my paintings – The Rebirth Pool – has come to The Social, London. Intended to give the viewer the sensation of licking the back of a psychoactive frog while spinning a roulette wheel that dictates your fate, The Rebirth Pool features ten illustrations twisting the mandala artwork of Hinduism and Buddhism and comprising a cast of cartoon characters, hearts, brains, eyeballs, footballs, Cupids and demons and everything in between. To be fair, the paintings probably make more sense attached to the walls of a drinking establishment than a train station serving the transpennine mainline, but from the outset the Tunnel Gallery founders have sought to bring artwork to all kinds of unexpected public wall space, for folk who might not usually visit art galleries.
Some railway urchins and adults alike tried – and failed – to tug the prints off the walls of the station, and no doubt the frames in The Social will be spattered with a variety of fluids during headier sessions, but I’m not too precious when it comes to my slapdash draughtsmanship. Compared to my novel-writing regime – which is more painstaking nowadays, and augmented by an hourly nose-blowing, hand-sanitising, toothpaste-sluicing cleansing ritual bordering on OCD – to me painting is more of a primary-coloured primal scream: an antidote, perhaps, to the precise stone-carver’s patience required to complete a novel. My hands aren’t the steadiest, I struggle with perspective and my rendered cats look like bears, but painting has a pleasing blazing effect on the eyeballs that is harder (though more satisfying) to recreate with just a rearranged alphabet on a slice of paper.
Novels emerge after years of rumination and uncertainty and rerererevision, while often artworks appear in a sudden burst of mental pyrotechnics. The Rebirth Pool came about thanks to a number of chance encounters – the chief ingredient being my brother bringing me back a hand-painted mandala from an excursion around India. Irrespective of the specific religious characters involved, the intricacy of these trance-inducing Spirograph patterns fascinates me. They’re like Magic Eye puzzles where the prize is spiritual enlightenment rather than a phantom stereogram silhouette of a vase or zoo animal. With The Rebirth Pool, I wanted to replicate the effect of the traditional mandalas, only with modern-day symbols – and otherwise spiritually outlawed intoxicants. I’m not religious, but regularly riddled with worries of what lies in wait behind the final curtain – and in turn each illustration puts the finger on some form of reincarnation or resurrection: Darwin’s theory of evolution, the saving of Middlesbrough Football Club from the snapping jaws of liquidation in 1986, the lysergic-laced awakening of hippies in the late Sixties, financial boom and bust, Victor Frankenstein’s monster, the metamorphosis of very hungry caterpillars…
Before they transmigrate to a different public wall space, the paintings feel at home in The Social, itself a transmutation of the infamous Sunday sessions held at The Albany down the road. And likewise, it’s been the Faber Social’s aim to reinvent and defibrillate literary readings, marrying as it does unusual and familiar music, prose and poetry in the cosiest, cocktail-shaken concrete bunker in central London – and it’s a pleasure to add some luminous acrylics to the brew.
The ‘rip it up and start again’ ethic has never been more relevant now the literary rulebook’s turned to kindling. The novel isn’t dead – it’s being reborn. And since the way books are presented, performed, digitised and digested is changing, it’s as good an excuse as any to come together, bridge the creative cattle grid and see what emerges in this time of flux – before the current technology dies out or mutates, and the time comes to remake, remodel, rekindle, and reinvent ourselves all over again.
The Rebirth Pool will be on display at The Social, 5 Little Portland St until December 2013. Visit The Social site for more details.