Monthly Archives: August 2016

The happiness of art

Iwas just “a wee scrap”, as my father would say, when we left the north east coast of Scotland for the south coast of England. Dad is from London, but after six years living in Dundee he was pretty much bilingual.

Then he joined the army and for the next decade my brother and I were shunted around various military bases, clocking up schools and fighting over bedrooms, but the one thing that grounded us was the fact that we came from Dundee.

I learned how to be Dundonian by listening to my mother (Dundee born and bred), and from highly anticipated trips back. And I pored over The Broons andOor Wullie: iconic cartoon strips written in broad Scots that first appeared in The Sunday Post in 1936 and still come out as annuals every Christmas. My language is, I’m told, peppered with words and phrases from mid-century Dundee. “It’s like talking to my granny,” said a friend when I was last up.

Public art: the author’s Oor Wullie sculpture, which ‘snows’ when someone approaches.

So whenever I get the chance to go back, I do so in a spirit of great excitement. To my mind, Scotland’s fourth largest city has always been a little pot of gold at the end of the A92: the place where I first tasted tablet, a proper fish supper, and Scotch pies – from Doig’s, naturally. It was where my older cousin bought me my first record (“Jan-u-arry” by Pilot, second-hand from Groucho’s), where I spotted my first red squirrel but never quite caught sight of the haggis that roamed the hills.

I realise now that this impression of Dundee is not everyone’s. Often the disclosure of my birthplace is met with snorts of derision. The worst critics seem to be Dundonians themselves. Poet and musician Don Paterson describes the recent regeneration efforts as “post-apocalyptic”. ChefJeremy Lee, who admits to having a soft spot for the city, talks about “a black cloud of negativity hovering above and in many cases in it”.

But on a sunny day, with the wind behind it (so often the case), Dundee does a great long weekend – and its position just below the Cairngorms makes it a good stop-off for Highland trips. I was commissioned to make a public artwork there this summer, as part of the popular Oor Wullie Bucket Trail, and was glad of the chance to reacquaint myself with this handsome, misunderstood city.

How things have changed. Arriving by train means walking past the magnificent RRS Discovery, the tall ship in which Captain Scott travelled to the Antarctic, currently dwarfed by the adjacent building site that will, in two years’ time, become the V&A Museum of Design.

Last time I was here I built a replica of The Broons’ but ’n’ ben (their highland cottage) at the McManus, the fantastically gothic museum and art gallery. This time, continuing what has become something of a theme, I made an interactive sculpture, Oor Wullie in a 7ft snowglobe, which was duly wheeled into its temporary home at Ninewells Hospital on a surgical trolley by a consultant anaesthetist.

Ninewells arrived after I first left, and the hospital I was born in, the historic Dundee Royal Infirmary, has since become “yuppie flats”, a taxi driver told me. Doig’s, our family pie purveyor of choice, is gone. If you want a decent hit of grey meat in water-crust pastry you must go to Goodfellow & Steven on the Perth Road.

The Oor Wullie Bucket Trail has been very popular among Dundonians and tourists, with more than 50 painted sculptures of the comic-strip laddie installed all over the city, from the top of the Law to the banks of the Tay. Among them are Oor Bowie, a homage to the Starman himself, and Woodland Wullie, by the first female cartoonist at DC Thomson, who worked on The Dandy. All will be auctioned on 13 September.

Wild at heart: the famous statue of Desperate Dan. Photograph: Alamy

I often wonder if my decision to study art was somehow mixed up with Dundee. The city has long been a hub of creativity – albeit a quietly seething one. Some of the derelict jute mills are now occupied by artists and designers. It’s a little-known fact that the computer game Grand Theft Auto was created here. There’s Dundee Contemporary Arts, renowned for its exhibitions (and restaurant). And you can’t miss the statue of Desperate Dan near the Caird Hall, testament to the enduring legacy of DC Thomson’s comic heroes.

Down at the Overgate, I nipped out to the shops, dodging the giant seagulls that divebomb passers-by for their sandwiches. Inside is the biggest branch of Greggs I’ve ever seen. Maybe that explains the size of the birds. Weirdly, right next door to the shopping centre is the Howff, an atmospheric and ancient cemetery, which makes for a slightly jarring transition when stepping from one to the other: like a very dark episode of Mr Benn.

My uncle Jim once told me that a one-eyed gangster named “Och Aye’’ stalked Dundee’s badlands, but I’ve yet to spot him. He’d make a great comic strip character though.

Great art

Why do people go to art galleries? For me, it’s to improve the taste of a cup of tea.

This is something my mother taught me, early in life, about buying clothes. If you make a successful visit to a clothes shop, you can have tea and cake afterwards.

Some people evidently consider clothes shopping a pleasure in itself, but my mother was not of that school and neither am I. There’s no joy for us in schlepping up and down crowded high streets, squeezing in and out of silken disappointments. The experience is hot, dull and demoralising. (Less demoralising for my mother than me, because she’s slender and everything fits, but, like the guests at Jay Gatsby’s parties, she is both slender and easily bored.)

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So I was not brought up to believe that shopping is a viable leisure activity. It can be hell, my mother explained, but it’s a hell mitigated by the presence of cafes. I would trot happily behind her round the Brent Cross shopping centre, knowing we’d soon be sitting in Lindy’s with a cup of tea and a cheesecake (in my mother’s case, a cigarette) (and in my case, a cheesecake and a cigarette), rewarding ourselves for acquiring whatever lay in the C&A bag at our feet. Owning new clothes was, and is, exciting; the problem was the acquisition bit.

That’s all fine. I’m happy to declare it openly. Being bored by clothes shopping feels smart and intellectual: “Ooh, get me, insufficiently entertained by racks of skinny jeans; my mind is on higher things.”

Unfortunately, it isn’t on higher things. Privately, I feel the same way about art galleries. The best thing about them is the cup of tea afterwards. Its taste is improved by a sense of achievement, of a well-earned rest, of something done.

I’ve been thinking about this because of a certain Stephen Ellcock. He’s been in the news after being banned from Facebook for “breaching community standards” with a Holbein drawing of Erasmus’s hand.

Whether the disembodied hand was considered too sexy for Facebook, or too grisly, nobody knows. Facebook admitted it was a mistake and lifted the ban. The whole story has been rather useful for Mr Ellcock, as it has drawn attention to his bigger Facebook project: he is posting myriad images of artworks in an attempt to create a fully accessible cyber-gallery. Most major galleries put their collections on the internet these days, but Mr Ellcock says he hopes to build his own “online museum, in the same way Uber is a cab company without any cabs”.

I’ve had a look at the museum so far. He’s certainly energetic. On the evening of 28 August, between 7.15pm and 10.07pm, he posted a different Japanese artwork every three minutes.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of them. I liked the one of the frog. The one of the plum tree (“spans nearly sixteen feet across four sliding panels”) sounded like it would be quite impressive if you saw it in real life. On my computer it’s 5cm across.

Not that I would’ve had a more profound experience if I’d seen the original. Here are some things I have thought while standing in front of the world’s great artworks:

“So that’s the Mona Lisa. She’s got one of those flat faces like people have in old paintings. I thought it would be a bit more lifelike, more eyes-followey. I wonder what would happen if I ran at it with a marker pen. Is it someone else’s turn to stand in front of it? Shall I move? Or does that look like I’m not appreciating it properly?”

“Is Judas meant to look guiltier than the rest of them? They all look guilty! If that was a poker game I’d pick my money up and get out fast. What are they having for this supper? I can’t make it out. Is it bread rolls? It looks like bread rolls. I’d have thought bread rolls were a more recent thing. I’m hungry. I wonder if they do sandwiches.”

“Small cock. I wonder if you could do that on a 3D printer? Those veins on his arms really look like veins, I must say. I suppose while I’m here I should go round the back and look at the bum. Yes. There it is. Now what? You’re supposed to admire sculpture from all angles, otherwise people think you’re a philistine. But maybe it’s creepy to stare for ages at a nude one. I’ll go round the front again. No that’s worse.”

Is this happening in everyone’s heads? It can’t be. I can’t believe that 100% of the people who stand in art galleries looking at art are thinking: “Well, here I am, looking at art.” They must be having some sort of other, unselfconscious experience.

It’s not that I can’t find art beautiful. I just don’t know what to do, standing there in the gallery. I don’t know what to think about. Once I’ve seen it I’ve seen it; that takes about two seconds. I am interested and then immediately bored, immediately.

I think other people must have an inner calm, a serenity, which makes it possible for them to stand there without thinking about how they’re standing there. Me, it’s like I can hear a giant comedy clock ticking. It’s awful.

But I want art galleries to exist. It would be even more awful if there weren’t any. And they will close if people think they can get the same experience online. So I have to hope Stephen Ellcock’s great project is a failure: that his virtual gallery won’t do for art what Uber is doing to cabs.

I need people who love looking at art to keep going to art galleries, because otherwise I’ll have to go myself.

How to Reinvent Yourself

We all evolve. Change is an absolute. Life is about mental, physical and spiritual growth. The more introspection, the faster there is growth. Sometimes we need to accelerate our growth and this may require reinvention.

Reinvention usually comes from immediate need. You may have the need to overcome great hardship, to prove yourself to yourself or others, or you may need to live a better life. Marriage, divorce, separation, addiction, cancer, near death, new job, failing business, and bankruptcy can all facilitate swift change in one’s mindset.

We all evolve. Change is an absolute. Life is about mental, physical and spiritual growth

Multiple times in a lifetime, most humans need reinvention. The transition from infancy to early childhood is a great time to showcase your character. Reinvention. The only child that suddenly has a baby brother and needs more attention comes to mind. Reinvention. Teenagers are desperately seeking change to find their adult identity. Reinvention. Turning 30 will get most of us to start taking life more seriously. Reinvention. Millions seek change when they turn 40 or 50. This mid-life crisis can be the embryo of a new red corvette, sleek yacht, complete makeover or even a new significant other. Reinvention. Approaching the backside of life can be scary. Hustling to check off your bucket list can be disturbing for your long-time loved ones. However, sometimes we just need to reinvent ourselves.

Miley Cyrus needed change. Her Hannah Montana character with Disney was a huge hit. It was an American television series that originally aired on the Disney Channel from March 24, 2006 until January 16, 2011. It aired 98 episodes across four seasons and launched the young actress into the minds of millions of fans.

As Miley matured, the persona of Hannah Montana and the responsibility to millions of fans and their parents became overwhelming. Miley was not Hannah. Miley needed swift change to showcase her adulthood, her sexuality and her new way of thinking and acting. So she shocked the public with her VMA Award Show performance that blasted through social media as her Hannah Montana persona was publically eliminated forever. Her sexually charged dance moves swept her directly into the adult marketplace, catapulted her on to magazines covers, Saturday Night Live television, the Jimmy Fallon Show, and launched a #1 selling album. Reinvention came overnight like a FedEx package.

The list of reinvention in the entertainment industry is a long one. Hip Hop artist Snoop Dogg legally changed his name to Snoop Lion and reinvented himself as a Bob Marley clone with his latest reggae-sounding album appropriately titled, Reincarnated.

Even though Ben Affleck won a best original screenplay Oscar with pal Matt Damon for Good Will Hunting, he wasn’t always taken seriously in showbiz thanks to his personal life and some dubious film choices. However, the now husband and father began taking on respected projects such as The Town and Argo, which earned Affleck his second Oscar.

Mark Wahlberg had many legal troubles as a teen growing up in Boston. He became Marky Mark with the Funky Bunch in 1991 releasing his hit album, Good Vibrations. He reinvented from a troubled past and Marky Mark of the Funky Bunch into a serious actor, appearing in films such asBoogie Nights and The Fighter. Now with the blockbuster-hit movie Ted, he has showcased his comedic side with one of his best starring roles. He’s even the executive producer of Entourageand How to Make It Happen in America.

Former Mouseketeer Justin Timberlake went from one-fifth of the boy band *N Sync to a solo force of nature with success in music, business ventures and acting.

Arnold Schwarzenegger went from being a professional bodybuilder and starring in movies such as The Terminator and Predator to serving two terms as the governor of California. Reinvention is at the top of his list now after a failed marriage, fathering a child with his housekeeper, and no longer being a physical force of nature.

Reinvention is a way to take charge of your life. If you are going down a pathway that is wrong for you, make a change. Here are 10 ways to reinvent yourself.

1. See the new you. Envision the new you. See in your mind how you want your friends, family and work associates as they react to the new you.

2. Sell you on the New YOU. Change your inner dialogue. Talk to yourself in the most positive manner. Never put yourself down. Always encourage. Write a brief 60-second commercial on the awesomeness of you. Open this monologue with a power statement and be sure and showcase all of your strengths. Now in private, deliver this speech to the universe with passion and confidence. Repetition will facilitate a quicker change. The greatest sales job is selling you on you.

3. Be patient. Do not be in a rush to make drastic change. And even if you do, be patient in the desired results. Positive change in how others respond may take more time than you think.

4. Change your Seeables. Spruce up your closets, bathroom, bedroom, garage, car and personal wardrobe. Everything that you see and other people see on a daily basis needs an upgrade.

5. Deal from strength. Every champion that I have coached to a world title built their success on what they do best. Leading with your strengths will give you the confidence to facilitate swift change. Find your niche strengths. Assess what you do well and compare this to your competition. What comes naturally? What is easy for you? These are your special gifts that you’ve inherited or honed. Now develop them further. Understand what people compliment the most about you. These may be a strength you haven’t realized.

6. Find your purpose. This may take more time than you like. If you will relax and just ask this question, “What is my purpose in life?” for 7-10 days every night before you go to sleep, the answer will appear. Trust me.

Reinvention is a way to take charge of your life

7. Take down the rearview mirror. The best in the world only go into the past for analysis, evaluation and swift learning. And with a solid plan of where they want to go, they stay focused in the moment. Keep your eye on the horizon.