I often make a point of not talking about what I make and why I make it. Sometimes it’s because it’s from a personal memory, a lot of the time it is because there isn’t a lot pre-meditated reasoning behind the image and some of the time it’s just bloody obvious what the heck I’m going on about.
I’m still very new to this whole art scenario… sometimes I think it more-so an art facade. I’d go so far as to say I’m still in my infancy when it comes to being productively creative. I’ve always thought in a creative fashion but it is only recently I’ve had physical artefacts to show for it. This means that most of the outcomes have been driven by a desire to discover the process with the outcome being less crucial. Recently though I took on a project to make a creative artefact (I really do prefer that term over the simple definition of “making art”) and due to other circumstances, the project ended up taking four months to physically complete. This gave me a lot of time to decide, over-think, change and develop my ideas and motives for what I was making.
Firstly this is what I made:
Now I’ve spent many hours scouring the internet and while I’ve seen a few beautifully carved guitars and basses (google “Lemmy Carved Bass” and you’ll see what I mean) I am yet to find anyone who has used a wooden guitar body as the matrix for producing relief prints and or woodcuts. It would be nice to think that I have done something that hasn’t been done before but the flipside to this is that I deliberately decided with this woodcut to do what has been done in art and more so in music since the dawn of time… I was going embody the idea of the modern guitar with the everyday spirit of appropriation. I knew at the outset that this idea would be a minefield and it was…
I’m still unsure as to whether it worked too?
…and here in lies the core of this rant/blog post, My attempt to understand if my motives for the making of this piece of art were right or wrong, honorable or misguided? This text is my attempt to lay all of these thoughts to rest so I can move on.
Even before taking up not one but two creative hobbies a few years ago (I also learnt how to play drums a bit before learning woodcuts) I have, like a lot of people considered the issue of originality in art. Some could say the Ramones are considered originators of a certain kind of sound. Others will claim the Ramones to be pretty unoriginal in their creation of modern music. The Ramones can also be credited for creating thousands of copycat “punk” bands. Are the musical offspring of the Ramones original in their composition of songs? Maybe. Are they original in the spirit of the sound? You would hope so. While that example is easily debatable, what isn’t debated is that it is never frowned upon when musicians learn their craft by copying, ripping off and appropriating the music they love. Even down to its requisite components, the guitarist didn’t invent the chords played, the drummer probably hits his snare on the third beat of the bar like everyone else and the singer probably saves that knock out lyric for the chorus… like everyone else. In the end (at least with a lot of music) the line between original and copied is grey, blurred and of no interest to most listeners except those who don’t like the copied item in question.
So does visual art live in an equal (if not parallel) world of perceived originality? Right now, I actually don’t think it does… It seems to me that originality in the visual arts is a much greater minefield for those who choose to create. I can only assume that’s why visual arts have a whole stream labelled as ‘Appropriationist Art’.
Only one person wrote ‘Stairway To Heaven’ but one million people probably know how to play it. Only one person painted The Mona Lisa but I can’t see 1 million people being allowed to repaint it for others to see.
After almost four years of trying to “find my voice” and attempting to create “something original” – I decided to take the spirit of the guitar – a copied tool, it’s working-class creed of “you only need three chords to use it” and my personal feelings on what music has done for my life and my growth as a person. I then decided to mesh that with the art that inspires me and place that art into the referential context of the music most guitars probably make.
Now I guess I need to add to all this that the guitar-woodcut wasn’t even my initial idea. Tim Brennan of Tym Guitars dreamt it up and asked me if I was interested in the project that would culminate with a framed print from the guitar body and a fully functioning, playable guitar. It was such a cool and crazy idea that I had to do it! As for any measurements of success? That’s ultimately for others to answer.
Here’s the background to the woodcut print ‘Giant Sounds Save Lives’.
The world is colour and I have always loved when people can distil that down to black and white, the skeleton of something, the punchline. A meaningful message with the minimum of information. That’s why I love Mike Giant and that’s why I love his art. It’s the culture and stories he communicates that make his illustrations so cool (to me). It’s Mike Giant you can see in the two skulls.
Article about Durer’s Woodcut
Albrecht Durer. The first time I realised what a woodcut was, was when I was holding an Albrecht Durer book. A singular drawing suddenly became a three-dimensional object and the craft of what was there suddenly became the art of what was not there. I’ve been hooked on relief art from that moment on. The backgrounds of Durer’s images have been my favourite parts of his work, not the protagonists but the landscapes that frame the image. It’s Albrecht Durer you can see in the ominous sky closing in.
When I take a moment to think about it, of the 12 or so tattoos I have on my body, not one of them is original. In fact, I would go so far as to speculate that over 50% of the tattoos in the world are not original art, they are copies off flash pages, copied from folklore, and in particular taken from other forms of art and reproduced. It’s an interesting paradigm that no one ever blinks at seeing a swallow or star or skull tattooed on someone even though that same image can be found so many times over. As far as I’m concerned, it’s only in the last 20 years that tattooing has become an art form of originality. I love my tattoos (well most of them) and am greatly inspired by the medium. It is flash art and tattooing you can see in the song of the swallow and the scrolls of text.
As I explained in more detail in a previous post, I started researching this woodcut early into the year. I narrowed at least 10 different ideas down to three designs. I scrapped all three of those designs and worked on assembling this design. Carving started in February and was completed in May. That’s how long I had to consider what it was I was doing and what it would produce. And, I’ll add, it’s not like I just photoshopped or photocopied a few pictures together over lunch one day. It took me several years of practice and months of hours to hand-carve the woodblock. Durer never carved his own blocks and I do have to think that the manual labour and skill counts for something in the creation of this image
I very vividly remember finishing the block as the sun set on a Sunday afternoon. Monday morning, all giddy with excitement I got up and set up to do my first test prints. That moment when you pull the first print from the block and find out if all that effort was worth it or not is the best part of the whole process. You know how I felt looking at those first prints… I felt awful and rued the whole process. Why? Because I felt that I had failed in my original goals and this lead to fearing the scorn of others due to opinions of originality and motive. I knew my motives and I knew others didn’t! Maybe this long-winded explanations exists to negate some of those fears?
It’s taken me another four months to consider these said motives and assess what I made and I still believe that initial gut feeling to be an honest reaction but I’ve come to also believe that I’ve created something unique. And now that it’s all done and in the hands of others how do I feel about what I’ve made? Well, mixed feelings at best. I do know that I have learned a lot from the experience. I try to think of this quote by film director Jim Jarmush when considering this whole experience…
… Trying to be original is hard. It’s really, really hard. Trying to be both original and referential at the same time – trying to knowingly incorporate existing culture in the creation of culture is so much harder still. One of my good friends tells me not to be so critical and loves mentioning all those bands I love that sound just like the bands that came before them – and how did I find out about early punk, rock and the blues… by those musicians who appropriated earlier music and attempted to make it their own.
This has been a really worthwhile project and easily the most educational creative artefact I’ve made to date. I’m glad I did it and I’m glad I will not try to do it again!
Thanks for reading.