Full Moon in Aries

imageToday was a strange day. I went to the Hunterian Museum at The Royal College of Surgeons and in the exhibits saw many examples of terrible human pain, but also of the transcendental beauty of life. A little later I went to an exhibition on the history of Bedlam which included art work created by the mentally ill; more suffering and again, more incredible beauty.

The person who was supposed to be spending the day with me has disappeared into a work bubble that pushes aside everything else and warrants no disturbance even for love and adventure.

Today has been about walking and looking, and thinking.

Age is an odd thing. One minute I was a disturbed teenager, struggling with huge emotional pain and fighting to survive and make sense of my place in the world. I surface from this mire, and thirty years have slipped by.

I have become a different person who has learned to swim in shallow safer waters and time suddenly seems too short to try and do everything I feel I need to achieve.

I see photographs of people I haven’t seen for years and they are now a different shape; bigger, smaller or simply more cylindrical. They have less teeth,less hair,more lines and more focus on their physical limitations.

Children I knew are now adults with progeny of their own,and illnesses that made me fear for my mortality twenty years ago, don’t seem such an issue now.

I sit in trains that pass multitudes of houses and think how every one of those homes hold lives that have experienced so much even if it was ‘just’ the beige carpet 9–5 lives of proverbial quiet desperation.

I want to shake people to say grab the opportunities, change things, love, take risks. Don’t simply wait till pain and chance follow their natural inclinations, but twist the skein and the weave a little, to make something that shimmers and shines.

However I admit being a fast moving hamster who has failed meditation lessons. I’m no longer frightened but simply in a hurry, so every moment becomes of maximum importance.

I have no goals, no particular direction, just the knowledge that as so much falls away in importance: the hang ups with looks; the focus on weight and with worrying what people think; something new rises to the forefront and that what really matters, is to live every moment in entirety.

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Interview with Art Dealer and Gallery Owner, Stephen Romano


 Stephen Romano (extreme left) with Joe Coleman and friends at the opening reception of ‘Opus Hypnogogia’.

So what makes art dealers select the pieces that they do? Commercial instinct? A certain aesthetic?
In many spheres, art is simply, all about the money. Money for investment, money to launder and money to translate into status. However, there must be some collectors who are in it for more than just financial gain or its associative power, or am I a deluded idealist, destined to starve in an attic rather than ‘get real’.
I have noticed that there are collectors of both art and antiquities that gravitate towards the indefinable, not the object itself but the feel of the object. I do it myself with bones and found items, opening myself up to what is contained rather than the container.
I talked once to a very urbane, very important antiquities dealer about this after I’d wandered through a 4 story Georgian house that contained just a fraction of his collection.
I presented my own experiences to him of going for the feel rather than the outward appearance, and he said he did the same.
In the antiques trade it is called having ‘the eye’, the ability to see beyond.
However, in art as with antiquities there are those who are in it purely for financial gain, and there are those that walk in their world for love, but balance their collecting with a professionalism that communicates their passion and makes its perpetuation possible.
I’ve come across reference to Stephen Romano’s Gallery and the artists exhibited there on various occasions. Although there was an eclecticism in the work shown, there was also a continuing thread of power and spirituality in all the work displayed.
While I was in New York we had tried to meet up to talk further but circumstances thwarted us. Thus I’d initially tried to interview Stephen in a more formal manner via e mail, but I can get over excitable and avalanche people with words and as someone who likes to think before he replies (unlike hyper reactive me) we decided to have a more relaxed approach so we conversed over a meandering face book message thread.
I’ve  removed many of my interruptions and comments from the following, as they interfered with the flow of the discussion.

Where are you from originally?
Montreal I guess, hard to draw a line where the story begins, so perhaps best to say Canada.

How long has art been part of your journey?
I’ve been drawing since I was 2. I had an aunt who was a successful Canadian abstract artist, she would bring me books on Durer, Bosch, Rembrandt and Dali. She encouraged me, enriched me. I always knew that I was going to be an artist, there was never any doubt.

She sounds a gift of a woman!
I struggled through high school as an outsider, I was in bands and stuff.

As a singer or a musician?
Singer…just always trying to find my place.

I could never get that ‘school-days are the best days of your life’ rubbish…
I was banging my head against the wall and then found the works of Anton LaVey when I was 13 or 14 which was a shot in the arm for my morale, and a huge affirmation for me.
Then later I went to community college and met ‘a master’ Ray Robinson who introduced me to deeper stuff, Castaneda, Shree Rajneesh and de Chardin.
Anyway, all the while the goal was to become a practising artist, which I did well into my 30’s. Then I hit my endgame, I was making black squares, essentially filled with rhetoric. So I went off into the world of art dealing. I just disengaged my passion for making art altogether.

Was the art you were creating spiritual?
The art? No more like Ad Reinhardt and Gerhard Mertz. ThinkArt!

Wow- was that change of directions difficult or just a transference of creativity?
Totally hard. Like a withdrawal from heroin. It was in my blood but I was tired of living a marginalized life, somehow art dealing was more empowering, so I apprenticed with a few major people, learned the ropes and the game and ten years later I was a private art dealer, doing well.

So what did these major people teach you?
Presentation is everything.
Know your facts all the way down the line.
Life is once, show up for it.
Always have the artist’s integrity at the forefront.
Don’t try to sell your friendship, sell the work.
Only present works you would want for yourself.

You love what you do?
Sure of course. It’s all I think about, that’s how I got to here.

Or is it just a job?
It’s not a job at all. I don’t even remotely think in that way. I had a job once, it was awful.

So what presses your buttons? From what I have seen of the art that you gravitate towards, there is a real mysticism and power in what you’re attracted to?
I have a background in contemporary but also Outsider and folk art, vernacular art. To me the whole thing is about, self-perpetuation and expanding your boundaries. Going through dark waters to find one truer light. An awakening, otherwise we are just specimens of a species that procreates and produces fertiliser. What sets us up from the other animals basically is our ability to perpetuate our intellect into the realms of the esoteric, the spiritual, the meta.
Now I would argue apes and dolphins and whales and others have the ability to do that as well and are as soulful as we are, more actually. The highest order of sentient beings is not actually man but as a generalised self-referential concept, let’s just start with that.
So…here’s my pitch.
Given the vastness of space, that we live in a universe that has no known boundary, the concept of the scale of spatial infinity is one that does JUST fit into our brains. I’m talking about the actual known cosmic space, not internal universe and the vastness of the breadth of time. That… what is it…12 billion years since the big bang theory, and we aren’t even sure of that any more. Time will flow infinitely into the future regardless of whether we survive as a species or not.
So we live for a very brief time, in a very microcosmic space.

O yes, life is so very, very short.
Given that realisation, one would be likely to succumb to despair and the hopelessness of our existence yeah?

Depends on who you are
Yeah, yeah, but I mean the average person or the general population, not the exceptions.

So what is the purpose? Well in my experience and that’s all I’m talking about anyway, what sustains me out of that angst is the need for self-actualisation, the perpetuation of the spiritual, contact with the higher order.

I relate!
And that to me is achieved through culture, specifically the visual arts. I consider the visual arts to be the jewel in the crown of our cultural achievements, I mean you don’t go to The Met to go shopping, you go for self-enrichment. I mean you COULD I guess, but you’d be missing the point. So there we are face to face with a great art work, having a primary experience with the real thing, not the JPEG. And we are so humbled that for 5 seconds we manage to turn off our internal dialogue lose our self-importance and be in the NOW and somehow through this experience we get a sense, maybe on an intuitive level I don’t know, that our potential as a species is so much greater. It is what de Chardin would call a ‘Biophilic’ moment as opposed to say, looking at something that dumb’s down our perceptual senses which I would call a ‘necrophilic’ moment, one that embraces the death of the psyche.

Like TV?
Sure, or Andy Warhol, or Jeff Koons not that I dislike them particularly, for me, and here’s where it gets beautiful, for me the TRUE artist has a shamanistic role to perpetuate the sense of hope and optimism and love and unity in our culture. To reintroduce and re inject the sense of magic, THAT is the true artist to me, not the showman.

Agreed but in my mind to also guide through the hopes and fears and taboos.
The ones who want fame and money and to be irreverent, again I don’t hate those guys I just don’t take them seriously. The true artist, they are the ones who will perpetuate a culture of good will, who will unlock our greater potential those are the artists that I love.

You’re walking a fine line here between the worlds. Visible/Invisible, corporate/counter-culture
O well, the true warrior, let me find the exact quote, it’s magnificent.

‘The art of the true warrior is to balance the terror of being alive, with the wonder of being alive’ Carlos Castaneda

Perfect! I stagger continuously between the two…
The great art is nothing more than that IMHO
The true artist…the work they make, is in itself not a representation of secondary experience. That art doesn’t interest me, it is primary experience in and of itself. An act of magic; the artist takes a strand, socially, politically and spiritually.

Okay, so if you perceive the true artist to be a shaman, what is the role of the curator and the art dealer?
The presenter, nothing more (or less hahaha)

Surely if you think in those terms, you see yourself as going from being a shaman to a presenter which isn’t perhaps emotionally affirming, though perhaps more materially so?
That’s difficult to comment on, and sometimes there is an itch under my skin to return to art making, like heading into an electromagnetic storm, but my sense of self-preservation redirects me!

O creating is a bloody descent, no two ways about it- when I stopped using drugs/drinking, my artistic process was terrifying as it was such an emotional and spiritual rock and roll of a journey, that often threatened my sobriety.
I’ve been clean and sober for 28 years.

Wow…only 20 years for me! So was getting sober part of your reason for changing your creative direction?
I guess…or part of it.

At this point Stephen and I went off on various tangents before he took me on a journey of some of the art that has passed through his hands, ‘a quick tour’ as he says. An incredibly intense quick tour as all the work affected me, whether I liked the specific piece or not, and although he recently shut his Gallery he seems to be incredibly busy for the next year or so, with various art related activities at a level way beyond my ken.
However, Stephen does talk of the Gallery ‘being an ecosystem of artists, enthusiasts, collectors, writers and of course what goes on the walls’ and ‘the plays within plays that occur within the exhibition space’ and he obviously genuinely loved his Brooklyn Gallery, although is philosophical about its shutting.
Somehow, I can’t see Stephen Romano not having his own Gallery to work magic in, for very long.



Anonymous Spirit Photo, mid Western American, c 1880.


Wolfgang Grasse ‘Merry Go Round’ 2000


William Mortenson ‘Preparation for the Sabboth’ c 1930, manipulated photograph.




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Making My Mark


It’s been two weeks since my return from New York and I’m slipping back into my usual, mundane reality. It wasn’t until I returned to England that I clicked that, hey, I essentially was paid to go to New York.

It was a huge realisation.

My explorations of the city alternated with recording the arts blog that my grant required, meeting and interviewing people, and preparing for the talk at the Museum of Morbid Anatomy. I’d be up at two in the morning writing,  and would find myself thinking, have I got some sort of problem, some sort of pathological issue that means even a holiday has to have a ulterior purpose that creates the need for me to work constantly.

When I had the revelation that essentially I was being financially compensated to do what I loved doing, it was overwhelming and wonderful.

Okay the money didn’t quite cover costs, but at this point of elation I’m not going to quibble.

This turning point has been recorded in the appropriate manner, with a new tattoo.

Years ago rites of passage for me were marked by scars. I had drugs to spend my money on, so tattoo work wasn’t an option.

That changed when I got sober.

The first tattoo I had done was a pentagram at the base of my spine to protect me, which also laid to rest a particularly nasty attack I suffered just before I cleaned up.

Further tattoos developed from there. Every one was a talisman, marked a rite of passage or honoured someone I loved who had died.

Someone in A.A said to me once that they were just another form of self harm. I looked at the burns on my arms, the scars on my wrists, the still visible abscess and track marks and remember who I was when I did that to myself.

No comparison.

Each tattoo acknowledges the emergence of an aspect of my self that I love, like and respect.

So now I have a badger tattoo on my arm; a feisty, powerful psychopomp that marks another forward journey, and its permanent companionship for me on many more adventures.

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Art, Activism, Success and Aging


Anyone with the drive, focus, energy and passion to make it in New York, deserves kudos. If they keep a sense of of morality, self and spirit intact, all the more power to them.

This is a driven city, and when they say it never sleeps it is partially because there is no time to rest if you want to get things done.

Yesterday was my usual art gallery/museum day (more on that in another blog) though I started with a bit of out the window ‘entertainment’ whilst having breakfast, as three large policemen and two police vans surrounded a woman in her car for an hour or so. When that weirdness finished a large man in a huge black car, drove by taking photographs of me smoking on the balcony before conducting a conversation with me, still on said balcony, (there was no way that I was letting him in). He said that he was from a mortgage company checking occupancy on the house I was staying in. Airbnb provides yet another interesting accommodation experience.

Anyway I closed my day with a visit to Williamsburg Music Hall to see Psychic TV’s Alienist Record Release show, which also included performances by Lydia Lunch and RETROVIRUS and Forma.

I staggered out of the theatre at two in the morning, had a magical mystery subway adventure for an hour or so until I discovered the trains weren’t running to Newark. Five in the morning saw me finally arriving home in a dodgy black cab held together with jump leads, driven by a obese man in a djellaba, seemingly in the advanced stages of emphysema.

Okay digression aside. Lets talk about the concert.

Lydia Lunch and Gen. P. Orridge are both of a similar generation to myself; I grew up to their music. Lydia’s art was goth punk street fighting and strong feminism, ground in dirt and blood and spunk.

Gen. P Orridge was magic and art combined. Cutting edge, mind bending, magical subversion. Together with Modern Primitives, William Burroughs and a mash up of counter cultural expressions that ranged from cut ups to NLP, they were very much part of the radical self expression of the 80’s.

You see the 1980’s was considered to be a pre -Apocalyptical era. Everything was dark and crazy and we were protesting oppression through art…be it ‘zines, industrial music, tattoos piercings and body mods, creative political protest or new ways of presenting subversive imagery and art.

There are a lot of comparisons of that era to this. A feeling of being controlled, of rising right wing elements and an increasingly abusive power structure.

In my presentations I often pose the question, how do the younger generation react to what is happening in this world? How is it reflected in their art? The present generation’s tools are different than my era’s were, but in many ways we had more freedom to express ourselves.

We could drop out, live in squats, have habits, exist on subsistence level, and make art.

This really isn’t an option for a younger generation, especially in places such as London and New York, and if it does happen, it’s more difficult not to simply drop through the cracks and disappear.

This ramble is leading somewhere by the way!

I’m going to talk about a concert where two of my peers, now older and more conventionally established, were performing and how their art seems to have progressed in the face of success. Success of course being subjective. They’ve survived and make a living out of their art work, which in my mind is success.

The first band Forma, are a young American electronic band and were superb. A New Yorker I attended the concert with said this was more typical of the New York sound; electronic, high quality, dance.

Then Lydia Lunch and RetroVIRUS came on. She was magnificent. Using words, music, imagery and hard punches she knocked down the establishment on every level. Contemporary politics, gender issues, sexuality…it was all looked at, packaged into hard hitting art, then thrown at the audience who grabbed at it without really knowing what they were receiving I suspect.

She squatted at the side of the stage smoking a cigarette taken from her large red handbag which was sitting by the drum kit; heavy bosomed, dressed in black and completely magnificent.

Then onto Psychic TV. Gen P Orridge is the master of manipulating, subverting and reflecting modernity. From her work with Burroughs, Gysin, Tibetan Buddhism and TOPY her genre spans music, film, art and her own body and sexual and emotional expressions.

Okay she is now being exhibited in major galleries, and photographed for advertising campaigns for Marc Jacobs and I read somewhere that she was at a party recently with Donald Trump’s daughter…has age have diluted her?

A resounding NO! The light show which integrated dream machine like strobing, cut ups and subliminals was fantastic. The band were great and technically superb as well as being fun, subversive and politically outspoken , making particular reference to the North Dakota pipeline.

I think most artists would agree that art work changes with the focus and perception of the viewer and a savvy artist can use this to raise and change consciousness.

All of the performers at the Williamsburg Music Hall worked with this premise of manipulating the audiences consciousness. Forma did it for dance, and Lydia Lunch and Psychic TV did it for love, radical transformation and good old fashioned kick-arse art.

The tickets were cheap too, which is a subversion in itself.


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Appreciation of the Surface, Analysis of the Underpinnings.

imageThe usual constant sirens of Newark have blended into my personal background noise now as I’ve become used to them, although the occasional low flying helicopter at three in the morning can jar me a little.

I’ve also become more immune to the huge presence of armed and armoured police but still get a little shaken when they’re joined by multiple camouflage wearing soldiers as they were at Grand Central Station yesterday.

All up New York is a fantastic sensory inundation but as I’m here to work, my mind shuffles between appreciation of the surface and over analysis of the underpinnings.

I’ve been racing between galleries and urban expressions of art, between watching New York Fashion Week posers and the awful poverty of the street people that surround them, between appreciating the openness and warmth of complete strangers communicating on the metro and the contrast of the woman in £1000 Louboutin shoes shoving a wad of notes in the side of a legless homeless man’s wheelchair before she climbed in a limo.

It is all part of a dance, and the joy and difficulty lies in find the rhythm to follow the music without getting lost in my head and tripping up over my feet.

Yesterday I wandered in areas where art was about corporate investment, and found out that most of the street art in the city is now sponsored. However I also met up with the executive director of Visual AIDS who showed that it was possible to straddle the worlds of professionalism and financial awareness, and be involved in creative processes that have morality and ability to effect positive progressive change.

As I caught my train back to Newark last night ( missing my stop and ending up in Princeton, but that’s the nature of my personal musing process) I was stunned and a little down and disillusioned but today all has been processed and assimilated and I’m ready to explore and adventure once more.

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Chaos, Adventure, Travel and the Spaces In Between.

image.jpegSo I’m experiencing my first trip to New York and in time honoured, ‘make things more difficult for myself’ manner, I have added some extra stimulus.

I was asked to speak at ‘The Museum of Morbid Anatomy’ and accepted before I realised, hey, I have no money.

A mad scramble and my first attempt at an arts funding application paid off, and an a-n travel bursary ensured that my basic costs would be covered.

Still needing to travel however on a strict budget, I found cheaper accommodation in Newark, a place my obsession with the series ‘The Wire’ inadvertently acted as preparation for.

The host of the home my companion and I are staying in was welcoming and all the basics are covered; rodent repellant plugs are scattered liberally throughout the house, there is a working fridge next to the mouldy one, and the living room has two enormous TV’s with surround sound.

My travelling companion hasn’t brought her phone so her partner contacts her via WhatsApp on my phone. She regularly receives loving and supportive texts from her beloved while my paramour occasionally sends me a London weather report and images of his Soho indulgences.

All of these details aside, the city is amazing. It’s steaming hot, I’ve managed to instinctively negotiate the subway system though still creating a chaotic adventure out of every journey, and everything is a larger than life sensory overload that is art encapsulated.

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Love Never Dies, It Just Changes Shape.


We are born, we live and we die. In between there lies love and pain and joy, but also events that are portals: points of initiation that transform us.

As anyone who reads this blog may have noticed, I’ve been wading in murky emotional waters lately.

Struggling along in the mire I was started to feel as if I was becoming a miserable and mirthless old git, when my Facebook feed posted a ‘memory’ from six years ago.

It was a photograph of me with my mother, taken several weeks before she died.

The weeks after the photo was taken were mad. An emergency flight to Singapore, followed by a five day vigil in Intensive Care where my sister, my stepfather and myself surrounded my mother with love and support in the final stages of her life.

Recalling these memories I realised, as I always eventually realise at this time of the year, that memory is remembered in our body, in our deep emotions, long before our cognitive process recognises it.

A mother dying, no matter how fractious the relationship, rips apart the foundation of our reality. Where we come from no longer seems to exist. Unconditional love is gone. Suddenly all that remains is our own ability to define ourselves.

This is one of life’s great initiations: losing our point of entrance to reality, and choosing to create our own.

The other initiation, is being present at a death. Guiding someone we love into as good and gentle death as possible, is the inverse of a birth and in many ways just as important as part of ourselves is also lost and needs to be restructured.

Remembering that near six years ago, my life shifted dramatically and that I watched aspects of myself crumble away,  it doesn’t seem so strange anymore that life is presently rocky.

After my mother died, I fell apart but my creative process and outlets, rebuilt me into who I was supposed to be.

Love never dies, it just changes shape.

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