Creating purpose and meaning in painting can be problematic. My first big circumcision painting has all sorts of possible meanings – process is more important to me than product, so I will relate how this painting came about before suggesting it’s potential meaning.
My current studio is large by comparison to it’s predecessors. Whenever I start in a new gaff, I always do some still-life painting. I made some small works – tight Realism, not healthy. I decided to do something more ambitious and celebratory, setting up an 8 x 4ft canvas. Then spent several weeks thinking about it.
David Cockney was born in front of this canvas – within the sound of Bow bells! I started work on the big knob-chop painting without knowing what I was doing. A concept often cited by Ian Cavens, a young man from Edinburgh who did print-making at the RCA following studies at Winchester School of Art. Meditating in front of the canvas, I arranged my paints in a semi-circle, donned a blind-fold and started work. I wanted to know what it is like to not rely on visual feedback. The result? a bit crazy, a bit messy.
After casting my blind-fold aside the painting gained momentum. For inspiration I used three tiny studies and a collection of black and white paintings done at Fentiman Road in 1983. When I showed these to our teenage son he said ‘They look like they were done by a psychopath’. Which pleased me, even more so when he said he thought they were made recently.
I did these paintings, sometimes, after spending a day drawing at the Royal Academy Schools. Ten hours of scratching a sheet of cartridge paper in response to a naked maiden and her contumely – resulted in a build-up of psychosomatic tension (best relieved by copious amounts of alcohol or rampant sexual activity or both) OR by going beserk with a loaded paint-brush in a leaky flat in South London.
This violent gestural rant (which is what ‘My first big circumcision painting’ really is) – expresses not a scream, but the well nuanced snarls of a beast with distemper. I was circumcised whilst I was a toddler. My mother neglected me, I had an ‘accident’ and was isolated in hospital for three weeks. They say ‘being cut’ has all sorts of knock-on psychological consequences including suppressed anger. Male circumcision (MGM) is as much a political issue as FGM, though in today’s lop-sided, increasingly misandrist World – this is refuted by the ‘Woke’ wankers (see ‘First cut is the deepest’ in Peter Lloyd’s book ‘Stand by Your Manhood’) I have scores to settle and painting is one way of doing this.
Angry brush work is almost as prosaic as trashing your opponent in a martial arts competition or a street fight – and less risky. I like using the human penis as a symbol of male defiance. Look around you – cocks are everywhere. Silently proclaiming their right to be in this World. The artists who draw them? don’t seek fame or fortune. Graffiti is graffiti – that’s all it is. In this work I deliberately painted some willys, just for the hell of it. The one at the top left had a spray of blood red paint going on, making me realise the anger felt about circumcision is what this painting is about – amongst other things. It’s also a liberation, freeing myself from the stupid conformities of Realism, figuration and the need for pleasantry. I like the colour, it is balanced and joyous.