“Two by Two”

June 30, 2013

“Painting Animals”, the latest issue of Antennae, contains a short piece I wrote on The Red Paintings’ Animal Rebellion marches [pdf].

Antennae 25 cover

The Revolution has finally come, as well, and is being enthusiastically reviewed.



Things fell into line for this gambit with an undeniable sense of providence. There were sacrifices, of course, but none that can’t be resurrected. I pushed on past the insecure start, doubled down on anxieties and learned to bear exposure. What kept lulls and doubts from becoming terminal was the continual challenges: to write automatic scrawl and graffiti; to tack back again, compose lucid and deliberate sentences; to swap pen for metal keys, those for brush and scissors; to let the void have its way. That and the manic impulsion of the band who endured me poaching in their slipstream. A minor satellite, I observed and absorbed the dialectic of discipline and madness, as frenzies of organisation unleashed frenzies of creation.

As an experiment in technique, it gave the charged occasion to test methods and materials foreign to the desk and laptop routine. I played surrealist games, mocked them and myself, then forged on again in earnest intensity. Writing was driven by concepts and form, by circumstance and materials. I worked with my hands on obstinate fabrics and mashed theories of perception with my short-circuiting brain. Images emerging from others’ paintwork sent shivers through surfacing words. Fuses were lit among myselves, scales tipped and triggers pulled. There were degrees of sobriety equipping various postures. I practiced a risky ascetics, emptied myself of certain expectations while gambling myself in pursuit of others.

I constructed a phantastic colour organ in which every key is black.

Now comes the difficult follow through, moving from method to results. There is enough material and ideas to sustain the project, an ergodic novel of collated documents and testimonies. The Black Paintings will confront synesthesia, aesthetics and disorders of sensation, destimulation and sensory deprivation. The book will document the trauma of the black paintings; decipher the hand of the black painter; remember the carnival of The Black Paintings.

Thanks for their hospitality to Trash, Mitch, Andy, Bear, Emma, Imogen, Adele, Jeremy, Dallas, Ezza, Clint, Chloe, Mace and all the other painters.

Having taken it this far, I could hardly say no, so I palmed off commitments and hopped a last minute red eye east for the BDO. We overcame heat and ditzy navigation to locate the venue, where we multiplied passes like Jesus did fishes. Once again, the Hare Krishnas rescued us from the alimentary (if not spiritual) poverty of this declining festival. War-painted and alert, I paired milk crate with smoke machine and tucked myself behind the string section for the last march of the Adler Junior 12.

Its key seriality barred fist mash poetry and demanded that thinking be sequenced and lucid. Nooked together, we accumulated black holes of egoism and nihilism, consumption and extinction, of eyes and gullets and guts. I tied a bracelet of apologies to the page, proceeded with an apophatic calligramme. Watching from behind a canvas being painted prompted a meditation on art as nonknowledge. Forget reciprocal visibility—here now there is only a shadow painter conjuring viewers’ abjection.

The show was brief and furious, a finale awash with triumphant relief. Dual drummers modulated dangerous tempos. Impromptu set changes syncopated energies. Diminishing worlds were enlarged by operatic heroics. Cosmic static amplified temperaments as hordes without and within clamoured for brain time. We wet machines responded as we could. The last spectral setlist included “The Truancy Collector”, “Riotmantic (The Suburban Adventures of the Bristol Zoo Lion)”, “Opera Man vs Bedlam” and “Capitalingus.”

Glad of the opportunity for conclusion, I farewelled the typewriter, its owner and his kind, and an idle superhero chauffeured me to the border in easy quietude.

I spent this serendipitous home town gig winding down with my oldest friend and brief bandmate over a few pints under the vigilant and sexually aggressive eye of security. We talked music and old times and therapy fodder, about getting back into instruments and the lot of vocally deficient lyricists. By now having characters, themes and an ergodic format, I spent what I thought was my final show documenting images and auras when I wasn’t simply enjoying immersion. The band shredded through oppressive heat and Trash in drag sang through injured ribs. There was interactive audience foldback drumming and a “Hong Kong” pause you could smoke a cigarette in. Eventually rain rescued the hiply sweltering mob, and we were wistfully ejected from the venue and taxied home to pike like old men.

I arrived in the capital at a commandeered church for the opening song and its scornful apology. The keen all-ages audience slamdanced in the front row pews. There were readings from the Gospels according to Cave and Molko, and a fiery sermon preached on the pocketwatch pericope from the Book of Alice. We interpreted the signs of the times and invoked the Holy Ghost. Comfortable now with my objectives for each gig, I penned notes in tranquil sobriety: on perceptual isolation and the Ganzfeld effect, on a virtuosic practice of spontaneous cheironomy, on the noise of life since the end of history. After an energy drink communion, the moon led me home, and when I got there, a cracker down the oval was setting off fireworks.

Pre-show, I party-listened to the album, The Revolution is Never Coming. Under wind-dragged leaves and airliners with no sense of occasion, the participants (among them an OGTRP cog-sci professor) listened and painted and broke into spontaneous grins. Long in the making and finally forthcoming, this is a genuine work, of life and art, about change and stasis, refusal and creation, invoking technological mythologies and delirious experiences. It had me thinking about redemption; their uncostumed soundcheck layered that messianic aesthetics with a vulgar burlesque flourish, before the ideas that remained were Shanghaied by a maniacal mashup.

The show hit hard with blows to the ear and eyeball. I defended with reflex writing. Lone instruments braved silence before the relief of accompaniment. Unhelped by smokeless lasers, a barrage of notes and colours fought for spacing between primal deprivation and sensory overload. Ticking clock picking synchronised motion and horizons of perception. The reverb speakers received radio transmission. Crystal structures formed and thought walked synapse tightropes. I dreamt of cosmonautical adventures as canvases danced and aliens “versed” ninjas. All the while I struggled to make out the muffled screaming of a protagonist drowning under tides of perspective and editorial paraphernalia. Yes I had been drinking, and on an empty stomach. Fossils and meat were painted. The phantom set took in:

  • Syllogism Defended
  • Cheer Up, Emo Kid’s Mum!
  • Birthed Death
  • The Aging Process
  • Turn the Page
  • Come, Ragnarok, Come
  • Whorls
  • Mad Whorls
  • Chinese Century
  • Looking Glass Shards in my Eye
  • Diluvian Pneumatology
  • CO2
  • March of the Warmachines
  • Covering Make-up with Bruises

Tonight, I painted. Ebonised and alien-attired, I emerged during “Dead Adults” to take on an empty black canvas, wary of nearby deadly brushstrokes. Well aware of my limitations, I went for minimalist mixed media collage, keeping to simple symbols and typewritten text. While my (un)read painting was ultimately botched (or, more politely, unfinished) I did manage to draft the first few propositions of the Tractatus Synestheticus. And the experience was singular, an attunement of textual themes to contextual tunes in an intensification of pressure and focus.

On the train home, with my painted face ice breaker, I buffered teenagers performing a visceral reading of the Art Ninja’s painting from a bloke near the end of a three day bender. The acrylic took some scrubbing. After, there was no sleep, just a back porch come down vantage on scrounging possums and circling bats, note taking until the kookaburras laughed in the dawn.

Things were looking up. Brisbane promised to finally deliver a real show, and the awesome zinester Jeremy lent me a typewriter on which to document its aura like a Byron Bay new ager. The drive back up had allowed more ideas to filter, so when the band emerged from behind a curtain (having elsewhere set up in the theatrical depravity of full visibility) there were more trails than I had brains to follow them with. The Adler Junior 12 demanded I focus; aided by the music, I set about transcribing smuggled security footage. Meanwhile, a “Hong Kong” pause broke clocks, and Opera Man cut sicker than pestilence. The ghost band setlist included the crowd favourites “Measuring Yourself for a Casket” and “Dancing through a Maze with No Exits,” as well as the “Judgement Daze” cover. We alternated driving through the night, and by the time we arrived home a work had emerged with a coherent set of questions: What are the black paintings? Who was the black painter? Who were The Black Paintings?

For those thinking, you don’t need to drive 10 hours to watch a band in order to write a story, well, sure. You can instead then drive just 2 hours and do it. Though it turns out, you don’t need the gig either. On this particular day almost a year out from the floods, after an afternoon’s elaborate set up and encostuming, the skies opened up and drowned the stage. Not even the phantom band picked up pick, bow or stick. This left me plenty of time to question what I am doing in less obsessive circumstances: seeking situational perceptions; broadening and refining technique; exploring the interplay of sensory and artistic modalities. Our night above the pub amid heavy storms and paint leavings was as fruitful as any performance. By the end, I had two scenes, and had fixated on synesthesic transcendentalism and the primordiality of blackness as themes.

Paranoia consists in irrational connections. For some, like Dick, it’s organic or chemical, while others, like Dali, cultivated it through self-imposed method. Here, the cluster of circumstances (this being the first go at an admittedly crazy activity; not having reintroduced myself prior to the performance; my location squashed in a couch by the stage, with crew constantly climbing over me to fix a string of equipment problems; the numerous technical issues plaguing the set, such that it was almost abandoned after three songs) produced a paranoid state—am I getting in the way? do they even want me here?—which my own impulsive attempts to cultivate (sneakily believing this attempt at control would quell them) in fact only intensified—really, the paranoiac-critical method? What sort of wanker are you? This ain’t the thirties any more… What the fuck are you doing? Or maybe it was just the $3 vodkas. In any case, despite not quite achieving a delirium of interpretation, pen on paper amid this systematised confusion produced a number of absurd and irreal images and crystallised the project’s central problematic: how might writing relate to music and visual art? The forged Black Paintings setlist left behind included “Seventh Generation Sinner,” “Coming Second on Sale of the Century,” “Hospital Incinerator” and “When Death Died.”

Our sleep was comforted by the flashing blue and red lit balcony window, as stories below Surfer’s performed its nightly ceremonial dance of cop cars, ambulance and tow trucks around a crashed car and its committed onlookers.

The Red Paintings are currently touring their SF and Dada influenced orchestral art rock. Amid the music, their heavily visual shows feature artists painting both regular and human canvases. The themes of this tour—The Black Paintings—are the black holes of the universe, world and self. I am participating as a fiction writer in seven shows, hunting percepts, experimenting with technique, and intensifying compulsion.