A Paris based Surrealist publication. Illustration ‘Torture By Kite’ later made into a box piece in 2001 at the suggestion of my late friend Anthony Earnshaw.
Our Phantoms are our ancestors, our pre 1924 Surrealism Surrealists. They number, amongst them, BLAKE, WATERTON, CARROLL, BENTHAM and LEAR.
Our looking glasses are those small homemade museums unaffected by proud progress the pest. Underline, Cawthorne Victoria Jubilee Museum, Potters Museum and the Charles Waterton Room within the Wakefield Museum as special places to visit before they are wrecked. We can look up to the likes of Penrose, Agar and Maddox as early post 1924 Surrealist and doff our caps to them. We can point with admiration to Earnshaw and Hughes who held our contributing banner in the lean years. All now within England who are working within the broadening realms of surrealist imagery would probably agree that we no longer need to employ shock tactics, nor would they be received as such
The English audience ha developed via a strong surrealist influence of English satire from the 60s to the present day i.e. Monty Python, Do Not Adjust Your Set, Not the Nine O’clock News and the Young Ones. The likes of Glen Baxter and Simon Bond
(101 Uses for a Dead Cat) would not have had any appreciation or much of a following ten or fifteen years ago.
The Brooklyn Art Library – August 2020
SKETCHBOOK PROJECT, The Brooklyn Art Library August 2020
These snippets of autobiography are an attempt to provide the reader with an insight into how my experiences and interests have influenced the boxed assemblage art works I create.
It can always be determined that one can cherry pick experiences and make the fit a desired outcome. However, I firmly believe what follows is a true account of why my work is the sum of these formative and influential experiences
Chance Enhanced within the Realms of Deceptive Receptacles
A discarded paintbrush found when beach combing on my last visit to Cornwall. ‘Frankenstein’, computer print from paintbrush photo-enhanced with pencil/ coloured pencils. It is ironic that the opening
page of this journal features an image of a paintbrush which
I don’t use for painting, preferring its potential as an object in its own
Excerpt from an old statement regarding my work
I gave up painting some forty years ago. Instead I determined to focus on the actual perceived identity of objects rather than two-dimensional depictions of them. I was intrigued by the notion that the known identity of objects could be manipulated and tampered with when amalgamated with other seemingly disparate objects. A dichotomy then exists, the objects still retain their traditional identity but are also imbued with a new, perhaps more sinister or surreal interpretation. I felt that this manipulation of image/object identity was more successfully achieved through their placement within the box/display case format. This type of enclosure provides the dual vehicle of elevating the mundane objects they contain to those of a more precious nature, whilst also promoting a harmonizing influence.
It’s more like 50 years ago that I stopped painting. This was about 1972/73 just about a term into my Fine Art studies at
Leeds Polytechnic. At this time I was rather taken by a sculpture by an older student. It was of a head of a man set inside a box. Seeing this was probably instrumental in my decision to give up painting, which I was using to illustrate a concept rather than use paint in visual language
Early concepts included painting a heavy book on the far end of a shelf. So when the painting was hung, I hung it tilted to imply that the painted heavy book had real weight. Similarly, painted containers of liquid were painted with the liquid at an angle. Then the painting was hung tilted so that the painted liquid appeared level.
Gimmicky, naïve, silly – no wonder I packed it in.
I still have a tray I painted. It is titled, ‘Plate, Knife, Fork and Spoon’. The painting does not actually include the spoon – this was always located on the floor below the painting, implying the realness of this superbly painted spoon.
Inspired by the ‘head in the box’ sculpture fore-mentioned. I decided to make a caricature head of myself and place it in a light bulb.
The head was modelled in clay, and then a two-piece plaster mould was made of this. I could not find latex pouring liquid- so I used latex rubber glue instead and coated the interior of each half of the mould as it was too thick to pour. The resulting cast was not perfect- but would suffice. I remember I ‘snatched’ the cast rubber head before it has fully set- resulting in the interior of the rubber head sticking to itself and on pulling it apart – the result was a slightly distorted head which provided the caricature with even more character. I manage to disconnect the brass screw fitting from a large light bulb, remove the light elements and replace it with the Robert Plant looking head inside the bulb, once it had been
Planted and had dolls hair attached. The polo neck was simply a cut off portion of a knitted glove. The glass case was made from scratch, applying and adapting skills that I acquire as an apprentice-trained mechanical engineer.
Probably mid 1973 I got the nod that a studio space was up for grabs- albeit right next door to the head of fine arts, Willy Tirr. I got it – a space all to myself. Prior to this I had a spall space eked out within the very large open
Plan studio – which was reminiscent of a shantytown (the Hanger)
Having completed ‘Light Headed’. I embarked on a series of works based on the ‘Ship in the Bottle’ process. One, I remember consisted of a dripping tap inside a bottle. I also made a less technical piece titled ‘Bottled Violence’, which consisted of a hand brandishing a broken bottle enclosed inside large bottle.
This piece was selected for the 1973 Northern Young Contemporaries Exhibition. The selectors included Jeff Nuttall, the author of ‘Bomb Culture’.
I graduated from Leeds, the three years there gave me the opportunity and freedom to explore the potential of objects/boxed works via the creation of 25-30 pieces, of which, and I still have many.
Two of the several internal reports produced by course lecturers with their suggestions for levels of B.A. grade by Jeff Nuttall and Anthony Earnshaw, box creator extraordinaire.
‘Perfectly made objects Witty and Earthy!’
Forsaking mere fantasy or “the manipulation of shape, form and colour”.
(to quote Geoff Teasdale- A PRIORI); Frank chooses to explore Ambiguity and its dark outskirts – more often than not a secret and lonely place; even so for those with a restless imagination it is the only one offering adventures of the mind.
He has worked hard and consistently in an area that brooks no half measures. He should have gained a place on a post grad course.
On Graduating from Leeds I applied for a PGCE in Art Education at the nearby Leeds University. I had a problem with my art portfolio as I had also applied for the Slade and the Royal College of Art who wanted a portfolio at the same time. This was exacerbated by the need for a portfolio of art for my teacher-training interview. So I had no option but to split my portfolio three ways. I was turned down for my Art Teacher Training course because I had no recognised English qualification. I was also turned down by the Slade and the Royal College of Art.
At a loose end in 1975-76, I returned to work as a mechanical engineer and took up evening classes to study for ‘O’ level qualifications in English Language and English Literature. I acquired a booklet of past English Language exam papers and was fascinated to discover a description of an amateur run museum. The villagers ran the Cawthorne Victoria Jubilee Museum-. The story concerning Tom Parkins thunderstruck boots was especially intriguing.
Some seven years later, I visited the Museum with a group of my sculpture students from Ilkley Teacher Training College
Extract that I found so intriguing
There is a disarming unprofessional charm about the Cawthorne Victoria Jubilee Museum. In what other museum would you find the blasted boots of a village boy?
The pair which stands in the window-bottom of the museum bears a card which explains: “Boots worn by Tom Parkin when struck by lightening at Upper House Farm, Cawthorne, 1930. Tom’s nail-studded boots, ripped wide open from ankle to welt, have been gazed at by amazed visitors for nearly forty years. Most people, seeing them, assume that their owner perished, but he is alive a well and still living at Upper House Farm.
I found the indestructible Mr Parkin hedge-cutting in one of his fields
“I’ve come to see you about your boots,” I said. He looked puzzled.
“Your boots in the museum.” He laughed
“Your taking me back forty years. I was just twelve when the lightening struck. I was standing beside the old kitchen range and the lightening hit my legs. Fortunately I was wearing thick, hand-knitted woollen socks to my knees. The doctor said the wool acted as a conductor. Otherwise my legs and feet would have been more severely burned”
Mr Parkin didn’t know who presented his shattered boots to Cawthorne Museum. I left him chuckling over the idea that his boyhood boots bringing a complete stranger coming to visit him forty years later.
But Tom Parkin’s boots aside, Cawthorne Museum is well worth careful scrutiny. It contains some surprising exhibits bequeathed not only by the gentry but by the villages too. There is a community pride in this collection of bygones, which you do not find elsewhere. The museum was founded by the village squirearchy, the Stanhope’s of Cannon Hall. To commemorate Queen Victoria’s jubilee, the cottage in which it was first housed was razed and the existing timbered building constructed by estate workmen.
The family originally used their museum to house hunting trophies, which threatened to clutter up Cannon Hall. Friends were asked to bring back spoils of their big game hunts. So the one-room museum displays an odd juxtaposition of dead animals. The massive head of a Canadian moose stares curiously down at the perky head of a fox opposite. Maori spears, clubs and boomerangs share wall space with an assortment of Japanese swords.
When the last of the Stanhope’s died in 1953, the villages bought the museum and have run it ever since. There is evidence in the change of ownership in the exhibits, which have since been introduced. For instance a piece of the Emily Moor TV mast which collapsed in 1969 now lies in a display case alongside an Eskimo ice-chopping axe, an indian idol carved in slate and the beaks and webbed feet of two albatrosses killed off Cape Horn. As well as the perky fox, the Canadian moose now has another neighbour to wonder at- a two-headed calf born at a local farm. A villager has provided a hemlock stalk, ten foot tall and as thick as a man’s forearm, dwarfing the foreign assegais and longbows presented by the gentry.
Because of lack of space, time and distance overlap in the Cawthorne Museum. A primitive Turkish toothbrush is close to a pair of wooden pattens “worn in Cawthorne on washdays to keep the feet out of the water”. A glass-topped case contains grime-encrusted wine bottles put down in the cellars of Cannon Hall in 1659, and pop bottles of the 1920s with glass marbles in their necks. The same case also holds a piece of the transatlantic telephone cable and a lantern used by the village policeman. Near a horse’s gall stone weighing 9lb. 9oz. is a delicate sailing ship spun in glass which bears the thought provoking inscription; “Made at Mexborough and commissioned by Alfred Hodgson for his bride, it was cared for by his second wife who bequeathed it to this museum”
There is a small admission fee to the museum, but the sight of Tom Parkin’s lightening-blasted boots is alone worth the few coppers that open up this homely treasure house.
I especially wanted to see the boots, but they had been lent to a local school and someone not realising their history threw them out. Thankfully they were rescued. What I liked about the curation of this museum was there probably wasn’t any! The incongruous nature of fellow exhibits created strange narratives. There was a plethora of such exhibits in evidence, far more than mentioned in the extract. The thunder blasted boots of Tom Parkin are akin to the many artworks that have been inspired by such footwear. A fellow student at Leeds, Bob Marston, created a piece called ‘Bootle’ which was a combination of a boot and a bottle (this was also selected for the 1973 Northern Young Contemporaries). I also particularly like H.C. Westermann’s
‘ Last Ray of Hope’ boxed work
In 1976, things started to look up. Had interview for the PGCE Art Education course. Explained to the Head of the course that I had applied the previous year. He accepted me regardless of the fact that my ‘O’ level results were still pending. I was solely accepted on my portfolio submission. I passed both ‘O’ levels in English and English Literature. I was also accepted for the Master of Fine Art Degree at Concordia University, Montreal, Canada – I deferred the start of the course until 1977, thus enabling me to complete my PGCE Art Teacher Training Course
During my teacher training, I was walking through a central Leeds shopping centre and witnessed a truly remarkable and extraordinary event – I actually saw two blind men actually collide into each other, unaware of their respective ailment; they mutually apologised to each other and carried on. As one gets older ones memory fades, however in this instance I can recollect very clearly such ‘chance experiences that have peppered my life thus far Aged around eight I was sitting on a canal bank and for some inexplicable reason I pushed my thumb and my forefinger into the soft ground and pinched my fingers together. They never met – something was trapped between them. Still holding these digits together, I pulled them out to reveal a sixpence coin held between them.
Aged eleven, I was playing in the ‘chase in the school playground. I was stood on a low wall at the edge of the play area and just as a playmate was just about to catch up with me, I jumped off to the other side of the wall, skidded down a dirt bank and sufficiently over the pavement with my legs hanging onto the road that led to the main school building. I timed it perfectly for my legs to be badly injured by the school delivery vehicle. I had landed between the front and rear wheels and the battery-powered contraption did not have the power to drive over my legs.
Aged about nineteen, studying for engineering qualification at Keighley Technical College. I was participating in a not too serious game of Basketball. Stood in the centre of the court with my back to the basket, I two-handedly threw the ball over my head, as I turned I saw it land perfectly and centrally in the basket
Whilst studying in Montreal, I had a number of handyman jobs to help with finances. I was in the process of screwing in some hinged doors of a wall hung cupboard, below it was a newly laid five/six metre length marble worktop made up in three sections. The screwdriver slipped from my hand and fell towards the marble, miraculously landing in the gap between two marble sections. Poised upright, it importantly and proudly remained there, until dumbfounded, I removed it.
Whilst in Montreal, my wife and myself were visited by hers parents and two of their friends. We set them off on a North American adventure not knowing exactly when they would return. About three weeks late my wife made a rare visit into Montreal. To make our way home we had to ride two stops on the Metro. The train we were to catch whizzed by before pulling to a stop- before it did we spotted some very familiar people- my wife’s parents and their friends
Whilst staying in Montreal, fellow former Leeds student Bob Malston was studying the states, we exchanged the odd postcard always stating that we should meet up, this never happened- until we met by chance at Heathrow airport. Not only on the day that Skylab landed, but on the day that both of us returned to ‘Blighty’ having completed our studies
These ‘chance’ experiences have led to an interest in exploring and exploiting chance within my boxed assemblages. This aspect of chance was a major tenet of the Surrealist movement. They adapted the simile of the Comte de Lautreamont’s (Isadore Ducasse) who described a young boy ‘as beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and umbrella”
This amalgamation of disparate objects is a major element of my own work
‘The Chance encounter of a Cowboy, on a Sewing Machine, on the Corner of my Kitchen Table’. Was actually created by chance. I was renovating this lead Cowboy by giving it a final lick of paint. Needing to place it out of the way to dry, I placed it on a sewing machine pencil sharpener that was located nearby
Phil – could you add the cowboy on a sewing machine image here
Back to disparate objects I particularly like these quotes by Jasper Johns and Joseph Cornell
Cornell ‘Who knows what one object will say to another’
‘Take an object do something to it, do something else to it’
From an early age I was always interested in museums (I mentioned earlier the Cawthorne Victoria Jubilee Museum) At the age of twelve or thirteen, I was so enamoured by a book in the school library titled ‘Going to Museums’ – so much so that I stole it! (And I still have it!) This image from the book is described as being ‘The old fashioned style of display – a case of mixed exhibits from Ripon Museum’
The curator of this display case was obviously short of space. I found the outcome quite surreal in its ambiguity.
Scenario 1 – Are the sworn enemies, the Mongoose and the Cobra fighting it out under water, with the three startled Puffer Fish swimming by and witnessing the flight
Scenario 2 – Art the Mongoose and Cobra battling it out on terra firma with the three inflated Puffer fish airborne – like gas filled air-ships.
Finally- In an exhibition statement about my work I said
My work encompasses my long- term interest with old fashioned and idiosyncratic museums, and an insatiable appetite for collecting everything from the collectable to the more mundane. The latter enables me seek out the potential of these ready-made objects that I often encounter by chance. The disparate ‘marriage’ of such objects, encourages me to create works that delve into that surreal realm that occasionally encounter the Comte De Lautreamont’s, tenet, “beautiful as the chance encounter on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella!