toledo-1811636_1920

My lease is up in Exeter and I’ve decided that I’m ready to leave this city.

toledo-1811636_1920

I spent over 10 years ‘living’ in Norwich.

10 years of my life spent hunting for scraps of food and rubbish, whilst desperately trying trying to forget how I’d got myself into such a God almighty mess. It all happened so quickly. Life passed by so quickly, I should be glad that my Mother found me when she did.

At the age of 34, I’m still relatively young. You can bet that I’m no spring chicken, but if you’re going to live like a slob and consume nothing but Steak Bakes and Lager for a decade, it’s best to do it whilst you’re young. I remember feeling terrible every morning when I woke up, with a God-awful hangover and a terrible hunger. Of course the Greggs would never fully satisfy me and the lager would only make me thirstier.

spain-1561698_1920Those 10 years should have been spent travelling the world, instead of creating a reclusive one of my own. With no real career plans, plus a little bit of cash that I’ve picked up from selling real art, I’ve got the will and the ambition to finally leave the country and travel. I want to breathe in air that smells different. I want to experience seemingly endless days of sunshine. I want to eat authentically cooked food from another continent.

My first port of call and home for the next year will be Toledo in Spain. Moving from the UK to Spain is no mean feat, I had to do some extensive research online before I felt comfortable with cancelling my lease in Exeter and finding a place to stay in my new country.

Why Toledo?

One reason:

greco

El Greco

One of the major precursors to both the Expressionistic and the Cubist movement, El Greco was an artist – much like me, that sought a new home from home. Born in Crete, he trained to become an artist and left for Venice at the age of 26 to find his fortune. He was not truly appreciated back then, his use of surreal elongated characters and oddly fantastic pigmentations confused art lovers of the time. As much as it is tempting to drop him into a niche or a school of artists, the truth is that his work at the time belonged to no particular style. His output was of such a unique and individual nature that it’s impossible to place him within a particular group of contemporaries.

El_Greco_-_The_Burial_of_the_Count_of_Orgaz

Amongst many of the great works that this man produced there are many that still remain in the city of Toledo.

I’m hoping that I’ll be able to visit and learn much from gazing up at these works with my own eyes. The Burial of the Count of Orgaz is one such example of these works that can still be found in this city at Iglesia de Santo Tome. Considered to be one of his only true personal projects, the painting is notable for being completely free of any stylistic features that link him back to his home city of Venice or artistic training back in Crete. A one of a kind piece that has remained intact for well over 400 years, I can only dream that the work that I produce will be remembered and preserved as well.

Through following this great man’s footsteps I’m hoping not to imitate him, but to find a sense of how he became the great painter that we all remember.

It’s time for me to see this world with my own eyes.

exeter-photo

The time has come to consider leaving the sewers.

That’s what they are really – my studios. If you’ve not picked up the coded messages that I’ve been leaving throughout my posts.

exeter-photoFor the past 10 years I’ve been living in a sewer. It feels good to say that. I know I like to project the impression that I am a successful artist – living a vagabond’s existence, scavenging for art supplies – but most of the time, I’m simply scavenging for food. Although I would never say that I was homeless, I live relatively comfortable for someone who doesn’t technically have a roof over his head.

There’s a bridge in Norwich, walk down the bank next to it. As you start to approach the riverbank, trace your fingers over the rough brickwork until you feel them become smooth. The smoothest of these bright red bricks have the roman numerals ‘MMVI’ engraved on them. This is the year I moved in.

exeter-riverKeep edging along, closer to the river bank until you can creep under the bridge itself. Embedded into the curve of the low arch is a wooden door, no taller than 4 foot. Go there and push that door open – discover the life that I left behind.

My Mother traced the call I made last week from the phone box. She’s been searching for me for years – although we’ve been talking regularly.

exeter-artistsI was woken on a Sunday morning, with the weight of 8 cans of Fosters Lagers on my brow, by a knock on my front door. Lifting the stitched blanket of designer fashion clothes from my fully clothed form, I stumbled to the small portal and pulled back the bolt. If I hadn’t been drunk still, I would’ve had the good sense to not answer it. But I was – so I did.

She looked silly there, dressed up in her waterproofs and woollens – always prepared for the worst.

“Hello, Hugh. It’s time to leave here.”

Despite my decade of independence and years as a working artist, I was tired of the sleepless nights. The rattle of the cars, screams of the students and endless hangovers.

art-spaceMy Mother, who I had abandoned 10 years ago – had found me. To birth me anew, out of the dark of a dank, damp existence and into a bright new world – where I could learn to live again.

She’d found me a home, a place to live. Away from Norwich (I never got to say good bye to my saving graces at Greggs!), in the peaceful city of Exeter – far away from my old life. A beautiful artist’s residence, filled with creatives and supplied with all of the materials and tools I would ever need. Occupied by fellow creatives, in a purpose built apartment block – this is my home now.

Instead of living in an abandoned space, alone and cold. I can fall asleep in a bed, in a room with heating. In a building designed by people for people, instead of a squalid hole that I’d simply gotten used to. I met the gentlemen from Architectural Emporium, the designers of the space. They told me how they’d designed the spaces inside to be the ideal situation for creatives. Airy spaces, natural materials and plenty of light – so that only the soft glow of a lamp would be needed to add texture to the comfortable rooms.

smiling-man

I’m glad my Mother found me. My decade long self-exile had ended as abruptly as it began and now I’m slowly recording over the memories of my past life. It’s surprising how quickly you can abandon the habits of the past.

The cans of Fosters Lager, the daily Steak Bakes, the endless blogging.

 …

steak-bake-2

Winter is settling in and I’m beginning to regret throwing away those excess art supplies.

I always forget how quickly the chill can enter my studio once October truly gets under way.

It’s the folly of youth, I suppose, that only looks to the present predicament; thinking not of the ever approaching future.

winter-norwichAt the age of 34, I suppose I’m still in the throes of my own personal development and prone to make the odd mistake from time to time. The temperature here in Norwich can drop to as cold as 8 degrees Celsius; so the breeze that blows in through the drains of the streets, into my studio, can wake me from my peaceful slumber.

Even after a few pints of Fosters Lager, I can still feel the chill through my tweeds and no amount of furious painting can keep me warm. The amount of oils and pints of water that I’ve wasted on night-time painting, furiously scrabbling the walls, in the dark – is ridiculous. Of course the quality of my work is going to suffer when I’m so tired and yet so cold.

It’s times like these when I regret throwing away all those damned art materials.

fire

So many pieces of cardboard, precious plywood and MDF. By themselves, plain, cheap pieces of wood. But, applied to a handy bit of newspaper kindling, with the strike of a match I have a cosy blaze that can keep me warm the whole winter through.

Last year I had the good sense to stock up before October. Thanks to a local festival leaving a veritable treasure trove of detritus – I had enough wood and cardboard boxes to keep a fire lit the entire year round.

Although, the smoke that drifted up through the drains, and out the back of the tunnel entrance, did cause some people alarm a couple of times – they had no idea a hard working artist was merrily burning a trash-fire for warmth.

phone-boxesOften, when I’m talking to my Mother from the only phone box in Norfolk town centre (such an oversight, these things are integral to our communications systems), she tells me that she is worried that I’m not living in a proper house – or that I might be eating out of bins (utter nonsense, the girls at Greggs always have a Steak Bake for me in the morning times).

She says that she reads my posts and wonders how it’s possible for me to not own a mobile telephone, but still regularly update a blog that quite clearly needs an internet connection. I’ve told her countless times that, although the library’s computers have a strict half an hour time limit on them, I can still easily get around it by moving from computer to computer every half hour.

Most of the the time it’s empty, and there are no problems. From time to time I am forced to use some kind of coercion: whether that’s offering some little scamp a swig on my can of Fosters Lager or simply pushing someone out of their chair.

I’ve only been kicked out of there once and they know not to do that again.

For weeks after, whilst I served my computer ban – a lot of books started to go missing and the smoke rising from the sewers grew stronger than ever.

Francis Bacon. 1970s /Michael Holtz /sc

My art space is overflowing with materials.

I was in no way, shape or form, prepared for the massive influx of goods from The Great Taj. Once I started picking from there each night, I really couldn’t control myself. Still in the heat of summer, my little space under the bridge was warm enough, but now it’s positively roasting with all the extra materials cladding the walls.

I’ve heard that this is a problem that faces many great artists at some point in their working lives. After 10 or 15 years or so of producing work, especially sculpture, the amount they sell becomes disproportionate to the amount they produce. I tend to produce anywhere between 5 and 10 pieces of sculpture a week, recently I’ve only been selling a few a month (which is why a few of my most treasure items are now on sale at a reduced price!) so now I have somewhat of a surplus of stock.

artist-studioI can deal with being surrounded by mountains of quirky re-purposed art, but with the amount of carpets, cutlery, crockery and general paperwork that I’ve been reclaiming from The Great Taj – I’m struggling to get in and out of the place without causing a major avalanche.

On Wednesday evenings, I watch television through other people’s windows. This may sound slightly strange, but as long as the show that’s being watched is absolutely riveting, the owners of the home and television are none the wiser – and I can enjoy an hour or two of visual entertainment. It just so happens that a show I was watching, through the Davies’ window the other day, featured a self-styled decluttering guru showing the public how to organise their lives.

Through the double-glazed windows and the net curtains, I could just about make out the figure of a woman gesticulating at a mess of objects in the corner of a room.

tips_subtitles_cc_mdShe fervently pointed at the camera and seemed very disapproving of a man’s kitchen – it’s a shame I couldn’t hear any of her advice.

For the past month, the Davies’ have had a deaf relative staying with them, so I’ve been able to peek through the curtains and know exactly what’s been going on, thanks to the big multi-coloured subtitles that covered the bottom quarter of the screen. However, it would appear that Penny and her broken ears had left, along with her bright spectrum of helpful on-screen letters.

Just before the show ended, a website was flashed up on the screen. I doubt I’ll ever have the scratch to hire a professional organiser, but if you do then at least you’ll know where to go!

This still doesn’t solve my own organisational issue, however. For the time being, I’m going to put a halt on gathering new materials – and start making a concerted effort to sell more of my goods.

The studio can’t survive for long in this state and I really don’t fancy being buried alive under 50kg of refuse.

indian-restaurant

The Great Taj, a longstanding relic of the Norwich Restaurant, has closed it’s door indefinitely.

Whilst this may be bad news for the Asian foodies in our great city here ( I especially enjoyed dining on the Sunday night scraps that were left in their juicy bins) this does mean that a new establishment will be moving in to their vacated premises.

For Art Scavengers such as myself, this presents a magnificent opportunity to get hold of some truly unique materials that hold a real story.

indian-restaurant


Around 5 years ago, when long-standing Italian eatery Gesppaco’s shut down, the entire restaurant was completely gutted out. Tables, chairs, sheets, cutlery, decorations, wallpaper. All the trappings of a typical Tuscany style restaurant were ripped from the building wholesale and dumped in a massive skip out the back. For a good three weeks a constant stream of wonderful materials appeared and disappeared from that skip: a veritable treasure trove of one-of-a-kind textiles and objects. The construction workers there must have been confused by the seemingly endless amount of space in that skip, for the entire build they didn’t once have to empty it.

The walls of my studio are still adorned with the white checked table cloths from that particular establishment, charming rural frescoes of Italian life line my toilet room and I hope the novelty sized pepper grinder never runs out of pepper – because God knows, I don’t have enough money to buy any more.

I grew close with the Rajmapurras, who owned The Great Taj, over the decade that they ran the place. I like to think they admired my entrepreneurial spirit paired with my debonair charm, but I think they probably saw me as somewhat of a charity case.

gepaccos

From my brief travels in India, I recall that the local people I met there had very kind hearts, their charitable demeanour went hand-in-hand with their strong sense of morality: this is something the Rajmapurras took with them to Norwich, and something I’ll always be grateful for.


I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to those people. Their van, packed with all their worldly possessions, left Norwich at some point during the evening on a Saturday – whilst I was halfway through a Weekend Visitation with an Art Fan.

skipPushed out by the rising demand for High-End Hipster Style Restaurants and, unwilling as they were to adapt to online delivery systems, hopelessly outdated – they were wonderfully friendly people who were simply in the wrong business.

On my Sunday morning reconnaissance walk, I stood for a few minutes outside the front of the restaurant. Before the construction crews got in to tear the place apart, I wanted to see what it was like on the inside. All these years, taking the scraps from their kitchen, I’d never stepped foot into the restaurant. After a quick look around, I slipped a card through the lock and let myself in for the first time.

cutleryIt was as if the place was still waiting for service to begin. The Rajmapurras must have forgotten they were leaving, because they’d cleaned and tidied the place as if they were going to be returning that day for another evening service. Shining cutlery lay, ready for use next to the thick embroidered place mats that covered each table.

My hands automatically reached out and started touching everything. Every shining surface, engraved frosted glass divider, table cloth and laminated menu. I was eager to start taking art materials, but something stopped me.

I had no qualms with breaking in to the place, it was empty and nothing of real value was left there, but it still felt wrong – disrupting the perfect order that had reigned there for so many years before.

After taking one last look, eyeing up some things to grab from the skip on Monday night, I let myself out and shut the door behind me.

oxfam

Used clothes make for magnificent textile cut offs.

In the throes of mid-winter, they also make wonderful components for blankets, towels – as well as larger versions of the aforementioned objects.

oxfamWhen living an alternative lifestyle, such as myself, it’s important to take advantage of absolute advantage of anything the streets throw at you. You never know what wonders are lurking around the next corner.

During winter, whilst rummaging through bags outside Oxfam, I made one of the biggest finds of my treasure hunting career thus far. All I was hoping to find was maybe a woollen cardigan, or perhaps some blanketing materials. What I discovered would go on to change my perspective on the fashion and art world in a  very real way…and would also provide me with some blanketing materials.

pile-of-bagsHunting through bins might seem like dirty work to some, but there’s really a knack to it that many don’t understand.

Once you’ve opened up as many bins as I have, you’ll understand that, within the myriad patterns of creases and folds, there is a language. A language that tells us just what is inside that bag and whether or not it’s worth cutting open or not.

donations-clothesSoft bulges indicate clothing, a sure thing. Where as peaks and deep troughs in the polyethylene usually suggest glass, or cardboard – things that should be generally avoided unless you’re looking to create a mixed-medium project.

On a recent hunting trip, I was hitting up the charity shops on an early Monday morning.

Most people drop their unwanted clothes off on Sunday afternoon, although the majority of well meaning philanthropists are a little too late, so they end up dropping big bin bags of lovely stuff on the front doors of these shops. If you get to these establishments before the staff arrive at around half 8, then you can peruse the bags at your leisure and take the best items for yourself.

This particular morning, I hit the jackpot.

happy-dude
Three massive, doughy looking sacks were waiting for me when I got to Oxfam. Stuffing the rest of the Steak Bake into my mouth, I eagerly started cutting open the sacks, to see what goodies I had earned. The contents were initially puzzling. Tiny versions of expensive looking things filled the bags – brand names tugged and pulled at my eyes.

BOSS. Kenzo. Billybandit. Karl Lagerfield. Oilily. Ermanno Scervino. Little Marc Jacobs. Timberland.

smart-kids
All these names jumped out at me. As I started to run my fingers through all the tiny outfits, I was overcome with a giddy sense of accomplishment. These were the finest materials I’d had my hands on for a very long time. My mind boggled at the possibilities of blanket designs that I could realise with this stash of goodies. I quickly gathered the mass of clothes in my arms and scurried back to the studio to begin my work.bin-liners

When I got home and hung out all the tiny dinner jackets, parkers, baby-grows and blazers – a pang of guilt somehow made it’s way into my heart.

These clothes were beautiful, they didn’t deserve to be hacked up to create my bedding. They deserved to be worn by kids who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford them. I almost took them back, before I considered consulting the Internet. After logging in at the Library, I discovered that not only were high-end children’s clothes flooding the market – but children were better dressed today than they had ever been.

col-kidsFrom an online version of Oxfam’s used clothes store, to an entire online shop dedicated to childrens designer wear, kids have never had more options as far as clothes go. Of course, the price of the goods were more than any child would reasonably afford, but that’s what parents are for, right?

After assuaging my guilt, reminding myself that my warmth and security is probably more important than some child’s street cred, I happily tore every single outfit to shreds and spent the next two week stitching together an unholy brand-aware Frankenstein of a blanket.

I sleep in it every night and I’ve never felt more fashionable.

norwich

There are worlds of broken things beneath the realms that we witness.

norwichThe broken things – men, creatures, bodies – shuffle listlessly with eyes downcast.

Staring at the city streets, daring them to present us with treasures untold – we march the high streets and back alleys of this city of grim passion.

Norwich bleeds.

Although the sadness of decades of guilt weigh down the brows of the city, there are still promising signs of loot to be found amongst it’s beer-stained paths and alleyways.

These are the streets that I patrol on a daily basis, hunting – searching – for a thing of beauty trapped between the drops of rain that smatter the sticky streets, reviving the age-old scents forever baked into the cobbles.

Sunday mornings are the best time to go looking for discoveries.

steak-bakeDuring the height of the Christmas season, when the icy cold and the moisture wakes me beneath the bridge at the crack of dawn. When I wrap and encase myself in woollen goods pilfered from black bags outside of Oxfam.

That is when I can walk the streets unmolested. Around 6am, the streets have emptied of drinkers. All that is left of their adventures, lies glittering on the dew-soaked streets – just waiting for me to find it.

If I’m lucky, Sandra at Greggs gives me a Steak Bake when I pass by the shop at 7. For a while I assumed she simply gave me off-cuts, or out of date pastries, but that was never the case. For two years, whenever she is working the morning shift, she has brought me out a fresh Steak Bake, paid for out of her own pocket. One day, I hope to pay her back. For now, though, I must continue searching for discoveries.

With my belly full of bits of beef I return, reinvigorated. Filled with the warmth of gravy and pastry, I am exalted. Churning with strength from the remaining crumbs, I am reborn.

rubbishThe streets of Norwich are home to my echoing footsteps, as I stalk the hunting grounds of the Drinking District, inspecting bins for forgotten cigarette ends and bits of chicken. An urban survivor always does what he can, to consume all important protein. The realms of taste and class are mere objects of fantasy, to one such as myself. A far off mirage that is not worth chasing.

I begin my walk home at around 9:30am, to avoid the walking dead of drunkards, rolling out of their sleeping arrangements. Groggy and bleary eyed from their Jaeger Bombs, Sour Shots and Vodka Fizzlers – the partying hard population of Norwich are quick to anger and disappointed. Disappointed that the hundreds of pounds that they have spent, have left them with nothing more than a headache and a questionable rash.

With all my treasures from the evening collected together and brought back home, I can spend the rest of the day assessing my finds.

Compiling. Creating. Pricing.

These are the methods of a modern day artist.