This is another experiment in improvisation, and something that I’d like to do more of, even to the extent of creating an entire book of stories like this.
I met the artist Conrad Clarke a couple of months ago, while he was setting up an exhibition in Cheltenham, where I was working at the time, and taking a lunchtime stroll. We got talking about his paintings, and a little about my comics work. Afterwards, I realised how much his non-narrative paintings were suggesting narratives to me, and I decided that I’d like to try exploring the way that paintings and other static/non-narrative art suggests stories. I’ve done some similar things a couple of years back, using famous, dead/out-of-copyright artists. The key to success then, and now, I think, is not to tell the obvious story.
Anyway, here’s a first draft of a comic based on Conrad’s work, also using footage from my Improv sessions at LICAF 2015. Followed by my explanation, by email, of what I was trying to do. (In my books, I tend to add prefaces to the strips, I think the story behind the story can often help.)
“I wanted to talk about whether one treats one’s life as an adventure, something to be experienced, or as a “product” to be consumed, something that can be neatly put in a box and put aside while one switches off. There are two different poems that I think influenced this. One is by the Persian poet/mystic Rumi, in which he talks about “spiritual window shoppers” who pass through their lives without engaging in them. The other was by James Hillman, I think, in which he describes three layers of emotional engagement with life: the superficial “have a nice day” sort of level, the “negative” emotions of rage, hatred, despair, self-loathing etc., and the deep peace and sense of connectedness. His assertion is that to really reach the third layer, you have to go through the second layer first, and make contact with, and own, your negativity.