“We are the servants of your ears
We were born for music
Whenever you’re sad
We play for you.”
Early last year, as part of an arts interview, I was given a series of questions and asked to write a response of not more than one thousand words. Thankfully, I was only asked about the part of my life that led me to being a fella who throws sticks into the air and hopes they land in a pile resembling a chair. Had I been asked about the rest of the stuff that makes up my life I’d have needed at least another 50 -100 words. I think the first thousand was my elastic limit – any more than that and I may never have returned, mentally.
Anyway, the result was published and as a consequence I was contacted by someone who I first met a little over 30 years ago, but have not seen or spoken to since. It was a little strange but also a thrill to reacquaint myself with this long lost part of my life, and I began a minor and somewhat erratic mental review of all that has passed in those 30 years.
The lady asked if I would make her a chair, and I was only too delighted to say I would – Hey! It’s what I do, so why wouldn’t I? We chatted about the kind of chair she would like, the materials, and the space within which it was going to sit. After looking at some of my work she asked if I could make her a copy of a chair I had recently completed that I had called, ‘Into Light’.
This gave me some pause for thought, as making this chair had been an unusual and thought provoking experience for me, though I was more than pleased with the result. I have kept this chair, planning, one day, when I have developed my skills sufficiently, to make a more refined version using split ash and proper joinery, to create something that would truly satisfy me and my Muse.
I pondered letting this lady have the original, but I couldn’t let it go, therefore, I agreed to make as near a copy as possible. So, I set to walking the woods and hedges in search of the most perfect pieces I could find to make a chair that would be an improvement on the original.
And, as I walked I pondered some more on the last 30 years – I began to look at each of the pin holes of light that sometimes illuminate the darkness and draw me – I took each in turn and I bathed in its illumination completely, letting it take me where it would in my thoughts and emotions – faces, places, voices, experiences and feelings. I began to gather my materials, and slowly I worked on the chair – very slowly. I did literally only minutes at a time, maybe cutting a single tenon, or one piece of the chair, returning later to peel, or scrape, to refine. And, I thought and pondered on those pin holes of light drawing me, away from the work, to lose myself in the view. I wondered if this had all been a mistake.
In between bouts of activity and lulls in examining where I had been and what I had done, I was having a discussion with my chum, Troy, about art, specifically Outsider Art. We chatted about the idea that Outsider Art had, sometimes, been appropriated by the monied and the pretentious. Had that appropriation diminished its importance or significance? Knowing we were talking rubbish, we left it at something along the lines of:
‘The work is done once the artist had unleashed it, made the desire manifest in the physical, in the word, the paint, the music. They are no longer responsible for what happens, or its impact, or lack of. The responsibility lies with the appropriators, the snake-oil merchants who make the money, claim the glory for the discovery, for being the first to recognise the Artist.’
But, even at that, the appropriators serve a purpose and do good work, by enlightening us, making us aware of the work, the person, and the spirit – there is silver and gold hidden in the dirt.
Would I pay for the work that is created like that of the outsider artist, for self, for self-expression, for salvation, for release, for the joy of creation, for a purity of spirit and soul, for resurrection? Yes, I think I would – It is pure, pristine, and genuine – but, in paying for it, I would not truly own it; I cannot.
I returned to the Pin holes of light, and the chair.
One in particular drew me, and, as I looked though and into the light, I heard again, Gabriel’s masterpiece, ‘Mercy Street’. It has twisted my soul since I first heard it as a sixth-form brat, and has continued to do so.
Gabriel created a magnificent beauty from a shared pain – his, and the pain and suffering he recognised in Anne Sexton. He allows me a glimpse of that pain, while floating me above it all on notes of the sublime. I did not know this when I first heard it, I knew nothing of Anne Sexton – when, in later years I learned of her story I was left quietly numb – and the song became even more beautiful, more powerful.
It, like all beauty, reaches into my body, grabs my heart and squeezes it so hard it hurts but at the same time shoots me into the farthest corners of the universe, tears me apart and scatters every single molecule to every conceivable corner of all that exists so that there is no distinction, no duality, no separate identity, nothing, just being, just joy, just love. Well, that’s how it feels, sometimes!
I was staring at the pinhole of light and I considered love, hope, fear, suffering and loss. When the music of 30 odd years ago stopped playing in my head I realised I was staring at an uncut piece of wood and must have been for a little while. I roused myself and continued to work, before finishing for the day and leaving the near completed chair and returned to sit by the fire. I listened to ‘Mercy Street’, this time by Fever Ray, a discovery I made this year, and I thought about originals and copies, I smiled and lost myself in beautiful music, an interpretation of an original. I considered the chair, also an interpretation of the original, a new journey inextricably linked to the first, and I stepped into the light.
And, there it sat, incomplete, as I followed another pin hole that called me to make a visit to an old and very dear friend on Christmas day – my first Christmas in his company in exactly 30 years. We talked, looked back over the 30 years, we laughed and we parted, a story completed. When I got off the aeroplane I returned to the chair and I finished it.
This chair may only have taken me 5 months to put the pieces together, but it has been 30 years of my life in the making. I’m ready for the next 30 – if someone doesn’t brain me first!