Back in the late 80's, I rented a tiny attic room in a former manor house on the outskirts of Chester complete with disused stables, tennis courts and a croquet lawn. The house itself was over 4 floors and comprised a cellar complete with original servants bell system, a large sitting room, kitchen and old fashioned cold room where meat and dairy produce would have been stored. All the rooms were massive (apart from mine) and had been converted into bedsits which were occupied by a real cross section of society. To give you an idea; there was a retired lawyer who was once beaten up on the doorstep by the local 'mafia' for not payment of debts; a classicly trained ballerina who was about to marry a tory MP and who I strangely got on very well with; a writer who was also a raving alcoholic who used to lock himself in the loo convinced the CIA were after him; a rosy cheeked and buxom farmers daughter who used to supply us all with the most wonderful home made cakes and bread; a biker and born again christian with a messiah complex and disciples to match who used to ride a Harley Davidson ...and me, a 'between jobs' working class nobody who could barely afford the cramped attic room. Anyway, It was a beautiful old place totally off the beaten track - a hidden gem as it were. For someone who grew up on a council estate, it was a total departure from what I was used to!
As I was unemployed I had a lot of time on my hands which I largely spent exploring the grounds. One such day, I was mooching around the disused stables when I came across a stack of old furniture one peice of which was a large chest of drawers. Being naturally curious (or maybe just nosey), I decided to open the drawers and take a look inside. Of course, the chest was long since empty apart from a really old and chipped tabacco tin in the first drawer I looked in and, in the bottom drawer, amongst years of cobwebs and congealed dust; a skeleton of a tiny headless mouse. I remember lifting it out by the tip of it's tail and holding it to the light to examine it...it was exquisite and perfectly formed apart from it's missing head. Rather than recoiling in disgust, it struck me as incredibly beautiful and awe inspiring. Although I have always kept my hand in with art back then, I couldn't have claimed to have been an artist. Due to the financial situation and the cramped conditions I was living in (all personal leisure activities had to be confined to the tenant's personal space), I felt there was no way I was able to produce anything of any note apart from small studies in a sketchbook which I have since lost, sadly. However, this little dead creature moved something deep within me that inspired me enough to keep it inside the tabacco tin I found and it has remained in my possession ever since. (see pic)
Over the years have gone on to collect other bits and peices, some I have even bought online from taxidermists despite the fact I find that particular practice quite abhorent!. I am not in any way an advocate of 'the dark side'; fascinated by the macabre or drawn to the occult...far from it - although, when I showed my headless mouse to a friend once, she visibly shuddered in horror and since then is convinced I must've been a witch in a previous life! Which I took as a compliment even though I suspect she envisaged the disney/hollywood depictions of a Witch...all gnarly and wart ridden. It still amuses me.
I once read "Death gives life all it's meaning", (probably in one of those ' An Idiots Guide' books to Philosophy or some such), which has always resonated with me and the little creatures I collect are, for me, complete embodiments of that sentiment. The work I produce; making large scale figurative depictions of these small dead things in oil paint onto waste wood; I feel am giving new life to both; the deceased creatures and the dis-used and discarded wood and in doing so making a new entity that exists in the form of art. A way of transcending death perhaps? I like to think so.
Thanks for taking the time to read this and perhaps you could now head over to my gallery to view some of my work and make your own judgement. Click Here.