Art and Reality


Learning to draw is a way of learning to think. At first we will tend to draw the idea of what we see, what we think we perceive, then as we observe and improve we will begin to be able to draw what we are actually able to perceive. A master will be able to draw what they intuit, they will draw something that seduces you into a particular way of perceiving that comes from direct individual experience.

Rather than reflecting ‘reality’ singular, theses images show realities of their own, ‘realities’ plural. They demonstrate what the German philosopher Husserl said: that ‘all perception is gamble’. You can experience something of the reality tunnel of any good artist or musician or writer quite clearly through their work, you can experience a reflection of their way of observing, their particular gambles.

By practicing observation you can become very aware of your own preoccupations and taste, and from this the apperception of pattern as such. That is to say, the more you observe the way you observe your reality the more you will become aware that there are likely infinite ways to observe and so the possibilities for interpretation are endless, therefore knowledge itself appears infinite, as does its expression. It seems possible to become able to choose the reality you inhabit. If you don’t like the world you live in you can change it by changing your taste and consciously choosing to observe differently.

Every great artist has been so because they noticed the world in a different way and they enabled others to notice this too. Observe that this is also what great philosophy and great spirituality does. We transform our perception and enable that transformation to ripple out from us. A work of art should at least expand the consciousness of the artist and at best alter the consciousness of those who perceive it.

We are born into particular times and places, brought up believing in the projections of our cultures and religions, in our gender, our economic status, our language, our social ‘reality’. We are enmeshed in works of art, we can be spellbound by our own taste and cultural aesthetics, or we can dance with them and paint our own worlds.

Oh My God, Nipples!

Dear Daily Mail, there’s a thing called a search engine, use it. If you’d Googled my tits in advance you’d have found that your photos are hardly exclusive.

Amanda Palmer, Dear Daily Mail

The female nipple is a contentious thing. It is especially interesting to be informed they are offensive while sporting a pair of your own. Or indeed that they are so inherently sexual they will inflame the ardour of those around you to such an extent that orgies and all manner of wicked behaviour will ensue should the slightest hint of a female nipple emerge. Such powerful things separated from the world only by thin layers of cloth (or the front page of The Sun – enough to keep anything covered forever).

The male nipple, by contrast, is supposed to be an entirely boring thing. In fact women have been taking images of male nipples and placing them over their own, thereby negating the apocalyptic hell beast powers of their female breasts. Or just taking the utter piss out of this silliness.

Micol Hebron male nipple template

Micol Hebron’s male nipple template.

A thing is as sexual as the mind perceiving it chooses to make it. I could describe to you, for example, a scenario in which a group of a dozen or so people observe with intensity a nude form writhe and contort for various periods of time, eyes taking in every detail, hands jerking and stroking in fierce concentration. This is called a life drawing class.

I have sat for hours drawing naked people, female nipples included, without the slightest desire to shag. I have painted female breasts in an entirely non-sexual context and been informed they were inherently pornographic, because the person viewing them was uncomfortable with their own arousal and clearly this was my fault. If I were to ever reveal my own breasts in public the same ‘logic’ would be applied. La sigh.

So far as I am concerned, unless people are actually having sex, it’s not sexual, and unless somebody is actually asking for it, they are not asking for it. Apparently this is a radical position (oo-er!).

If we really believe that a large portion of people are so mentally sexualised and so lack self control that they will be unable to restrain themselves in the presence of a female nipple, we have bigger problems on our hands than making sure women always go out dressed like tents. Personally, I believe that people are perfectly capable of self restraint and if they fail to exercise that capacity it is their fault, not the nipple. Perhaps yesterdays Royal Mile Topless Takeover, part of World Go Topless Day, shows we are bouncing toward a change in attitude. There have certainly been ripples. Jiggle jiggle.


Becoming Who You Are

When I was a child my mother said to me, “If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.” Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.

Pablo Picasso

Authenticity is often held up as the ideal of individualism, that we are all unique and able to become the special person waiting inside to burst free. If only we would buy the right clothes, have the right hairstyle, have a successful career and lots of money/sex/power/prestige. In other words, the idea of authentic expression has been hijacked and made all about mere image. Glamour. The mask we wear.

We can spend our lives chasing the phantoms our culture throws up – usually in the form of partly digested celebrities and objects that never really existed anywhere outside of Photoshop – or we can choose actual authenticity.

All creative endeavour teaches us in a very tangible sense who we really are and what we may, through fearless striving and illumination, become. In a culture severely lacking individuals of integrity willing to stand against business as usual and fight for a better, fairer, more just and life affirming world, it is our duty to pursue this. A general or a pope can be anyone, but there was only one Picasso. You could be anyone, or you could be you.

While I was exhibiting at ‘Freedom!’, back in May, I had the chance to admire the work of a number of other artists. Marcus Sprigens work immediately stood out from a very talented crowd. Quite a feat, but his mind bending psychedelic vistas easily achieved it. I had the pleasure of meeting him at the exhibition after party, and it turned out that he had been admiring my work too! Some collaboration may be in the making. Watch this space.

Check out some of his work below, have a look at his website and send some likes to his Facebook Page.


The Truth of Beauty

“Art is the lie that makes us realize the truth.” – Pablo Picasso

Imagine you are in an art studio. In that studio a model is posing nude for a life drawing class. There are perhaps twenty or so pupils drawing the model from various angles in the particular pose the model has chosen. Each artist is a finely tuned singular instrument of perception, having lived a particular life, with particular events and having been brought up in a social environment unique to them. Each artist has their own unique tastes and forms of expression. Each produces their own image of that moment in space/time. If the artists get up and wander around the room they can see the various views of and interpretations of the model. The work will say as much or more about the observer than the observed.

This is the truth of beauty.

It’s been an interesting few weeks. I’ve left the big skies of Caithness and mural painting behind me, like the peregrine I am I’m back to wandering, working on a number of projects and commissions and actually keeping up with current events (damn you Twitter!). Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last week or so, you will have heard about Cecil, a lion killed in an illegal hunt after being lured from his sanctuary in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, shot and wounded with a crossbow and then tracked for forty agonising hours before being killed with a rifle, skinned and beheaded. Reading about this horrific event stirred deep feelings of contempt and anguish in me, but also futility, as when I read the first few articles as the details emerged I assumed the story would vanish by the end of the day and no one would care, as is often the case with wildlife crime (which, as far as I’m concerned, should just be called crime). How wrong I was, and how heartening that feels, to see so many others reacting and caring as I do to the unjustified murder of another being.

We live in a culture that tells us that other beings are merely here to use for our pleasure or utility. You are a unique snowflake and everyone else is whatever, for you to exploit and abuse as you see fit. Our culture encourages and values this fundamental lack of empathy, it makes money, so is it any wonder that we hardly treat our fellow humans nicely, let alone all the other life forms that have to share this planet with us?

Cecil is as much the victim of an attitude of privilege as the poor souls lined up at Calais that were in the news so much last week, willing to risk life and limb to get into Britain (run away, its shit!). A country so heartless its press and political class will rarely ever even refer to these people as human (a tradition apparently). They are ‘invaders’, ‘immigrants’ (whatever happened to expatriate?), a ‘swarm’storming‘ Calais in their ‘thousands’, as if we are at war or they are some horrific infestation. How is this melodrama and hysteria considered acceptable reporting? A couple of weeks back we were going to be pecked to death by killer seagulls and starved of fish by greedy malevolent seals. Before that benefit fraudster terrorist foxes were going to break in to our homes and murder us in our sleep. And now we are supposed to believe that immigrants are coming in their millions to steal our babies and give our mortgages cancer. Or something.

For a fairly accurate assessment of the situation in Calais [click here].

The rhetoric of dehumanisation and narrative of fear is liberally applied to anyone, man or beast, that the entitled establishment view as troublesome. So that would be the rest of us. Certain people think it is their right to use and abuse anything they want to, and whoever or whatever gets in their way is to be subjugated or destroyed. Workers. The poor. The sick. The disabled. The unemployed. Immigrants. Ethnic Minorities. LGBT. Animals. Birds. Forests. Seas. The Earth. You name it. It must be used for fun or profit, and if it puts those pursuits in danger, as far as a small minority of uncivilised thugs are concerned, it has to go, and they will, via a compliant media, shove all the contrived nonsense to justify their actions down our collective throats that they can.

Even the heart of the most reasonable person can be corrupted toward a lack of empathy by the consistent and targeted application of fear. They harm you. They take what is yours. Without them you would be better/happier/richer etc. They are evil. This is very basic propaganda: divide and rule.

We’re so saturated with this mindfuckery we do it to ourselves. I’ve seen a number of people complaining that the furore over Cecil shows that people care more about a lion than people of colour/migrants/other humans/children, various other wildlife causes and every other horrendous thing in the world. This is a trap. Just because I care about Cecil doesn’t mean to say I’m going to stop caring about black rights or ethnic minorities or my cat. This was never a competition. I have a lot of caring to go round and I doubt that’s unusual (it also doesn’t mean to say that those that I care about can do no wrong – to truly care one must acknowledge another’s flaws, anything less is bullshit).

The fact is that people who fail to empathise with wildlife likely already find it a stretch to empathise with their fellow humans. I am thankful that every time the UK media decides to dehumanise a group of people I never find myself expecting some idiot to put up photos of their corpses on display, with people cheering them on. I am very sad that that is exactly what I expect when wildlife is vilified in the UK press. It is as predictable as a banker’s greed. People so willingly and easily led into acts of violence against unfairly targeted creatures seem like they are probably only a few steps from violence to humans. It should take more than a smear campaign in the papers or a bit of annoyance to make a well adjusted person kill.

I fail to see how encouraging empathy for our wildlife will take anything away from the fight for human equality; if anything it should encourage a broader attitude of understanding. If you can empathise with a bee empathising with other people is easy. If our media and political class’s attitude toward the people at Calais is anything to go by, a strong dose of empathy is very much needed.

The hooligans that are illegally driving England’s Hen Harrier population to near extinction and seem to want to turn the British countryside into a wild-free monetised homogenised wasteland shooting estate were very much on my mind when I was reading about Cecil. They are not just getting away with murder, but with ecocide. And for what? Greed and vanity, the same reasons Cecil was murdered. It is high time that this Victorian era barbarism was brought to an end.

Click here to support Hen Harrier Day.

Click here to help ban Driven Grouse Shooting.

Click here to help Oxford’s Wild CRU with the conservation of lions.

Click here to help the Calais Migrants.

Click here to help keep the UK ban on Fox hunting.

Click here to support UK Badgers.

Click here to help fight the yearly Faroe Island slaughter of Dolphins and Pilot Whales.

Click here to help fight the yearly Malta massacre of birds.

Click here to help ban the shooting of Seals in the UK.

Click here to help end the yearly slaughter of Cape Fur seal pups in Namibia.

Everything I found about Seagulls is about how to kill them, so, yeah, don’t. Ta.

After a lot of hard work and a lot of fun the new peatland mural in the Forsinard Flows visitor centre is now complete. When visiting you will find it on your right as you walk in. Completed in acrylic, I began in April and then finished from late June into late July.

The mural features much of the iconic flora and fauna of the Flow Country, including one of Britain’s most persecuted bird species, the Hen Harrier. This species is still found in the Flow Country, but has been driven to near extinction across many other parts of Britain. The spectacle of ghostly grey males and their beautiful sky dancing displays has sadly become a rare sight in our landscape. As regular readers will know, raptor persecution is an issue close to my heart and so I was keen to make the Hen Harrier a focal point of the mural. If, like me, you want to support efforts to protect this species, support Hen Harrier Day on August 9th and join the Thunderclap for Hen Harriers.

There are many other species in the mural, how many do you recognise? What wildlife do you enjoy and why? Tell me in the comments below.


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