Graham Higgins Illustration - Literate Graffiti Dept.

Archive for April, 2010


April 12, 2010

12-4-10 pinboard

I must have been about 16 when this was taken, which makes it…1969? Who by, I wonder? It’s my room in Wilford Lane, Nottingham, before we moved to Surrey a year or so later.

I came across this in a box of random photo-wallets when I was moving my stuff from a garage to this flat, and looking through them today I’d put it aside to show my son when he drops by. Dad, young. It’s hard to imagine.

The wood-effect wall is wallpaper. The pinboard was made of cork tiles stuck to the wall. I’m wearing jeans and cufflinks; I must have briefly taken off my school tie.

I realise that almost all of these images were taken from Sunday papers’ colour supplements.

Tiny Tim; Che Guevara; John’n’Yoko; Robert Redford posing as The Sundance Kid; John Mills in a still from Oh What A Lovely War; an unknown dame with luxuriant red hair. Is that a photo of Oscar Wilde that they used in the Eleanor Rigby still from Yellow Submarine (which I never saw on a cinema screen)?

For my art college interviews I spent a furious weekend making a board-book of A Day In The Life off of Sgt. Pepper’s and used the John Mills photo for the page ‘…the English Army had just won the war’. This means I must have gathered my cut-outs to take with me when the family moved.

Three Don McCullen photos – one of an African war atrocity and pinned to it, type snipped from another magazine: ‘Black is Beautiful’. Did he also take the colour shot of the Buddhist monks at the roadside?

Under the atrocity exhibit I see the corner of a Michael Heath cartoon: it was a row of uniformly grim-faced Russian generals on the balcony over Red Square, with bombers in a fly-past overhead and the might of the Soviet Defence Capacity no doubt rolling past below. ‘Stop laughing, you’ll start me off in a minute!’

I had to enlarge this one to see what it was over my shoulder, two figures silhouetted against a window: two Glasgow boys display a machete and a sword used in local territorial disputes.

Young Duke Ellington. Really didn’t have a clue about ‘cool’ but the photo is it.

A full-page shot of a pastrami on rye – bread for us was white and sliced, brown bread was a minority taste; the wholemeal revolution was yet to come. This was exotic fare. Pinning it up made it pop art.

Her Majesty, mounted, by Gerald Scarfe.

Head close-up of a slaughtered horse in a French abbattoir. Above it, a speed-launch accelerates away with its pennant flying suspiciously flat-on, so probably from a Navy recruitment ad.

Two pictures of deer; Highland stags on a postcard from Scotland and a backlit African model with big cute Martian ears.

John Heartfield anti-Nazi photomontage; photo of Nazi officer with two glamorous molls, possibly a daring fashion-shoot.

A Victorian Greek romantic painting of the women watching the fleet departing for Troy.

My own graffiti: Don’t Revolve – Evolve. Clearly I was already seeing myself as a future shaper of the counterculture. Start on button-badges; work your way up to profound theoretical paradigm-shifts reified in the social fabric.

The orange patterned poster rolled up at the bottom right was a giant Madame Tussaud’s poster.

I’d not thought about my shifting photo gallery for these years and yet all these images are instantly familiar. This was what we did before we had the internet.


April 6, 2010

6-4-10 Expansion/Implosion

Here’s Matt and here’re OKGo! They’ve ‘gone viral’.

In old money, YouTube stars are like generations of pop musicians who converted an appearance on Top Of The Pops into pthousands of sales and maybe a year’s worth of business. I just went to look up Jeffery Daniel’s shockwave performance on Shalamar’s Night To Remember appearance on TOTP. Looking at the clip now I was surprised how much right-out mime was involved but the talk of the office next day was that bloke’s dancing. Hard to imagine, now we are post-Jackson, the impact that little demonstration made. A glance at the studio audience demonstrates the era’s typical cool moves, tinged here with shock and awe.

Currently you half expect someone to see the 3D movie potential of Matt’s global shuffle. Some ad exec ought to pick up an OKGo! track for an ad soundtrack as a pay-day and a round of applause for the band.

When I was at college there was a lecture about the role and mechanism of reputation, which introduced the idea of Expansion>Implosion cultures. The idea seemed useful at the time; briefly it was that historically an artist’s reputation spread out from his home town, transmitted in single unique canvases; word-of-mouth rippled out ahead of the works.

In Implosion culture the individual is the object of ubiquitous TV, radio, press and advertising and is informed of the events and personalities elected important by those media: what’s worrying, what demands outrage or compassion. The more the directions from which matching information comes, the more its importance is defined and reinforced. Ready-made reputations implode on us.

I’m not so sure this holds true now, when the internet has become the definitive word-of-mouth medium. Broadcast TV has lost its authority and its common audience. Internet communities may be thinly globally dispersed but quite large and cohesive. Is the bane of the spam I get a prime example of Implosion Culture or no more modern than a walk through the souk of the WordPress conurbation, where hawkers and hicks shout their wares under stall awnings or stood behind open suitcases?

Matt and OKGo! are but two examples of what must count as Expansion Culture. As word spreads punters pitch up from near and far just as Victorians took advantage of the cutting edge of steam locomotive technology to see the exotic and scientific marvels of The Great Exhibition. YouTube records the audience turnstiles.

Actually it’s quite easy to imagine the 1851 counterparts of OKGo!’s Musical Comical Illustration of Newton’s Laws Of Motion! The Forces that Govern the Stars harnessed to Highly Risible effect! *Instructive and Suitable for Little Folk*.

Matt’s Peripatetic Terpsichorian Expedition could take to the Crystal Palace stage as a succession of Ethnic Types in their Native Costume: Major Matthew Harding’s Wild World Review with musical accompaniment by the Deep Forest Consort.

This entry has taken an unusual three days’ mulling. It’s thought I can’t conclude. The theories that sounded smart in the last century depended on an assumption that media content would be a corporate commodity made available to a defined demographic sample of identifiable market sectors. Now all the relevant definitions are shifting, the old metaphors won’t work.

Does the flood of information form a Suspension Culture, where we are cultural particles whose decisions are jostled in a kind of Brownian motion caused by collisions with randomised alerts and entreaties, or maybe an Osmosis Culture…?

Anyway, this is now five days from the first paragraph. I’ve kept popping this open and realised that I’ve either painted myself into a corner or left myself in such a wide open field of speculation that I’ve barely pegged out the groundplan to begin digging the foundations of this topic.

I’ve been reluctant to join the chorus that agrees that the internet has changed the world, because so many of its functions are quite traditional in all but presentation. It’s the virtually instant global reach that makes the difference.  It was a Shakespearian fantasy that Puck could put a girdle round the Earth… in forty minutes! We haven’t yet caught up with the reality. Models of community and cultures in cyberspace are actually not helped by comparison to those describing geographic location. Maybe it’s time to adopt Kurt Vonnegut’s vocabulary and think in terms of Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons.