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You Jest - In memory of art critic and writer Peter Fuller

1. Mount Martha Victoria 2021

2. Introduction – Melbourne 2003

3. Original notes - London 1987 -1988 -1990

A revision of edited notes

1. Introduction Mount Martha Victoria 2021

I was lucky enough to meet with the art critic and writer Peter Fuller on a few occasions after a talk he gave to a group of post graduate students at Manchester where I was studying. On the first of our meetings, he came to my studio and we spoke about honesty and commitment to an individual aesthetic as well as not letting our self, fall prey to fleeting artistic fashion. He was very pleased I was carving stone and talked in depth about the sculptors Constantin Brancusi and Henry Moore. He also spoke about Ruskin and the necessity of reading his thoughts on art. He spoke with such eloquence and fluidity and his knowledge of the development of the contemporary art of the day, was second to none. I had two other meetings with Peter Fuller in my London studio during 1985, where he lamented the fact that too many young artists were falling prey to what he coined to me ‘the scourge of Conceptualism, the latest fashionable twist at the expense of individual creativity’. I remember making a mental note of it at the time and on reflection, am very glad I did.

The art word has often been prone to the shallow twists of fleeting fashion and short-lived artistic movements. In the early 1980’s, Conceptualism was weaving its insipid way across the whole of artistic Britain: indeed, weaving its insipid way around the world to swallow up just about anyone artistic who made the mistake of getting in its way. Art School after art school, gallery after gallery and sadly artist after artist, desperate to get an exhibition in any British city, pandered to this fad with monotonous regularity.

Peter Fuller saw through this artificial aesthetic and made the mistake of voicing his concerns. For this he was ridiculed in many artistic and literary circles. Unlike so many other writers of the day, he spoke about what he believed had become, for too many artists, a loss of creative individuality and artistic skill. Around nineteen eighty six I had been thinking about making an exhibition of sculptures as an homage to his writing. I learned of his death in tragic circumstances during April 1990, just before this exhibition took place, and dedicated this exhibition to him.

For all the attempts upon young, up and coming artists made by those university lecturers, gallery dealers and influential critics who saw the Conceptual Movement as being a means by which to force radical change to what they believed had become a conservative art world; those very same people became the artistic establishment and stamped on anyone who criticised them. They were in practice, much more conservative than those they ridiculed and overthrew and as a consequence of this general air of closed mindedness, it became almost impossible to get an exhibition anywhere in Britain if your artistic face didn’t fit; so to speak. Mine did not.

Much of the art that was produced and exhibited in the major galleries during that time ended up being no more than second rate copies of truly great radical art made by the likes of Joseph Beuys and earlier still, the great Russian artists and poets of the early twentieth century. By the time Post Conceptualism was the artistic norm of the day (during the 1990s), in most of London’s major galleries, much of the art that had been made and written about, disappeared up its own rear end just as Peter Fuller had predicted to me ten years before: The Turner Prize being the quintessence of this infectious artistic movement that lingers with a nasty pong on the nose to this day.

I am so grateful for the few times I was able to meet with Peter Fuller. Not only was he happy to spend time with me discussing my artistic intentions and ideas, (he urged me strongly to follow my own artistic nose), but also because he was one of those rare individuals of whom it can be truly said: had a first-rate mind.

Note: At the time the notes below were written in 2003, I was forty-five years old. When the first notes were written in 1988-89, I was thirty-one years old. I’m sixty-three now! Where did the time go?


2. You Jest

Notes for new sculptural artworks to be exhibited at The Chelsea Contemporary Gallery, Sydney NSW written during May 1987 - August 1988 – April 1990 – July 2003 – revisited May 2021.


Movement of a sort…

I was cleaning up my studio recently when I came across a few pages of notes written during an eleven-month period before my emigration to Australia from England; and during the time leading up to my first exhibition in Sydney at The Chelsea Contemporary Gallery. This was a time of great change for me, not only in my change of personal circumstances, but also with the development of my sculptural ideas. At this time, my ideas in sculpture underwent a vast transformative rebuild as I began to question all aspects of my artistic output. Transformative is the right word to describe this precious time of my life.

It came about after the disease of repetitiveness had crept into my work. I knew I had to affect a change in both myself and my work. The only way to do this was to stop and take the time to question all aspects of my working processes. I did this by stopping work altogether.

During the latter part of 1987 I spent many hours in my studio trying to understand and resolve the many contradictions (and inner conflicts), that had led to my work become bland to the point of redundancy. I remember well the frustration I felt at my inability to work with cohesiveness between my artistic ideas and the physical manifestations of them. It’s curious to take a look back at the way you were thinking at a certain point in time; all the more curious and pleasing as the notes were written as the change in my artistic thinking happened. In some respects, the notes are naive, in other respects I find the notes refreshing by the quality of their naiveté. There are some ideas in the notes I disagree with currently (particularly in respect to the art practices of many contemporary artists of whom I hold complete respect), but nevertheless, in the notes below, that is how I was thinking at the time, for better or for worse, warts an’ all: I believe now for the better as they show a time of great change within my life, a time I now hold very close to my heart, a time when I was able to return to making art with honesty and integrity from a period of self-doubt and inactivity.


Life of a sort…

These days, at forty-five years of age, I believe life to be changing constantly, whether it affects change in us, or whether we affect change in what life has to offer. Life then, is a curious balance between these two states of change. Without warning, they bump into one another, sometimes in complete harmony, other times, with complete and utter discourtesy and contempt with the resulting inner turmoil they manifest. I hope that any ability I have to affect change in my life and artwork, will continue for the rest of my life.



I am going to dedicate this exhibition to the memory of the art critic and writer Peter Fuller who died in tragic circumstances just a few months ago. I am extremely sad at the moment. Over the past couple of years, I had been thinking about doing something to recognise the respect I had for him and lament the fact that I didn’t have the opportunity (or the appropriate artworks ready before he passed. He had so much more to offer the world before his untimely passing. Much of the Conceptual artwork to which he objected during the mid to late nineteen eighties, has become the norm as far as the artistic fashion of today is concerned. Even worse, fashionable twaddle posing as new art, made by a few (I’ll call them), ‘Top End Artists’, has become the accepted fashion of the day by most major artistic institutions as being credible art practice in the contemporary art world. No one questions its existence, no one challenges its subject matter, no one calls its creators to account, no one of note in the art world raises their well-hidden skeptical head above the water so to speak, for fear of being ostracised or ridiculed. Apart from Peter Fuller, who until his passing, let them have it with both barrels, again, so to speak: and both barrels they needed and still need without question.



With the exception of Peter Fuller, there is no one writing these days with the tenacity, knowledge, courage and wit, to condemn so much of the rubbish currently trying to pass itself off as new art in so many of our contemporary galleries; and I do not only refer to England, America, Most of Europe, Australia and Canada. The conceptual epidemic is world-wide. It is killing the creativity of so many young talented artists who, in their innocence, lack of confidence at speaking out and lack of life’s experiences, are falling prey to this stultifying epidemic.



The legacy of Conceptualism in the early 1980s (in Britain at least), and all those it affected, destroyed many creative minds. It certainly did in London. I saw artist after artist bury their individuality out of the sight of gallery owners, lecturers in art schools, not to mention their contemporaries in an overall pathetic attempt to placate these morons. Here then, in this new decade, lies the meaning of my title for this exhibition: ‘You Jest’. Peter Fuller was right. I will not give in to it and forsake all I believe to be my individuality.

The art world (world-wide), has always been prone to the superficiality of fashion or trendy moods; and it has never really recovered from the trendy mood of the 1980s. At that time, Peter Fuller stood alone and spoke out against the fashion of the day and I believe, he would be standing today, alone, speaking out against much of the second-rate, nay third-rate trash displayed by fashionistas all over the world. If only he were alive today to give Jeff Koons and that idiot Hirst the roasting they so obviously deserve.

Peter Fuller was ridiculed by many public figures in the art world who labelled him a conservative and reactionary: very much in favour of the traditional art establishment. This label and criticism could not have been further from the truth. One of his fundamental arguments that all of his critics failed to see, was that artists should follow their ideas with honesty and integrity, ignoring the fashion of the day and never to let themselves fall prey to the short whims of a few influential university art teachers and gallery owners: all desperate to make money. It’s not hard to see through the simple business activity of inventing artistic trends to create a financial market in which to make money. Peter Fuller saw through the inanity of that hype. Many artists I had thought previously to be fairly intelligent, either sold out to the current market or fell prey the market’s shallow ideas for the sole purpose of lining their pockets; just as Peter Fuller predicted.


The romance of memory…

I remember fondly, as a post graduate student, the talk Peter Fuller gave to a small but like-minded group of us on the relevance of Romanticism and Idealism and the ways in which they might be incorporated into our artworks. Outside the small room, a group of students had gathered to protest his invitation to the art college to speak. Sheep, the lot of them. Ignoring them, he spoke for two hours with no notes (I have always envied people with first rate minds). Later, he spoke to me in my dusty studio with its floor covered with chunks of sandstone and marble and linked his talk cleverly to the work of Constantin Brancusi, Rodin, Henry Moore and of all people: Ruskin! He asked me about my intentions for the future. I told him I wasn’t sure as I didn’t feel in step with what was going on with many contemporary art galleries. Also, that I had been in the university system for a long time and was itching to get out and start a career. I added, money is the only real issue in making it happen.” I remember him smiling broadly at this. It would be so nice to be able to tell him about the influence his writing has had on the development of my work; and of course, not forgetting the influence it has had on the individuality of my life.

I believe it will be a very long time before we see (in the contemporary art world at least), a person with enough integrity and strength of conviction, ready to stand alone and speak out with authority against just about all the art world (world-wide), has let itself become.


Looking back…

A great deal has changed since 2003, indeed, a great deal since 1987! What of the angry young man I was? What of my thoughts and feelings, which in all honesty, have mellowed (one could only say), drastically over the passing years? Nevertheless, certain principals remain the same. Conceptualism may well have died a long slow painful death as artists ploughed on through the nineteen nineties - wading through the mire that was Post Conceptualism and worse still Post Post Conceptualism, but then, a younger generation of artists has come back to a life of a sort, by breaking the clichéd shackles of the past to stand up on their own two feet. Thank goodness.

Below: Notes for You Jest First started June 1987 – Jan 1988 March 1989.

Text taken from original notes.

You Jest

1990 – In Memory of Peter Fuller.

Trepidation – Form – Illustration – Emotion – And an element of absurd, cynical, comedy.


Nine months has passed since I made the initial drawings for these sculptural works and I am at last ready to return to the three-dimensional format; this time with much more enthusiasm as the sculptural ideas have been fully realised into what I shall call Whole Forms. They will incorporate sculpture, painting and related titles.

Taking time out in respect to the development of these sculptures is important, more that during the period from when the preliminary sketches were made, I gave myself time to develop each of the sculptural ideas (albeit under the same umbrella title), to its full potential. In the case of these works, it is fair to say that the time it has taken – is the time it has taken, to make good (or at least acceptable), this body of new work.

1989 Cutting apron stings…

The luxury of taking time out to give me a clear head has done wonders for my creative ideas. I am in the process of making the big move from England to Australia and surprisingly, the unease and tension created by leaving my home and everything I know, has played various obscure psychological tricks on my feelings and thoughts about everything I know to be safe and secure: family and friends, artists and their studios, Mike Daykin mentor and friend, Jules de Goede mentor and friend RIP, poets and authors, Basil Bunting reading his masterpiece ‘Briggflatts’ (as he recited his masterwork, I was the only one in the room, all else faded away to nothing), photographers, libraries and museums, galleries and their opening nights, The Egypt Exploration Society and The Bass Clef Jazz Club, BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio 3, The Nazrul Curry House in Brick Lane, Wards Irish Bar, The French House (Oh Mr. Thomas! I stood where you stood, sat where you sat, drank where you drank), Nigel Kennedy’s debut at the Royal Festival Hall, Kung Wa Chung at The Royal Festival Hall, John McLaughlin at The Royal Festival Hall, Miles Davis at The Royal Festival Hall, Carlos Santana at The Royal Festival Hall, The London Philharmonic Orchestra playing Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite conducted by Ricardo Muti (before he conducted opera), Sunday lunchtime concerts at The Wigmore Hall, Pierre Boulez at The Barbican Hall, Frank Zappa every time he came to London (from 1972-1988), trips up to Manchester to hear The Halle Orchestra, listening to trad jazz in The Prince of Orange in Rotherhithe, boat trips to France, being nice to the French, looking across The Thames from my studio in Metropolitan Wharf, Wapping, The Queen’s Head pub in Churchgate Street, Old Harlow Essex, all the seminars and lectures at various London colleges on topics like: The Bauhaus, the Russians from Tatlin to Gabo (not Greta!), Constantin Brancusi, The Romantic Movement of the 1930s, aesthetics and the language of abstraction (is there one?), arguing the toss with my friends between the artistic establishment in the shape of Peter Fuller against The Conceptual Movement, the relevance of Bertrand Russell’s ‘Problems of Philosophy’, the value or not of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth against the minimalism of Donald Judd and his counterparts, Constructivism, Deconstruction, Colour Field, Bertrand Russell becoming a Catholic on his death bed (talk about covering your bets), Rodin and Camille Claudel, Braque’s influence on Picasso, Picasso’s influence on everyone, Joseph Beuys (genius) as seen through the eyes of Anselm Kieffer (another genius), Clement Greenberg (wanker), why Jeff Coons sculptures are worthless second rate nonsense (not a lecture, just me), Rembrandt’s light and dark, Caravaggio’s light and dark, ‘A Trip to Italy’, that ceiling my Michelangelo, that table by Leonardo, Titian’s red, ‘A Trip To France’, that raft by Gericault, Ingres necks, David’s Marat, ‘A trip around Tate Britain’, Ruskin, Turner, William Blake (genius), Tate Modern and the irrelevance of Andy Warhol (me again!), Richard Rogers exterior intestines, the need for art in a functional world, need for art at all, not forgetting Tottenham Hotspur Football Club where ever I end up (God bless Glen Hoddle – Essex Boy), and thousands more sanguine moments of a thus far insular but happy existence. I took my basket of apples and threw them in the air.


Will that be British Airways, Qantas or Singapore Airlines sir?


I have completed new drawings and countless sketches for eleven new artworks, all of which, have been worked and re worked over the past nine months. For me, nine months is an eternity with regard to my usual art practice, but only now are the drawings near correct or at least at a point where I feel satisfied with their content and form.

Unease, tension and to some extent, depression at the thought of not seeing close friends, relatives and familiar places has brought everything in my life into sharp focus: particularly over the past three months as I realize the nearness of my departure date. I look forward to the future, but can’t help looking back over my shoulder in order to make some emotional sense of the past and my colossal decision to uproot and make a new life elsewhere. I will always love London but I have to go.

How strange, frustrating and yet challenging it is to understand trepidation, uncertainty and tentativeness for the first time in my life: and not necessarily in that order! Lucky I am indeed, to be able to make a free choice of direction for my life and where my life be lived. Such a free choice for so many reasons; political, ideological and spiritual is bestowed on so few, given freely to me as a right by birth, blood and country. I am lucky and I am grateful. Deep in my heart, I am thankful for that right to free choice and action and do not take it, or make it lightly.

April 1990

The New World. Trepidation be gone!

The maquettes for the sculptures are complete and will be made to full scale over the next two months in readiness for the exhibition. Each work is to be given a specific title under the umbrella title of the exhibition ‘You Jest’. These titles are to work in two ways: firstly, to give clarity to the sculptural form and secondly, to build a literal relationship between the objects in the exhibition space in relation to the working title of the exhibition. Thus, all the works are to be linked together visually and literally. It is important to note that this exhibition is not to be considered as Installation Art (Heaven forbid!), more a collection of artworks to be viewed in one space and considered as one artwork. The Chelsea Contemporary Gallery is a large open space that will make this possible. The gallery director has given me complete control over the organisation of the space, which is very much appreciated.

June 1989

I’ll name that sculpture in one…

All the titles have been chosen and I believe, will work well under the overall context of the exhibition. Titles seem to be born at the conception of an idea, but can sometimes change as the artwork progresses: not a complete change, but more of an evolution, just as the idea progresses into fruition. Titles can be as simple or as complicated as the artworks in that they are included to complete the idea. I have always titled my artworks. Not to do so is facile or stupid; a bit like having a child and not giving it a name - surely the creative process is just as long and mostly just as painful - can you imagine saying It’s ok, we’re just going to call the child it?: a totally facile exercise that will only lead to childish ridicule.

There is nothing more annoying than going to see a collection of artworks all of which, are accompanied by labels marked: “Untitled I, II or III” and so on; nameless and all the more inaccessible to the art lover.

There really is no need to make the artwork’s subject matter aloof (for vanity’s sake), in the hope that by doing so, it will give the artwork and the artist an inflated air of mystery, which of course, is utter nonsense. Artists are not mysterious, they never were, they are very normal people who eat, shit and sleep just like everyone else – take it from me. The disease of the untitled artwork (in more recent times from about 1950), spread throughout Europe, America, parts of Asia and I presume Australia, and affected hundreds if not, thousands of artists – particularly abstract artists – who took the easy option of leaving everything up in the air, so to speak; up in the artistic air that is, where aloofness in all its vagueness, wafted across a sea of non-objective mist laden forms or angular shapes that head butted each other or railed against each other’s existence in what morons (sorry many critics and their arty farty jargon), had the audacity to describe on many occasions as ambiguous juxtapositions of form. Really! Ambiguous juxtapositions of form, when what they actually meant to say was Flower arranging. Florists have more integrity. Sadly, none of those morons (sorry critics), had the courage of their convictions to put their careers on the line, say what they meant, and get a job in another field. Indeed, what job would have been available to them in the nineteen seventies and eighties with a degree in Art History? Apologies for the rhetoric. Unfortunately, the presence of the untitled artwork can still be seen in many galleries: fortunately, to a much lesser degree. It follows then, given my little rant above, the titles I have for these new artworks are both relevant and necessary in understanding the forms. They are also a natural extension of the forms to give clarity to the central idea.

One of the stumbling blocks for any progression or development in much of my work in the past, has been my inability to bring specific subject matter in to the abstract form. I have always wanted to bring about a parallel working process to join or coalesce object and subject. Many abstract artworks exist solely for what they are and nothing more. Consequently, for me, they are devoid of content or meaning. All that results from this type of abstraction is pretty shapes, be they two dimensional or three dimensional. On occasion, they may well be pleasing to the eye, but that is all. Some would no doubt believe that the existence of the artwork’s surface, and the emotional responses its surface invokes, is enough to make the artwork complete or valid. For me this is wrong as there is nowhere to go; nowhere to contemplate any intellectual or indeed spiritual content that might be lurking beneath the artwork’s surface: not even by accident. In short, incomplete artworks of this kind are shallow meaningless empty vessels, fit only for titles like ‘Untitled I, II or III’.

During the past nine months I had been looking for specific subject matter with so much intensity, my overall artistic outlook had become clouded. Objectivity evaded me; my natural urge to make art had to be suppressed (with great difficulty), in order to find new artistic ground upon which, to develop a new body of artworks. It is perhaps, a bit corny to make statements about the disparity between natural urges to work and enforced periods of artistic inactivity: but artistic endeavour requires this without question: periods of self-indulgent mental absorption. All you need is a room, a chair, a sketchbook, a pencil, a head full of ideas through which to negotiate and sift out the good ideas from the bad and of course, the indulgence of uninterrupted time; time enough in my case, to call into question the starting point for all my artistic endeavour.

I have always set myself tasks in an attempt to keep my art work vital and credible; tasks that have taken up so much of my life (thus far), that could only be broken up by times of self-questioning through doubting the essential core of any of my given ideas. In this case, as simplistic a notion as understanding the source of my subject matter (and placing that subject matter in the centre of art objects called sculpture), is not to be confused with feeling the need to make something from nothing and calling it art. Here, for me, lies the difference between original considered thought, balanced against an emotional response to the world at large.

Recognising the moment at which, a thought transforms from a simple notion to a credible artistic idea is worth further consideration and can only be recognised through a learned appreciation of the moment. There is no such thing as the untouchable flash of genius, at least, not in the practice of my art or for that matter, all the artists whom I respect. Inspirational moments and flashes of genius are romantic expressions used by people whose lives are dull and predictable; people who have a clichéd image of who they think an artist is. Expressions of this kind fit the image of a creative person people like to call artistic. Sadly, and perversely, all too often there have been many artists who have played the eccentric fool and feigned these inspirational moments and flashes of genius. The artists who act in this way usually end up making artworks of no consequence. Jeff Coons and Damien Hirst are shining examples of this type of artistic inanity and of whom, I hold no respect whatsoever. All surface and no substance.


Making thoughts real. Moments of realisation…

The moment of awakening to the truth of something special is brought about by continued study and application; developed around an inquiry into the responses, learning and intellectual realisations of one’s life. It is as simple and as difficult as that. For this body of work, I had to go right back to the simplest of enquiries into the nature of making thoughts or notions a reality. I asked myself again and again, what it was I had done in the past to make this possible? Time and time again, I returned to the very simplest of notions that brought about the simplest of answers: I make marks. I recall a moment of realisation in one of my earliest lessons in drawing. It was in my first year at art college after leaving school. I was fortunate enough to be taught by a painter called Ian McKeever who, during a life class, had become annoyed at our failing attempts at drawing. He walked around the room making all sorts of rood noises and then, when it appeared his emotions had got the better of him, he stopped the class. Pencils and charcoal down, we sat waiting as he collected his thoughts. The room was absolutely silent when he asked:

‘What do you think it is that you are actually doing?’

For a few moments no one replied and we sat in gloomy silence. I sat motionless as he asked again:

‘Come on! What do you think it is you are doing?’

More silence. What were we to say? What was I to say? I wanted to answer, but couldn’t find the words. Partly embarrassed, partly unsure of how to respond, I believe I actually blushed with shame.

‘Ok’, he continued, ‘today we are going to go back to basics, we’re going to ask ourselves about the nature of our activity: the nature of making art. It appears that none of you have looked at this aspect of creativity yet, and yet, it’s one of the foundations of artistic creativity.’

In the tense atmosphere of the room and in answer to his first question ‘What is drawing?’, there were many convoluted ideas around the subject; but no one really got close to describing the true nature of the activity.

‘Drawing is mark making.’ It was a simple pronouncement.

There was a collective sigh of relief at the simplicity of his answer, but even then, the importance of what he had just said, still hadn’t sunk in (I can be terribly slow like that); and while I began to ponder on his words he asked another, altogether, much harder question.

‘If drawing is mark making, what is a mark?’

Once again, as the atmosphere in the room lifted, there was much talk, but no one including me, got close to answering the question with any clarity.

‘A mark is a translation of an action.’ He said, and in that very moment, he looked right at me and smiled.

‘It’s as simple and as difficult as that,’

And to add more force to the statement he asked: ‘A mark translation of a particular action, driven by what?’

The penny rolling around in my head, began its slow descent as he continued to ask the simplest and yet, most difficult of questions.

‘What do we mean by mark making?’

‘What do I mean by particular action?’

‘What makes a particular action occur?’

“When does a mark become a mark?’

‘If we start with a dot and move the pencil along the page, when does the dot become a line?’

‘Apply this to any other form of mark be it abstract or objective and ask the same question.’

‘When does a mark stop being a mark?’

‘When we write, are we mark making?’

‘If mark making is the result of particular actions, how do we discern the difference between drawing and writing as mark making activities?

‘Drawing and writing are in themselves, both interpretations of thought and response to the world around us, what’s the difference between them?’

‘Now you are going to take piece of charcoal and you are going to make fifty different marks with it – do not stop until you have finished.’

It took a few seconds as I recall, but then, as the penny clanked its way down into my middle and into my core, I saw the truth of the importance of objective thought for the very first time. It was liberating and in that very moment, I found it hard to contain my excitement and moved my left arm across the paper in ways I had never done before.

The penny spun a final time and lay to rest: heads up.


Marking time until the penny dropped…

During the following classes there were many more questions and activities. I do not need to illustrate them here to make my point. To my shame and to this day, I remember that I started this journey in creativity several years before this moment of realisation by deciding (at the age of about 16), to become an artist. In making that decision, and in the following years until that life changing class, I had not taken the very basic step of questioning the very human nature of the activity that I felt sure would be the biggest influence on my future. Of all the lessons I took at art school, this day in April 1976, with this truly wonderful, gifted artist as teacher: was the best. No bolts of lightning, no rattle of thunder, no moments of inspiration, no flashes of genius: only the spark of enthusiasm igniting the flame of inquiry. It is to this memory I had