On Rootlessness and Belonging, Art and the Solidity of Buildings

When is a question not simply a question, I often reflect, or perhaps rather, feel, because I should explain that questions can hurt. And one question I am asked a lot is “where are you from?” and the implication, if you are touchy enough to delve, is “cos it ain’t from round here.” So often I am called upon to somehow justify my identity, as though one can probe into the roots of others and demand explanations of them in a second, on the spot, of matters which might take years or decades to understand. Many leave the places of their births, to be sure, but often they do so safe in the knowledge that the shell will remain of their home, a cocoon of identity. There are generations that go before, old schools, haunts of teenage years misspent, friends if one is lucky, enemies if they are not. My life, and therefore my art, are suffused with the curse of deracination, a curse others mistake for a blessing through the prisms of their own lives. Let me be clear. Deracination is no joke, to uproot a child, to take him from all that is familiar, to a new language and a new culture, leaving behind the place of his birth, such things have consequences paid for in confusion and pain. And so it is with me and East Yorkshire, a place of distant embers of memory, glowing faintly in the hearth until one day they burst into flame once more, when life has reached and then passed it’s midway point, when death is closer than the beginning. Then does the start of one’s days call back, the old buildings of childhood, the shops where you went with mum when you were five and she was young and dad was alive. So it is with me and Hull, the Humber, and muddy rivers, the dereliction, and the curiously blocky buildings of post-bellum. I was born in Beverley, on the edge of the city, within a short bus ride. I remember the smell of fresh paint in the station, the whiff of chips and diesel, and the food hall at Hammonds, and the cream cakes at Carmichaels, and I want it back. I want back what I was not allowed to have. I want my birthright returned to me. So when I paint, I paint those buildings. With each brush stroke I create a bond with my lost past, a link, I stake a little claim. And there are no people in my paintings, because there are no people I can paint, no living roots. It is just the buildings and their ghosts. If I belong anywhere, I belong here, not as some might think I should, in the foreign land where I spent my later childhood, a time of agony and despair, nor in the Essex suburb where I live now, but here in the crucible of my earliest awareness, in the land of my birth. And one day I will return here to live, and to die, and I will have come a full circle. And until then I will paint and photograph and explore, adding layer upon layer of soil to my exposed and withered roots, hoping they will grow again. Because everyone needs to belong somewhere, you know, and I belong here, where the land is flat and the buildings tatty, and the people are warm and where each corner has distant memories, and each department store had its childhood treats and each derelict shell thrilled my six-year old self. And where people speak the way I used to speak, long ago, before my own accent was washed away with each passing year, like the relentless wash of the waves on the beach.
Below follows a series of paintings and photographs, a narrative of art and photography.


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