“It was as though they consciously cast themselves as outsiders. An undermining confederacy within this outwardly god-fearing and respectable house. A commitment to the sadness of being white trash”-Gordon Burn, Happy Like Murderers
“The human race is unimportant. It is the self that must not be betrayed.”
“I suppose one could say that Hitler didn’t betray his self.”
“You are right. He did not. But millions of Germans did betray their selves. That was the tragedy. Not that one man had the courage to be evil. But that millions had not the courage to be good.”―
It’s a detail from the new piece, a pyre of strewn garbage for the emperor of trash I’m painting, and it could be anywhere, from a no place in a nowhere town.
And yet I suppose I’ve been thinking more specifically of the Liverpool of my childhood as I paint it. “Ollers’ we’d call them back then, little stretches of land where grand old tenements had once stood, now earmarked as a dumping ground for all manner of human detritus. A mountain of piss stained mattresses, and rotting putrid meat in Styrofoam cartons. A graveyard for a human staining footprint, but nonetheless our playgrounds as kids.
This was long before trash became a trope of contemporary art, like the time when I went to the MOMA in LA, and saw a binbag mounted on a wall. There’s a telling chasm right there-the distinction between the perception of the wealthy elites and the indentured poor, like finding the slops of ones childhood broth, re marketed as a menu special in a Michelin star restaurant.
Here of course, in my artistic playground, everything from a discarded Embassy #6 ciggy packet, to a Robinsons Jam box, to a rotten apple has a resonance beyond merely being a glib ornament.
I’ve been reading Happy Like Murders, a book about 25 Cromwell Street, and the horror home of Fred and Rose West, turning each page with stomach churning dread. The picture it paints is of a degenerative world on the edge of Dean Forest in Gloucester ( Dennis Potters former literary stomping ground). It’s an almost Hogarthian world on the fag end of the 60’s and early 70’s, a hopeless parade of toothless yobs, bully boys, headcases, duggies, kiddie fiddlers, hoodlums, slags, chancers and tealeeves. Working class zeroes-all seemingly salt of the Earth types,pub licked by a life of grime from the bowels of the craggy pitts, or having done a stretch at her majesty’s pleasure.
It’s a sad sack world I’m very much familiar with, one where from the cradle to the grave-tomorrow never comes, because it never belonged to you to begin with. So I’m familiar when I see it here in the US also, dust clad nowhere towns, with the chewed up forgotten sputum of human chattel, clinging to the ‘olde world’ for succor, stewing in yesteryear’s garbage, embracing what Flaubert once referred to as the ‘true immorality’-wilful ignorance and stupidity.
Because a society starved of morality, becomes a hell breeding monsters, like the slick oil of an eel, sliding through the hollow of an asses skull.