Garage Residency Artists

Don Mandarin

Saturn and the Adolescent.


How great to get acquainted with my work in this way… two readings with an audience in the Garage space, visitors throughout the week, and a chance to lay out all my drawings and collages at my feet and gaze at them… result: I thought a lot about my childhood and adolescence and how it never stopped !… the people who have shaped my life for the better have been those bold enough to redirect me back onto that path, one that appeared between the ages of 7 and 14…. everything here is simply ‘variations on a theme’…

I sit in the Gallery space and read the recently published book (‘Peking’, printed at  Bathtub Press) and realise that I am forever ‘channelling’ my experience of being alive into some sort of 2d / prose collage. I’m beginning to think that a good hook upon which to hang my work generally would be ‘adolescence’, not to mention  ‘protracted adolescence’ in my case…my work looks, to me anyway, gloriously adolescent. This is a society that has lost the power to shape and harness and celebrate adolescence, a society which distrusts and cannot handle its youth, perhaps because our so called adults are in a state of arrested development. Look around you, who after all do we know in ‘adult society’…ourselves includrd… who could truly be considered wise…where are the true elders?… not much Saturnian know how around as far as I can see. Thank heavens for gurus*.

Thus I have attempted some mind-mapping to explain my work…beginning with the pre-adolescent sexuality I experienced and which rushed to the fore aged 10 to 12 years (before it was supposed to, apparently…) by the age of eleven I was selling ‘pornographic’ drawings at school and running down to a ‘Private Shop’ near the Bristol Royal Infirmary to gaze in the window. I had already discovered my father’s Mayfair magazines and his collection of slides of naked ladies in stilettos, presumably ordered from the back pages of Men Only or Club International. Remember, I am a sixties baby, never underestimate the power the top shelf had over our young minds…Likewise my pre-adolescent fascination with horror, the horrors of history for a start, at least horrors I somehow thought belonged to history, executions, war, atrocities (how I loved and lingered over my History books, L Du Garde Peache’s illustrations, the arrow in Harold’s eye, the burnings and hangings… and the television adaptations of The Three Musketeers, The Last of the Mohicans, and Great Expectations, all of which I now own on DVD… or my father’s books on The Bog People, Nero’s games, and a book of 1920’s photojournalism)… again this precipitated drawings, drawings of the aforementioned horrors that I executed secretly and had to hide from my parents and their friends.

I started buying records aged 7, but in my case my interest in pop was fed by, again surreptitiously, having to purchase Jackie and Fab 208 magazines because I coveted the colour pictures of pop stars… More controversy, those were girls magazines. More ‘weird’ pictures… more drawings. At least I liked boys stuff like football with an equal passion (an understatement, I was obsessed, still am, at least with my local team… obsessed ), not that I could play it.

The surge of photojournalism in the late sixties and seventies, largely featured in Sunday Supplement Magazines, meant the sudden shock that the horrors I have outlined also existed in my own time… I will never, ever forget coming across  illustrated articles on the famine in Biafra, war in the VietCong. Come the mid seventies and it’s all kicking off in my head, international terrorism, a fascination with the hard left, autonomia etc … then the intoxication of real adolescence, my fantastic peer group lurching from heavy rock into punk rock with it’s forrays into extreme imagery, sex and violence. Political extremism. Drugs and alcohol. By 1978 I was producing collages for The Pop Group, a seminal highly politicized outfit, this meant pasting hard core imagery over national music papers. Collage, I knew not to be too precious about it, but it still demanded a weird sort of precision, Graham Sutherland once said that ‘Form is a dense arrangement subject to nervous preference’… that’ll do me…it’s a bit of a mystery. The singer of aforementioned ‘Pop Group’ had an elder brother, Paul Stewart, who was at Art School… I had no idea such a life was possible, I followed his lead, off I went and rested my poor head for 4 years in the art school and in the pub, enjoying a good colourful feed at the trough of the history of painting. I enjoyed the writing about Art in journals such as Artscribe… I remember one piece on Julian Schnabel’s ‘Head for Albert’ replete with exciting literary and historical references… but any dry theory on aesthetics etc etc…that spoilt it, unbearable, surely this nonsense is what gave rise to so much short changing of art lovers and gallery goers… all that hopeless ‘art world’ watered down conceptual networking. Determined not to follow a false trail I avoided all such scrutiny and drank and lived in squats instead. I became virtually destitute.

I semi got it together and started a family and joined a rock band, which would have proved a false trail had we taken it at all seriously, which we failed to do, thank heavens …life continued to happen to me for a few years. I had always written things down, always enjoyed writing in bursts of prose. Now I was writing song lyrics as well. At the turn of the millenium myself and Gareth Sager were joyfully incarnated as Pregnant, a four piece avant rock band, that was about as successful commercially as our first band, Head!. Then I became Don Mandarin and made a collage albums with mates such as Patrick Duff and Mike Mooney. One was called This Was Quo Country. I collaborated with Rat on an album called Teddy has stopped breathing… I think at this point my writing was reflecting the ‘real me’…I was well and truly off the drink and seemed to grow up a bit…became a teacher in a Steiner School, discovered Anthroposophy (which sets great store on wild flights of fancy, huge historical perspectives, occult leanings)… identifying with this and my newfound gainful employment made it easier for me to get some sort of self worth. No longer penniless I suddenly realised that, apart from keeping a journal,  I had all but stopped ‘doing my art’.

A turning point came when I started recording onto cassette tapes at home in an attempt to recreate the spirit of the experimental music sessions me and my mate Dom Whiston undertook in his garden shed when we were (again !) about 14!!!!!… we were influenced by the Faust tapes (49p). Then I discovered Facebook, Youtube, and the Noise and Obscure Black Metal Communities. Again, ‘extreme’ imagery… but I realised I was still at the trough of the fine arts, writing and pasting and drawing in a way that satisfied me, dare I say it, aesthetically… it was always thus, but figuring out the science of that pleasure, it’s objectivity/subjectivity, is beyond me for now… I collated many years of notebooks haphazardly into prose form.. I arrived on this non commercial, under the counter scene as intact and confident as I’ll ever be. Ross Bum Tapes and Fat Paul handle my material, the first book is published, a collaboration between myself, Ross Bum Tapes and Ryan Broom the Viking… The first public reading I did was very recent… I think I enjoyed it as much as any ‘gig’ or ‘art show’ I’ve ever done…and I remain in the throes of….

Saturn and the Adolescent.

*Mine are Andrew Carmichael, Ita Wegman, Eva Hesse, Henk Kort, Mark E. Smith, William T Vollmann, William S Burroughs, Brendan Behan, John Cowper Powys, Antonin Artaud, Sandy Denny, Kathy Acker, Paul Stewart, Chogyam Trungpa and Thomas Weihs.