Thursday, 10 June 2010


England's Feeling The Strain, 210 x 180cms, 1996-97

Unless you live in a cave (which let’s face it is kind of tempting sometimes), you’re probably aware that the World Cup is about to open tomorrow in South Africa. The buzz around it has prompted me to remember how over the years the so-called ‘beautiful game’ has featured in many of my paintings and drawings.

It’s not that I’m a huge football fan or anything, but I have often been interested in the culture surrounding football and it’s impact on ordinary lives. My Dad and older brother are huge football fans, supporting West Bromwich Albion, so it has always formed a backdrop to my early family life with the ritual of the Results at Saturday teatime, and filling in the pools coupon. There was also a period in the 1990’s when terrace culture really overlapped with club culture, which was what I was exploring in my paintings at this time. The painting above was an attempt to reflect this, with the floodlight also reminiscent of a nightclub strobe, and the nightclub spotlight doubling as one of the many surveillance cameras that are embedded in the areas around football grounds. John King’s debut novel, ‘The Football Factory’, which I read at the time, inspired some of the ideas in this painting, including the title. I don’t think it’s a brilliant read, but at the time it had a more contemporary take on white, working class culture which I found interesting. The painting also contains quite a lot of references to Goya’s work, which I was obsessed with at the time., and the Euro 96 competition. The painting evolved into a much darker piece as England were knocked out and rioting fans spilled out into the streets.

This painting, where the players look like the seventies ‘Star Soccer’ heroes, was about the escape football, and other sports such as boxing, has been for the working class over the decades, whether that is in becoming a professional player, or just through a brief respite from otherwise tough lives in a game with friends, which is what this painting was about. The ideas seem a bit sentimental now, as the modern game seems very dislocated from these roots to me. That’s also me in the background, as the location for this painting is based on a place I used to play football as a teenager.

Away From Home, oil on canvas, 150 x 220cms, 1997

‘Club Football’ below is a bit mad isn’t it? It touches on ideas of theme clubs and bars which were popular at the time. I actually entered this painting for the Royal Scottish Academy Summer Open Exhibition which was hopelessly naïve of me! Needless to say it was rejected. At this time I could knock out big, complicated and dense paintings like these quite easily, which is one of the reasons I stopped doing them. The other painting, ‘Peterborough’, is seen in an installation of ‘Local Derby’, an exhibition my friend Andy Page and I held in Cambridge. We were asked to produce football inspired pieces around the theme. My painting is based on the moments after a summer evening football match amongst friends at the local park. Perversely, but typical of me really, I produced a painting without a football to be seen!

Club Football, oil on canvas, 180 x 120cms, 1998
Peterborough, oil on canvas, 210 x 210cms, 1999

It’s hard to believe, but I transported both of these huge paintings down Edinburgh’s Prince’s Street on my friend Donald’s customised skateboard, which you could screw your painting to and wheel it along. The things you do as a skint and struggling artist. You couldn’t make it up, but I wouldn’t want it any other way really. Would I?

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