I am pleased to announce that part 6 of my animation Playing with Plastic (2016) will be exhibited online as part of a new archive UN[dis]CRIMINATE with the Unstitute online gallery.

Located in courtyards of the Unstitute – in between spaces, between other structures, temporary or otherwise – is a network of diverse encampments serving any number of uses; political or otherwise. In these digital encampments you can see the building of a new archive: UN[dis]CRIMINATE.

The outlying buildings of The Unstitute are not guarded by anyone in particular, and often entrances sit wide open for anyone to see. But mainly the nomadic eruptions in disused or otherwise vague areas of The Unstitute appear of their own determination, and deterritorialize as long as they please.

Cowboys Invaded – Update (18/5/19)

I’ve made some really good progress today in the studio, this new technique has me kicking myself, why hadn’t I used it before? I guess it’s a case of “you live and you learn”.

I began the day by making a slight change to the 1:72 scale piece, removing the mounds that I had built up and replaced with some flat pieces, based on the John Ford Point piece I made a few weeks ago now. I then moved onto focus on the mountain top piece, hoping that the gum-tape would hold up, which it thankfully has, allowing me to cover the piece up completely now. I’m pleased that I have a solid piece that can be used in the final outcome.

Moving back to the smaller piece for the rest of the day I added a little more detail to flesh it out before the wrapping began, using a different kind of brown paper, which is a shock to the eyes, something I’ve got to get used to.

I’ll be adding at least one more tone to balance both pieces out. I’m happier with how they are both looking now. I’ll be moving onto the larger 1:32 piece, stripping back and going through the process all over again. I’ll again be doing this to the rock formation, but not to such extremes with lengths of cardboard being added in a few places before I wrap up again. Then I shall be moving onto something completely different on the making list.

Cowboys Invaded – Update (15/5/19)

Another short day in the studio, with little time wasted as I’ve made progress on two pieces.

I began the day by making solid progress on the wrapping of the mountain top, which is about 40% covered now. I’ve even worked around some of the cracks that I thought would be difficult to work with. I then took a fellow model makers advice and used some gum-tape to work around the gaps that I had to make those areas easier to wrap around. With the help of the good weather I’ve now got a better framework to get me moving next time.

Whilst the gum-tape was drying I striped back the 1:72 scale gold mine entrance and began to fit it out with strips of cardboard, again at varying lengths to produce what looks more substantial, a lot heavier and resembling a bunch of leather sandals. I’m now at the stage where I can add a little detail before wrapping begins. I’m thinking of replacing the smaller pieces at the bottom to reflect those on my John Ford Point. 

I’m much happier with how both are going and can’t wait to see the 1:32 scale piece get the same treatment. I’m even considering working on the rock-formation adding some layers and wrapping again. I really am learning through making with this piece. It’s a good thing to go back and bring other pieces up to standard. My hopes of beginning test animation are being pushed back but there’s no deadlines so it doesn’t matter. As long as I begin this year I’ll be happy.

Cowboys Invaded – Update (13/5/19)

I’ve returned to the studio after my birthday break, ready to put my new technique into practice on the mountain top piece that I began a week ago.

So far it’s taken longer to make because the technique has completely changed from slices of cardboard slotted into place. Now the approach it to build up the shape into levels before really adding much more to it. I spent most of the day with strips of cardboard at varying lengths which were fitted around the piece to build it up. Before I eventually turned to adding some texture in built up sections. I then finally began wrapping towards the very end of my time in the studio. The wrapping process is takes a lot longer already, making sure it’s tighter.

I’ve even been recommended to use gum-tape again in places to build it up. It’s something I could use where I can’t get a piece in. There are still a lot of gaps and this could cover them up and still add strength to the piece. I have a small roll left over from my previous piece, I wonder if that will be enough for this to move forward. I’m also concerned with how I’m going to taking the hidden sections, how far down to I go visually with the brown paper? I’ll have to answer both questions when I’m in the studio next.

Cowboys Invaded – Update (6/5/19)

I really have been working hard this Bank Holiday Monday. I came back home starving, having forced myself to leave the studio after getting into a state of continuous work.

I began the day by correcting the problem I left yesterday in the slaughterhouse, the observation section was lifted and raised before being fixed back onto the roof of the piece. I’m really not sure I can do any more before it becomes just overpowered by extra details.

I then moved onto what I am calling my John Ford Point, which is found in Monument Valley. I have at least one scene that requires a cliff edge for a Native American stand upon looking over the edge. I began by going to images of the location to understand how I could best construct the piece. I settled on a number of cardboard tubes being arranged under a flat piece of cardboard. These tubes were then wrapped around with varying widths of card to build up some form that I could then wrap around tubes. I then began to wrap the brown paper (saved from the old hideout) to create one of my most satisfying pieces that I’ve ever made. I didn’t stop there either, making up some detail on top using off-cuts of cardboard that I began with during the day.

I then moved onto another rocky piece, that I was going to make first but knew I needed to walk before I could run when it came to this piece. So far I made a strong start on the basic structure of the piece, using more tubes to raise the layers up. Part of me doesn’t want it to turn out the entrance to the gold mine after what I’ve done today, maybe it’s how I prepare the structure before wrapping even begins.

Again I’m learning and growing through the making process, I think my John Ford Point is definitely another step-forward in my making and I don’t want to the other pieces to be held back because of it. Am I going to remake a few pieces to get them to this standard or just rework them.

Cowboys Invaded – Update (5/5/19)

It’s been a busy week outside of the studio, I’m just glad of the break to finally have sometime to concentrate on some making and be able to actually move on from one piece to another.

Today I’ve finally been able to complete the final 2 additions for the cardboard fleet of spaceships. When I had some spare time over the last week I’ve been slowly completing them. Whilst also feeling it was pointless to post until they were done. I’m really tiring of the repetition now.

Thankfully that has come to an end for now as I moved onto and back to the slaughterhouse, which is undergoing a certain degree of redesign. When I was sketching ideas for the new spaceships I kept aside one for a watchtower, which has now been constructed and fixed over the entrance. I didn’t stop there, still playing with the paper plates and even cups to see what I can do. One of those experiments was half a plate being fixed to the front. The rear of the piece has begun to take shape again with a sunken observation section, which I am already thinking of raising to make sense next to the watchtower.

Otherwise I think it’s almost there again, allowing me to then move onto something new on the list. There’s at least one more set of complicated pieces to make before it’s more of the paper based pieces.

Cowboys Invaded – Update (28/4/19)

A whole weekend dedicated to the multiple production of 3 spaceships, in hoping to then have enough to suggest an invading force. Things went pretty smoothly today in the studio, monotonous but smoothly. Completing them in about 4 hours I can now see that 2 more are needed before I can leave these alone and move onto something else. It’s not the result I was really after. Ultimately it’s about the visual I am going for and that’s more important than anything.

After another 2 pieces have been made I’m hoping to make a return to all things rocky for a cliff edge and some buttes. These should be faster makes compared to the past few makes I’m been working on. I say that now, it could be another challenge entirely. On a positive note these spaceships are far better than the flying saucers which can now be seen as starting point for something far more interesting to come.

Cowboys Invaded – Update (27/4/19)

This update should really be covering the last few days in the studio, dating back to the open studios, when honestly I couldn’t really do too much because I was chatting with the public. This past week or so has been interesting as I am starting to pursue a more creative path away from office temp jobs. In the meantime I still need to be working in the office when the opportunity arises. During the past few weeks I have been working more than usual in the studio, which explains the extra posts, or sometimes absence as I’ve found it difficult to except that a change was needed. Other times I was just too busy to post or work in the studio, which is totally fine, we all have busy periods that take us away from what we want to do and love.

So the past week in the studio has finally see me complete the 1:72 scale ruined town, that was a real relief to know that all of that making was over. I’ve realised that I prefer making one-offs, to not repeat myself unless really necessary. And that’s what this piece requires a lot of, repetition in order to make it happen. It has seen my work and making improve also so again I can’t complain too much.

Having finished the smaller town I’ve been able to concentrate of the smaller spaceship which I completed on Friday, having taken elements from the larger piece (which may need further structural attention soon) and adapting to a smaller model. It was a matter of playing around and seeing what works.

So today I’ve made a start on 3 new spaceships, that are replicas of the first smaller ship. Working on all 3 at the same time, that way I can make sure the standard is maintained throughout. By the end of today I’ve got the main body in place, ready for the wings and everything that hangs from them to follow. It’s pretty straightforward, I just need to pay attention to the measurements so I can be as close as possible to the original. Looking at the documentation I can see that they maybe enough, maybe 2 more pieces before I stop work on these and move on. They reflect a more sophisticated skills that I’ve developed and have become more aggressive too. I just need to see how many is too many.

The Sisters Brothers (2018)

It feels like there’s been a string a middling Westerns in the past few years, that’s not mentioning the disappointing remake of The Magnificent Seven (2016). Both Jane Got a Gun (2015) and The Keeping Room (2014) that attempted to rebalance the role of women in the genre failed on the basis that they just plain boring. I’m all for increasing the role of women in the genre but it has to still be entertaining, to be engaged in what they are dealing with. Jane Got a Gun had no real focus, whilst The Keeping Room was too grim. The more male dominated entries in recent years have had slightly more success; The Revenant (2015) delivered a revenge thriller in the wilderness of the mountains, whilst we had a blind teenage romance in Slow West (2015) that audiences can more easily relate too. Whilst The Salvation (2014) was a return to the classic form with a European sensibility that had a real bite.

The latest entry in the genre – The Sisters Brothers (2018) felt the other night like my generations The Missouri Breaks (1976) but not so weird that I had to sit back and wonder what the hell was going on. For one we didn’t have any camp acting and there was no strange romantic pursuit to worry about. Instead we shift between the titular brothers; Eli and Charlie (John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix) who’ve been contracted to meet up with investigator John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) who himself is in pursuit of Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed). The jumping back to and fro between the two pairs takes up the first two acts oft the film, allowing you to settle into what is a gentle dynamic.

The Sisters Brothers we learn are sibling gunfighters who we learn have somehow survived life so far by little more than luck on their sides. They are able to outgun the enemy by pure chance whilst in the process destroying what the essentially need. As we see in the opening minutes, a classic gunfight surrounding a homestead that somehow leads to a barn setting fire and killing most of the horses inside. This isn’t how The Duke would have done things in Rio Bravo (1959) even when he shot dynamite in the final gunfight. There’s little planning to the Sisters who will load up and go into battle day or night. They would have probably made good soldiers in the opening minutes of a Civil War battle, unafraid of the danger that lat ahead of them. We laugh at the clear flaws in their ability to win out, they are men just trying but failing at times.

Sent on what is to become their final mission by the elusive Commodore (Rutger Hauer) putting the younger alcoholic brother Charlie in charge, hoping for a better result. Aiming to secure The Commodore’s superiority during the gold rush – a time in the genre that hast more recently been overlooked. We learn their major differences in the two brothers who may share a legacy and a status that precedes them. Charlie the more impulsive assertive alcoholic who wants to prove himself, whilst Eli is curious of the future, what modernity can do for him. Taking the time to plan his future. These are differences very important as they both continually pull them apart and push them together. It leaves Eli with a “middling” horse that we’re concerned about throughout. When we switch to Morris and Warm the tone becomes more intelligent, the conversation changes to reflect this. There’s a chance to breathe and understand what’s being discussed. Morris an Easterner who wanted to come out West for adventure soon finds his equal in Warm whose supposed to follow from a distance. Their ideas of modernity bring them ever closer together.

Through letters left by Morris to the brothers they mock the language of the more educated man who communicates his position. It’s a resistance to change and understanding that for a while keeps them a part. Tonally this doesn’t quite come off so well onscreen, it makes them look ignorant and the leads in the film the butt of the jokes and the film itself. As much as you want to root for these underachievers in life we become more concerned with what’s going on further away from them, when they finally meet and what they will discover.

Despite the uneven tone of humour and language we’re transported to a beautifully drawn image of the Wild West. Shot in multiple locations, you can see a lot of money went into the budget. And looking at how may production companies are involved (literally filling the screen) you can see the director Jacques Audiard has to prove himself worthy in his first English language film. Going from town to town which each look unique. San Francisco is the stand-out set piece that just shows where all the money’s spent. The devil is in the detail for this clear labour of love.

The final act is by far the most interesting, when they all come together in the pursuit of gold, almost becoming The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) when the lust for gold takes over with a new chemical driven techniques being employed to reveal gold in the water. The idea of speeding up the process of testing and digging for gold is thrown out in favour of an untested method. The consequences if which are not fully known or appreciated. Is this a Western with an ecological conscience, coming out of nowhere we’re shown how the lust for gold can destroy the natural world around us in the pursuit of greed. It’s the saving grace of the film, the fallout of this process complete alters the fortunes for all involved.

This isn’t really my Missouri Breaks, it’s a confused but original Western with a conscience that tries to do a lot in it’s running time. It does a good job but maybe needed a little more time to breathe. We have characters that are fully realised. Westerners vs Easterners in a changing world, set during a time of the gold-rush when the country began to change completely. The Sisters Brothers takes on a lot and does it’s best to balance it all but ultimately a flawed Western that tries honourably to bring something new to the genre.

You Were Never Really Here (2017)

Another film I’ve been putting off watching, I overlooked it at the time of release as I really wasn’t interested in You Were Neve Really Here (2017). Since then I’ve been slowly won over and wanted to track down the film, learning it was another Taxi Driver (1976), which in essence is The Searchers (1956). So once again I will be delving into how this film responds to the classic Western. It’s a chance to explore how the film has again influenced modern cinema. Of course on the surface it has far more in common with Martin Scorsese’s film than John Ford‘s original. The classic tale of the tortured male loner taking on the task of rescuing a young woman from the clutches of a sex-slavery i Cincinnati. I wonder is Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) still drives the murky streets still, had he come into contact with Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) or would that have been too explosive for a single film to handle.

It’s doesn’t stray far from John Wayne‘s Ethan Edward’s epic mission across untamed Native American country in search of his nieces. Filled with an uncontrollable racial hatred for the Comanches and possibly other nations who have done him wrong before we first meet him. We don’t learn of his past, or even Bickle’s we’re just allowed to spend a short time with them. Lynne Ramsay‘s allowed us understand Joe’s past in a series of fractured flashbacks that hint an unstable domestic upbringing and time in the army. It’s been explored before with Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton) who was far more reflexive about his past, Wim Wenders gave us the time to explore just how he’s in his position now, a father who couldn’t face the break up of a passionate relationship, which ultimately was his own fault in Paris Texas (1984). Travis is singularly unique, a disturbed man shaped by his surroundings, unable to connect with the outside world that deeply troubles him. An explorer of an urban jungle that holds him hostage.

Joe is very much a product of his child hood and military service that have shaped the beaten shell of a man who works as a hired gun. He doesn’t shy away from how he makes his living, it defines him, just about the only job he can get, allowing him to function and support his mum. We first meet him at the end of a job, clearing up the evidence that could lead back to him. You can he’s done this many times before, it’s just part of the job. His face is obscured during this time, for now he’s just an unknown dangerous man cleaning up yet another mess with precision that he has honed  overtime. This is not the have-a-go hero of Taxi Driver or the ex-Confederate soldier, we have a trained killer on yet another job, not a man to be messed about.

We learn he has something of a soft-side when he returns home to his mother (Judith Roberts) who he shares a love-hate relationship with, the only woman or even person who really loves him. The closest to violence he get’s with her is a joke about Psycho (1960), could that even be an influence on him. The stay at home son with his mother who stays about of obligation more than love.

The rescue mission comes pretty early on in this fairly compact film, his next job at the request of Senato Albert Votto (Alex Manette) who employs him to rescue his young daughter Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), whom he believes has been kidnapped and placed into a sex-slavery. Unlike Ethan Edwards and Travis Bickle he has no prior relationship with the girl whose to be rescued, he only sees her as part of another job. Before he begin we see him stock up on fresh tools for the job, including a hammer that we know already is his weapon of choice that can inflict brutal damage to his victims, no one stands a chance against him.

As with Taxi Driver he waits until night before he even rolls up outside the address, he’s dangerously cool and calm about all this, dragging over a guy who works, torturing him for information, the bare-essentials to get in, the dangers that lie ahead for him. It’s a cleaner rescue than I expected, restrained by the view of CCTV cameras that only suggest what has happened to the bodyguards who fall to their deaths. It’s over before we know it, our main concern is finding the girl, which again happens rather fast. The young girl – Nina is clearly in state of desensitisation, to escape the daily abuse she receives from the monsters who pay for her. Gone is the confident nonchalance of Jodie Foster’s Iris who has find an exterior shell to survive the murky world of prostitution she’s trapped in. Mirroring the assimilation that Debbie Edwards (Natalie Wood) whilst living with the Comanche. Never Really Here is more aware of the psychological damage that a kidnapping and slavery can do to the mind. The realisation of being rescued doesn’t quite hit Nina for sometime.

Everything then starts to go wrong for Joe as he soon loses the girl and ends up a world that all he knew and understood is being taken away from him. The closet he got to purity is taken away by corrupt cops who take Nina away, leading him into a trap that closes ever tighter into his inner circle and even his mother. The hard exterior of the hired gun begins to show signs of cracking. Before we see an even darker side when interrogates one of his mothers killers (Scott Price) sadistically numbing his pain to get information from him before he finally dies. It’s a form of unique justice that allows him to move on in search of Nina and understand what he’s become embroiled in.

It’s far more complicated than the standard search and rescue narrative that Ford laid out over 50 years ago, becoming something more complicated with each retelling of the basic plot. Stripping away the racial hatred to leave a hardened killer who has many dents in his armour, both physical and mental. We’re left a darker of corruption with a glimmer of hope for Joe and Nina, each products of their fractured lives, leaving to start a life together where they might be able to start over. All they have known has been destroyed either by their own hands or in their wake. It’s a bleak disturbing world where even beauty has a dark side. Never Really Here is by far one of the bleakest interpretations of The Searchers, having evolved into a the Western that it could have been. I wonder if a director has the courage to deliver something so disturbing to the screen?

Open Studios 2019

Part of Leicester’s St Georges Day – (20th April 2019) celebrations My studio, Two Queens is running the annual Open Studios Please come along to and take a look at all the amazing art and artist who work there. I’ll be around so you can see my current work in progress Cowboys Invaded on display in my studio space. It would be great to see you all there.