Even when I was at school I wonder what made so many people unhappy or even miserable. How to make the world a better place. I thought art could help, I still do. As thought, education and knowledge can. Then… “Most people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so.” ― Bertrand Russell
Since I can remember, since at least 5 years old I have always been curious and interested in ideas, thought, knowledge, art, truth, not gossip, lies, opinion, ego, unfortunately many people are not like this.
I have shown with, exhibited with artists; Damien Hirst, Banksy, Sam Taylor-Wood, Peter Blake etc in 2006 in London for an international charity War Child.
A bit of a mix bag in this War Child show some world famous artists some artist that the co-organisers Cobalt were thinking of representing and then me as they wanted some of my art installations in the exhibition though I had 2 series of photographs as well. I also got some flack off a few people as in the press release PR they said I was a YBA (Young British Artist) as they knew I had been listed as one on an academic site run by among others Oxford University. I have never said I was a YBA personally but did and have used the listing saying this is about me. Banksy also had a piece in the show though not on the publicity as as far as I know he was added after the publicity was printed.
I have one of the five artists books that I made in The Tate Gallery special archive of artists books along with all the other artists books that artists have made, not the same as artists books made by other people about them. My artist book so I have been told by an international art critic is a work of art in its own right.
When I first put up, my art website in 2004 within a few weeks I was listed on Artifact. I was originally listed on Artifact 2004. Artifact -Arts and creative industries under all the same categories and then on Intute when they all amalgamated. Intute which was a learning resource for further and higher education. In various categories including YBA, (One of the Young British Artists), which had 29 entires, mostly for the Turner Prize, but included, 3 artists entries, Damien Hirst, The Chapman Brothers, (though 2 artists often working together so one entry, and myself, Russell Hand though there were many artists listed on there, just 3 in the YBA category. Myself I take it on the quality, level and time of my early art works. Intute was run by several universities, including University of Oxford. Which would not surprise anyone I was at art school with, being put in this category, though made a lot unhappy including a number of my lecturers. As they made it very clear right from my arrival, that they had every intention of making sure I got nowhere because I was much better than them at art, or according to 2 world renowned art critics virtually anyone else, anywhere.
Obviously there are many other things about myself, as an artist.
In 2009 MySpace got in touch and asked if they could feature my fashion photography, I was a bit dubious, so they explained they had been featuring famous and legendary American photographers and now wanted to start featuring British and British based photographers. I did explain I had not been on there for ages, though like everyone else I had left my profile on there, as had a number of famous British and British based photographers, including Rankin, Nick Knight, Juergen Teller and Tim Walker and most if not all the others. I had been told names by then. They turned around and said they did not care they loved my fashion photography, and wanted me to kick off and start the featuring of British photographers / fashion photographers as they loved and preferred my work to theirs. I eventually agreed.
This, my art website, just shows a few examples of my art and photography.
Art Website RussellHand.com
A link to my first book on iBooks, more books to follow; My poetry iBook
My photography book on iBooks; My photography iBook
This might be an unusual about even for an artist and writer, but since I was very young I have been told I am unusually intelligent, unusually perceptive, unusually creative that I have an unusual engagement with reality and the world, a beautiful mind and vision. The most wonderful benevolent and honest person they have ever met. Do not think like most people even most other artists or writers. Though I have always found this somewhat alienating, and have never fully engaged with these notions or taken it too seriously.
Since I could hold a crayon or a pencil and soon after a paint brush, I would be scribbling, drawing, colouring and painting. Later when I could read, I loved reading about dinosaurs, fossils, ancient Greek and Egyptian history and the myths. All subjects fascinated me when I started school. I suppose I was born with an incredible wonder for the world and the things in it. How the world was formed and what I read of evolution, I am talking of 5 or 6 years old when reading, and holding a crayon or a pencil or paintbrush when a baby can hold and make marks, I also liked talking and conveying the fascination of things to others assuming others would find the same interesting and fascinating, not to impress others with my knowledge but a sharing of those things I found of such wonder. I was also a gymnast and swimmer though I did other sports. When I was 7 at infants school my school head-mistress Mrs Davies took myself and 2 other pupils for special painting tuition, she did not teach us how to paint, but spoke to us about painting and what I later realised was perception, the result was the painting we each produced she had framed and hung outside her office by the main entrance, I was told they were still framed and on the wall until she retired many years later, and no others from later pupils were ever added, she also told me that I was by far the most intelligent, nicest and most talented of the 3 of us, which in no way is detrimental to the other 2; Kevin and Richard.
As a child my mother told me I was rather angelic, extremely polite and friendly, did not have tantrums and hardly ever cried, but did laugh a lot. I grew well, socialised with brothers and sisters, a healthy happy childhood, when 9 I started reading my mothers poetry books. Between 9 and 10 my mother taught me basic pattern cutting and machine sewing, though my hand-sewing has also been somewhat basic to put it one way. Then when in junior school there were 3 classes in each year, I was originally in the youngest. But then the whole year were given a series of tests in english math art and various other activities including chess draughts and ciphers etc. I was then moved from the youngest class in my year to the oldest as I excelled in all aspects of the tests we were given and was the top of the oldest class in most subjects, as well of course as well as being a swimmer and gymnast, I swam for my school. When in my last year in junior school Mrs Bentley the head mistress called me to her office where she threatened me with rather severe punishment because as she said I was disruptive albeit unintentionally. s she explained to me she realised how enthusiastic I was about math history dinosaurs art etc and how I liked to talk about these things and encourage others, but as she put it ‘I did not understand that my fellow pupils had to work hard to understand and do well in subjects.’ They were not like me as she put it, they could not just do them, understand them and excel which apparently I could and was adversely effecting other pupils results thug she realised I was not doing this intentionally or maliciously. Mrs Bentley really upset me at the time even though she explained she knew I was not doing this on purpose it still made me feel extremely bad about myself. Also at this time a friend Simon did the 11+ he was the son of a teacher though just above middling in our class on most subjects and passed it the 11+ easily as he wanted to go to grammar school. The rest of us including the girls and boys who were much better academically all could have passed the 11+ easily but wanted to go to a school together, which was the local comprehensive. I though not really realising it was also rather popular as I often use to find sweets and chocolates left in my desk by what I thought was one of he girls in the class, it was only years later in secondary school I was told it was several girls taking turns. My excelling at a broad range of subjects I thought was just a local thing.
Me, Russell Hand at junior school
Then I went to the Chelsea School of Art and again was thought extremely intelligent and talented. At Middlesex University doing art and theory a number of my lecturers seem to think I was a genius both artistically and academically, one even saying to me they thought I was probably the most intelligent artist they had ever met, and they had met a number of world famous ones, though this might sound good they were one of the ones they seemed to hate me for it. Bernadette Buckley one of my theory lecturers at Middlesex once said to me that I did not understand most people spend years to become good at things if they even can, where as you, meaning me, find things easy and do not even realise it. I was also told told several times by a few of my teachers at secondary school I was a natural born leader. Then another thing I have never understood is people trying to make fun of me who are not as intelligent talented interesting or educated as me nor had so many beautiful people hit on them or how they can or why I would be bothered as surely it just doubles down on illustrating their low intelligence and stupidity.
Later in adolescence continuing with my earlier fascinations art, history, math. I started reading vast amounts of fiction, later learning I had read some of the great writers of the 20th century and earlier, as well as continuing reading the histories, also started to read philosophy, Sartre and Camus from about 12 as one of my older brothers had boxes of books, which not only contained Sartre and Camus, but many more Kafka, Herman Hesse, Isaac Asimov, J. D. Salinger, William Faulkner, James Joyce, Joseph Heller, Thomas Hardy, Ursula Le Guin, Carlos Castaneda, Machiavelli, Robert A. Heinlein, Tennessee Williams, Aldous Huxley, Mervyn Peake, The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, Doris Lessing, Michael Moorcock, Anton Chekhov, Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde, George Orwell the list of authors and books I read of each goes on and on by the time I was 16. At the same time I started clubbing 14 that is, managed to get in with my friends, as we all looked older, I still remember phone calls from friends sometimes asking why I was not coming out clubbing, when I told them I was was in a reading mood they thought I was nuts.
When I was 14 years old I was considering photography and was lucky enough to have someone arrange for me to go out on assignment with a photographer, Jane Bown a rather wonderful woman for the day and also talk to some other newspaper photographers, and be taught had to process film and print photographs by the head technician in the newspaper darkroom, though I can not remember if it was The Observer newspaper or the Daily Mail, though think it was probably The Observer newspaper. I also remember talking to a slightly drunken Nobby Clark who advised me not to become a newspaper photographer, as well as the picture, photographic editor of the paper who also taught part time at the London College of Printing as it was known then.
My first proper job when leaving school at 16 was as a trainee graphic designer and illustrator in a large commercial design studio in London, though on seeing a few of my paintings, I taught myself to paint not using using any formal techniques or training, the designers at the studio said I should go to art school as I would not find design work satisfying. So I left the design studio and returned to education at college where as well as art, I studied several other subjects including psychology. While at college I learnt to etch, silkscreen, aquatint, throw pots, hand build ceramics, make glazes for ceramics, make glass, sculpt and model in clay. As well as continuing to paint and also a lot of life drawing. I have been drawing and painting nude / life models since I was 16 years old. While I was there I read Paul Klee’s notebooks among many others which I found fascinating.
I then went to the Chelsea School of Art and lived in Pimlico thanks to a friend I met at Chelsea, just round the corner from The Tate Gallery. Chelsea school of art I met many people from many backgrounds and their friends including students from LAMDA (London academy of music and dramatic arts) well and many others. Though I was a painter at Chelsea I had a fascination for sculpture. Chelsea was a mixture of people all different backgrounds, a mixture across the culture of Britain and beyond all of us with a fabulous passion for art and life. We spent our time making art, helping each other, smoking drinking and talking discussing, discourses in art, life, being. I remember Lady Liza who was working next to me in the painting studio saying; “You know you are the only real artist here” which at the time I did not like, and am still not sure if I do, though she meant it in the best possible way. I probably should mention I worked and earned my own money and got a grant to go to The Chelsea School Of Art.
Leaving Chelsea after a year I flew and met a friend who was travelling, backpacking, round the Mediterranean, then travelled with him for a good part of a year finally in Egypt and then going back to Israel to fly back to England. Though Greece and Egypt I spent time looking at ancient monuments and sculptures, at the time more so in Egypt as I was given a special pass that allowed me to enter anywhere free and even open monuments if I wanted too, though I did not and only occasionally used the pass to enter parts not open to the public and obviously getting in free.
Leaving school all I was really interested in doing was pursuing my art, initially in a more commercial way but then going to art school and travelling. On returning from travelling, backpacking round the Mediterranean with a friend, after being at Chelsea I did a few unrelated things, then was working with some performance people, where I met the first woman I lived with, her name was Gillian, though refereing to her as the first woman I lived with is more for clarity. Where I did a little bit of acting, stage, and then formed a dance company with the first woman I lived with, probably the first woman I loved, as she asked me to live with her and then asked if we could work together, her main thing being dance and as well as me coming from an art background also the gymnastics and swimming from younger coming into play. So I also started choreographing as well as dancing. Which later returning to art school gave me a greater 3 dimensional awareness and articulation of space. I was also painting, reading more philosophy, post-modernist philosophy, Derrida, Susan Sontag, Roland Barthes, Jean- Francois Lyotard, Julia Kristeva, Jean Baudrillard etc Lacan, Freud, Spinoza as well as more fiction Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Margaret Atwood, J G Ballard, Paulo Coelho, etc.
Returning to art school, though I had considered studying architecture, another of my fascinations I did not really paint, as I had already been told on many occasions that I was a very accomplished painter, and was more interested in sculpting and making art installations, art pieces that were multi-component and people entered and passed through, sculpture, film, video, sound, text as well as learning more about new technologies in art. So I went to Wales to do ‘Interactive Arts’ which was apparently the first course of its kind in the world. Though spent time coming back to London as I missed the big smoke. Though I thought the course was rather brilliant and my fellow students rather cool. I left and transferred back to London after a year. I must admit I realised living in the country was not my kind of thing, also the local people were not so keen on the art students, though they were all extremely friendly to me, as they seemed to think I was rather cool, though while I was down in London the 3rd years had their degree show party, on coming back I walked into a pub and saw lots of them bandaged, black-eyed and arms in slings, one of the local gangs had forced their way into the party, which was in a small local club, barricaded the doors and walked about asking people if they were art students and then hitting them. Men and women from what I remember, though mostly men. I had walked home many a time stepping over unconscious bodies in the street and once walking home got surrounded by a crowd and found myself in a ring of people with two men fitting, I asked at the edge to be let through which people did and as I was walking away I looked back to see a group of police go charging in to break it all up. Maybe one last thing about my first year, before I left I had an tutorial with one of my lecturers, one well know for intellectually taking students work apart, he apart from seeing the work I produced there wanted to see some of my ideas for other art pieces, I showed him 10 ideas for my art pieces, which was later to become part of my book ‘100 Art Installations’. I was rather surprised as he told me they were some of the best ideas he had ever seen, he did not mean by a student but by any artist and he actually told me, just those 10 were the work of genius. He also then went on to explain that he had showed all over Europe as an artist in large scale shows and had never really made any money from his art, but wished me luck. I think he was quite genuine about his opinion and the luck, as as I have mentioned he had a reputation for being the most critical lecturer there. I should also mention my lecturers up in Wales were external examiners for art schools and universities all over Britain, including the one I talked to before I left.
So I managed to transfer to London, the Old Hornsey School of Art, which was now part of Middlesex University. Though mostly because I missed London, rather than all the violence and other goings on in Wales. In fact it reminded me a bit of where I grew up, though a London Borough it was a satellite on the edge. And though it never involved my friends and myself, it was not unusual to be out drinking when we were 14 and 15 get showered with glass even inside as people fighting and glassing each other. Some of the pubs we drunk in at that early age were more like wild west saloons. Though stupidly I was more likely to break up fights even then, but even that could get you in trouble. In fact London I have hardly ever seen a fight in, though people from outside London seem to think it is dangerous. I missed London I suppose apart from all one can do there, while living with the dancer my first love we both worked in the arts, her in world famous art centres and myself in galleries, so were used to being surrounded by actors, artists, music people, as her best friend shared a flat in Ladbroke Grove with a record producer at one of the big recording labels as well as general arts and media people, well and maybe the odd rock star. Though I have been involved in a few fights when attacked I do not like hurting people, and was banned from fighting at school when 14 on instant expulsion, even if with older pupils. Which got me punched a few times by older pupils that realised I would not fight because I did not want to hurt them and for some strange reason wanted to prove they called beat me. I have always preferred talking to resolve situations if they arise.
Then one last thing about my time with my first love, at the art centre she worked at I was standing in the bar area and Max Wall who was currently doing a Samuel Beckett play there look over at me, looked at the woman I was with, my lover, nodded and smiled at me, a lovely memory. He died very soon after, a great actor.
Maybe one thing I should add the first women I lived with, my first love, was stunningly beautiful, I mean in any standard, actresses, super models, with a body to die for, in fact I was once attacked by 6 men on a bus in London because I was with her, I drove the men off the bus and was going to go after them, but she stopped me, she almost got me killed a couple of times, again by jealous men, numbers of them on 2 occasions. Then she almost killed me a few times, flying frying pans at my head, knifes. And since I have known fashion models from Chelsea on and the odd pop star and actress, I think I know of what I speak, though I think she was always into older men, and we were of an age. Of course she never believed me when I told her how beautiful she was because she knew I was in love with her. She was obviously also intelligent and charming. In fact in some respects I could say she ruined me apart from coming out of that relationship like I had just been in a train crash, though there were other reasons as well at the time. I now knew beyond doubt that without love sex was meaningless, and I was now use to stunningly beautiful intelligent, charming charismatic women, that were also incredibly sexy no-one else has any interest or desire, drunk or sober for me. Though there have been a few since, then some women I have known should probably have been friends and some women that were friends should have been lovers. I have joked with friends enough times, that I have so much good sex in my life that if I never have any again I have had more than most, and with women that loved me and I loved. So I suppose for an artist and writer that is both relevant and of life. Some one did once say you expect a godess I think I might have known a few of them at different times too.
So a return to the big smoke and bright lights. Though maybe I should mention my interview for transfer at Middlesex, with the head of the art school, he was what I would call old school in the most positive and affectionate way. He reminded me of the best lecturers I had at Chelsea, a poetic soul with a passion for art not just his own work. I must admit I am still surprised thinking back how much he liked my work and myself, as my work was what was known at the time as ‘cutting edge’ art and my discourse was very theory and philosophically based. But then I think he was a very perceptive man, he also saw it was full of the poetic and a beautiful engagement with life. Apart from all we spoke about which was more of a charming conversation between two people with a depth and knowledge of art, life, the poetic. He also assured me I had a place if I wanted it, the shame was he was retiring that year. One of those wonderful people you sometimes meet.
Though on arrival one of the first things I was told by one of the heads of department was the only reason I was accepted for transfer was because it was the last wish of the outgoing head of school before he left. Welcome to you too. It later transpired as they told me in no uncertain terms, that I was one of them and they did not like them and they liked me even less, by them they meant the Young British Artists, those young artists that had come along and become world famous. In fact though I only saw and spoke to her occasionally, the ex-head of the art schools partner still worked there in the print department and she seemed to love some of my work too, particularly the poetic piece like the desert crossing and the text that went with it. Because she had a real passion for art not just her own. People like that just lift your heart, not because they like you or your art, but because they exist and have a beautiful generous heart, if they like you or your art that is a bonus.
So there I was back in London, with a mixed reception, but so what, if I was universally liked or my art was I was obviously doing something wrong, being bland and producing bland art. The poetics of being. I suppose when you let go of everything, the world, the sands of time, the light of distant stars, the suns fiery glow, everything passes through you, you dance on moonbeams, your mind lights up and the whole world lights up, you walk through time and space. Like Poe’s ‘Eldorado’ you might poignantly search for something, then ‘Eldorado’ was Poe’s metaphor, he the knight was not searching for a man of gold, or a city of gold, he was searching as his poetry for some ‘thing’ some love or beauty or land or a timeless space of the mind, restless but longing, ethereal, the poetic of the poet. It is not about the ego, it is what one does, you breathe in the world and breathe out art, fluid motions of the mind and the body. So back to the city of light, London.
Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures, he was very particular about the stone he chose to carve, he said he could see the sculpture within and he released them, the unfinished ones I have always liked as they struggle for emergence. Caught between being and nothingness, or becoming.
Then back in London and at the old Hornsey school of art, I was incredibly lucky to have 2 brilliant theory lecturers and two art critics and cultural theorists visiting that loved my work and encouraged me. One art critic cultural theorist in particular, who I use to speak to a lot and use to talk to me about their theories. And of course some very good friends I made there to talk art, theory, the poetic, also shit, laugh and joke with, and most of the other students were amazing in their own ways.
I realise that, my art, my writing, my theories, in some ways are a byproduct of a series of processes, concepts, conceptualisation, that has been going on since I was very young, a series of processes, the taking in of information, data, conversations, travels etc feeding these processes. By byproduct I am not trying to diminish my art, or writing, photography, theory etc, good or bad they are what they are, but they are a ‘venting’. Also why the unusual about, for anyone even an artist. These processes are not just about my curiosity of the world I live in or how I engage with it, but a building towards a much larger set of theories, concepts. The theory ideas I have written are like notes; sketches along the way. The art, poetic writings all come out of these conceptual frameworks, that are moving towards, something much larger, I sometimes feel I am almost there, then a ‘new’ piece to the ‘puzzle’ arrives, and each new piece, has an effect, a certain ‘trauma’ as all new knowledge is that alters or changes the way one thinks, and has to be absorbed and integrated, assimilated into the larger concepts, processes that have been ongoing since my childhood. Also at the same time trying to understand why I have this ‘drive’ series of processes of thought going on, then self-analysis is virtually impossible and in many ways a useless pastime.
Me, Russell Hand auto-photo-booth photograph for Chelsea School of Art Student card.
To be continued…
Russell Hand ® ©