My Story
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   Excerpts from 'Dispatches from an Unofficial War Artist'

    I was born in London in 1949 and began painting and drawing intensely when I was about 13, and it took me over. My brother Christopher and I were brought up in a top-foor flat in Maida Vale. I had a tiny bedroom, and as my need to paint increased I looked for somewhere to make work. I found a shed in the yard at the back of the flats that had been a coal-hole in the 1950s and was now empty except for coal dust. It must have been about four by seven feet. I cleared it out and worked in it, making collages, constructions and paintings. There was no light, so the door had to be kept open.

   I worked through influences – Picasso, Bacon, Sutherland, and Giacometti – the work always coming back to the human form, especially the human face. This obsession with the human face has re-emerged in my work recently. The means to the end are different, the reasons for making the work are different, but the need to make the human image speak was established for me in those adolescent years.

   At the Byam Shaw my work concentrated on the human form. Every face I painted seemed to transform itself into a cruciform shape, the eyes being the horizontal, the nose and mouth the vertical. Looking at my sketch books from this period, I see a drawing of a cross that I called Vietnam Cross, and another one of tiny images of dead fgures piled up that – looking back – is clearly infuenced by Goya’s etchings.

   Goya’s etchings shine an intense and merciless light on inhumanity and cruelty. He showed how the horrors appear as a fash out of darkness. I can remember the beginnings of my own attempt to look at what was happening outside, not just at the essence of what it is to be human, but at the social forces creating that essence.

   I became frustrated with the fuidity of painting, the fact that whatever form the image started from, it was transformed by the act of painting into something else. Paintings that moved me, and still move me, were those that were formed by paint, not drawn and filled in.

   I combined the precise line of etching with the line of drypoint which is more a line of attack. The burr of the drypoint line, in registering the violence of its own making, was a symbol of my desire to express through the human subject the brutal physical attacks on people that I knew were happening, especially in Vietnam. That sense of ripping into an image, unveiling a surface, going through that surface into an unrevealed truth, is at the core of photomontage, which I started doing two years later.

   The photojournalist goes out and takes the pictures; I sit in a room with the tools of my trade and try to pummel these pictures into revealing invisible connections, disconnecting them from direct representation into statement and argument. Although, compared to a photojournalist, I’m grounded and stuck at my safe desk or in my darkroom under safelight, I still feel that my subject has to be made up from events from around the world.



 In June 1995, I was interviewed by Shirley Reid, an independent curator and writer. It's transcription can be read here...