Review: BAGSY

BAGSY

I wrote a review about Banksy so I thought I’d better write one about his dashing, enigmatic and elusive Welsh counter part ‘Bagsy’.

Bagsy first emerged on to the art scene late in 2017. Exploding into the art world in the most mysterious and unexpected way, by drawing Welsh iconography upon 5p plastic shopping bags and leaving them in Supermarkets for people to unexpectedly find for free.
This act of artistic brilliance has even started some renowned Art Historians to question if we should now refer to the art world of the twenty-first century as “Before Bagsy” (BB) and “After Bagsy” (AB).

Like his Bristol based counterpart the identity of Bagsy is completely unknown. In fact some people have wondered if Bagsy is in fact a Frankenstein Ai style spam bot with what appears to be an endless supple of sharpies and 5p shopping bags.

All that is known is Bagsy can be found in the Rhondda Valley. Much of his art has a strong Rhondda theme, many of the great hero’s and names of those fine Valleys have found themselves depicted on Bagsy ‘bags for life’.

In mid 2018 Bagys took the surprising and totally unexpected act of moving from 5p plastic carriers to Tote bags. Finely printed, these bags better represent and display the detailed intricacies of Bagys vision and have quickly become collectable items. The old joke of you know you’ve made it in Wales is when you have a “Kyffin Williams on the walls” has been replaced with the phrase “when you carry you’re shopping in a Bagsy”….

I’ve adopted somewhat of a humorous approach to this review so far as I thought this better depicts the work of Bagsy but let that not fool you into dismissing the artist or his work as frivolous. Bagsy is a wonderfully entertaining artist, there is a hilarity and a joyful irony to the work. The approach of appropriating plastic shopping and Tote bags as both the canvas and the gallery. Combined with the openness and choice of using a universal useful and extremely common place item as the bag for the conveyance of art and then giving the item over to the pubic where it becomes ether art or functional practical carrier depending on the person. In my mind it’s an approach which is a combination of the Bauhaus art school chair and Andy Warhol soup can. Beauty, practicality, humour and popular culture all in one item. Bagsy is an artist who encompasses the late 2010s Social media/MEME society better than any other artist I know.

One of the things I love about Bagsy is that he doesn’t seem really bothered about the wider art world but just cracks on and makes things. In fact given Bagsy public popularity, the prolific and variety of his output and his fame with interviews with media outlets, Bagsy is arguably one of the most successful artists making work in Wales today.

I’m a keen Sherlock Holmes fan and one of my favourite quotes is from the “Bruce Partington Plans” where someone asks Holmes why he does what he does. Holmes reply is “I play the game for the game’s own sake” meaning he does it for the thrill and the love of the thing not for fame or fortune. It’s this same sensation I feel when viewing Bagsy work. He does it for the love and the thrill of the art. It’s that wonderful act of making and putting something into the world which never existed before.

After all it’s the reason we all get into art in the first place, because we find pleasure and enjoyment in making. We have this unexplainable something which demands us to make. Its something that gets educated or experienced out of us sometimes. We enter the art world loving what we do and often ether leave it never to return or it darkens and dooms us as we get older and it becomes about something else. When I was in art school the scariest thing I was told was that 98% of all art school graduates never make art after leaving. From going through art school Im actually surprised its as high as 2%.
In any other world this would be a disaster for any industry to have 98% of its workforce falling out but in the arts its been the norm since the year go. Bagsy is a wonderful reminder of the joy in the arts, in a world where it’s getting more and more expensive to be an artist, Bagsy shows us you can make art with anything, with just a sharpie and a plastic bag.

Like Bagsy name sake Banksy, they both employ everyday items and places which people disregard but both artists reinvent these blank spaces and items as their art.

In 1922 Rubyard Kipling wrote his poem “The Jester” in which he states the three highest forms of virtue. The first is to save one’s friend by risk of yourself. The second is to save someone through wise advice. The third however is to save someone through jest and mirth and even though it’s the lowest of the three perhaps it’s the best form as Kipling states with jest “there do the Angels resort”. Kipling was a great believer in the saving power of humour (as am I) and its with this spirt I regard Bagsy work. In a world that isn’t particularly great right now and is turning darker with every turn and at a time where the arts are mirroring this turmoil in its output and its own funding problems it’s refreshing and fantastic to have Bagsy making jest and art.

However the biggest question is “Who is Bagsy” and to be honest I don’t think it matters. Part of the wonderful thing about Bagsy is the artist isn’t a name above the crowd but anyone in the crowd. The arts is famed for the particular personality types it attracts but Bagsys fame is in his work not in who he/she is. Which I think is the way artists should be, that we do things just for the doing letting bloggers tell our stories.

You can see Bagsys work by visiting his website or checking out the social media channels such as his/her Instagram . Of course there are a whole load of theories and rumours surrounding Bagsy. Some say that Bagsy knows how many roads a man must walk down before you call him a man, others say Bagsy shot the shelf but he didn’t shoot the deputy. Others say that if you convert his website into a binary translator there are 2’s. There are even whispers that Bagsy is actually the person Ricky Martin is talking about in his song ‘livin la vida loca’ and then there are even some who say Bagsy is the latest transformation of the Count of St. Germain. We may never know and I kinda hope we never find out

“Living la vida Bagsy….”

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Review: James Milne II* exhibition Newport Museum and Art Gallery.

In September 1842 Carlyle watching trains depart a station, turned to his friend Milnes and said “These are our poems Milnes!” the reply came “Aye and our histories too”.

It was a conversation at the height of the Industrial Revolution, a time of great development and strives in industry and design. They spoke of the latest developments in technology being the poetry and art of the day. When we look back at the Industrial Revolution our minds conjure up images of stream trains and great industry, as Milnes deduced the heavy industry of that day has become the history of our day.

It is with this same spirt I see James Milnes latest exhibition “II*” a title referring to the grade system used to list cultural and buildings of significant architecture in the UK. Grade II* being the second highest for buildings of particular importance and/or of special interest.

The exhibition explores the way we view and treat these listed buildings with a focus on our recent industrial past. One surprising and unsettling revelation illustrated in the exhibition is that some of our grade II* listed buildings are now falling into ruin. The project began with the artists interest in the George Street bridge spanning the Usk River in Newport. Built in the 1960s it was the first cable stayed cantilever bridge in Britain and as a result bares the grade II* listing designation. A structure that is wildly familiar in Newport and one that is crossed by thousands daily without a moments thought.

I must confess I had no idea of the architectural significance of the bridge or many of the other structures listed in Milne’s exhibition. For me the work firstly reminds me of how unnoticed modern history is. The grade II* listing also denotes historical structures such as castles and stately homes, a concrete brutalist bridge of the 60s is the important and significant construction we tend to forget.

The exhibition features a series of photographs, drawings and photorealism images that is so iconic of Milne’s style. Entering the space you are confronted by a wonderfully cultivating photograph of the George Street bridge underpass which seems to continue on through the walls of the gallery and momentarily gives you the sensation of traveling on to another place. The work is clustered around buildings or maybe monuments of recent days is a more apt description of these listed structures, each image is an exquisite example of Milne’s unique eye and interpretation into this world.

The exhibition also features a limited number of chosen works from the museums own collection presenting Newport’s industrial might. A Hans Felibusch study of the George Street bridge being built is presented on one wall, an extremely vibrant explosion of life and colour. On another wall a Thomas Rowland Rathmell painting from 1975 shows a lost insight into yesterdays world, a boat is moored and a factory stands eternally present in 1975 Newport, where in the modern world the Riverfront theatre and a shopping centre now live. These ghosts of life forever captured in art.

I found an extreme sense of fascination when viewing the exhibition, the buildings that today we wander by without a moments thought, those old decaying concrete and brick powerhouses now stand full of empty purpose, that weren’t always that way. Once they were industry, power and might, they were lives. People worked, laughed, cried, loved and spent time there. It is said time is our most valuable commodity and looking at James work I am reminded of this. The time of yesterday leaving its ghosts in todays world, its important to remember these buildings and cherish them. It’s a reminder that once we did this, we built things, that these concrete brutalist structures are our poetry and our art.

James Milnie exhibition is a wonderful reminder of this, of the beauty and the history in the everyday structures we pass each day.

II* is on the top floor of Newport Museum and Art gallery and runs until April the 13th (2019). The Museum and Art gallery is located in John Frost Square. Newport city bus station is near by and the cities train station is 5 minuets walk away. There is car parking in the Friers Walk shopping centre which the Museum and Art Gallery adjoins. Other great places to visit in Newport are the historic Transporter Bridge, the River Front Art Centre, the CityHall where you can see Hans Felibusch breathtaking murals and the beautiful Bell View park, all located near’ish to the Museum and Art Gallery.  The museum permanent exhibition is also worth visiting and boasts paintings from kyffin Willians and Turner, not to mention its fantastic historical collection too.  For refreshment I can only recommend the Ye Old Murenger pub in Newport high street for the finest food and ale in the city.

Thanks for reading.

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Review: Port Talbot Banksy

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Banksy of Port Talbot

Banksy is one of those rare and strange names in the global art world who’s very title is everything you need to know about the Artist and his work. The phrase “oh it’s a Banksy” generally places you in the mindset and creates a sensation of the work long before you see it.

Its perhaps fitting that Banksy’s latest work should appear in a town who’s name also creates an image long before you even see it. For many in South Wales the name Port Talbot conjures up visions of the steel works, of smoke and industry towering over a terraced town.

There is a yin and yang to the artist who’s name has become his work in  a town who’s work has become its name.

I visited the Port Talbot Banksy on a cold New Year’s Eve. The work had already been up for a few weeks and I was expecting the hype and the crowds to have died down. I found the very opposite. Streams of people which never seemed to waver,in their number, came and went. All visiting this steel working town to experience contemporary art on the side of a garage.

The work is fine, an excellent depiction of the street art style and double meaning charm that has made Banksy the household name he has become. The work displayed on two sides of a garage, depicting a child seemingly playing in the snow on one wall, which pans round to the other side to show the snow is in fact ash originating from a burning bin. The metaphor for climate change, air pollution, and even the billowing smoke of the steel works of Port Talbot can be easily drawn.

But for me this isn’t just the art work. The magic of this piece isn’t in the display but in the gathering. It’s the people coming, the lines and lines of people making their way to quite literally the back of a garage in a lane behind some houses in a town most renowned for its Mordor like steel works and locally rumoured to be the inspiration for Blade Runner*.

People are coming far and wide, in the brief 20 min I spent there. I spoke to and heard locals tell of people coming from all over the south of Britain and further still. There is an aura around the work on its garage gallery, the same sensation you feel when entering a cathedral, that quite hush calm, an aura of on lookers discovering something interesting in an unexpected place.

Its this gathering that is the real art, in the bringing together. Maybe some people will be inspired maybe some won’t, but the important thing is people are coming, The important thing is we are talking about it. There are discussions that Port Talbot could become a centre for Contemporary art in Wales (Something I’d welcome) or even hold a special Banksy exhibition. Maybe these things will happen, maybe they won’t. I don’t think it matters, I think the value and the amazing thing is that this exists now and in a world where culture is being cut left right and centre Banksy has done an amazing job in creating actual public art. The holy grail of art organisation funding form requests. Art work that is having a notable impact on the community and the lives of its viewers. It won’t last for ever but thats fine.

I don’t know what will happen to the art work, apparently it has been sold but will remain in Port Talbot for at least two years. But for me the actual art won’t matter then. The real value and the art of the work exists right now in the conversations and the pilgrimages to the wonderful town of Port Talbot.

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The Banksy artwork can be found not far from the town centre in Port Talbot. There is car parking a few streets away or it’s a 20/30 minute walk from the main train and bus station. There’s a lovely chippy round the corner. Other interesting culture venues in Port Talbot are the epic Baked Bean Museum. The Victorian splendour of Margam park just outside the town and Aberavon Beach which is also lovely. .

*There is a local rumour that Ridley Scott found inspiration for the dystopian world of his 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner after seeing Port Talbot steel works at night. I’ve never found any actual proof to back up this clam but I quite like the story anyway.

The Story of Fridgemass

Truth is often a point of view. There are things that are true and things that are not. But let us not concern ourselves with such details, they do tend to get in the way. It is true however that in Wales there are many fine and many strange Christmas and New Year traditions that take place over the festival period. There is the Mari Lwyd, a skeleton horse that knocks on your door over Christmas and challenges you to an old school Welsh rhyming sing off (bit like 8mile but with a terrifying horse skull). There is the legendary Nos Galan night race which takes place in the Valleys town of Mountain Ash, this midnight run is began with a torch light mystery runner and is considered to be a charming way to welcome in the New Year. There is the seldom practised Plygain service which takes place in the very early hours of Christmas Day and see’s groups of people staying up all night and gather at Chapels to sing and welcome in the Christmas sun rise and in the South Wales Valleys there is the slightly less ancient but nonetheless peculiar festive tradition of Fridgemass.

Its thought the tradition of Fridgemass began in the late 1960s, mostly due to consumerism. It’s a sad reflection of our time that things are seldom made to last, no more so than fridges. Much of the economy of the world is based on the fact that people are required to buy new things to replace the old things so we can make more things. Fridges are a fine example of this, most fridges only last a few years before breaking down and a new one is required. 1960s Fridges were notorious for faults and break downs and no family could afford their refrigerator to fail just before the most important meal of the year (Christmas dinner). No family would ever dream of risking a broken fridge destroying Christmas by spoiling their refrigerated Christmas meal. So in the Valleys once a Fridge reaches a certain age, just before Christmas the Fridge would be put out onto the street for collection and a new Fridge bought in.

Its believed that one year a child asked their parents why there was so many fridges on the streets at Christmas time. Their parents, being wiley and jocular types replied that because every child in the world gave Father Christmas a mince pie and a glass of Sherry (or a single malt whiskey and a south American cigar according to my mate Jack) not to mention all the carrots for the Reindeer. The Fridges were there to allow Father Christmas to store all the carrots, mince pies, Sherry’s and the single malt whiskey with a south American cigar from Jacks house. Father Christmas couldn’t possibly carry all these things around the world, so would put the carrots, mince pies and Sherry’s (not to mention the single malt whiskey and the South American cigar from Jacks house) in the Fridges and then collect them on his way home.

“But what about the chair?” the children asked their parents, it just so happened that an old chair was placed next to the fridge for collection. Thinking fast the parents replied that traveling around the hole world in one night and delivering presents was of course tiering work and Santa did need a sit down occasionally, he was 679 years old after all and even your uncle Jeff who is only 97 years old needed a sit down after carrying a 300pond fridge from the kitchen to the street corner. “Of course” the children replied “this makes perfect senses, Father Christmas needs a place to store the mince pies, carrots, sherry’s (not to mention the single malts whiskey and the South American cigar from Jacks house). Also after delivering presents to the hole world he would probably need a sit down too so of course there would be a chair” and so Frigdemass was born.

Since then every year in the Valleys they put out old Fridges before Christmas. The children of the Valleys decorate the Fridges by hanging decorations and drawing pictures of reindeer and general Christmas iconography onto them with sharpies, an old chair is also placed next to the fridge for Santa to have a rest as he journeys around the world.

Its been this way since the late 1960s, although sadly the tradition isn’t as widely practised as it once was. In fact in 2018 there are some Valleys Villages that have never even heard of Frigdemass. But it still continues on some street corners and thats why when you see a Fridge on a street corner in the Valleys before Christmas its to celebrate Frigdemass.

Question everything ……but why ?

There are many wonderful, kind hearted, lovely, caring, people in this world. Unfortunately there is also a smaller amount of disheartening, despicable, loathsome, egotistical, bullying trolls in this world too, and some of them are on social media. But thats okay because so are loads of nice people  and generally they out number the trolls so mostly it works out okay.

However, I have started to notice a worrying trend of trickery, a pattern of false, misleading, disinformation being mistakenly shared and spread upon social media. This disinformation is created for a wide range of reasons and is spread with the best possible intentions by people who have been mislead into thinking the information it portrays is accurate and wishing to spread the word.

(The old proverb “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” feels somewhat astute here).

To give a recent examples of this disinformation spread we need only to look at the British MP parliament voting MEME. This MEME has been spread and shown by many upon social media,

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It appears in a range of formate with different information being displayed upon the debates.

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Generally the MEME is one debate showing no MPs the other debate showing a full house of MPs. The empty seated MP is generally captions with MPs discussing welfare reform or some kind of social issue that effects the population, the other picture however of the full house is generally a debate about MP wages or something to do with the MPs them selves.

I’ll full admit when I first saw this MEME appear I was taken in and thought this was shocking and disgraceful. I began to see the MEME appear time and time again upon my newsfeed. Being shared and commented on by very intelligent, rational friends, believing the information it portrays to be correct. However the MEME and the debate is FAKE NEWS. The purpose is to spread disinformation, pandering and aiding the popular view of many of us have towards the UK Parliament (I am of course at no point defending MPs or any views or acts they have done, personally I think most MPs are a bunch of halfwits but I do feel we should be correct when criticising the halfwits).

These types of disinformation MEME’s are appealing with more frequency upon our social media platforms. The MEME’s do not enlighten but reinforce per-held prejudice upon a subject and far from opening up thought and debate they close down and strength our wrongly held beliefs.

The annoying thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way, it took a 20 seconds to discover the truth, a simple search of the date of the debates displayed clarified that there were no debates taking place upon those subjects on those days. I also found this article from the Spectator by Isbell Hardman titled  “the menace of memes: how pictures can paint a thousand lies” which gives more detail.

The lesson here is simple, QUESTION EVERYTHING……. but why?

I’ve always been fond of the quote “Know the truth and the truth shall set you free” . It is in search of the truth that we truly become enlightened and well informed. If we always question what we see, we will understand the world better. The world is there with everything for us to know, it has never been so easy to discover. This is the age of information, all we have to do is not be lazy and look things up and then if they are true, share away.

Thanks for reading.

16 hours to Midnight

So I catch the train a lot. A train carriage is a strange place. Its an Non Space, its a transferable space, a place where humans pass through and remain anonymous in this space which holds no significant value. Its the space you pass through to get to the place you are going or coming back from.

The place before the night out, day in work, meeting etc.

Its also a place that limits your ability. A place that holds you in a limbo state. It restrains you and holds you to that spot, forces you to just stay and do nothing. You have no control over your journey once you have boarded the train. It places you there and makes you read, watch and think.

16 hours to Midnight is a selection of photographs Ive taken over the last few years on these non space commutes.

This is a bit of a rough draft, it needs a lot more editing and thought and its a bit boring to be honest but thank you for all the kind words and likes over the years, it doesn’t seem much but they do mean a lot so thank you.

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God’s of Steel

(A short text I wrote last year when Port Talbot steel works looked set to closed which has now been saved for now but still felt it was a important in todays world)

I was recently standing on a train station platform, patiently waiting my train. As I lingered, I absentmindedly gazed out over the busy station. My eyes took in a passing goods train without paying it much attention. As I watched the flat cars go by, I become aware that the first few cars were packed with steel girders. Then a half full car passed. Followed by an empty car. More and more cars streamed by with more and more of them running empty. As the last empty car went by the realisation struck me that I was watching steel being transported from Port Talbot and this could be the last time I see such a sight. The familiar image of steel transport on the railways could vanish and become a thing consigned to the old newsreels and photographs of former glory days books and films. The mundane sight of steel on the tracks could be slipping into the world of yesterday.

 I was born in South Wales, a child of the Valleys. I don’t remember the coal industry, it was going when I was born. I didn’t see the coal miners or the towering collieries, I didn’t see the long lines of coal cars or even the mines close but I saw the effects. I see them everyday, in the empty shops, the absent spaces, the collapsing miners halls, the mass migration of job seekers to other places, the lack of esteem and pride in the work which remains. I see this daily. Thats what happens when the industry, the life blood, the dependance of a place disappears.

Port Talbot is famous, everyone knows the name and knows it for the steel. The steel works and Port Talbot are synonymous. Passing Port Talbot by road the steel works dwarfs the town. The economy is depend on it and not just that, the pride is in the steel. The very purpose is in the steel.

The recent news of its possible closer isn’t just due to the cheaper imports or the global fall in steel prices. It is also due to Britain changing from an industrial economy into a service sector economy (the chief characteristic being the output of services instead of end products) which in principle for a developed country’s G.N.P. is fine but it may not be fine for a countries measurement of happiness and pride.

Of course we have seen the closure of industry before. Academics tracked what happened to the 300 MG Rover workers after the car plant closed in 2005, they found 90% of them did find other employment, a lot retrained into the service sector. However they were now earning on average £5,640 less every year and a quarter admitted to living off their savings or being in financial difficulties.

There’s pride in construction. It’s a very different kind of pride from the kind found in helping someone with their P.P.I. claim. We have a different reaction to someone who works in a call centre (which is what Wales’s new economy seems to be) to a steel worker. The problems with these jobs are they are temporary, most of my friends in that industry swing from one call centre to another after they close and reopen peddling something else. The loss of the heavy industry in Wales is the loss of a pride in the nation. A person who retires after years of work in a steel plant has a very different identity to a person who retires after spending years working in a call centre processing injury clams, there is honour in one and not much in the other.

One is a job that children grow up dreaming of becoming, a role which they idolize and train for many years to do. The other job is one you just fall into to pay the bills, its one that just happens, one in which you just do. One in which you do but not dream to be doing.