El when he wrote this in 1999, with Page 3's most famous exponent.
On his evolution as an Artist.
The formidable power of Photography. And perpetual creativity.
During an interview with a journalist from the Times, I was dynamically waxing lyrical on the wonders of Art when suddenly my 200mph monologue was abruptly interrupted. "That's you!....that's you!" he exclaimed, as if distilling in a moment of lucid enlightenment, the quintessential foundation of my entire persona. This startled me somewhat, as I had no idea what the hell he was talking about, so later when reviewing the interview I made a point of focusing on exactly what had elicited this reaction and conclusion.
Here's what I had said: "Now.....what you have to understand about me is that I have evolved in a totally pure, natural way and I haven't been schooled.... and I haven't been told about "isms"... I haven't been told that this should be X .... I haven't been told that this should be Y ....I have purely evolved and done the things which I believed to be right."
Reflecting on this dialogue later, it synchronised beautifully with some philosophical contemplation I had indulged in recently. I had often postulated the question "What is talent?" "Where does it come from?" and in a quest to understand the plight of a million burned out supernovas, "Where does it go?"
As a young man I had gazed agog as I watched one rock star after another metamorphose into mediocrity. Ditto with artists in the visual domain. The spectacular and meteoric rise of one pyrotechnic talent after another was only eclipsed by the deafening clatter of their demise. Nothing left but silence and a ringing in your ears. I don't need to cite examples as it is hard to find one who doesn't conform to that. When they were young they created work of incredible stature - and now they're making bloody disco records?! What gives?
So I investigated that. I dug deep because I wanted answers. I knew in my heart that this was not my destiny, but perhaps if I could achieve an objective cognisance of the causes and effects at work, then I could ensure it never would be my fate.
I found myself mentally fencing, with many notions, concepts and clichés. "They do their best work when they are young / hungry, etc" "Life has a declining energy coefficient", and so on. But I knew these were just the most obvious answers. Factoids rather than facts. Pub wisdom at best. More to do with social conditioning than truth. Life and a decade of studying Psychology and Philosophy, had taught me that answers are rarely obvious. Simple - yes! Obvious - no!
Here is the answer.
Most people find their identity at some point in Life. I found mine at 13. Somewhat early perhaps, but I was genuinely astonished at the educational system's attempts to suppress individuality.
Water under the bridge, so I won't dwell on that. But perhaps it strengthened my resolve early. Who knows?! The point to be made is that from the moment a strong persona forms, a process of creeping osmosis begins whereby almost everyone you meet attempts to destroy your identity and suck you into that paragon of homogeneity, which is human existence. Although not human life.
Having learnt that school requires organised rows of cabbages and sheep - I avoided art college at all costs. I knew my ideas were too radical for them, even then. Can you imagine in a climate of black and white photojournalism, landscapes, portraits and fashion photography, me handing in one of my early colour masterpieces like 'Metasphere' or 'Remorse', to a teacher? There's a sitcom sketch in there somewhere. In England at the time, there was what the old guard called "a strong documentary photography tradition". I called it "snapshot crap" and that is pretty much what it was. People trading laziness for acclaim by smoke-screening their mediocrity with pseudo-intellectual twaddle. Later I discovered that much of the art world is like that.
So looking back from this point in time, I can see how hard I have fought to protect myself from what I consider to be adverse external influences. Wherever you see a spirit running free on full power you will always observe something beautiful and amazing. It was THAT which one could observe in the early works of those musicians and artists. The reason it faded was that they slowly became homogenised by everything else. Lovers, agents, managers, lawyers, dealers, the establishment, money, opinions, greed - the quest for consensual validation. And they unwittingly became shadows of who they once were, because of it. A fleeting spectre of creativity lost to time.
I have fought very hard against all that. You pay a heavy price in some ways, but it's worth every penny. Few understood my vision early on. Intense, radical work in a powerful new medium was a bit much for the grey cardboard art world of the Seventies with its imbecilic minimalism and crass conceptualism.
.!cv 5too9 7;p
(I dropped the keyboard)
Growing up as a teenager in the glorious West Country of England I was exposed to very little art. Thank God for that! My originality originates from there. Note the similarity of the words. There's the rub. The question I should have been asking was not "Where does talent come from?" but 'Where does originality originate?". The answer is in the question. It is a matter of how it all begins.
Acknowledge the simple fact, that if you take people forward a few steps, they love it. Take them forwards in gigantic leaps and bounds and most people switch off. The innovator must ignore this. You cannot innovate whilst seeking consensual validation. The two things are mutually exclusive. Unless you are talking to another innovator. So sometimes the artist evolves, but there is a time lag before the audience does. Some of them get stuck in their ways and never do. So it's "Give us the big hits!" This has more to do with familiarity than superiority. You'd be amazed how many people love the music they grew up with. Teenagers are far more impressionable than adults, so that is also a factor.
It's not coincidence that my Art took decades to be partially drawn into mainstream culture. With the Cyber Art, it is the same pattern. As I write this, no-one is making the sort of computer driven masterpieces which I am creating. But countless photographers and artists have now followed my early photographic work, which I ceased to create late Eighties (other than the erotica, as Photography is the best medium for that). So it can happen that the artist evolves ahead of the curve.
Back when I was a teenager, I had of course seen art reproduced in books occasionally, but even people like Picasso and Van Gogh only gave me a lukewarm buzz. Later when I saw the originals I felt no different. I had no idea why.
Anyway, I always seemed to have this critical and analytical ability, perspicacity if you like, to honestly see when something was superior. It is a critical ability which was just always there. Even as a teenager. Although it is, of course, now exponentially evolved. In this Media Age of mass cultural delusion, in a world of bludgeoning art world hype, it is something I fight very hard to protect.
This continual quest for an Art of honesty, originality, beauty and substance, is the basis of my evolution as an Artist. And in a lifetime of creating it, nothing has ever changed my trajectory.
The answer came back: "Pleasure and pain best epitomised by sex and death".
Second question. "Would these phenomena be more powerfully expressed by Painting or Photography?"
Photography is the future.
Written by JAMES ELLIOTT