In these oddly paused days, I don’t get much mail but, today, I found a glossy interior mag on the doormat…a starkly incongruous figment of “the past”. Be assured, I don’t subscribe to this article per se, its a “freebie” chosen from an otherwise unappealing list of account benefits for having a certain kind of bank account and I chose it over theme park vouchers or some such because, well, I used to covet such reading…oh about a decade or so ago…when expensive glossy mags depicting interiors I could only aspire to in my dreams seemed to allude my budget as much as those very interiors. My daughter sometimes uses them for pulling out architecture inspirations for her course and, as a professional artist, I use them to try to glean what people like to hang on their walls these days (usually, fairly demoralising information) but mostly they gather dust. Occasionally I have a browse, for the “lols”, because I long-ago began seeing through the pristine, aspirational life they depict as “Emperor’s New Clothes” made manifest in what is really one giant, glossy advertising pamphlet.
The phrase that always comes to mind when I peruse such glossy waiting-room reading matter, these days, is that it is aimed at the, what I refer to as, “I saw you coming” brigade; a nod to a certain long-running tv skit by UK comedian Harry Enfield in which the owner of a Notting Hill shop by that name adapts whatever rather dubious wares he has recently come by to the budget and desires of the guileless, moneyed brigade of female customers seeking to be ahead of some trend-tsunami that means they will pay almost any price for what they deem is about to be “in fashion” or to keep themselves ahead and afloat in some long-running survivalist “trend game”. Lead by their abject fear of not keeping up with the Joneses, they are ruthlessly persuaded to purchase the most ridiculous items imaginable and for a premium sum by this wiley and sycophantic shop owner. These comedy sketches, which are well-worth the light hearted tea-break it takes to revisit them, must have been broadcast a lot of years ago now but they have always stuck with me and made me half laugh, half grimace at their all-too-close resemblance to the fashion, interior and art worlds here in the UK (and probably elsewhere).
The thing is, such a world exists massively, powerfully and visibly side-by-side with all the other extremities of human existence still; or, at least, it did until just a few weeks ago. Having passed through London, Amsterdam and Venice in the last twelve months, I can tell you it was certainly alive and well in those places until recently (no less, my local town…). You know, the brigade of shabby-chic shops that sell nothing in particular alongside even more glossy business entities with phenomenal price tags hung around objects that are, at best, meaningless and, at worst, blatantly ugly or insulting to the intelligence of their potential customers, to the supply chain that got them there plus all the undesirable eco-consequences they contribute to as meaningless “tat” gets churned out in far-eastern factories and shipped around the world. Apparently, these things (whether ludicrous fashion offered at equally ludicrous prices, of which garish variety we saw quite a bit in the windows of Venice, or ludicrous objects; often ones that would have been sneered at as grandma’s bric-a-brac just a few months before some interior guru declared them the next big thing) “must” be had because some fashion aficionado said so. This blight has even crawled its way into ludicrous made-up services for those who apparently can’t think for themselves, such as the book collection curator I read about, just the other day; who will put together your entire book collection based on a pantone-matched colour theme or to create a giant room-themed mural out of your book spines…all for a “small” fee. But then, if we had reached the point that people were so bored and unfulfilled they were demanding gold in their burgers to get their kicks (or, maybe they were, subliminally, looking for a brighter future…), we surely knew we were living in the end of days for our culture as it was.
Of course, I’m not immune to this review process. Though I consider myself a largely conscious consumer who has made huge adjustments to the way I live my life in the last decade, my life is hardly flawless and we all have our areas of blindness, excuse-making and abject consumer unconsciousness…and there is nothing like having to think much harder about “where stuff comes from” to make you also question “why do I need it?”. On the same journey past the door mat, where I saw the magazine lying there, I was headed to the cupboard to survey how many pulses, grains and other supplies I have left, wondering how I will continue to bake bread when the now unobtainable yeast runs out, before pouring the third top-up of water onto the same tea bag that began my day; austerity forces us to reappraise and to be GRATEFUL for more every day things. I have been forced into becoming the most ingenious plant-based chef for a family of three that I can be using minimal resources during this time…and I have grown in creativity and resourcefulness on the back of it.
In fact, I suspect, I will never go back to single-use tea bags or the kind of take-for-granted consumption that came before (this reminds me of my parents grow-your-own mentality in the ’70s); even though my love of beautiful things and spaces remains core to my very being (I am, after all, an artist, a colourist, someone who appreciates the detail…). Its my birthday this week and I never had less of a desire to make it about the “things”, though I have two really beautiful items bought impulsively back in February, which I then decided to tuck away for this very occasion once the lockdown started (whereas, before, I might have just absorbed them into “everyday life” and they would have become commonplace things to me by now). Its not that our world will necessarily need to be asutere or strictly utilitarian after all this, far from it, but if we can all become even more conscious consumers than we ever were based on our new appreciation of where it all comes from, and whether we really need it (self-appraised beauty or utility, ideally a combination of both, are my rules of thumb) whatever our previous benchmark was, then that’s all to the good…as is dropping the mindless herd behaviour that was so rife, and so dangerous, not to mention disempowering, beforehand. Its in the everyday edits and tweaks to our behaviours, now during lockdown, that we are manifesting the collective change of attitude that will ripple out from this reboot-point.
So, for once, I reached down to the mat and picked up this interior magazine with a certain amount of interest; what could possibly be inside, in the current climate? Where would the features and advertising go with suggesting this summer’s trends? I didn’t even need to open it from its plastic wrapper…the cover said it all.
On the cover, a golden smudge, a single cloud, could just as easily have been a heap of golden-yellow paint pigment and the very feint words “A brighter future”. There, that does say it all (and at time of writing, I have not yet delved inside but it almost doesn’t matter what’s in there; this front piece is a start, as surely as any seed planted in a dark and peaty mindset that was in desperate need of aeration and light).
If even this corner of human mentality, usually cluttered, confident and assertive with all the imperative thrust of its entire “front cover” marketing strength, can be reduced down to a golden smudge, taken back to its source, broken down to the simplest colour pigment, simplified to where there is no kind of manmade “form” to buy into or inherit, only the base-substance of purest creative potential, then we are in with a chance.
Any painter such as I will know that there is nothing more potential-filled or exciting than a smear of colour pigment and a blank canvas…
If the defunct patterns of mindless consumerism and trend-for-trend’s sake, at whatever cost, can be eradicated from our habits by having been broken for just long enough to go past the cold-turkey part and into new territory then there is real hope for this world. Sometimes we have to break the momentum of what is broken to allow a new positive momentum to get started, once and for all. Like the flying issue, perhaps this will have to include some “not cool” opinions being expressed about those who continue to gobble resources pointlessly in the interim but this will take a mind-reset. We could never do this “brighter future” thing, in which I include the potential for a world with less guile than before, unless something major, some fundamentally stuck mindset around possessions and entitlement and using other people to our ends (even when this is “only” through averting the eyes…choosing not to worry about the cost to lives or the planet when we consume what we do) is able to shift and, well, its starting to…a little. There are signs if it breaking the soil.
If this reboot message is getting right into the corners of everything, and I mean everything, and if hope is still the word on the street, “brighter” our vision of the future and excitement our first impulse at seeing the blank canvas of our lives then I sense we are getting onto the right trajectory…for we are surely at a fork in the road; the biggest of our lives or any of the lives that went beforehand. Human spirit is tremendous…let’s let it spread its wings now.
Now some, I know, want only to get back to “normal” and others are vehemently hoping that we will only become more jaded, more sheep like, more in need of meaningless trinkets to navigate our addicted lives after all this but I think not. I suspect we are starting to see through such guile; and they can no longer “see us coming”…for we are coming in a whole new way. I suspect we are about to see a tremendous upsurge in the human spirit and, in its wake, a wave of the truest kind of human intuitive and creativity, like never before. I intuit that, across all these weeks of being sent to our room to reconsider our behaviour, we are clearing some of the plaque from our arteries, the scales from our eyes and the lead from our hearts; and to see what is real and what is not. It’s about time…because we need to lay down all the pointless ballast we created as “necessary” trappings and distractions around our lives for so very long in order to really start to fly.