Mike Horne

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TONY WRIGHT: This is Tony Wright, it’s the 20th of August 2012 and I’m talking to Mike Horne. Can you tell me your full name and where and when you were born?

MIKE HORNE: Right, full name Michael Horne, born in Keighley, in the hospital, first year brought up in Denholme, and then the rest of my childhood……Bradford.

TW: Right. Bradford. And how long did you live in Bradford for?

MH: ……seventeen years.

T: Right. Presumably you went away to university when you left there?

MH: No, no I just……I got out as fast as I could and I went on….a course where I came out as a qualified what was then called a subnormality nurse and a qualified teacher of special needs.

TW: Right, okay.

MH: The first year of which was working in a hospital and I did six months.

TW: Why did you want to get out of Bradford?

MH: To get away from home……and Bradford…..there was a world out there to have a look at; I only got as far as Southport to begin with, but it was still a bit more exciting than Bradford.

TW: Okay. So after that… went to Southport

MH: Yeah just outside, that’s where the hospital was.

TW: Six months you say…….and then what happened after that?

MH: Six months I realised how barbaric it all was; horribly barbaric and I refused to do some of the things I was asked to do in the end, so I thought ‘there’s no way I’m going to survive the whole course’ so then I left, went back to……went back home to my parents’ house for a month or two, then ended up working for MENCAP in North Wales…..and I stayed with MENCAP for two years.

TW: So did you do a lot of that sort of work in your……through your twenties and thirties?

MH: It was all that sort of work; it was all social work based……..right up till…..till 1981 when I went to university.

TW: Right. And what did you study at university?

MH: I studied Philosophy basically. It was called Disciplinary Human Studies… it was an American style and you majored in one of the main areas like Psychology or Sociology……what was the other…..English Literature I think and Philosophy, and I sort of majored in Philosophy, particularly Philosophy of Social Sciences.

TW: Oh right, okay. And once you’d finished that degree, what did you do?

MH: Then I went to do Post Graduate Research; that was at the University of East Anglia, and that was in Social Work Ethics…how they work in practice, or don’t work in practice as the case may be

TW: Was your interest in that based on the fact that you’d done that first job that you didn’t really agree with?

MH: Partly I think…..partly and……I needed to…….I wanted to stay in social work because that’s what I knew and I knew I could get a career there, and the family was growing by then and all that sort of thing, and I wanted to research and I’d been really interested in the philosophy of what I’d been doing; ways of thinking through things and what have you, and critiquing what’s going on in the world, and my experiences as a social worker told me that according to the Social Work Code of Ethics, the professional Code of Ethics, what’s written down doesn’t necessarily, if hardly at all, sometimes translate into practice and your relationship with the people that you’re working with, and I wanted to explore that, because nobody had done it before properly; there’d been a tiny little thin book on it but nobody had actually gone out to talk to social workers and asked, based on particular cases in depth, of why did you make this decision and that decision, and what was going on with regard to social work notions of respect for persons and clients’ self-determination, certainly from my own experience they’re sometimes nonsensical because you’re not just representing the client, you’re also representing the State, and the interests of both might not be running parallel; they might be in conflict, so that was what all that was about.

TW: So the bits that were written down on paper presumably were these…..not just practice, you know, good practice notes, were they actual legislation and government policies that people were supposed to stick with?

MH: I wouldn’t… never went quite as far as legislation, but it lacked a professional Code of Conduct. This was before the Social Care Council so I think it might be a little bit stronger now, although how you would put legislative teeth on it I’m not quite sure, otherwise….other than in cases of gross misconduct…….so it’s like all professions, all have to have some kind of Code of Ethics…..Code of Conduct

TW: It seems like that Code of Ethics doesn’t bear any real relationship to the actual work itself……would that be overstating it?

MH: It’s……maybe… really depends because if you work for the State as a social worker and most social workers…..well they still do even though we’ve had various parts privatised, most social workers work for the State and so you’re representing the State and that comes through with bits of legislation – mental health, child care legislation, child protection, that sort of thing……but you’re also representing the individual and you’re working with the individual, for example in a child abuse situation, child protection situation, so quite often you’re having to marry up two conflicting demands; the State demands the protection of our children, but in a sense the state of the culture that we live in also demands that people should have their privacy and rights respected, and you’re balancing the two all the time – with child protection, working with elderly people who may be deemed at risk – anybody who’s at risk really, and so it’s quite difficult to actually do that and still……’s quite difficult to do that and still maintain that you’re working by this….this ultimate Code of Conduct that you should respect the rights and the self-determination of the individual, because the individual exists within the context of society and you’re on both sides at the same time sometimes.

TW: So where did that research take you? Did that take you down a different career path?

MH: It did; I thought….well I had to get some money, I had to earn money and so I applied for other social work jobs; I applied for two jobs in Calderdale and told I was over qualified, because by now I’d done the Masters Research so I ended up on a one year contract at Bradford College teaching Social Work, and then that led on to another contract at Huddersfield Poly, as then was, then that led on to working at the Hester Adrian Research Centre for a number of years; that’s a centre for research into learning difficulties, and then back to Bradford College on the Campus as a senior lecturer in Sociology and Social Work, and then the University of York.

TW: So…..I know that you gave that up didn’t you?

MH: Yeah.

TW: What were the reasons for that?

MH: I didn’t so much give it up as they gave up on me. I was suffering from…….I had severe chronic back problems at the time; I split up from my wife……my daughters had grown up and basically I just gave up; I had a mental breakdown……suffered from severe depression. The university stuck with me for a while and I stuck with the university – I kept coming back to work because I didn’t want to give it up – but in the end they gave up on me and decided to pension me off.

TW: Right. And so what did you do after that?

MH: Nothing. Until I got my head round……I wasn’t in a state to do anything because I was really quite ill for……for quite a time…..and then I began to think of……as my mind came back a little bit, a bit of energy returned, and I went on this…….like a night school once a week art course at Tod.

TW: Right. Was that Mary’s?

MH: No this was…….this was pre Mary; the lady who did the course introduced me to Mary, and then Mary………took me on, I can’t remember what the name of the course was now…….some sort of introductory…..induction sort of art course and then I did the HND with her.

TW: So do you consider yourself an artist then?

MH: Don’t know really………in short hand terms, when people ask me what I do, I say I’m an artist because it’s easier than not saying I’m an artist, and I’m not……I don’t feel retired either, so that’s the easiest answer……so I suppose I am. I don’t object to being an artist or being called an artist or thinking of myself as an artist, but……it’s not something you are; it’s not like having a title and you are that title; it’s something you do all the time, so as long as I’m painting and drawing I suppose I am, but it’s not like a fixed thing so in that sense I’m a little bit uneasy with titles such as artist.

TW: Okay…..okay well we won’t call you an artist then, but we’ll ask about your drawing and painting, because that seems to be the thing that you do. What sort of inspired you in the beginning then? What kind of……was it particular images or a particular attitude; what was it that made you want to do more of it?

MH: I think it came from childhood really. I was always good at art at school……I actually wanted to go and study art but two things worked against; one was Part O Level, which was two years of drawing with a 2B pencil, drawing dead vegetables basically, in three shades maximum; never saw paint….paintbrush or any paints or anything, so that sort of put me off and I wasn’t allowed to do at A Level where you could actually use paint…….my parents didn’t really want me to do A Levels anyway, because they thought I should go out and get a job, so I was restricted in what I could do and it fell aside really, apart from basically decorating the tops of my daughters’ birthday cakes once a year, so it was always there and I’d always gone round galleries and museums and things all my life, so I’ve always had that sort of liking of art, and liked looking at art, but it wasn’t until I sort of started waking up after the depression that I realised that perhaps I could do something and just have a go at it and see what happens…..and so I’m still doing it and see what happens, so it comes… comes from childhood really.

TW: Well, what particular aspects of childhood because when I was very young, I must have been….you know, pre first year in school, three or four, I still have vivid memories of doing finger painting and splashing about with things - was it that sort of thing - can you go back to things that you did when you were little or is it just the……the kind of freedom about it?

MH: I remember two paintings I did as a kid - one I think I must have been about seven or eight - I painted a rose………and I had a blackboard and I put it up like an easel, like I was playing at being an artist kind of thing, and I remember that and I remember doing a painting at school of a scrapyard with the…..with mountains in the background; I think I was in junior high school so I would have been about eleven then, eleven or twelve, something like that, and….oh yes and I started drawing cartoons as well when I was a lad……..but that’s it really.

TW: So when you started doing it again…..were you trying to emulate those kind of images?

MH: No not at all.

TW: Well what did you start to do?

MH: I started doing what I was told to do…..paint this, draw this, do this, do that…..that was in the night school class - well not quite as dictatorial as that but you know what I mean - you’re guided by the tutor to do this and this is how you do that kind of thing, and it wasn’t until….and then I realised I was really enjoying it………and….and then I was introduced to Mary and I walked into….this was before…..this was in ’75, sorry 2005, before the… you know when it wasn’t, Todmorden College, when it was all ramshackled and higgledy piggledy, and I walked into that place with so many different images and colours and the smells of paint and stuff, and it looked wonderful, and everybody sort of doing things and so I signed up immediately and Mary invited me in….and then I began to see what other people were doing, and then on the HND you begin to, because we were at…..some seminars where we learnt about the context of art; different artists through history and the context in which they did their work, and I began to sort of…….to see the possibilities really, so it started off with painting, and that painting there is one of the first I did

TW: Right. Well landscape I’d call that.

MH: It is; that’s about number….I think that’s number four…..that I did….so originally I was landscape based because in terms of artists I’ve looked at ever since I was eighteen, Turner has always my favourite artist……..and so I was into landscapes and I liked the way he sort of…..through painting light and diffusions of light, I think the form within the light took second place; he was basically painting light and there was form there but it was secondary, and he didn’t just paint light as a space between one object and another, well I didn’t realise this at eighteen when I was looking, but since that he was actually looking at layers of light by looking through light, like looking through the ground, through layers of rock or something, and so that’s when I started out; I thought ‘well I like landscapes and I like abstracting landscapes’ and I did a piece of work that was actually photograph based, where I took a photograph and the image that came out was almost like an abstract; it was a play of light, winter light coming through a window with lots of moisture on the inside, and then I decided to do something with that and then…..then I sort of twigged that painting and art isn’t about representing what you see and try to replicate what you see; I knew this intellectually anyway because it ties in with questioning the social sciences about what is truth and what is reality, that kind of thing, and then I made the…..the link between that social science philosophical way of looking at things, questioning things, with art, and that’s why I haven’t done another of those…….and then……. I got onto drawing; we had a session on mark making, and I thought I couldn’t really get my head round this, I just didn’t……mark making……just sort of squiggles and shapes and I couldn’t really see what it was all about until one of the tutors lent me a book on contemporary drawing, and there were some drawings in there by various people but one of them was Agnes Martin, the American artist, where she just did lines, just simple lines, and then I had a go and that was it, and I’ve been doing lines ever since; it’s like it all twigged, and it sort of tied in with sort of my interest in Buddhism and meditation because when you’re just sat there for hours on end, just scraping little lines with a bit of ink on the end of a nib, or something, and you can feel the paper, and you can hear yourself breathe, you can feel the paper scraping and hear it, and so it’s a meditative process, and so that’s how I got into that, and that was it really. I’ve started using colour again now, but still based on the drawing.

TW: So did you title these works?

MH: Some of them…..I’ve titled them but just obvious like a lot of lines on a piece of paper, that kind of title

TW: So you didn’t… metaphors for landscape or for light effects, like mist under the sun or whatever?

MH: I did…..I did one picture which was quite a big one, it must have been two…..oh it must have been two and a half foot…..what was it….it was about the width of that, what’s that - about two and a half - just under three foot

TW: It would….what, that painting?

MH: Three foot, yeah

TW: That’s a good three foot I’d say, yeah

MH: Well it was three foot by just under three foot on a piece of card, and I did it with a biro, just a ball point pen, and it started off……I was bored at college……when I’d done the HND I signed up for the degree course but it was boring so I gave it up, so….but while I was there, I just started doing some lines……and it ended up as a cloudscape……….I sold it as well… the end

TW: Very good. Have you seen Constable’s cloudscapes?

MH: Not recently no, not to look at. TW: You know what I’m on about? They’re in the…..are they in the Ashmolean or the Fitzwilliam, one of those; there’s quite a few of them that he has there and they’re just these ephemeral brush marks really, that’s all they are. You can tell they’re clouds but then when you actually just look at them they are just marks really.

MH: That’s the bit that fascinates me….we had to do an artist’s statement for the final show in HND and I wrote something to the….most people wrote about themselves and I didn’t want to have anything to do with that, so I just said ‘every picture starts with a line, it’s like the first line of a story, the first note in a musical score’ or something like that ‘then line on line it adds and adds till you see the picture but you forget the lines, you see the picture but at the beginning of it, at the root of it, it’s just lots of little lines’ hence the consequence of the titles and I looked…..there’s an American artist whose name I can’t remember…….Crotty…..Russell Crotty……

TW: I’m not sure about that

MH: He’s an astronomer as well, and he does…..night skies just with biro…..beautiful, so that sort of tied in with Agnes Martin and the lines and stuff that…..that you don’t need a lot of paint; you don’t need fancy this that and t’other, you can do it with just a biro and a piece of paper which appealed to me, and still does.

TW: Yeah, sure……..I know you…..I’ve seen some of your exhibitions and…..some of them are very large scale. How……how did you come to…..decide to go big I suppose is one way of saying it

MH: Well it’s partly Mary Loney’s fault

TW: Oh yeah

MH: Because she kept telling me to go bigger, do bigger, and it’s partly through looking at drawings and drawings tend to be on the whole rather small, and they tend to be rather fixed………and so I thought ‘well they don’t have to be’ and so I decided to go bigger and see what the accumulative effect is, both of me, the person doing the drawing and just going like that for hours on end on a piece of paper that’s never ending, and what the total effect would be if you have say like tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of small marks on a big piece of paper, how different that is……for the doing and the looking at compared with just a lot of marks on a small piece of paper, and I’ve found some of the effects were……I liked them so I carried on, and I’ve just, well I’ve nearly finished now, four pieces of work which are five foot by just under four foot, and some of the marks are very small detail, very fine, but there are sort of trenches of colour in it as well, but the basis of the four pieces is very minute, small scale marks.

TW: Right. Five foot by four foot……what kind of marks are they?.......Are they pen and ink

MH: Pen and ink

TW: With some colour

MH: Pen and ink and I’ve used ink as well for washes in places………which I’ve just about finished now so I need to…….I’m sort of looking for somewhere…..well when I get off my boat, I’m looking for somewhere to exhibit because as well as those four big ones I’ve got ten smaller A1 size…..five A1 and about eight……what’s half of A1?

TW: A2

MH: Is that how it goes? A2…..and those are for an exhibition which is gonna be called Searching for the Breath of God……which comes from……oh what’s his name….American author………The Road……

TW: Not ‘On The Road’?

MH: No it’s called The Road……Cormac McCarthy….it’s…….it’s a quote in the end of one of his books The Road which is post-apocalyptic vision of the world, did you see….there was a film as well?

TW: I’ve seen a few films like that but I don’t know if one of them was based on his writing.

MH: Basically what I was saying was that the breath of God and goodness and humanity is within us all, bit like the idea of brotherhood’s within us all, that kind of thing, and I started drawing and……then it tied in with other stuff……of having over the last few years seen a lot of Islamic art, and a lot of Buddhist art, and a lot of Christian art…..specifically going to look at these things in sort of places of worship and…..stuff, and these four pieces are based on…..sort of impressions or expressions of some of the stuff I’ve seen as well as…….things from my own childhood, my relationship with sort of…..going to church and having to believe in this, believe in that and then choosing to believe in some things and other things aren’t right, all coming together…..kind of thing.

TW: So do you think… sounds like you’re on a spiritual journey and art is just part of that

MH: Part of it I think.

TW: Yeah. You used to…..include music as well, as part of your work

MH: I did for the………blueprint for A Benevolent Universe when we had the great big hangings…….which….yes I’m doing a music and a soundscape for this as well, although that’s lagging behind the drawing at the moment but I’m getting there; by the time…..well, hopefully somebody will want to exhibit it; by the time that comes off I should have the soundscape done to go with it.

TW: Right. So how do you compose?

MH: Same way as I draw really. Start with a line and see what happens. TW: Right. Is this a melody line, not just a note or……

MH: There’s notes……it’s a bit…….a tendency when I’m composing is to go for a melody, but this is a bit…..which….that was the case with Benevolent Universe…..this is hopefully going to be a bit different because I’m going to incorporate more……sort of natural sounds and I also want to…..rather than just going for…..there’ll be snatches of melody within this, but I want sort of….there’s two notes……and a lot of space between notes, a lot of silence in the notes, bit like lines and then space, line and space, like that, so in some ways I want to…..this is why it’s slow because I’m…..I’m not doing very well at it at the moment, so that in a sense the music is like a….an oral….complementary experience to looking at the artwork…..sounds ambitious but I’m not quite sure whether it’ll work yet; we’ll see, might do.

TW: Well I’m curious about your…..the viewer shall we say. If you put, you know, whether it’s a small drawing or a massive big drawing, it goes on a wall and people look at it; a piece of music, even if it’s accompanying that, is it… long two hour piece, or is it a short piece that has a loop, or is it just

MH: No, it’s looped……the piece itself, I don’t think should be longer than fifteen to twenty minutes, that’s including all the sounds and different things that I introduce, and then it will be looped, which is what I did for the Benevolent Universe one, because…’s got to somehow got to fit in with the experience of the person looking at the art; now nobody’s going to stand there for more than fifteen minutes, so I wanted it to roughly sort of fit……kind of thing.

TW: Are you bothered about the acoustics of the exhibition space?

MH: I am, yeah, and I’m clueless as well when it comes to it………it’s just one of the things I’ve got to do; I’ve got to get guidance from somebody who knows what they’re doing… terms of speakers and how to do it, and recording it as well.

TW: What instruments do you use?

MH: I’m using an electric keyboard……there’s lot of different sounds on it; I can replicate orchestras and organs, guitars, all sorts of stuff, and I can record on it with a…what’s it called… it an SD card or something……and then I can put that into the computer, then I can transfer that onto a CD disc, but I don’t know how I get all the other sounds I want onto, above and below the actual sort of music

TW: Well there’s software for that, so that you can have multi-tracks. When you put it onto your computer you’ll have to catch it through some kind of a software…….and when you look at it you’ll see all like little lines, you know

MH: That’s what…..the guy I did Benevolent Universe with, he had….I can’t remember what it’s called now……but every single sound you could imagine, he could play it, so I’m gonna have to sort of look into that

TW: So are you gonna record your own natural sounds?

MH: Well this is…..if I had equipment to….perhaps I need to talk to you about this

TW: Well I have equipment you can borrow if you want to.

MH: Of just…..natural sounds like traffic and people, that kind of thing

TW: Yeah, well I have a recorder which, funnily enough, somebody borrowed off me just to do just that, and in the end he never did it…..and so I was disappointed really, because he had it for three months and at the end of that three months someone else wanted to borrow it for……some radio shows they were doing and I did let them have it, and so…..the chap I got it back off, it was like ‘oh well I just never got round to it’!

MH: So if……what does it record on to then? Does it record on to a CD?

TW: No, no, it records onto a little square disc really, but it doesn’t…..actually it records into the machine and what you do… can have…’s got a built-in microphone which is pretty decent quality but I have other microphones that you can plug into it that you can pick up on, but then what you do is, you get a wire, a USB wire or a Firewire and stick it into that machine and then you stick it into your computer and push the button, and there it is on your computer…..and you can download…..I can find out for you…..there’s something called Audacity that you can download for free…….and……you can open up your sounds in that Audacity, and like I say, it will show a big long stream and whatever sounds it gets… know the visualisation of sound that’s in these waves….well what you can do is, you can do more than one of those… can have multi layers, so you have three things on your computer; one your music, one your natural sounds and one….whatever

MH: So Audacity will…..through that I will be able to blend in the music and the sounds?

TW: Yeah.

MH: Oh good…..I’ll look that up… that’s what I want to do.

TW: Right, so that’s…..that’s very interesting really………you see you’ve got my mind going now! [laughing] I’m thinking…..right, I’m visualising light; I’m visualising light and……mist and fog within the landscape with the sounds on the tops and sounds of curlews and that just wafting through, because it’s all hushed and muffled and there’s a little trickle of water somewhere or other and…..I’m thinking….well that’s my image in my head, and I would try to create something kind of like…… recreate that almost really, but it doesn’t sound like that’s how you would go about it at all; you have a different way of……kind of conceptualising what it is you want to do and it’s…… would you go about putting these things together then?

MH: ……… this stage I don’t really know to be honest. When I did notes for A Benevolent Universe……well I actually did some music for an installation I did before this, never seen the light of day yet, but that was just basically a piano piece, but it started… ended with children crying……….and I used children’s voices again in Benevolent Universe…..I know there’s a beginning and an end and that’s sound ; it’s not me at all, it’s just what…’s sound that I’ve collected…….and I know that I want water in it, a lot of water…..rains, different kinds of rain, and I also want wind, but I also want all the shitty sounds to go with urban life, so we’re in it as well because the music as it is so far, some of it’s very quiet and meditative, focusing on just one or two notes, but…….it’s sort of…’s sort of veering between…….very meditative, quiet, so think sort of John Adams or Philip Glass without the talent [laughing]………but then imagine some of the most horrific organ music you’ve heard in churches…..I’m sort of playing around with those two extremes at the moment, which is problematical in itself because if it’s too……if it becomes too….it can be too……could become so invasive that it takes away from the visual images.

TW: Well in the same way that you’ve done a number of big drawings, you know, these big five by fours and then you’ve got some A1s and some other smaller things, you could do the same with your music; you could do….not just one fifteen minute piece, you could actually do more than one so one might only be two or three minutes long…..and some might be longer, and then you could actually put them all together so that you have kind of an exhibition of sound pieces that then is looped, and then accompanies the different kind of pictures.

MH: Well that’s…..that’s one of the alternative….one of the ways that I’ve got of proceeding, that I can have lots of sound and then that merges into…’s mostly piano that I’m gonna be using, and then that fades back into more sound, and then it goes through……like that, so it sort of represents

TW: So it’s like sectioned anyway

MH: Yeah.

TW: Oh right, okay… don’t use words at all then?

MH: ……I’ve thought about it and I’m still thinking about it……but it’s a matter of finding the right words. I’ve used words in some of my art…..I did a pray for the moors…….which was….I don’t know if you saw that one; it was a sort of an abstract……image of the moors with…..sort of moor type colours

TW: Quite possibly; I saw a couple of yours over here and then

MH: There’s about……there’s eight inches worth of very tiny print going all the way round

TW: Oh yes, yes

MH: So I’ve used words before and a piece I did last year, just……just a very simple poem that I wrote……poem sounds too grand…..put some words together, and stuck them on to the picture, and so I’m interested in using words more and more, and I’ve got another idea in my head for uses of words as well, for more use of words in another single picture…..but then if you use words, you’ve got to find the right voice…… it gets more complicated, and…..words seem more fixed than musical notes because…..this is probably nonsense, but it seems to me like the words have got to be more accurate than the musical notes ever need to be, because people fix into them……but I’m still thinking about it

TW: Have you seen the Turner Monet and Cy Twombly exhibitions?

MH: I went t’other week; I even bought the book.

TW: Oh right, okay. I’ve just been this week again…..because it does seem very apropos to the way you’re talking now, because you’ve got this…..three centuries, the beginning of three different centuries really; people……talking about atmosphere and…..and feelings and emotions going from, you know, there’s a light….a mist over the water with the sunset, and it’s a funeral versus….you know, the sunflowers versus the really abstract things with the scrolls of words in them that are so over-painted you can’t really read them hardly

MH: I thought that was brilliant. The fact that you couldn’t read them, and I kept going up to them and squinting at them, and I still really couldn’t…..most of the time I couldn’t make anything out; I thought that was superb, doing that

TW: Well, you said people focus on the words; well that’s one way to kind of… makes them focus on something but……the word and the meaning that goes with it….it isn’t there; you have to kind of almost……you know, it’s like listening to some sound….is that a bird call or is that a C sharp? Well I don’t know, it doesn’t matter, you know… could do that with letters couldn’t you of some kind?

MH: I thought that was the best curated exhibition I’ve been to for years; I thought it was brilliant. If they’d…..the weaker one of the three I thought was the Monet.

TW: I would agree; they were the….I’ve seen lots of Monets, and as examples of Monets they……they weren’t the best shall we say that I’ve ever seen, and they didn’t quite…..I know of others that would have fitted better I suppose, within that thematic thing that they were trying to like contrast and compare really.

MH: Yeah, but I thought Turner and Twombly, I thought it was genius putting them together…….

TW: Now I know you were, before your back…..started giving you a lot of problems, you were a great walker weren’t you?

MH: Yeah, I did a lot of walking and a lot of running as well.

TW: I’m just wondering whether that…..being out in the landscape, up on the moors and everything……whether any of that….that experience that you had doing all that, whether you pull any of that into…..into the artwork that you do.

MH: I have done…..very directly at times. I did a drawing……..based on….it looks abstract does the drawing, it just looks like little lines, little…..almost like little twigs, sort of interlocking each other, and people who look at it think I’ve sort of done an abstract moor or whatever, but actually it’s really quite a reasonably accurate picture of what I actually saw, which was lots of dry grass just floating about in a little pool on t’top of t’moors, on top of Heptonstall moor……which I like that because it confuses….abstract….what’s abstract and what’s supposed to be figurative….what’s real and what’s not real, and I’ve used…….that approach a few times……taking things out of their context, and so to the person who doesn’t know the original context they look abstract.

TW: Right…..well when you used to run or walk up on the tops, was that just for kind of like……..for therapeutic health reasons to kind of like, you had a job and so you did that to kind of like relax and get away from it all, or were you…..because you seem to be on a spiritual quest, journey, not so much quest, an on-going journey, and is that just a variation of….kind of looking for that spirituality within nature?

MH: There is a great deal of spirituality within nature, I mean you can’t avoid it if you climb mountains…..really, but you don’t need to be up mountains; you can just be on top of the moors in a thick fog or in horizontal rain; it’s there as well……but walking’s different from running. If you’re running, you’re moving through the landscape quicker, and it’s a very different experience from if you’re walking; both good……I’ve been told not to run any more because of the arthritis as well as the back, but it’s…..both are really…..the time in my thirties and forties, mid-thirties up until……..till eight years ago in fact I used to do a lot of running; I used to enjoy doing both, and running…..sometimes if, on a really good day, there’s no sort of strict criteria for what makes a good day but sometimes you seem to not float along, but it seems effortless…..and that’s a very nice physical…..mental state to be in……apart from being a slog on other days


TW: Did it free up your mind so to speak then?

MH: Yeah I suppose so.

TW: Was it the running or was it like……if you were running in a city for example, around…..I don’t know, around Hyde Park say, or that kind of thing, versus running up on the moors, is it the landscape, the environment that affects you rather than….or is it the running or a bit of both?

MH: I’ve never run in a city or a townscape apart from through Hebden, but that’s on the way to get up. Running’s more self-contained because you’re more focused on the physical side of it and…..breathing perhaps so that you’re moving efficiently. Walking isn’t self-contained because walking you’re…..well I suppose you could do some meditative walking where you’re just focusing on each foot fall, but you have more time to take in your surroundings, and that’s what you tend to do I think, or that’s what I tend to do…..and if you’re running you tend to be running for a certain amount of time to keep a certain amount of speed up or get…….get from A to B, whereas walking you can be meander and wander about a bit and stop, so if you see a pool on the top of the moors with lots of little dried grass stalks in, you can stop……and you can sit down. But both….I think both are sort of…..both are spiritual if you want to allow that sort of perspective in…..then they both are.

TW: Up on the tops around here, the moors and what have you……well people would call it bleak really wouldn’t they…..I love it myself, but compared to… know, rolling countryside… forests or in wood… know, sort of glades and glens and that sort of thing….I just want to get your take on this sort of landscape compared to the more lush, or what people would call lush, whereas people would call this bleak. What’s your take on the different kinds of landscape?

MH: ……some landscapes I like more than others, I take to more easily than others….I mean people call it round here bleak and it can be bleak, but I like the bleakness….. but it’s bleak in a positive way; it’s bleak because the weather’s coming straight at you, and usually horizontal in some form or other….so it’s not bleak in a negative ‘this is an emptiness’ because it’s certainly not empty, but I also enjoy contrasting that with walking in woodland; I love thick forests as well, and coastal areas as well; each has…..each deserves having time spent in if you can, if you’re nearby, particularly at different times of the day like early morning, sunset, early evening, that kind of thing, because then you begin to appreciate…….the way the weather changes, the way the light changes, the way that the light completely determines what you can see and what you can’t see…..and when you’ve had a good walk….I’ve always found this….when you’ve had a good walk, like an all day walk, it stays with you for days afterwards, and that’s because it’s all soaked in I think, breathe it in… do a lot of walking, you know what I mean don’t you?

TW: I do yes, yes, but I just wanted to ask how you felt about it….another thing about that then is……it’s a question about colour. You say you started using colour more, and so when I think of colour it’s……when you’re on the moors around here, you can get wonderful colours in the sky with the clouds changing and the sunlight hitting it and that sort of thing. You can get… the… know, in the spring when all the buds come or in the autumn when the leaves come and all the heather is there, and you get this…..across light and you get all these…..vague colours shall we say that are quite beautiful to behold, but you can get that in a wood through looking up through the leaves and you get all the flickering, and then you get the sound of the different kinds of leaves hitting each other and……again, more in autumn time you get this different kind of……colour awareness because of the time of year I suppose and the way the sun, whether it comes straight down or right across and on the coast you would look… would look out to sea, and the colours in the water change, can change quite dramatically depending on the weather. Is that the way you look at colour like that and think ‘right, I’m gonna use some of those colours in a picture that I do’ or is there a different way that you would decide what your colouring’s gonna be?

MH: All the colours I use are sky colours or earth colours………in fact…..the use of…..the colour I’ve used in pictures have all been added to areas which are sky or earth….like that down there which…

TW: I can see all that there, yeah.

MH: It’s a sort of….it’s the colour of the sea or the earth contrasting with the fine lines of the landscape above… it’s…….I hadn’t thought about that before….because in these four great big pieces there’s elements of landscape in them, and I don’t….I can’t think where I’ve used colour in the last year or so where it’s not been part of a depiction of sky or land.

TW: Oh right. The contrast of the two.

MH: Yeah.

TW: Oh that’s interesting, yeah…..right.

MH: Sky land or water…….

TW: Well the only other element going is fire [laughing]

MH: Don’t do fires – I’ve never done fires.

TW: Well the sun’s a fire.

MH: Well I’ve done suns, yes, I suppose I have then haven’t I yes….I did a picture last year called A Small Pennine Town Falls Through a Hole in the Universe……which basically was a piss take on Hebden Bridge falling through a hole in the universe, but there was a moorland scene underneath, and on one….it was divided into two; on one side there was a sunrise or a sunset, it doesn’t really matter which it was, and on the other side was a dark sky which I’d done with…..just coloured pencils, and then obviously with the ink as well, the black ink, and that was the same thing.

TW: Right…..well……I suppose I should ask you… there anything that I haven’t asked you that you would like to talk about, to do with your creativity?

MH: ……..not really…..there’s one area which you haven’t covered, which is…….which is always there in what I’m doing, and that’s the relationship between social science understanding reality, how it makes sense of the world, and how that translates into art, but then that’s another subject really.

TW: Well now that you’ve brought it up, I mean you mentioned it earlier about the fact that…you know, you’d studied philosophy and working out what’s real… talked about what’s real and what’s not real, from a social science way of looking at things, and your art has that mix as well in some ways, whether it’s… image or abstract and a kind of blend of it, and does that just come from art study or does that actually come from the way you think?

MH: It comes from the way I think which comes from the philosophy I’ve studied, the social sciences that I’ve studied and taught……of questioning what is real and what isn’t, and questioning who has the power to decide which as well, and questioning where things actually come from…….and questioning what is taken to be the dominant hegemony of the time whatever we’re talking about, whether it’s in terms of… science, truths, sociological truths of philosophical arguments or whatever, and I do the same to some extent in my art as well, because I’ve no time for….well sometimes it’s portrayed as a dichotomy between that which is figurative and that which is abstract, and it’s nonsense….in the same way that I think that some sociological, social scientific arguments and some philosophical arguments that are trying to create these dualisms……they’re nonsense as well, or you can argue that they’re nonsense which is another way of looking at things….it’s a bit like sort of…….bit like Plato’s cave, you know when they’re in the cave just looking at the shadows thinking that that was reality, but reality was the things that were creating the shadows, well there’s a lot of that nonsense in art as well, of looking at the wrong thing and clicking onto the wrong thing. I remember having an argument with some of the tutors at Tod College…. when I tried to say that there’s no such thing as abstract, there’s no such thing as figurative, as givens they’re all constructs….we decide what is what and you could take the same object, look at it from different perspectives, and from one perspective it’s abstract, and one……perspective it’s…’s figurative. The…..I thought about this when I was in Liverpool looking at the Monets, the cathedral….is it at Rouen?

TW: Yeah.

MH: If you go right up close to it that’s abstract; there’s no way there’s a cathedral there in a sence, but as you walk backwards away from it then you see the cathedral; it’s figurative….and I tried to argue this with one of the tutors and he wouldn’t have it at all……..and I didn’t budge, and he didn’t budge [laughing]…..I mean it was a healthy disagreement of non-budging [laughing]……but I just didn’t see it at all… depends; I mean I could…..I could….I don’t know, you could draw that computer….. as it is, whole….. ‘oh that looks like a little computer’….you could paint one small part of it and it would be abstract; it depends on how you frame it, so you can draw that, right, that’s a computer screen; you could frame it by……if you just did that bit there…..and that would be….well you’ve got a block of yellow, you’ve got several lines of blue, some paler blue and some white; you wouldn’t relate…..necessarily associate that with a computer screen, so the person looking at it would say ‘oh that’s an interesting abstract, the use of lines and colours and blocks and things……so……and this is the thing with lines, you can draw one line and it’s like the first….the first letter, but thousands and thousands together, and you may end up with like a cloudscape and that cloudscape, several months before it was finished, was just a few little biro scribbles which some people came and walked past and said ‘what’s he wasting his time doing scribbles with a biro for?’….so it comes into evaluative judgments about the worth of what somebody’s doing, and as well as what they produce in the end as well… it all fits in a sense…..well it does in my head anyway.

TW: Yeah… where would you like your….the work that you’re just doing at the minute then, you’re looking to exhibit that somewhere or other

MH: Yeah, I’ve got to sort something out.

TW: And what……what kind of audience are you looking for? Or does that not matter?

MH: …………I’m not sure it matters really….be nice to have an audience…..I mean I’ve been asked in the past…..why do you do it? Do you do it for yourself or do you do it for other people? The answer is a bit of both because each…..because I can do a picture and I see what I see in that picture, which might be… in a sense accidental, not having……not quite sure where it’s gonna be when I started off and then it sort of….a form comes. Somebody else might look at it and see something completely different, and I like that, which is why I tend towards the impressionistic expressionistic rather than just sticking with what is like an ordinary landscape that everybody can say ‘oh that’s haystacks or that’s Great Gable’ or something like that, so that people can read into and draw out, read out of, what they want…..and sometimes that’s…..that’s been helpful to me as well because……then that gives me ideas for….what I can do next sometimes, about what somebody sees in what I’ve done before

TW: So that feedback is important to you isn’t it?

MH: So the feedback’s important, yeah……….questioning….appreciatively critical, if that’s not too much [laughing] …….if that’s not too much [laughing]………I think it probably is sometimes.

TW: Well, Twombley called himself a romantic symbolist, just to confuse them

MH: Which is not bad that

TW: It’s not bad at all, yes, because when I first said to you ‘are you an artist?’ you were kind of saying ‘well……no, not really, but maybe, yes’

MH: I suppose it depends on who’s asking the question, and what they think and artist is or should be, so I prefer to avoid ‘that’s your problem not mine’ so if I don’t call myself an artist it remains your problem

TW: [laughing]….okay……..well I think we’ll call there, because it’s about an hour now

MH: Right

TW: And we’ll stop there if you want

MH: Okay, that’s fine

TW: And I would just like to say thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with me.

MH: You’re welcome; it was interesting.

TW: I’ll just turn this off now.


About Us

Wild Rose Heritage and Arts is a community group which takes it's name from the area in which we are located - the valley ("den") of the wild rose ("Heb") -  Hebden Bridge which is in Calderdale, West Yorkshire.

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Pennine Heritage Ltd.
The Birchcliffe Centre
Hebden Bridge

Phone: 01422 844450
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