Friday, 26 August 2011

Old News: Failed Pop Stars

I’ve been randomly posting some old work on twitter each day, and rediscovered my ‘Old News’ project which straddled that odd, nervous period in 2005 between my exam project, graduation and the early beginnings of life as an illustrator.

Part one of the project consisted of collecting CDs from charity shops by manufactured pop bands who, despite major label backing and slick promo campaigns, fell by the wayside. From this I fashioned a one off book called ‘Old News’ which housed the CD collection along with portraits of the groups and silly factoids.


Back then my favourite default TV channel was called ‘The Box’ – it only played music videos. Frequently the ad breaks were taken up with lengthy promos for the latest girl or boy band, in which they’d give giggling frothy interviews and make nice for the camera. Desperation was frequently all too palpable. I remember one ad for a particularly dowdy girl group (the name escapes me) which featured them boasting that they were already ‘the biggest British band in Syria.’ I found it genuinely quite melancholy how small the success ratio was among these ‘next big things.’
Looking back I don’t think I’m being too lofty to suggest the project actually captured a moment in time - a desparate time in the music business. Record sales were falling and reality TV looked like it might supply the answer. Pop Idol had really blown the field open a year or two before, and there was a sudden feeding frenzy to find another Gareth Gates or Will Young. You didn’t have to win a talent show to get signed. Admittedly that is still true with the X Factor (think Jedward) – but back then you even got candidates who didn’t make the second round of auditions getting signed up. Yes, Cheeky Girls, I am talking about you. On series one of Popstars, Liberty X had proven that, in some cases, the losers could have more success – and so after series two (Popstars: the Rivals) you ended up getting, if you include the aforementioned Cheeky Girls, no less than five new major label groups and one soloist. Can you name them all? No wikipedia cheating!

Part two of my ‘Old News’ project was a limited edition hand finished book featuring failed solo artists of the same period. Most were, again, the flotsam and jetsam of various reality shows. Examples include the cheesy James Fox from the BBC’s flagship flop Fame Academy, or Welsh song-murderer Rosie Ribbons from Pop Idol (who, not content with flopping once, did so again on Australian Idol).

Interesting to look back and notice (as my friend Sean from Artmagic pointed out on Twitter yesterday) that amidst this cesspool of blandness, a few of my featured floppers were actually great singers who slipped through the net. They might still be remembered one day, and definitely deserved a better crack of the whip – perhaps more so than the ones who got success.

One example for me would be Mania, a duo girl band launched by Xenomania, the production house responsible for Cher’s ‘Believe’, Pet Shop Boys ‘Yes’ album and many Sugababes and Girls Aloud songs. Singers Niara Scarlett and Giselle Somerville were no pre-packaged pop product, in fact Scarlett had been an integral part of the Xenomania writing team for years – she helped pen ‘Sound of the Underground’ for Girls Aloud. Their debut single ‘Looking for a Place’ felt slightly cooler and weirder than anything else around, with a hellishly catchy whistled obligato. They too had their own promo ad on ‘The Box’ channel... but the single flopped and their completed album ‘Do you know your Daughter’s on the Roof?’ was canned. It remains one of my favourite songs. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=en5pyDErAws)

Equally, the solo career of Siobhan Donaghy can only be described as a ‘failure’ in the bald commercial sense. I hesitated to include her in my ‘Old News’ book because as one third of the original Sugababes, she had had her taste of fame. But in her own right, commercial success totally eluded her. She quit the Sugababes after suffering a reported depression following the alleged bullying of band-mates, and her record label chose to back her, not them. They dropped the other Sugababes and funded her first solo outing ‘Revolution in Me’, recorded with some-time Massive Attack collaborator Cameron McVey. The album was was a critical hit, but went down like a knackered lift on the high street. Poor Siobhan, it must have really hurt to see the Sugababes achieve massive success with ‘Freak Like Me’ just as her CD hit the bargain bins. But listen to it – it’s a gorgeous, catchy pop masterpiece – too cool, too skewed and at times too crushingly melancholic to set the dancefloor or the charts alight. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBLMSX09ZME)

Amazingly (after I completed my ‘Old News’ book) Siobhan got a second crack of the whip – this time signed to Parlophone who released another critically lauded but commercially ignored record called ‘Ghosts’. There are rumours on wikipedia that she’s working on a third album...

Monday, 22 August 2011

Website Updates

I've just updated the main gallery section of my website with some recent commercial work. The diary is still going strong, containing as it does seven years worth of monthly updates - well worth a look. Also, don't forget that the Peter Andre Saliva Tree is available to buy as a hand finished limited edition book, alongside a host of other PJF delights on my website shop here.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Jade: A Modern Crucifixion

My group exhibition with KUTAC, ‘See’, finished yesterday at the Brighton Fishing Museum. My 2007 portrait of Jade Goody, ‘Jades Mistake’ was quite an attention grabber, with plenty of people laughing aloud at its ludicrous caption (a real quote from the News on The World interview the day after her shameful ejection from Celebrity Big Brother).



One visitor to the show, who stopped by as I happened to be invigilating, had quite a different, hostile response to the piece - and demanded to know why I had wasted my time painting ‘a moron’. Slightly intimidated to be alone in the gallery with such an angry looking chap, I couldn’t really offer an explanation much beyond the fact I’d found Jade ‘intriguing.’ This cut little ice with my interrogator, who insisted on knowing how ignorance and bigotry could ever possibly be intriguing. I shrugged my shoulders and somewhat pathetically conceded that maybe the whole reason I painted it was because I couldn’t really put it all into words.

The picture (done years before her untimely death) came about largely because I was attracted to the hideousness of that News of the World press shot. If anything, it was a record of the cruelty of the media, which had feted Jade (rightly or wrongly) for years as an icon of rags to riches success, yet now wanted to ruin her completely, and (as the quote suggested) mock her ignorance and lack of linguistic subtlety.

In the interview, the hapless Jade was shown a video of her bullying outburst then photographed at close quarters as she wailed and gnashed her teeth for the outraged self-righteous nation. As her face glistened with tears and incomprehension, her blotchy skin matching exactly the scarlet tones of her unflattering top, her hands rising up in a near crucifix pose, the photographer pressed his shutter and preserved it for the readers.

I was intrigued by Jade - I stand by that sentiment. For a start, her story had a small but interesting local significance for me. Jade’s father died of a heroin overdose in the toilets at a branch of KFC near where I lived in Bournemouth. It made the whole thing a little less removed for me - I could imagine the scene better, for all that I’d known the location. Years later, when Celeb Big Bro introduced us to her mother, the damaged, mood-swinging and downright scary Jackiey Budden, it made me wonder how all Jade’s harshest critics might have fared if they’d had the same start in life she had?

Like many people, before the Celebrity Big Brother racism scandal, I quite liked the idea of Jade – the way she’d found an identity in the public eye and seemed to have mellowed into a mildly comic and quirky yet kindly character since her earlier (and none too attractive) discovery on BB3. The media, as we all know, loves a narrative – and the public seemed able to identify with her because she wasn’t a Hollywood celebrity who’d materialized from nowhere, tall and silver spoon-fed with flawless skin and a skinny waist.

In 2007 all that did change, of course. A few days into CBB (which I avidly watched) I began to notice a potential racial undertone to the way some of the girls were picking on Shilpa Shetty. Jade didn’t seem to be the worst offender, of course. Jo and Danielle tugged the strings. Jade had a problem with her temper and I suspected, whether from cruelty or boredom, J & D were egging her on to an inevitable explosion.

The famous ‘Oxo cube row’, when it came, took me entirely by surprise. Jade’s rage was completely disgusting and harrowing, her eyes popping out of her head with pure fury – words of filth leaving her mouth. Shilpa’s graceful calm and silent disbelief only cast a troubling spotlight on Jade’s clear inability to handle her anger and boiling rage. I was shocked and disappointed in her, but couldn’t quite get on board with the loathing the newspapers were suddenly so eager to drum up. Danielle (a far nastier, more insidious offender in my humble opinion) got off relatively scot free because she was young and gorgeous – yet the demented and twisted face of the less classically good-looking Jade in mid-Oxo rant made her, for a while, an easy poster girl for bigotry. The moral outrage quickly got out of hand. Initially cynical, it didn’t take me long to believe very sincerely that Jade was properly sorry. Her genuine tears, for me at least, cut through the galloping charge of media high-horses. She was horrified that people now hated her and thought of her as a racist. To quote Russell Brand in his marvellous summation of Jade “She was a tough girl but utterly lacking in the malice on which true prejudice depends”. Worse still she was, it seemed to me in some of those early post CBB interviews (cf ‘The Wright Stuff’ on C5) actually lacking the very language to describe and intellectualize her own outburst, coming as it did from such a dark, hidden and bruised place within her.

Putting aside this opinion (it’s just an opinion, I never met the lady) – I still think it’s remarkable that so few people are neutral in their opinions towards her. She was human marmite. Several years after her death, in our little KUTAC exhibition, some guy was angered by her very presence on the walls. Surely that alone makes her intriguing? Well doesn’t it?

Monday, 8 August 2011

Saliva Tree Launch

Thanks to everyone who came to my Saliva Tree private view last Thursday at KK Outlet – I can safely say that a lovely night was had by all.

(Photograph by KK Outlet)

The evening held for me a real sense of occasion, coupled with an excuse to meet up with some dear friends and also celebrate the happy ending of the saliva tree project – basking in its success for a moment before I move on to projects new.

In terms of the public reaction to the piece… well, the fact that the entire two hour duration of the private view people were clamouring to look closely at the tree, follow the connections and, in some cases, take souvenir snaps on mobile phones, made it all worthwhile.

In the run up to the show, I joined twitter and carried out an experimental tweeting campaign to make some of the celebrities on the #salivatree aware of their immortalization in a PJF artwork. I haven’t yet entirely given up on trying to get some sort of response out of Mr. Andre himself – but thus far, randomly, I’ve only got re-tweets from Inglorious Basterds actress Diane Kruger, and X-Factor’s Sinitta. Watch this space…

The show runs another three weeks – closing on August 27th – so pop by if you missed the preview. Details here.

Don’t forget the Saliva Tree souvenir book – also available at my online shop now.