The Internet is an overwhelming place. Setting up email, learning how to negotiate and navigate, is initially daunting to say the least. Microsoft posed a question in one of its publicity campaigns, "Where do you want to go today?" In late 1998, after having surfed online for only a few short weeks, I started to ask myself this question and thought I had the answer - until I encountered Nelson Nanson....
The unexpected, as Oscar Wilde pointed out, always happens. Nelson Nanson, an artist and sculptor contacted me and tentatively requested a piece of poetry to reflect one of his sculptures - a bronze of a woman overlooking the Lake District. I responded with a piece entitled "She Who Watches, Waits" Within the blink of an eye Nelson came up with the idea of an online collaboration, a book of his artistic endeavors coupled with my poetry, a literal fusion of words and visual artistry. It was at this point this that my journey began.
From the outset, Nelson's vision was one of the finished product being a cohesive work of art rather than a book of poetry and illustrations. I think this vision has been effectively realised. The jury may be still out, but I know where I would cast my vote, speaking objectively, of course!
For the sake of simplicity and relevance, I will concentrate on those works that made the final cut, the 26 culled from over a hundred pieces, in the general chronological order they were conceptualised and composed. The history of "26 Images Spoken."...
In December 1998, Nelson was working on a painting depicting "people losing the art of conversation, of communicating." I visualised this in allegorical terms, a sort of dead letter office where people have tried to get messages through, but they have gone astray and communication has broken down in an irretrievable sense, hence "Dead Letters."
Nelson then suggested a link between the 'Three Graces' of Greek mythology and three drunken slappers he had seen leaving a nightclub one night. Ok, so it's a quantum leap, but the idea struck a chord with me (being familiar with drunken slappers as I am) and "Three Graces" came into being.
Next came "The Art Of Alone", the genesis of which is a little hazy for me now. I suspect I was gearing up for Christmas and practicing the art of Jack Daniels at the time. It had something to do with twilight states and isolation, a picture Nelson was painting linked to streetlights and a vacant room. Around the same time he needed something relating to doors and so another work entitled "Doors" was conceived.
Finally, in December 1998, came "The Last Of Summer". Nelson's concept was entitled "Meltdown In A Yellow Bikini", a stark visualisation of nuclear energy and environmental issues. The bikini angle caused me to think of holidays - as it would if you are as shallow as me - and I came up with a depiction of how the environment is under fatal siege both from technology and tourism.
Christmas came and went and in January 1999 we were off again, with Nelson describing concepts of alcoholism (an experiential subject for me!) and a portrait depicting institutionalisation. These became "What's My Poison" and "Batt" respectively. Then he described a painting of arrows, which I translated into a paean of middle-aged angst, "Less Than Zero".
February 1999 brought with it "Of Mountains And Microbes" to accompany Nelson's painting of a mountain reflected in a lake, and "Recital" which was composed around Nelson's description of a sculpture of a female pianist with no hands. Why? Feel free to interpret.
In March 1999 Nelson suggested something to accompany a painting of five flowers on a plain background and left me to come up with something of my own design, hence, "Five Flowers And A Funeral." He then suggested we throw our relationship into a sort of role-reversal, whereby I wrote something and he produced artwork as a result. The product was "The Devil Never Sleeps," a stream of consciousness piece, portraying perceptual dereliction resulting from chronic insomnia; or maybe something else?
March 1999 also brought forth "Time And Tide", and Nelson produced a "blind family metal portrait/sculpture." At this point, middle-aged angst seemed to be getting the better of me, so a change of direction led to "Cowboy Genetics," a somewhat off the wall foray into the heady subject matter of genetic engineering and cloning.
April 1999 resulted in "Bon Appetite, Nelson's painting was of a hotel cum lavish pig trough for the rich and glutinous. Juxtaposed against the war in Bosnia where innocent men, women and children were starving, being tortured, persecuted and murdered, it took on a more sinister connotation.
April 1999 also saw Nelson tackling the subject of the 'Last Supper'. The poetic representation became "Twilight For The Gods." In the same month, role reversal kicked in again with my providing "Land Of The Rising Yen," and also a "last man alive" scenario suggested by Nelson which became "Omega Man".
In May 1999 Nelson came up with the scenario of a painting of a girl wearing a Dalmatian skin dress stained with blood, a comment on consumerism and attitudes towards animals. "Out Damned Spot" focuses upon how some people seem to treat animals with more respect and consideration than they do people.
For the remainder of the year we communicated frequently, Nelson explaining his ideas via email, I sending potential work back via the same medium. Then, as the New Millennium dawned, Nelson informed me of a radical decision. He decided to scrap all his artwork for the book, a combination of paintings and sculptures, and start again from scratch, adopting an "abstract, impressionist, colourist" approach; an overall, consistent standard. It was initially a shock to the system, yet when you take into account the fact that I had never seen any of the artwork anyway I soon came to terms with it!
In February 2000 Nelson wanted works about a dry stone wall, patriotism and football and a chain mail teapot. Football became "A Deeper Divide," the dry stone wall became "Dry Stone" and the chain mail teapot became a thorn in my side! Nelson would often enquire "anything for the teapot yet?" It was driving me mad, but it came to me in a flash of lunatic inspiration in August 2000 and I wrote "Move Over, Darjeeling.". We never used the piece...
"Versus" was based upon one of Nelson's abstract works, a "battle of the sexes". Then came a piece Nelson wanted about a guitar, which I composed around an almost supernatural ancient black blues guitarist, "Samurai Spirit Guitar". Finally the concept of seven coloured wine bottles born of his predilection for a taste of the grape, one of his favorite films "The Magnificent Seven" and his favorite car the Lotus Seven, became "Seven Dreaming Bottles" which bore little connection with any of these things! That was the last piece to make it into the book.
As for the "Last Grave On The Left." I cannot for the life of me recall where this piece fits in, but I am fairly sure it was influenced by the war poetry of Wilfred Owen. And finally "Magnetic Field," a bittersweet love poem about the loss of innocence was selected from my own collection. The book was finished, "26 Images Spoken." from concept to reality in approximately three years.
Our method of working was unique. Nelson and I have never met in person, never communicated by phone, never actually spoken. I never saw any of the completed artwork until the book was a physical reality. We worked purely over the Internet, by email. He would send me descriptions of his art, outline his ideas and concepts, and I would start composing poetry. I would be a lying if I said I never had any doubts, but Nelson did not. He worked tirelessly in order to bring "26 Images Spoken" to fruition. Maybe it is a credit to our way of working, that things like ego, temperament and artistic differences never got in the way, our relationship was based on mutual trust and respect.