Geneva, Thursday 7 May 2020
I would love to get away from “Today, President Donald Trump said…..” The problem is, that what he says tends to eclipse all other news. Despite wise people counselling caution he throws that caution to the political winds and continues his tirade against China and despite wise people pointing out that there is still no firm evidence indicating that the pandemic can be traced back to a laboratory in Wuhan. So…. Today, President Donald Trump said “We went through the worst attack we’ve ever had on our country, this is worst attack we’ve ever had. This is worse than Pearl Harbor, this is worse than the World Trade Center. There’s never been an attack like this. And it should have never happened. Could’ve been stopped at the source. Could’ve been stopped in China. It should’ve been stopped right at the source. And it wasn’t.” This is war talk. And he knows it.
So, battered and bamboozled by it all, I thought I would tell you a story of a hapless painter and a very big company.
In October 2006, I put on an exhibition of my paintings. I hung 74 large canvases on the theme of “XYXX: the Biology of Love.” I set out to tell biologically-based narratives about falling in love, couples, he and she, boys and girls, males and females, Mum and Dad, guys and gals and baby-making and all that stuff. The visual theme was an interaction of blue-for-boys and pink-for-girls in a square format. Gay themes were included.
I sent out 1,000 invitations. The event generated some interest in the local papers and radio. Friends pledged to come over from UK both to support me but mainly to have a jolly good laugh. Kick-off was at 18.00.
At the entrance, we put a painting called “Harmony” that had featured on the invitation.
Here’s the two metre square, principal theme painting, “XYXX” in my studio.
The pictures were hung tastefully thanks to the my amazing teacher, Guy. The wine was chilled and the exotic nibbles were laid out. At 17.30, I was sure nobody would come. At 17.45, I thought I would be sick. At 18.02 five people walked in. Guy told me he had come prepared to note any buyer’s name and contact details and to take a deposit. I thanked him and assured him that nobody would want to actually buy one of my paintings. He smiled. By 18.30, dozens more had arrived. By 20.00 the place was jammed.
We had one small rather uninteresting painting. I wasn’t sure I wanted to exhibit it. Guy said “Always hang the shit next to the bar. It’ll sell.” It was the first to be bought.
For the rest of the evening, Guy was surrounded by people with wallets open. The paintings sold like hot cakes both during and after the event. Eventually, through the XYXX paintings, I was able to donate over CHF 100,000 (about $95,000) to a special fund for people disabled in armed conflict.
Fourteen months later, I was dawdling around an airport duty free shop. You can imagine my surprise when I saw that Hugo Boss perfumes, a subsidiary of Proctor and Gamble based here in Geneva, had launched a line of perfumes: XY for him and XX for her.
Other advertisements for the same product claimed that “Harmony is overrated.” I thought that this really was quite some coincidence. I dug a bit deeper. Lots of other coincidences appeared: The lettering. Blue on the left, pink on the right. Square format with a border (boxing ring with the ropes’ shadows.) He and she kiss (top right is my painting called “Kiss”)
As I had a second exhibition on the same theme coming up, I wrote to Proctor and Gamble asking what they would like me to say if ever a journalist asked me about the similarity of my theme of paintings and their marketing campaign. In response, I received a polite letter from a legal adviser pointing out that I could not possibly claim intellectual property on XYXX, the genetic code for males and females. (I hadn’t.) The writer than invited me to slither back to my muddy pond and die slowly in pain. Those weren’t the exact words.
Thinking that was that, I carried on preparing for the exhibition. Here’s “Arrivals.” Isn’t it – or wasn’t it – fantastic to watch people waiting for their lovers at an airport? And isn’t it amazing how readily we have the ability to recognise that one special face among thousands.
Twenty four knotted ties went into “Man’s World”. Are women left crushed and bleeding by the male monster? Or are the women weeping tears of laughter at the guys’ ridiculous power plays? Or are they oozing excitement at men’s overpowering sexuality?
Some months later, I was dawdling around a department store. You can imagine my surprise when I saw that Mexx perfumes, also a subsidiary of Proctor and Gamble, had launched a line of perfumes: “Nice” and “Wild” – XX for her and XX for… well… her as well. Two girls hanging on to each other. Buy the perfume and you get a strappy little pink bag for free.
In the first exhibition, I exhibited a painting called “XXXX” – top left here. It was painted as a gift for two lady friends who were about to celebrate a civil partnership. I was the witness at their ceremony. (That’s me… the tiny little blue entity bottom left.) It’s most unlikely that including the girls’ pink bags would have been influenced by my “Pretty Women” painting and and all its luscious Julia Roberts shopping bags!
So I carried on painting. This is “Fantasy” A kind of fly-away-on-a-ballon romantic notion for the happy XYXX couple at centre. I got the idea from seeing a hot air balloon being inflated in the park near here.
Of all the paintings I did at this time, I enjoyed doing “Nocturne” the most. I loved laying out the regular key board geometry on the sheet music of Chopin’s nocturnes. Great music for people who have been in love for a long time.
Some months later, I was flicking through a glossy in-flight magazine. I was more than a little surprised when I saw this image promoting Hugo Boss’s “Boss Pure” because….
….. “Dream Diver” (below) was my first ever oil painting. It has never been exhibited.
But I did have a party at my studio once. I didn’t recognise all the guests.
We went through the worst attack we’ve ever had on XYXX, this is worst attack we’ve ever had. This is worse than Pearl Harbor, this is worse than the World Trade Center. There’s never been an attack like this. And it should have never happened. Could’ve been stopped at the source. Could’ve been stopped in China. It should’ve been stopped right at the source. And it wasn’t.
All XYXX photos thanks to Peter Hobden (pic2d.com)
As a person who was in those days connected to this “special fund for people disabled in armed conflict” which benefitted so greatly from the proceeds of your XXXY exhibition, I want to mention how you continue to amaze. Now with your lockdown diary, another manifestation of generosity, humour and genius……a man of many talents!, except of course naming your sour-dough Donald and then putting your hopes on it, even (specially?!) after having cheated a bit….:-). Keep it on, hoping though that the lockdown is soon over. Cheers, Theo
Thanks, so much Theo. See you soon!!