This studio update covers the personal impact of the climate emergency, Christmas Preparation, a discussion of what’s going on in the House of Commons and some thoughts on some films.
Right Josh, what’s been going on?
If you’re a regular reader of the Studio Updates it may seem like I’ve not been up to much recently, but believe me, nothing could be further from the truth. The last time I wrote (September; I’m such a terrible diarist) I was heading off to the Young England and Wales Programme 2023. Please believe me, I did start the week full of big intentions. I recorded some nice videos and I was going to make a little video chronicling my week, but the UK Weather had other plans, as it majorly disrupted the delegates travel plans (shout out to the group of about 15 delegates who all got stuck on the same train) and at one point dislodged a fair whack of the roof tiles in the hotel’s gym, closing the Sauna and Steam Room for the rest of the week.
The closure of the Sauna and Steam Room derailed me more than I should really admit, and quickly became the talk of the programme.
Alongside that trauma, I also got too wrapped up in the progression of the week and my plans of making a compelling and inspiring update were promptly left in the dust. In my defence I started with the best of intentions, but unfortunately it got away from me.
Don’t worry though, if you’re keen to get an insight into the inner workings of the Programme, I’ll have more programmes in 2024 to disappoint you with.
So after returning from the Programme I once again threw myself into work, as I’m apt to do.
October was, as it so often is, taken up with preparation for Christmas, and thankfully this year, I’m going into December more prepared for the festive season than I’ve ever been, so without any further ado, lets get into it.
I wish you would, what have you been working on?
The elephant in the room (thank you Alexandra Burke for bringing that saying to the UK) of every October in the Josh Moir Art Studio is the preparation of Christmas Cards. I’ve done a new batch of cards almost every year since the Studio started, and this year was going to be no different.
Historically, I’ve focused on doing Christmas Cards of different landmarks in Dundee, but the problem with basing your Christmas Output on landmarks in your home town, is that it’s very easy for the landmarks to start becoming increasingly niche. I had covered the main landmarks over the first two years of production, and last year was REALLY struggling to think of any further places to do.
There are some buildings which obviously have become part of Dundee’s identity over the last few years, The V&A and the Waterfront Development leap immediately to mind, but I don’t know if anyone has particularly strong emotional ties to these newer interlopers to Dundee’s skyline. The first few years, what drew people to my cards were the shared memories and childhood shorthand that the cards reminded people of. Everyone can remember climbing on the Dundee Dragon at one point, or can remember standing chin to the sky as a child waiting on the Wellgate clock’s ancient gears whirring it into motion.
There hasn’t been enough generational transfer and memory building gone into the V&A yet for people to have a strong emotional connection. Nobody old enough to be buying Christmas Cards can remember necking with their first lad outside the V&A, or tearing about the Waterfront as a child.
It’ll remain to be seen whether these new buildings weave their way into the tapestry of Dundonian life enough for us to have a shared connection and identity with the buildings.
Another reason why I’m hesitant to slap some of these newer buildings onto Christmas Cards, is because I can think of at least 5 other artists working in Dundee who’ve featured their facades in the work over the last couple of years, and that’s without thinking too hard. There will undoubtedly be more. Don’t get me wrong, they’re bonny buildings (That Dundee City Council seem desperate to block from view with office buildings for extortionate rents) but if everyone is drawing them, then it becomes a bit of moot point for me to throw my hat into the ring to draw them too.
With all this swirling around in my head, I decided to do something different this year, and instead focused on my one true love. Horror films.
It all started with a sketch of OG Pinhead after rewatching the originals in preparation for the new Hellraiser film earlier in the year, and an idea I had of him draped in fairy lights.
I sketched it out one afternoon and the rest, as they say, is history.
The Brief? Horror Characters but make it Christmas.
It’s simple in its premise (and not in any way original), but was anything but in its execution. In a drive to be more prepared this year than I historically am, I set myself a deadline of getting the files to the printers by the last week in October, so that the final printed product would get delivered sometime in the first week of November.
This led to a mad dash back and forward between the day job and the studio, and some exceptionally late nights. I started to go a little bit mad, and started to post unhinged insanity to my instagram story, both in an attempt to exorcise some of the worst crazy energy, and also to force myself to be productive.
As I’m sure you can tell, things started going a bit… wrong for me, but the hard work paid off, and the Christmas Cards were delivered and they look great.
If you like them and you fancy purchasing a set for you nearest and dearest you can get them here.
If you’re against the capitalistic capturing of sentiment that Christmas represents, I’ve also been working hard to complete the final inks of my Fortune Teller. I’m hoping to have it finished in the next week or two, just in time for you to find out what 2024 potentially has in store for you.
Production of the Fortune Teller has had a strange journey to completion. I had a strange spurt of drawing ability half way through (it happens when you’ve been drawing a lot) and because it’s been on and off the back burner so much it left the original drawing and the more recent drawing looking like it had been drawn by two different people.
This left me with the choice to either simplify the inner images, or redraw the outer images so that they made more sense. I always find simplification harder work than ornamentation, so the decision was made to redraw the outer images to bring them more in line.
I’m kind of happy that it’s happened, because it’s made the whole thing closer to my original vision for the drawing, even if it has made it a little bit more work. The inner drawings are just better.
What is going on in the House of Commons?
Speculation has been swirling as to whether the new Home Secretary, James Cleverly, referred to another member’s constituency as a ‘shit-hole’. Now I’ve heard the video, and I’m not convinced. Do I think it’s plausible that James Cleverly could have called it that? Absolutely. I don’t know much about Cleverly, in my mind he has floated around ministerial posts like a spectre, and I couldn’t tell you what he had been responsible for before his new tenure as Home Secretary without googling it.
The reason I’m not fully convinced also strangely has to do with ghosts too.
As everyone knows, I’m a fan of the paranormal, and I’ve spent (some may say wasted) many hours of my life watching a plethora of ghost hunters the world over trying to communicate with the other side using a variety of methods, but the one this whole Cleverly saga reminds me most of is EVP, or Electronic Voice Phenomena for the uninitiated.
EVP involves practitioners recording themselves asking questions, and then recording the room at large while they wait for a response. They will then pore over the recording, boosting levels and volumes until the resulting static forms into ‘words’.
This supposed evidence is then presented, always with subtitles to explain what the devotees have heard in the snap, crackles and pops. If you try to decipher it without looking at the subtitles, or without prior explanation, you can never understand what the adherents have heard, which always makes me wonder, if you can’t understand what the ghosts are supposedly saying, are they saying anything?
This is, in a long way around, why I’m not convinced that Cleverly called it a shit-hole, It certainly sounds to me like someone says ‘shit’, but I wasn’t there, it’s not clear enough in the recording for me to be certain who said it, and as much as members of the opposition are insisting it was said, I can’t be sure.
Cleverly’s response is as unhinged as you would expect from the person Liz Truss thought was a sound candidate for Foreign Secretary (I’ve done some googling since 5 paragraphs ago) and his defence has been that instead of claiming that North Stockton was a shit-hole, apparently he said ‘Because you’re shit.’.
Ignoring the insane implication that the poverty in Stockton North is the responsibility of their single MP, and not the Government Cleverly is now a part of who have been setting fiscal policy for the last 13 years, it also buckles me that the defence of ‘I didn’t say it was shit, I said you were shit’ is apparently enough to evade any scrutiny. I don’t know about everyone else, but I would probably rather that nobody in my elected house of representatives was acting as unserious as to be calling people shit. I know that if I took a leaf out of James’ book and called some of my more challenging colleagues in my day job in the NHS the same, I’d be upstairs to HR quicker than I could blink, and probably rightly so.
Regardless of the events on the ground in the House of Commons, one of my best friends lives in Stockton North, and in the course of a recent conversation about it he used the phrase ‘Personally Victimised by the Home Secretary’ and I’m now obsessed with the idea of putting that on a badge, available for purchase anywhere anyone feels like they’ve been personally affected by the decisions of any of our previous Home Secretaries. I have a feeling they might do quite well.
I’ve not really been reading much recently, and I have the most pathetic reason ever. I do most of my reading on the bus to work in the morning, and as the cold mornings come in it gets too cold to hold a book while on the bus.
Call me a snowflake if you like, but getting to work with hands that feel like they’ve been cupping Jack Frost’s cheeks (oo-er) for an hour and the dexterity of a rusted combine harvester does not for a happy worker make, so instead I’ve been back on my podcast bullshit recently. One podcast I recently finished was Can I Tell You a Secret from the Guardian. It follows the Sirin Kale, a journalist for The Guardian as she investigates the cyber-stalking of Matthew Hardy.
I hadn’t heard anything about the case while it was unfolding, so every twist and turn really had me hooked, and the team behind the podcast did a great job of following the terrifying (if somewhat predictable) case. The Guardian does a great job of warning you about it, because it can be a challenging listen at time, but obviously if the themes of obsession, stalking, cyberstalking are likely to upset you, it’s maybe not one for you.
It did carry an advert for the podcast I’m currently making my way through however, and that is Wondery and Pineapple Studios Ghost Story. That follows Tristan Redman as he simultaneously investigates a murder in his wife’s family and a ghost story from his childhood home which are maybe synchronistically related.
I haven’t finished it yet, but it has quite the cast of characters, from the woman Prime Suspect is based on (the one Helen Mirren played) to actor Hugh Dancy and a story so mad it is more compelling than any EVP I’ve ever heard. I’ve always said that the mark of a good podcast is one which makes me disappointed that I’ve gotten home because then I turn it off, and this one has me lingering at the edge of my driveway to try to get as many last minutes as I can.
I’ve also been watching movies recently, and I finally managed to watch Oppenheimer.
Technically, it was a great film, and the performances were phenomenal. Everyone in it was great, but there are stand out performances from Cillian Murphy (obvs), Florence Pugh (I’d watch her do anything) and Robert Downey Jr. And that’s high praise from me because Robert Downey Jr is an actor who I’ve always never warmed to, but for the worst ever reason.
It’s because of Iron Man.
When the Marvel Cinematic Universe first started with the Iron Man films, I was a cinema SNOB. I hated everything about them, and I thought that the MCU stood for the collapse of everything good about the world. I am not being dramatic I was LIVID about them. The first one released in 2008, just as I was starting Art School and I felt like I had something to prove. It’s disappointing that I just ended up proving that I was a snob who hated fun.
I have a strange habit of doing that with actors. If I hate the character they play enough it’s almost like I can never really forgive them. Iain Glen is another victim of my inability to let go, because I will never forgive him for his portrayal of Manfred Powell in the first Tomb Raider film.
Once I gave the MCU a chance (and unlearned my Art School Snobbery), I realised that despite being my least favourite MCU character, (I will forever be a Spiderman boy) RDJ is actually a pretty great actor, but my original opinion of him has stuck subconsciously, so there’s a part of me that always wants to hate him. In Oppenheimer, he plays the character you’re supposed to hate, and he does it so well. Definitely my second favourite RDJ performance. Nothing is beating Zodiac, sorry.
I also have to give it to Christopher Nolan (I’m sure he’ll sleep easier knowing he has my praise) but for what is essentially a really long film, that everyone on earth knows the ending of, it didn’t feel like a slog to watch. The film always feels like it’s moving along at just the right pace, and I didn’t find the back-and-forth narrative confusing. It instead helped give me a sense of hindsight and foresight while watching it, like watching the ripples of consequence reverberate out.
Despite all this, when it finished I felt like the dog in the house on fire meme. While it was a technically really impressive film, when it finished I just thought it was fine. I wasn’t blown away, and I enjoyed it, but I didn’t feel like I needed to lie down, reevaluate my life, or anything that the more sensationalist letterboxd reviews had me expecting.
I’d say definitely give it a go for the spectacle of it, I can see it being a great evening film now that the darker nights are drawing in in the Northern Hemisphere, but maybe go into it knowing that there are no great revelations in the film, and anyone with a passing knowledge of the historical machinations of the American bureaucracy is likely to think “Yep that sounds about right” as the plot develops.
Question of the Week
What is a family Christmas tradition that is unique to your family?
Where to begin? Moir family Christmases are literally a sight to behold, but I don’t mean with extravagance. By the time we have all limped, battered bruised and broken to Christmas Day, any pretence or artifice is left behind. It wouldn’t be unusual for someone to attend Christmas Dinner in their pyjamas, or for someone to have their Christmas morning ruined by a crippling hangover from the pub the night before, but while rare, I would wager they are not unique to the Moir household.
There is one thing that, regardless of who I speak to, I have never heard happening in any other family, and that is the Christmas Eve Chipolata Sandwich.
Every Christmas Eve, once everyone is home from the pub, my parents will get a frying pan out and cook a pound and a half of chipolata sausages to make sausage sandwiches for everyone to nibble on while we’re all having a drink or two with everyone before bed.
I take mines on heavily buttered bread, with lashings of brown sauce, for the curious.