As a 12 year old, back in 1983, my martial arts obsession was kicked off in earnest by the discovery and subscription (sorted by my Mum) to Combat Magazine. This ran in tandem the discovery of Bruce Lee from the poster rack in Herrick Watson’s record shop in Skegness.
We didn’t have a video recorder at home at that time, so my access was restricted to stills from his sequence of films made over 10 years earlier when I was just a toddler. So, another subscription was asked for and granted by Mum, to Kung Fu Monthly.
It wasn’t a genuine journal about the Chinese martial art but just full of the aforementioned shots of my idol in action, which suited me fine. Over the ensuing months I became familiar with most of the images of Bruce and could even name the films they came from: The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, or Way of the Dragon ect.
I could see his physique, poise and hair-style improving movie by movie over the 3 years of his film career; just as I’d trace the development of the Beatles or David Bowie through their albums many years later.
Bruce seemed to be peaking in his final outing Enter the Dragon,which ironically followed Way of the Dragon. That was until I saw an image in KFM from the unfinished venture, Game of Death, that jumped off the page and blew my mind.
The image seemed to demand it’s place in the centre of my shrine-like bedroom wall, and immediately received it. This was the most explosive image I’d ever seen before or since, of a human being. Bruce Lee, captured in a full extension flying side kick. He appeared , inexplicably, to be still ascending!
In my mind this human being was equally comparable, without exaggeration, to a supersonic jet fighter. I could imagine that my idol never actually stopped from that point, continuing on up above the roof tops, through the clouds, ascending all the way to heaven, like the Buddha, then gone. Imagining this for a second, I found it more believable and acceptable than the true nature of Lee’s passing; an allergic reaction to a pain killer tablet, which was undiagnosed in time to save him.
I depicted myself in Man-Machine=Man, aged 5 or 6 in my dadless garb, sitting in the shopping trolley pushed by Mum. The pre hip hop graffiti is typical of the 70’s era: NF, skins, Selector, and Munich ’58. I remember this being spayed large on a wall in the Tower Gardens, maybe it’s still there.
I wanted to convey in abstract what Bruce Lee meant to me from then to now. Beyond the provocation and flash point in the script, he is now in action and at his most potent. His outfit and design, individual and iconic, kicking out beyond Chinese traditional dress of his previous movies into the 1970s and beyond.
I heard it said that Jon Pertwee (Dr Who #3) and Jimi Hendrix were the only men who could truly get away with wearing a ruffled shirt without embarrassment. Only one man on the planet could carry off a yellow/ black striped skin tight jump suit and Ascis Tiger trainers.
He kicked out from my bedroom wall in 1983. He kicked out as I recollected these memories to Paul and Dave in a session at the Queens pub in Crouch End. He kicked out from the seed of inspiration long ago to become Man-Machine=Man. Thank you, Mr Lee.
As the Space X/ NASA project was preparing to venture to the stars I recently posted a piece, For the Love of the Space Man, about that aspirational image, which featured among others, my painting Beatles on the Moon.
There was an urban myth, back in the USSR, that the Beatles briefly landed somewhere behind the Iron Curtain, then set up and played from the wing of the plane, so their message of Love and Peace would reach the ears of Soviet Union and particularly its youth.
So, I depicted the most aspirational/inspirational cultural unit of all time also having reached the satellite some how.
Out of shot the band’s faithful roadie, Mal Evans, has raked out the Abbey Road zebra crossing in the moon dust of the Sea of tranquility.
The band have the union flag shoulder flashes, keeping the British end up, as that other cultural icon, Bond, would say. They’re larking about in the weightlessness, Hard Day’s Night style, the leader launched up in the air by a playful shove.
Who’s who in the line-up is your choice or guess, it need not mirror the iconic album sleeve. Is it John, Paul George or Ringo defying gravity?
I painted the picture between bursts of writing the chapters that made up dadless. It was a way of getting a bit of relief from the keyboard while still moving the project along. I wanted to get the ‘fisheye’ effect of the view of me on the gate and green beyond. The features of Tennyson Green that stuck in my memory were the arches between the houses and the diamond windows that lit the stair cases in all the houses.
When I researched some current images available online, those features are minimal and distinct from my memory, and the conker tree outside the Pearce’s has sadly gone, but there lies the magic. In an archway to the right you can see the multi coloured budgies of the Baker family that were actually around the back in their cage.
I also wanted to emphasise on the vivid blue sky and white clouds-In these crazy days I draw comfort from familiarity, that the sky and clouds are technically the same today as they were then, and I gaze at them in the same way, but now over London not Tennyson Green and from my loft studio window instead of a gate.
The two pieces above form my tribute to David Bowie. I heard of his passing on the radio before I left that home that bleak midwinter morning in 2016, I went upstairs and told my wife, then sent a couple of texts. I had to go work outside of London via Paddington that day. I broke the Londoners TFL taboo and looked into the eyes of countless strangers I passed for recognition of the same pain and loss I felt but couldn’t yet articulate. I thought saw it in some and assumed they saw the same reflected in me. Others were blank and oblivious. They’ve missed out on so much, how grey must their world be, I thought.
I got on with my work including a negotiation with person who seemed oblivious to the news. It’s hard not to feel resentment and disdain against them, to this day. Above the discussions my mind screamed in silence: How could it not matter to you that Bowie died today? What kind of person are you?
When I got back to Paddington it was there for 5 million Londoners to see. David Bowie RIP in warm white lights, revolving around the BT tower. It was beautiful and fitting. I didn’t go down to the Brixton candle lit vigil where strangers linked arms and sang songs, maybe I should have done, but I think that the impact on us where Bowies work in concerned is often very personal; we all have our own stories and so many of them amassed over the decades. It was between you/us and him.
There were years spent passing particular albums in the rack of the record store, until one day l’d buy one on a whim and privately enter another world; as if by magic. A piece of vinyl or a CD that could and indeed did lead to adventures…A tribute concert isn’t necessary, there’s too much work, it’s too big and too small at the same time. These pieces are my tribute. It’s between him and me.
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