I'm in a staggeringly cold studio that I've rented, and the rain is lashing at the large window that I can't manage to properly close. The view is of a line of sewerage pipe-cleaning lorries. The news is dominated by the concurrent wars in Kosovo. The Racak 'incident' has recently taken place. I'm a pampered UK citizen, but I recognise the logos on the clothes of those pulled from rubble, I recognise the types of trees around the burning villages, and guiltily I realise that this conflict is affecting me like none has before. This feels as if, with a little bad luck, it could be me in the news. My girlfriend. My kids.|
I'm sitting at the bar in the pub, reading a newspaper. On the front is a photograph. It's taken looking straight down at the ground, and the image is of perhaps a square metre of snow. The snow is spattered with blood, engine oil, marked with bootprints, studded with cigarette ends. Snow. Snow is a gentle blanket that makes our ugly world beautiful, a gleaming raiment that conceals the tawdriness of litter, shit and trash. But not here. Snow is evidence.
I've got a memory, long forgotten, that's just resurfaced. When I was a boy, on one of my extremely infrequent visits to the capital from the badlands of Essex, I saw some paintings, paintings on a monumental scale of what would now be called atrocities; redcoated English soldiers massacring foreigners. To my young eyes these depictions of log-ago battles looked like jewellery scattered in mud, beautiful tableaux of gems of colour arranged in dun brown fields. I resolve to see these paintings once more. I need to see them. That's what I want to paint; jewels strewn in snow. Somehow I want to make the horrible beautiful.
So I'm in London, and I'm looking for the pictures. I try the obvious places, the National Gallery, the Tate: nothing. I try further afield at the Imperial War Museum, the National Army Museum, a few less-well-known galleries: nothing. I ask around, but no-one seems to know what I'm on about. But realistically these paintings must exist; they're the record of the British Empire, they're the heroic record of 'our' valiant redcoats. But where are they? I guess that between the Seventies, when I remember seeing these pictures, and the late Nineties, which is now, they've been hidden away in archives. I could probably request to see them, but I'm handicapped by not knowing what they're called or who they're by. And I'm losing the energy to find them. This search has taken me a fruitless week.
Another memory; a comic by Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz called 'Shadowplay: The Secret Team', in which the number of the dead where tallied by images of red swimming pools. The average human body holds a gallon of blood. The average swimming pool hold 50,000 gallons of water. The maths, and the graphic, were inescapable.
These are hard paintings to make. They are ostensibly for a record that is proving a hard record to make. No-one knows what it's going to be called, but later on it gets to be called 'Kid A'.