From Perfume to Birdsong

Dean Melbourne

07.01.2015 – death of potential

 Gargoyle II  , oil on board , 2015 . 

  The process note 1:

I have been here before. In the development of a body of work there is a stage where I  face the sadness of the death of potential in the work. 

The relentlessness of time and the essential need to take action of some sort sees a boundless vision become grounded by the limitations of my mind and hands. 

Note 2 :

The conundrum that without a clear vision to walk towards there is a lot of risk. However the only thing that will lead to a clear vision is doing something , anything. 


4.6.2015 – New Project post 1. Returning.

Visit 1 June 3rd 2015

Even upon entering the place I instantly feel a wave of recognition. Something deep. As I follow the long steps down to the level of the water I can feel my excitement build. I can still feel a little bit of the magic.

This route I would have only taken on my way home and the end of an adventure. My body remembers that complete tiredness that comes when you realise you played for to long and you have left nothing in the tank  to get you home. All your energy is left behind in the adventure.

The place is wilder now but still easily identifiable in most all of the details. Some paths have gone. There is still a sense of fear. Its not all light and lovely. Its deep and dark too. The place is all about light and dark. Thats the key to its joy. It is a place of contrasts and illusion. It feels almost fully reclaimed by nature now, you get the sense that the creatures, the birds particularly feel that this is their territory.

My memory flickers with the invisible boundaries that limited the risk of encountering those things to be feared. Older kids, teenagers, kids from enemy schools. The ultimate fear I guess was a “weirdo” or a “perv”. In truth we never really saw them but there were stories. Some real, some part real and some complete glorious fiction.

I sit at the Newt Pool. Overgrown and overcrowded the water still surges. The reeds are dense and the roots have replaced the pools. The water features, the steps the tunnels all appear natural but you don’t have to look to hard to see they are man made and industrial. Concrete and brick.

Thats another thing about this place it is for the most part created by mans industry. An old clay pit slowly remodelled and reclaimed since pre 1900. There are a few genuine relic woodland patches. I think I can feel their presence. This place is a product of industry and I am a product of this place.

I am taking photographs today. It is impossible to see how I would make paintings from them but they help me to see and select. It is dense and visually complex here the work cannot be literal I am not that painter.

I am going to have to let this place re enchant me, let it entwine with my imagination again and maybe that will be how I begin to make the work.

I finally move on and can’t help complete the journey “home” that is to my parents house. My condition and my medication means that my body mimics that burning tiredness of old. To walk the opposite way to my house would be like defying gravity . It is surely no coincidence that my childhood home and my current one sit on the start and end of the territory that I used to think of as my playground.

I thought i was returning but perhaps I never left.

09.01.2014 – studio shot and sketching




2.10.14 – A descent, a submission , a confession


Creeping more than silently downward. Awkward concave ground beneath our feet. Dry and crumbling a groove between our strides. Wide eyes met glistening eyes as rabbits froze then scattered over head. Down here beneath the roots the silence of ages lay like a cloak upon us.

Through layers of rock we ventured down, down towards the sound of running water. The girl skipping ahead disturbed a giant bird, a slumbering bird that laboured as though it had forgotten it was even capable on seized and heavy wings, we remembered in the chink of light created that there was blue sky above.

In the shaded silence that followed I thought back to the entrance and remembered how I had thought of Dante as we pushed and clambered past the natural curtain of hiding green. But no hell was here on our descent only a reach across centuries.

We laughed in the icy water and it seemed to be filled a joy that connected our hearts to the earth and to all that had gone before.


tired of looking for answers. I find myself hanging on every word. So desperate for consolation that I beg a stranger to share their wisdom. So uncertain am I of my own convictions that I will leap on your words and follow you like a disciple.

As I heard the song play and the lyrics seemed to speak for me in a way that I have not managed despite effort. A I envisaged a beautifully tragic scene of a man, a 38 year old man weeping at the feet of two young beautiful singers and begging them to save him. ” tell me how to live, what choices to make.” ” tell me how wrong I am and show me how to be saved” So weak of conviction and so full of doubt that he will listen for answers. I saw him tired and worn out beyond his years lying at the feet of these beautiful singing idols. . Offering devotion and adoration in exchange for the relief of complete submission.


I saw a back and white photograph of a woman perched on a chair in a pretty dress today. I couldn’t help feeling a longing and a sadness. I realised that she looked more like me than I do. That her physical form represented the way that I feel inside for more accurately than my physicallity does. I was sad because It dawned on me that I will never be her.

I suppose her femininity was overstated in a way. That was her “thing” I guess. Is it coquettishness? Stereotypically girly. The pose, the shoes, the soft lines of her legs. Her hands. Im not sure how I am supposed to feel about that sort of overt femininity. I get the impression that it is frowned upon by some women. I suppose I am programmed to find it attractive. I am pretty powerless around it. But more than that I feel like it is a something unavailable to me something that some part of me needs to find a voice for.

A beautifully intoxicating mix of infatuation and longing, adoration and loss is the result. The perfect melodrama.

22.6.2014 – river’s edge

Beneath my boots is a stone still made up with clay , baked in the recent sun and a reminder that the river was recently inflamed and less welcoming than today.

Just beyond the ledge the sun strikes the apple green water and cuts through to reveal a world of minnows actively parenting among the rocks below the oozing slow water.

Only lifting my gaze a few degrees brings me to a work of flying insects. My knowledge lets me down but identification is an ownership game for fools. Here it is more important to “be” amongst dragons and damsels and their relations. Mesmerised and entranced by dancing flight. Forced to stillness by the magic of the place.

Around the bend of the river I hear children play at a weir , I hear parents announce rules and information. I’ll stay just here doing the most nothing I dare to do.

I have a puzzle to solve about artistic integrity , authenticity and self censorship for tastes sake. Taste is the enemy of art ?

There may be an answer in the river if I stare hard enough.

19.5.2014 – loosening my grip



Allowing myself the space to respond and react in a less structured or even inhibited way when making and thinking about painting is proving to be productive and relatively joyful. In attempting to observe the “patterns that connect” ( thank you Andy Parkinson) I hope to ,over a longer period, find out something about myself. 

This process feels opposed to vehemently sticking to a pre constructed position or statement while creating a body of work. Allowing myself to not know the answers and to let the process of painting help me ask a question of myself and my understanding. To not have the answers or to admit that one never really did is both frightening and liberating.  to make work without censorship and inhibition or to be constrained by a sense of what a “serious” artist looks like and more importantly by what the people who’s opinion I value may or may not think. 

One noticeable difference is that I now find myself constantly alert and excited by new trains of thought. By making connections from one subject to another and letting serendipity  and chance guide my choices there is now abundance of opportunity where before there was a baron and confined path. 

thoughts and notions do come and go and drift like mist though. I want to try and capture them. 

from dark to light, masculine to feminine. 

Primal fears and urges, the id, the basement. 

Meetings at night in nature. Gatherings, erotic, spiritual, religious, pagan. Woods, forests, pockets of wilderness. 

Exposure, erotic game playing, voyeurism. Back to nature, release, shedding the contemporary, reconnecting with the land with nature, with our animal selves. Amateur pornorgraphy, nudists. Normal people, bigger, older more real.

Celebration. My relationship with the country side. Association with a sense of magic and wonder. ” a bustle in you hedgerow” led zeppelin, lord of the rings. Local landscape and urban nature, unofficial country side by Richard Mabey. Observing nature in detail. The canal side. the hedgerow. Nature as symbol Graham sutherland and john piper, archaic systems and rhythms. Placing myself beyond the immediate, in a bigger context. 

legends folklore, fairies, the secret commonwealth, combining pretty ness and animal behaviours. Fairie sex. 

Gardens, tamed nature, man made havens, secrecy, flowers and foliage. My relationship with the a notion about femininity. Revisiting cross dressing and its motivations. Gardens and nature used in very feminine photography, editorials, prettiness. A mystery, a magic of another world that is not available to me. Coming from and living where I do. Fabrics and perfumes, gentleness and safety. Away from the alpha competitiveness of men. 

obsessivess, fetishisation of clothing , tights, legs, feet. floral fabrics take on both erotic a emotional connotations. psychology, archetypes, jung. 

witches, goddesses, sirens, mesmerising. mysterious. Catalogue hyper reality, hyper feminine , obscure pornographic images, people indulging in ambiguous erotic behaviours, games, rituals, dares. Heightened states. 

Seers, those seeing more than the average person, like birds seeing more of the spectrum than us. Those that saw fairies or sensed magic were thought of as being more perceptive, more sensitive. Robert kirk. before being demonised , witch hunts. 

amongst the noise of the modern world , images of nature even in fashion editorial pull at us and seduce with there perfection. 

I am drawn to them as I am drawn to erotic images and the reactions are complex contradictory and in parallel. 

An internal condition, our animality, 

” mimicry preceding comprehension; from there a little darkness grows” Devin Johnson , Creaturely. 


7.5.2014 – Studio notes on starting new work

Days at the start of a body of work can tempt me into a panic. There is nothing solid in my vision of the new work just a vague notion. Sometimes an image that I want to start with. Often i have a sense of an atmosphere i want to create. 

This time I have an idea about palette and tonal range. A loose notion of where the drive to make this work is coming from in an internal sense. My motivation. Everything else after that is hazy and difficult to grasp. 

I try to visualise making the marks, imagine me at the canvas and i go through the motions mentally. I guess like a athlete visualising their performance. 

Today the sense of direction has moved in and out of focus. Trying to paint to early, to force it feels all wrong and the results frustrate and only add to the panic. 

There seems to be one artist standing out as achieving in some way what i want to attempt in the new work. 

Cecily Brown’s balance between figuration and abstraction , her rhythmic mark making. Her variation of marks and her attempt to let painting do more than just describe. 

a few things I must try to remember 

  • Don’t start with a brush. Rags , etc to give variety. 
  • to be brave and instinctive in my choice of subject matter.

Do not over think it, don’t pre judge it or second guess what people might say or think. CB often goes for erotic content in a way that I would always shy away from, but her boldness is a reminder that I can go with my gut and not be afraid to make images that are arresting. 

  • She say’s “that the viewer can’t tear their eyes from” 

i have images that my instinct tells me will make urgent and potent paintings that I have continually overlooked. In fear of a reaction, maybe its the reaction to a male painter painting the female nude or an accusation of objectification . I am confident that my intentions are only to bring a viewer into a situation of high drama or tension or uncertainty, unease. to gently provoke and to paint images full of heart pounding moments and complex urges or impulses that exist often only in our private moments. 

In my latest counselling session I had a long conversation about reconnecting with my intuition. to make choices that feel right. (FOR ME) I do that when in the the middle of a painting, but at this point in the process self doubt and the concerns of a fictional set of critics paralyse. 

What I have, 

Palette – Pastels, pink, blue, yellow, green, Flesh tones 

Sizes – 1 x 220 x 190 , 2x 190 x 130 , 3 x 120 x 100

Imagery sources – 80’s vogues, clothing catalogues, sapphic erotica, porn

Personal drive – To revisit after a long gap my fascination, fetishisation and deep rooted longing towards femininity. Revisting key habits form my childhood and adolescence to inform my visual exploration. 

 aims for me- the paintings should echo my thought processes and idiosyncrasies. My remembered fetishes and obsessions. The sexualisation of that relationship with femininity (cross dressing) and recent revelations that have removed that sexualisation. 

 external source research – Freuds ” riddle of femininity” in men. 

aims for the viewer  – make paintings that recreate a sense of siren call, mesmerising, seductive, a soft almost mystical beckoning of a place that is safe and beautiful with a suggestion of something darker , secrecy and guilt , and sexual fetish. 



5.5.2014 – sitting in the heather

blind today
Blind to the flitting of finch
Blind to the heather and the wet leafed spring

Behind, backdrop deep,
A arching curtain of birch
Irregular pine sprawling with shadows beneath its boughs

Beyond there, watchful and still
Peering sentinel like,
A spectre that lurks with intent
He is the uncertain, the feared truth,
The dead standing among the new born.
The charcoal tower of burned birch.

And I see the bloody nose beetle walk across my palm

4.5.2014 – wild garlic and the rookery

The stream burbles delicately past the semi circle of felled logs on a cleared mud bank. Surrounded on all sides by blue bells and Wild Garlic. The scent is heady and transports me away in centuries rather than minutes.

Over hanging trees are beginning to shed their blossom and the delicate birdsong of the wood encircles.

Overhead though the incessant bark and grawwww of rooks breaks the idyl serenity. The fight and squabble. Black coats , spread fingered flight and a reminder that there is always dark to counter the light


13.4.14 – Open Studio Weekend


Over the last two days my little studio in Stourbridge has seen a steady and constant flow of visitors. My first ever open studio event of any kind came as part of a programme of activity that supports my Art Council supported project to produce a new body of work whie sharing my learning with a wider audience. 

It was a pretty strange but surprisingly pleasant experience. Getting the studio together was a much bigger job than i expected. Although I did decide i wanted two new walls to be built (last Monday) to give me more room to show work. The space is now much more fit for my next phase of work so the benefits of that work will be felt for ages.

The studio space also saw the arrival of a new roomie. My really good friend Jon Sanderson who is doing a fantastic job of becoming an amazing upholsterer needed a bit more room as his client list grows and grows so he has now taken up residence in the space. I am really looking forward to the calming influence of Jon’s craft on the space. He comes with the added bonus of being fantastic at making spaces look very cool! 

Despite being very busy painting over the last few months I have found it very difficult to get into the habit of writing regularly. I often feel overwhelmed by the swirling thoughts about the work. I will start hear though. Seeing older work hung with newer and having friends and family around as well as local people made me look at my work in a very different way. 

I am rightly i think feeling highly critical of my output. I know however that that is not the most useful thing to get into. Much more interesting to think about why I found it so difficult to share my work this weekend. 

I think that in one way seeing the work up and people engaging in it highlighted that gap between where I want the work to be and where it is. This is the benefit of showing for an artist isn’t it? We build a perception of what we have done or of the progress we feel we have made. Then in the face of real people standing in front of it we see it for what it really is. 

I know it would help to get over my fear of writing about the work and my ideas and actually engage in some dialogue . I make a renewed vow to do that here. I know that the two people who might read this will no doubt cut me some slack and allow me to wronger that a wrong thing! 

Thanks to everyone that came to see me and Jon and offer their support and to everyone that helped get the thing together!