From Perfume to Birdsong

Dean Melbourne

Category: writing

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.

24.12.2013 – Internal Critical Model

Working with my mentor has challenged me to take a good hard look at my practise, my progress and my critical thinking. He has challenged me to re engage with critical thinking and challenged me to find an ” internal critical model” . A simple notion that sits as an over arching framework that all of my work fits into. Not a statement as such but something that ties all of the threads of what I do together.

I have always tried to work this way, from the inside out that its, rather than choosing issues or concepts to male work about. It feels the right way round for me. This way of working has its pitfalls though. Self indulgence, sentimentality, cliche are all potential problem areas I have strayed into. I now see that recognition and awareness is all that is required.

My research and exploration of areas of interest have lead me to come closer to understanding what it is that drives the work and forms my decision making framework. This has allowed me to form a more precise diagnosis  of areas of dissatisfaction in previous work. In concept, process and realisation. Below is an attempt at setting out a guiding principle for the first time outside of a notebook. I imagine there will be many iterations.

I use drawing,painting and printmaking to observe, record and reveal my psychology. To make myself the subject of research. To once remove myself from the effects of my drives, motivations and idiosyncrasies. Although I will still use the effects as visual code my wider over arching concern is the slowly  emerging causality. In simple terms, I will make paintings of nature at night, but underlying this effect should be an exploration of internal conflict, repetitions, parallel thoughts, fetishes, primal drives and social or cultural conditionings.

By noticing the way i respond to both internal cycles of thinking and external influences and using the code of art making to reveal my understandings to the world I hope to uncover and comment on not only the stimuli but on the more deeply rooted motivations.

In likely hood my work i hope will only slowly reveal these changes as I understand that slow evolution is better than any forced revolution.

My first two new bodies of work will explore my interest in our more primal urges and the ways in which we blur the line from human to animal. These new pieces will reference the british landscape tradition of symbolically employing nature to reveal something of our condition. The other will explore similar idea but from a contemporary angle. Revealing how when faced with new technology humans are inevitably driven to use it to meet their primal urges.

The blog for the next couple of months will be a place to posit thoughts and progress in my thinking as i begin to create new work with this framework starting to take shape.

11.5.2013 – notes from a palace on painting


The following notes are paraphrased in note form for my own use from Robin Ironsides’s critical study of painting in Britain since 1939.

Sutherland is a painter of landscape but his mountains burning at sundown are the theatre of human passions and his woods are the womb of human impulses.

Blacks,browns and reds, sounded a severe almost a chiding note.

The entrances to woods are the threshold of secrets.

If the painter explores the hollows it is to discover the death-throes of of an oak or to surprise a conspiracy among the rocks.

A quality of painting that is disturbing and suggestive – that gyrates in the imagination.

Sutherland had an emotional vision of the human predicament.

Bursting, moonlit growths of nature.

This kind of art seeks to “associate the beauty at which it aims with the less accessible channels of individual existence”.

Palmer’s pictures implicitly summon mystical communication with nature and the everlasting upheavals of the seasons.

These notes were taken sitting in the gardens at Blenheim Palace by Chantal Powell. Surrounded by spectacularly orchestrated nature of Capability Brown these notes take on real significance. In discussion with a friend they crystallise into a real sense of understanding.

Dialogue is as sunlight to my leaves.

Moments in the sun emphasised by a pause in the cools spring wind. Majesty and fakery. Natural phenomena on an artificial stage. Stone torsos, grass green water and warnings. Many many warnings.

27.3.2013 – On the other side

How did I find myself at 2am in the ice banging on a neighbours door demanding that they turned off their musical Christmas tree that echoed up the chimney breast and in to my room.

A shocked face appeared apologetically and more than a little bewildered at the door.

This wasn’t the first time. I had been the angry neighbour for a while. Semidetached small council housing from the thirties were built often with hollow. Floors and very solid walls. The bouncing grandchildren became the fixation my anxiety needed.

I was ill back then I realise that now. Since then my neighbours and I have been distant. They are a lovely old couple, a little deaf so the war films are a little loud and conversation is not always easy. But good good people. They never trusted me after the insanity of the Christmas tree.

Geoff died last night.

My amazing wife performed CPR with the ambulance crew for 40mins. I sat on the other side of the wall oblivious. She arrived home from her shift as a intensive care sister as the ambulance pulled up. I’m so proud that she was able to help.

His wife will be alone I guess now. They have sons and grandchildren around.

I’m sorry that what you saw of me was my illness. I’m sorry that it had a impact on your life. That I wasn’t the neighbour I could have been.

Oh perfect Dean lets make the death of a man about you….

Yellow disk sun through snow clouds. Upstairs curtain remain drawn

20.3.2013 – say dark over and over

Darkness in nature fascinates. Small nature. Urban nature.

The lines of twisted roots that cling and overwhelm. The dark shadowy spaces between leaves. Nature illuminated by artificial light. Golden canopies and the blackness beneath. Walk further to the woods and feel the darkness envelop you. Hollow trees the day time retreat of crouching witches now vacant.

Weeds, brambles, nettles next to languid pools. Sit there , still. The night is full of noise.

Footsteps on the gravel approaching now. Fuck who else would be out here now. Stay still. Freeze. Thumping heart.

They pass and the dark world is mine again.

The train is busy tonight. It’s still light outside and the banal chatter of who said what to whom rattles around the carriage.

Grey day but still and calm.

19.3.2013 – more bloody metaphors

It’s a hard habit to kick. The metaphor. Finding things in nature that symbolise my state. One idea of this writing practise is that I might move on, find more ways of expressing. More sophisticated or more elegant or simply more simple.

I’m none of those things yet. My mind bubbles and babbles like a …..

Changeable with a significant chances of storms. “Morning after nightmares” grey. Boring cold barely worth the mention.