John Squire – Noise, SW1 Gallery, viewed 09/10/08
The SW1 Gallery is situated in an extremely smart, newly developed area near Victoria – all sleek glass and metal, and sexy curves. As myself and Faye – my plus one, and keyboardist with London-based band, Prince Edward Island – approached the gallery, I picked out the figure of John Squire inside, his lank, long hair the easy giveaway, even from a distance.
A few words were exchanged with the doorstaff – I hadn’t brought my invite, and they couldn’t find me on the guestlist, but they still let us past – and we were in. Looking around, it was difficult deciding which was the most important of three things inside, and which to head for first – John Squire himself, the paintings, or the vast quantities of free booze on tables to our left. Really, a preposterous amount – probably about 30 bottles of Havana rum, about 40 bottles of both read and white wine, about the same number of some interesting looking bottled beer, and about 80 bottles of soft drinks, probably smoothies.
We had a quick gander at a couple of paintings, before we caved in, and got ourselves each a glass of red wine, though taking a whole bottle would have easily gone unnoticed!
This was the third John Squire exhibition I’d been to, but this was by far the best, quite daring and adventurous in places, and with a lot of variety. The title of the exhibition was Noise, which you might think is an appropriate title for an exhibition of paintings by a musician, but I didn’t really feel the paintings were portraying or depicting music. The majority of the paintings were covered in words, with loads of short phrases scattered fairly chaotically, so you could say the paintings quite literally spoke to you! The paintings exuded noise, like the chatter in a busy pub, in a way that paintings don’t ordinarily. It brought to mind a television which would allow you to also smell what was on the screen; these were paintings that you could “hear”.
The interesting thing about the words was that you could only read most of them by going quite close up to them, whereas the best vantage point to view most paintings – especially in the case of the landscape paintings – was from a good few feet back.
Faye commented that the words were a bit like song lyrics. I have to say, I didn’t quite get this myself – they were mostly fairly formless and stuctureless, slightly chaotic, as with their arrangement on each canvas. I kind of got the impression with some of them that if the words represented the artist himself, they showed him to be quite insecure and unsure of himself, but I’m not sure if this really is how John Squire feels.
However much you might enjoy Squire’s art, he is still a long way from being known as an artist, as opposed to being known as a former member of The Stone Roses, and I couldn’t help but wonder if some of the phrases in the paintings were directed at, or about Ian Brown, and if that was the case, I wondered if this was to give the paintings a selling point to the inevitable Stone Roses fans among the admirers, and potential buyers of his artwork.
I have to say though, although all the words – the noise, if you like – in the paintings gave each piece interesting texture, they were not the feature of this exhibition which made it so successful. For me, it was the impressive, bold landscapes serving as background to the words. In same cases, like No Cattle, they were very Turner-esque, with similar colours being used, and the same, fabulously illuminating patches of light. But just as The Stone Roses’ influences were often said to be pretty blatant, and yet they still created amazing new music, so here, Squire is obviously paying homage to Turner, but still making his own mark in a refreshing way.
There were some more conventional skies, as in paintings like Equilibrium and Something Like Hatred, which I also liked. The sky in No Longer Did We Worship looks very effective, although was not on view, but in the Sales Sheet.
One of my favourite paintings was The Power To Destroy Governments. On the left side of it, there appears to be a giant fire blazing, as if burning up the canvas, or it could equally be viewed as something like a giant golden tap pouring fire into a raging ocean. The title of course really elevates the piece. I also liked the movement of High Speed Chase.
You could definitely see that a lot of time and thought had been put into these paintings, and this was respected by whoever had hung the paintings. They were, like my colleague, Engleburt Bartfast, well hung. Ahem.
So anyway, after looking round and being suitably impressed, Faye and I turned our attentions to the artist himself, and managed to angle our way in as he wrapped up a conversation with a couple before us.
We each told him how much we liked the paintings, and Faye asked where all the words had come from. Apparently, they were from different sources, overheard conversations, etc. and John had kept a dictaphone on him to record it all. At the time, I thought this sounded very much like how David Gedge sourced his lyrics for The Wedding Present. I didn’t mention this however, partly because I seem to remember The Stone Roses weren’t fans of The Wedding Present (or it may have just been Ian Brown), but also, I thought any reference to a band from the same era as The Stone Roses was probably out of bounds too, given that all talk of The Stone Roses is apparently not allowed.
Personally, I think this is slightly absurd, given that it was of course such a massive part of John Squire’s life, and the part most people still know him for. I don’t know, perhaps moving on is the right thing. I think it was also mentioned that Faye’s band, Prince Edward Island, also use phrases from arguments, etc. in their lyrics.
Although I didn’t mention The Wedding Present, I did decide to show Mr. Squire a photo on my phone of me with Bobby Gillespie, who I’d bumped into in London by chance a couple of weeks before. This prompted a quick round of photos – one of me and John, taken by Faye, one of John and Faye, taken by me, but I didn’t get the one of Faye and me, taken by John.
Curiously, John Squire said he liked my jacket, which I think of as being relatively plain and ordinary. We wondered afterwards if perhaps we should’ve complimented him back. I wonder now if perhaps I should’ve let him have the jacket, just as I’d offered up my Cardiff City top to Ian Brown at a gig once…
Anyway, finally, we also got some invites signed. John used the crayon of one of his cute young daughters who were there, sitting on the floor, drawing. John joked that their art was a lot better than his. I suppose you could look at his paintings from a simple level and say that all the words covering them are like childish scribbles on top of the “real pictures”. You could look at them and wonder if they would look more effective without all the writing, but no, I’m pretty sure the words do enhance the paintings, give them more layers of texture and depth.
Along with 3 cool-looking kids, John also has a stunning wife, and a decidedly attractive agent, so it would seem he is lucky enough to be constantly surrounded by beautiful women. Still, I did detect a hint of sadness about him though, although I could be completely wrong about this.
I do wonder exactly why John Squire is doing this (continuing to exhibit new paintings). Most one-time successful rock stars would be happy to hang up their guitars and just collect the royalty cheques for the rest of their lives, save for the odd comeback tour to top up their accumulated wealth. Ok, The Stone Roses only did 2 albums, but even without recording his solo work, perhaps Squire needed to be told then, “John, your work is done.” Perhaps it is his work mentality, or perhaps his creative energy that keeps him going, but whatever it is, John Squire is clearly still very productive, and is currently showing off some of the best work of his career.
This article first appeared in Issue 4 (aka “Cool”) of Square Magazine, and obviously before The Stone Roses reformed.