ghost riders – helmets


This is my latest piece, strange or what? From whence it came I know not.

Well, this may not be quite true, as meaning can be a matter of discovery, which just might reveal itself whilst in the making.

I had rather an ancient cycle helmet lying around on one of the shelves in my studio –  one day it caught my eye and I decided to do something with it. I had stopped using my bike secured to a bike rack in the courtyard of the studio’s, ages ago. It had languished alone in all weathers and was beginning to attract the attention of the studio’s manager which spurred me on to remove it. This turned out to be more difficult than I had hoped because the lock on the chain had rusted due to weather exposure, resulting in my finally resorting to putting the bike outside the studio’s against a brick wall, and a little while afterward it miraculously disappeared.

Someone who had viewed ‘ghost riders’ before its completion, remarked that “it was a dark piece”. I hadn’t seen it in this way, but now that it is finished I can see what they mean. The actual shape, size, and color suggest skulls, possibly seen as representing people, dead or alive? The thought of cycle accidents may flit through minds, summoning not only others deaths, but our own.

This sounds sort of scary even to me, yet so much art is to do with mortality, it seems so very often to be an inevitable consequence of making it, albeit on a very limited scale – such as my own attempts. No way did I suspect that this is where things were leading when beginning this piece. I find this aspect of my work interesting but frustratingly out of reach – which is just as well otherwise, I should probably never begin. This could be the reason that we are rarely allowed to glimpse the future, for if we did we may see no reason to walk into it?

The helmets took me absolutely ages to make, and the odd thing is that when I have finished something I find it difficult to remember the processes that I used, and these were no exception. All I know is that they underwent several attacks on their original structure. I believe I began by taking two plaster casts of the helmet, inside or out? From then on I remember chipping away and rebuilding with plaster bandages, then filing, painting etc and finally sanding. I’ve since thought that I should love to have them made in porcelain, but this is a very out of the way possibility.


Jean-Michel Basquiat in his acquired football helmet which he painted.

I visited the Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition at the Barbican a while ago, when working on the helmets, and I was pleased to note that he had used one too, albeit in a totally different way to me. This helps me somewhat – when even I am puzzled by some things that I produce, helmets included.

Jean-Michel Basquiat was born in 1960 in Brooklyn New York City. I left the Royal College of Art in 1968 and grew up in Tottenham north London. Probably best not to comment further. Jean-Michel’s work is usually categorized as Post Expressionist, and I can see why this might be. His work is extremely dynamic, direct and fearless – which must be in-part-due to being so very young when he made his oeuvre – he was 27 years old when he died of a heroin overdose in 1988. Yet his work doesn’t call upon expressionistic artists directly, as he was self-taught and originally involved in hip-hop, punk, and street art movements. Even so, his work does suggest to me shades of German Expressionism i.e. Max Beckman.

Perhaps ghostly representations of ritualistic masks or faces inhabit my helmets. Although once deciding a piece of work is finished, it takes on a life of its own whereby meaning can be qualified by myriad interpretations according to the individual viewer’s personal history, sympathies, insights etc. What the makers may have intended (or thought that they intended) becomes irrelevant in the face of so much random scrutiny or indifference.

My ghostly ‘faces’ will be mummified in bubble wrap and stored on a shelf in my studio until …..?


2 thoughts on “ghost riders – helmets

  1. the thing I love about your ‘musings’ is their honesty, Jean. And, it seems to me, the way you follow your own thoughts, letting them lead to their own conclusions. It’s very enjoyable, for the reader, so thank you.


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