I started working in acrylics on canvas about five years ago after a friend from Germany, Gustav Herring, sent me several small paintings depicting various ridiculous scenes from some nonsense we’d written together entitled ‘Uncle Bill’s World of Wonder’. I had never really thought about acrylics before, any drawing or painting I used to do being cartoons or an occasional watercolour. Once I got started, though, I found that I loved the stuff.
Initially I painted a series of rather tasteless portraits for a friend from Newcastle, Norbert Merryweather, and we used to sit and snigger at them during evenings of heavy drinking in various pubs. My paintings began to attract a critical local notoriety and it was at the end of 2015 that I was commissioned to paint a copy of Velasquez’ Pope Innocent X. I had never painted a pope before, but I was so gratified by the response that I decided to copy another, Sir Thomas Lawrence’s Pope Pius VII.
For some reason, and I’ll never know quite why, I decided to give the second pope Peter Mortimer’s head. Mortimer is a local poet and playwright, a celebrated figure around Cullercoats and Whitley Bay, instantly recognisable on his bicycle in his outlandish clothing, now into his 70s. Mortimer as Pope Pius VII provoked a range of interesting responses, usually along the lines of “What?” and “Why?” but was received generally with confused, bemused, or amused laughter. This was something people had never really expected to see. Another commission came in, this time to give Mortimer’s face to the Mona Lisa. The life of what became known as the Mortraits gained momentum and as the summer holidays arrived I started really knocking them out. Manet, El Greco, Goya, Munch, Modigliani, Waterhouse, Degas…
I was invited to exhibit my paintings at an event at the Whitley Bay Film Festival in August, and was told afterwards that one viewer had had to go home early as a result of having wet his trousers laughing. My paintings were being passed around as images on mobile phones and got shown to the internationally-acclaimed Stuckist artist Paul Harvey who identified me as a Stuckist too. An assemblage of photos of pictures was emailed to Charles Thomson, one of the founders of the Stuckist movement, who confirmed that, yes indeed, I was a Stuckist.
This was followed swiftly by an invitation to put on a month-long exhibition, Il Est Mort, at The Exchange in North Shields last November, by which time I had produced 22 Mortraits. I was off work most of last autumn recovering from an operation on my right shoulder. I can’t just do nothing, though. I am left handed and I found painting a really effective way of taking my mind off the pain as my shoulder recovered.
I became obsessed. Quoted in a full page review of the exhibition in Newcastle’s leading newspaper, The Chronicle, Mortimer said of the launch: ‘The display at The Exchange is the only art exhibition I have been to where people were laughing their heads off… I feel quite flattered.’ Around 15 or 16 of my paintings have been exchanged for goods, and quite a large number of prints have been sold (I still have a few left if anyone is interested, and will be getting some more made).
My website, put together by Martin Sarosi in exchange for two paintings, went online at www.colincameron.org. Photos were taken of the pictures, again in exchange for pictures, by Whitley Bay photographer Kirstie Mackin. I don’t think any of it would have happened had it not been for the great support of friends and a bartering system.
I have been involved with Disability Arts for 25 years now, since 1992, in various roles as a development worker and organiser as well as having off and on produced creative stuff. ‘Mr Meat Balls’, for example, was a regular cartoon strip I wrote and drew for several years in the 1990s for NORDAF News in the North East of England, I’ve written song lyrics for the bands GOB! and The Fugertivs, and I’ve had a few short stories and vignettes published on DAO and in Ragged Edge Online in the States. My PhD research was on the affirmation model, an idea which has its roots within disability arts.
To my mind, disability arts is art produced by disabled people that speaks about the disability experience. Which means that the Mortraits aren’t disability arts. They’re about ambiguity and uncertainty, absurdity and identity, all of which have their place in disability arts. They’re shaped by the rather jaundiced view of the world that I’ve developed as a disabled person over the past 43 years, but they aren’t disability arts. Not all art produced by disabled people is disability arts or has to be or should be.
But I’ve got a new idea in my head for a new series of paintings that will be disability arts. They’re going to be to do with this guy – a disabled guy, a guy with a hidden, unspecified impairment (probably he’ll have experienced traumatic brain injury, like me) – who has become aware of always being stuck in other people’s narratives. Tanya Titchkosky and Rod Michalko (2014) wrote that disability is ‘lived in the midst of the meanings given to it’, and I’m going to have a go at expressing that. It’s going to take some time to get a few together – now that I’m back at work, of course, I can only try and squeeze this into my time off – but that’s my plan.