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coverpic flag US - Georgia - Full Moon 80 - 04/16/03

Will Cullen Hart
The art of Will Cullen Hart

I had my first acid experience at the age of 20. At the time I was living in a shitbox of a house owned by my college that the troublemakers and unfortunates tended to get tipped in to keep them out of the way. It didn't have a kitchen, nor a lounge; just bedrooms, a couple of bathrooms, a fridge and corridors. We made it our own by plastering posters of bands and artists on the walls - a proper bohemian dump.

I was struggling with my first proper relationship, trying to get away with doing as little study as possible, and generally floundering with my identity. I've never had a fear of taking acid; before that day the opportunity had never presented itself. But my more adventurous friends had done shit like this a million times and I wanted to try it out.

Like most drugs you don't really know what's hit you until deep into the experience, trying desperately to claw back that feeling of normality you had breathed barely an hour earlier. I became predictably giggly, chatty, and fascinated with sensory experiences. I remember disappearing down to my bedroom - most of the evening was spent in my friend Marko's room - in search of photographs to show the assembled throng; I reappeared god-knows-how-long later having rooted through my entire room and played my classical guitar feverishly. I hid behind a chair, on the floor, giggling at the straight people in the room and telling Marko - my co-dropper - how strange and wonderful I felt.

That first time I took acid I was played Dusk At Cubist Castle by Olivia Tremor Control by my friend Tim, who also showed me the artwork to the album. Tim was a seasoned drug-taker; not an addict, just an enthusiastic devotee of mind-expansion and great music. The music of Olivia Tremor Control made so much sense that I became obsessed with the details in the sound. The sleeve artwork was an extension of this, and at that moment I became interested in the artwork of Will Cullen Hart. Not in a big way, but I was turned on to what his colourful acid doodles represented - a playful, charming, surreal exploration of alternative realities.

The publication of this new book marks a kind of high-point in my interest in Will, whether it be his music, art or outlook on life. The man fascinates me. The eponymous debut by his new band Circulatory System is an absolute masterpiece of psychedelic music, and it is interesting to trace the genesis of his music as it is reflected in his art, or vice versa. To Will, life is a process of creation, and whether acrylic on canvas or bells on eight-track tape, his creative drive spurs him on to weird and wonderful things.

The drawings that first appealed to me make up part of the first half of the book, where Will's style is very rough - many of the early drawings presented here are just pencil scribbles on paper. However, right from the off it's like there's some glorious design speaking, breathing life into apparently childish and throwaway shapes. There are figures and plants reaching into empty expanses of page, populating the silence with twittering tendrils and orbs of gentle undulation; seas and hills and trees defying perspective; castles and swans and crowns of colour, shining with joy. If there is one thing that characterises Will's early work it is the playfulness of innocent exploration - creative freedom for the sake of happiness and sharing that feeling of love for all things.

Drawing parallels with Will's music would be an endless task, as the music of both OTC and Circulatory System is so dense with allusion and illusion, so deep with feeling and meaning. However, the sound of Dusk At Cubist Castle has the same kind of boundary-pushing attitude to its medium as the early drawings: they are rendered rather crudely on scraps on paper with crayons, felt tips and pencil, just as the music of Dusk is layered enthusiastically using four-track, eight-track and a pile of dusty equipment, much of which is brightly painted with Will's designs.

The middle-period paintings see the development of Will's trademark style, as featured in the Black Foliage artwork: strongly defined areas of colour arranged in a dynamic dance, fractured yet whole. The colours are pure and there is a confidence that is not found in the early drawings; it feels like Will has truly discovered a way of combining colour and form that is unique and beautiful. There is depth and drama in these fields of imagination.

Likewise the music of Black Foliage feels much more strident, where Will's experimentalism begins to marry itself more successfully with Bill Doss's pop nous. Returning to Dusk At Cubist Castle having heard Black Foliage, Circulatory System and Age of the Sun by Bill Doss's Sunshine Fix, it is clear that Will's unique approach to sound had not found its proper place: these were superb pop tunes skewed and made top-heavy with strange ornamentation. That's not to say that the music is not good - it's great. It's just that it was not until Black Foliage that it becomes clear that Will has found a way of expressing his colourful palette of sounds in more easily digestible forms.

The eye is met with a kind of childish chaos with the early drawings; the Black Foliage-era work finds form containing the bursts of colour and allowing them to resonate anew. This is even more apparent with Circulatory System and Will's most recent paintings. The density of colour and sound is breathtaking and gorgeous: the songs are mini-symphonies that echo through the soul; the paintings are epics of colourful outpouring. The viewer or listener is aware of what I can only describe as a divine composition - the strange and etheric made eerily and glowingly real.

Of the hundreds of drawings and paintings printed in this lovingly handmade book it is difficult to find a favourite. Each seems a self-contained world of simultaneous simplicity and complexity, where the interplay of colour and form creates the kind of entrancing melody and harmony that is found in Will's music. Like the paintings of Paul Klee, Will's artwork is the very resonation of music on the page.

Will Cullen Hart's book is available from Cloudrecordigs.

Copyright © 2003 Tim Clarke e-mail address

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