I came across Stephen Ellcock’s Facebook page by accident, or maybe it was destiny, but in any case it was certainly meant to be; with the kind of voyeuristic pleasure Facebook provokes, I notice I wasn’t the first one: many of my “FF” or Facebook friends, already had discovered the treasure.
Who is this guy? According to his page information, he studied “Venery at Rat Bastard Protective Association” and the “Special needs school of Hard Knocks” and lives in London (obviously he has a very British sense of humor). His page is like a Cabinet of Wonders were one can find photographs, catalogs of ribbons, animals (natural and imaginary), book design covers & binding selections, maps, illustrations, botanical indexes, antiques images, miniatures, engravings, drawings, quilt designs, color treatises, mosaics, and even a “late 17th century medallion, made in Point de France [needle lace] depicting the French royal sun contained within half-domed architectural structure, surrounded by stylized foliated garlands.”
Like in Borges’ short story “The analytical Language of John Wilkins”, Ellcock (ironically a borgean name itself) seems to be interested in “the possibility and principles of a universal language” and, in the same fashion, Ellcock’s sense of humor resembles Borges’, who describes a certain Chinese encyclopedia entitled 'Celestial Empire of benevolent Knowledge’, that seems to be a kind of metaphor for Ellcock’s page: “In its remote pages it is written that the animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) etcetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.”
Ellcock is also adored by his followers; who write things like this: “Stephen, if you ever need anything, you know you can call me, and a thousand other people. Because you rock my world with every picture you post”; “Your posts are just the most beautiful wonderful things… you make my eyes and brain spark… thanks. If we take time to look there are amazing things around”; “No words Stephen for today’s post. Stunning, stunning! I love, I share and I save to savor again and again. Like I do with all your brilliant posts. Thank you so much.” And the list goes on and on. Like little love poems, people express their feelings of joy and wonder with smiles and tears and words of gratitude for Stephen’s posts.
And I think there is hope in the world, there should be, because all these feelings are inspired by art and hidden treasures of humanity in a wonderful collection on a Facebook page. In fact, if an alien species come to earth long after the extinction of the human race and find Stephen’s page, that would be the perfect testimony of all the wonderful ideas and things human beings are capable of.
Interview with Stephen Ellcock
- Where were you born?
I was born in a small town just outside of London.
- Are you an artist yourself?
No, sadly not. I have, however, always had an interest in pattern making , bricolage collage and the juxtaposition of images . From a very early age I was obsessed with creating scrapbooks out of found materials , newspapers , magazines, comics etc . When I was a teenager I destroyed what would now be a priceless collection of Marvel & DC comics from the 1960s and ‘70s, Underground magazines and comics , e.g. Oz, IT, Zap , Nasty Tales etc, and Punk era ‘zines in order to create complex collages .. all now sadly, or perhaps , thankfully, lost.
- Why did you start your Facebook page?
I was at a fairly low point in my life – homeless , dealing with drink and drug related problems , recovering from a serious , debilitating illness – and my sister coerced and cajoled into signing up even though I didn’t even own a mobile phone , never mind a PC or a laptop at the time. Initially, I found it insufferably mundane and tedious but gradually , as I connected with increasing numbers of interesting people , I was seduced and soon found myself spending a lot of time and money in internet cafes.
After a year or so of maintaining a fairly low profile , I began to see the huge potential for exploiting Facebook as a unique powerful visual forum and very few people I encountered were using it in that way . Once I started posting images and realized that I could compile thematic albums containing as many as 1000 images, there was no stopping me and, encouraged by the response, it has snowballed from there until it has now well and truly hijacked my life.
- What do you think about collecting?
I understand the collecting impulse all too well and in my time have been an obsessive collector , particularly of books and records . However , having either lost or abandoned everything several couple times during my rather precarious , white-knuckle life , I am now almost completely cured of that impulse and enjoy a relatively uncluttered , spartan life , I am unencumbered by sentimental attachments to all but a handful of material objects .
I think that the following passage by José Saramago is a brilliant and deft analysis of the collecting impulse:
‘There are people like Senhor José everywhere, who fill their time, or what they believe to be their spare time, by collecting stamps, coins, medals, vases, postcards, matchboxes, books, clocks, sport shirts, autographs, stones, clay figurines, empty beverage cans, little angels, cacti, opera programmes, lighters, pens, owls, music boxes, bottles, bonsai trees, paintings, mugs, pipes, glass obelisks, ceramic ducks, old toys, carnival masks, and they probably do so out of something that we might call metaphysical angst, perhaps because they cannot bear the idea of chaos being the one ruler of the universe, which is why, using their limited powers and with no divine help, they attempt to impose some order on the world, and for a short while they manage it, but only as long as they are there to defend their collection, because when the day comes when it must be dispersed, and that day always comes, either with their death or when the collector grows weary, everything goes back to its beginnings, everything returns to chaos.”
- Is there a specific artistic period or region that interests you?
I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that I believe I can find art and objects that interest, delight and intrigue me in almost every culture, tradition and epoch, but if I had to single out any particular era then I guess I have a particular affinity for the High Baroque; Medieval illuminated manuscripts ; Renaissance alchemical texts and Emblem books; Japanese woodblock prints ; Indian miniatures from the Mughal era ; American comic book art from George Herrimann and Windsor McCay, via the Golden and Silver Age artists like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Basil Wolverton, through to Robert Crumb Art Spiegelman, Gary Panter, Daniel Clowes and man, MANY others ; finally, European and American artists of the late 19th – early 20th century , i.e. the Symbolists , the Decadents , the Post-Impressionists, Les Fauves , Les Nabis etc .
6. Name three artists you couldn’t live without.
Dürer, Rembrandt and Bosch , with honorary mentions for Breughel , Goya, Zurbarán, Giovanni Tiepolo, Turner, Samuel Palmer, van Gogh, Munch , Félix Vallotton , Redon , Léon Spilliaert, Georgia O’Keeffe’s watercolours etc , etc ad infinitum.
- How is your typical day like?
My typical day is a complete blur, interspersed with long walks and frequent naps.
I am nocturnal by habit and reclusive by choice. I don’t really ‘do’ mornings , I have never possessed the slightest ambition to ‘better myself’ or ‘get on in life’, alarm calls , routine, hive-speak and small-talk are anathema to me , I abhor telephones , hypocrisy , and (most) authority figures , so I am therefore constitutionally and temperamentally unable to hold down a ‘proper job’. Consequently, on the few occasions when circumstances have compelled me to take an office based job, I have been fired within a few months, if not weeks, or even days, of my arrival.
Nowadays, my home is my ‘office’ and I work on a freelance basis for various publishers, artists, photographers, designers and record labels. I also edit and write texts for illustrated, ‘gift’ books and children’s books .
Virtually all of my free time is devoted to Facebook, and I spend innumerable hours each week foraging, excavating and rummaging around in some of the more obscure, murkier corners of the internet researching and looking for arcane and interesting material to post.
- What do you think about museums?
Museums, libraries and other institutions are obviously having to evolve rapidly and astutely in order to adapt to the challenges of the digital age and some are evolving successfully, whilst others are floundering and failing miserably .
I would love to live in a society where Museums and education and library services are free and accessible to all, but I know this is a hopelessly quixotic and utopian ideal nowadays.
Whilst a part of me deplores the increased commercialisation and commodification of ‘Culture’ , I also acknowledge that these things are a necessary evil in today’s world if such vital institutions and services are to survive and attract and inspire future generations. I would, however, completely banish the dreaded ‘audio-guides’ from the face of the Earth.
- Name three of your favorites books
Ovid’s ‘ Metamorphoses’
Flaubert’s ‘Trois Contes ‘ (Three Tales)
Joris-Karl Huysman’s ‘A Rebours’ (Against Nature)
- Should people have art at home? Why?
I confess that I am at a loss when it comes to answering this question. I think this is entirely a matter of individual taste and choice and I would hate to be prescriptive.
There was no art on my parents’ walls when I was growing up and there are absolutely no paintings, photographs, posters, objects d’art or conventionally ‘beautiful’ things on display in my present home but, nevertheless, I know that I have a very good ‘eye’ .
If I had money I might be tempted to invest in works of art and aesthetically pleasing objects, curios and artefacts but possessions mean next to nothing to me and I am quite content with the way things are, (although, truth be told, I wouldn’t mind a new sofa)
- Have you traveled a lot?
I have travelled widely throughout Europe , North America, Asia , the Caribbean but, sadly, have hardly ever ventured south of the Equator.
I was a professional musician for many years and toured extensively throughout that period, so if any foolhardy, possibly suicidal publisher would like to commission the definitive guide to the dives and toilet venues of the Northern Hemisphere then I’m your man!
12.Where is home?
South London, about 100 yards from the Thames surrounded by the relics and reclaimed, ‘repurposed’ remnants of London’s Docklands and besieged by encroaching gentrification and a tidal wave of braying, aspirational young ‘professionals’.
13.What would you like to say to your followers?
“I respect kindness in human beings first of all and kindness to animals. I don’t respect the law; I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer.” - Brendan Behan
All pictures are from Stephen Ellcock’s page: https://www.facebook.com/stephen.ellcock?fref=ts
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