A few thoughts on what inspires me; themes, people, artists. I have placed them onto an etching which I completed a few years ago with the title Man-Made Fertility Charms. The imagery mostly came from a trip to the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich, but was combined with some additional figures and a drawing of a metal tree. An artist friend of mine was working part-time as a technician in the design department of a college. He routinely collected the scraps the students were discarding, and he created a tree sculpture from these. I bought it and am constantly reminded of the beauty of regeneration.
A day at the Tate Modern and Tate Britain and I realised that I had recorded a series of images, largely from sculptures, depicting form. Some of it human, some semi-human, some abstracted. Here are a few examples of the pages in my sketchbook.
There are really interesting curves and lines in these images, almost a design for a piece of my own work, by bringing these images together. Whilst they are quick sketches, and not necessarily accurate, they feed my imagination and throw ideas in my direction for working with a focus on Form. This is one of the words we are exploring in the current MA task, so I have been enjoying recording work by a range of artists.
Sketchbook pages from a recent trip to Paris. I am aware that whilst allowing myself to draw whatever I am inspired by, when I look at the images as a collection, there are immediate similarities; the human body is almost always a focal point, particularly if there is a lean or stretch. It brings me back to years of life drawing with beautiful models who, at times during my degree, would dance during the life drawing session.
And then there is the balancing of imagery – the ripped poster in the Metro station, against the sketch of a classical piece of sculpture. The contrast between them drawing me into a world of ideas about value; the voice and power of Art.
As I continue to think about the idea of vanity and how we capture the self-portrait in contemporary communications, I am drawn to looking at the painting of one’s face and decorating of the skin as something which is common across cultures all over the world. This distortion of reality has become something fundamental to many people; “I’m just going to go and put my face on”; as though we only partially exist prior to the application of products. Products which make rich people even richer. We are consumers in the media and advertising led destruction of self-esteem. No longer should we be comfortable in our own skin. We should want to ‘fake it’; boobs, teeth, hair extensions, face-lift, eyelashes, fake tan….the list is endless. It is necessary that we SHOULD NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES FEEL GOOD ABOUT HOW WE LOOK. No way. Because this would stop us investing in an industry which makes billions out of our insecurity. It’s time this stopped. I have no patience for the ‘circle of shame’ used too often particularly in women’s magazines; shaming women for having cellulite, an unshaven armpit, a few roots showing. If we are not conventionally perfect – set now by a mythical standard which is digitally remastered to actually represent something which cannot actually be achieved by the human body – then we are ‘not good enough’.
Make-up is just another mask. So I wanted to use paint…to ‘become’ the painting. ! There IS room in society for all of us with our thick uncontrollably wavy hair and our tea-stained teeth and our features which are not quite symmetrical. There is room for those of us who want to wear make-up and don’t, those who like to remove all their hair and those who remove none, all shapes and sizes. We should stop being made to feel inadequate, and consequently buying into this aesthetic set of values which make us all feel bad.
Finally I decided to take some images which dispensed with the need to have a clear face. The images pick up on the notion of how physical identity is very much a transient notion; that we can change; fake; edit; filter and disguise who we are. It also reminds me of some of the recent work of Alexa Mead http://alexamead.com/artwork/ and the work of artist Francis Bacon. The phrase ‘Putting my Face On’ also seems rather apt.
The American rapper Prince Ea produced a moving spoken word video questioning the use of contemporary and emerging media and I was particularly moved by the following sentence:
“I’m so tired of performing in a pageantry of vanity and conforming to this accepted form of digital insanity”
As an Artist my world is visual and my opportunity to reach viewers has expanded because of social media and the internet. Therefore I am interested in the use and development of this arena. I noted in my last post an interest in people taking ‘selfies’ in front of works of art in galleries in Paris. In the same week I was wearing a pig head whilst walking around London. The issue of vanity and how we represent ourselves is ever-changing because of the option to upload and share instantly. In some recent sculpture I was exploring the reconstruction of the work in clay which had been pulled apart removing it from a mould. I then used a glaze which would give the surface the effect of being diseased. I found great pleasure in working on this piece; perhaps due to the ability to explore and evolve from what was a realistic face. The outcome is disturbing and simultaneously beautiful. It is death and decay but equally something of a ‘dance’ with the features; a twisting and morphing. It reminded me of the work of Francis Bacon:
Three Studies for a Self Portrait, Portrait of Michel Les
Portrait of Lucian Freud
What does it say about me, or about my evolving ideas – is there an element of the self-portrait in this work, and if not, how can I start to work in this direction? There are plans in development for a new project which looks at three key words: Frame, Focus and Fracture. Exploring is such an essential part of Art.
Before leaving to take some students on a trip to Paris, I was enjoying watching two generations of my family (my son and my father) graffiti the newspaper with a black marker pen. They chose the sports section and spent about forty minutes drawing facial hair, speech bubbles, glasses, nasal eruptions, bottom explosions and virtually every other kind of ‘hilarious’ additions to the photographs one could imagine. It was such fun to watch as they entertained each other with silly ideas and witty – though often tasteless – doodles. My Dad whistles whilst he sketches. It is something I have always loved and it has made me feel from the very youngest age that drawing was really a WONDERFUL activity. One which I hope my son enjoys equally as much.
We asked this man to take a group photo of us in Paris and he took three really lovely shots and then used the front facing camera to take a selfie. We had been marvelling on our trip at how many people were sticking their faces in FRONT of the art works and trying to capture themselves with the image of the Mona Lisa or Rodin’s Thinker. It baffled me as to why it feels so essential to ‘become one’ with the art work and places, as though capturing the moment in time to prove that you were there; that you connected with the place. It asks whether we want so desperately to show the world that we are here, we shout it from the rooftops in our newsfeeds and blogs and profiles. I’M HERE! AND I’M NEXT TO AN AMAZING PAINTING – LOOK AT US. I MEAN THE PAINTING IS OK…BUT I’M PRETTY WONDERFUL TOO! As it happens this man was completely wonderful and took lovely shots of us and was terribly kind. I loved that he ‘signed’ his work with his selfie signature – very fitting and a sign of the times. Whoever you are, thank you very much – just please don’t get a selfie-stick! 🙂
This just could not have made me happier. During the journey back to London I was sitting with three teenage boys. I know they were probably delighted that I sat with them, promising not to listen to their conversation and assuring them that I felt lucky to be in such good company (I’m pretty sure that’s about as bad as it gets when you’re a teenager and the teacher sits with you….but I had no choice, there were no other seats!). So I took out my sketch book and started to draw. Ten minutes later after a bit of mobile phone excitement, the boys were all watching my sketching out of their peripheral vision. One said “I really fancy drawing too!” and was immediately offered some paper. Then the other two asked for some paper too and suddenly we were a table of four of us, all sketching, These guys were Art History students who felt they had left behind their own drawing days. They saw me drawing and felt the need to join in. They were sketching eyes and buildings and then drawing doodles. It was lovely. It made my day. I was able to reassure them that it’s not about drawing to make something ‘perfect’, it’s just good to create and express yourself. And, I saved them some phone battery power!
There may be many reasons for walking around with a pig’s head on in London. Ok, I am struggling to think of them. But in terms of a response to the line “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” [Orwell], it seemed appropriate. There are huge inequalities in society and this is something which I wanted to respond to in a literal and visual way. This will inevitably become something much more subtle, muted, working in deep and meaningful layers of mystery and metaphor. But initially I wanted to explore the functionality of a simple pig’s head, taking it on our travels and wearing it in public. I was interested in the public response and mostly this was very positive. They thought it might be a publicity stunt or that we were simply being silly. There did not seem to be any upset caused although I was conscious that what looked from a distance like a severed animal head could be deemed inappropriate and may have been disapproved of by some. This reminded me that in a world of such rich and varied cultures and experiences, the meaning set aside for anything visual can be read and interpreted so widely, that it would be almost impossible for everyone to gain a similar insight. For example, those who have not read Animal Farm, or Lord of the Flies, those who do not eat pork or feel the pig is the more scared of animals, those who are vegetarians or protest against animal cruelty; all of these groups and many others may have had a very different reaction to our expedition. These are a few examples of the outcome.