Galleries, New York and far too many possibilities.

A new academic year holds much potential and excitement. After a year of experimenting with possibilities, or as was described to us prior to starting the Masters ‘breaking you down before we help you build yourself back up’, I am now at the ‘building up’ stage. Marry this with the impending task of exhibiting outside our ‘comfort zone’, and I am now trying to make some executive decisions. I could produce work til the cows come home, but what EXACTLY am I trying to say? I thought I would start by showing some of the images I took in New York, explaining why they stopped me in my tracks.


Philip Guston Dial 1956 / Roman 1st-2nd century AD marble sculpture

There is something about both of these works which I can’t help but be drawn to. Sculpture of the human form is always fascinating. The cold stone depicting the soft flesh of the human body is something which I am always interested in; both in studying and making. I sat and drew many of these Roman sculptures whilst at The Met. Guston’s Dial in the Whitney also drew me in. I am certainly a fan of bright colours in painting and find this style of work extremely pleasing to look at. The abstraction contrasts nicely with the realism in the stone sculptures, and represents a period of Guston’s work whilst at other times his work was realistic or alternatively exploring cartoon-like qualities.

The sculpture of Aristide Maillol The River was something which appealed a great deal when I assumed that it was funny – that she had tripped and that the angle of her precariously balanced over the water below was entertaining. I clearly have a dark sense of humour. It turned out that she was conceived on the theme of war and that she had been stabbed in the back.


Aristide Maillol The River 1938-43 (cast 1948)

I wonder whether I am so frequently exposed to work now in contemporary galleries which asks me to have a sense of humour, that I can forgive myself for this error. It naturally changes my experience of the work. The slapstick humour I had attached to it evaporated as I read the information about the work and realised that it was in fact a sad, dark piece.

Another work which held my attention was Kiki Smith’s ‘Lilith’. Her surprisingly spider-like figure, crawling on the wall, suspended impossibly in mid air, staring with glass eyes and appears ready to pounce. The medieval Jewish lore explains that Lilith was Adam’s first wife but wanted to be his equal and was therefore evicted from the garden of Eden to the demon world. She is the original feminist, banished for her fight for equality. I want to join her, climb the wall and spend my time looking disapprovingly at others with my shiny piercing eyes.

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Kiki Smith Lilith (1994)

And then I am drawn in (again) by Robert Rauschenberg’s combine. Probably his most well known mixed media work, Canyon uses oil, pencil, paper, metal, photograph, fabric, wood, canvas, buttons, mirror, taxidermied eagle, cardboard, pillow, paint tube and other materials.


Robert Rauschenberg  Canyon(1959)

Rauschenberg apparently developed his works based on what he would find during the day, keeping his eye out for interesting objects whilst walking the streets around downtown New York. I am equally drawn in by the untitled installation by Jared Madere (2015) currently installed in the new Whitney Museum of American Art.


Jared Madere  Untitled (2015)

Interested in materiality and narrative, Madere has developed a piece he described as being “shredded through time and space” and “bearing physical evidence of that journey”. Completely contrasting and seemingly unrelated materials work in collaboration in this colourful work.

When I look back at the works which most caught my attention there is definitely a leaning towards abstract painting, mixed media and the use of sculpture, either independently or within a mixed media work. My plan to develop a sculpture of at least one figure wrapped almost entirely in a painting seems more logical and supported by having seen these particular works. The ‘wearing’ of the painting, links back to the work I completed last year whilst painting on models.

Plans are ever changing and there is much to read so it is time to get back to my books…..

Notes on the work of Annabel Dover, Helen Paris and Alexa Cox.


Annabel Dover’s presentation was interesting for a number of reasons. Her interest in the background of the cyanotype, and in the work of Herschel was interesting , particularly in the sense that the perception of work which was deemed appropriate for Herschel’s sister, Anna Atkins, to do at the time they were working was, in fact a skilled job. Dover mentions a number of times in her presentation the difference between work considered appropriate for women and that deemed ‘serious’ and therefore likely to be inhabited only by men. In her study of Atkins’ presentation of faithful reproductions which were in fact carefully crafted hybrids, Dover develops a series of responses in her own work on the premise of the ‘false original’. I like the way she described that every object has a story behind it and that simple objects have a way to get into our conscious, and can explore much more challenging themes. In using weeds from her father’s garden, or a sock, or a stocking, she is able to form a relationship with the viewer within which there is an understanding and a recognition. She ‘explores their power as intercessionary agents that allow socially acceptable emotional expression’.



Helen Paris’ presentation was predominantly about smell. She was presenting largely about a recent performance involving small audiences (4 people at a time) invited into the domestic setting in which the play would evolve, with smells to create a living installation. Paris conveyed a real passion for the ‘shared experience’ of the live moment and the communication between the audience and performer. Being ‘transported back’ by smells informed much of the current work, having traveled to Bangalore, India where she worked alongside scientists, exploring smell molecules and how ‘sticky’ they can be. Paris’ practice is focused on the theme of curiosity and she is the Co-Artistic Director (with Leslie Hill) of the company ‘Curious’, working in performance, installation, publication and film. They are both deeply involved in the theme of curiosity and in exploring avenues and questions which will allow them to be able to think creatively and engage in the process of exploring and finding answers themselves. I think it is relevant that the word INTIMATE is highlighted in my notes during Paris’ short lecture. The notion that one can present a performance to an audience of 4 certainly adds this ‘edge’.



Alexa Cox is clearly fascinated by the notion of narrative, and in producing paintings based on being a story teller. Interested in dialogue, allowing the imagery to be ambiguous with ‘partial traces’ and allowing the story to meander and deviate from the path are all central to Cox’s work. Cox’s influences come from many sources. She is interested in the work of various artists such as Doig, Rego and Woodman and in the notion of mapping and being playful with visual language. She mentioned really liking the writing of Tim Ingold, which I read some of for the MA1 course and found quite frustrating. At the point when Cox started to talk about the relevance of Ingold’s ideas in her work I realised that she tackled the development of her paintings in a way which is much more deliberate than perhaps I am conscious of working in myself. This led me to thinking about whether it would be beneficial for me to be much more schematic and to have a highly developed ‘plan’ as such prior to starting a painting. Cox asked ‘what is an authentic line’ and this is probably the most challenging and philosophical question from the three lectures. One which I will certainly be losing sleep over……

Intersections: ‘Connecting and disconnecting the dots’

A lecture by artist Helen Rousseau

Rousseau’s work is a fascinating conversation between different elements, including mixed media, installation and sculpture. In describing it she referred to creating ‘a language that allows my own work to be revealed to me’. This negotiation seems central to her work with the starting point always being MAKING. She referred to exploring with the status of things in relation to time (e.g paused, in waiting etc) and experienced in space. Rousseau discussed a variety of quotes including this from Jan Verwoert:

“the decisions about how to start and conclude are choices that shape the very identity of a piece. It is only by concluding in a particular way that the piece establishes its own standards of completion and demonstrates why it had to be the way it is.”

Rousseau shared with us her views about how her ideas are constantly shifting; a network of ideas in a non-linear framework – always utilising the option to change and reconsider, to explore the possibility that her emphasis had been in the wrong place and that her opinions only need to be temporary. This really struck me as being something very relevant to explore. There is a sense that work in progress must follow a certain path from conception to completion. That deviating on this journey might otherwise damage the integrity of the original idea. However, this made me reflect on whether I allow my opinions to be ‘temporary’ – both in art and in life.

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H Rousseau

Rousseau referred to Valere Mrejen’s writing on preparing to start work in her studio:

  1. First, listen to the news on the radio.

  2. Prepare a cup of tea and drink it standing at the window. You see people walking in the street, cars, shops, it’s fascinating.

  3. Wash the cup because you hate starting to work when there’s something dirty in the sink.

  4. Make one or two phone calls.

  5. Clean your table.

  6. Go to the post office to get a registered letter. Wait half an hour.

  7. Take cash from an automat

  8. Buy a magazine.

  9. When you’re back home, have a quick look at it. Read the main articles

  10.  Drink a glass of water, eat a plum.

  11. The phone rings. Answer and talk.

  12. You suddenly remember that you need to make a call.

  13. The mobile rings. It’s a friend: chat.

  14. Check your emails again, in case you received any new ones

  15. It’s almost lunchtime: you start feeling hungry. You need strength before you start working, so go to the market and shop.

That sense of procrastination and of building towards and pushing back the start of making; of always finding distractions, but perhaps needing to build towards a mental place of clarity in order to engage fully in the work, is probably familiar to most artists. Embracing the ‘not knowing’ the ‘boredom’, returning to ‘obsessions’ or where feelings and thoughts can be ‘accumulated and picked up’. Rousseau referred to ‘returning to and preoccupation with things that haunt our practice’. This resonated with me. There are so many things which ‘haunt’ my practice and which I perhaps need to register and reconsider; deciding whether to allow them to continue to influence the work I produce – on either a conscious or sub-conscious level. Rousseau refers to the work she produces almost as though it is human, with a personality and voice; perhaps a child that needs to be encouraged and reassured but that has autonomy. She described a ‘drawing out’ and ‘trying to see what will appear’, whilst being sensitive to the materials and ‘accepting what arrives without wanting to dismiss it’. Rousseau states that she works ‘in parallel with materials, rather than in control’. This description of a way of working in a relationship with her materials and of describing sculptural works as ‘props for verbalisation’ gave the MA cohort much to think about.

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H Rousseau

In group discussions we were looking at a variety of different issues relating to the question: what is sculpture? The most interesting element of this discussion and feedback was Rousseau’s fascinating views on how artists using different media (including photography) are extracting and in a relationship with three dimensional forms, light, reproduction, as well as the placement of the imagery in spaces and how this affects the behaviour of the audience.

Beyond the exploration of Rousseau’s work it was extremely interesting to reflect on my current practice – of how I use my time, and space; of the distractions I am aware of and the restrictions I put on my work because of the things that ‘haunt my practice’. Extraordinarily eye-opening. Like reading a fascinating book and going away with fresh eyes.

Two books and a spiral slide

The summer has been about nurturing….. and potentiality (I like that word!).


Painting at the kitchen table

This involved only a small amount of ‘making’, but a very decent amount of collaborative sketching, reading, laughing, tea-making and exposing myself to the increasingly absorbing world of social media. I am not only blogging, but tweeting, sharing on Instagram and I have reinvented my website: essentially cutting out of my family art website everyone but myself. There is little honour in this, but I have been reliably informed that each other interested party would ideally like to design their own web spaces in any case.

So, highlights of the summer included time spent with my incredibly brave – and currently ill – friend Sarah, being jolted out of my bubble of comfort by Carsten Holler installions at the Hayward (dark tunnels to get into the gallery and a long spiral slide to get out again), writing to hospitals to find out about their arts policies and whether I can get involved, and reading some excellent books such as Austin Kleon‘s Show Your Work and Ossian Ward‘s Ways of Looking.

Entertained, as ever, by the idea that somewhere in this ridiculously busy life I am living, I should even manage to find the time to MAKE work, nevermind SHOW it, Kleon’s simple (ten) strategies  include: Share something small every day, open up your cabinet of curiosities and …stick around. So I am working on this, sharing frequently, moving into this digital shop front and making it my own. Yet to be reduced to purchasing ‘likes’ or promoting myself on goggle, I assume that accumulating interest daily is significant enough.

Holler’s spiral slide is described wonderfully by Ossian Ward:

“[..] it’s hard not to feel like a test subject myself, doing the artist’s behavioural bidding, like a caged rat in some sinister sociological laboratory […] despite my initial fears and misgivings about his cod-scientific motives, and with the added benefit of hindsight, there’s no doubt that Test Site was hugely entertaining, in a physical, visceral and nerve-jangling way that had little to do with the usual museum-going experience, which is so often confined to merely visual and cerebral enjoyment.”

My take on it was similarly sceptical. I did not think that this was much more than a publicity stunt, and the queue of people wanting to get into the exhibition did suggest that the slide was a serious ‘attraction’. But as I whizzed down the polished metal tube, staring up at a whirling view of Southbank sky, I felt exhilarated, weightless, flying; it was almost like being invited to experience being a child again, and it was worth every second of grown up angst. My son came down after me, laughing the entire way. We both left the experience with enormous smiles on our faces and my boy said “That’s the best exhibition I’ve ever been to!”. Having collected some placebo pills, stared at the world upside down, walked along dark winding corridors and descended to the exit at high speed, I can understand why he felt this way. We were engaged, moved, scared, left anticipating what would be next. We were part of the experiment, a living part of the art works. We discussed them all the way home: which had been our favourite, what we could create which would have been suitable in the same exhibition, how we could ever describe the feeling of Holler’s slide…

Moved and motivated by these experiences I have been reading more and engaging with artists such as Celia Pym. Pym’s art work is often focused on the theme of mending. In contrasting wool or thread she will ‘mend’ pieces of fabric; exploring the relationship between the item and the significance of fixing it. The ‘mend’ is plainly visible; a feature, beautiful and raw. Pym followed the natural path in terms of her interest in mending, by training to become a nurse. The philosophical resonances in terms of her art work were realised in a profound and moving way; and the theory of ‘mending’ put centre stage. If the artist can do this in their practice, perhaps the practice ought to be redirected and the benefits be more actual and physical? There is so much to consider in Pym’s work.

Celia Pym

Norwegian Sweater – Celia Pym

And there I come full circle. From the lino cutting and sketching with my dear friend Sarah, to my admiration for the work of Celia Pym. I am fascinated by the role art plays in meditative and philosophical healing. The notion of being able to ‘mend’ a thing, or a person, is at the heart of much of what I do – primarily because the act of making is healing…… for me. It is often what I describe as my therapy, and as is the case with most of the artists I know, a place of profound comfort, enjoyment and fulfilment (even if this is tinged with frustrations). In Year 2 of my Masters I am hoping to explore the research to suggest that this is quantifiable, and to work in places of ‘healing’.