The small things…

Tanya sent me a link to a post: http://emlynpearce.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-importance-of-small-things-for.html  in which Emlyn Pearce writes about both what is important and what is precious – the way children feel about simple, small pleasures:

Children have always found abundant magic in objects that are so small that their very existence is almost a kind of secret. But just give a three-year-old a key, a coin, a ladybird or a leaf and you will see that for small people, an object’s allure only increases the smaller it gets.     E Pearce

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It has made me think a lot about the work I am currently doing, making a lot of small things. Each, subtly and by nature of being the maker, a ‘piece of me’. I was discussing with a friend last night the journey I wish for each of these pieces and have been researching options for tracking their journey. Attaching a tiny satellite recognised tracking device to enable me to ‘follow’ them, or working on a large scale gallery piece at the end of which each piece is given away, the whole installation dismantled and shared. I thought about creating a competition to get them to all parts of the world and home again by passing them hand to hand. Surely this would not work? The possibilities are limited only by my imagination and funds – and I can apply for funding! In the meantime I am making more connections and the works I have been making recently will be given away during half term. This is after the deadline for our marked coursework as part of the MA, but I am not doing it for that. It seems only right that my practice is not contained within the parameters of the course structure, but is open to development and expansion through that ongoing urge to make and to connect. I have this week started volunteering as an artist at a Hospice, working with the day patients. This will be something that will no doubt feed into my own practice and be beneficial in a multitude of ways. I will be giving some of the patients these works to make of what they will, to hand on, to reject… as ever, some will find beauty and something meaningful and beautiful in the work and others will not.

Adulthood is tightly packed with so many bland, gigantic, IMPORTANT things, things that barge in, all sharp elbows and shouting like drunken students at a Chinese buffet. Our cities rush and rage, our politicians demand that LESSONS WILL BE LEARNED, our banks shudder and fail, our bosses berate, our computers and smart-phones and widescreen TVs explode and crash and dazzle – and before you know it, it seems impossible to remember how exciting it was to find the hidden face in the rust on an old bicycle frame, or how relaxing it was to spend a few hours sitting cross-legged on the garden path whittling a popsicle stick. But occasionally, if we just allow a little space for contemplation, even our jaded adult attention spans can bristle and spark as if they were still brand new. E Pearce

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it will take time to unfold…

The title of this post is extremely important to me. I was watching a recording of Matthieu Ricard’s talk on The Habits of Happiness, and he used these words. It was a profound moment for me in which I realised that this explains so much. My work is currently unfolding to me. The words also explain that process of a collaborative work being developed. It is also recognition that some works ‘speak’ more than others or have a more significant voice, but that this is personal and subjective: different works speak to different people in a multitude of ways. The process of exploring, extrapolating and unfolding feels more comfortable than the idea of unlearning, because I believe that this suggests something more innately anti. I do not wish to unlearn everything I have been taught. But there is so much more out there. I do not need to pigeon hole myself and say that to be an artist I must work in a certain way, or practice in only one media. Working in abstract painting this year has been immensely freeing for me. In mindful practice, acknowledging thoughts and being in the moment has been crucial. It has allowed to to think and feel deeply, processing anxiety and raw emotion, whilst this manifested in works which may or may not indicate this. The process has been continuously unfolding before my eyes, as I have given myself permission to open up instinctively and rather than using my paintings as a shield to hide behind, I have in non-literal terms, allowed them to show everything, and nothing. Advice from Angela and Caroline throughout the MA course made me conscious of needing to find avenues for change and development. This has been extended by doing collaborative works which again require an unfolding process. The drawing itself unfolds as it is passed back and forth: it is almost an entirely separate entity: living and breathing as it evolves in stages and remodels itself. There is uncertainty and lack of control: we live continuously in the moment, being challenged and reawakened creatively. I collaborated with Noeleen Comiskey (artist, actor, friend) and she wrote:

I have learnt so much taking part in this conversation, it really does teach you to let go, not to be so precious but also to appreciate and engage fully in another person’s art. To really absorb another’s work, feel every bit of it and then merge it with your own very being in order to respond fully and with truth. A function and action that is governed by an immediate piece in front of you then outside influences such as friends/news/styles/mood, take over to guide your response. It’s truly fascinating. I normally have a vision of what I want to happen, but through this process I fully engaged with my centre and just existed with the piece, no vision, I felt my way through every mark until I could stand back and say, this is how I respond and my dialogue is complete.

N Comiskey 2016

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Traces

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I ordered tattoo pens some time ago and have been looking forward to working with them. Developing the marks on skin and making them semi-permanent and then looking at them fading. As the owner of actual tattoos I am aware of the fading over time and felt that this would present a way of achieving this artificially, whilst simultaneously leaving traces. It is the traces that interest me. The lack of control over which elements last longer than others, or stay visually coherent. I am fascinated by working on my own body as I feel that this is somehow most relevant to me at this stage in my work. I also make a decent canvas with plenty-of-surface area! Others have volunteered to allow me to draw on them and I may take them up on this, but initially this voyage of discovery is about me, about traces, exploring subtle layers as I work on top of previous designs.

In Suzette Clough’s ‘Visual Medicine’ she writes about ‘palimpsest’:

Palimpsest is the term given to a medieval parchment or vellum that has been written on, then carefully washed so that it can be reused for the writing of another manuscript. The new text is written over the old text and, over time, the original underneath shows itself, sometimes centuries later, through what has been written over the top. Visually and physically, palimpsest describes the delicate interweaving of words, old and new and something beyond both that is created from this unconscious union.

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Initial layer of sketches on my legs. The imagery is now faded and only subtly visible. I will work over it and continue to record.

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I also drew some patterns on my hand, mindful of henna and Indian skin designs. My son commented that this was what his friends did when they were bored in class, and I realised that this is very true. My marks were very basic and simplistic and there was little thought in terms of the design. I was quite literally free drawing over the top of my hand. I decided to ‘sleep on it’ meaning this non literally but rather hoping that I could complete the design the next day. However, it appeared the next morning that I had LITERALLY slept on it, and that my face had found comfort balanced on my hand through the night, resulting in a delightfully decorative beard for me. It seems there is much more to explore with these pens! These ‘traces’ and unintentional markings and impressions are the areas that interest me the most. I will also give my pens to other people. I think it is right that I should be a canvas as it literally takes the control away from me. I can react but am not choreographing all elements of the process. As I work in collaboration with other artists I realise that it is in these connections that we as individuals find real growth, challenge and inspiration.

Birdsong….

Birds have felt important recently. Given that my blog is ‘art in a birdcage’, largely in reference to feeling exposed and simultaneously responsible, and therefore this impacting on the work I want to create. The title also seemed relevant in terms of my gender and being termed a ‘bird’ informally. The cage symbolic of everything that this entails: gender labels, inequality, notions of what represents the male and female ‘roles’ attributed by society and affecting  my identity as a single parent, and in general. Recently I went to a dance filming course with Simeon Qsyea and his dance group were called ‘Bird Gang’. I therefore did a large number of drawings of the Bird Gang dancers (see below). This, for me, enabled me to get back in touch with very immediate drawings. I was drawing in public yet unapologetically allowing myself to feel my way around the sketches, following the movement of the dancers, refusing to be interrupted by any thoughts of ‘exposure’. Working mindfully I have been replacing old anxieties about  value judgement and how I should appear as an  art educator, with newer feelings of needing to grow as an artist and learn by ‘unlearning’ parts of my practice. I am finally recognising the illogical boundaries I placed on my work. I am acknowledging that whilst I have benefited from the action of making and creating, I have limited myself in terms of my openness to drawing and painting in a much more instinctive way: losing the literal, being less self conscious of mark, feeling the energy and pleasure of simply holding a pen in a different way, or closing my eyes and feeling my way around the drawing: giving value to the outcome not merely as an interesting exploration, but in terms of the beauty of the unrefined, the challenging, the less contrived. I am working hard to avoid relinquishing control to a set of rules that never needed to be part of the work.

In March my sister gave me this silver charm. It features a bird, in a cage. The door opens. I am well aware of the symbolism, and am emotional about the significance of this. Change sometimes happens when we do not expect it. I remember a conversation with Caroline Wright before starting the MA in which she told me about the method of working through the Masters course in which we might feel the first year being more about taking our practice apart, picking up the pieces and reviewing them. She went on to say that the second year should feature more of a building up of practice again, with reflection of what has been understood in Year 1. I remember nodding and feeling a little apprehensive about the ‘breaking down’ parts of this. But when something happens organically, through exploration and opening oneself up to an experience, it is overwhelming. I have been moved literally to tears whilst painting over the last few months. I have acknowledged emotions and thoughts that I usually suppress, have accepted them and allowed myself to go through grief in having lost a partner some years ago. I did not expect this to be part of my MA course, but in exploring healing and art I have been mindful of my own emotional heritage and psychological well being; as well as dealing with my own metaphorical bird cage – that which I create daily and have built around me. Aware that this is not a diary, I will end thus: that there is freedom and birdsong and opportunity, and I am smiling.

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Birdcage charm above. Bird Gang Dance drawings below.

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Infiltration – Testing My Boundaries

On the 2nd April I painted my son and we visited the Tate Modern. This is significant in that it was a central part of my plan in terms of ‘exhibiting’ within the Testing project. I may have infiltrated but will list the Tate Modern as a location in which I have had a temporary exhibition/installation. My son was absolutely perfectly spontaneous in his movement around the galleries, stopping in front of various works and pausing for long enough for me to record. He stood for about five minutes as still as he could alongside the Gerhard Richter’s, with a number of visitors glancing at him to check that he wasn’t an official exhibit.

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This was the venue of choice for our first infiltration.

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Whilst gaining a few interested glances from adults, it was almost exclusively the children who actively stared at this ‘exhibit’. Their honesty in thinking that something was uncomfortably different or unusually fascinating contrasts with the more common adult response of feeling it is rude to stare. This was interesting to observe in a place where people are generally staring at everything.

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Naum Gabo’s Kinetic Construction with Emma Delpech’s I Made It

 

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What a ridiculous and exhilarating experience. Just the start of the infiltration I have planned.

Making Day 02-04

I began this making day with Angela, Alison and Ines, later to be joined by Maire. I described that I wanted to work with some collaborations during the day and that I was starting my own response to the work given to me by two artist friends. This first piece was presented to me to work on by Noeleen Comiskey.

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My response was to work in oil paint, despite the original work being on unstretched paper. I used a square head brush which is one of my current favourites. I like the purposeful mark this makes. I also tore up a photograph of my son as I decided that the mouth needed an eye and I was drawn to the innocence of this oversize element. Despite sending this image to my friend and gaining her positive response, I feel that this is only a stage in the progress of this work and feel that it has another stage of drawing to complete it. My response was, as Angela pointed out at the meeting at the end of the day, somewhat emotional: getting negative emotions ‘out of the way’ so that the work could begin. It took me a little while to see this, but when I did it made perfect sense. I am waiting for the oil paint to dry so that I can draw over the surface again (probably in white).

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This second piece is a large ink drawing on paper (A1 size) and this was given to me to work on by Tyga Helme. It is typical of many of her ink drawings and the subject matter is also something which she frequently turns to. The suggestions of trees and plants was something which I was transfixed by and, as you can see in the stages of development, I kept tweaking in different ways before becoming comfortable with ownership of the work. It is a very interesting thing to collaborate with another artist and to feel the push and pull of what you wish to reveal and conceal, probably both in literal terms and in psychological terms. It was interesting that changing the music I was listening to made a real difference. The more powerful music somehow gave me a sense of control, and once this was mine I thoroughly enjoyed working into the drawing. Tyga is also very pleased with this and I believe she is going to draw into it again so the conversation will continue. Angela Rogers gave me some extremely good links, including photographs of the work of Jon Barraclough, with his lazy susan drawing tables at Tate Liverpool . She also gave me links to writing on Drawing Conversations.

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The day started at 10am but I had assumed that it would start at 9am and was ready at this time. Whilst there was an hour to play with I continued to add ink to the pencil lines I had created the previous day watching Bird Gang dancers in a workshop led by filmmaker and choreographer Simeon Qsyea. This was probably the most fun I have had with a pencil in my hand in a long time. The dancers were incredible and my drawings were such a wonderful release. Literally ‘opening up’ and exploring movement whilst trying to block any sense of judgement from others (everyone else there was filming or photographing the dancers, I was the only participant drawing). I realise that I needed to remind myself to ‘stay in the moment’ whenever my thoughts wandered. The moment was very demanding to focus on as it kept changing quickly. There was no time to be distracted by negative thoughts. Putting ink over the pencil lines was almost as rewarding as the initial activity as I felt I was being taken on an incredible journey of discovering my own work again. At the end of our Making Day, in response to a question I asked Angela about words she used to describe needing to feel ‘uncomfortable enough’ in her drawings, she explained: “Every time we look at our work, we are faced with ourselves”. That sense of needing to be able to make honest marks and be less contrived and allow a sense of play and discovery  was something we all understood. What a joy to be able to share these words, and each others’ work.

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Grayson Perry Inspirations

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Image: Google: English Pen

I was fortunate enough to be able to get a ticket to see Grayson Perry’s recent talk at the Royal Geographical Society hosted by English Pen. The theme was his inspirations, largely in relation to books. I have followed Perry’s career and have read his books and have always felt inspired by his autobiographical and quirky approach to both his art and his study of human behaviour. He began the talk with a slide questioning how middle class we were as an audience and then talking about television and whether we own one, and that those who don’t LOVE to tell everyone about this. It is a sign of class. Perry had the audience in the palm of his hand throughout the evening as an actor read out carefully selected pieces from the books that has most inspired Perry’s work. These included a book of maps, Watching The English by Kate Fox, The Painted Word by T Wolfe, and Henry Darger’s Realms of the Unreal. Perry expressed that ‘pretentiousness is classless’ which I thought was an extremely thought provoking statement, and of course, quite true. He made the audience laugh by describing himself (in reference to the elements of contemporary art which he objected to) as having to become more comfortable to be part of that world and having to ‘unclench’. I thought this would be a brilliant phrase to share with my MA group as it describes well the feelings of many of us wanting to grow as artists whilst not being entirely happy with the state of the art world, and market, or notions of value and billionaire collectors.

Perry went on to talk about how psychotherapy has been the biggest influence in his work. He spoke about us all having to get to know our ‘dark side’ and that psychotherapy needs to be seen as a way of ‘cleaning up the tool shed’ whilst simultaneously leaving all the tools in place. His connections to psychotherapy and interest in outside art gave way to lots of ideas which became themes in his work, including making a Pope-mobile for his teddy Alan Measles. The construction of fantasy and persuasion, the fantasy world created with symbols and metaphors as part of his own experiences reminded me of a discussion I had with Angela Rogers at the start of the MA course when she was reassuring me that a more sophisticated way to tackle my sense of ‘appropriateness’ in my work, as an educator, was to allow things to be abstract or metaphorical. That I did not need to tell the whole story, or even part of it: that it could be entirely and selfishly my own and I alone could decide whether anything ever needed the context or symbolism shared.

Perry ended his talk, which was massively entertaining and presented in his typically articulate and irreverent style (whilst wearing a large blue satin padded nappy, bright orange tights, pink platform heels and the most fabulous makeup including stick on gems and glitter) with a moving piece of text about the abused child. The audience could not fail to be moved. Perry has become probably the most famous British potter of all time, and he has been in many ways a trailblazer in terms of how he presents himself, and the sharing of parts of his life and history through autobiographical pieces. His search for answers about how we operate and how we are indoctrinated to think and behave in certain ways is fascinating. His work, evidently an essential part of his being and his own reflections on, critique of, and exploration of what it is to be human at this time.

Such a fascinating talk. And we had the best seats in the house (front row, middle, thanks to my friend who is shameless about ‘not being British’ when it comes to queues and letting everyone else go first. Good thing too, because I still apologise when the person behind me bumps into me!) These things did make us laugh when Perry spoke about being ‘very British’.