Category Archives: 2015 – 2016 academic year

Grayson Perry Inspirations


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’.


Levi van Veluw

Sometimes it is possible to omit an artist from research purely because they are someone so obvious you forget them entirely. As Levi van Veluw is a photographer I commonly refer to, I wonder why it has taken me so long to make the connection between his work and my own.

Levi van Veluw was born in the Dutch town of Hoevelaken in 1985 and studied at the ArtEZ Institute of the Arts in Arnhem.

Since graduating in 2007, Levi van Veluw has produced multi-disciplinary works that includes photographs, videos, sculptures, installations and drawings. This varied body of work has been showcased in many different locations across Europe and the United States, earning him a number of nominations and awards.

I went out two days ago to buy some makeup pencils as I wanted to draw, rather than paint on a model (perhaps myself). This linked so closely to van Veluw’s work although I am not sure how I feel about the idea of the marks being a little more permanent. This makes me feel uncomfortable because, in my years of experience trying to wash the notes off the back of my hand, there is a fairly consistent ‘staining’ which is inevitable. This would be really interesting to explore over a few days when I know that I don’t have to be too ‘public’. The idea of using materials that stain and fade emerged when I bought a ‘tattoo pen’ which I thought was essentially for children to use to decorate their skin or use at parties etc for more delicate face painting. It stained quite badly though and I was surprised at this. I will reinvestigate the world of tattoo pens and consider more lengthy staining/design work. I am already the owner of a couple of tattoos and will definitely consider designing a new work directly onto my body. This has nothing of the ‘rebellious strength’ of the original works, created in another era. But it is the obvious final destination of a project about decorating the skin. Permanence is not important in my current works. Transience and variety is: but ultimately marking periods of time is also an interesting use of the contemporary tattoo, which fascinates me. I quite like the idea of doing the drawing in public. For example, taking a train ride or drinking tea in a café whilst drawing onto my own skin could be really interesting! I wonder how people would react if I was drawing on my son, who is always a willing model. This might appear more ‘shocking’ and controversial. Perhaps, as we did when he was about 4 years old with face paints, we draw on each other. That would be fun! Something makes me think we might be accused of setting a bad example.


Joachim Koester and Rose Wylie at Turner Contemporary

This exhibition of Koesler’s recent work was really interesting. We were invited to lie on meditation mats and have a ‘body scan’ in the same room as a work constructed as a giant shed, in which more of Koesler’s psychedelic film work was being shown.


Experiencing the work in a variety of different ways echoed the nature of it being reflective of hallucinations, hypnosis and psychological journeys.

“Just strolling through the spaces might be enough for a visitor to get a sense of what is going on. I call this ‘inhaling the show’ – perceiving it through the body. There is also another, conceptual landscape to be discovered…”
– Joachim Koester
I felt genuinely moved by the film of dancers reinterpreting the dancing ‘cure’ practiced by victims of tarantula bites in order to try to remove the venom from the bodies. In reality I had no idea that this was what I was watching at the time, and it was only afterwards that I read about it. In the first instance I found it extremely entertaining, like watching people completely immersed in expressive dance, lost in movement and angular, jerking shaking. The showing of these films on a range of wall size screens which viewers became part of to move through the exhibition meant that we were all at different times caught up in the film. My shadow interrupted the film and I debated, albeit briefly, whether I could join in the dance. Escaping into this ‘other world’ it was perfectly reasonable to connect all of the works in the exhibition to the title: The Other Side of The Sky. In retrospect I should have danced – I was invited to by the environment but I should not have let my sense of social acceptability override my instinct to be fully involved in it. I’m sure my son is glad I didn’t!


In addition to viewing Koesler’s work, Rose Wylie’s paintings filled the Sunley Gallery. Now in her 80’s Wylie’s paintings (typically of many female painters of the same generation) are gaining new interest and exposure.

Though not work that I instinctively lean towards or find pleasing to look at, other than because of the ambitious scale of each piece, her work reminded me a great deal of the work of Philip Guston:

Perhaps it was just the mindset I was in on the day. Bold statement paintings, either way.

Tibet, Meditation, States of Consciousness and Frank Auerbach


Yesterday I went to two exhibitions at the Wellcome Collection, London. I wanted to explore the art work reflecting on different states of being (or consciousness) and the connection between Buddhism, meditation and the art of Tibet.


I was particularly interested in the works connected to sleep and brain activity during sleep. There was one rather frightening piece of film documenting a man who sleeps tied to his bed as he routinely gets up to act out his nightmares in which he is fighting, by attacking his wife. He is, naturally, asleep throughout and therefore decided to tie himself down as the only method of saving his wife from attack. Other works in the exhibition looked at the edges of consciousness in terms of brain injury, hallucinations and, inevitably, death. With lots to consider I scribbled plenty of notes in my sketch book under the exhibition titles: Science and Soul, Sleep and Awake, Language and Memory, Being and Not Being.

The Tibet exhibition was extremely interesting but I feel it was challenging because I have a very limited frame of reference in terms of Buddhism and the art of Tibet. The exhibition was curated in a way which was clearly logical and I was aware that many of the other visitors were commenting on things that they understood from their own experiences or studies of Buddhism. In this sense I felt I was a little left behind, and was looking out for something to cling to. A few yoga poses on the fabric hangings were about as connected as I was able to become based on my own experiences. But I could put personal connections on hold to appreciate the work, the colours, the evident appreciation of the viewers. This is until I approached a room dedicated to ‘dark’ works: intricate murals and sculptures connected to the dark spirits. Immediately my first thought was whether I had brought my son to an exhibition which was entirely inappropriate. My instinct was to turn and walk away: to refuse to subject him to something potentially disturbing. But, as I gazed around to see where he was, I realised that he was already ahead of me. As we exited the exhibition we were both shrugging. 17th century evil spirits don’t seem to come remotely close to 21st century type; even those one finds illustrated in contemporary cartoons such as the Itchy and Scratchy Show (Simpsons). I’m afraid my understanding of the connections with yoga, meditation and mindfulness were lost on me, but then I was unable to grasp much of the art work from Lukhang’s uppermost chamber. I did appreciate the subtle lighting of the exhibition and the images which seemed to approach the spiritual side of the human almost as though it were as tangible as the arm or leg. I liked these images and could see that there is much similarity across ages and cultures wishing to explore the conscious human experience; to identify that which connects us, whether it can be seen or felt or not.


We then went on to the Tate Britain to see Auerbach’s exhibition. What a remarkable breath of fresh air. The build up of paint operates in an entirely unique and distinguished way, deriving from up to 200 sittings, scraping back the canvas and building the work in deep, dramatic layers.

Auerbach: The end usually happens when ‘I’ve rehearsed the problem again and again, then out of sheer impatience, perhaps I become more reckless or daring or more arbitrary’.

This was exactly the exhibition I needed to see at this stage of the development of my work.  The bravery of the structure of the work, in combination with the language Auerbach uses made me reflect on the relative ‘safety’ of my own work, and that by exploring the materials I am using in a more dramatic and liberated way would be extremely beneficial. I had already started a reworking of a painting I created ten years ago. I will now approach it with a much more adventurous and less literal style, with a limited palette as it progresses.


Making Sense of it


(Details from) Acknowledge the Fear. E Delpech

Recently it has been pretty intense. Let me fill you in. I have done an 8-week Mindfulness course which has required me to think about my thoughts. To think about HOW I think. To think about the things I try not to think about. To think about what I suppress, or what makes me sad. To think about negative thoughts and to learn to let go of them. It is all embodied in my last post in the sculpture ‘I Am The Mountain’. I am indeed the mountain. Only, this process has opened me up to something I had not accepted prior to this. It has made me question all sorts of assertions I made about myself. It has made me challenge my perceptions of what ‘rational’ thoughts actually are, how one decides what is clinically on some kind of spectrum in the range which might require intervention. I am, let’s be clear, not worried about my own mental health. However, I am interested in how revealing the process has been and how this has impacted on my work. It seems that the recent work is much more about a suggestion, an impression, a thought or as I have described a few times, a whisper. There are scars and bleeding and bruising and fear all mixed in with longing and hopefulness and calm. My typically colourful palette will not yield to any dark, it refuses. And I consciously approve. Because it is the palette which draws me in. It is the blend of red and oranges and the struggle and play between them which tells a story and allows me to fall into the ‘patchwork quilt’ of hues. My eyes are in the middle of it. I know it from one edge to the other, every daub of paint, every brush stroke. Every sore, or scratch, each shadow and highlight. It is all felt in that moment as it is created.


Les Bicknell 1

And then I have this amazing tutorial with Les Bicknell who’s art work (above) appears almost the antithesis of what I have been doing. The structure, rigidity, perfection, balance, measured and precise approach so in contrast to my mindful abstraction. Yet he understands the processes I am exploring, and my desire to connect. In discussion we dissect some of the issues: why am I doing this and what do I want to achieve? Yes indeed. Why am I planning to give vast amounts of painting away? Why am I planning to paint models and parade them around to be photographed in a range of different places?


Why am I even interested in painting on flesh and what has this got to do with anything? Where do I sit as an artist: what is my point? These conversations are the injection of adrenalin which fuels an artist. It forces me to take a stance and say THIS is what I believe in, THIS is what I am thinking and feeling. So, my paint is my mask: it is the outer – the bit you are allowed to see and question. It is exactly the same as my makeup: it is a shroud, a division. I let you in but only so far, only this close.


Les’s question about why I am not stitching with my own hair made me feel he really understood what I was thinking. YES! Stitch with my own hair: as Mona Hatoum did, and my friend and MA colleague Monika Breuckner did last year. The hair brings it together. It remains a self-portrait, even more embedded with my own DNA, with strands of me, with parts of my actuality, whilst also being entirely separate: used, disposable, dirty and arguably beautiful in equal measure. I am excited to start stitching these together and feel that it will connect me even more intensely with the work.

We discussed my interest in working with patients, in looking into the Prinzhorn Collection and the notion of Art and Psychosis. It is 18 years since I created a work for the electroconvulsive therapy waiting room at St Clement’s Psychiatric Hospital and I have grown up in a house where mental health was often discussed and was a relevant topic of interest. (My mother founded the Association for Post-Natal Illness, gaining an MBE for 30 years of service to mental health). My recent work with Crisis and my upcoming voluntary work at a local hospice are both opportunities to think even further about ‘the point’. That connection. That connectivity. It is not about making sure everyone knows the name Emma Delpech and that I have millions of followers and am paid in hundreds of thousands. It is about what is real to me in Art, what is tangible and what gives it value to me. The reality is that I am connected. I am involved. I am helping. I am sharing. I am part of. I am, as Les describes ‘the subversive maverick who controls the world‘, busy questioning the value of art and the relevance of how my experience of making the work is shared.

Les’ advice:

Stitch with hair. Give work away. Ask those it has been given to to photograph it in situ and describe how they feel about it, or when they notice it. Offer work to homeless people (remain inclusive): Art can change lives! Build networks and make sense of the connectivity of the world – make it work for me. Visit the Wellcome Collection for further ideas on Meditation and Consciousness.

Mindfulness and Psychosis


Christine Entwistle & Amanda Hadingue in National Theatre of Scotland’s production of The Wonderful World of Dissocia, 2007. Photo: Telegraph.

Last night I went to see a production of The Wonderful World of Dissocia, written by Anthony Neilson. This tragicomedy explores a journey in which a young lady with psychosis shares her experiences with the audience. Characters include the insecurity guards, a vicious scapegoat, and a woman who is sent from the council to have all nature of barbaric acts performed on her, instead of others, to ensure that the number of victims falls, to one. There is a Lost Lost Property in which people queue to find their belongings (a lost hour, lost sense of humour, lost inhibitions etc). Whilst extremely funny in the most part, the play’s dark side is evident throughout, with the leader being ‘black dog’ and the characters representing some part of the experience of psychosis. I was deeply moved by this and it led me to think about the work I am currently producing and considering: the nature of mindfulness: how the mind works and how we connect to or distance ourselves from society and implicit in that what is regarded as ‘normal behaviour’.

As Artists we appear to have more permission than most to explore and express our feelings. Our creative outlets are only limited to the imagination and materials available. Dissocia is in dramatic terms what the Prinzhorn Collection is in Art. The fascination of wanting to ‘look inside’ the mind, experiences and imagination of those with different thinking patterns is a very human trait. We want to understand our own thought processes and feelings and we therefore need charts and spectrums and ways of measuring ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’. One gentleman I spoke with whilst working at Crisis was telling me that his homelessness was associated with being in and out of psychiatric hospitals and that he was more often an inpatient. He told me that he could not hold down a job because his brain ‘didn’t work properly’ and that he was scared of the streets. He represented so many others in the same predicament, let down by a system which would see people with mental health issues return to homelessness and desperation, further diminishing their resources and coping strategies.

I am at work in my studio, exploring where I fit into this. These pinches of clay are just tiny scraps. I was only interested in working on an area barely noticeable from most angles. The title ‘Little Pieces of Me’ is significant because these items are extremely fragile, they have no eyes and they exist ‘on the edge’. They also contain thumb and finger prints and are therefore ‘me’. I thought whilst I was working on them that each had some kind of identity, like different parts of a personality, different emotions. I was particularly moved when I lay one on top of another and they seemed to fit perfectly together. These two pieces of me (although clearly with identities of their own) were now in a relationship. This pleased me. Connections. Touch.


Another piece I have been working on comes from an 8 week Mindfulness course which I attended. Weekly sessions raised a lot of different issues to do with thought processes and awareness. Consideration of how we have changed the way the brain needs to work and the we condition ourselves to live in the stress and anxiety areas of the brain, raising adrenalin levels and never quite coming down from this heightened agitation, moved me greatly and has driven much of the work I have been producing recently. The piece below (work in progress) is called ‘I Am The Mountain’ from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s meditation.

None of this matters to the mountain, which remains at all times its essential self. Clouds may come and clouds may go, tourists may like it or not. The mountain’s magnificence and beauty are not changed one bit by whether people see it or not, seen or unseen, in sun or clouds, broiling or frigid, day or night. It just sits, being itself. At times visited by violent storms, buffeted by snow and rain and winds of unthinkable magnitude. Through it all, the mountain sits.

extract of script adapted from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mountain Meditation


The notion that thoughts pass like clouds, literally through the mind – and out again – is symbolic of letting go: of self compassion and recognition. The thoughts are experienced but they will pass.

By becoming the mountain in our meditation practice, we can link up with its strength and stability and adopt them for our own. We can use its energies to support our energy to encounter each moment with mindfulness and equanimity and clarity. It may help us to see that our thoughts and feelings, our preoccupations, our emotional storms and crises, even the things that happen to us are very much like the weather on the mountain. We tend to take it all personally, but its strongest characteristic is impersonal. The weather of our own lives is not to be ignored or denied, it is to be encountered, honored, felt, known for what it is, and held in awareness… And in holding it in this way, we come to know a deeper silence and stillness and wisdom. Mountains have this to teach us and much more if we can let it in…

extract of script adapted from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mountain Meditation

In summary, I have been thinking deeply about trying to let thoughts BE, and to express openly, without apology or over-analysis. This line is fascinating in terms of the people I have been working with recently, the play I have just seen and the work I am producing. ‘The weather of our own lives is not to be ignored or denied, it is to be encountered, felt, known for what it is, and held in awareness’.