Category Archives: Sept ’14

Putting Myself in Context

MA1 Visual Enquiry

Questionnaire reflecting on theory and practice

Generating and selecting ideas

  • How do you go about selecting and developing your initial images/ideas?

My ideas and images come from a range of themes. The first is the subject of mother and child which is something I have always been drawn to. The imagery linked to ‘mother earth’ or some kind of creator resonates powerfully with me and can be seen in a multitude of ways both through my sculptural work which is directly linked to the theme, and in my print-based work and landscapes where it is implied. Names of goddesses are often prominent in my work – with the suggestion of their power/majestic qualities being integral to the ‘beauty’ of the work.
IMG_7010385254264  IMG_7107915316227  66833_10151855626369454_1730966575_nGaia                                             Luna and the Sea                                The Lady

My imagery comes from sketches from exhibitions, from life drawings and from my imagination. I like to layer paintings and they often go through three of four incarnations, as I rotate them and find new and interesting lines. It is by no means a coincidence that Luna and the Sea (above) features the shape of the female form as the landscape. I enjoy this play with imagery.

  • What criteria do you use to select or reject them?

If I feel that I am too closely appropriating the work of another artist I am uncomfortable with this. As a sketch and for reference that feels fine but I think I am very much part of a system which encourages developing unique outcomes without too much appropriation and this has naturally fed into my work. I reject ideas if they feel controversial or inappropriate for the students I teach (including 11 year olds) to be viewing. This does not include nudity which I feel is entirely acceptable. I select ideas which I am excited by, ideas which I dream about or keep coming back to. I select imagery which is ‘approved of’ if I post sketches onto Facebook or if people come to my house and see examples of ideas and ‘like’ them. I gain momentum with an idea if other people think it sounds good. However, often I only show work once it is complete and this is therefore only a retrospective element of consideration. It affects how I move forward. For example, in my recent (and current) exhibition, some of my landscapes included a strong coral red, which seemed popular with the viewing public.
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I select imagery which I think appeals to the viewer, as it has been something which I have done for my own pleasure for the last 20 years. If the imagery is pleasing to me, I assume it will be to others. Do I decide what works best based on what sells in exhibitions? Probably. Is this challenging and pushing me into new areas of discovery………..?

  • Are your ideas usually substantial enough to sustain a piece of work? If not how do you modify them?

Yes. I usually work on numerous pieces at the same time so that depending on my mood I can be working in digital imagery on Photoshop, or I can be painting a vast semi-abstract landscape, or carving a piece of stone. I rotate around these. I notice that I am often led by what I am working on at school. Thus if I am demonstrating pot-making in ceramics with my students, I may well be demonstrating the process and therefore inevitably develop the pot both as illustration and as extension of my portfolio. It is unusual for me to exhibit this work which begs the question of why something I have made in front of students rarely ‘makes the cut’ into exhibitions. Perhaps it feels like ‘cheating’ or even more worryingly I may project a sense of it being ‘inadequate’ in terms of motivation. Largely it is often because it has been produced under a timescale which means it is less refined than other works. I have perhaps had to cut corners.

  • What do you do when you get stuck?

I don’t get stuck. I just move on and come back to work if I am not inspired by it. Exhaustion sometimes makes me less likely to work on a piece but that is less to do with lacking ideas as it is to do with not feeling physically confident that I will improve the work. This was the case in a recent commission I painted. The energy required for developing this to a high enough standard and capturing something of the model’s personality, was not easy to dip in and out of. It required longer sessions and absolute concentration. As you can see from my very heavily stacked studio space, the portrait was quite a move away from the expressive landscapes in progress. This presented quite a different challenge, but not something unfamiliar. Again, I move between different works when I feel any apprehension about one particular piece. I am also very pleased to get feedback but this is often encouraging and positive. I can trust my parents to tell me if something is ‘not right’. There are also time restrictions on a commission which affect the pressure to complete vs pleasure in progressing.


  • Are there ideas you would like to explore but don’t know how to start?

Often this is the case. Sometimes because I am limited with funding (for example to cast in bronze) and therefore ‘cut corners’ in my ideas. Other ideas I feel require too much space, which, as you can see from my ‘studio’ is limited. I suppose there are other ideas which I want to explore but am anxious about their reception. This is when I wear my ‘teacher’ hat which can be limiting in terms of my artistic expression.

Contextual research 

  • What are your influences?

I take students to exhibitions throughout the year and constantly use these as a source of personal inspiration. I keep my sketch book going all the time, demonstrating that this is the natural desire of the artist, rather than just a requirement of the course. So, I draw from life, sketching on journeys, I sketch in galleries and museums, I record words and reflect on how they might influence me. For example, in a gallery recently it was the material description of a piece of work which I found inspiring, more so perhaps than the work itself.

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Recent sketches on the theme of the figure

I am influenced by:

My students, my father who is also a painter, my son, being a mother, being a woman, being human, the life model, an endless number of artists I experience daily whilst helping to support my students in their research, exhibitions; locally and nationally, the media, the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, the ‘bubble’ which I live in of excessive wealth (on a global scale) and how this impacts on my views, politics, and the landscape; urban and rural places…and the team of artists I work with; Sabrina Shah, Charley Openshaw, Oliver Barratt, and painter Michael O’Reilly whose workspace is in my classroom:

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My son at the RA Summer Exhibition looking at a beehive painting by Michael O’Reilly.

  • How does your work draw on these?

I am compelled to create work and my inspiration comes from all manner of places. If I have recently seen a print exhibition which I have found inspiring I will potentially be drawn to complete an etching or mono-print. If I am talking with my students about body image I may find myself doodling imaged of semi-abstract figures later that day. I would say that I run on ‘automatic’ much of the time and bounce between different ideas whenever I feel inspired. I discussed recently with our Artist in Residence, who did his Post Grad study at the Royal College of Art, that his studio space which is within my classroom must inevitably penetrate my conscious and subconscious when I am thinking about my own art. The vibrancy of his work definitely speaks to me.

Recently my father offered me some paintings he has started but decided he was not inspired to finish and asked whether I would like to work on them. I accepted this as a new challenge. It was incredibly interesting reflecting on what I was replacing and whether I was making my decisions in order to create the most exciting piece of work, or whether I was being nostalgic or finding it challenging to lose elements which he has created. I noticed elements which were very much ‘him’. I describe the paintings as ‘collaborations’ but all the final decisions were mine. This gave me a power which I wasn’t always entirely happy with. But the experience from an emotional and conceptual point of view was fascinating. I was also conscious of this in the titles.

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The Place I Return To              Somewhere Between Here and There

  • How do you choose the resources to research and to support your work, where do you find them?

They are all around me at work, in life and in my cultural experiences (alone and with students)

  • How do you position your practice in a contemporary context?

This is probably the bit I find hardest to do. I am an artist. I am a painter, printmaker, photographer and sculptor. I have had work exhibited in public and private, in a hospital, the schools I have worked in, private collections and on the internet. I sell work when I exhibit. I am a contemporary artist but beyond this I am not sure. This would be a nice thing to discover about my practice. And about the ‘voice’ my work has.

  • What difficulties do you having in accessing resources?

None other than in using materials and processes which I cannot at school. This is limited to a foundry and processes which involve casting in certain materials. I can access but not fund such activities.


  • What is your framework for making judgments about the work of others?

It is the same as I would expect back – constructive criticism is always preferable to any other kind of communication. I find the most helpful ‘judgment’ is in questioning and discussing work rather than critiquing as such. For example, when my colleague unveiled his sculpture this week, he was interviewed by the Times Art Critic. She asked him lots of interesting questions about whether the work was doing x or y, rather than in assessing it. His answers allowed the audience to think about the work more deeply. Equally I benefit from people asking me about whether the piece I am working on is trying to convey x or y, and whether I am conscious of the connection to a particular artist. Often I have not even heard of the artist so the reference is something I have to look into afterwards. But it is interesting to consider whether things have happened sub-consciously. Being questioned allows for this to be explored more fully. It is not different to getting my IB students to discuss each other’s work.


Oliver Barratt and colleagues

  • How can you tell if images or objects, yours and others are successful or not?

There is a certain amount of autonomy as the artist to decide what is successful. It depends on intention and whether it satisfies as an end product. However, there must be some level of success attributed to the positive views of others. This does not mean them ‘liking’ the work as it may not be the desired outcome. But the success of a work must be that the intention of the artist is conveyed. That it is received with the desired level of unease, disgust, appreciation. Of course we are all seeking attention for our work and we do not live in a ‘bubble’. Critics, consumers, friends and family will ultimately look at the work we have produced and have opinions. Generally I want people to like my work. I am not intending any level of upset.

  • How do you compare your work in relation to the work of others?

I tell my students not to. I therefore try to practice what I preach. Other than in terms of technical production and refinement which can be most beneficial. Work can be compared in terms of the story it tells, or the development of a theme (e.g Mother and Child in Henry Moore’s work and how that has clearly influenced my sculptural work)

  • What is successful and not successful about your current work?

It is successful in terms of being able to sell it. It is appreciated. I am pleased with it which was evident when I found myself saying “I’d be happy not to sell this painting” in reference to a few currently on exhibition. Clearly the fact that I would like to keep them says a great deal. This isn’t necessarily the way to make money as an Artist, or to reach a wider audience. My work falls into certain categories. This can be simultaneously a positive and negative. There is often ‘something for everyone’ when I exhibit, but equally I am not necessarily showing a cohesive ‘series’ or selection of works. I show a large number of individual units rather than a collection. I would like to find a way to work around this.

Materials and techniques etc.

  • How do you decide whether a material or technique is appropriate or not?
  • What limits your choice of materials and or techniques?
  • Are there any materials or techniques you would like to explore?

My only real limitations are space and cost. Sculpturally I enjoy working in casting and mould-making and have taken some courses doing this. However, the process requires a lot of space and specific (and expensive) materials. I have been working in cement with students as an alternative, reinforcing their moulds with liquid plaster prior to filling them with cement. This seems to work well and may be a material I pursue in my own sculptural work. There is something earthy and unpretentious about it.

Communication and intention

  • What messages do you intend your work to convey? How do you do that?
  • What is the intention of your work? How is that manifest in the work?
  • Who is the audience for your work?
  • Who will critique your work?
  • What might their criticism be?

All of this section of questions challenges me. My criticism of my OWN work at this stage would be that it is direction-less. I make whatever I am inspired to make at that moment. I paint what I feel. I enjoy it. I don’t want to stop enjoying it. But I do want to find the direction I need to go in and in some cases this might mean putting some of my ideas on a backburner in order to focus and be absorbed by one idea. That will be the critical factor for me.

Critical thinking

  • What have been the most and least valuable resources so far?
  • What changes has your research made to your work?
  • Have there been any been any negative effects of your contextual research?
  • What specific influences and ideas have made the most positive impact on your work?

Communication has been the most valuable resource for my work thus far. This is why the MA excites me so much.



Mindful Participation

The world I inhabit, due to the nature of my job involves continuous exploration of processes, artists, cultures and creativity. We explore why, how, if…..the subtleties and nuances of work. In discussing ideas; original, appropriated and transcribed, we create a tapestry of experiences and discoveries both practical and theoretical.

Sometimes I am so deeply locked into discussion about the depth of a piece of work, that the words we are using become triggers for imagined future pieces; like describing ingredients in a recipe. I hope that this is what helps my students to develop their own work which is researched, inspired, and creatively an extension of themselves, rather than a carbon copy of the work of anyone else. This is necessary not only to achieve good marks in examinations, but also to develop a ‘voice’ artistically and to have confidence in decision making as their creative career progresses.

Inevitably I sketch with a mostly young and appreciative audience. I am often asked by my students if I have a website (Yes!), if I am a ‘real artist’ (YES!), whether I exhibit (Yes!) and what my most expensive piece of work sold for (Pardon?). My students love knowing as much detail as I will share. They were surprised when, in 2008, I agreed to paint live during a club night at the Notting Hill Arts Club. My audience that night had been dancing and drinking and were my peers; people of my own age dancing to house music and cheerfully slurring “What is it? A Man?  It looks like a monkey to me!” The experience of working live was something I will never forget. Yes, there was a type of pressure I had not yet experienced as an artist, but this was a productive and dynamic feeling. It was a thrill!


So, this is it. My birdcage. I am a teacher. Therefore colleagues, students, ex-students, and their parents take an interest in what I am doing. I am conscious of self-censorship when I have an idea which could be considered controversial or inappropriate. Although I can discuss performance art, I cannot be that artist; I cannot stand naked outside a gallery ‘giving birth’ to balls of paint (Milo Moire) or ‘casting off my womb’ (Casey Jenkins). I cannot produce political propaganda or spray paint profanities onto a sculpted phallus. Not that these are things I necessarily want to do, but I am aware that there is a limit to what my audience can tolerate – and they will be understandably critical given that I have the privileged position of working with children. My Art is an extension of who I am. But it is by no means a mistake that a self-portrait I created in 2008-9 had the title ‘He Watches Me’. With the possible link to spirits or to my son, this, for me, clearly indicated the sense that I am ‘watched’. I am the bird. My cage is also my ‘preaching perch’, palace and security blanket. I am comfortable there.


He Watches Me

And now this opportunity, twenty years after I was awarded my BA in Art, to recalculate, take stock, and refurnish. A spring clean to demonstrate that my direction is unmistakably clear, well resourced, informed and relevant.

I hope that my song is relevant.