Crushed by the news of George Michael’s death, I did what I always do and turned to my studio. Whilst listening to his greatest hits and allowing the feelings to be felt, I moved the paint around. Where I see sadness, rage even, and bruising, others will see colour, flowers, sunshine. This, perhaps more a response to the diverse range of his musical talent. Everything from Tropicana drinks, father figures, you’ve got to have faith faith faith, to: I can’t make you love me, and don’t let the sun go down on me. An emotional roller coaster.
These remain works in progress. RIP George.
Using the leftovers. Finding clay that is not in perfect condition. Or working it so that it loses strength and falls in on itself. Working around unpredictable armatures: fruit in a bag, old dead branches, pushing the bottom of a worn clay vessel into a mould, using stamps so that they can rip the clay in unexpected places.
I cannot describe the fun of working in this way. Everything is torn and delicate. And once slightly harder I will be working into it again. These are all experiments. I have sketches and am building a plan. Tremendously satisfying stuff.
I held this as a slab of clay, wrapped up into the shape of a baby. I rocked it, patted a non-existent imaginary sleeping child and walked around clutching it to me. As it tore apart. Breaking under its own weight: wet clay, it does that! I tried to hold it together. I tried to fix it, to make it all alright. But it continued to sink, to fall, to tear itself into anonymous pieces, falling away from the core. I kept each……piling them up, wondering how I could put them back together, how I could salvage it. I put legs on it: ironic really, to imply that it was ‘still standing’ in some way – that it could support itself: this inverted toddler distorted like a long dead corpse. And then, in drying, it became irreparable. It came apart completely, leaving only the legs and a few parts, indistinguishable from each other. It ceased to exist. In the fragile nature of it, which I had been wanting to explore, it became nothing. It literally broke down. The process, the clutching, the trying to hold it all together: that was all that was left.
And that I couldn’t control this….. there was something magical and liberating in that.
Bare. Ceramic. Approx 70cm diameter.
I have been working on a series of ceramic pieces combining themes from different strands in my practice. This collaboration used about 50 people making impressions into a slab of clay. I then continued to develop the impressions, ensuring that there were plenty of my own marks, including holes and tears. I then shaped the clay slab over a mould and worked on a smaller piece that had ripped itself away from the main body. There is something grotesque and hypnotic about the work. The glaze refers directly to a fleshyness, to skin; it suggests life at the same time as certain death in the format it now exists in.
There is something about the title which has changed my mindset recently. My practice has increasingly become more about human anxieties and fragility – my own ‘wounds’. This piece is marked by numerous people who have ‘left their mark’ in the same way we alter people as we touch their lives. I will always be moved by the violent death of a former boyfriend, and feel that my study of psychotherapy, mindfulness and mental health has also been an avenue for me to acknowledge and articulate this emotional bruising. I am left with thoughts on the power of creativity to overcome, or at least assist in processing tragedy. I feel very much ready to explore this area now and I know that my collaborative work with those in vulnerable positions, such as the homeless and those in the hospice I volunteer as an artist in, will feed and shape my practice. It is an unveiling, I am sure. I am looking forward to being much clearer on the places some of these works originate.
“A person is, among all else, a material thing, easily torn and not easily mended.”
McEwan’s description in Atonement forces us to see the physical substance and fragility of the flesh, as well as of our emotions: that we are ultimately delicate and immeasurably vulnerable, perhaps most obviously towards the end of our lives. As I paint with these new friends, I notice the worn, wrinkled hands, air pumped through a tube into her nose, words that stop on his lips catching briefly against his breath. And I am her eyes: eyes that once saw the sunrise and all that is beautiful and ugly in the world. As I describe the brightness of the orange and the warmth she is creating; the cancer which is diminishing her senses is made less powerful. In that moment the collaboration of my eyes and her hands pulls us together – a harmony of sorts – a moment captured – a small fabric plaster over the inevitability of her decreasing days. We paint as though we are embedded in and emerging renewed through the paint; it is oxygen, it is comfort and, as the paint dances, we are woven into this moment of being.
I left some clay rolled out in my class room yesterday whilst I went to a meeting. This was used clay which had been returned to a bag in balls. It had little bits in picked up from the tables. It had finger prints in it and will inevitably change during the firing process. It is likely to crack in unexpected places. There was a note attached welcoming anyone to get involved making impressions into it.
When I came back the piece was covered in anonymous impressions. I asked my next class to continue this so that the impressions were weaving across each other. I then folded the clay – which looked like fabric – into the shape of a baby (my baby!) and carried it around for a few minutes; connecting with it as my work again. The weight of the clay was causing it to tear in different places and when I gently rolled it out again it was broken into distinct sections. Damaged and worn in places, I then crafted a few vessels. Adding legs to the largest of the vessels seemed to make sense to me. I loved the bottom of the pot ‘still standing’ and of making the vessel anthropomorphic. I wanted the clay to represent something of getting older, of being fragile, of our human vulnerability.
Even the quirky cartoon-like legs seem to suit the vessel, although I was conflicted about whether to use my own lower leg and feet as a ceramic mould. This would require a larger base on the vessel but is certainly something to consider in the future. I might try this next week.
Is it relevant that I have had a throat infection for this last week and have had to soldier on regardless? That I, the artist, feel weary? Or more that I was thinking about places and where we’re born into; and our human identity being woven with our national identity and everything that encompasses. That we are marked constantly by things said and unsaid and by the values our democratically elected political system appears to support. That I am marked by all my encounters and that I am only notionally part of anything. And that displacement makes these marks less – and more – distinct. A lot is being talked about in the media in relation to the refugee crisis. Recently I was watching a film about the extent of the problem and thinking about how each individual must feel torn, lost, sculpted by an identity they then feel forced to superimpose another on top of. I like the wear and tear of the materials I am using. The vessel is also symbolic of the people I work with at the Hospice: still standing metaphorically. I’m also loving the anonymity of the marks made and wonder whether this is effective because I was not hovering over them, making suggestions, yet they effectively became an intrinsic part of the process; and symbolic in the same way that each encounter we have becomes part of our textured blanket of experience….