Category Archives: Professional Development

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Imperfectionism

I feel like starting a movement. Something to do with the joys of imperfection. After all, the works I am currently producing rely on this. They could not be a conversation if they also needed to be ‘perfect’. In an interview Gormley stated:

There was a time just after I moved into the new studio when it was just full of clay and i was trying to find a way of making that wasn’t imposing an image on the material but allowing a one-to-one relationship between my body and the body of the clay. The forms arose naturally from the space between my hands; clay was another way of dealing with the flesh.

Biggs, McGonagle and Bann. Antony Gormley. London. Tate Publishing 1993

This ‘space’ is what interests me the most. The space where the work emerges. 

I have been making a lot of work over the last two weeks. It has been an exciting time that I will need to finish fairly soon so that the work has some breathing space before I select the pieces I will be exhibiting in Sheffield.

My new website should go live this week and is something I am extremely proud of. It is sleek and simple with professionally shot photographs of my current work. It is my shop front, not my storage container! Here is a little peek:

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Life story.

When I was 15 my then Art teacher said to me: “Emma, you never know when to stop! You overwork everything!”. At 18, as a new student of Art I was told by a lecturer “if you want to make it in the Art world, you have to find the hole in the market and fill it!”. A little part of me died. At 19 a college professor pulled me into his office and, in his too-tight trousers, swore that he would find out where I was plaigarising from. Nearly everyone left his office in tears. At 21 I was training to be an art teacher in East London and a colleague of mine was being threatened by a parent. His crime was to have joked that the Bengali girls should do all the cleaning up. He wanted to get them to refuse – to reject stereotypes and to insist the boys helped. Instead, a family assumed that he was abusing his position of authority and we were told to leave the site safely. The school had police escorts ensuring that the students left the site without gang fighting with a nearby school.

And then there was the incident of the man who had my heart, being killed. We were no longer together though. As if that makes it alright?

Then what? What do I do but fall back on sentimentality, lucky charms, books and greetings cards and the smell of sweet peas and tea. I roll the pages of my sketch books through my hands. These vast collections of scribbled thoughts, desperate longing, and sadnesses that I feel guilty for owning. Because I have this beautiful family, these incredible friends, this amazing child and a job I adore. I didn’t deserve to feel bad about stuff. I hadn’t earned the right. Suffered enough.

Colour is my therapy, my muse. I squeeze it from the tube; great glistening fruits of yellow and pink. Cherries and sunsets, fireworks and celebrations. If I swamp myself in enough colour I am happy. If I surround myself with seductive nudity, I own it. It is part of me.

But it isn’t. It wasn’t. It was a charade. The colours drown out an emptiness and the flamboyant​ figures a masquerade. And I’m there teaching other people techniques and trying to fill a world with images that are empty of ‘me’ – because they are not allowed to exist fully, or to feel genuine. They can be aesthetically pleasing and have their own sadness or raunch. As long as it is not mine.

And I’m reminded of all of these artistic encounters. Of people who said things and made me feel. Of artists who move me and of why I do what I do. And I do love what I do. And I’m no longer this caged bird who hides from judgement and pretends my work is pretty and acceptable and polite. I’m free from the perception that the world needs me to be something; colourful and prolific and joyful. Because that is not real. Instead, as I reinvent my website and my portfolio, I want to acknowledge the growth this MA journey has allowed me. I am open to my own pain. I acknowledge my sadnesses and my joys. I feel the cool air making my eyes water and I let the tears roll; as comfortably as letting the laughter hurt my cheeks. My conversation is with materials – it is process led, real discovery; authenticity. It is my exploration (supported by a fairly sizeable amount of academic rigour, and experimentation). These conversations with the work are the air in my lungs. There is no right or wrong. Only the process. Only the engagement. And when it rears its ugly, unconventional, bruised head, I pull it to me, recognising a friend.

Come on over and paint!

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Bringing the gin and art together at this awesome party in Camden, this was a fortieth party with a difference. When you mix someone’s two loves, and persuade their closest friends to enjoy both with them, the result is something quite wonderful: if entirely abstract. With each participant working on their own canvas and then collaborating on a large canvas, we were all very much part of a ‘happening’. The gin was flowing, the music was blasting, the Charlie Chaplin movie was playing in the background and we were all thoroughly absorbed in being ARTISTS.

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In a sea of plastic covering every surface in the venue, we all worked in a variety of different styles, every now and them realising that we were so absorbed the entire room was silent except for the music. This was something quite unexpected. I turned around and noticed that there was a row of people all fully immersed in their painting, all looking down, silent, concentrating. Three people told me that they had not painted since they left school and that they had enjoyed it so much because it had reminded them of the simple pleasures of making something. One told me that she was going to start taking painting classes.

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I couldn’t help but think that the art was around us, amongst us and, noticeably ON us. The control freak in me was trying my hardest to live in the moment and not worry about the person who might walk oil paint over the uncovered parts of the floor. There was a slowing of breath, there was a silencing of chitter-chatter, there was a pleasure in the movement of paint against canvas, and of seeing an idea come to life.

Joy!

Hi, I’m Emma and I’m….

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AN ARTIST.

During a fantastic lecture given by Harriet Loffler, (Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at Norwich Castle and Art Gallery) we were asked to introduce ourselves briefly. I talked about my practice and my collaborations and my love of working in tandem and of making work others can take on a journey and of unfamiliar marks. But, more importantly, I DIDN’T MENTION THAT I AM AN ART TEACHER! I ALSO DIDN’T MENTION BEING A MOTHER. Not that these aren’t intrinsically part of who I am, and parts that I am extremely proud of. But in the context of who I am as an artist, these factors shape my ideas but not necessarily my identity. Whilst Harriet started her lecture I was smiling. This is REAL. You, Emma, don’t need the scaffolding of being an art teacher to describe your practice, in fact the two things are quite independent; though they may cross and overlap.

Harriet’s lecture was extremely insightful. Her experience of working with a range of artists and of curating numerous exhibitions gave us insight into the experience of creating such diverse exhibitions; including the work of Hubert Duprat, 400 years of British Art as a co-collections exhibition, and the British Art Show 8. The word choreography stands out in my notes, and the idea of ‘knowledge production’, marrying the needs of the artist and the institution; such as how people move around the space and engage with works. Harriet answered all of our questions about interaction with curators and getting work shown. She has given me plenty of food for thought.

Collaborations and Public Drawings 2

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Drawing in public is always something which raises the stakes slightly. As a teacher I am used to drawing in front of my class. I can assume that they will be receptive, and that it is easy to create an atmosphere where we all draw together. Drawing in public demands a different type of readiness: preparing for reactions from people who may feel that they need to critique the work, or critique by disapproving looks. I had a GREAT deal of fun drawing into a work below which began as a portrait of me by my 3 year old niece. The nature of this as a starting point meant that anyone who looked at my work might make assumptions about my drawing ability or ideas, whereas it is only the humour that they might gauge accurately as I found the process extremely funny. The train was very full at the time and, as ever, most people were watching their phones. I was easily able to draw a woman sitting opposite me and to my right as she did not look up from her newspaper at all. I observed one or two glances in my direction but there were no comments and everyone was very ‘busy’ most of the time studying their emails or social media. It is interesting how this has removed us from interacting with the world around us and it has made me aware of trying to be more ‘present’ in the moment. Whilst it provides a great platform for communication, virtual reality is also a barrier to the world: taking us away from the crowd we are within, avoiding eye contact, allowing for actual ‘blocking’ of others by engaging only in palm held interactions. Something which would have been unthinkable thirty or forty years ago. But this enabled me to feel untroubled by my various public displays of drawing, ‘approved of’ by collective disinterest.

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(Above) A long ‘visual conversation’ with Tyga Helme. I absolutely loved this piece as it moved back and forth between us on a number of occasions. It has now become the banner on my new artist headed paper.

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I bought some porcelain paper clay and have started to make palm-held faces from this. This is something I can build up over the summer term and fire towards the end of term. I am hoping to also make/design a clay stamp which will mark this work as my own, though it will need to be a little more like a hallmark on a piece of silver because otherwise it will be too dominant.

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(Above). This piece began as a series of drawings developed by a class of students. At least six students were involved in drawing on top of each other’s work, looking at two images by artists to inspire ideas. We also gave them additional challenges such as observing connecting lines or negative spaces and depicting only this. I subsequently drew in turquoise ink over the study and then used some black ink. I really like the way it has the appearance of an ordinance survey map or a nervous system. I have numerous other pieces with a similar background to work on top of. I also photocopied all of the original drawings onto acetate so that the students can enjoy layering them on a light box and then working onto a photograph of their own collaborative composite.

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(Above). Another piece worked on in the same way. My drawing only in dark ink over the top. Again, I am very happy with all the traces of other hands at work in this.

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This drawing was started by  my three year old niece with a black and purple felt tip and some pencil. I asked whether she would mind if I drew on top of it and she seemed hesitant about this but eventually said that this was fine. My design reflected a sense of the playfulness of being around her, of having my hair ‘styled’ and of the toys all over the floor. I realised that this piece also reminded me hugely of my father and drawing with him as a child. He used to play ‘Guess what it is?’ and we would spend hours watching him draw objects, or trying to draw them ourselves, taking it in turns and ending up with pages covered in lovely studies, doodles and ‘wrong’ drawings.

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(Above) Portrait of me – by Coco (age 3) and me (age 39). Completed in very tongue in cheek way on train journey.

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Sketching passengers on the train.

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The works above were tandem drawing with a superb artist and ex student Rory Alexander. We met and drank tea and sat in the window of a high street pub, swapping drawings frequently. This is currently still a work in progress.

I have realised that whilst collaborative drawing is a truly enjoyable experience and activity, where work is given to others to complete in their own time, this can interfere with the chronology of ‘conversations’. I am not sure that this really matters. I have also been thinking a great deal about making more of these connections and really working hard at making connections with a range of other artists to collaborate with. I was hoping to raise funds for Crisis and to contact their fundraising coordinator to allow the project to focus on how it is daily human connections that make humanitarian difference: that it is acts of kindness, one person and one connection at a time that change the world. It may be a bit of a ‘project’ for me, and one which I am going to spend some time resourcing, enabling and documenting over the summer, with a plan to exhibit these conversations and auction them.

In the meantime, the ‘conversations’ continue.

I Choose You

This morning I gave away 13 pieces of work on paper.

Eleven of these were chosen by my students and will be sent to them in the post. Two were chosen by colleagues. I am delighted. Everyone is a winner. The act of giving work away is very humbling and powerful. It is, in essence, giving a little piece of me to each of the recipients. Yesterday I also posted two works on paper to a friend who wanted to put them into a raffle to raise money for sufferers of Asthma. That makes it 15 works given away in 24 hours. I feel that the next collection of work should be given away to strangers. I’m enjoying recording the work in the recipients’ hands. This feels a simple way of expressing the nature of it being a gift.

Published

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Recently I was asked to write about why creativity matters. It seems rather an obvious argument, yet still, current government changes in the education system are far from progressive in the sense of appreciating diversity and valuing the wide range of skills and talents within any community. The need for additional scientists, mathematicians and the government quota for the number of students taking physics, seems to be more important than raising children to genuinely believe that they can do whatever they are inspired to do, be whatever they want to be, and lean towards the subjects they feel drawn to; including Drama, Dance, Expressive Arts, Fine Art etc. The new Ebacc forces a focus on core subjects which are non-negotiable. The full article is in Teach Secondary issue 4.7.

In addition to this I have been recently asked to publish more Art Lesson Plans in the same publication. It is nice to be asked, and to be considered appropriate to submit ideas that others may choose to follow, or may be inspired by. I am delighted to be described in the last article as being ‘artist who teaches at…’ rather than being described as ‘Art Teacher’. Not that I want to suggest any additional authority as an Artist who teaches, but it gives a sense of being a practitioner first and foremost, and that is something I have been working hard to establish.

I have been making small works to send in the post, some to my students, friends, colleagues, family members and other institutions. This first batch are going to go to my students and a second batch to former colleagues. In discussion with Les we decided that the act of giving work away is very powerful and takes a legitimate stance when it comes to discussions on ‘value’. Next week I will be meeting with the staff at the local Hospice at which I will be volunteering for the foreseeable future. This should open more doors and, I hope, present me with more people to give work to.  I need to make new business cards (I am going to be moving house soon so it seems ridiculous to give out the current cards) and flyers to send with these, and a card which asks the recipient to photograph the work in situ and email this to me so that I can keep a record of the works in their final destination – as chosen by the recipient. This (the record of the works in situ) feels more powerful than the work itself. It is about what people have chosen, what it is alongside, whether natural light falls on it, how it has been arranged, whether it stands out or is ‘lost’ in this environment etc. It is a chance to see how the work is experienced.

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