My journey

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In 2015 I created a Masters blog entitled ‘Art in a Birdcage’ referencing a sense of being overly conscious of how I work and what I do; how it may be perceived, perhaps judged. I started painting faces and thinking about masks and of using flesh as canvas. I wanted to hide what existed, to use paint to reveal and conceal. I wanted to make an impression and to explore the territory of moving into my model’s personal space; and in doing so, my own. In 2016 I moved on to working with collaborations and having ‘visual conversations’ with others. Finding their unexpected and foreign marks in my work and learning to explore my own contribution to the works as they evolved was fascinating for me. These drawings and paintings allowed me to free myself from many previous held perceptions of judgement; because they were an involvement, a happening, an event. The collaboration was again about the space between myself and the participant; how we engaged, whether there was dialogue, how often we rotated the work, finding meaning, pattern and abstraction in the result. The more the work had ‘flow’ and a sense of oneness I would question whether this was intuitive or contrived.

In this, the final year I am the collaborator and the work is the artist, or the other way around. Either way we are building each other. My practice is grounded in the knowledge that I can let go, I can free myself from perception of judgement and engage with the very important business of focusing only on my relationship with the work. Is it what I want it to be, is it what it wants to be, against my will. At what stage do I refuse to let this happen and for what reason? The experimentation with materials means that I cannot be absolutely in control of the outcome; allowing me to be adventurous and to work on the edges of what I know. By combining styles and breaking rules I am in constant conversation with the work and it is becoming something I respond to (and with) intuitively each time we ‘meet’. It is not planned, for how can a conversation be planned; this is not a script? As I open the kiln door this piece with which I was in love, is now a hateful colour, dusted with the rubble of a work that exploded alongside it: and in that glorious ugliness I am torn; those sickly greens remind me of death and I want to hold the work to my chest, protect it. Perhaps I must reassess my feelings. This relationship is the fuel for my current work.  It is as honest and as spontaneous as I can be.

The works are mine. And I am theirs. Whatever anyone else thinks, is their own business.

Experiment, g’wan, TRY!

The piece above contains two elements created two years apart. As I was digging around in the kiln room these two pieces just seemed to want to connect. I placed them together and decided that they would indeed collaborate in existence. The loud face screaming into the small profile of a face along the edge of the pancake-like blanket of buff clay, moved me; it spoke to me about politics and about desire to shut down; to close our ears to the madness and the shouting and the lies. The piece has the title ‘Shut Yer Face’.

I have just been informed that one of my ceramic works is going to be highlighted on the 2017 Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize page in August. I am delighted to know that I will be getting this audience for my work, and have plans to expand further throughout spring and summer.

Building work directly into the kiln is something which I will be able to experiment with over the next month with the kiln almost exclusively at my disposal. The movement of work within the kiln once it reaches temperature is incredibly exciting. It is always full of risk.

Developing work with oxides has also been something I had wanted to explore. The surfaces are still experimental and the nails pushed into the clay add another layer of uncertainty in terms of what one expects to see when the work is returned. I also mixed (why use the instructions when you can wing it?) some powdered opaque glaze and drizzled it over some of the surface of the sculpture. Again, I did not know what effect this would have in combination with the oxides. The resulting work is largely brown and black and it has the presence of some kind of iron bird taking flight.

I have recently commissioned a carpenter to make some bespoke plinths for my ceramic work – hopefully this will make thoughtful supports for sculptures whilst also leaning towards their sense of being up-cycled, reused; and having the illusion of looking, themselves, vulnerable.

The following are notes I made for the written part of the MA course. They bring together some of the ideas I have been exploring over the last year; including artists who I am inspired by. There is order and disorder in the notes, reflecting the very nature of my materials and spontaneous style.

Weaving meaning.

Tomorrow I will be working inside the kiln. I won’t physically be inside the kiln but my sculpture will and I will be precariously balancing further work onto it. That is as far as I have planned. A cushion to kneel on and I’ll be set!

One element supports the next. Gravity, heat, the melting point of the glaze; all of these factors contribute to pulling the work together or, potentially, pulling it apart.

I am enjoying the freedom that comes from the absence of a plan. This freedom is slightly impinged upon by this bothersome upcoming exhibition, but the work will produce itself. If there is no end point I can basically continue to work until the van needs filling; even if this is filling the van with two sacks of rubble after a spectacular explosion! 

I am currently smashing up all sorts of ceramics. This includes pieces I am drawn to in charity shops and pieces I can let go of. I am constantly searching for the next way to damage old work to add breath to it; a ceramic CPR. Filling the work with fresh intensity can also be an ugly event which is another element I am embracing.

It is important to me not to keep anything for the sake of materialism, or because it appeals to me purely aesthetically. I need to feel something real and gutteral. I want to be submerged into a new, intense, complicated world. I want to be weaving meaning instinctively and approaching the design spontaneously. 

The piece above is actually constructed from three works including the piece below. 

Letting go of work is therapeutic in itself. I really need this in my life right now.

Our Dreams….

Today I was looking at a few of the remains from my collaborative project ‘Our Dreams Are Not So Different’. I am still receiving photographs from participants in this unit and plan to spend some of the summer mapping the location of all works. These fragments (below) have slept on my desk throughout the last few months and I wanted to make some work which is connected to my current theme but also nodding to the collaboration.

I decided to make stacks out of old work and fragments of current work. I put a box of pieces out on the table and had the most enjoyable time finding, re-glazing and stacking these together. They are hopelessly unstable but the glaze should secure them together during the firing process. I feel they are logical – almost a Princess and the Pea reference with these little sleeping faces balanced precariously at the top of a formidable stack of oddly arranged ‘blankets’. Or the broken remnants of buildings?

I will be offering these as unique works to be auctioned for charity to provide funds to charities supporting the homeless. I recognise that these works resonate fairly clearly with this. I thought about whether they should have titles but decided simply on ‘Bed’. Each will look completely different after the firing process, as ever and they will then become part of this current body of work. I am a huge fan of the stacks, irrespective of whether they have faces at the top or not: they are extremely aesthetically pleasing, given that I know my colour combinations and yet cannot predict what the ranges of different clay and blends of glaze will become at 1200 degrees. Elements of a Made in China bowl set have been installed within the work and I have no idea whether this will survive. If one part fails, the whole tower tumbles. Exciting stuff.

I have recently discovered the artist Bouke de Vries:

Bouke de Vries is a Dutch-born ceramic artist currently living and working in London. He has lived a life that is much like his artwork — a mash-up of old world skills that he uses to remix, reorder, and deliver overt contemporary satire and social commentary. The  reverse of Ai Weiwei, who dramatically dropped the Han dynasty urn to make a point about the loss of history, de Vries puts the broken back together to re-contextualize the past.

http://ferrincontemporary.com/portfolio-items/bouke-de-vries/

 

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Bouke de Vries. Goddess of the Fragments 2. 2015

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Bouke de Vries. Fragmented Vase 1. 2015

I had already used some pieces from a set I had bought in a charity shop with Chinese pattern work on the surface – some of those pieces can just about be found amidst the fragments of my own broken ceramics. My work is neither trying to achieve anything similar to Ai Wei Wei or de Vries, however the powerful nature of something either being destroyed or being regenerated is transfixing. It reminds us of our attachment to objects and the strength of emotion we can feel when we see a pattern familiar to us (perhaps even from childhood). The damage can feel actually visceral to some. I have seen people react similarly to a book being doodled onto, or a CD not being returned to a case. Damage is something which makes some feel deeply concerned and uncomfortable – that this is downfall, crisis, out of control. And, moreover, that items that exist should be in some way cherished and revered. The worth of any item remains a negotiation between historical and cultural market monetary value and that of the sentiment: that raw, gut twisting sense of broken promise, broken dreams, the fragility and temporality of existence itself.

I already have plans for some ambitious works which will happen as and when I get studio time and space. I also have boxes of broken and fragmented pieces from old works as well as some that I continue to demolish and return to the box for reincarnation.

 

 

Who says?

New shores are drawing me towards them! I have become fascinated in the unexpected; of working on the edge of knowledge. I’m breaking the rules. WHO’S RULES EVEN ARE THEY?! Self imposed. What kind of crazy is that? I have been imposing rules on myself for the whole of my life. The last two years have forced me to meet this reality face to face and to challenge it. Today I was painting onto ceramics. I did this in Year 1 but because I wanted the ceramics to look more like flesh. I was going for expressive realism. Now I’m going for authentic impulse. Mindful work. There is such an enormous difference. 

STOP PLANNING, GET MAKING! 

The making is in every sense awesome. It is instinctive, playful, destructive and intentionally seeking the unknown. I best describe the work as having a personality: it fights with me, explodes, breaks, comes out of the kiln a colour I do not recognise. I am the maker but my product is a constant surprise: I don’t even know what direction my hand is going to go in as I add paint or glaze to the work. There is no planning stage. I am learning not to overthink it. The work is the experience and the outcome. I am recording both. Looking at other artists who work on the edge, with processes they cannot be fully in control of. 

This is the freedom and fun that was needed. This is deeply pleasing and so much more accurately a self-portrait than anything recognisably ‘me’. Simultaneously the works are totally disconnected from me. They survive and tell their own narrative. I’m completely in a love-hate relationship with them. It is war: finding reincarnation possible via the destruction of work. New ideas flow as I meet the shattered remains of something that once existed. And then my eyes turn to the work with love in them: it is my baby, my song. “Is it possible to be ‘lovingly violent’?” I was recently asked. The answer is……

Beach combing and stone stacks….

Norfolk beaches are stunning. They have my heart. But, if I’m honest, they are pretty brutal in this weather!

So we walked to find stones and various pieces that had washed up on the beach which included fishing wire and seaweed. I also stopped to stack some stones. I think this is surely a ritual for every child on the beach? However stacking stones reminds me so much of Goldsworthy’s work. Even when I am only managing five stones.

I have a bag of stones to experiment with indoors, and some willing volunteers to collaborate with. 

Blog Pt 2 to follow…..

Funny how different people react to stones; what their instinct tells them to do, what motivates them to reorder, to reclassify or change a collection. 

“I just take it out on the clay!”

Free me from this benevolent dictatorship. Ceramic. 40cm approx width

“It just makes me so cross!” she said, sipping her red wine as though it might soothe her sensibilities. “How could they, I mean, how could WE?” And it doesn’t take long to work out what anyone is talking about at the moment. Trump and Brexit (the name still makes me cringe, like it’s a child’s toy or a fun cereal!) dominate the news, and my social media newsfeeds, AND so many conversations; fuelled with high emotion. Everyone laughs when I tell them that I am developing my coping strategies by smashing up china. But, that is exactly what I have been doing. Plate sets are easy to smash. Old sculptures harder. They have thicker edges and sometimes absolutely refuse to yield. Even under a hammer. Titanium sculptures!! My experiments continue.

Pieces from one work are smashed and used in another. Work is glazed multiple times with colours developing their own dynamics. I cannot wait to open the kiln; to see what has changed. 

Work whilst still in the kiln.

Nothing comes out again looking remotely as it did when it went in. Pieces are secured together by the glaze, belonging and finding their place securely within a montaged new work. Conversations around me are inspiring and moving. Titles snatched from eavesdropping. There is nothing pure. It is reincarnated, upcycled, damaged and broken. It is a ghost of what it once was. And therefore it is richer, more fascinating, and bizarrely more alive. There is narative and history. There is layering, an abundance of different clays, textures, colours. It is fast becoming the most pleasurable activity. And these are my children:

Both (above) works in progress. Ceramic and mixed media.

“[James Johnson Sweeney’s] symbolic reading of Burri stresses this corporeal aspect strongly: “Burri transforms rags into a metaphor for bleeding human flesh; breathes fresh life into the inanimate materials which he employs, making them live and bleed; then heals the wounds with the same evocative ability and the same sensibility with which he first inflicted them.” Sweeney, Burri, 5-6

I couldn’t be more honest when I tell people that I’m just ‘taking it out on the clay’. The clay is my absolute refuge at the moment. I am escaping to it, talking to it, cuddling it, stroking it, smashing it, piecing it into something new and all the time there is promise. Promise of something good coming out of it. Of the pain being cathartic – necessary in order to symbolise the awakening of those who are sleeping through this life in a bubble; removed from external realities and won over by lies and false platitudes. I am lost. Bewildered. Where is common humanity? Where are the peacemakers? They are in there and all around us but I NEED to see them, more and more, setting their goals for unity, for collaboration, for collective acts of random and organised kindness. In the meantime I will continue to make my own ‘beauty’ from extreme destruction. I accidentally cut myself three times making the last piece pictured above. There was nothing cathartic in that: it just hurt. But today I wandered whether it was the sculpture biting me back!