The love and pain of the Group Crit

Every few months, we MA students take part in a ‘group crit’. This is where we all gather and take it in turns to discuss where we are at and what to do next. This exercise can be both vital and excruciating. We all get nervous about it, we all feel relief after it, but we all feel a strong need for it.

A black cat. He or she has nothing to do with this blog post.

When you are involved in an art project and a philosophy, you develop blinkers. You become unable to see what you are doing through someone else’s eyes. You understand what you are doing. It makes sense to you. But it only makes sense because you live, eat, breathe and sleep it. It might not necessarily make sense to fresh eyes. This is why the ‘group crit’ is so useful. You present your ideas to fresh eyes and they can be harsh, very harsh.

During the ‘group crit’ you explain what you have been doing, usually to your friends and others, and a random tutor. It makes sense, of course it does, to you. But, wait, once you have stopped talking you look up and see a sea of confused and blank faces. The result: panic.

I had to go through this ‘ordeal’ yesterday. I admit that beforehand I worked myself up into a bit of a nervous frenzy. This was partly because I’d missed the last one and it felt like a very long time since the last time I’d taken part in such a crit. This was also partly due to impostor syndrome biting me again. And partly due to the apparent surety of those who presented their work before me. They did seem to know what they were doing. I don’t.

So, yes, I did see the confused and blank faces after I’d introduced my work. However, once that moment of silence passed, I received some really useful and valid feedback, and, in fact, rather a lot. I want the criticism as much as I want the praise so all was good. I had both. Everything that my critics came back with was very useful.

However, I ended my day yesterday feeling discombobulated and confused. I had expected the ‘group crit’ to give me an answer as to what I was going to produce for the final show in October. It didn’t. It gave me things to think about, but it didn’t give me an answer. The MA course leader asked me to describe my practice in one sentence. That question threw me. I was struck dumb by his question. What I came up with sounded awful to my ears. 

So I spent the 12 hours after yesterday feeling rather worked up, confused, and uncertain. Then, today, I had an idea and that idea was thanks to the feedback I had yesterday. More on that next time.

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Dirty Practice Day Five – goodbye and thanks for all the pasta

If I am honest, I struggled today, the last day of the symposium. I’m not used to travelling so much, five days a week, from home to Newport to Wolverhampton and back to Newport and home again. I usually visit the studios twice a week at most, as I am part-time. So this five-day week really took its toll on me today.

This morning I arrived late, and reluctantly, in Wolverhampton with a strong coffee, a lot of emotional baggage weighing down on my shoulders and a lot of chaos swimming in my head. I’d had a late night, and even then less than the optimum amount of sleep and a tough and disordered morning. My home-life musings and insecurities naturally impeded on my ability to focus and function on thinking and creating. I didn’t feel the love for ‘art’ as ‘play’ today. I felt tense, over-tired, emotional and in need of hiding from the world rather than engaging with it.

Three things happened that shook me out of my horrid bubble of angst. Firstly, a friend asked me a favour. It was a strange favour, but interesting nonetheless. This simple request served as a powerful reminder to me that stress is not unique. Stress is normal and stress is, boringly, universal. I was happy to oblige and very grateful for the effect it had on me. Powerful.

Secondly, at lunchtime, after I’d failed to do anything creative whatsoever, we attended a short presentation given by Lisa Metherell from Birmingham City University. Lisa came to talk to us about octopuses and love, self-care, the creative life and community. Sitting around the table, feeling extremely tired, I felt the reluctance of someone deeply distracted. However, I forced myself to concentrate. I’m pleased I did. Her talk was very relevant to the ethos of the dirty practice in particular and to art education and what it means to be an artist in general. We discussed the pressures of life, the intrusion of life and the difficulty of focus. A couple of important conclusions came out of the discussion: the benefit of talking or thinking while engaged in other activities and the importance of mutual care.

Lisa’s luscious strawberries.

I felt a sense of relief after this presentation. I needed caring for and I needed to accept that if the creativity wasn’t happening today, then it can’t be forced and I should take care of myself by going home. However, before doing that, I decided to paint one more painting without care. I painted the fez. I quite like the painting I made. It took me ten minutes, tops. As with yesterday’s drawing, it’s not a ground-breaking artwork, but I like it. It helped. The process cleared my mind a little. I packed up to leave for home feeling lighter and, a little sad that the week was over.

My last-minute painting.

Then the third thing happened. Just as I was leaving I went to say thank you and goodbye to three attendants who belong to a small team of academic coaches employed by the university, one of which is also an art student. The role of the academic coach is to facilitate students getting the most out of their experience at university. It is a relatively new role, but an important and interesting one. The academic coaches were attending the symposium as themselves, as artists (real and temporary) and as cooks. It was thanks to them that we had all been fed regularly. It was also thanks to them that we had engaged in some very random and fascinating debates about subjects not at all related to art. They stayed around all day, each day, creating a sense of community for all us with their questions and their food. As I was thanking them for bringing their particular brand of joy and kindness to the event, one of them offered me a saucepan of spaghetti bolognaise to take home for my children. Such generosity. So that, my dear readers, is what I did.

Found on the table, what is this?

I left the art building with my gifts from the Dirty Practice: a new creative bounce in my step, a greater sympathy for my vulnerability and that of others and a huge saucepan of delicious-smelling bolognaise.

If I had a hammer, I’d make it out of a drawing.

Goodbye, Dirty Practice, and thanks for all the pasta.

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Dirty Practice Day Four – stop thinking and just draw

Today’s schedule on the Dirty Practice Symposium was taken up with symposium-type stuff: talks, questions, discussion and a workshop. I didn’t have much time for painting (or any, in fact) or thinking about what I am doing. I did, however, have a lot of time to think about wider subjects.

In the morning we were treated to three presentations. These were all interesting and thought-provoking. The most inspiring in terms of art practice for me was the first one given by Henry Ward, one of the participants and a ‘real’ artist. He was very relaxed in his approach and he talked briefly about his process of working at home (sporadically, after hours and hurriedly) and what his art is all about (found objects, inspiring objects). He then went into more depth about what he’s been thinking (a lot) and doing this week (a lot). I found his practice very interesting partly because he is a painter (and I paint) and partly because he paints objects (and I paint objects). But also, because he is trying to exist somewhere between the figurative and the abstract (I have dabbled in this area of the world recently). His process is much more organic and automatic than mine though, so that is where we differ. However, I found much to be inspired by him and in fact I think he encouraged me, inadvertently perhaps, to just draw today.

The other two morning presentations were given by Clare Beattie about her ceramics / physics PhD practice and thesis and Holly Crawford about recent work concerned with the history of the ‘other’ in culture. I was very keen to see Holly’s presentation as she had had a huge impact on me three years ago when I attended the end of the Dirty Practice Symposium of that year. I still have one of the postcards she created and it is on my studio wall. I use it to remind me when I am feeling misunderstood that ‘normal persons don’t understand what we are doing’. This time, however, she carried out a more specifically targeted performance piece, about the ‘other’. I thought it was brilliant and clever. She was quite mesmerising in her adoption of a persona and her coming in and out of her self. However, her message didn’t hit me emotionally until she spoke about her childhood experience of being the ‘other’. This personal element to her talk and performance was the essence for me. It hurt. I was very moved. Perhaps because I, like so many other people, have had a similar experience in life.

I still have this.

In the afternoon, we all attended a talk and workshop given by Doris Rohr from Liverpool Hope University. Doris is a drawer. She loves things. She draws things. She has read Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter, which is my current bible. So I felt a kindred spirit in the room. As part of the workshop we had to draw something, break that something and reconstruct that something. For this activity, she had brought along a number of charity-shop and home-found objects which she was happy for us to destroy. However, it is at this point  where she and I differ in our thinking. She has no issue with the destruction of ‘ordinary’ replaceable objects. She is interested in the transformation of things and the influence of the organic on the inorganic. I am too, to a certain degree. Yet, I cannot destroy. I feel the pain of things. The complete reticence on my part about harming the objects fascinated me and gave me an odd feeling of discombobulation and anxiety. Instead, I rebelled against her instructions, and destroyed and reconstructed my drawing rather than the object (Wayne Rooney). I simply could not put myself or the object through the pain of destruction. 

My chosen object, and I could not destroy him.

In terms of my practice, for what little time I had left, I decided to stop thinking and just draw on the wall using random biros. I quite like what I have created (it has grown since the photo below was taken). It isn’t a great work of art but it is interesting and has a potential. I have no idea whether it will go anywhere, or do anything, or mean anything. But it felt organic and interesting. It seems that I just can’t seem to get away from this idea that everything at the end of it all is just one big messy blob of thingness.

Drawing on the wall – organically rather than with too much thought.

The thingness of things – the mess of things – dirty practice is having an impact. What will the last day bring?

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Dirty Practice Day Three – ‘Fear is the enemy of art.’

The Dirty Practice Symposium today, for me, was all about painting. I love painting. I could paint all day if I didn’t have to earn money and look after children. So, on one level, today was my idea of heaven. All I did, was paint.

My painting. It’s ok. It’s not revolutionary.

However, I am slightly bothered by the lack of adventurousness and lack of messiness in my painting. I am still painting the way I have always painted. I am painting on a surface I’ve been using for a couple of months. I paint in a neat and tidy style and that is my style. Is that what dirty practice is supposed to be about? I’m not sure. Should I be trying to jump feet first and arms stretched out of my comfort zone?

Over lunch we had a group discussion about art education in general, the tutor-student relationship, the experience of this symposium, the nature of ‘results’ and what it means to be an artist. During this discussion, the subject of ‘impostor syndrome’ came up. Impostor syndrome is very common in the creative industries (but also exists elsewhere). It is a psychological term, first heard in 1978, used to describe a feeling of consistent doubt about one’s abilities and achievements. It also refers to the fear of being ‘found out’ as a fraud. It stops us being adventurous. It stops us from jumping feet first out of the comfort zone. The dirty practice symposium is supposed to facilitate that jumping, being free of grading, exhibition and pressure. Yet, for me, it hasn’t done that so far. And that is my fault. We also talked about the fact that tutors and professional artists suffer just as much as students from impostor syndrome. It is a universal experience and time doesn’t lessen it. If anything, the more responsibility and kudos an artist has, the bigger the fear is.

Ironically, a couple of hours before we had this discussion a friend and fellow dirty practitioner had approached me. He’d peered at my painting-in-progress and advised me to have more confidence in myself. He had added, wisely, ‘fear is the enemy of art’. With that, he had left me to ponder. His words stayed with me all day. Fear. Fear. Fear. Fear is a huge black cloud that hangs over me, and many others. It has haunted me on the foundation degree, on the BA degree and now the MA. 

I am on this final furlong of the MA now. Can I face the fear? And even if I do, I realise after today’s discussion that the fear won’t leave me. I can’t just shrug it off. It would be naive of me to think I could. Even if I do well and get good results, the fear will always be there and I need to accept that. The ‘fear’ is the black cat to Churchill’s black dog. She needs constant fuss. There is no point fighting her. I may as well accept her and work with her.

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Dirty Practice Day Two – can you guess who owns the fez?

Early this morning I arrived for Day Two of the Dirty Practice Symposium to find a nice collection of objects donated for me to paint (more came during the day).

The objects

There are a number of interesting themes running through the objects: the colour red, round, found, utility and small. Given that the objects were chosen and placed independently of each other, this is quite intriguing. I suspect that some people picked something they found in passing while wandering around the studio: the hinge, the Primark tag, the nail and the balloon. (Actually, the balloon is my object but I did find it in the studio.) The other objects were chosen with more care: the shuttlecock, the fez, the brush and (not in the image) the egg box.

Initially, I found it quite interesting to try to match the object with the giver. There is no such thing as random selection when a decision is made, whether conscious or unconscious. The object givers chose an object for some reason or other: humour, convenience, appeal, or reflection. Even if they believe that they chose an object at random, they didn’t. The object caught their eye for some reason or other and as such, reflects their personality.

I have been asking everyone in particular if they can guess who left the fez for me to paint. Only one person didn’t know. Everyone else guessed correctly. To me, it was obvious. I also thought the Primark tag was obvious but fewer people guessed this one. In fact, knowing the identity of the giver of each object, or at least in most cases, I think it is obvious from whom they came. 

Everyone has left a little bit of themselves for me in the form of their object. It feels as if they are all with me. The objects have a personality. They are keeping me company. I feel oddly honoured to be the custodian of these things and I feel a sense of responsibility for having to look after them, and paint them. I need to do justice to them, to create something meaningful with them, for the sake of their kind lenders. 

Questions, questions, questions.

The day is now over, and I have spent most of today writing on my wall, procrastinating and avoiding starting anything creative. This is what I do in these situations. I think. I think a lot. I think a lot before I do. I am secretly actually quite scared of doing. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit that. Artists are supposed to love creating. But it is the truth. I’m a fearful artist.

Still life quotes

Eventually, at 5.23pm, I threw my wall of caution to the cliche wind, and started painting. Once I had started, I didn’t want to stop. Often the starting is the most scary part. Yet, I had to stop. I have three children. They were waiting for me to fetch them. I write this now at home, lying in bed, absolutely dog tired and creatively spent. Yet, I can’t wait for tomorrow to start so I can pick up my brush and paint some more.

I’ve started painting.

As to who gave me the fez? If you have any connection to the Wolverhampton School of Art, can you guess? If not, you have no chance. But it was the first thing I wanted to paint.


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Dirty Practice Day One – is cleanliness really next to godliness?

This week I am taking part in the annual University of Wolverhampton Dirty Practice Symposium. This is a week-long art practice, thinking, talking, discussing event which is open to students, artists and thinkers alike. This is the first time I have taken part in the whole week of the event. 

This year’s title is ‘Don’t Wash Your Hands! Cross Contamination of the Arts and the Institution’. Contamination here is not necessarily a negative, although we tend to see it thus. At least, I certainly did before today. I’ve been thinking a lot today about the word ‘contamination’. There’s nothing I love more than having my thoughts provoked and that is what a good symposium does.

The main theme of the symposium is the ‘contamination’ of the outside on the inside. This could mean ‘contamination’ of society and culture on the artist, or contamination of other artists on the self as an artist in the same space, or contamination of other disciplines on the arts such as science, maths, engineering, philosophy or whatever. It is about crossing the boundaries. It is about contamination in art education and how that can be a positive.

There are a number of secondary themes related to the main concept, which we discussed in the introductory session. One is about the nature of ‘hygienic’ and ‘dirty’ and how they relate metaphorically to other areas of life. We see ‘dirty’ as a negative and ‘clean’ as a positive. Dirty is black and clean is white. Dirty is depraved and clean is angelic. Why is this so? Dirty is also creative and clean is sterile. Dirty is illogical and clean is logical. Sterile and logical aren’t always positives. Illogical can result in new ideas. Does logical ever do that? Other secondary themes relate to the purity of the image, and contamination of the image.

I like to think on my wall.

At first, I wasn’t sure how the themes related to my own art practice. I was taking the word ‘contamination’ too literary and I was a bit wary of the word ‘clean’. Also, what is it about the ‘purity of the image’ that connects to the sort of paintings I do? However, as the day wore on I had a bit of a light bulb moment. 

My practice is about things and contamination is actually a very strong theme in the world of things. We effect the lives of things, and this is a type of contamination. We contaminate all things we come across, with both positive and negative forces. We give them good memories and bad. We leave a patina on them, which is ‘dirty’. In that context, to me, contamination and dirt are good.

But I am also interested in the idea that everything is either something or the opposite and this notion of clean vs dirty fits into that. We see so much of our lives in binary terms: positive negative, dirty clean, black white, zero one, nothing something, I have always fort against this way of seeing. However, recently, ironically, I’ve started to doubt myself. Last week I started looking at ways to portray objects through a universal language and I came across the notion of using binary code. In binary code things, numbers, colours, properties, images can be described using just two digits repeated in set sequences. These digits are on both sides of everything in between. They are 0 and 1. These digits are used in computing technology in sets of eight and they are used to describe anything. They describe this text, they describe the colour of this text, they describe photos I upload on social media, they can describe anything and everything. In fact, there is nothing that can’t be reduced to 0s and 1s. The two digits, in terms of electronic processes, represent ‘off’ and ‘on’. They are indeed opposites. So, I reasoned last week, surely this means that the world really is binary? 

I have yet to resolve this in my mind. Seeing the world as two sides, or as describable from two sides, goes against everything I have previously believed. I have been a firm advocate of the grey areas since I can remember. But if grey can be described in terms of black and white, just as anything can, then there is no grey. I’m not sure I like that. Yet, there is beauty and purity here.

How does this relate to a dirty practice? Dirty is black, clean is white. Dirty is messy, clean is tidy. Dirty is bad, clean is good. Again, we see the binary nature of our thinking coming into play. But dirty is below the clean. Dirty contaminates clean and clean contaminates dirty. This might actually imply that grey exists. Now I am confused.

Even the concept of the purity of the image relates to my recent paintings. I have come to believe that my abstracting of them, from original, to photograph, to virtual reality, to painting, to line is away of trying to find a purity in the object.

In terms of what I am doing for the symposium, I haven’t yet related the themes to my plans. I need to think some more. So initially, I’ve asked people to bring objects to me so I can create a 21st-century still life. I’m not sure yet how I am going to paint this still life. I need to adapt it to this idea of opposites and binary, black and white, dirty and clean and purity of image.

Please give me objects.

I guess I will just have to be predictable at this point and say watch this space. In order to get clean, and pure, I must first get dirty.

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The pain of moving

I found out yesterday that I would need to leave my studio and move to a new space by the end of this week. This news came to me as a shock. The area where my studio has been for the last two years is being refurbished over the summer. My initial reactions to this news went thus: anger, denial, anger, outrage, denial, doubt, acceptance, sadness, anger, rebellion. Rebellion is the one that stuck for most of yesterday.

Last night, as I fell reluctantly into sleep, my thoughts leaned towards doing an Arthur Dent, camping out in my space, arms folded, waiting for the diggers to approach me with their ominous teeth. As I drifted in and out of consciousness, however, my thoughts veered more towards responding as a reasonable person might do by packing up my stuff and moving. This morning, upon fully waking, I decided on the latter strategy. Resistance is often not only futile, it can look a bit silly.

Noooo do not make me move my studio!

My sadness upon leaving my space stems from the fact that I get very attached to spaces, and objects, and familiarity. Every time I move house, I feel a wrench of pain. Every time I finish a job, a period of education or a relationship of some sort, whether it be friendship or otherwise, I feel that same sense of fear and anxiety. New beginnings can be scary. I have built up my MA studio space very gradually over two years, including much doodling on the walls. My space represents my creative brain. It is my thoughts spread out. Last night, I didn’t want to have to leave it, move it, or do anything to it. I love my space. It is me. I am it. 

My old studio

However, perhaps I am rather dramatic. I write this now on the other side of the move, I have just completed the change over. I haven’t moved far. My new studio space is a bigger place, a brighter place and a more communal place. So in those terms, this change is a good thing. A move sometimes sparks new creativity. I had been guilty of nesting myself in a corner. I reasoned today that I need to look at things afresh.

The move took 15 trips to shift all of my stuff to my new space. I felt a pulling sense of sadness dismantling my beloved wall, removing all the images and text that have built up over two years. However, it is all still in me. It just isn’t visible at the moment. It’s sitting in a pile in my new space.

The wall now.

I now have a fresh white wall. I can put new things on it. I can draw and write new things on it. It will give me new inspirations.

Maggie, if you are reading this, I’m sorry, I wasn’t able to keep your spider plant alive.

The pleasure I feel, unexpectedly, is the same as having fresh bed linen. 

The new space (the green glass pieces are not mine).

Night, night! Time to sleep, perchance to dream of new ideas.

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Do I return to the real?

I’ve been feeling rather discombobulated recently about my current body of paintings. I’m really not sure about them. The question that has rumbling around in my head is: Am I trying to hard? I’ve been reading recently about the art of ‘letting go’ and allowing creativity to flow rather than causing creativity to flow. If I try too hard, I move further away from what I want to do. That is the dilemma I’m currently facing. I fear I am trying too hard at the moment.

I’ve been obsessively painting quasi-three dimensional virtual reality drawings of objects in oil on wood. This is the result. I have a massive pile of the dam things now.

A plethora of paintings

And looking at them together like this, I don’t quite know what they all mean. I would like to know what the public thinks (I have asked the public). Are they just aesthetically pleasing squiggles? Are they interesting, accurate, recreations of the virtual reality drawing experience? Are they abstract? Are they figurative? Are they between the two? What are they?

Last week I painted this. I tried to go off piste a little in terms of style. This doesn’t fit in with the rest of the paintings. From the start, I struggled with this. I felt that I couldn’t get to a point of end. The more I added, the further away I felt. I worked, reworked, blended, rubbed out, repainted and reworked it. When I finished, I was deeply unhappy with it. I was looking at it from the other end of a dark tunnel. This is not a good feeling.

The one that I didn’t like

To me, it looked like a green splodgy mess. It didn’t have any merit whatsoever. It was just paint on paint on paint, so much so it fussed into one messy blob, and with no essence to speak of. Essence is what I seek. I had painted the essence completely out of it. So I did this.

Back to black

I painted over the green splodges, to start again. Then I went through a few hours of existential angst and self-doubt. I was bored of the lines but I didn’t know what to replace them with. I wanted to paint something real again. I decided to go full circle and back to my fried egg, which started my MA research nearly two years ago. Then I painted this.


It is what it is: a fried egg. And now I’m not sure about this either.

I now want to create a larger still-life grouping, of modern objects, linked to the tradition of still-life art, but in a blended, hopefully contemporary, style. I want the objects to be recognisable, yet still ‘cyber’-related, still connected to the virtual world. The objects we own in the virtual world, which may be photographs of our real objects or fictional objects, are blended in our minds and in reality, so hence the ‘blended’ style. The world is fuzzy. It is one great big splodge but it doesn’t have to look like it.  I am going to leave the virtual reality drawing style aside for now, and see where this ‘blended’ idea takes me.

Watch this space, again.

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Does fame bring freedom or imprisonment?

Yesterday afternoon I had a discussion with a friend of mine, and fellow MA art student, about the effect of fame on the freedom of creativity. We had just had a two-hour lecture / seminar on intellectual property and copyright law and how it relates to creativity, and part of that debate centered around the concept of ‘fame’ when it is generated from an ‘idea’ or ‘expression of an idea’ in the form of art and how an artist can deal with the economic consequences of that fame in terms of the law. We were looking at how to protect the ‘expression of an idea’, or in other words, how to monopolise it.

My friend and I, after the lecture, went off on a tangent somewhat, and we talked about whether we actually wanted ‘fame’ or not and the effect that fame might have on creativity. She concluded that she did not want fame, in fact she had no interest at all in fame, as she felt that it would rob her of her freedom in the expression of her creativity. Her art now is very personal and very emotional. She feels compelled to create, something I have talked about here before. She does it because it is part of her. She isn’t thinking about the wider world when she’s making art.

Behind her argument about fame is the question: who are we creating for? Are we creating for ourselves? Are we creating to express an idea and to influence perception? Are we creating to sell our work and make money, so that someone has a piece of us on their wall? Are we creating to earn a living? Fame could come accidentally, whether we want it or not. It is highly unlikely, but it could happen and it does often happen by accident. 

Fame, I want to live forever

I feel a little different to her on this matter. I quite like the idea of a certain amount of fame. I would like to earn the respect of the art world, and be able to have the ‘freedom’ to make art without financial worries. I like the idea of being able to talk openly about art, seeing people appreciate my art and generating discussion and debate. I’m not expecting glittery fame, but academic fame would be nice.

However, as she said, the irony is that the more fame you have, the more eyes are on you, the more you might end up making art to satisfy others and not yourself, and, ergo, the less freedom you actually have.

I agree to a certain degree. I think fame gained by making art that is personal to you, or that comes from your own philosophical thinking, is much more difficult to maintain than fame gained from making art for other people. So I doubt this dilemma will ever be a reality for me as I can’t imagine changing my own ‘compel to create’ drive. Author Elizabeth Gilbert talked about this issue as she faced it after her success with Eat, Pray, Love which she wrote for herself, about herself. How does an artist, or writer, follow a hit? That is, when the freedom to experiment is taken away. That is when the question’Do I create for me or them?’ really comes into play.

I haven’t had to face this yet so I’m not going to worry too much. I guess as students we might also have the question: ‘Do I create to get good marks or do I create for me?’ but, if I am honest, I haven’t really worried about this. I worry that if I don’t create anything I’ll fail, but I haven’t felt a fear about the quality of my work during my degree and masters. I just do what I do. Whatever comes. If it is crap, so be it.

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The power of the single punch

The University of Wolverhampton School of Art Fine Art Undergraduate Degree Show has started. Another year has passed since the last one. Time passes quickly. Time is repetitive. Time is cyclical, but it is moving upwards and onwards, always. A new group of artists are ready to launch themselves on the world, and disperse.

Seeing the show up and running, I suddenly feel as if I’ve been here a long time (four years). Of course, it is just a matter of perspective, I haven’t really been here that long. There have been 50 degree shows in this building in total. And anyway, soon I won’t be here any longer. It feels as if there is no end as time circles around each year, but there always is.

In those four years, which is a mere snip of the total, I’ve seen quite a change in direction and style in the undergraduate degree shows. Each year seems to build on the previous, trying to get closer to something, that allusive notion of perfection. Of course, this is an illusion, perfection doesn’t exist. It is all just a journey. It is ‘difference’ we are all striving for.

On first glance, the work this year appears more subtle, less ambitious in terms of scale, more traditionally executed perhaps and, for want of a better word, physically smaller, than the work on show on previous years. However, this is part of the beauty of it. Looking closer and looking at each individual piece in turn, taking time to consider each work, I realise that the art objects on display are buzzing, vibrating even, with power and emotional force. You can almost hear it, if you get close enough.

I harp on rather a lot about feeling or sensing the ‘essence’ within an artwork. This is that idea that for an artwork to be pure, it must harness the essence or force of things within it, and the viewer must be able to feel that essence or ‘force’ of life. The students graduating this year have managed to harbour that essence in a new way. I don’t just mean the essence of objects, which is what my practice is about, I am referring to feelings, humanity and thought as well (although they are all ‘things’ too). I felt this again and again as I walked around the show.

On the evening of the show, the following phrase kept popping into my mind: Less is More. Less is More. Less is More. My own degree show piece, two years ago, was the opposite of this. I exploded my ideas visually on the walls to translate my message. I was criticised for this by the Wolverhampton Express and Star. In my case, I was trying to bamboozle the viewer with information to make a point: my project was about repetition and saturation. However, perhaps the punch I was trying to give wasn’t as effective as I had hoped. I diffused it over too great a surface area. Maybe it is true that if you are going to punch, then one punch, executed with more force, more energy, more technical skill, and less surface area is more effective than a barrage of punches.

Whenever I try to review the degree show, I am always torn as to which pieces to highlight. The level of technical skill as well as the ability to ‘punch’ with a message has truly impressed me this year and I feel making a choice is almost impossible. The below works are just a taster.

Tariq Evans’s haunting drawings mesmerised me, to the point I keep returning to them even now as I am here in the studio. I just want to feel the strength of anxiety and angst he has put into them as I relate to that in my own life. It is incredibly powerful. I feel it every time I look at the drawings.

The punch of humanity, the work of Tariq Evans

Equally, the digital portraits of Hayley Bowker keep drawing me back to take a second, third, and now fourth look. It is her technical skill that sucks me in. I am interested in the blend of the digital and the real and her drawings, made digitally, illustrate that there really isn’t that much difference between the two. It is possible to ‘punch’ with data.


A haunting image made with pixels, by Hayley Bowker

I was attracted to the work of Charlotte Nock for it’s simplicity and it’s theme which is similar to mine when I graduated: repetition, anxiety and creativity. I felt that force very strongly through her simple pieces, illustrating the point effectively about the power of the punch.

To love and loath repetition, illustrated by Charlotte Nock’s work

Alexandra Fitzgerald’s two contrasting video image and footage – one moving, one still, one on black, one on white, one in day, one in dark, one in a generic city, one in a specifically English location – spoke to me as well. We are all guilty of invisibility cloak syndrome. We look out, but we are also being looked upon. There is tension there. It is constant too, in the real world and the virtual one. It applies on the macro level more so now then ever, and on the micro level also of our interactions with everyone we pass by.

Everyone is watching everyone, Alexandra Fitzgerald included

So, I am inspired now to think of a way to punch for my own final show in October. The art journey continues. Onwards and upwards.



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