Why I love B&Q and why B&Q doesn’t love me

If you are an artist, you don’t have any common sense, right? That is a given. Yes, that is right. At least, in my case this is true. This week I, and some of my fellow MA students, have been installing work for a small exhibition for the general public in Wolverhampton. I am contributing my VR paintings, which as a series I’ve decided to call ‘The Nature of Things’ after the very influential book The Nature of Things by Lyall Watson. 

My current bible.

Installation of artwork is the bit about being a real artist that I do not enjoy. It taps into a side of my skillset that I find is lagging behind others: the practical side. I don’t like planning and I don’t like measuring. I don’t like straight lines and I don’t like hammering. Despite the fact that project planning features rather largely in my work life, when it comes to real-life tangible objects, such as how to hang artwork, I struggle to plan. I wish I had someone to do it all for me, someone who knows one end of a hammer from another (the knobbly end, is the hitting bit, right?).

The title of this blog is ‘Why I love B&Q’ which might seem to contradict what I have just said. In my mind, it doesn’t. I love B&Q because it is an artist’s heaven to me. They sell (and cut) wood for me to paint on; paint by the bucket and in any colour I could wish for; big, sturdy brushes for those gloriously pleasurable larger projects; and anything you could need to display your work from glue, screws, tape measures, spirit levels and metal rulers. I love those bits and pieces. I love the feel of them. They complement my airy fairy arty farty side. They fulfil a need in me: a need for something solid and real. The thing is, I just don’t know what to do with them. 

Is it heaven or is it a DIY shop?

I haven’t finished installing my work yet because I stupidly bought glue with which to fix the hooks on the backs of each painting that takes 24-36 hours to dry. I rest my case. 

The exhibition, ‘We Are Not Boxers’, a joint show by MA students including myself, opens on Friday at the Lighthouse, Wolverhampton (aka the old Chubb building – I have no idea why it is called the Lighthouse in the town that is about as far away from the sea as you can get but that’s another discussion).

Does this look like a lighthouse to you?

Please do come along. If for nothing else to admire my hanging skills.

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So, who are your artistic influences?

I have been asked this question, or a variation of, many times in my career as an artist. It has become a standard question. More so, when people learn that I am a student of art. If you are studying art, you should be admiring other artists, right? That’s what people seem to think. I suspect it would be same if if were a musician. Then I would be expected to be able to list my musical influences. Or if I were a writer the questioner would anticipate a list of well-known authors. As an actor, I should be able to spout forth a number of stage and Hollywood greats as the people I look up to.

Why do we feel that ‘creative’ people need to stick within their field, or even, within their genre in terms of their influences? I’m not so sure that it is that important. At least, it isn’t to me.

In truth, I am usually stumped when I get asked to name my artistic influences. I admire the work of a number artists, that is true. And I’ve come across a lot of amazing work in my research for my degree and my masters. But I can usually name but a small number of artists when asked, and I’m struggling to list them now.

It isn’t necessarily people’s work that I admire, so much as their thoughts, their drive, their style, their talents and their ability to tease what I call the ‘essence’ out of life. And that essence can be teased in so many ways. George Shaw is the only well-known artist that comes to mind that does this.

Last night I found myself (not accidentally) in a sweet little place called the Kitchen Garden on the outskirts of Birmingham listening to the poetic, melodic, and emotionally moving songs created by two blokes and their guitars: Ezio and Booga. Ezio sings. They both play guitar. Have you heard of them? Perhaps not. They are a two-some outfit, and have been going for many years now. I came across them just recently, introduced to me by someone very close to me. I had never heard of them. But as soon as I started listening to their music, and I mean really listening, to the words as well as the sounds, I fell in love. Six months ago I had never heard of them. Now I have seen them play live twice (and am planning another night). I’ve even conversed with them, albeit a little nervously in my own stumbling style.

Music is thirsty work. My attempt at ‘teasing the essence’ last night.

They aren’t very well-known, yet they should be. But as to why that is, that is an unanswerable question that isn’t relevant here, what is relevant to me is that I will now cite them as amongst my creative influences. They have that passion and drive I spoke of above. They seem to be constantly pushing always onwards and forwards by their innate desire to create and tease the ‘essence’ out of life. They don’t seem to be looking for fame, particularly. Fame is nice, for sure. But they just love what they do. Their songs speak more than just the mere words. Their guitar playing is incredible. I’m not remotely musical but I can see and hear that. They aren’t painters, but they inspire me just as much, more so, than any painter I can name here. I’d like to think that I have that creative drive and that passion, and the desire to tease the essence out of life.

In addition to the wonderful Ezio and Booga, there are other ‘creative’ non-artists who inspire me, who I could call my ‘influences’, other people who do, or have done, this teasing I talk of in their own endeavours and fields: George Perec, Marcel Proust, Haruki Murakami, Kate Atkinson, Johnny Marr, Daniel Miller, my old art teacher, my old English teacher, my grandma, Robin Williams, Michael Caine, Oscar Wilde, Kurt Vonnegut, my oldest school friend’s dad, a friend who has just suffered a devastating loss in her life, another friend who is writing her story at the moment and a few other very important people in my life who might not necessarily feel creative but are. They seem to me to have that one thing in common: a compulsion to create something out of nothing and a drive to keep going. Some of them are famous, others not. But they all have tenacity. They all move organically. They just do what they feel they need to do. They tease the essence.

Art is great, but the thinking is even greater.

I have far too many ‘influences’ to mention it seems. The list above is just a small drop and just the people that came to mind just now. So next time I get asked that question, rather than struggling to come up with any names, I think I will just respond with ‘all sorts of many’. My final words: moon – you’re just a ball. Maybe so, but the essence is there.

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The eternal circle – virtual becomes real again

I dabbled in painting my virtual reality drawings a couple of months ago, using whatever I had to hand at the time, which was three linen canvases and a piece of board. I’ve written about that experiment here.

Since then, I decided to create the drawings as a proper series of paintings. I have now done that. I just completed a series of 18 of the VR drawings I made in West Bromwich in oil on black board using memory alone, to replicate what I think I drew.

The result is an interesting, colourful, series of images of objects, still-lifes of sorts, that are vaguely recognisable in some cases and unrecognisable in others.

Here is just a small selection of them. The interesting irony is how I have swung from an almost religious adherence to the monotone to a vibrant use of colour. However, there is an important link: I am removing an element to try to create a new essence. It doesn’t matter too much what that element is. With the monochrome paintings it was colour, with the ‘fuzzy objects’ it was language, and with the VR drawings it was touch. With these? It is a the relationship to the real and then to the virtual. The point? To show how the real and the virtual is not so different as many of us think. Things exist in both realms and we can put them there, and reclaim them, very easily.

Things are fuzzy.

These ‘can’t live without objects’ have travelled a journey, and they can stand alone now as something new and interesting. At least I hope they do. It is, of course, down to the viewer to decide.

Any guesses what this is?

Do you wear it, or eat it?

And this is…?

Do you wear it, or eat it?

Is he cute?

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The joy of writing a contents page

Today has been designated a No Work Day. After another hiatus in writing I decided to devote my time today entirely to my literary masterpiece: my MA thesis. I determined to myself not to open up my email and be tempted by paid work. I’m not sure I have entirely succeeded in this aim, work is hard to resist, but the distractions have been minimal.

I started my writing day at 7.30am, still in my PJs and still effectively in bed. I write this now at the other end of the day, 6pm. I am now dressed and out of bed. I would be lying if I said I’d been writing for nearly 11 hours solid. I haven’t. I have three children and a cat. They are the biggest distraction of all and they are currently next to me (the children) playing darts (while trying to avoid accidentally hitting the cat). But I did manage about four hours without distraction, three of those hours still in bed, and another couple of distracted and fractured hours during the rest of the day.

However, I’m not particularly pleased with the number of actual words I have managed to get down in Word. I have written a few random paragraphs; I’m most pleased with the fact I have a contents page that I am finally happy with. This is a big achievement. This is what I am proud of today. It has taken me a long time to get to this stage (18 months to be exact). This, I hope, will give me sound and dreamless sleep tonight.

The contents page reads thus:

Introduction

Objectives

Part I: Research

The importance of things – why paint things

The importance of things – nothing is more real than anything else

The importance of things – thing power

Part II: Practice

First experiments: How we experience things – sight

Second experiments: How we experience things – language

Third experiments: How we experience things – touch

Final experiments: creating the eternal circle – and back to reality

Conclusion: towards a new cyberspace

I don’t know if this means a lot to many people, even those in the art world, without knowing my research question (which is about things funnily enough). I am possibly a little deep into the treacle of my own art practice and philosophy to see it clearly and objectively. But I regard this as progress. The headings may change. Nothing is solid until hand-in day. But I feel as if a weight has lifted somewhat, or at least some of the weight.

In addition, I have now found a way to start the thesis, which was my previous stumbling block. It came to me in Costa Coffee in Walsall last week. Now I have a contents page, and now I have an opening paragraph I am happy with, I feel a little more confident that the rest will flow. 

My coffee didn’t look quite this attractive

It may not, but right now, I feel it might.

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The adventures of Derek, the Virtual Reality Cat

I have been very busy painting, from memory, the virtual reality drawings I have made. I will write about them all more fully later. For now, I want to talk about Derek. My favourite painting by far is my virtual reality cat. Notice, how I have taken possession of him, he is my cat. Notice how I have given him a gender, he is a him. Notice, too, as you will, that he has a name: Derek.

Derek started life as a cat. A cat that isn’t called Derek. Here is a photo of the non-Derek cat.

I doubt this cat is really called Derek.

Derek lives in a dark space. Derek is happy. Derek, the cat, is suspended in mid air in mid time. He lives there now. He is happy there. He is in a state of static not-quite-real reality. But who owns Derek? Does his original owner, a friend of mine from Shrewsbury, have the right to claim him as her possession? She certainly owns the cat in the photograph above. He isn’t called Derek to her. He might not be a he to her. He could even be a she. I suspect he is a she. I don’t know. I should ask her (the owner).

So if he is now a he to me and he is now Derek (named and gendered by me), does that mean that he is now my and not my friend’s cat? Do I, the artist, who has transformed him from solid organic matter, fur and paws, whiskers and warmth, into a series of marks and lines, own him now? I’ve changed a lot about this cat. He doesn’t much resemble his inspiration. He’s a copy.

Virtual Derek

Derek is still recognisable as a cat, yet he isn’t at the same time. He is a cartoon cat. He is a humorous cat. He isn’t a cuddly cat. Yet, he is quite cute in an ironic crudely drawn way. He clearly isn’t a cat as you and I might know a cat. We can’t stroke him. He doesn’t move. He isn’t animated. He can’t purr. But he’s now my cat, my virtual reality cat. He’s Derek.

Then, Derek became an oil painting. Is he still a cat? He is still suspended in time and space. He won’t change. He’s changed his dimensions from three to two and he’s changed his appearance, but not totally. He might decay, over time, as a painting, but that will be a slow process (I hope). I have captured him in another moment of time and space, moved on from the time I drew him in VR. He is in two dimensions.

Derek has had many incarnations now: cat, photograph, social media cat, memory of a cat, virtual reality cat, memory of a virtual reality cat and now oil painted cat. Derek has travelled far. Is he his own owner? Does Derek own himself? Or do you, the viewer, take part possession of Derek? Is he partly yours? Do you want to take some ownership of him? You will take him away after reading this, in your memory. That memory might only last a few seconds. But it transforms Derek from an oil painting to firing neurons and a virtual image in your head. If you forget him, is that the end of Derek? Perhaps you are his final and only owner and the rest of us (my friend the original owner, the original cat, the photo, the drawing, the memory, me) are just temporary custodians of Derek.

Derek in oils – is he mine now?

Who is Derek anyway? Is he real now? Oh so many questions. I will miss him. Alas poor Derek, I knew him so well.

Ultimately, I can’t help thinking that my re-constructions (deconstructions) of Derek the Cat are not actually that accurate. Clearly, they aren’t. In fact, my ‘drawings’ in virtual reality and in oils are quite crude, cartoonish, almost. The whiskers are rather alarming. I made a decision to turn Derek around and colour him brown and fawn. But that doesn’t matter. The conceptual journey of Derek is the artwork rather than my re-creations.

Derek lives on for me.

 

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When something screams ‘Write me!’

This might seem like an obvious thing to say but this MA by Research I seem to be trying to do is hard. I know that that is how it should be; it should challenge me, stretch me, make me think, make me write and make me question. But every time I open the Word document named ‘New MA Thesis November 2018 Draft’ I turn into a deer in headlights.

I feel paralysed with fear and stare at the first sentence in horror: ‘Things are omnipresent in time and space.’ This makes me feel slightly nauseated. My thought process goes as follows: Am I just stating the obvious? Of course things are everywhere, in time, and in space. Really? We all know that. Why do I need to say that? Is it a good way to start a thesis? I have no idea. It just doesn’t seem quite right. I don’t know what isn’t quite right, but it isn’t quite there.

The Beast

So then what do I do when I have this thought every time I open the document? Open up this blog and write something here instead, this time about the fact that I blog here to avoid the Thesis. Is this a meta-blog? I quite like that idea. I am procrastinating on the writing as a serious MA student by writing less academic thoughts here. I find I can flow here so if I have to flow somewhere, better be here than nowhere.

The deadline is drawing a little nearer and I am supposed to be ‘writing’ this semester. It turns out I am, just not where I am supposed to be writing. This is the third or fourth time I have stopped and entered this blog this week alone.

Perhaps I should just let my fear go and it will flow. At least, I should stop wittering away here about not writing and go back into ‘New MA Thesis November 2018 Draft’ and write there instead. Darn it, I’ve run out of time. I have somewhere to go.

I will try again later this afternoon. Don’t be surprised if I think of something else to write about here by then. I won’t be.

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Another copy of a copy

My next experiment has been to try to create some 3D pen drawings based on the oil paintings of the VR drawings based on my memory of the photographs of the ‘can’t live without’ objects. This may not lead anywhere, but is all part of the journey nonetheless.

I have never ‘drawn’ with plastic before and after my first try I conclude that it is hard. I thought drawing in virtual reality was tough and fresh but this was even tougher. There is no ‘undo’ function. There is no time to pause. It is fiddly.

My new tool.

I’d describe the experience as a bizarre blend of drawing in virtual reality (there were many similarities: drawing in three-dimensions, an inability to easily change tone, drawing in a continuous line) and icing a cake (the flow just keeps flowing and if you hesitate a big panicky blob is the result). It isn’t like drawing with a pen. It isn’t like painting. It isn’t like sculpting. It isn’t like much else I have ever done before. Again, I am rendered infantile by trying to do something I thought I was skilled at as a new activity. I felt cack-handed for want of a better term.

Is it a pair of glasses or someone doing a forward roll?

The reaction that came to my head while doing this is: I feel like a spider. I don’t think I have ever felt like a spider before.

Fancy a cuppa? Not in this.

The two web-like constructions I created are interesting, bizarre, chaotic and delicate. I quite like them. I like the feel of them. They are spidery. They don’t remotely resemble the original objects. Does that matter too much? They don’t resemble the oil paintings (I haven’t yet mastered how to use more than one colour filament). They resemble the VR drawings more than they do the paintings or the originals. They are odd, miniature, malleable, permanent creations of something that has morphed quite a lot since the original idea. They stand alone. They wobble in the wind.

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I don’t paint when I paint, I draw

I used to believe that I was an artist who mostly liked to draw and paint, with photography and video following in the shadows of my pen and brush. In fact, for a few years before I took up studying art again I actively chose painting over drawing. Since studying art, however, I have been drawing more and more and painting less and less.

A pre-degree painting of the sea

I have just come to this realisation about my painting style: I don’t paint with paint, I draw with paint. 

I believe it is possible to draw with paint. Of course it is, in that you can make marks with paint, write with paint, and sketch with paint. That is true. But drawing with paint is slightly different I think. Drawing is a more measured, deliberate activity than sketching or mark making.

My drawing tools

When I paint, the one area of painting I am not very good at is background. I seem to resist painting in the background, whatever it may be. I always have. I also resist canvas painting. I’d much rather paint on walls or hard wood. And when I paint on such surfaces, the background tends to be of a plain colour, with no detail. The things I paint seem to desire to float on the flat surface. So this leads me to conclude that I don’t paint, I draw.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t blend colours. I definitely do blend colours and I like to blend colours. That is one the great joys of oil paint – the smooth, ease with which colours can be altered and shaded. The quick, easy form that can be created with paint is fascinating. I love that. It is much harder and more laborious to create a sense of form and dimension with pencil or pen. There is a richness to drawing with paint that you cannot get with pens or pencils.

Currently I am ‘drawing’ a series of paintings based on the Virtual Reality drawings of ‘can’t live without’ objects I gathered via social media. Those will feature in the next blog post. For now, I’m just thinking about the art of drawing with paint. 

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But I can’t see my hands! What sort of reality is this?

When I went back to do some more Virtual Reality drawing at the Fab Lab, a new thought came to me that hadn’t come to me before, oddly. And that thought is how strange it felt not being able to see my body. It surprises me that this hadn’t occurred to me before. I couldn’t see my body in the VR world, of course not, but, more importantly for the act of drawing, I couldn’t see my hands.

This leads to the question: is being able to see the body (and especially the hands) important for the act of drawing? If you can’t see your hands, are you somehow rendered infantile again in your mark making? I certainly felt like that. It had bothered me how difficult VR drawing seemed to be, at least, in comparison to real drawing. I love drawing. It is my first passion. Yet, drawing in VR is hard. It is much harder than drawing on paper with a fine liner pen, which is what I do.

In the VR world, the tools for drawing appear to hover in mid-air, as do the drawings themselves. I have no hands. They are moving because I am moving them but I can’t see my hands moving  them. I can’t see my arms, my legs, my feet, or the floor. This realisation that my body was absent made me feel suddenly slightly more clumsy. I could not see me at all, I didn’t exist. I couldn’t see the ground or the objects that I remembered were around me. I was invisible. Invisibility is a strange sensation indeed (one that we cannot replicate in the real world). It is interesting how before I had this realisation, I had not felt any sense of vertigo. But remembering suddenly that I was in a room with chairs and other things close by, four walls, people and a floor, and also that I had a body and hands, gave me a vertiginous feeling and made my drawing even worse. 

Me in the VR world, you see me, I don’t see me

Later in the week, by coincidence, I also came across a term that is new to me: Mixed Reality. I needed to know how this related to Virtual Reality and whether it was related the to the sensation that I had no body in VR. This term came to me via a link to an art piece to be shown at the Serpentine Galleries by performance artist Marina Abramovic called ‘The Life‘. In this piece, she will be ‘present’ to interact with people, without actually being present at all. The piece lasts 19 minutes in which Abramovic interacts albeit in the past, with real people, in a Mixed Reality setting. To experience the performance, audience members wear Magic Leap One lightweight spatial computing devices, before entering the gallery space. Unlike VR, Mixed Reality allows the gallery and the visitors to be completely visible throughout the experience, which is why it differs to my odd sensations while drawing in VR. I would love to experience this. If I can wing myself a trip to London I might try.

If I could draw my objects in VR yet whilst being present in the physical world and being able to see all that is around me, now that would be something.

 

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Visual Reality leads to surreal abstraction in the real world

After another session in the Fab Lab drawing people’s ‘can’t live without’ ordinary things, I’ve been thinking about what I can do with these drawings. I want to be able to show them. I would love for people to be able to enter them, walk inside them, feel them without ‘feeling’ them. However, that isn’t going to happen in the near future. So, in the meantime, I need to use them to create something that I can easily show in the real world.

This is as close as I can get to showing the VR world – someone’s ‘can’t live without’ cat

On returning home with no virtual means of creating or referencing to hand, I decided to re-create the drawings using a traditional medium: oil. To do this, I had to rely on my memory of the drawings. I didn’t have the images (or a means to enter the images) any more. Everything is on a datastick but I can’t see them.

A selection of objects including a turtle, a keyboard and a hoover

This act of recreating the virtual reality drawings of ordinary objects in oil allowed me to abstract them even further from the original objects -a copy of a copy of a copy etc. I didn’t use any extra creativity in this act. I just painted as I remembered. Interestingly, I cannot show here the images in my memory or the virtual reality drawings as I mention above. That is an impossibility.

The objects have now travelled along a trajectory as follows:

Object – Subject (person making the choice) – Photograph – Digital Image on Social Media – Print of Digital Image – Memory of Subject (me) – VR Drawing – Memory of Subject (me) – Oil Painting.

A shoe in oils

The excise had a further level of difficulty for me. I was ‘drawing’ with oil paints in two-dimensions an object that I had previously ‘drawn’ in three-dimensions using a digital ‘pen’. I had struggled to render the objects in three-dimensions and now I was having to draw them again as flat objects. This new negativity felt very peculiar. It was a challenge to fight this.

A mug of tea

I have so far created four oil paintings: a pair of glasses, a shoe, an inhaler and a mug of tea. I can easily show these here. The VR drawings of these objects remain in my memory. I cannot share them. This renders the VR environment a mysticism that nobody else can access right now. It runs parallel to my imagination. It is real though but I can’t prove it.

Dave’s specs

And to point out the obvious, despite weeks of obsessing over monochrome, I painted the objects in vivid colour. They are in vivid colour in the VR realm, so to take the colour away would be to remove them too far from their VR incarnations.

Can you live without an inhaler?

Now, in oils, the objects are real again. They are real created from digital. They seem to be a bizarre hybrid of the real and the digital and the imagined. There is a strange irony there. They are abstractions from the digital to the real of the digital in the real. Is still-life art still fresh? You decide.

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