Something out of nothing

I am probably, I think, getting towards the end of my reflections on my MA now. There isn’t a huge amount more I can say. However, I do have one final(ish) thought to deliver here about the past two years.

I have recently been stuck, somewhat, in a state of self-reflection and self-appraisal, at least since the final show started. I have improved over the last few days, somewhat, in my harshness of my self-assessment which I wrote about in the last blog post. However, today I had a final revelation which has really helped me put the last two years in perspective.

I have always been very ambitious, at least academically, striving to do the best that I can. If you analyse deep enough it probably stems from a entrenched desire to attain parental and authoritative praise of an area of life I felt I could achieve in. It might not be particularly feminist of me to admit this but not ever being particularly girly and pretty I was never praised for my looks or feminine ways and as a child, this bothered me a lot. I wanted to be pretty. I wanted to be a girl. Instead, I was lanky and gangly and often overlooked. So as compensation I sought approval in my intellectual achievements. I had a reasonable brain so it was the one area of my life I could shine in. And I guess that desire to be praised for brainy efforts has continued well into adulthood. So when I feel that I haven’t fulfilled this, I feel very strongly as if I have let myself down. 

No pink dresses here

Art as an academic subject area encourages debate because it is often overlooked as an intellectual pursuit (that’s another blog topic) but it is actually deeply academic, philosophical and conceptual. And I have been feeling a little that I haven’t fulfilled all I could, intellectually, with my final artwork for the MA (it is of course impossible for me to be objective about my own art – again, another blog). 

However, since spending time at the New Art Gallery Walsall invigilating for the show, I have had the chance to observe people reacting to my work. There are three levels of their reactions. Firstly, the initial reaction (this has been mostly quite positive) as they enter the room and walk towards my pieces, walk around them and consider them. Secondly, a next-level reaction which happens when they spot something they recognise in my pieces, such as the Costa cup or the blueberries. There’s a look of familiarity and a recognition of the uncanny that I see in their faces. And, thirdly, there is a level which happens after they have asked me some questions about my artwork. In other words, the final level is the level which comes from full understanding of the process, method and concept, and again, it has been positive. This has really warmed me and lifted my spirits.

What art is all about

The last two years have been very productive if I measure these reactions against my intellectual intentions. I haven’t produced the best, the most amazing, outstanding, ground-breaking work of the year. That doesn’t matter. I have produced something out of nothing and I have left a mark. That is what counts. I have travelled.

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Seeing through the eyes of others

Last week, after the opening night for the MA Show, I confess to feeling quite flat and low about my ‘still life of disorder’. I have indicated such here in the last couple of posts. I suspect that this is quite a normal reaction. I spent the following few days feeling oddly detached from it all, it had that uncanny feeling of the ‘other’ to me. I was separate. The art was there. I was someone else, not connected to it anymore. I suspect that through my passivity I was protecting myself from the sharpness of the post-end blues. 

Since then, I have had the opportunity to invigilate for the gallery in the exhibition space on a few occasions, and as a result I have been able to observe people looking at and reacting to my work. I have been asked questions. I have had some really interesting, and positive, responses, which has lifted me somewhat out of the fog and offered me a parachute against the shock of falling into the post-end blues. I feel better and I am now ready to ‘feel’.

I am sat here as I write this, invigilating, and it is a quiet day. I haven’t had many visitors into this room today and not many have shown much of a reaction. One girl who visited earlier this morning, however, entered the room with confidence and marched straight to my work. She immediately started taking pictures. How exciting was that! She didn’t ask me anything about it, she just took pictures and left.

Two days ago, while I was here, the gallery was visited by 150 11 year olds. I was asked if I minded talking to each group within the 150 about my artwork. Of course I did not mind; I relished the opportunity. And the responses of the school children were both intriguing and uplifting. The best question I got asked was: Do you ever have bad ideas? Yes, I do! We all do. Bad ideas can be good ones. But they seemed to like my work. I really needed to see that.

Read all about it…

After a few session here I’ve seen how people react before they know what my artwork is about and afterwards, and it has really helped me to put my thoughts in perspective. Perhaps I have achieved something of what I aimed to do after all. The spectators do seem to ‘get’ it, they do maybe see some of the essence of the objects in my art and they do appear to take something away with them – even if it is just a few images on their phone.

If that is the case, if I have had an impact, however small, then my work has been worthwhile and I have new energy to continue my artistic journey.

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In the house of art

So I’m here again, sat in my little black chair, listening to Gary Ringroad coo: ‘We live in uncertain times’ over and over. (He will have said it 70 times by the time I go home. Yes, I have calculated how many times I will watch this video today.)

Elysian Platinum Fields

It is Saturday so we’ve had quite a few visitors through the doors, perhaps more than on a weekday. These visitors have been old, young, friends, family, teenagers and couples.

I find it fascinating to sit here pretending I’m not watching them: observing them look, ponder, react, photograph and comment. Children want to touch. Adults want to understand. 

My chair

But what they all have in common is that they act with the quiet and decorum they might use in a church or library. Art galleries calm people. Galleries induce a sense of the now and the mindful in people. Visitors walk slowly and purposefully, like they might in the house of God. They take on the persona of the humble, as if art is mystical and otherworldly. 

After three hours here I feel calm and contemplative, I feel the majesty of art too. I feel as if I’ve been in a great church: the church of creativity.

 

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Random thoughts while invigilating

I’m sat here invigilating for the MA Art Show at the Walsall Gallery and it has just struck me as interesting the way thoughts flow when given freedom, when the body is forced to sit still. 

My view

I’m looking after the family room on the ground floor here today at the Walsall New Art Gallery which currently houses the work of seven of the MA students (including me) and my thoughts are indeed flowing. 

While sitting here today, I have watched the video that accompanies the work of Gary Ringroad about Elysian Platinum Fields about fifty times so far and it is getting deep into my head. The music is haunting yet uplifting. The visuals are hypnotic. The narrator’s voice (Gary’s?) is chocolaty and seductive. I want to live in Elysian Platinum Fields. I need to go there.

I’ve spoken to a few visitors while here, they are responding very positively to the work. It is great to see that. That is what we wanted.

However, sitting here, typing this on my phone, one word that links the works in this room has just come  to mind: time. I feel a sense of the dimension of time in all I see. The link is strong. I feel in Sarah Byrne’s prints, Alexandra Phillips’ words and Mirela Duta’s paintings – the past. I see in Gary Ringroad’s model and Jackie Sanderson’s sculpture – the future. I see in my still lifes and Molly Smith’s brush strokes – the present. Time is everywhere here.

Time passes slowly as I am here alone with my thoughts, listening to the repetitive hypnotic music of the video. Then time passes quickly as I am abruptly brought out of my head by gallery visitors: smiling and curious.

My new home

Being here, I feel time in another respect, not just in the art, I feel it in the time that represents our exciting future as artists. What is next? Does it matter? Not right now.

‘We live in uncertain times,’ coos Gary over and over again. Maybe so, but we can thrive in uncertainty.

 

 

 

 

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New Art Gallery Walsall – art, life and a rather damp pot plant

About last night… what can I say? It was the start of something beautiful.

Last night being of course the opening night of the MA fine art and art and design by research show. And, despite spending the evening very sober, my memories of the night before now appear in my mind as a big fuzzy blur of light, faces, colour and warmth. That is the best way I can think to describe it. It’s a good feeling.

Before I talk about the show itself, and as a slight digression, I have one particular highlight of the night I want to share with you that involves a pot plant. Picture this: my middle son and I (him in his school uniform, me in heels and a dress not built for running) dashing from my car, in the rain, fifteen minutes before the speeches were due to begin, with a pot plant.

My middle son thought our rainy pot plant rescue dash rather hilarious and even shared it with his Instagram followers. The pot plant in question was to be a gift for the MA course leader Dean Kelland and I’d left it in my car (a last-minute second choice gift as it happens, the first being still ‘in transit’) so needed to get it before speeches and presentations. 

The plant deserves a long life

All I can say about that the above is this: Dean, if you are reading this, you’d better keep that plant alive or there will be one very sad thirteen year old! That plant may have been our second choice of gift but my son and I grew quite fond of it in the few hours we were its custodians.

As for the show, it went very well. If I am honest, and this blog is all about me being honest about my art, I have mixed feelings about my own offerings in the show. I’m not being modest or fishing for compliments when I say that I could have done better. I’m not going to delve into why I feel this way, I can reflect on that in another blog. But in my heart I feel that I haven’t quite fulfilled my aims or my potential, at least in my art practice. But that is ok. I feel quite calm about my conclusion. And as a collective, and individually, my fellow graduates and I have managed to pull off a magnificent show and I feel firmly part of that. I feel really proud of our achievements. I’m very excited for the future of the wonderful group of people I have come to get to know over the last year, two years, or even longer for some. I have watched their journeys with awe and some have travelled very far. There are some very talented people in this year of MA graduates and I wish them much good fortune and success. There are a few who I know have been through some hardships in their life, in terms of their physical or mental health, and I think what they have achieved is quite astonishing. I feel privileged to have been a part of it, and, before I go too far down this road of celebration and sloppiness, it isn’t quite over yet. The show runs until 2 November at the New Art Gallery Walsall.

My things

I have deliberately not mentioned any detail about the work itself. There are two reasons for that. Firstly, for fear of bias. I don’t really want to say what I liked best. I think it is all amazing, of course I do! Secondly, it is my best interest to entice any readers of this to go see for themselves. Please do go. If I had to summarize the exhibition in a haiku it would be like this:

Art that mirrors life

Contains essence in its things

Then life has colour

To conclude: just go. Please do. And as I will be invigilating on a few mornings, I might see you there.

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The essence of pickled cabbage

Part of my MA research was about feeling the essence of objects and how a viewer of art can receive an echo of this essence of objects through art. This ‘essence’ isn’t just to be felt in the visual arts, it can be felt in poetry, literature, film, music and photography and many other creative expressions of feelings, emotions, memories or objects. Not all art has this essence. It is quite elusive. But when you feel it, you know it.

However, today it occurred to me, perhaps obviously but interestingly nonetheless, that this so-called essence isn’t just felt through the more immediate senses of sight and hearing. This ‘essence’ can be absorbed through the less obvious senses: taste (and even touch). Today, in particular, I felt the essence of ‘things’, for the first time in a long time, through my taste buds.

Most of us who think we know our way around a kitchen and what to do with a few herbs believe that we can turn basic food ingredients into something that tastes good, or even something that we want to eat for pleasure rather than just for for fuel. I believe that most people over a certain age and with a certain amount of knowledge and experience can create something I would want to eat. But a desire to eat is not the same as the essence. Today I realised that there are many levels of deliciousness and at the top lies the essence, which is the same essence that can be found in art, film, photograph, music or literature.

It is easy to make something taste good, good enough to want to keep eating it, and good enough to want to eat it again and again and again. However, the real talent of a cook is to be able to bring out the essence of the object, food, and facilitate the transference of that essence to the recipient of that food.

I felt the essence of food today at a delightful little country pub just outside Clithero. The pub in question is the Parkers Arms. I have been once before. But today, after a really good weekend, I was receptive to the essence and I definitely felt it. I have felt it before of course, but after two years or research, the notion of the essence is on my mind more than usual.

The meal:

Starter: a red onion and beetroot tart with some creamy stuff, a damson, some lightly pickled stuff and some green drizzle stuff.

The starter

Main course: Lancashire hot pot and pickled cabbage

Main course

Afters: cheese and biscuits with chutney

Afters

Sounds delicious? It was more than delicious. It was divine. I won’t say it was an ‘explosion of the taste buds’ because it wasn’t. In fact, that’s my point. It didn’t explode, rather it created a wave of pleasure, a gentle yet profound wave. The taste of each individual mouthful was subtle yet flavoursome. Each was predictable yet surprising. And each was also smooth yet edgy. The reaction in me was akin to the sensual and mindful.

I am struggling to describe what happened today with words and I think it is that fact that makes me feel very strongly that the food I ate at the Parkers Arms, based on the way it was prepared, contained the ‘essence’ of which I am fascinated with.

There is more to the ‘essence’ than I thought and I wish that Jacques Deleuze could easily pop over to Clitheroe to feel it too.

 

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Almost there – bye bye precious artworks

On Tuesday this week we transported our precious artworks from the Wolverhampton School of Art to Walsall Art Gallery. On paper, this was quite an irritating task. It meant that I had to go into Wolverhampton just to move my pieces from one spot, to another, then into a lift, then out of a lift, and then on to a van. There isn’t much creativity in that.

All wrapped up

It was therefor a surprise to be felled the strength of the emotional punch that the day delivered. Seeing my things in the van, covered in bubble wrap, and leaving me, and then seeing my empty studio space, bereft of my things and my words, hit me hard.

Ready to go…

The hit was a delayed one though. I cried when I got home. I will miss the Wolverhampton School of Art, I can’t tell you how much. I will miss the tutors. I will miss the friends. I will miss the slow days, the fast days, the lady in Starbucks, the ring road, the lift and the staircase. More than anything else, I will miss that staircase. I’m so sad to leave.

Empty space

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Sitting amongst the trees

Last week I bumped into a friend by the art building lift. She and I had studied the final year of the BA together and she was back for a quick visit. We hadn’t seen each other in a while. We exchanged the usual life updates first. Then she told me that she’d been in the building recently and had walked through the studios, had stopped to look at my work and had liked the still lifes. She added her response to them, which was that they had given her a weird sense of peace.

This comment struck me, and her words slowed down in the air as she spoke them, as this is something I had felt about my funny still lifes while sitting amongst them. I grabbed the words. I felt in them that uncanny response of the familiar. We had both felt the same thing. So I questioned her words. I wanted to know why she would have felt that way.

She pondered my question. 

‘Perhaps,’ she mused, ‘it is because they are made of wood’. She was thinking that the feeling she felt looking at my wooden structures, sitting equidistant apart from each other, in the quiet space of the studio, was similar to the feeling you might get sitting in a wood, with trees equidistant apart from each other. It seems that the wood in the art and the wood in trees is the common denominator – trees give us a sense of balance and peace, my artworks do, they are both wooden. I liked this. I had felt this. This added a new dimension to my work. 

It’s not a tree

Google tells me that spending time around trees and looking them has been proved to reduce stress, lower blood pressure and improve mood. Studies have shown reductions in the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline in the bodies of people surrounded by trees. This is common sense. I would be surprised if this feeling wasn’t universal.

Peace, man.

Can art do this too? Can art made of wood do this? This feeling of balance both she and I had, therefore, isn’t a reaction related to the brush strokes, the representations within the objects, or the shapes or even the ‘essence’ I was trying to convey. This reaction is simply based on the underlying material: wood. I don’t mind. They cause a response. That is all I could ask for.

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My bits and pieces and what I think of them

I am now in a bit of a state of stasis: between handing in the thesis and the final show. I have finished my artwork, more or less, and I sit here now surrounded by it, looking at it, feeling the odd sense of balance and peace that as a collection it seems to ooze (now that is another discussion). This between stage at least affords me an opportunity to think about what I have made, analyse it all and reflect upon it.

One question I have been asking is: do they work as individual pieces and a collection? I hope so. It is always hard to judge as the artist. It is like asking: is my cat cute? Of course I think she is, but is she really? Does she work as a single art piece? Of course she does.

My cat, being cute

A related question might be: what was my aim? That’s an easy question to answer. As it states in my thesis (copies available on request – she offers hopefully), my aim is to tease out the essence in things; to encourage thought about objects and the relationship we have with objects and objects have with each other; to allow people to ponder the nature of what makes something have value in the real and virtual worlds; and to see some ‘thing’ in brush strokes, the light, the shapes and the objects as individuals and the objects as a collection. Those ‘things’ could be seen as the things they represent or other things such as something in nature, something with shape, a sense of familiarity, or source of comfort. They could also be appreciated as objects in their own right.

So I next ask: have I achieved that? I won’t really know until I see everything together at the art gallery in Walsall. I have no idea.

You, the reader or viewer may ask me: what are these things really? I will answer you. They are deconstructed representations of twenty-first century things we rely on, love, treasure, need and take for granted. That is all they are. They want to be accepted for what they are as well as for what they might be or could be.

My NatWest bank card

I would like to see what they might look like on a black floor and in a darkened room. Equally, I would like to see them in a light room with a light floor. I feel at the moment that the former would work best. At the moment they are on a dirty grey studio floor.

Now to ask, how I feel about them. I am stupidly fond of them. I have no idea what I am going to do with them after the show, there is no room in my house for them. But, I feel a love for them, as art objects and as objects that represent my two-year journey to this point.

So, the Still Life of Disorder will soon travel to Walsall. I’m going to need an awful lot of  bubble wrap.

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Finished

The Beast has been handed in, delivered, left on a desk, abandoned, passed over and given away. It has finally gone. I have finished. Getting this far has been a catalogue of bad omens: printing issues, ink issues, terrible headache upon waking, left hockey stick, school closure for one child and coffee spilt all over self on M54. But I have managed to get here, albeit stinking of coffee, and get it delivered.

All I have to do now is pack up my funny still life things for the exhibition in Walsall, unpack them, drink wine and bask in glory on 1st October, and then wait. Wait for results day (aka Brexit No Deal Day (aka Hallowe’en)).

I feel mixed emotions: relief and grief, happiness and sadness. This may be the end of my formal education journey. I will soon have two BAs and one MRes. That quite nice, I think.  It’s a party conversation opener at least. (‘You did what? Why? Are you an artist then?’) I would like to think that my grandma, who was always a bit of a champion of my artistic self, would be proud. I hope so.

The beast and I, just before we parted ways (and a rare photo of me in this blog)

As for what is next, I’m not sure. The lure of a PhD is extremely strong but I don’t want to undertake such a arty farty pursuit lightly. I need a good, solid, unique yet relatable research question first. I need time. I love the arty farty reading and writing but I need a reason to do it that lies beyond the big floppy hat at the end, seeing Dr on my post and being able to open a creativity clinic. Watch this space. I have other projects on the go as well so it will come down to my ability to juggle at the end of the day. I’ve been juggling for seven years so I have faith that I could continue juggling if I take that path. What’s one extra ball? Nothing really.

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