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


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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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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Gallery visit – and I’m still obsessed with revising the beast

This morning the MA students who are graduating this year met at the Walsall Art Gallery to examine the space and chat with the curators, Debra and Kevin, about any issues we might have.

I arrived nice and early and settled myself in Costa next to the gallery with a large Americano, and revised the beast yet again. I feel as if I am engaged in a complex linguistic jigsaw that never ends. I keep moving paragraphs around. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are being moved around in circles, only to end up back where they started.

As for the gallery walk around, that went smoothly. I am not a tricky artist. I am quite emotional and volatile in some areas of my life, but not in art display. I trust the curators, they know what they are doing better than I do. I have a nice sunny spot. I think my things will look fine where they are going to be placed.

Where I will be.

My next dilemma: how to get my big wooden ‘things’ safely to Walsall. We have a van to take big things and I have bagsied space in the  van. But I will need to bubble wrap my pieces, turn them into Mr Softie furniture, in order to ensure their safe arrival. They aren’t the sturdiest of creatures. I have ordered a massive role of bubble wrap. It is due on Friday. That will be Monday’s task.

Where I will be, bigger

Before that, I aim to print out the beast tomorrow, bind it on Thursday and deliver it on Friday. The deadline is Monday but I don’t want the weekend to hang over me like a cloud of revision potential. I am at the point of nausea now, I can’t read it any more. It is what it is.

I am only writing this blog as a way to stop myself reading the beast again.


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Just when I thought I had finished…

…I decided to add more. 

I can’t seem to put the beast down. I have a week left now until hand-in date. I was happy with it before the weekend. Then I decided to give it ‘one more read through’. Famous last words. I have since spent the last 48 hours revising and adding to the beast. I keep thinking of things I want to say that I haven’t said yet. Then some internet browsing leads to a new thought, a new idea and a new angle that could really help make the beast a bit better. At least, that is how my thought processes have been going.

I’m in the red bit still…

There are probably books out there, and websites, about how to write a thesis. I’m sure they don’t say ‘Start writing on your first day, add to it every week, re-write it at least four times, spent New Years Day rewriting it all again, then just when you think you have finished, re-write it again’. I think if I read that in a book I’d run away. 

I suspect that different people write such long essays, thesis, dissertations, whatever you want to call them, in different ways. In fact, I’ve just googled ‘How to write a thesis’ and the best sentence I have seen is: ‘Be prepared to answer “So what?” about your thesis statement.’ (As an aside, I don’t know what a ‘thesis statement’ is, should I? I think I’m not going to worry about that seven days before the end.)

That is sound advice. I like that. And, indeed, I think that might be part of my conclusion. Or, at least, part of my conclusion is: I haven’t found a definitive answer. That’s not quite ‘so what’ but its my honest conclusion. It is almost like saying ‘I’ve had a blast for two years but I am none the wiser!’ I don’t think I can say that. 

Anyway, I do feel wiser, but I also feel fired up to ask more questions and I think that is a good thing. So my conclusion should be: ‘I’ve had  blast for two years, I am wiser, and I have more questions now than I had at the start.’


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I’ve been thinking about edges

I’m still supposed to be finishing off my thesis, and I have done some work on it today (adding footnotes, very important) but my mind has been elsewhere, it has been on the edge.

My obsession with things has turned me to considering edges today. Without edges, we would not have things. I know I often talk about the blending of things, but in reality, there are still edges. Without edges, we would not have the difference between me, it, you, that, this, and the thing. Everything has an edge, even a cloud. Do concepts have edges? I guess that they do. They don’t go on for infinity so they must have edges, surely. Is there an edge to love? There must be, love cannot be found everywhere. And how about a dream? Where is the edge of dream last night?

We may be able to see edges, but they aren’t entities in themselves. I can’t produce an edge. I could try to draw one, but it would be a line, not an edge. That line itself, would have edges around it. So it is impossible to reproduce an edge. And the edge is just the edge, the border, the ‘difference’ between me and it. It isn’t a solid ‘thing’. It’s not even a concept. It is somewhere between the two. The edge is the start of something and the end of something else. It is what joins everything into the big messy blob I talk about.

I cannot exist without my edges, and nor can the thing. Even the internet has an edge, otherwise there would be no difference between this real world I am typing this in and the virtual world my words are appearing in. But where is the edge here? You can rarely touch an edge, even if you can perceive it and ‘see’ it.

The more I think about it, the more I see that there are edges everywhere. All I can see are edges. Suddenly, the things around me as I type this have receded (the chair, my laptop, the enormous tent to my left, the packet of Marks & Spencer’s Extremely Chocolatey milk chocolate orange biscuits, my keys, the table, my diet coke, my fingers, my phone, a leaflet from NatWest, and New Philosopher magazine). All of these things have edges and that is what I am seeing now. Most seem to have straight edges, my fingers being the main exception. And their edges seem to touch, overlap, go behind or in front of other things with edges.

Yes, they are very delicious those biscuits, even the edges of them.

The problem with thinking, is that it takes you to all sorts of places. Now I see that there are also metaphoric edges: the edge of reality, the edge of reason, the edge of sanity and the edge of something new and exciting. An edge seems to stand for a chasm between good and bad, safe and unsafe, or my mind and the rest of the world, thing and no-thing.

We also use edges to mean borders. If I cross over the edge to where you are, I am a visitor. We live within edges, in our own communities, whether we like it or not and whether we believe it should be so or not. I might decide to meet you on the edge of the corner.

To be on edge, is to be tetchy, or on the brink of something fearful. The world ‘ledge’ is close to edge, and to stand on the ledge is to be about to jump.

And now google, my old friend, tells me there is a book all about edges! I might just have to get this. What can a man have to say that might fill a whole book about edges? I need to find out.

I don’t have enough books to read…

I do rather like living life on the edge.


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When objects create objects – why I love tree tunnels

If you have ever been on holiday to Devon, Cornwall or West Wales (and probably numerous other places I haven’t been too) and driven around the countryside whilst on holiday then you will be familiar with the notion of the tree tunnel. The tree tunnel is one of the treats of going away. They do have them in Staffordshire and Shropshire, but not many. I have always loved tree tunnels and you see them everywhere in Devon and Cornwall. 

A tree tunnel is a usually square-roofed, but sometimes more rotund, natural ‘tunnel’ of trees that stretches over a road that isn’t a main road but isn’t quite a teeny tiny country one either. It is usually one of those in between roads, the sort of road that lorry sat navs send lorries down in error. Over time, these trundling lost lorries create a natural shape out of the stretching overarching tree branches that have grown over head. The shape of the lorries, which is often square, creates an amazing man-made-natural phenomenon which is known as the tree tunnel.

This is a particularly beautiful example of the tree tunnel

I’ve recently become quite interested in such examples where nature and man interact to create new objects, particularly accidental ones. I want to find other examples. I’ve just more-or-less finished my MA thesis, which I fondly call The Beast, and my argument in that centres on this idea of the democracy of things and the impact that objects (whether they be organic or inorganic) have on each other. So my love of tree tunnels goes one step further. Not only are objects (lorries and their drivers, and trees) having an impact on each other, they are creating a new object (the tree tunnel) that would not otherwise exist if it hadn’t been for the existence of the two creators: trees and lorries.

Isn’t that simply amazing? Perhaps this is the gem of an idea for a future PhD I might one day decide to do. I just can’t seem to stop.


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Nearly there – doubts

I am just two weeks away from the hand-in date that is imprinted on my brain, and a little longer than that away from when I have to exhibit something. As a consequence, the dreaded doubts have started to show their ugly faces. Evil little critters, they are. I know this is normal, yet it still frightens me. It’s the curse of the creative.

If doubts were monsters…

It isn’t just me that has been feeling it; today, while in the studio, I sensed it from others. We have just two weeks left and we ‘should’ be nearly there. Yet, we all seem to be walking around looking somewhat lost as if in a fog of uncertainty, desperately seeking assurance on each other’s faces that the same emotion is being felt. It is, there is no mistaking it. I see it.

I have just varnished my finished pieces and for about the fourth time since I started making them I have concluded that they look ‘rubbish’. The varnish has left an uneven finish on them which to me is obvious and messy. They need another coat. Yet I can’t really get away with varnishing them in the studio as the smell is too potent, so I will have to carry them one by one outside and that is tedious. I will have to try to spray them instead of painting the varnish on and I am worried that this won’t work or that I will run out of varnish. One can doesn’t go that far. So I am sat here worrying.

As I write this, I am sat at home and it is 9pm at night, I can’t do anything about my fears now. I wish I could. I want to be there, back in the studio. I want to make everything perfect, I can’t. The thoughts running through my head are: what if it doesn’t work? What if they fall apart as I attempt to carry them outside? What if they still look awful after I have varnished them again? What if it is all a big waste of time and money? What if I fail? What if? What if?

It looks better in the photograph than in real life

Also today, I re-read my thesis, I must be in double, even triple figures now on read throughs. And the doubt monster has bitten me here too. I recently sent it to a non-artist to proofread for me and his comments which I received today, of which there are many, have sent me into a bit of a spin of terror. What if it doesn’t make sense? What if I fail? What if I have wasted two years of my life? What if it is, as I fear, utter rubbish?

He was better at herding cats than he was at art

Now both those fears are ridiculous, I now tell myself. Whatever the outcome of the thesis and the exhibition, I have not wasted two years. Even if I fail, it has not been a waste of time. It has been an incredible two years. And anyway, some of the best artists failed at art school. And some of the most well known evil dictators didn’t even get in in the first place. Perhaps the latter is not the best role model though. Boris, watch your back.

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