In the eighties when I was designing databases, I contemplated a time when there might be an all encompassing database ‘out there’, when it might be possible to search for disparate entities, and make a connection.  Today it is so and the norm.

Reading Blue Mythologies by Carol Mavor I encounter Helen Chadwick, familiar and yet not.  In my head there is a connection with John Skinner, which google confirms.  Wiki states her foundation year was at Croydon, my husband’s art college.  He confirms he was there at the same time, but didn’t know her.

I look at the work of Chadwick and can see her connections.  I look at the work of Annabel Dover, also featured in the book, I see the simple beauty of her cyanotypes, the steeped history, and can see her connections.

Iris’ Stocking (c)2011 Annabel Dover

As an analyst and systems designer I was trained to see connections.  Why am I not seeing them when it really matters to me?

I revisit John Skinner’s Bodying Forth les blocages June 2011.  He was specifically referring to blockages in the painting process, desire, anger, frustration, and through movement, selecting a pathway and through use of the materials, a sensitivity to the paint.  But equally, could it be a solution to blockages in making personal connections?  Select a pathway through the thoughts and emotions  to develop meaningful and unique insights?

Trusting the Process

Testing my particular boundaries is shaping up to have nothing to do with the audience (at the moment), and everything to do with breaking down those small, but destructive, acts that are sabotaging  my progress.  The playing, the mental block on ‘time well spent’, the assessment and selection  of materials, the reluctance to ‘just go for it’.   It also has everything to do with my expectation that painting should not be painful, should work first time, should not place too great a demand on me.  These are the real boundaries that I have to confront head on.

So I push back these boundaries, what then?  As Les Bicknell asked, ‘Where do I want to go?’  Where indeed?  Les astutely highlighted as issue with audience engagement.  Is this historic?  Lack of confidence?  Wrong market?  I sense that it is of my creation, stemming from competent, but unchallenging work, that leaves the audience unsatisfied, without knowing why, and me frustrated that I am not commercially successful, my marker for identifying good work.

But what if I turn this situation on its head.  Well, here is the dilemma.  If I let go of public opinion and the commercial market place, where does that leave my work?  Piled up in the corner, gathering dust?  How will I feel?  Like the medicine isn’t working?  Probably and probably.  Is this something I need to get over?  Probably.

Having watched Krzysztof Fijalkowski’s lecture and read Seven Days in the Art World, it is difficult to imagine an alternative to  a gallery.  I have tried the self promote route, the endless group exhibitions, exhibiting overseas, social media, online galleries.  The collective wisdom of my colleagues in this world, is that the Credit Crunch crucified the market and, like interest rates, the market is still struggling to rise and find buyers.  This is not the investment market place.  The only way  that I can see for me going forward, is to be part  of the open competition and gallery world.  This can only happen if I am able to produce challenging work.  This can only happen if I trust the process.

Play Time

Last night I attended my first Blue Monkey network meeting at the Towner gallery.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was soon at ease with a warm welcome from Judith the academic artist leader, whose next exhibition, New Immortals at the Phoenix in Brighton blurs the line between art and science.  Of the 80 members about 30 were present, mostly women, of a certain age.

Felicity, a member, presented a talk on her experience at a self-sourced residency at Ashburnham Place, Battle, and the process of obtaining a small bursary to cover coaching and mentoring.  Trained as a glass blower, Felicity used the residency to explore, play and self develop, producing a series of painted works.

As she recounted her experience of feeling insecure, of reflection, of making patterns in the woods, I realised I was witnessing the role and contribution of play,  and the realisation that this is what is expected of me.  An investment of time with no particular or obvious output, that may or may not illuminate the way forward.  How to dissolve this mental block?

Instead I find myself reflecting on my angst and trying to make sense of the process, through my journal rather than playing.  A serious child, play didn’t come easily, and still doesn’t.

Through the action of writing this blog, I have resolved to address this by changing my working pattern.  I normally process my slumbering reflections first thing, along with admin, research, preparation for MA tasks.  If this runs on and exhaustion sets in, it is the painting that is sacrificed.  By the simple action of switching my day, the creative energy will take place in day light, and the other tasks will be accommodated later in the day, or not at all.  Gone will be the procrastination and delaying tactics, if that is what is going on.  There will be no hiding.

This will still not directly resolve the issue of play, but that may become a natural element within my practice, by working with increased energy prior, to cerebral activity.  Time will tell.



Since I started my MA I have been collecting words that are new to me, like foot prints on my journey.  The latest, Dialectic, happens to be the name for the Provocations we experienced last night, but I encountered the word in Sarah Thornton’s excellent book, Seven Days in the Art World.  Reading the chapter on the Crit, is a bit of a light-bulb moment.

The Crit, for MA students in their second year (of two), at CalArts in California is headed by Michael Asher, the minimalist ‘situational interventionist’, best known for his work at the Claire Copley gallery in Los Angeles in 1974.  The event as described, is critiquing the work of three students, out of twenty four.  It starts at 10am and finishes after midnight.  An immense pressure on the students to articulate and defend their intentions, something Dave Hickey, the critic, disagrees with.  While Mary Kelly, Asher’s colleague argues that ‘Moreover, artists don’t fully understand what they’ve made, so other people’s readings can help them “see at a conscious level” what they have done…  its about being open to the possibility of what you could know.’  One student described the crit as ‘..a deep inquiry so as to expose a dialectic.’

Leslie Dick, tutor at CalArts, California, talking about MA students half way through their 2 year course, explains  ‘Everything goes to pieces in the first year and it comes together in the second year. Often the people who are making sense are the ones for whom it hasn’t started working yet.  They’ve still got all their defenses up.’

At CalArts, conceptual artist and tutor, Charles Gaines  explains ‘Criticality is a strategy for the production of knowledge.  Our view is that art should interrogate the social and cultural ideas of our time.’  Thornton states ‘Criticality is the code word for a model of art-making that foregrounds research and analysis rather than instincts and intuition.’  At CalArts creativity is a dirty word, ‘a very personal process that cannot be taught.’

CalArts does not encourage painting, although Eric Fischl trained there.  The dean, Scottish painter, Thomas Lawson, added ‘I am a painter and I know that painting is not about talking.’

This perhaps sheds some light on why I struggle to understand the fundamentals, why I am spending 90% of my time writing and thinking, and not painting, and why my pursuit of a better understanding of instinct and intuition was academically the wrong direction.  It is also reassuring to note that not all in art academia share that view.

As for my ‘foot prints’, I am sure they will manifest into some sort of work in the future, but here is a good place to rest them while I gather up my ‘pieces’ in the second half of my journey.

























































Auerbach & Hoyland

I feel very lucky to live in proximity to London and to be able to participate in study days.  It wasn’t until lunch that I realised the study leader was Gerald Deslandes who presented the lecture on feminism, this time last year.

Damien Hirst’s Newport Street gallery, 25 minutes from Waterloo, through a labyrinth of residential estates, is in the back of beyond, but once there, is a joy.  A former theatrical storage facility, it is substantial, light and well designed.  The work on show was another matter.

I like John Hoyland’s work, so was eager to see the exhibition, but the collection, Power Stations Paintings 1964-1982, (Hirst’s own), did not feel like the best Hoyland had to offer.  Arranged by period the larger rooms on the ground floor house the earlier work, bold blocks of colour, with the emphasis on edges, a feeling of that’s how it is, reminiscent of the American Colourfield painters of the fifties and sixties.

The ‘pink confection’ room came as a complete shock.  Works known as 25.1.71, 5.3.71 and 23.2.71 were produced at Hoyland’s then recently purchase studio in Market Lavington, Wiltshire, rather than his New York studio, and the difference is astounding.  Gone is the dark, industrial palette, the straight lines, the bold shapes, replaced by works in creamy pinks festooned with ‘confetti’ colours and strokes.

In the final room Hoyland returns to his bolder palette with landscape type works, reminiscent of Diebenkorn.

I am reminded of the BBC documentary Artists on Film: Scenes from working Lives – John Hoyland, where artist angst is clear for all to see.

The Auerbach at Tate Britain was a gem.  Again themed by period, from the 1950’s to the present day, but this time the experience was very different.  Far from being held at arm’s length by Hoyland (those specific works or the man himself?), I felt part of Frank Auerbach’s personal journey.  Again progressing from the darker works of the 1950s and 60s, with their impasto surfaces through to the joyful Mornington Crescent – Early  Morning 1991.

The passion, the energy, the sheer hard work was evident, yet at no time did his work feel reminiscent.  Yes, the history of David Bomberg and the Borough Group was evident, as with Leon Kossoff, and the references to the old masters could be spotted, but his hand, and only his hand was clearly applying the brush strokes.  Of particular note were the powerful charcoal drawings, a constant throughout his career and the

Head of J Y M II, 1984-5

All life is lived in this stunning work.

Finally, the visit wouldn’t have been the same without the insightful guidance of the hugely informed Gerald, who as a gallerist, was able to offer a dynamic perspective on the works.


TYB – A Twist in the Plot

I have mentioned in a previous post the ease with which I have found this project.  For the last few weeks I have been reflecting long and hard over my research question, viewing its resolution as the key to my way forward.  But what if it isn’t?  What if it is only a small step or even a sign post?

Looking back over my reading list for this period, selected at random, or maybe not:

How to Be an Artist – Michael Atavar

Think Like an Artist – Will Gompertz

Dunk Tank Pink – Adam Alter

The Tao of Pooh & Te of Piglet  – Benjamin Hoff

The Four Purposes of Life – Dan Millman

Art & Fear – David Bayles & Ted Orland

All are addressing the inner artist, the confidence, the angst.  All were read with a view to illuminating my way forward and the nature of my research question.  There has not been a eureka moment, but what there has been is a realisation that I am ok, that the process is working, that I am a normal artist.  What it has also achieved is the fact that I can step aside from the research into self, and look objectively at my chosen world.

I went back to the drawing board and revisited my last essay, Being Authentic, which concluded ‘..that authentic paintings are rooted in the tactile practice of ‘real drawing’;  That tough contemporary work can only be achieved by a ‘suspension of common sense’..  Time to build on that work.

This new perspective has brought a surprising twist.  For reasons I don’t fully understand, even after reflection, the Testing Your Boundaries project, hasn’t tested me.  This could be experience of exhibiting, it could be because it is a joyful task, with a colourful outcome, suffice to say that I have decided to continue to TYB through my research.

I had assumed I would focus on florals and have plans to spend some time photographing and drawing in a house plant nursery.  I will still pursue this project as part of my joint exhibition in June, but for my MA I have decided to build on my  assessment work from last year and paint from historic photographs.  This will be challenging work.  I am not a natural portrait/figure painter and my existing ‘style’ is not suited to this type of work.  There is no time for ‘relaxing’, no room for mistakes.  It feels a bit like contemplating walking a tightrope, and is therefore sufficiently challenging.  There will certainly be ‘suspension of common sense’, and the work will certainly be tactile.

Two artists stand out, Marlene Dumas and Celia Paul, and I am sure there will be others, as I focus my research.  If I am stubbornly going to nail my colour’s to the watercolour mast, I also need to be able to articulate on watercolour’s context in the art world, its history and people’s perception of the medium.  I won’t get another opportunity to do this.

Having made my decision I was able to sleep last night, the first time for many.

Stealing Ideas

I thought I had written enough today, then I saw this article in the Guardian about David Bowie stealing ideas and it reminded me of the importance of stealing ideas, plus it is unforgivable to let the passing of a legend go by without comment.

Bowie wearing fedora in The Man Who Fell to Earth

Photograph: Allstar/British Lion/Studiocanal

I grew up with Bowie.  I remember singing Major Tom whilst working at my first job in IT in 1969.  But it is not about his singing I want to reflect on, much as I loved certain periods of his work.

Of more interest is the ‘essence’ of Bowie, the character, the canvas, the ideas, the messages, the challenges, the presentation of those ideas.  Here was a creative individual so ahead of his time, so unafraid, so focused, so passionate, so talented, so multifaceted, in fact all the qualities necessary for success (see Richard St John), but success on his terms, his game, his rules.

He was the work of art.

David Jones, the lad from Brixton, took the world and shook it till it squeaked.  The end of an era.

On Taking Risks

Kathryn Schultz author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error: The Meaning of Error in an Age of Certainty, talks about the conditioning we experience with regard to getting things wrong and our view of the type of people who do so.  As she points out, St Augustine said ‘I err, therefore I am.’  She argues for the rediscovery of wonder, the stepping outside of the terrified space of rightness and acknowledge that ‘maybe I am wrong.’

Tim Harford through a series of examples shows that ‘disruptions’ can lead to success.

Jazz pianist Keith Jarrett created his best selling album using a piano with defects that limited his scope;  using an awkward typeface slows the student down and encourages reflectivity;  Psychologist Shelley Carson found that students working with distraction produced better outcomes;  psychologist Catherine Philips found that adding a stranger to a mix creates awkwardness and doubt but a 50% better outcome, than friends working together;  Brian Eno used his randomly selected Oblique Strategy cards when working with David Bowie on his Heroes album.  Adding randomness, things that shouldn’t work, can produce a better outcome.

Richard St John gave a condensed Ted talk on the 8 secrets of success:

Work hard, but have fun.

Be good at what you do, through practice.

Focus on one thing.

Push through shyness and self-doubt.


Add value.

Generate ideas.

Persist through failure.

Listen to your mother!  Not sure about this one!

Reflecting on this unexpected disruption to my day, walking the path well trod will create nothing new.  Two  key issues have been surfacing recently, fear, self-doubt, shining a torch in the dark corners; and letting go (of what?) and acknowledging who I am.

Keep digging!

TYB – Signposts from Les

It is hard to believe that with all the support and gentle guidance we are receiving, that I could in any way escape seeing the way forward…

Les Bicknell presented on two aspects of our future, Context and Hanging and our Relationship with our Audience

My relationship with my audience was particularly revelatory, and highlighted my chosen distancing from my viewers. I need to think about whether this is intentional, and if so, the benefits and disadvantages;  and is this how  see the way forward.

At present I produce a painting, it goes to exhibition, is loaded to web sites, mine, Saatchi for originals and Not on the High Street for prints, the social media, FB, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.  My audience contact is either at a preview or whilst stewarding through an emailed comment.  Feedback is either in the form of a sale, a comment or a ‘like’ or ‘follow’.

Is this enough?  How could it be different within the context that I work?  Should I be changing the context within which I work or display work?  How would I really like the ‘system’ to work?

Taking where I am now, I have a reasonable presence on social media, I could increase that, but from other’s experience, the additional effort bring limited additional rewards.  I could participate in more exhibitions.  These would need to be more focused or in other parts of the country, other countries.

The more focused I am addressing in June with an exhibition that will be marketed on the Coastal Trail, Towner, De La Warr, Hastings Art Forum, Jerwood, with another painter of florals.  We plan artist talks and workshops, (way outside my comfort zone!).  From this I would hope to engage the public in further workshops through a local enterprise.  This should address my local profile.

With regard to other locations out of county, there needs to be a balance between effort and reward.  I am aiming to minimise effort by entering highly competitive Open competitions with online submission, and through the MA process.

I don’t think context is my issue.  I think drilling down to my uniqueness is the issue and one I am working hard to address.  Once I have identified it, through the process of the MA, I believe the rest will follow, which may ultimately be an expansion of context, or may not.

Ideally I would like the public to flock to my door, but I am a realist and we move in difficult times, particularly at the level at which I am working.  At the AGM of the Sussex Watercolour Society last week, it was universally accepted by the 30 members that the advent of Giclee prints has effectively killed the market for  originals.  So, the other option is to move up a level to a more discerning market place and probably a gallery.  I think this will happen once I resolve the ‘uniqueness’ issue.

The issue of display raised by Les’s Context presentation, is an interesting one.  Associations, connections, walls, floors, ceilings, shelves, tables, cabinets, vitrine.  Meanings, implied, embedded.  I particularly related to the ethereal printing on muslin and hanging in a church or similar building, and I may have an opportunity to explore that option later this year.


The Tao of Pooh

Here I am deliberating, no, that should be stressing over my research question, whilst my niece is giving birth to her first child, and an unknown soul is risking their life to make a six mile sea crossing  to Lesbos.

Is it possible that such a task, essentially trivial in the scheme of life, can be so challenging.

I am taking lessons from Pooh and Piglet in Benjamin Hoff’s simple and ingenious introduction to Taoism, The Tao of Pooh and the Te of Piglet.  ‘Using Wu Wei, you go by circumstances and listen to your own intuition.  … One of the convenient things about this Sensitivity to Circumstances is that you don’t have to make so many difficult decisions.  Instead, you can let them make themselves.’

Can I rely on this?  Am I as intuitive as I think?  I clutch at straws and take the Myers-Briggs test.  INFJ, scoring highest for intuition, creative yet organised.  So why have I not achieved clarity?

I return to Angela’s feedback, ‘engage with imagery, memory and emotion in a non-strategic way..’  I mind map around Tension, Intention and non-strategic thinking.

I had assumed that ‘non-strategic’ meant without pre-planning, open to all eventualities, but Google had other ideas.  According to Keelin & Arnold, 2002, ‘Five Habits of Highly Strategic Thinkers’, non-strategic thinking is ‘Concrete with no engagement of the imagination…Embraces neither alternatives nor uncertainties’, whilst strategic thinking takes the ‘Abstract with powerful engagement of the imagination’.  Could this be relevant?  My last role in IT was as a strategist, part of my uniqueness.  Could my research question be ‘What is the role of strategic thinking for the artist?’

Further attempts to link strategic thinking with known artists draw a blank.  Is this because thinking strategically is inherent in being an artist, so why talk about it?  Or is it because strategic thinking is inherently a business concept, and artists don’t like to consider what they do as a business?  This feels like a dead end or a very steep climb with regard to researching possible artists.

To allow time for the idea to develop or fall by the wayside, I try a different avenue, creative brainstorming cards.  I shuffle and blind select the ‘Shadow’ card.

This card asks ‘What am I afraid to see?’  It challenges me to think hard about my associations with shadow, (scared of my own shadow), mirrors, (I have an aversion to mirrors and preening), and masks (confusion, who am I?).  Am I hiding in the shadows, afraid to face up to the truth?  What truth?  Mark McElroy in his accompanying book summarises ‘We like to see ourselves in the best possible light, which often means avoiding the caves and caverns where our darker selves lurk.  We dare not turn a blind eye to the truth, because digging deep is often the only way to uncover buried treasure.’

My previous blog on this subject was called ‘Digging Deeper’.  The ‘Shadow’ card is part of the section labelled ‘Forces and Influences’.  I wasn’t expecting this!  It was only supposed to be a stalling tactic.

Keep on digging… there be treasure in them shadows.