TYB Breathing a Sigh

Normally, when I pick up enlarged prints from my printer, I am excited to see how the work looks.  When I picked up the posters, reality and nerves kicked in.  No turning back.

The morning of the posting of the images began with making a gallon of poster glue.  A tiring 30 minutes of stirring and lump straining took its toll on my stress level.  My son, the cameraman, began assembling his camera.  My husband collected brushes and ladders.  The sun shone and the passersby generally ignored us as we  climbed ladders, marked, pasted, slide the sections into position.

Once the first image was visible interest picked up.  Surprising support from young lads in hoodies; questioning by a local keen gardener, who seemed to be, surprisingly objecting.  Within an hour a council representative parked and watched.  Coincidence?  She drove away without comment.

Three hours later, cold and very relieved it was over, my son and I escaped to my studio for some action shots.  This was followed by a Q & A as to what I was doing and why.

How do I feel now?  Proud of what I achieved and the experience of what it must be like to produce large works in a gallery space, delighted to be working with my son on a creative project; really encouraged by the support of neighbours, passersby and comments on Twitter.  It would have helped if I had spelt ‘guerilla’ correctly in my tweet, but respondents don’t seem to mind.

Now I can relax and focus on my research for my essay.

33 Artists in 3 Acts

I come to this as a displacement activity while I reflect on the peer review of my research question last night.  How can it be so elusive?

Having enjoyed 7 Days in the Art World, I had a reasonable expectation for this 400 page insight into the workings and minds of some of our most revered artists (if Biennials can be considered a measure), but I was disappointed.  Her engaging style and unprecedented access suggest more than is delivered.  The emphasis by an English writer on American artists, and four members of the same family, repeatedly, diminished its relevance for me.

Whether by intention or because it is true, the artists Thornton interviews reveal the art world as a class system, with Biennials appearing to be like a Queen Charlotte’s Ball, with the participants as the socialites.

However I do have to admire Thornton for firstly extracting such honesty from a number of interviewees, and secondly for repeating what appear to be admissions that at this level there is a lot of ‘bullshit’, with artists getting away with what they can.  ‘Crime is incredibly creative.  There’s the bank.  If I buy that shed next to the bank, I can dig a tunnel, go underneath…take the money…and no-one would know I was there.  That is exactly what art is like!’  There speaks, Damien Hirst, a master of deception.

The Curator, Francesco Bonami talks about his book, He Thinks He’s Picasso, (Translated from Italian), where he places artists in four categories according to whether they are real or fake, good or bad.  He considers Jasper Johns real but bad, and Ai Weiwei fake and bad, and Maurizio Cattelan is a good fake.

If this is the summit of the industry, why would any artist aspire to it?

How Proust Can Change Your Life

Another gem from Alain De Botton.  His light, engaging style belies his serious intent of making art accessible and encouraging the reader to absorb the world differently.  In this book the subject is Marcel Proust’s multi-volumed life’s work, the masterpiece In Search of Lost Time.  De Botton introduces the reader to the beauty of Proust’s writing, using selected extracts to highlight philosophical arguments.

In ‘How to Express Your Emotions’, to support de Botton’s argument ‘..what is arguably present in every successful work of art: an ability to restore to our sight a distorted or neglected aspect of reality.’, he offers ‘Our vanity, our passions, our spirit of imitation, our abstract intelligence, our habits have long been at work, and it is the task of art to undo this work of theirs, making us travel back in the direction from which we have come to the depths where what has really existed lies unknown within us.’

With de Botton’s effortless guidance Proust’s work becomes not only an accessible read, but also an unexpectedly desirable read.

Botton, A. d. (1998). How Proust Can Change Your Life. London: Picador.

Painting the Modern Garden

The RA in Piccadilly is hosting this block buster of an exhibition.  A booked time slot event and visitors five deep.  Certainly not a relaxing experience, but I was heartened that such a subject could attract such interest.  Once past the first two rooms the crowds thinned and the paintings became riots of competing colour.

The Monet waterlilies large triple canvas formed the centrepiece of the exhibition, in the final room, and if I hadn’t already visited the excellent Musee Marmottan in Paris, I would have been more excited by the works.  There is a short film of Monet’s garden at Giverny  https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/painting-modern-garden-monet-matisse  One confusion, as a trained and enthusiastic gardener, is why the RA has called the Waterlily tryptych, Agapanthus, repeated by Jonanthan Jones, http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/jan/25/painting-the-modern-garden-monet-to-matisse-review-royal-academy-london,  beats me.

The Monet that did excite me was the sumptuously detailed

Corner of the Water Lily Pond (1918-1919)  https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/67/d1/f4/67d1f4dd5089d1ecbefa5f8c4f3a4a62.jpg

Watching the short film of Monet, (in a room surrounded by large format photographs of all the participating artists), actually painting in his garden, was a real education.  Working in such sunlight is apt to mute the colours, but the genius of Monet was his ability to extract every last drop of exquisite colour onto his canvas.  Extraordinary.

For me the star painting of the show was by an artist I have never encountered Joaquin Sorolla y Batista, a large, technically brilliant painting that swamped the senses with colour and light.  By comparison, the Noldes that I had been looking forward to seeing, were a disappointment.  Flat, dull composition, certainly not his best floral works.

Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1911 Oil on canvas. 150 x 225.5 cm.

Another favorite from a private collection was  a Manet.  With 150 world class paintings, it was difficult to make an impact, but this relatively small work, shone through.  Manet’s informal brush strokes created a haunting luminosity, a freedom, that many of the other works lacked.

Young Woman Among the Flowers 1879  https://susanmilleruk.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/d2f27-18792byoung2bwoman2bamong2bthe2bflowers2boil2bon2bcanvas2bprivate2bcollection.jpg

Finally, I was surprised and delighted to see my daughter in the bottom left corner of a work by Bonnard, dated 1912!

Summer in Normandy 1912 https://susanmilleruk.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/753c0-1912summerinnormandy.jpg

I was interested to note that Martha Rosler is ‘an avid gardener’ and has taken pictures of flowers for many years. (Thornton, 2014) p98.

My own exhibition of flowers with attitude in May, and my TYB project couldn’t have been more timely.  I am in excellent company.

1 Thornton, S. (2014). 33 Artists in 3 Acts. London: Grantna.

Watching Paint Dry

I have been researching Celia Paul and her work  in watercolour and oils.  Catherine Lampert wrote a booklet called Identity, which I haven’t been able to locate, so whilst in London I decided to call in to the publisher, Marlborough Gallery in Mayfair.  Apprehensive and certainly testing my boundaries, I was delighted to find the staff couldn’t have been more helpful, particularly as they no longer represent Paul, photocopying the text from one of their few remaining copies.  The director, Frankie Rossi, was also happy to talk about the price differential between watercolour and oils, which is about 50%, which she was at a loss to explain, just confirming that it had always been so.

Reflecting on the context and nature of my work, I feel I need to get back to the unique mark making possible in watercolour, to harness its strengths and see where this type of enquiry might lead.  I revisited the work of watercolourist Barbara Nicholls and found her illuminating video on YouTube (Nicholls, 2014).  Nicholls employs ‘accidental’ mark making to produce organic forms

Magnetic Inclination 2014 Watercolour 220 cm x 152 cm http://www.barbaranicholls.co.uk/

‘They are in part investigations into the scientific properties of watercolour whilst also being instinctive reactions to the process of using watercolour. The paintings are poured, cajoled, blown and left alone to become records of colourful events reflecting the relationship between myself and the materials. Through the long process of evaporation, sometimes with the assistance of a breeze from an electric fan, this systematised use of colour mixed with a chance element merges colours to create a soft blending of geographies.’

This way of working has been intrinsic to my own practice, but combined with conventional painting, and without the specific intention of harnessing the accidental marks.  By defining my starting point and deliberately working to create the accidental marks, I want to explore semi abstract images.

Test pieces 20 x 20 cms and 42 x 52 cms, drying naturally.

Nicholls, B. (2014, 01 19). youtube. Retrieved 02 13, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TckEQV7YVUY


Such a small word and so elusive.  I first encountered this word in an artistic context whilst researching the painter and educator, Roy Oxlade.  ‘Roy Oxlade emerged in the 1950s as one of a distinguished group of painters from under the wing of David Bomberg, and has remained faithful to the principles of immediacy, the authenticity of the brush mark and truth of feeling. He talks of the process of painting as being akin to a performance, like jazz improvisation: risky, spontaneous and yet disciplined, a meeting between the external world and the vision within.’ 1 (Richardson,2013)

In writing about Bomberg in his book Art & Instinct, ‘He hoped to find in his “approach to mass” the key to something fundamental in human life;… drawing becomes the means of regaining a natural insight into the world of forms as well as renewing our understanding of life’s value and meaning.’ 2 (Oxlade, 2010) p196

For the first time, when attempting to paint my much loved grandmother and myself, the word ‘truth’ kept repeating in my head, and I realised that Bomberg’s ‘approach to mass’, his truth, was what I was grappling with, how to convey the truth of my relationship with her in a single image.IMG_0884

I am not  there with the image yet, but I am there in terms of understanding what Bomberg meant.

1 Michael Richardson (2013) http://www.artspacegallery.co.uk/PDFs/OxladePress.pdf Retrieved 14/02/2016

2 Oxlade, R. (2010). Art & Instinct. London: Ziggurat Books.


TYB Tutorial with Les

Les asked another of his telling questions, What will constitute success regarding my project?  Well, it would be useful if the remaining 2/3rds of the hoarding remained defiantly standing in the face of climate change.  Whilst I am sure there are other hoardings, but perhaps no locally, the proximity allows me to casually interact with the viewer, which I feel will be more beneficial to the outcome of the project.

Success?  The physicality of presenting my work in this way?  The engagement of the public?  The adoption of art by companies employing hoardings, thereby creating a norm of bringing art to the public and making better use of ugly meanwhile spaces?

Historically my measure of success has been a sale, which on reflection does not necessarily imply that that particular piece of work is any better than any other, merely that it satisfied the particular needs of the purchaser at that moment in time.  But what is success without such an indicator?  After some reflection, I have decided that success will be at my determination and not the observer’s, and that I can deem it a success if all elements of the project come seamlessly together.

Les also asked whether the artwork was to be the posters and the public response or the video.  Again a good question. Work eroded by the passing of time,  the weather, the street life, the developers, or work preserved for all the world to see, or not see.   I have decided there are two distinct works, albeit the documentary is dependent upon the posters, the public’s response and my thoughts on the project.

My words list (Words blog) interested Les and he suggested I consider words for inclusion in the work, and that I look to ask questions in the video rather than providing answers. He also cautioned against defending the work, stressing the importance of listening, a la Louis Theroux and Jon Ronson.

Finally he recommended Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics, the work of Stephen Willats, Felix Gonzales Torres and the Billboard Art project.  Willats’ practice is focused on creative art projects which take art to the public in ways and places not previously considered.  Gonzales Torres who was influenced by the critical theory proposed by, among others, Walter Benjamin, which is that it ‘should improve the understanding of society by integrating all the major social sciences’, encouraged the viewer to take pieces of his installation work with them. 1  Les’s suggestion that I lend work to neighbours and ask for feedback on their experience of living with the work echos Gonzales Torres.  I need to think about this idea.  It feels ‘very out there’ for me, almost forcing my work on to people who may not like to say no, and could lead to all sorts of misunderstandings.

Yesterday I was lost in a world of hesitation, looking for alternative sites, researching the possibility of mounting the work on aluminium (a very reasonable £85 for 8 x 4ft, but a stinging £200 for delivery), and whether I actually wanted to retain the work in this format and where could it be stored or loaned (if anyone would actually be interested in it).  What about willful damage, graffiti, endless questions mostly without answers.

Today I have taken action.  The work is being scanned at 600dpi and the printer is looking at possible options, which may include mounting on aluminium by a local company.  I have also written to the chair of our town team, (who I am working with on a project to increase the night life in St Leonards), who has a keen interest in the arts and also writes for the local independent paper.  Filming is scheduled for 25 Feb.  My next task is to reflect on the purpose of the project and the outcome I am seeking.

1 Critical_theory. (n.d.). Retrieved 02 10, 2016, from wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_theory

My Sketchbook

I need to declare up front that I don’t use a sketchbook.  I watched Lachlan Goudie with admiration, as he effortlessly drew/painted, whilst presenting his excellent series The Story of Scottish Art.  It would certainly be beyond my skills, but more importantly, I have no inclination to record in a sketchbook.

Since my last preassessment tutorial with Caroline, where it was suggested that the submission of a sketchbook might be wise, I have thought long and hard about my working practice.  I took a beautiful, square format book on holiday following my assessment, and yes it is rewarding to revisit knurled bark and sunlight through petals, but the practice felt unnatural on returning home.

So what evidence can I show for the process of observing and reflecting?  I started to unpick my process.  My phone or ipad are always with me, and thereby a camera.  A recent talk by Robin Bell, master printer, reminded me how much I have always enjoyed taking photos, and in the ‘old days’, developing them.IMG_0814

The above is a series of images I took whilst researching for some gritty paintings I am experimenting with.  The system ‘collection’ of such images lends itself to the possibility of painted random collages.

But where is the experimenting, the trying out of new ideas?  For me, that all takes place on the surface, be it paper, foam board, canvas.  I view each start as potentially a finished piece, diligently working and reworking the surface until I feel the image ‘works’.

First Born, 58 x 78 cms                  Happy Family, 58 x 78 cms

I was unhappy with both of these paintings.  First Born looked too polished and Happy Family had been overworked in some areas.  Inspired by the distant quality of Silke Otto-Knapp’s watercolours, and Robin Bell’s hand blurring of some edges when developing a photograph, I scrubbed back both works in the bath, leaving one or two crisper edges.  For Happy Family, this achieved my required effect, but for First Born it was necessary to continue working into the painting, ‘knocking back’ my father’s face with emulsion and reworking the baby’s facial detail.

Night Workers – 38 x 38 cms

Night Workers started as the image on the right, produced several years ago.  By working and reworking, the image on the left appeared, informed by Alison’s and Mwamba’s projects.  The following images were also achieved by this reworking process, Long Way Home and North Cornwall referencing traditional subject matter, The Lookers by the refugee crisis.

North Cornwall – 38 x 38 cms       Long Way Home – 38 x 38 cms


The Lookers – 38 x 38 cms

Here – 38 x 38 cms                                          There I & II – 38 x 38 cms

These paintings, whilst seeming to be referencing my ‘old style’ are subtly different.  The subjects happen to be floral, but have specific meaning for me and are informed by my emotions.  The plants were flourishing in my recently landscaped garden and I worked from photographs.

I am continuing to reflect on colour and its meaning.  I would consider myself a colourist, even for works such as First Born, where I have been experimenting with 50 shades of grey, to get just the right ‘feeling’ for the work.IMG_0876

Mindful of Caroline’s encouragement to incorporate my reading into my work I am working on a series of Blue (Mythologies).


These experimental images, 20 x 20 cms have just had scrim (2 & 3) and tissue (1, 4 & 5) applied, after four layers of paint, each of which have to dry.  It is a slow process.  Working without reference is all about responding to the paint, balancing and rebalancing.  I have no idea where this  will lead.  All part of the process and certainly testing my boundaries.

My recent ‘failures’ are interesting in that they were all produced quickly.IMG_0877

Watercolour sketches of my granddaughter (20 x 20 cms), working from the same image with different approaches.  Am I being impatient?  Am I placing too much importance on likeness?  Should I repeat such work for a set time, say an hour, or until, say, I have 20 images, to instill some discipline, some acknowledgment that it is not going to be easy?

IMG_0878My niece and her newborn from a photo, charcoal on foam board, 25 x 25 cms.

Is this risk taking?  Maybe, but not enough.  I need to be bold, bold but still me.  Think more deeply!

TYB Reflection

This project has challenged me in a most unexpected way.  I have been forced to look in the shadows and been surprised and happy with what I have seen.  Normally I would have avoided looking, just in case, and remained in the dark.

Where could my practice sit?  Where might I find new audiences?  Where indeed?

Rightly or wrongly I decided exactly how I wanted this project to develop, right at the outset.  I had two objectives, to engage the public and undertake something dramatic.  I have reflected on these objectives from a number of perspectives, projecting my work onto the white cliffs of Dover, hanging whole or sections of floral paintings in woodland or a local park, but each time I gravitated back to my original idea of three huge posters (3 x 2m) on a hoarding on the street where I live.IMG_0863

To say nothing happens here would be to dismiss the recent stabbing, and the person knocked down when a car deliberately mounted the pavement, but it would be true to say that nothing particularly uplifting happens in this street.  My project would change that, will make a difference, and even when the posters weather, or those that know no better want to make their mark, that will also be part of the project, an engagement of sorts, but also a reflection on the cycle of nature and life.

Indian Summer

Blue Iris

Alexandra Leaving

How do  I feel?  Eager to get started, excited by how the work will look in such a space, curious about how the work will be received.  The unexpected blossoming of a confidence I never knew existed.

What this project has also highlighted is that my boundaries are not ‘out there’ but internal, an academic core that can only be accessed and revealed, by a continual process of deeper and more focused reflection, and the translation of that cerebral activity that manifests as my personal journey, through my chosen materials of watercolour and paper.  I will continue to push this boundary, long after this project has weathered on the hoarding.

Through the Looking Glass

It is that hour between night and morning, when the fabric of the house creaks and there is the just discernible sweet sound, that is not that of the fat swooping, pooping pigeons our well-meaning neighbour loves to feed.  It is the hour when, if I am slumbering, I surf my thoughts.

Blue Mythologies, Carol Mavor’s voyage through the world of blue, is seeping into my very being.  It is not the first.  There was Chroma and Seven Days in the Art World, there was The Poetics of Spaces and Tim Ingold’s Lines, where a glimpse of what lay beyond was just visible, but this time I can actually see the stage and the players, and I am being beckoned through the curtain.  Come here the water is warm…..

Blue Mythologies finishes with a quote from Colette, ‘Blue, spontaneous and fragile..’, which Mavor fails to reference, and a quick scan of her famous quotes, does not acknowledge, but ‘At sixty-three years of age, less a quarter, one still has plans. (Sidonie Gabrielle Colette)’, did catch my eye.  I feel I have come full circle.  My academic world began with Claudine a L’Ecole, many moons ago.  I struggled with the text in English, the French was beyond me, and here I am back where I started.  I order the book, (in English, I have enough challenges).  Maybe this time I am ready.

But ready for what?  I hear Mavor’s words, as if the dulcet tones of Eddie Mair on PM are screamed loud.  I see the words WRIT LARGE.  The world through the looking glass is spinning.  References, informed by the loss of the age of innocence, where everything just is.  Nothing is as it seems, as it is, as it was.  This is the world of sensory overload.  I hesitate.  Will I be able to get back?