TYB – Time to Reflect

The project is Testing Your Boundaries, simple if you know where those boundaries are, not so easy when you are unsure.  Initially I thought of projecting my work onto the white cliffs of Dover, but then practicality set in, boat, winter, cold, steadying projector, law breaking.  My next thought was ‘planting’ my floral work around a large wooded park to brighten up a winter walk, but felt I wanted to make a bigger impact.  I finally decided to do something uplifting, to brighten up our drab street by taking my work to the audience, by posting on a nearby hoarding.  I marvel at artists who produce work on a grand scale, not easy in a spare room.  This could be my opportunity to have that experience, albeit in the street.

The practicalities were straightforward, email the owner with plan and images, contact the council regarding bye laws, source the format and print supplier, rescan the work if necessary.  My son agreed to film.  I cheekily suggested the owner might like to contribute for the good of the community, who are bitterly opposed to their development plans.  I took their silence as a no!

Les Bicknell’s Context lecture raised two issues that resonated, the implied meaning of where the work was displayed and my relationship with the audience.  I am not a public person.  How did I feel?  Eager to get started, excited by how the work would look in such a space, curious about how the work would 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.  By putting my work ‘out there’ I accepted that the weathering, the graffiti, the tearing of the posters is all part of engaging with the audience.


Les asked another of his telling questions. What will constitute success regarding my project?   The physicality of presenting my work in this way?  The engagement of the public?  The adoption of art on meanwhile spaces becoming the norm?  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 decided that success would 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 these are two distinct works, albeit the documentary is dependent upon the posters, the public’s response and my thoughts on the project.

Normally, when I pick up enlarged prints from my printer, I am excited to see the work.  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, surprisingly, seemed to be 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.  The local press has been in contact and also wants to write about the exhibition in June.  Arts Professional has asked for my thoughts on the project.

Following completion of the posting itchy fingers started picking away and a panel of the poster came down in a storm.  A kindly neighbour returned it in tact, and I reapplied with PVA.  Graffiti glue clearly had issues.  A second storm brought  down most of the remaining panels.  Fortunately we were able to rescue and re-post with PVA.

Working with my son was my fist collaborative project.  I hadn’t appreciated how much control I would be vesting in him, how much trust this would involve.   I had been expecting the story of the project, but my son, with creative licence, took the threads of the story, and wove his own sensitive portrayal of our relationship and our mutual respect.   Releasing the documentary https://vimeo.com/158931685 has really tested my boundaries and highlighted my vulnerability.  Unlike my MA colleague, I do not view my work as ‘my babies’.   I am able to distance myself, particularly when the work is digitally enlarged, but this documentary is not about my work, it is about emotion, my emotion, which is laid bare, and in so doing has created a joint art work in its own right.  Terrifying.  Being bold with my work does not equate to me being bold.

The response has been amazing.  Another MA colleague described it as ‘a respectful way to present my work.’

Was the project a success?  The audience have been enthusiastic, appreciative and engaged with my work;  several  want to visit my exhibition, some of whom have never been in to a gallery; the placement of the work allows me to talk about my work in a way that feels comfortable;  the press are prepared to promote my exhibition and project;  and I have the ‘gift’ of the documentary from my son.  Yes, I think it has been a success by all measures.






Author: susanmilleruk

Watercolour painter living, working and loving Hastings and St Leonards on Sea. MA in Fine Art.

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