Category Archives: 2015 – 2016 academic year

Final Tutorial

During my final tutorial of the year, Angela expressed concern that I had left my paintings for assessment so late.  Reflecting on Angela’s comment, I have considered how I work and how this has happened.  Today is the fourth day of continuous, uninterrupted painting and I feel I am finally starting to free up my approach.  Without a continuous period of focus, the stop/start approach results in a ‘tightness’, whilst my confidence is being rebuilt.  Angela was right to say ‘just immerse yourself in work’.  This is certainly the way forward for me.  However, the stress aspect of the written work is a key consideration.  I know many people, like my daughter, who relish the pressure of a deadline.  I am not that person, with the pressure resulting in migraines and broken sleep.

The essay this year drained many weeks of valuable time.  I learnt so much during my research, but I do need to find a way of working more quickly.  I understand from a colleague in her final year, that we will be stepping up a number of gears next year.  Whilst this is exciting, I will need to use the Summer wisely.

The work I am now producing is experimental and very varied, different subject matter, paper, choice of colours, style of painting.  This is my year to experiment.  All the above works are experimental for me, in completely different ways.

The first is from a visit to the museum village of Oradour-sur-Glane;  the second is from a screen shot from the TV;  the third and sixth images are inspired by Philip Guston and Barbara Nicholls, and I plan to turn them into a series called Talking Heads;  the fourth was an over-painting of a previous work; the fifth is a series of images of Virginia Woolf, taken from the TV series Four Square, following a visit to Charleston and the reading of A Room Of One’s Own. Angela has suggested I include an information sheet to guide the assessor as to where I am coming from.  I have a week left to continue to develop work.  I hope it’s enough time.

Without a project to guide assessment requirements, it is difficult to gauge what is really required.  The only clue is that we need to be discerning.  For this year I didn’t want to focus on a single image or series, because I felt this would contain me, when I wanted to be free.  It might be a huge mistake.  Time will tell.




Being Found

Yesterday I was found, and what a difference that makes and will make going forward.

Being selected for the East Sussex Open at the Towner Gallery, by the distinguished judges, Jenni Lomax, Melanie Manchot and Brian Cass is a very satisfying conclusion to MA2.


Happy Families, Watercolour 58 x 78 cms

I have also been ‘found’ by a fellow Blue Monkey network member who steered me to an amazing drawing group, just when I needed direction.  I have been contemplating the work of Alberto Giacometti and his approach to form, but have been unable to connect my own endeavours with his practice.  I now have the perfect tutor in Marie-Louise Miller,, who just happens to teach a few minutes from my home.  She comes from a balanced Chinese perspective, where the vocabulary for mark making is developed through association with the elements and full body movement.

Figure drawing from a model, pencil on A2 paper.

Looking back whilst selecting the journal pages for submission, I have reflected on just how far I have traveled this year.  The anguish, the confusion, the uncertainty, the trauma of letting go, not of individual outcomes, which I am happy to do, but of the bigger picture, and at times, it felt like, my sanity.  I was, however, reassured by Sarah Thornton, in her book, 7 Days in the Art World, that this feeling is normal and necessary to achieve transformation.

There are also the influences, Celia Paul, Giacometti, Marlene Dumas, Silk Otto-Knapp are all evident in Happy Families.  The lines and mark making of artists as diverse as Roy Oxlade, Paul Feiler and Kitty Sabatier are bubbling under the surface.  The emotional vigour of Frank Auerbach, Peter Lanyon and Hughie O’Donoghue is being processed.  Such an exciting time to be me.

Reaching into the darkness and trusting the process has been as essential to the outcome, as an inherent belief that all the research is ‘in there somewhere’ and will surface, when the time is right.  I came into this process with that belief, I have engaged with the work of 300 historic and contemporary artists,  I can physically feel the process working, the change is palpable.






Bucket List

The film Bucket List is a gentle reflection on life, the decisions we make and the risks we take.  On my list is the desire to read the eleven volumes of C P Snow’s Strangers and Brothers series, which charts the change in our society from the 40’s to the 70’s.  A strange choice but one that has traveled with me for many years, a style that echos my childhood, a world far removed from pressures the young face today.

Andrew Marr’s interview with Jeremy Iron and his new film The Man Who Knew Infinity led me to G H Hardy’s work, A Mathematician’s Apology, with a forward by C P Snow, who knew Hardy and Ramanujan, the central characters in the film.

In A Mathematician’s Apology Hardy attempts to convey the beauty he sees in pure maths, the patterns, the pleasure of a new discovery, whilst at the same time defending its usefulness to society.  A product of the age of dons, port and walnuts, the book left me reflecting on the beauty of numerical patterns and the importance pure maths has had on my life, reminding me that the aesthetic quality of life is not necessarily restricted to accepted forms of artistic endeavour.




It is rare to find an article on the subject of gallery representation and how this most mysterious of worlds works.   James Loks’ research reveals a number of interesting points, the need to be committed to your practice, the support networks offer, the shop window available from artist led shows, the futility of trying to fake it; but more importantly, it reveals that there is no easy way to becoming an ‘overnight success’.

Shara Hughes interviews a number of artists about how their representation was achieved

Long ago I was warned against approaching galleries, as they like to find the artist. These articles confirm that advice.  They also confirm the need to be seen to be found.

Daniel Palmer considers the investment emphasis developed by some emerging artists and cautions against this approach.  Admittedly writing in the US, he is also sceptical about the value of a contrived, expensive MFA qualification (average $38,000 per year) producing product-based demand fulfilling artists.

Andrew Berardini argues for the ‘amateurs, dabblers, dilettantes’ rather than the artist as financier. ‘Stripped away of institutional validation and the pressures of the market, we are free to be human, to be artists, to be unprofessional.’

Having reflected on all the options available to me during the preparation of my Personal Practice Plan, I still feel that the gallery, with all the issues of control, is still the best route for me.  I am currently exploring the hazardous route of the Open competition with recently produced work, testing the water.  This path is fraught with danger, a pageant.  Who are the judges?  What is their practice?  What did they have for breakfast?  There are, of course, the practicalities, am I around to deliver, to collect, is the venue a realistic distance away?  It has worked in the past with the RI and RWS, but it has equally failed more times with these august establishments.

I recently submitted three works from the series Happy Families to the East Sussex Open at the Towner in Eastbourne, and Night Workers, to the Marmite Prize.

IMG_0868  Watercolour on paper, 78 x 58 cms

IMG_0871 Watercolour on paper 38 x 38 cms

Two very different works, two very different competitions, chosen after researching the judges and visiting the Towner’s selection last year.   The outcome will be announced in the next few days.

It is all part of the process and practice of being an artist.  Finding an authentic balance between product and project is key.


Terry Setch and Others

Whilst wondering the streets looking for the Victoria Miro gallery, I chanced across Flowers gallery who were showing Terry Setch.  I have only seen his work on the internet, so this exhibition was an unexpected pleasure.  Expecting bright colours, the subdued reality was a delight.  His work has the feel of Miss Havisham, with wax cobwebs and washed up detritus creating a work of ethereal beauty.

In the Sea, On the Shore, In the Sea 1

In the Sea, On the Shore, In the Sea 1

The Redfern, next door, home to watercolourist Kurt Jackson, was showing Modern British art.  It lacked cohesion as an exhibition and did little to promote the genre.

I am not a fan of Chantal Joffe.  I find her work repetitive without the quality of repetition that Celia Paul and Alberto Giacometti achieve with their portraits.  Having recently seen her large works at the Jerwood in Hastings, her small works in the intimate Victoria Miro, did little to challenge my previously held view.

Finally, I was accosted on my way to the Bankside gallery, by Jim Grover at the OXO tower, who enthusiastically invited me to visit his first photographic exhibition, ‘Of Things Not Seen’.  He had spent over a year shadowing a London vicar, Kit, and the monochrome images were the result of that relationship.  I love photographic portraits, of which there were few, but one stood out.  Without his dog collar to contextualise the image, Grover had managed to capture the highs and lows of Kit’s life in a single image.

I never made it to the Bankside, which is just as well, because it was between exhibitions, with the Royal Watercolour Society not showing until the 24 March.

TYB a Surprise

I went to the Victoria Miro gallery in Mayfair.  They represent both Celia Paul and Peter Doig, (the fifth highest selling international artist at auction in 2014), both of whom paint in watercolour, some of the time.

There is no welcoming entrance or purposeful windows to this swanky gallery, just an intimidating buzzer.  I walk round the building to see if there is another entrance, but secretly to build up courage.  About to give up, I think of the journey I have had, physically and metaphorically to get this close.   I suddenly turn back, take a deep breath and press the buzzer.  I am allowed into a white holding chamber 2 x 4 ft to  await my fate.  Moments later the wall slides away and the gallery is revealed.  It is unexpectedly small and the four viewers of the Chantal Joffe exhibition create a welcome crowd.

Heartened and emboldened, I approach the high reception protection which reminds me of the inner sanctum of Crawley police station, but that is another story.  Two heads ignore me.  How have they determined that I am not here with wallet bulging?  There must be a camera.  I wait in my hard-to-ignore lime green coat.

Finally I am allowed to explain the reason for my visit and ask my question, ‘Is there a price differential between oils and watercolours, and if so why?’  ‘Good question!’ replies the lady, ‘Chantal’s work comes is smaller sizes.’ replies the man,  in sales mode.  I probe a bit harder.  ‘Its the cost of materials.’ replies the lady, ‘The difference would be about 50%.  A typical Paul oil would sell for about £16,000.’   ‘That’s an awful lot for materials.’  I reply, clearly my A level in Pure Maths has not been wasted.  ‘It’s the time it takes to complete an oil, whereas a watercolour doesn’t take as much effort.’  She suggests hopefully, showing me a Paul watercolour on her ipad.  ‘Could it be historic?’ I suggest, sensing I am getting nowhere.  ‘Yes.’ she said, adding ‘If you do find a reason could you let us know.’

Being bold has its advantages.  I might try it again!

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 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.