Category Archives: MA 1 Visual Enquiry

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More So, More Informed

I have 20 works, tiny and small strewn around my studio.  Colour and confusion.067

I have so much going on in my head but no clear focus.

I am taking the opportunity to go back to Stewart Geddes’ suggestions for artists I should explore.

Arena’s ‘John Hoyland, 6 Days in September’ John in his London studio in 1989 (Photo © Ferdinando Carppanieri)

John in his London studio in 1989 (Photo © Ferdinando Carppanieri) followed the artist, his process and his pain.  The physicality of the work on this scale, with ‘marks containing the energy of the stroke’, left the viewer in no doubt that painting is not a relaxing occupation.  Hoyland referred to the influence of Nicolas de Stael, Emil Nolde, Henri Matisse and Paul Gauguin, all known for their use of colour.

Matthew Collins Rules of Abstraction traced the history of abstract painting from it’s roots in theosophy founded by Helena Blavatsky, to the spiritually guided work of Hilma Af Klint, and Kandinsky’s manipulation of colour/shape/line and its effect on the soul.

Hilma af Klint, The Ten Biggest, No 7 1907

Af Klindt -The Ten Biggest, No 7 1907, Oil and tempera on paper, 328 x 240 cm


Moscow I - Wassily Kandinsky -

who wrote The Spiritual in Art, studied with Rudolf Steiner who was a follower of Blavatsky.  Kandinsky referenced music in his work, suggesting that colour is like playing the piano.

Fiona Rae working in her studio demonstrates the emotional attachment to painting ‘something that doesn’t exist’.  Fiona Rae

She spoke of the rule of surprise, the rhythmn, the structural integrity.  No focus but different zones of intensity, an overall experience, and the importance of not repeating colour/brush size.

The French artist Sonia Delauney created ‘electric prisms’ using colour and form to celebrate light by optical vibration, a reference to Chevreul’s Colour Theory and Its Consequences for Artists.  Sonia Delaunay website banner

A friend of Kandinsky and wife of the abstract painter Robert Delauney, her subtle adjustments of colour create spiritual harmony.

Scottish artist John McLean suggests that treatment and placement are important for forms to emerge.

Paul Klee, conteporary of Kandinsky at Bauhaus, observed nature with tonally graded transparent colour.  His work completely changed following a visit to the Kairouan Mosque in 1914.

Paul Klee: Saint-Germain near Tunis, 1914–macke–moilliet_the-trip-to-tunisia-that-changed-modern-art/38391666

Klee and kandinsky were considered to be degenerate artists, distorting reality, with proposals for what perception actually is.

Collins and his artist partner Emma Biggs create works of pulsating light and dark.


Piet Mondrian believed that shapes define themselves by their difference. (an interesting article on the history and spirituality of abstraction.)

Vertical male, horizontal female.  Tension and contradiction.

Theosophy suggests that all imbalance will be balanced .  German philosopher Hegel’s  historicist and idealist account of reality revolutionized European philosophy and was influential to Marxism. Historicism places great importance on cautious, rigorous and contextualized interpretation of information.

Tess Jaray creates ambiguity in her work.

Tess Jaray | Artist

What is in front, what behind?  Inviting the viewer to participate.  Intense colour achieved through screen printing, creating a condensed version of reality.  (there’s that word again!  My reading this summer has lingered around that concept, more in a separate blog.)

Russian Kazimir Malevich, famous for his Black Square 1915, introduced Suprematism, simple forms, an abstract world beyond every day reality.  The white edge equals void.  Supremacy over feeling, feeling separate from reality.  Fourth dimension, time warped by space.  Theosophy into painting, new form of reason.

Kandinsky believed form is feeling.

In 1916 Popova joined Malevich’s supremisists group

Lyubov Popova – Violin 1914

Her abstraction striped to form was used as textile design.  Such abstraction was replaced by propaganda.

In America, Jackson Pollack, was creating a ‘visual symphony’ through the use of tightly controlled rhythmic structure, the materials and the range of textures.

English artist Paul Tonkin creates harmony through energetic pouring and under-painting, with a life and rhythm of its own in vibrant colours.  The huge canvas is then cut into rectangles for separate paintings.  Drawing is movement.  The colours work together talking to the artist.

Paul Tonkin preparing a canvas in Mathew Collins documentary

English artist Dan Perfect works to a plan.  He takes a small drawing and scales it up, as if performing a musical score.  Quick, evocative expressive marks, an imagined correlation of an extrovert world.


Dan Perfect – Village 2007

Russian American Mark Rothko created a breathing surface, the whole of existence, a cosmic unity.  The experience of redness and darkness is celebrated in this work.

Mark Rothko ‘Black on Maroon’, 1958 © Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko/DACS 1998

Back on Maroon 1958

A troubled soul, he was a philosopher/priest in a Rothko centric world.

Albert Irvin, a friend of Stewart, was informed by his movement through the world.  Brushmarks were his verbs, painting his landscape.  His reality was layered through colour.

Albert Irvin, Rosetta, 2012
acrylic on canvas, 60 x 48 in/ 152.4 x 121.9 cm

El Anatsui, a Ghanaian sculptor,  pursues the themes of memory and loss in his sculpture, especially the damage wrought by the colonial period and traumatic post-colonial aftermath.

Man’s Cloth is made from recycled bottleneck foil.  A metaphor for delusion.

Welsh artist Mali Morris MFA, works with colour, light and rhythm.  In his essay Matthew Collings ‘ spontaneity and chanciness, and having faith in the unprepared gesture but also a sense of knowledge and experience informing the various giddy leaps that the artist takes. ‘

Mali Morris Lost Light 2012 acrylic/canvas 25 x 30 cm at RA Summer Exhibition, 4 June – 12 August 2012

Dennis Creffield studied with David Bomberg at Borough Polytechnic.  This recent work captures his energetic approach to painting that hasn’t diminished with time.

20110912 135033 GoSee:Dennis Creffield Jerusalem at James Hyman Gallery

Jerusalem 2011

Stewart also referenced Monet, a jazz musician inventing round a theme, Emil Nolde with his intense use of colour in a more figurative way, ,

Americans Richard Diebenkorn with his subtle abstracted figurative work,

Richard Diebenkorn Ocean Park #79, 1975 Oil on canvas 93 x 81 in. (236.2 x 205.7 cm) Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and with funds contributed by private donors, 1977 ©The Estate of Richard Diebenkorn Image courtesy the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Ocean Park 79

Provincetown - Helen Frankenthaler

and Helen Frankenhaler, and Cecily Brown

Cecily Brown, ‘Carnival and Lent’ (2008).

Reflecting on Stewart’s direction

I have written this journal as a snapshot reminder of where Stewart sees my influences.  I have picked and prodded through his artists, peeling away to reveal what he is seeing.  Scrolling through the journal I am astounded by the colour, the layers, the footprint, the history of the work, encapsulated in single images.

Each artist comes from a different place, has  a different process, uses different references, but they all arrive driven by colour and form.

Stewart suggest looking at brush strokes and energy, start with a photo and respond to the materials, the rest will follow, it cannot be forced.  Watching Shani Rhys James at work reinforces the message of Hoyland’s ‘6 days in September’,  painting is a lot of ‘stand and stare’, patience, challenge, emotional response, sensitivity, seeing with creative eyes.  I like the way that Rhys James is digging within, challenging the viewer, making them feel uncomfortably moved.  She constructs images from memories.  I can’t access those memories but I have photos from which to develop those memories, to spark my emotional response.

Shani Rhys James, The Rivalry of Flowers

The Rivalry of Flowers 2

I can relate to where she is coming from, her use of colour, emotion and form, her seek and find approach to figures.

The Age of Insight

Reflecting on the first year of the MA I needed to consider where my interests lie.  Over the last few years I have become increasingly interested in the unconscious mind and it’s many guises,  memory,  emotions, intuition and creativity.  What started with Neurolinguistic Programming and coping strategies for the challenges of life, including depression and a family history of dementia has expanded to encompass everything I can find to give greater insight into the unconscious.  When Monika mentioned Eric Kandel’s recent publication The Age of Insight, the quest to understand the unconscious in art, mind and brain (thank you Monika), I was fascinated.  Nobel Prize winner for his work on memory, Kandel has produced an immense academic work that successfully brings together the world of mind biology and the arts.  Written in a hugely readable style the work eloquently discusses the subject from the window of 1900 Vienna, offering insight into the emotional expressionistic art of Klimt , Kokoschka and Schiele, supported by detailed psycholological and medical research.  Gripping.

Reflecting on MA1

I started this journey an innocent, seeking guidance on how to be a better painter.  I had no experience of academia and no particular expectations regarding outcome.

So what has happened?

I have been led into a world of wonder.  Woken from a deep sleep, after a lifetime of just getting by, to find exciting, challenging, thought provoking ideas wherever I look, whenever I listen.  Learnings are piling in, like grains in a jar, each one jostling, making way for the next, and yet my jar is never full.  I am guided by intuition and the benefit of age, to follow clues, to dig deeper, to trust the process.

Immersion has taken it’s toll.  My head and shoulders feel detached from my body, travelling too fast for my legs to keep up.  Cobwebs billow in the draughts, noticed but patient.  Shopping is undone.

All of this of no consequence compared to the discoveries, the ‘got it’ moments, as my truth is slowly revealed to me.  As Michelangelo said ‘I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.’  I am just beginning to ‘carve’.

WEEK 4 – Reflexivity in Practice

Reflexivity in Practice

I am now into my 4th week.  I was comfortable with today’s hangout for the first time from a tech perspective, which was good for me.  Last week I felt like Alice falling down the rabbit warren.  Confused and overwhelmed, struggling to understand what was going on around me.  Some things made sense, a lot didnt.  I don’t think Julian Stallabrass’s Contemporary History helped.  That said, I know something is happening, so I need to be not quite so demanding of myself, and accept that this is a long and exciting journey, and I have only just left the departure lounge.

On Friday I decided to revisit the Visual Enquiry questionnaire.  As a master practitioner of NLP, I am well aware that it is possible to shift thought processes in a short space of time.  Rereading my answers, I could sense that my plane had already taken off.  Some answers appeared naive, after only three weeks.  I could see I was already in a different place.  I am already aware of artists, curators, art critics, historians and the context in which they are working, that three weeks ago I hadn’t even heard of.  I am gaining a greater understand of what is happening around me, and whilst still confused, still waiting for the penny to drop, my progress is tangible and with that comes an element of ‘not having to hold my breath for quite so long’.

I am so pleased I am on this journey.  Exciting to see what the next three weeks will bring.  Hopefully I will have caught up by then and my work will be starting to flow.

Anselm Kiefer

Reserched Kiefer’s work.  My daughters are keen to see his work.  I had never heard of him.  I can really relate to some of his work.  Organic, textural, in muted tones.  I have pinned some work from 1974.  It is interesting to see how his work has developed.  We will be going to his exhibiton next month in London.  It will be interesting to see what influence he has on my work.


Todd Henry says ‘It’s often not the circumstances we learn from, but our response to them. Identifying limiting narratives or patterns of self-destruction can help us spot them when they crop up, then nip them before they cause us to implode or obsess needlessly over critique.’

He suggested ‘see if you can identify why that feedback elicited such a strong response in you. Is it possible that there is some defining story that’s affecting your engagement?’

‘Don’t allow limiting narratives to run your life and rule your work.’ Sound advice.

Emily Ball

I started reading Emily’s Drawing and Painting People many years ago, promising to return when I had more time.  That time is now.

It was also interesting to learn that John Skinner painted the front cover of her book, which in turn set me off to research John’s work

I feel I am like a sponge at the moment, poised to march off purposefully in a new direction with my work.  Confused but certain that I am internally processing all that I read and see.

As part of that process, and in part because Angela thinks quite highly of Emily, and because attending Emily’s regular classes was my plan B, i am working through the exercises in her book.

Conversation Exercise

A simple mark making and responding task for 6 images.  Should have been A1, but mine are 20×20 cms, because I am feeling more comfortable with small (what is that saying!).

Conversation 1Conversation 2Conversation 3Conversation 4Conversation 5Conversation 6


A simple exercise, so why do I find the results so unsatisfactory?  Colour choice?  Placement? Overall structure?  Chosen marks?

I will revisit Albert Irvin, Cecily  Brown, John Skinner, Ivor Hitchens, Bruce McClean to see if I can better understand.

Touchy Feely

Again, simple, draw by touch.

Rose QuartzRed BoaRed Boa detailFascinator

This exercise was more satisfying.  No outcome expectation?  No decisions to be made?


A friend of a friend was telling me how he passed out from the overwhelming red in a piece of music by Ravel.  Debussy has a similar effect on him.

I wondered whether listening to music that moved him so deeply would have any impact on me.  The above work was created with Ravel in the background.

Too early to comment.

Stot love the boldness of his work and ries of Art by James Elkins

What an interesting read.  A lesson in how to look dynamically with fresh eyes.  Unpretentious, clear and hugely  informative.

Artists Discovered

Rose Wylie, a favourite of Angela and Emily Ball.  Not sure I understand her.  The Tate Shot gave an insight, but I need to research her influences, her story.  I know I would really enjoy meeting her.  Fascinating lady.

Roanna Wells, what a gem.  Extraordinarily beautiful textile work.

Albert Irvin, just love his uncompromising use of colour.

Amrita Sher-Gil, mentioned by Elkins.  Extraordinary women, successfully combining Eastern and Western cultures.  I wonder what she would have achieved if she hadn’t died at 28.

Maurice Utrillo , contemporary of Sher-Gil.  Classic Parisian feel to his street scenes, but of more interest for me, was his self-taught mother Suzanne Valadon, whose bold portraits and floral images I found more exciting.

Norman Ackroyd’s etchings are so atmospheric.  The BBC3 programme What Do Artists Do All Day? was such a pleasure.  I hadn’t appreciated the process.  Extraordinary.

Shani Rhys-James, another What.. programme.  Such a priviledge to watch the artists at work and to follow their process and the development of their ideas.  Her portraits are bold and uncompromising.



Reflexive Practitioner

I spent much time this week reviewing VL1 and researching the people mentioned in the video.  I spent a lot of time writing up the points raised to ensure that I am fully understanding .

Laborious and slow but I feel essential for me, at this stage.

Contemporary Art by Julian Stallabrass

I have nearly completed this book.  It may be a very short introduction, but it is a very dry read.

For someone aspiring to develop their work for a wider stage, I found the contemporary art market, as described, far removed from the world where artists really care about what they are creating.

It is evident that the contemporary art market, at this level, is a commodity, a global brand, but without the regulations that stock and commodity markets benefit from.  A game, where it is in all the players interests to keep the stakes unaffordably high.

13 Oct

I have now finished the book.  I will need to reread and I have decided to Mindmap the book as a means of making sense of what I am reading and to give me a framework to visualise.

I have just started Stories of Art by James Elkins.  I wish I had read this first.  I wouldnt have felt that Stallabrass’s book was the absolute truth and quite so daunting.




Alison Watt

It is interesting how chains are linked and connections made.  Jack Knox, a Scottish painter and teacher died this week.  He trained and taught at the Glasgow School of Art.  He openly ‘borrowed’ from other artists.  His work is not what attracted me.  What did were the names of his former students, Jenny Saville, whose stunning and challenging work I saw at the Ashmolean in Oxford, and Alison Watt, who I hadn’t heard of.

john knox

Detail from Seafood Stall (1980s) by John Knox. Photograph: Gerber Fine Art & Compass Gallery

Watt’s work is sumptuous, sensual and unforgettable, suggesting the life form by its absence.  Watching her at work as the seventh Associate Artist at the National Gallery is illuminating.  She works painfully slowly on her huge canvases, up to 10 x 14 feet, a brush stroke at a time, up and down her ladder.


Sabine  –

She talks softly and eloquently about her work and her inspiration, referencing the white knotted cravat in the portrait by Jacques-Louis David of Jacobus Blauw, for Pulse and Echo.

Alison Watt, Echo

Pulse –

Watt says that ‘painting is a way of being’ and it is her way of ‘creating order our of chaos’.

I have spent the morning reflecting upon the emotional effect  her work has had on me.  Unexpectedly moved to tears, I watched Watt outline the folds then painstakingly build the gradation. a brush stroke at a time, just like I define petals.


Being Authentic, an Exploratory Journey

The end of year essay and I realise I haven’t written an essay since 1967!  Time to research how it is done.

2000 words by the end of May.

I started with degree planning, structuring and writing skills.  I have a lot of catching up to do.

Then the expectations of a Masters essay.

Which pointed me to this excellent resource.

This is all starting to feel quite scary, not the essay writing as such, but the scope of the reading round the subject.  2000 words is not arduous and could probably we physically written in a day or so.  What is coming through is that it would be easy to over research, go off at tangents, become subsumed in the essay, at the expense of producing art, which is after all the reason for the course.  I accept that everything I learn is feeding into my ultimate work, but it is so easy to get lost in the research, particularly as I am so enjoying the learnings.

In accordance with DMU’s guide, time to create some structure and assimilate What I know, What I don’t know and my initial response to what my Summary might be.

Initial Research

I started by googling ‘Being Authentic’.  This led to a number of articles:

Becoming More Authentic by James Park, which opened the door to a number of Existential and Absurd philosophers and the derivation of their views.

Brene Brown TED talk on Youtube – the Power of vulnerability.

On Being Authentic by Charles Guignon

Thinking in Action, Coaching the Artist Within by Eric Maisel

The 5 characteristics of authentic people.

Psychologist Brian Goldman and Michael Kernis, the unimpeded operation of one’s true or core self in ones daily enterprise.

Corporate trainer Mike Robbins – it allows us to connect deeply with others because it requires us to be transparent and vulnerable.  It liberates us from always trying to be perfect.

Self awareness is the cornerstone.

Creating an authentic Life – Polly Campbell

  • Be clear about what I care about
  • Be open, keep an open mind
  • Be introspective, share. It’s ok to feel scared and vulnerable.
  • Note when inauthentic. Explore fears and beliefs when insincere.
  • Trust intuition. Notice physical sensations when not genuine

Dr Thomas Oden Drew university – ‘anxiety and guilt prevent us living in the present.  Guilt is usually to do with the past, anxiety, the future.  Mastery of the present reduces guilt and anxiety.  Simply be yourself.  Be non judgmental.  Genuinely appreciate yourself.  Be in touch.  Be self-confident, secure.  Speak at a normal pace.  Don’t be defensive.  Talk positively and kindly about yourself.  Be benevolent about myself and others.

Reflection on initial search

By this time I had a reasonably clear definition from a broad spectrum of opinion and some insight into the origins of the phrase.

I needed to look deeper into a more academic perspective, so using Google Scholar I searched for ‘Authentic’ , ‘Creative’ and found Marina Claessen’s Mindfulness and Existential Therapy.

The Sensory Intention – Art, Motif and Motivation: A Comparative Approach – Yves Millet

Symbolist – Oxford University Press

Other sources

Notes of a Painter (1908) – Henri Matisse

The Spiritual in Art – Wassily Kandinsky

Drawing and Painting People a Fresh Approach – Emily Ball

Art & Instinct – Roy Oxlade

You tube videos of Rose Wylie and Gary Goodman.

Supporting information from the internet.

Reflections on constructing the essay

A daunting task.  The work is disjointed with constant interruptions for citations and footnotes.  I decided to write each page as a separate file so that I could control the word count.  It has taken 3 days to produce the first draft of 2077 words.

Doubt and self doubt is a constant problem.  Am I on the right track?  Is the subject matter appropriate?   Have I proved my questions?  Answered appropriately?  Should I be referencing history?  If I don’t it won’t really make sense.  Who knows?  I need to reread afresh tomorrow.  To map against Angela’s comments and any other supportive material I can.

Reflecting on the Outcome

After 10 days and 5 drafts I have finally arrived at a honed essay.  Have I achieved what I set out to?  Yes, I feel I presented a well constructed argument, reflecting a broad breadth of research and some answers to the question posed.  I this what was expected?  Not sure.  Hopefully there will be an opportunity to discuss with a tutor at some point.  An interesting exercise in academic writing.