Category Archives: MA 2 Studio Practice

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Thought for the Day



Georgia O'Keeffe 'Jimson Weed' Boxed Note Cards

Georgia O'Keeffe 'Jimson Weed' Boxed Note Cards

A prerequisite of studying for an MA is reflection.  So much of my time is spent reflecting, that if I were to record it all, absolutely nothing would get done, but this particular thought confounds me and I want to process my reflection through my blog.

While I was researching for my presentation on the reviewers  of the recent Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition at the Tate Modern, I came across the second  image above.  I had always assumed that the painting was just the flower in the bottom right corner, a bold but lack lustre image.  I now understand why most references to the painting, including the Tate, don’t bother to include the rest of what is really a very dull image.

The two images are to scale, the top one 100 x 100 cms, the second 101 x 122 cms.  Allowance obviously needs to be made for the reproduction qualities, but that said the top image was taken on a phone.  I haven’t seen the second image in the flesh, but reviews refer to the artist being able to ‘neuter its potency so effectively’ (Ben Luke in the Standard), and Mark Hudson in the Telegraph calls her work ‘painfully’ minor.

The first work was not influenced by O’Keeffe, whose  work does not inspire me, but happens to be part of the process I am working through and forms a useful comparison.  I could have used the work of many other excellent painters.

The first work is currently for sale at £600 and someone tried to negotiate the price down by 20%.  The second recently sold for $44.4m.

My MA journey is about understanding the art world.  I am nearing the end of my course and still, for me, it makes no sense.  The artists that inspire me, the art I am passionate about producing and experiencing, is not the art that is part of, let’s call it the O’Keeffe world (OW).  Perhaps it is time for the two worlds to be officially separated with a new title for the OW, that reflects the hyped commodity trading that it is, rather than continuing to call it art.  Hudson refers to the work ‘ an encapsulation of a moment in America’s understanding of itself..’, and perhaps that is how this commodity should be viewed in general.  



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!