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 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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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

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

IMG_0870

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).

IMG_0875

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.

Trusting the Process

Testing my particular boundaries is shaping up to have nothing to do with the audience (at the moment), and everything to do with breaking down those small, but destructive, acts that are sabotaging  my progress.  The playing, the mental block on ‘time well spent’, the assessment and selection  of materials, the reluctance to ‘just go for it’.   It also has everything to do with my expectation that painting should not be painful, should work first time, should not place too great a demand on me.  These are the real boundaries that I have to confront head on.

So I push back these boundaries, what then?  As Les Bicknell asked, ‘Where do I want to go?’  Where indeed?  Les astutely highlighted as issue with audience engagement.  Is this historic?  Lack of confidence?  Wrong market?  I sense that it is of my creation, stemming from competent, but unchallenging work, that leaves the audience unsatisfied, without knowing why, and me frustrated that I am not commercially successful, my marker for identifying good work.

But what if I turn this situation on its head.  Well, here is the dilemma.  If I let go of public opinion and the commercial market place, where does that leave my work?  Piled up in the corner, gathering dust?  How will I feel?  Like the medicine isn’t working?  Probably and probably.  Is this something I need to get over?  Probably.

Having watched Krzysztof Fijalkowski’s lecture and read Seven Days in the Art World, it is difficult to imagine an alternative to  a gallery.  I have tried the self promote route, the endless group exhibitions, exhibiting overseas, social media, online galleries.  The collective wisdom of my colleagues in this world, is that the Credit Crunch crucified the market and, like interest rates, the market is still struggling to rise and find buyers.  This is not the investment market place.  The only way  that I can see for me going forward, is to be part  of the open competition and gallery world.  This can only happen if I am able to produce challenging work.  This can only happen if I trust the process.

Play Time

Last night I attended my first Blue Monkey network meeting at the Towner gallery.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was soon at ease with a warm welcome from Judith the academic artist leader, whose next exhibition, New Immortals at the Phoenix in Brighton blurs the line between art and science.  Of the 80 members about 30 were present, mostly women, of a certain age.

Felicity, a member, presented a talk on her experience at a self-sourced residency at Ashburnham Place, Battle, and the process of obtaining a small bursary to cover coaching and mentoring.  Trained as a glass blower, Felicity used the residency to explore, play and self develop, producing a series of painted works.

As she recounted her experience of feeling insecure, of reflection, of making patterns in the woods, I realised I was witnessing the role and contribution of play,  and the realisation that this is what is expected of me.  An investment of time with no particular or obvious output, that may or may not illuminate the way forward.  How to dissolve this mental block?

Instead I find myself reflecting on my angst and trying to make sense of the process, through my journal rather than playing.  A serious child, play didn’t come easily, and still doesn’t.

Through the action of writing this blog, I have resolved to address this by changing my working pattern.  I normally process my slumbering reflections first thing, along with admin, research, preparation for MA tasks.  If this runs on and exhaustion sets in, it is the painting that is sacrificed.  By the simple action of switching my day, the creative energy will take place in day light, and the other tasks will be accommodated later in the day, or not at all.  Gone will be the procrastination and delaying tactics, if that is what is going on.  There will be no hiding.

This will still not directly resolve the issue of play, but that may become a natural element within my practice, by working with increased energy prior, to cerebral activity.  Time will tell.

 

TYB – A Twist in the Plot

I have mentioned in a previous post the ease with which I have found this project.  For the last few weeks I have been reflecting long and hard over my research question, viewing its resolution as the key to my way forward.  But what if it isn’t?  What if it is only a small step or even a sign post?

Looking back over my reading list for this period, selected at random, or maybe not:

How to Be an Artist – Michael Atavar

Think Like an Artist – Will Gompertz

Dunk Tank Pink – Adam Alter

The Tao of Pooh & Te of Piglet  – Benjamin Hoff

The Four Purposes of Life – Dan Millman

Art & Fear – David Bayles & Ted Orland

All are addressing the inner artist, the confidence, the angst.  All were read with a view to illuminating my way forward and the nature of my research question.  There has not been a eureka moment, but what there has been is a realisation that I am ok, that the process is working, that I am a normal artist.  What it has also achieved is the fact that I can step aside from the research into self, and look objectively at my chosen world.

I went back to the drawing board and revisited my last essay, Being Authentic, which concluded ‘..that authentic paintings are rooted in the tactile practice of ‘real drawing’;  That tough contemporary work can only be achieved by a ‘suspension of common sense’..  Time to build on that work.

This new perspective has brought a surprising twist.  For reasons I don’t fully understand, even after reflection, the Testing Your Boundaries project, hasn’t tested me.  This could be experience of exhibiting, it could be because it is a joyful task, with a colourful outcome, suffice to say that I have decided to continue to TYB through my research.

I had assumed I would focus on florals and have plans to spend some time photographing and drawing in a house plant nursery.  I will still pursue this project as part of my joint exhibition in June, but for my MA I have decided to build on my  assessment work from last year and paint from historic photographs.  This will be challenging work.  I am not a natural portrait/figure painter and my existing ‘style’ is not suited to this type of work.  There is no time for ‘relaxing’, no room for mistakes.  It feels a bit like contemplating walking a tightrope, and is therefore sufficiently challenging.  There will certainly be ‘suspension of common sense’, and the work will certainly be tactile.

Two artists stand out, Marlene Dumas and Celia Paul, and I am sure there will be others, as I focus my research.  If I am stubbornly going to nail my colour’s to the watercolour mast, I also need to be able to articulate on watercolour’s context in the art world, its history and people’s perception of the medium.  I won’t get another opportunity to do this.

Having made my decision I was able to sleep last night, the first time for many.