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By: Lee Devonish
B.A (Hons) Fine Art, based at K College's Henwood Campus, Ashford. My blogger profile: http://www.a-n.co.uk/degrees_unedited/article/1650...
# 23 [17 February 2012]
The week hasn’t exactly gone the way I’d planned it. But seeing as I didn’t actually plan it, I can’t really complain.
I did tackle most of the tasks on my list, and some I only tickled, apart from that curation essay, which I swerved... which does make me feel a little guilty, but I figured out which tasks were higher priority because of approaching deadlines and which were just so intrinsically onerous as to deserve putting off. So working by a simple system of “Yeesh, I’d better do that now” and “I just can’t take it any more!” I managed to spit out a few thousand words between a few projects. So whilst only one is entirely finished, that was the one I needed to have done by the end of this week. The others are all well on their way, just a bit of tarting up needed really. And I can always manage a bit of tarting up during the week when the nipper’s in bed.
Although I’d said today would be my dedicated dissertation day, it’ll probably end up being a bit of everything thrown in and stirred up day. I may even get the vacuum cleaner out, but I have to pace myself of course. I put the washing machine on just now - I don’t want to wear myself out eh? I’ve got a few great new references to drop into my dissertation research pot, but I’ve been fairly lazy about doing the ‘re-framing’ that was suggested. Perhaps because I’ve been told that I’d be ok with handing it in as it is just in case I had a nervous breakdown scheduled - I don’t - but naturally I want to tune it until it’s as tight as a snare drum. Which makes me think that I should probably use my snare drum as a coffee table since I haven’t played on this kit since October. Something else to feel guilty about. I haven’t played my bass since the end of October but I don’t feel too guilty about that because someone “liberated” the plug for my amp, so it’s not entirely my fault.
A bit more drawing while I still have the light, working on the illustrations for my exhibition proposal and tackling the painting I really don’t feel like doing but I feel guilty about not doing. When did I get so blasé about topless men?
# 22 [10 February 2012]
Nobody needs to see another ‘woodcarving in progress’ or ‘mould being cast’ shot, so I’ll spare you the pain this week.
Strangely, there’s more to see on that front now than before, as the carving is suddenly starting to take shape and the first plaster cast is curing upside down over a bin in the sculpture room. One tutor was excited by the prospect of casting Phil in some frilly, floral, fragrant material, as a counterpoint to his masculinity, which immediately brought back memories of standing behind a table at some farmer’s/craft market or other, surrounded by ladies peddling their chi-chi handmade soaps. Hence why I then said I didn’t know how I felt about rubbing a soap Phil into my armpits. For this very reason, it must now happen.
I do like the idea of setting up a stall at the local farmer’s market with extravagantly expensive, extraordinarily creepy life-sized soap busts complete with a bit of raffia around their necks for that ‘country’ touch.
What I’ll actually do isn’t yet set in soap (had to do it!) but I’ll see how the first plaster casts go and fiddle around with their placement. I’m so glad to have started carving again though, I didn’t realise how much I’d missed it! I’m still slacking with my painting, but half term’s approach means the chance to hole up in the house and actually paint myself into a corner. Kid-free time means time to concentrate, and I only get a significant chunk of it during these half-term breaks. I’ve got plenty lined up to fill the time, and here’s a bit of it -
Assembling a document for the Professional Practice module containing 3 CVs, 2 artist case studies and a summary of my own activity;
Creating a slide presentation about my practice as well as a portfolio for the aforementioned module;
Writing an essay on curation to accompany the heavily weighted Identity, Synthesis and Exhibition module;
Writing a proposal for the same module outlining work to be made for the exhibition;
Completing a tight second draft of the dissertation;
Finishing the statement for my MA applications.
Apart from doing the actual paintings, of course. And some other domestic stuff I can think of now but I know won’t get done.
It’s also occurred to me that after getting frustrated and backing away from the fundraising aspect of the degree show preparation, there’s been next to nothing done by anyone else, apart from saying they’ll get everyone showing on site to cough up £20. On top of that, getting the funding together for the show is a part of the unit brief. It’s making me itch a bit... I want to set up a site for the show and ask the others to contribute their content to that, and at least that should give us a bit more momentum. I’ve had to admit that this wasn’t what I had in mind for our show, but I’ll make the best of it. We do have our catalogue to be getting on with at least. My job in that sphere is as editor (best possible job for an apostrophe pedant) and I’m supposed to be liaising with our ‘graphics girl’ to set up a template to make it as easy as possible for everyone to pitch in. The problem is, I don’t want to end up with too much more to do, but if I don’t do it, I’m not sure who will.
# 21 [2 February 2012]
Last week I was starting to worry. After losing a day in the studio to the drive back down from Derbyshire, by this point I should be pulling hair out. However... I’m not. I’m behind, but I’m not worrying. I’m concerned, of course, but I know I’ll do something about it. In the meantime I’ve at least considered doing something like paperwork. I’ve been preparing a document for the Professional Practice unit, so I assure you that there has been some work going on as well as playing dress-up. I could always say that the dressing-up was part of an investigation into cultural heritage, the post-colonial, feminism and the role of the creole in Antillean history. Right now I’m more disposed to say I just had fun. Although whilst doing some research (by now you should know that I would be one to research my fancy dress costume for authenticity) that in Louisiana after 1786, black and creole women were forced to wear their hair bound in a ‘tignon’ or kerchief as a sign of subjugation... and naturally, the restriction was fought by wearing more and more colourful and elaborate tignons. Seeing illustrations of women in Barbados and the Antilles wearing these headwraps gave me the initial idea, but I’m not sure how this custom related to the American law. I’m sure I’ll find out eventually.
Actually I have a feeling that this new, more laissez-faire attitude is a good thing for me, as long as I can manage it. Coming back from a weekend full of belly-laughs, silliness and old fashioned fun I feel prepared for all manner of calamitous eventualities. The fact that the casting process has taken over my life in the studio still bothers me, but now I trust in one of our tutors’s words last week - “You’ll be fine.”
In fact, that’s what I took away from today’s brief conversation with my art history tutor in the refectory; I mentioned not knowing exactly how to re-frame my essay in the light of her feedback, but she said to sit on it for a week and carry on as I saw fit. Then she said, “I trust you.”
She trusts me! I could have squeaked inappropriately at this statement, but I didn’t, fortunately. It means a heck of a lot - just knowing that you have the confidence of experienced lecturers. So tomorrow I’ll go in to pour the last part of the vinamold, and the week to come will be full of wondrous events which will hopefully have something to do with paint and nothing to do with sculpture.
So while the new boyfriend is undoubtedly a distraction, I’m softening him up to the idea of sitting still for long periods of time while I draw him, so ultimately I shall benefit from this... and it seems that the suggestion of an increase in beardage and the addition of a handlebar moustache has met with approval! Watch out for a visual pogonology - now this is my idea of even more fun!
# 20 [26 January 2012]
I’ll be honest: I’ve struggled with how to approach this week’s blog. I do have something to say, I’m just not sure whether I want to say it. Also I feel as though I haven’t made any work to show, although I’ve worked very hard in the studio. I dunno.
The crisis comes in how much of my personal life to include in my blog; the theme is, true to the name of the site, the degree course and the run-up to the final degree show. So I write about the work I make without going into what I had for breakfast, although for some that might make it all the more interesting. The thing is, my portraits of others are really a kind of self-portrait, products of the way I see other people; as Richard Taylor said to me, it seems that there is a lot of me in my work. So particularly regarding my investigation of men, there’s no doubt that my recent acquisition of a boyfriend is going to significantly affect the work I make. There, I told you. Aside from the obvious aspect of having a ready and hopefully willing model, and the wacky prospect of visually charting a relationship through paint, this will probably have some kind of effect on subsequent depictions of other subjects - possibly adding an element of distance, or perhaps bridging a gap. Maybe I won’t look quite so shifty now - “trust me, I’m an artist”... I don’t know. I do think it’ll add an interesting element - recurring models always hold a fascination for me, like Paul Rosano in Sylvia Sleigh’s paintings. Whilst I thought earlier that I’d met my Paul Rosano, it turned out I hadn’t. At the end of last year I ended up with three recurring subjects, and started this year with a list of four new candidates. So far I’ve done no paintings at all! Right now I have more to worry about than how/who to start with; I just have to start.
On to what I have started - the wooden sculpture has taken a back seat to the casting process, and I do feel pushed for time there as well. After last week’s disaster I did manage to claw back some success - the vinamold cast didn’t go as planned (it was a disaster) but it was salvageable in the end. This week with the help of Vicky, the country’s nicest art school technician, I successfully cast the back third of Phil’s head (here’s hoping that his ear stayed on after having to be superglued) and next week I’ll move on to his face. And after that? I don’t have a clue and I’m not ashamed to say it. There’s so much left to do that it’s starting to look daunting, but I’ll manage.
I did omit some of last week’s events regarding the actual show preparation in favour of nostalgia. In the intervening period there seemed to have arisen a faction standing in opposition to the fundraising ideas I’d put forward last year. Only two out of nine, but enough to take the wind out of the sails. I’m not saying mutiny... Nope, I’m not the captain and I don’t need to be. So I’ve decided to pull out and delegate the fundraising issue whilst I get on with my actual jobs and save my ideas to be realised as a stand-alone project, or whilst I’m doing my MA. See, no stress! Can this really be me? And this week we also had a talk about the exhibition catalogue, which was very productive; our tutor put forward a great idea that I’m determined to see through, and I’m on the hunt for someone to contribute an essay about the group.
So here’s the pitch: if you think that you’d like to take on the task of writing about the work of nine very different artists making up the B.A. year at K College, do get in touch. We’d love to have reviews of the show of course, but a brief foreword to the booklet is what I’m fishing for at the moment... And right now, I’m off to get ready to go to Derbyshire for the weekend, where I shall hike around the hills and swan about in a large and slightly smelly reproduction Georgian gown, although sadly not at the same time. But enough about my personal life.
# 19 [19 January 2012]
Today’s post could be about the work in the studio, but that would be too depressing. An entire day preparing to make the first of 3 sections of the rubber mould of Phil’s sculpture gone to waste. All my smugness evaporated when the first dirty green leak sprang through the clay walls, and the rubber poured over the table. We stopped the hole and debated whether to carry on, but after a long, tiring day of preparation I wanted to give it another shot. Another leak put an end to that. So back I go tomorrow to do it all over again. Sigh.
Instead, I might as well share something a bit less depressing. I was thinking about the paintings and my new models, and remembered one friend I saw recently in Barbados who had sat for a drawing many years ago. In the intervening years we’d both gotten married, and haven’t had much contact. I thought I’d go looking for that drawing in my old sketchbook and see if it could come out with the other boys.
I struggle with the concept of keeping a sketchbook, especially one for an academic course. To me it’s like showing the working in the margins when you’ve already got the answer because of doing it in your head. I do do lots of preparation and experimenting, but I tend to scatter it here, there and everywhere ... so I have to rethink that attitude and go about it properly, because I do feel like I’m missing a trick there, and apart from that, the powers that be want to see the work in the margins. Damned powers.
Looking through my A-Level sketchbook was partly funny and partly sad. After 15 years I could still remember how unhappy I was at times, and some of the stuff in there made me cringe at how melodramatic and overwrought I often was. The first pages seemed to be a totally artificial construction of a step by step sketchbook for the examiner, things stuck in to look like they were leading up to a final piece. Towards the middle the drawings got more personal as my home life unraveled and became complicated. Of course, I know the strange story behind the pictures but you all will have to buy the book. (Names will be changed to protect the guilty.)
I found the drawing of Garvin I was looking for, and no wonder I remembered it; it was the best thing in there. It’s my memory of him, precisely - not just the look, but the feel. I will admit that a lot of what was in the sketchbook was absolutely dire. The best was the work I did for myself; the worst was what I was doing for school. At least flicking through it I got to reconnect with my 17 year old self (what an awful thought), and reassess my current work through that. The subject of the work I make now has always been not just the model, but my relationship with him, and the idea was to have the relationship dictate the image. The paintings I’ve got planned for the next few weeks will probably be more successful at this than the last set.
So looking backwards for a bit, it’s been interesting to see just how much of my art has unconsciously been the same. And it’s interesting how the friends, boyfriends and exes, (they tend to merge, I suppose) have featured over the years. What was the most interesting was just how much I’ve changed, as well as how I haven’t. I’m just overjoyed that I wasn’t making art whilst getting divorced, good grief - I wouldn’t want to have to face a sketchbook with that much drama, not even after another 15 years.
# 18 [12 January 2012]
Rip it up and start again.
Now I’m back at home after being back at home, and the clarity comes and goes as the fatigue goes and comes. I didn’t realise how much I needed to go until I was there, and now I am so glad I went for it. Having a different space and perspective was exactly what I needed, and its effects have stayed with me. As always happens when I spend time back home, I came away with many ideas, but now I’m glad to be back home. And now things are moving quickly: I’m getting rid of my old dreams and making space for new ones. In the very minute I arrived at my house, I had an offer on my camper van, and it was sold a few hours later. I’m going to take down all of the artwork on the walls, with all of its old memories, and store it. And I’m going to replace them with new faces. I’m going to give away the materials I’ve hoarded but know I can’t use any time soon. I like traveling light. There’s going to be a lot of starting over again this year, and a lot less baggage.
I did come back with a new model to add to the four I’d secured before leaving in December, so that was a helpful development. I need to sort out my interviews for the professional practice unit and get my head around preparing a presentation on my work and a portfolio. And of course there’s the ongoing work with the sculpture awaiting me, and the dissertation. But there’s no way I’ll be as stressed as I was before; I’ve rinsed it out of me now. I have a feeling now that I’ve reconciled two very different parts of myself, and that’s made it easier for everything to roll straight off my back.
Having this focus on gender studies and masculinities in my mind whilst out there led to some interesting observations on how firmly fixed the roles are in some cultures, and how these are promulgated. Of course I’ve noticed them in Britain and America, but in the West Indies the male is resolutely unreconstructed and the lines are more strongly defined. It’s clear in the song lyrics where predominantly male singers call instructions for the female dancers to obey, and female singers do the same. It appears in the tag lines for two brands of beer and stout I hadn’t seen before: “A Man’s Beer”, and, “Men Drink This”. It popped out of the screen one evening on a CBC tv call-in program on paternity and child support issues. I know I could go much further into an analysis of misogyny in Caribbean music and dancehall culture... but that’ll have to wait a while.
So while I will admit that Skinny Fabulous’s song is incredibly catchy, I’ll refrain from doing the “6:30” on the principal. I’m no kill-joy though - I love Lil Rick’s “Go Down” I still take note of the inherent power structures while I bus’ a wine. It has the instructor pattern but is fortunately more on the philogynist side of the soca spectrum. So much material in the music alone and so little time... but that can be a side-project after the final show, maybe a chapter in the extended version of my dissertation.
Oh, and I realised that in my last post I forgot to include a mention of ARC magazine, which I found whilst out there - I’m going to have to try to get hold of it in the UK. Have a look - http://arcthemagazine.com/arc/
# 17 [3 January 2012]
Last week I settled down to a routine of working. I read and bookmarked during the day wherever I could, and made notes and wrote at night once everyone had given up and gone to bed. This seemed to work, as a bouncy 7-year old only has so much patience with being told “I have to work on my dissertation” when he wants attention, or more often to use my laptop.
The bad bit is that I just didn’t manage to get into this routine in time, and I missed out on the deadline to submit a draft to my art history lecturer. I might end up flying blind for most of this as a result. The good bit is that in only a few days of concentrated effort, I’ve written the dissertation - the first draft, of course. The bad bit about the good bit... I may have overstretched my outline; and there’s no way I can condense the various branches of research I’ve been following into the confines of a relatively short essay. It’s feeling more like social anthropology at the moment. Fascinating reading, but a niggling feeling that I should talk about the actual art in question first. Maybe I’ll have to get this done for the course, then write a longer version (if I should ever find myself with nothing to do). Now I can see how being concise can be more of a challenge than filling out the word count.
During a trip into town I finally got to visit the main library and yes, although it’s in a newer building than the old coralstone building that previously housed it, it feels remarkably like the branch library, only with air conditioning. I wanted to get some pictures of the drawers housing the old card catalogue but didn’t want to get into trouble... and my camera was in the bag I’d had to leave with the security attendant on entering. What I did get was an ancient copy of The Suffrage of Elvira, at last! I assure you that I’ll give it back.
There hasn’t been much in the way of drawing apart from some sketchbook doodles. But I don’t feel bad about that. Now that I’m facing the end of my time here I just want to enjoy it. Still, I always had plans to make this visit work for me: I made contact with Annalee Davis, an artist I thought would make an excellent subject for one of the case studies required for the impending Professional Practice unit. She agreed to do an interview, and I’m definitely looking forward to writing it up now - it’s very relevant to my particular experience for one of my case studies to include someone who’s had a similar background: coming from the Caribbean and training abroad. If I have time I’d like to visit Morningside Gallery at the Barbados Community College campus. I also found an excellent magazine on fine art in the region. It’s fantastic to know that there’s so much more going on here than what’s on the surface!
# 16 [22 December 2011]
After the settling in period, I’ve started to get down to business. I haven’t done so much as put pencil to sketchbook, but after failing to dent some of the dryer tomes I brought with me, I’ve finished one of my key texts, Abigail Solomon-Godeau’s fantastic Male Trouble. Even better, I’ve had a nostalgic trawl around the Oistins branch library, which was the first library I joined as a child. I found a couple of rather interesting books - the first a collection of essays entitled Gender: A Caribbean Multi-Disciplinary Perspective, and the second, The Barbadian Male: Sexual Attitudes and Practice. Although I doubt that either will actually fit the bill for my precise aims - perhaps too regionally specific - they’re still pretty fantastic finds. I don’t care too much if they don’t make the bibliography.
The main library has been moved to another part of Bridgetown, and the catalogue still isn’t computerised. I’ve yet to visit but I hope to tomorrow. I’m actually quite excited at the prospect - I didn’t spend too much time at the old library in town, and I’m wondering what the new one will be like. New and shiny? Or like the Oistins branch, only big? Calling the local library ‘retro’ would be unfair; it is what it is, and since my days of visiting probably hasn’t been altered beyond the two internet-connected computers for public use. It would be like calling the entire country ‘retro’. Which wouldn’t go down well. At all. Actually it’s very charming as it is, and you really have a sense of the purpose of a library - these books have been used - studied, underlined, pored over, really and properly used. The great thing about it is all the fantastic West Indian books you can’t get anywhere else! If I come across a copy of The Suffrage of Elvira by V.S. Naipaul, I’d be sorely tempted to let them keep my BDS $20 visitor’s library card deposit in exchange for parting the island with the book... but that would be theft, and premeditated, so I can’t. Sob.
I do wonder what it would be like having to research my essay from here, without the massive resources I have at home - the college and university libraries, the Kent libraries and the British Library... and to think I hesitate to travel to Canterbury to the university campus! After having a whinge to a Bajan friend about not being able to find any Lacan in the Ashford library a few weeks ago (and having to spell both “Jacques” and “masculinity” to the librarian) I think I should count my blessings instead.
Today I visited the Gallery of Caribbean Art in Speightstown. I’m naturally reticent when it comes to promoting myself, schmoozing or networking. However, this time I’ve decided to be bolshy Lee and introduce myself to the art community here. I’d surely have done it by now if I’d have stayed, and hey, who knows, I may find myself here again some day. And quite simply, I haven’t got a clue about the art scene in Barbados, which is pretty bad. However, on entering the gallery I knew it wouldn’t be a fit for me (nor I for them), but I decided to persist, as it was only an introduction. It’ll suffice to say that my work definitely does not fit the bill of “Caribbean art” as defined by that gallery. I definitely would never want to have my work defined by such a rigid term, and definitely have no plans to alter my methodology to fit the look proscribed by a regional hegemony. Neither would I want to be defined as a “woman artist” as though accepting the status of “Other”. I do think, though, that it raises very important questions about individuality, intentions, tropes, types and perspective. And, to be blunt, about who in this country can afford to buy art, and what they want and expect. It’ll be interesting to see what the other galleries hold. I don’t think that hegemony is too strong a term either, but I’ll hold off from making any further comments until I’ve seen more, and spoken to more artists. But it’ll be interesting to see if my gut feeling is right.
# 15 [15 December 2011]
Today’s blog is brought to you by: Laptop By The Pool
No, seriously, somehow I’ve managed to find myself in a luxury villa compound in St. Philip, day houseguest of an American woman I only met a few hours ago. Oh well. I could tell you how I came to be here, but your version would be more exciting.
Blogging from over 4000 miles away seems rather strange, and yet still right. I’d decided to do myself a favour and disconnect from all of the unnecessary things I have to maintain in Britain. I can’t entirely disconnect because the academic deadlines will be waiting for me when I get back, and I do have to do some work while I’m out here. So I’ve trimmed everything else right down, but this blog has become something more than an obligation; it’s become a way of sorting through all of the disparate pieces and putting them into lines, and having the record of where I’ve been helps me to figure out where I want to get to. Basically I’ll forget everything I’ve ever done if I don’t write it down. No pictures yet, as I've managed to forget my camera. And I've been sleeping for most of this time.
The strangest thing about being back home this time is how it doesn’t feel strange at all. Two years ago, coming in to land was almost revelatory, and the hangars, garages and houses seemed so small and unreal. Two years later, the entire experience felt entirely different, just as it should be; less exciting, yes, but more comforting, as there was no shock to overcome, only a sense of familiarity.
Working on my reading list whilst communing with my roots hasn’t been entirely straightforward; the Henwood library wouldn’t be too impressed at how close their copy of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble came to salty ruin by way of an unexpectedly high wave at Miami Beach. Fortunately there’s no more than a bit of sand under their spine sticker, so I’ve got away with it this time.
Having a few days to recuperate before my mother arrives from Boston with her inevitable flurry of activity has been a bit of a blessing. Once she’s here there will be the inevitable visits to the old neighbourhood, the friends, the relatives, and of course the stopping in the street to chat with casual acquaintances, of which she apparently has thousands in this island. My role in this will be part participant, part chauffeur.
There’s never a break from the drama though; today my laptop charger decided to bite the dust, leaving me in the half-charged lurch. So while I have a few minutes of charge left, I’m saving my notes as an email draft, and uploading this missive. If good ol’ mother has managed to come to my rescue and buy a replacement charger for my laptop, everything will go wonderfully, and the updates will continue. If not, I’m stuffed.
# 14 [8 December 2011]
Out of my hands. It's like being in a school exam, finishing early and then having to sit in silence, wondering why everyone else is writing so much more than you. Flicking through the pages, looking for that question you missed, and generally sweating until the time's up.
I don't think I could have done much more, to be honest. I've worked very hard this term, and even on things that I really had no business bothering with! I did enjoy the work as well, particularly getting myself into a fit of the giggles painting individual chest hairs. Yes, I'll freely admit that. All I can do is hope that I did an adequate job of explaining myself and the work during the crit, and beforehand to the tutors. I do feel like I'm missing out on the chance to see everyone else's work during their crits next week.
As for the paintings, I'm happy with my experiment. I feel as though I've come a long way because of it, and know which direction I need to head in as well. I'm starting to see my trip home as a real holiday, as a chance to get off the treadmill and float for a while. Over the break I hope to do some watercolour paintings and drawings, and see how they integrate with the work I've just completed. Although when I'm in Barbados, it's the architecture that I find most exciting... I may end up just with drawings of beautiful buildings. I don't mind. I'll be working on my dissertation, so I should do myself a favour and just draw and paint for the fun of it. What a radical idea!
I had a bit of time, post-hand-in, to focus on my website at last. After going through the process of setting up a site as a writing portfolio, I figured out how to do it via my main website - so now I've got a duplicate site, but I guess it doesn't matter. What I do need to do is actually get more writing finished! I've tarted up my website with my latest images, and I think it looks much better. Still unsure about my paintings as the main image, but it's better than before. I'm just wondering about how much of my older work to include; I suppose I'll have to look at it for a while and see how it feels as it is.
I'm not sure how often I'll be posting whilst I'm away, but there's sure to be lots to cover by the start of term!
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In no particular order: Multimedia visual artist/painter/ceramicist/printmaker, originally from Barbados, then Boston, now in Kent, UK. Mother. Occasional writer/singer/bassist.