Last time, I mentioned the importance of having the blog to share ideas and to strike up dialogues with other artists about things I’m working on. However, I must also highlight how helpful it has been to receive peer mentorship through regular meetings with other like-minded artists/ Art Therapists.
The artist peer mentoring group that I set up two years ago (loosely named Art + Me) was devised as a means of primarily identifying other Art Therapists, both trainees and fully-qualified professionals who would also call themselves active artists. The initial callout drew artists of various disciplines who share this dual role, although over the years we have relaxed our criteria to also artists who have an interest in Art Therapy or are training in other therapeutic disciplines.
Last month we had our 11th meeting together and the growing number of members means that we’re now looking to meet once a month. We’re also discussing options for a group exhibition together this year. The meeting was also an opportunity to give selected artists a space to talk about their work and to receive feedback from the rest of the group. On this occasion, I had an opportunity to share my work, a prospect that filled me with a certain degree of panic.
As mentioned previously within my blog, I have really struggled to stay motivated as an artist. Prior to the peer group meeting, I felt as though I had lots of ideas or things that I had started on, but very little to show since our last meeting together. As a result, I decided to present the group with an appraisal of my artworks-in-progress to date so that I could disseminate my energies in the upcoming months. As an artist, it can often be difficult to give a concise summary of what it is you do, or your overriding themes, but talking about my practice within the group always feels safe and encouraging. I enjoy the discipline of retelling people what my work is about.
Since 2015, my practice has been split between multiple works that explore my own identity, primarily through self-portraiture. These works encompass a range of media including video, drawing and assemblage. Although, they are all derived from the same source material – a vast compendium of photographs I’ve been taking of myself over the past two years. I now have an archive of nearly 900 images and I’m still going!
One work that I decide to show was my ‘post-it portrait’ – a large scale wall drawing of myself in pencil, made up of hundreds of post-it notes. However, the enormity of the task has left me feeling demotivated. I recently calculated that the final image will be made up of 609 post-its. Thus far, I have only completed about 180, less than a third. One suggestion from the group was whether the artwork could be developed as a collaborative exercise undertaken by close friends and family in which each person is sent a square to complete independently and sent back. I really liked the idea that the artwork’s construction might become some sort of participatory event. Making an artwork in this way would mean that I would have even less autonomy over what the final image might look like.
I also showed another artwork I’d been working on, a composite image which alludes to the constraints of traditional self-portraiture to capture one’s identity, in any kind of fixed way, due to the way our appearances change with time.
The work started out as an experiment, overlaying multiple self-images which were blown up to A3-size photocopies. Each of the images were then cut into thin strips (3mm wide) using a metal ruler and scalpel and then layered on top of one another. The resulting artwork initially looks like streamers, or a beaded curtain, as one group member described it. However, on closer inspection you start to discern the basic outline of face. I also discovered that when I held the artwork in front of a mirror, and shook it gently, the image would shimmer slightly. It was as if I’d seen my reflection in a pool of water, an allusion to the myth of Narcissus.
I quite liked that the image moved or could be animated in some way, and presenting this work to the group was useful in terms of thinking about how it could be developed and exhibited.
As it was, feedback from group members was mixed. For instance, some identified that they liked the size of the work whereas others felt it should be much bigger. One suggestion was to recreate the image on a much larger scale whereby viewers could pass through the artwork. This idea really captured my imagination and shares similarities with another artwork – Threshold, that I made 9 years ago whilst at Wimbledon College of Art. That artwork was inspired by themes of ritualism and the connections held between physical action and transcendence. It took the form a large curtain, hung from the ceiling, that individuals were invited to pass through. The idea was based on Biblical descriptions of the Holy of Holies – the inner sanctuary within the Tabernacle where God is said to have dwelt. The Holy of Holies was set apart by a veil, and no one could enter except the High Priest, and even he could only enter once a year. These descriptions also provoke comparisons with the Black Lodge – the extradimensional space featured in the television series Twin Peaks, perhaps another unconscious influence at the time.
It is interesting that this veil/curtain motif has arisen within my practice again, although this time in relation to themes of identity. Drawing on the feedback of the group, I liked the idea that the work could be interactive and people could pass through or ‘go behind the veil’ to discover something else about me that might otherwise be hidden. What this might be, I’m still unsure. I feel that the next stage will be to think about how the art work might be developed as some type of installation or environment that others can interact with. Within the peer mentoring group, there was a discussion about whether my self-image needs to be an integral part of the curtain or veil or, alternatively, could it be a projected image. In terms of next steps, it might be worth making some form of small model or prototype to help me make sense of what this might look like.