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I’ve been a little bit under the weather and distracted for the past two days. There’s been a storm brewing within me, in sharp contrast to the glorious late Summer days we’ve been so blessed with this week. They come as a gift after the dramatic deluges at the early stages of the Unravelling Time exhibition. I have a large life decision to make, but it’s all good, the kind of inner quake that can prove cleansing and renewing.

The glistening contents of Refuge.

Crispy dry Refuge.

On my last visit to the Abbey, Refuge had slept rough for ten days under the vine. After the last encounter with a glistening wet assemblage, I was met with an unexpected, almost pop-up book folded-in crispness. My thoughts turned to envelops and puff pastry cases to describe the inward sag of the paper lining, seeming to enfold the contents as though to protect them. A sunshade, a tent forming – so many associations. I love the way it’s lining comes away cleanly, no rips or tears.

But I had loved the glistening too, and half expected the suitcase to have slid away in the interim. Complete disintegration seemed possible, such was the unrelenting quality of each downpour.

I did have to rescue the wall piece during the wet period, and was offered alternative shelter indoors with the opportunity to hang my painting in a cosy corner of the kitchen.

When I returned to find the assemblage as crisp as baklava I was surprised to see the painting back again, in situ on the exterior wall. Some other hand had aided it’s migration from kitchen to vine in my absence. The Abbey is like this – many hands seem to tend it and it moves in mysterious ways. Delightful but sometimes disconcerting.

It’s hard to convey my temporary disorientation at this sight, but at once I knew I must waterproof the board support. Who knew where the painting would find itself next and if left outdoors again, the weather could so easily change. It had already sustained some minor damage.

And so, while the Abbey is closed to guests for two days, I have been lovingly restoring it’s surface, and applying layer upon layer of transparent gesso to sides and back. This is matt and pleasingly rough. Not the solution suggested by my local art shop assistant – yacht varnish! I wasn’t sure where I could source any of this in time, but also I resist the idea of a high gloss, even for back and sides.

And so I sit applying and applying, patiently and not so patiently. But it feels worth it. The gesso is plastic after all and I figure with only three nights more to go of sleeping rough, if I lay down enough layers my painting will be wearing a raincoat, delicate and yet resistant. A pack-a-mac of a gesso this is, to be used before Refuge comes home.

Unravelling Time is a group show currently on at the Abbey, Sutton Courtenay.


Alex Forshaw has written a brilliant review of the group show below, capturing the essence of the Abbey and details of the 12 works on display. A highly recommended read.


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A photograph taken at George Orwell’s grave on the day of the Private View.

At last I find myself in this space again with time enough to record some of the emotions and events around the Unravelling Time group show, at which I am showing a piece called Refuge.


Refuge is an assemblage piece, comprising a vintage cardboard suitcase, twigs, an ancient mirror, a wooden coat hanger and a small acrylic painting on ply. There is also a wall piece, which hangs above it, also called Refuge. This larger painting is rendered in acrylic on MDF. The MDF is untreated and not of the waterproof kind. Click on the link above to see how Refuge found shelter under a vine.

Click on the link below to see a short video of how the painting became resolved in a studio session while filming myself painting.


Of course, nothing about my studio work of this piece prepared me for meeting with the environment at the Abbey, Sutton Courtenay. Unlike most other artists showing I had not visited the Abbey to respond to the space and create a piece with a specific site in mind. This is not how I work. My practice has evolved to incorporate as many elements as I can to approximate refugee (and exile) experiences, as I imagine them to be. The install is always a journey into the unknown, where I must improvise with what is available. I take the risk that the spaces I’m destined to find may not be so accommodating – I make it a no choice situation. I HAVE to find a way of making my pieces resolve (all of which resemble small shrines to the domestic, to loss and to memory) without prior sight of the location.

The Abbey is more than beautiful and generates an aura of possibility beyond any conventional gallery space. On arrival, a quick tour yielded a surprising yet resounding result. Having envisaged installing the work indoors (no question) I found myself entirely and irresistibly drawn to a corner of an inner, yet uncovered garden which is accessed just through the entrance to the Abbey. It is the first space you enter, and leads on through to the office, the Great Hall and the kitchen. My corner nestles under the kitchen window, boasting a vine (in fruit) and further sheltered by an adjacent fig tree (also in fruit).

A gift of a spot, in which to make my piece at home. The fig tree is host to a fledgling wood-pigeon, the vine also hosts a nest. The resonance with the piece I’d prepared was already building – the twigs I had collected from my garden were to my mind gathered and transported for nesting of some kind. I had no conscious sense of this in my studio (a fleeting thought on the back burner of my mind) when I made the decision to include the twigs in the piece. The space brought out and amplified the meaning I was grasping at. So often I feel I am working almost blind, waiting for signals to draw out unconscious meaning – the area where so much depth of expression resides.

Here in this gorgeous spot the irresistible notion to show the work outside was born. Indoors yielded no such space – no such pull. I knew that I must find shelter here, watching and recording the effects of nature on my piece under the vine.

Thus I allow location to impact and generate more layers to the work and strengthen my bond to the work and to this heavenly place.

My sadness at the inevitable deterioration of this piece is tempered by a sense that this is in a deeper sense perfect, and that in working with the Abbey’s history as a place of refuge I may have happened on the kind of symbolic symmetry for which you cannot plan.

NB. In my next blog I hope to talk about George Orwell’s grave once more, and the impact of publishing my video, Retreat. You can see the video by clicking on the link below.



Process images from the studio

Now I’m getting truly excited. Time fast approaches to install my piece called Refuge, for the Unravelling Time group show at Sutton Courtenay Abbey. It is a privilege to be showing work in this ancient and beautiful sacred space. My thanks for this opportunity go to curator and artist/writer Les McMinn.

All the information you need about Unravelling Time below:


I will also be unveiling a new online work called Retreat, in response to the grave of George Orwell, who is buried at the church of All Soul’s in Sutton Courtenay. In this piece I work with the history of the Abbey and connect it to my ongoing post memory project, Barcelona in a Bag. A short video made at the graveside will be published on the 20th September to coincide with the opening at the Abbey.

Yesterday in my studio, convinced that my piece was finished I commenced work on my developing series of short videos about my artistic practice. So far I’ve made one about tactile memory and one about writing as thinking. This was to be an insight into aspects of my painting process. I’m revelling in the process of learning more about video capture and also describing creative processes. Process is, for me, one of the most interesting aspects of the work artists do. I love to know how people work.

So I painted and filmed and painted and filmed. Initially this was quite a stilted affair. Before taking a long Summer break I had abandoned an unresolved work on board. My way back in to painting was to take it up again where I left off. In particular I wanted to rid the surface of a bothersome circle – a left over from the kind of riffing that can go on when you work on several pieces at once. The circle had served me well in one painting (possibly two) but this third piece was a definite NO. The dot looked like an eye (and not in a good way) and the remnants of what had been a branchlike form looked like it’s eyebrow. This was exactly what #justno was invented for!

So the film is about warming up and exploring. I knew I needed to break the surface up, but do so without losing what was working. It’s always a risk, but as I worried less about the film, and focused more on pushing the surface around, the better things went. You can see in the film that I begin to break through when the table cloth vanishes and things get messy. In fact the messier things get the happier I am. I needed to break the perfection in my studio. Filming with Tate Britain in July had created an imperative for my studio to become an installation. Working messily in this space had met with this barrier.

Compared to the way I work when I hit my stride the film is restrained. I like it best when I get the work on the floor and start giving it some real welly. That will have to wait for my next video experiment.

Oh but back to the point of all this! What I love SO much about working the way I do – in trusting unconscious processes – it that the point of arrival or resolution in a piece can be so very surprising yet contain a poetic logic which I don’t think can be planned for.

The planning part of my brain was engaged in making a film and resolving a piece in a way which would look balanced. Fleetingly aspects of my previous working processes flashed through my mind.

Prior to resolution I imagined it was shaping up to be one of a series of window paintings. It shares some tropes and features with the others. Earlier landscape explorations are also contained on the original surface (the bit I’m keen not to obscure entirely). Additionally its related to some pieces which act more like stage set backdrops for some of the video work I’ve been exploring with dolls. Herein resides my theatrical research, especially my reading of my father’s plays and learning about early puppet shows Federico Garcia Lorca orchestrated in the family home.

But I had to deal with an even more irksome form which replaced the circle – a treacly rectangle. All my careful masking of this shape led to trouble when directly squeezing paint out of a tub led to over-squirt. A glorious blob of what looks like glistening melted chocolate dollops onto the board and I have to scoop it up. Careful and impulsive fight with each other in all my work – I need them both and have come to accept each one for the benefits they bring to a finished piece.

Even when I washed over the board, losing the rectangle – it’s ghost stubbornly remained as a textural imprint. It had previously (again fleetingly) suggested home to me – the solid rectangle reading as a basic building block to a basic representation of a house. Capturing it’s ghost frame moved beyond impulse to imperative and with it the painting became sealed, though I still didn’t know it in my conscious mind.

By the time the masking of lines commenced I was only concerned with resolving the board and finishing the film. Light was dimming and I had survived all day on a sachet of miso soup I found in the studio kitchen.

As I turned the board round to take a final shot I saw at once that this particular work was about shelter – more specifically refuge. Of course. I was processing all the elements of my two years research project and channeling recent conversations and experiences. This was a piece that would also be called refuge, and join the developing installation for Sutton Courtenay. In it I reference past and present refugee journeys and the blessed spaces of refuge required to house them. In doing so I reach out my arms and invite viewers to contemplate the imperatives before us.

We are all human. we all need refuge. My piece is about empathy. It is interactive, intimate and domestic. I hope it will sit well at the Abbey.


The refugee crisis is now fully in the public mind. Last week proved decisive in a process of galvanising compassion and propelling large numbers of citizens into action. We marched, made banners, donated clothes, listened to speeches and cried.

People in the UK, Europe and across the world demonstrated against government policies. I personally have not felt this way since Greenham Common. On some level I felt connected to my 20 year old self. But I am now middle aged – I am a mother, and my children are becoming young adults.

Probably it is as a mother and a daughter that I most reacted to the events that have created this international forcefield of empathy.

I’m a refugee’s daughter and I CAN’T stand by while refugees perish in camps, at sea or at closed borders. BUT I am a mother and like so many others the image of Aylan Kurdi’s tiny body washed up on a beach proved a tipping point. This has been an image whose potency has proved to be that of other seminal captures in the context of war, such as Robert Capa’s falling solider for the Spanish Civil War and the image of the napalmed child in Vietnam. I include none of these images to illustrate my blog.

The power of the Aylan image is extraordinary. The eye at first appears to register a sleeping infant – how many times did I check my beautiful little boy in his cot to find him in this pose. There are some who claim the image has been manipulated, this child victim moved and rearranged to pull our heart strings. I can’t go there.

When the content of the image reaches the decoding centres of the brain it dawns that this child is dead, washed up like so much flotsam and jetsam yet the wholly innocent victim of a war he did not start, did not ask to be part of and could not conceive of, other than to be a member of a family in flight, in terror, and in mortal danger. That would be enough, but not enough. Aylan would both know but not know about war.

I have been stimulated by Dr Fiona Noble to think most carefully about this image, to try to understand in more depth the complex moral questions about it’s capture and dissemination. You can read her thoughtful blog on the link below:


I am torn in two about this image, knowing that without it we would not know what we know. Reams of footage and newsprint have rolled over our eyes without the same power to ignite us. They didn’t bring the same kind of knowing as the photograph of Aylan. And if this is happening in our world we should know it – we should know it in ways that matter and register in our guts and lead to action. Yet I feel appalled at the way this image has been used and gained currency being disseminated endlessly and even worked upon in sand sculptures and cartoons. From the moment I saw it I knew I would write and respond creatively – but NOT replicate the image. I knew I would make an art piece – a mediated image, or in this case an iPhone video capture.

My piece for Aylan remains undedicated, a choice I made paradoxically as a mark of respect. The only hint at my subject is that #refugeeswelcome appears as the final credit. I chose to make a cleansing ritual in my studio – a ritual cleansing of a space with burning sage. In this case the space I work with is the internet – space of the endless repeat of images, a space where a dead boy’s body can become a meme.

Probably I’ve written enough about such a paradox – such a should and shouldn’t have situation, where we struggle with ethics and fears of exploitation yet the message is one we need to hear. How can an image be both so crucial and yet the thing we wish never to have seen. I reflect that it can never be unseen – this is also it’s power. But the truth is that this image is not Aylan. I don’t come form a place of answers – only questions. My work seeks to separate my understanding of Aylan as a soul from the image of him I can now never un-see. My ritual does not attempt to undo the image, or wash it away. My ritual is one of purification of a space – wordless, symbolic and open. It is in the end all I can do.

The video link is here:



How to celebrate a year of blogging? With a blog post of course! Today I discovered my blog with the wonderful a-n is one year old.

I can think of nothing better than a visual post. A rapid fire upload fresh from the studio of today’s progress on the assemblage for Unravelling Time, a group project, around a 12th Century Abbey in the Oxfordshire village of Sutton Courtenay. My online piece to be unveiled 20/9/2015 is called Retreat, but my assemblage for the Abbey will (in light of recent events) be called Refuge. Both respond to the Abbey as a place of sanctuary, withdrawal and transformation.