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Photograph by Stu Allsopp with the object based installation for the show. 

It’s been a while since my last painting exhibition – due to working in other media, and in my roles as project manager and mentor – and showing my new ¡Buenos Días Dictador! work is proving to be a truly fascinating experience.

Looking back at my previous blog posts as the series emerged it’s not surprising that the paintings are eliciting a range of reactions. This is why blogging can be so important and act as an aide memoire of actions and intentions. I can remind myself how unexpected these paintings were, and the range of emotions which accompanied their making. I’m especially drawn to the following paragraph.

“Wilful imagination – powerful unconscious compass! You take me where you need me to go but not where I planned for. Like forgetting to take a coat on holiday and arriving in a storm – I am unprepared. My work makes me naked but actually I love that.”

In my last blog post I wrote about the peaceful feeling instilled by the work for someone who is effectively living in the UK in political exile, as my family were.

There have since been many other visitors and reactions. I’ve had the joy of hanging out, chatting with guests, observing how people view the works (always interesting) and catching up with the comments book.

An artist friend had been worried ahead of visiting – paintings sometimes get flattened out in photographs and she really wasn’t sure she’d like them. Seeing them in reality, revealed the complex layering and textures. This was a relief – she could tell me honestly that she loved them! I found this so informing in terms of how I often present my work online where it may not be best served unless I can arrange for a photo shoot with a macro lens and professional lighting.

It’s wonderful when people find beauty in what you’ve made, and I’ve had many such comments – but I’ve been a little uneasy on this score too. It’s been nagging at me that this exhibition can work and be read on many levels and in many ways. I worried that the ever-present menace of Franco’s dictatorship could be missed – and I have to accept that it will be in some cases – as everything depends on the level of engagement with the material that the viewer is able or willing to give to it.

This work has been called brave, inducing sadness and a sense of isolation (good!) in one visitor who shares aspects of the Spanish legacy. The sunshine of Spain is missing, said another, the paintings are icy (yes – also good!).  I’m delighted when people absorb the the peculiar and surreal atmosphere of my childhood – where the dictator’s presence was invisibly felt at every turn. I want it to be understood that I’m working with a taboo subject – but can see that this takes time to absorb and retain.

In each canvas there is a brooding cloud (or form) and I hoped to capture the uneasy balance of our lives; on the surface ‘normal’ but with an extraordinary dark undertow.

Yesterday brought two extremes – one a 1/10 review in the comment book! This appears to have been a prank!

This was outweighed by a charming and fully engaged viewer, who’s written a lovely review on his Instagram account – a new immersion course for English language students based on cultural tours of Oxford. I wish him huge success.

I’m now looking forward to my artist’s talk on the 9th February. If you’re in Oxford come along, but don’t forget to book first.

 

 


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11th January 2018

The day has finally dawned on the ¡Buenos Días Dictador! exhibition at the lovely Arts at the Old Fire Station Gallery. The opening is this evening 6-8pm.

The install began on Monday and took two days.  I can honestly say this has been the best install experience ever, due to the phenomenal team at the gallery. I could get used to being so well looked after!

Usually it’s just me and my toolkit – though I’ve had some great fun installing shows when friends have helped out too.

But there is something wonderful and indeed magical about having the work installed for you, I have to say. Rebecca Lee, the Technical Manager, has quite inspired me with her calm precision, and a quietly methodical approach – she’s quick too. I would literally bury my head in some detail (my exhibition notes for example) a few moments later (it seemed) she’d sail past me saying she was off to find a particular type of pin. I’d nod, busy my head again, and then pause, look up – and BOOM – whatever she was working on would be done, and looking bang on right.

More than once I stood back and revelled in a WOW! when did that happen, moment.

It was also total pleasure to work with Visual Programme Director, Sarah Mossop, again. Having curated my Through An Artist’s Eye project in 2016, she knows me and my work well. Sarah is also unerringly calm and reassuring and I felt (as ever) in very safe hands indeed.

Alex Coke, Marketing & Programme Manager, has made the usually worrisome  jobs of promoting the exhibition feel seamless. Her ability to translate my work for audiences, and the gentle encouragement to drop some of the art language I’ve acquired (as a jobbing and blogging artist) has been a revelation. Never has writing up the regulation exhibition ‘blurb’ been so easy. I’m not a fan of art speak really – but it can creep in.

A great part of the joy of this show also lies in the partnership of Arts at the Old Fire Station with the charity, Crisis. Thanks to the work of Participation Officer, Racheal Harrison, I’ve been lucky enough to be the artist whose show has come at the very beginnings of a gallery internship for one Crisis member. It’s been especially gratifying to talk things through with her, and to learn that my own work on exile is inspiring to her in a particular way. She has told me that my work instils calm, that she didn’t realise you could work on such a painful subject as exile and yet create something beautiful. This was a lovely moment – and it also got me thinking about my own practice.

The exhibition struck also struck a deep chord with her own experience of displacement and political oppression and we spoke for a long time about the situation in her own country. I’m now looking forward to inviting her into my studio space later this month, as part of her internship.

Being able to show your work is surely the tops for any artist. I’m extremely pleased to have works on show in such a fabulous gallery in this particular central location where Crisis members, among many other members of the public (I hope) will be able to see what I’ve been up to in my studio.

It’s felt quite odd at times to see these works take their first outing. They were made in the first quarter of 2017 (I think) but the year has been largely spent outside the studio on other projects and it’s all a bit of a blur. In the interim the number of works seemed to have grown! Did I really paint so many, I found myself wondering,  and yet they’re all so familiar – each one like a dear friend I hadn’t seen for a while. A gallery space can really transform a series and help you see what you’ve achieved. Having the space to view the works together without the clutter of the studio makes all the difference.

It’s perhaps my most intimate show to date. There are all kinds of personal items, relating to my family archive, on display on a low shelf. The viewer is invited right in at hand level. Only I’d rather people didn’t actually touch the objects and move them round (they are attached)!

The idea is to create context, to show visitors the object relatedness of the work, but the shelf is also a work in itself. Pulling it together in the space was probably the highlight of the install on a practice level.  Working with objects in an exhibition space is once step away from the performance side of my practice – where I make live assemblage pieces. But that’s another story.

In this exhibition I want to close a circle maybe, and bring about a further resolution of my family history.  But in truth I hope I’m opening up the space for more. My determination to create a body of works, which gives expression to the exile experience is something I’ve written about many times, and each time I show my work there is a sense of a story untold. The silencing by terror and political means spills out into the contemporary – a failure in Spain to acknowledge and work on recent history continues.

¡Buenos Días Dictador! could even be a contentious title for an exhibition in the Spanish context, and as ever, I ask myself whether my work could be shown in Spain.  The answer remains a question mark, or at best a maybe. And so I know my work is not yet done.


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