My parents came to see the show.

It wasn’t straightforward but they did make the effort and it wasn’t easy for either of them at their age. There had been somewhat of a pre-amble via my mother. Would they understand it ? Was she right in thinking it was about how we see so much news on the tele these days? Well yes and no I said. It really puts you on the spot and it’s something I’m never sure about. How much to explain?

The temptation is to ramble on about all the different layers and nuances of the various pieces and how they somehow inter-relate and inform one another. I could hear I was confusing her on the other end of the phone. My search for clarity was actually making it sound more impenetrable. I rewound and suggested, yes she was right, but it was also about other things too. The path between patronising and elitism is steep on both sides. I’m not sure I stayed on it.

But it is a big consideration when trying to put over what one’s work is ‘about’. The temptation is to lapse into ‘art language’. With well trodden art expressions one can be safe in the knowledge that either:

a. what you are trying to say will be so vague and generic in its terminology that you can’t make an obvious fool of yourself or

b. the listener will have insufficient knowledge of the context in which you use those words, that they will find it difficult to do anything but nod politely.

I really do believe you should be prepared to explain your work… but the trick is to suggest that your own view may only be one way of looking at it. To imply that the viewer may actually have a different but equally relevant way of looking at the work may seem obvious – but to people like my parents it can seem a daunting idea, and one that they might not want to engage with.

Usually we are given something, told what it is, and presented with a conclusion. It’s so much easier that way for many people and I am aware that suggesting it can be read in different ways can be construed as a cop out or woolliness.

Anyway they made the effort so good for them. I hope they might go see other such contemporary offerings… but I’m not holding my breath.

For my part I see my work as an on-going research project – so it can’t really have a conclusion. Unless I discover the meaning of life – but I’m prepared to settle for a meaningful life instead!

1 Comment

I have a cold and the left side of my jaw is swollen due to an abscess having appeared this week. You don’t need to know this but I just mention it because it’s symptomatic of what happens when your candles are being burnt both ends – and in the middle too.

With the build up to my show, carrying on with the day job, plus any amount of other ‘life things that must be done’ it meant that, once the tornado had passed my body said ‘ok I need a little me time now’. I’m fine with that though – in fact I’m very grateful for it keeping going until after the critical moments had passed.

The opening

Actually very nice. Well I made it at least.

There we were, sat on the train heading to Durham from London but not actually moving for an hour. I had allowed a short ‘time contingency’ to allow me to check the show before everyone arrived… but good old national rail made sure we were well behind schedule. I arrived in the gallery to be greeted by James Lowther (arts officer) bearing a glass of wine and a grin. He had been trying to get hold of me (my phone was dead – I have developed a stubborn attachment to my antique mobile phone and it had battery problems). Everything was ok except they hadn’t quite managed to sync the two videos and they didn’t know if it was playing as intended or not. ‘Ok no probs’ I said as synchronising isn’t mission critical.

Moving through into the gallery I meet the man from the Northern Echo, camera in hand and a notepad – ‘be great if we could do a little piece in front of one of your pics’. I hope I am not showing it but I am starting to feel a little flustered – it has been a long day already and I haven’t actually seen the show hung yet… but I am aware of people in the main gallery milling around. I make my sidestep and proceed to the gallery, zipping round the three spaces to get a quick overview. Phew… the staff and volunteers who work at the DLI have done a great job and even the big wall pieces are just as they should be. If this had been the Baltic or Tate Modern the wires that come down from my digital frames would have been hidden, and the power sockets wouldn’t have been daisy-chained and taped along the bottom of the wall… but such criticism would be churlish given the limited resources and budgets we were working with.

I am happy that it has a presence and a life of its own and that it looks good.

After that, I return to telling the reporter about my work – I enjoy the attention really and talk to various people who are all very complimentary and positive. I give a little speech. In reality I had written some words the night before and then, on the train up, drastically reduced these to a manageable list of thankyou’s. Once I got going however I motored into full on ‘ramble’ mode and careered through a monologue of the works meaning, anecdotes and (the one thing I did still have written down) those important credits. I’m not sure how it came across… those who I surveyed were kind enough to say it was ‘just right’. Well I’m never going to make a living out of after dinner speaking but all in all it was a good result.

Towards the end of the evening a lady came up to me. She said she hadn’t known what to expect, but had been particularly moved by the video installation I made featuring Andy Dodds from the bomb disposal squadron. Turns out she had been married to a soldier who was sent to serve in Bosnia. He came back a different person and she lived with that, day in day out, for quite a few years. For her, my piece summed up exactly what that was like. She said she found it quite moving. She had tuned into the piece in her own particular way. I was gratified, as I had hoped the piece would have more to give than I had put into it. That extra element, the observer, had made it something special for that moment.


My how the time does fly. Today was the day I have both been looking forward to for a year and also the one I have had increasing butterflies about. Yes the day I started to put the show , if not on the walls, at least leant against them.

The main cause of my worry has not been so much the content, as I am pretty confident that it hangs together well, but more to do with getting my large 3 metre long prints onto the walls both straight and unmarked. This particular little niggle has been something I have pondered for quite some time. Eventually I decided to go with the ‘put the batons on the wall, put the velcro on the batons and then push the foamex mounted prints onto the velcro’ solution. This seems like a reasonable plan, except for the fact that, having moved these things around the gallery today, they are quite bendy – and you only get one go at putting them straight onto the wall without it becomes a matter of damage limitation. Perhaps I’m just a wuss in this respect, as I am reliably informed by James the arts officer, that all will be well when the various ‘people who know about these things’ get their heads and hands around this tomorrow.

As fate has a way of doing, timings have conspired to mean that my opening is on Friday at 6pm whilst my daughters graduation is at 10.30am on the same day. Not too bad except that she studied in London so I have 300 miles or so between events. All do-able of course, it just means I can’t be at the gallery as the art goes on the wall. Ah well… maybe that is for the best. They have my mobile number!

Very much looking forward to the opening night though – and the big sigh of relief afterwards.

Today, as I put all the bits n pieces against the walls – and looked at the video (well one of the projections as the other player wasn’t working eeek..) … I got a nice feeling.. that feeling you get when you see something take place that has been forming in your minds eye for a long time… and then there it is… a real thing… a reassurance that all the long hours and fine tuning were worth it. And the other thing that always happens (and this is particularly relevant to the Gestalt show)… that the reality of the show is like a live beast… it begins to breath and is already talking and saying stuff that I hoped it would, but didn’t dare anticipate until it had it’s own reality.

Goodness… birth pain with just a muffled inner scream…


Having given a little flavour of the background to this project, I really feel I should fast-forward it and get right up to date.

Having been lucky enough (did I say lucky?).. actually it was the product of a series of meetings I had with various venue or curatorally related people, that led me to send some blurb to the DLI in Durham.

Didn’t hear for a while then out of the blue the magic ’email of interest’ landed in my in box.
I have now had a number of meetings over in Durham. After the first one it became apparent that James Lowther (the exhibitions organiser for all things county Durham) thought my work was right for their gallery, so it was pretty much a done deal from then on.

These things do take time tho…and various possibilities have opened up and then become problematic along the way.

The biggest positive for me (apart from being given the show in the first place) was that after a few exploratory conversations, it became apparent that there was a definite will to allow me to use elements of their collection to make a new piece as part of the whole Gestalt installation. I was particularly keen to be able to use real uniforms in a series of portraits I had been planning. Portraits which involved ’emerging adults’ (I say this tongue in cheek like ’emerging artists’ – always makes me think of resurrection for some reason) What I really mean is 15-16yr olds – people with all of life’s possibilities laid out before them…

I was given some help initially in this direction by the former temporary manager of the DLI Alistair Bowden. He delved into the archives for me and he and I had a good forage through what was held in the bowels of the museum. From this I formed a plan. He very kindly offered to allow me to select some uniforms and to come to Newcastle to cover the insurance aspects of responsibility for the collection etc. As it turned out events took over and he was unable to do that – however once the new full time manger, Emma Hamlett, was in place this got back on track.

I’m sure Emma had many others things to do in her new job but she very generously gave her time to my cause. That being said it was becoming apparent that to take the uniforms off the premises could be a problem – so I decided on the path of least resistance and instead arranged to bring everyone, plus the photography studio, to the DLI for photography. Emma sorted out the uniforms, weapons and a variety of trinkets for me on the day and so it was it all eventually came together.

The fact of having a deadline for the show is of course a great focuser of attention for all. It has to be said that there are a variety of benefits to the museum in this direction too, in that they get their collection brought to life and used in a way that is not typical of museum presentation. As I am by nature a person who loves to explore museums anyway it all had a nice cuddly synergy about it.


So – you made a piece. It took long enough as it was, and now you’re faced with the task of having to be a one person marketing department to try and find an appropriate venue to show it. And (as one gallery owner wearily informed me) – ‘there are so many artists wanting to show their work, there just aren’t the spaces to show them’. Well, though I may agree with the actuality of that statement, it has to be said such considerations rarely phase the compulsive creative types who wander this earth.

I did consider hiring a van and touring the piece around in the back of it… perhaps parking outside a few major galleries. Well I’m probably not the first person to think of that one…

There was interest, but nothing really came to fruition – and the piece is quite big – four large prints 5 foot high and 15 foot long… so it was never going to fit into the local library annex.

Originally this piece was to have a video tower in the middle of it – showing four related videos. Some kind people at the Gate cinema in Newcastle offered me a space in their complex…it was kinda nice… bit of a building site, but that suited me quite well. Trouble was , it would have required me to be on site 24/7… and that wasn’t really feasible being that I have to work to support this eccentric artistic other life.

Then came the Specials Laboratory. They liked the piece, even wanted to site it in their head office.. but that fell through. However, out of that, came a commission which I charted on this site, and that was eventually featured in AN magazine.

see: www.a-n.co.uk/p/387860/

It was a good opportunity… but when it was finished I was still left with Gestalt… and I had worked on it too hard to just let it drop – so I re-newed my efforts in the direction of promotion.

Subject for discussion… is it art if no-one ever sees it? Some work can easily be justified as R&D… as it gets you to other interesting places you would otherwise have not passed through… but I had a feeling this piece really deserved to be seen by more than me and my friend the cat.