On Saturday I was given the privilege of a one hour crit with British artist, Graham Crowley. This much-needed and very welcome initiative came curtesy of Core Gallery, and Rosalind Davis.

Wow, it is seven years since I had a one-to-one crit, with someone who is prepared to look at your work and tell you, honestly, what they see.

I am a great believer in the peer critique, where a group of artists get together and discuss their work. indeed, I ran one called: Talk About The Work at Claremont Studios, Hastings for three years. And it was a great success.

However, the one-to-one crit with an ‘art-elder’ is something else. Something unique. It is a conversation between two people. And when it works one achieves a momentary intimacy and connectivity, relating to one’s own work, that is a rare and wonderful thing. Indeed, the connections, sparks, observations, book recommendations [and temporary euphoria] that arrived out of that hour will nourish me for a long while yet.

Overall, the experience was painful but postively liberating. I now feel energised.

And today, after months of considering: how to emerge? while in actual fact often thinking: what is the point?

I did some things that I didn’t know I wanted to do:

I applied for a new open

I sent off an initial-proposal for co-curating an exhibition I have been thinking about for ages

I said ‘yes’ to giving work to an Xmas Charity auction at WW Gallery, Hackney

I wrote down some tentative ideas for new work

I wrote some lists – always a good feeling!

What happened on Saturday was a sort of purging. I expressed out loud my doubts, anxieties and hopes for my work.

It was a moment when I physically felt myself turning a corner – away from the dark alley I had become lost in.

I realise I have been on a treadmill – making work, just for the sake of it.

When actually, a bit of quiet reflection will probably pay equal dividends.

To end on a more amusing note: thinking I was being professional, I have recently begun to paint the edges of my stretchers …. something I now remember from art school that is extremely uncool! And, for all that was said in that one-hour crit, that was the only cringe-making moment. I didn’t mind that three months of work was slated, I could see it’s unrelenting vacancy, it’s pointlessness.

But to be caused to cringe at one’s own mistaken, petty vanity …. now that was hard.


Graham Crowley’s paintings can be seen at: http://www.grahamcrowley.co.uk


1 Comment

It was jolly affair, at last night’s opening of The 2010 Discerning Eye Exhibition at the Mall Galleries. A mixed show ranging from contemporary drawing and painting -Graham Crowley and Tania Kovats – to traditional watercolours and oils. Including examples by Prince Charles, and not many of us have shown with royalty before! As a first-timer, it was great to take part, especially when I found I was in the good company of Core Gallery’s Rosalind Davis [invited by critic, Timothy Barber], Kaori Homma and Marguerite Horner. The overall winner was a hyper-photo-realist painting of a bowl of strawberries & cream, so no surprises there.

However, it is all too easy to be cynical, turning ones nose up at the nudes, still lives, and mediterranean watercolours, when actually, it was rather humbling and, even, democratising, being part of such a variety and wealth of experience and vision. Not to mention the general feeling of bonhomie.

However, the Discerning Eye could not have been more different from a show I saw at Gift, Vyner Street, featuring work by Elaine Wilson & Paula Chambers. Wilson produces elegant ball-gowned porcelain figures, like an elderly aunt might have on her mantle-piece. However, entitled: ‘Ne toucher pas’, these traditional-looking china-figures cum-with-attitude, and make you smile, as they pout in blood-smeared gowns while somewhat, erotically, pointing a gun, at you, the viewer.

Paula Chamber’s exquisite objects [for babies] remind one of Mona Hatoum. Chamber’s chain-mail bonnet made from ‘copper wire stripped from an electrical appliance’ and entitled: ‘For your own good’, and the baby-grows made from stinging nettle yarn, entitled: ‘For the love of God’. Another example of how the choice of title can so brilliantly enhance a work, adding another layer of understanding and cultural context. Ideas hinted at but unexplained, leaving the viewer to ponder.

I am delighted to have been invited by Jane Boyer to take part in an exhibition called Relay at Core Gallery. Jane & I met and became interested in one another’s work through our respective a-n blogs. It is very exciting, to me, that what began as a virtual relationship with many intelligent and challenging questions, on Jane’s part, has turned into showing work together. So I was really pleased to see that Jane’s a-n blog Working in Isolation has been selected and praised by Sarah Rowles for exactly this reason. Jane articulates succintly many soul-searching questions about being an artist today.

And on the same subject, I want to thank Jane for her great comments about my ‘stinkhorn’. [Post 9 – 2nd November]

Jane Boyer writes: ‘I love the use of the stinkhorn image (how can I say that with this work? It is so difficult to separate what you do artistically with such a heinous subject). I’m responding to the stinkhorn because I’ve actually seen and smelled a stinkhorn mushroom and the images conjured in my mind of that memory and experience merges perfectly with Fritzl’s character.

In my painting: ‘Stinkhorn stands guard [The family home of Josef Fritzl, Amstetten, Austria], I used the image of a ‘stinkhorn’ [a phallic-shaped fungi found in countryside] completly instinctually, symbolising Josef Fritzl, and his sexually-predatory presence as jailor to his daughter, Elisabeth. Also, more subtly, as a way of considering [through the idea of fungi, itself and where it grows] what the dark, foul, airless conditions might have been like down there for 24 interminable years. However, I initially felt uncomfortable and shy about using the image. It did take courage. Yet it fitted so perfectly. And a year later, I am able to live with the image as an accurate representation of what I wanted to express, even if at first it comes across as obvious. More recently, I have begun to draw the stinkhorn again [but from books – not a field trip!]

I like the way ‘time’ is such a great and true friend in determining the strength and value of a piece of work. For myself, the pieces that have true meaning, are the ones that I return to and take more things from.

Relay: Core Gallery, 27th November – 18th December 2010.


The Discerning Eye exhibition: 11-21 November 2010


1 Comment

The Photograph

1. What we see

Our gaze scans across a square, flat, modernist concrete building, the windows obscured by foliage. Above the house a bright blue sky shines in the spring sunshine. Our eye travels down to the wooden-fenced roof garden, and stops briefly on what appears to be a blue and silver camera. [The inspiration for a drawing called Mass Observation.] The left-hand-side of the picture is dominated by the hair and head, red and white cap and sun-glassed profile of an Austrian state policeman. Bottom right a fence-post disappears while above the top half of a spiky fur tree can be seen. [The inspiration for the Spiky-Pop drawings.] However, the centre-piece is another conifer, a more elegant and wholesome-looking example, and one which obscures a window on the second floor. This tree is, in fact, The second tallest tree in Josef Fritzl’s garden. [The subject and title of another drawing].

2. Inspiration

I have been making work for over a year now inspired by a single newspaper image. The series entitled: The Fritzl Drawings explores and deconstructs a photograph, taken by the Austrian photographer Heinz-Peter Bader, that appeared in The Times on Monday 28 April, 2008. The photograph shows 40 Ybbs Strasse, the family home in Amstetten, Austria where Josef Fritzl, secretly imprisoned his daughter Elisabeth for twenty-four years, 1984-2008.

3. Image

At first I drew the house, verbatim, as it appeared in the photograph. Then I began to include a ‘stinkhorn’, a common phallic-shaped fungus, as a symbol of Josef Fritzl. In turn this inspired a number of drawings entitled: Josef Fritzl’s Garden. Here the foliage developed a character of it’s own, becoming sharp and jagged. I made paper models of the house, and repeat drawings that concentrated on specific elements, like the trees.

Repetition conveys the idea of time, and the habitual nature of seeing. I wanted to understand what the passer-by might have seen, so innocently but would not have known, so tragically: a normal-looking concrete house, a garden, trees, a blue sky and sunshine.

Eventually, my thoughts turned to Elisabeth Fritzl, and what she did not see for those twenty-four years. This spurned a sub-series entitled: The world outside (what Elisabeth Fritzl could not see 1984-2008). These pen and ink drawings concentrate on single objects like a fence-post or the distant view of a roof and chimney. They are sparse and grim.

4. How to continue?

Like someone standing up high, looking down, and feeling momentarily compelled to jump – I continually return to that original newspaper image.

Might the artist be considered obsessive, or freakish, or the exploiter of a disturbing and tragic tale?

When people ask about being drawn to such a subject?

I think.

Twenty-four years is a long time, perhaps a third of a total lifetime to be trapped in the same place, imprisoned.

While we were free.

What did we do with our 24 years? (apart from ‘collectively’ walking past, unknowing and unseeing)

How did she survive?

40 Ybbs Strasse, and it’s shocking secret narrative is an unseen, unknowable world.

Apparently distant yet personal, as we, the viewer, unfailingly ask ourselves the same questions: how could it have happened? And, if it had happened to me, how would I have coped?

In part, after a year of drawing, it is this tension – how the subject creates questions in the viewer – that most interests me.

6. How to emerge?

Since 2009 I am glad to say The Fritzl Drawings have been emerging into the world, one by one:

1. Josef Fritzl’s Garden, The Ing Discerning Eye Exhibition, Mall Galleries, London, Nov 2010

2. 64 almost identical drawings of Josef Fritzl, blindfolded. Relay, Core Gallery, London, Nov-Dec 2010

3. Mass Observation. BHVU Winter Open, London, Nov-Dec 2010

4. The second tallest tree in Josef Fritzl’s garden. Oriel Davies Open 2010, Wales, August.

5. Miniature paper model of an Austrian townhouse (belonging to Josef Fritzl), Agency at agency, London, April 2010

6. Three views of an Austrian townhouse (belonging to Josef Fritzl), Police & Thieves, The Old Police Station, Deptford, London, March 2010

7. Paper model of an Austrian townhouse (belonging to Josef Fritzl), C4RD, London, November 2009

8. Stinkhorn stands guard, Austrian townhouse. Brina Thurston’s Open Call 09, Frieze Projects, Frieze Art Fair, London, 2009

9. Proto-type paper model of an Austrian townhouse (belonging to Josef Fritzl). Art, Value, Currency, A three-part project curated by Isobel Shirley, The Pigeon Wing, London, New York, London, 2009-10

10. Stinkhorn, FringeMK 09, Milton Keynes, September 2009

11. Austrian townhouse, Travelling Light, WW Gallery, London & Collateral Event at 53rd Venice Biennale, June 2009

For more images see:



1 Comment

Footnotes: the emerging artist

On Open Studios

My friend’s Open Studios make me cringe, rather like Open Houses do. It’s either other artists wanting to look at the size of the studio-space/house or women with large buggies, and bored partners in tow on an art-afternoon out [no-one seems to buy art at these events].

However, as I ventured up the institutional staircase [smelling of disinfectant and yes, old-cabbage] it was an opportunity to find out who inhabits The Old Police Station building. Right at the top of the building, I entered a large white-walled, oil paint and turpentine-smelling studio to find, to my great joy, that it was peopled by a painter whose work I have followed for a number of years now – particularly because of the literary allusions in her work, referencing such writers that belong to the so-called ‘lost generation’ like Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald – the artist, Jo Wilmot.

We had coffee in the sunny courtyard of The Old Police Station where my brick drawings are situated, and swapped basic paired-down life-art stories, the highs and lows, successes and failures, and yes, the difficulties.

On difficulty

No-one writes about the idea of difficulty, anymore, only success. Or that is my impression. Yet there is something reassuring about hearing other peoples stories of difficulty, although, surprisingly not necessarily how they overcome it [complete with Disneyesque-happy-ever-after-ending] but much more how, one actually comes to terms with it; all that heartache, disappointment, self-doubt and the occasional bouts of fear that commonly overwhelm artists and writers.

I remember attending a funeral once where the presiding vicar spoke of his difficulty praying. He said he often felt like he was speaking into a void where your words echo back to you, unheard. As an artist, making work, I often feel that void. Except for me it is not God but an abstraction often spoken of, generally and specifically, as the art-world, where too many artists, too much work, and too much ego compete for attention.

On Jonathan Franzen

Difficulty is a subject I will keep coming back to, and a subject that the American author, Jonathan Franzen, does not shy away from, particularly in his 2001 epic novel of family disfunction, The Corrections. Currently I am enjoying his auto-biographical essays: The Discomfort Zone, as I relish starting his latest widely acclaimed novel Freedom. How does Franzen feel about emerging into a society that has dubbed him the next Tolstoy – no pressure there, then. Read an interview with Franzen by Genevieve Fox.http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/8035520/Interview- with-Jonathan-Franzen.html



Footnotes: the emerging artist

On winning – albeit unexpectantly!

Last night I won a Deptford X Fringe Award for my latest project Drawing the likeness of brick. [PV Tonight! All welcome.] There were ten contenders for three prizes and when I looked around, everyone elses work looked so much more sophisticated! And, despite, three male judges, all three winners were women. It was funny winning an award and knowing virtually no-one. I sat next to the artist Mark Titchner, his partner and five-week-old son who were lovely, and immediately turned to congratulate me. Titchner was saying how the whole Turner prize experience, and all the demands that come with it [he was nominated in 2006] can actually de-rail your life for a couple of years. Sort of like winning the lottery but not! An article or a book about the whole ‘Turner’ experience would be interesting. Liz Harrison won the overall Deptford X 2010 award for a sound piece in Deptford Station of birds singing.

On the Folkestone Triennial 2011

A couple of weeks of ago I attended a symposium at dlwp, Bexhil, where Andrea Schlieker, Curator of the forthcoming 2011 Folkestone Triennial, spoke engagingly and amusingly about her innitial reservations about 22 internationally-renouned artists showing their work in town called Folkestone – where was it anyway? That was back in 2005/6 for the first 2008 triennial. And what a success it was! I A thoroughly unexpected uplifting experience, as map in hand we wandered purposefully around the faded Victorian grandeur of Folkestone searching for obvious and illusive artworks. A great feeling of bon homie existed among visitors, but more than that …. a sense of wonder.

Schlieker mentioned the phrase ‘civic pride’ a number of times in her talk, and it’s true, living in the neighbouring seaside resort of Hastings, I understood, what a leap of faith and yet, conversely, how visionary the whole project was.

However, and here’s a suggestion: alongside the hand-picked, well-paid international triennial artists [the famous names, that bring in the crowds] how about an open submission exhibition for professional, regional artists in the southern region area [Kent & Sussex] so that less well-known but equally talented artists can appear besides and gain recognition from the crowd-pulling ‘names’. If you are reading this Andrea …. what do you think?

On the Eighteenth Emergency – Core

I enjoyed Andrew Bryant’s curated exhibition: The Eighteenth Emergency at Core Gallery, Deptford. Particularly Daniel Lichtman’s ‘Untitled’ – extracts from an adolescent boys diary, the death of his grandmother, the daily monotony of school life and the discovery of girls. Presented as series of printed texts on a dvd screen, in an appropriately deadpan manner, it was both funny and poignant.

Burcu Yagcioglu’s film entitled: I would swallow you whole, was also moving – the intimacy of watching a women [or the artist at work] as she sculpts her own hair into a a type of scarf or veil. The result, for me, was not a political work alluding to women covering their heads in Muslim societies but a much more poetic work referencing medieval images of men and women in tight-fitting black caps, their facial features exaggerated by the puritanical nature of the object.

I saw the exhibition through an informal, but thought-provoking walk & talk event led by Rosalind Davis and Andrew Bryant. Where we discussed the importance of titles, and how the idea of the title can change depending on the context, and the message you want to get across. It was refreshing to hear about Andrew Bryant’s own bout of ‘title-anxiety’, and the fact the title for his piece ‘My Black Ball’ had changed several times during the exhibition. The piece was literally a huge ball of black plasticine – with an ominous, brooding presence, yet filling the viewer with an unquenchable desire to kick it across the space, or pet it or pat it … but just to look down at it was not enough. The feeling of engagement with the object was almost primordial – an inverted black whole – the void that we fear, filled?


Core Gallery http://www.coregallery.co.uk/

DeptfordX http://www.deptfordx.webeden.co.uk/#/fringe/4543169484

Daniel Lichtman http://www.danielp73.com/

Burcu Yagcioglu http://www.burcuyagcioglu.com/

Andrew Bryant http://www.an.co.uk/p/41767/…

1 Comment