Last night I presented my work alongside three other artists for a group crit event organised by Q-Art. It was my first ever presentation under these circumstances and I came home feeling absolutely exhausted. I had a rough idea of what to expect in terms of how the evening would pan out, having attended three crits held by Q-Art over the past year. It’s clearly a different ball game however, when you’re presenting your own work – all that emotional energy and andrenaline – I wasn’t prepared for feeling quite so tired afterwards.

Maybe it’s just me? I’ve been wondering today about the impact crits might have on other artists. Last night’s presentation of my work certainly felt like a big deal for me, specifically I suppose as it was my first. Does it, through repetition, become easier to present your work – as well as easier to accept any constructive criticism? Do you ever get to a point when you become almost blasé about presenting your work? Does the critical scrutiny feel any easier over time?

As a self-taught artist, I’ve never experienced presenting my work on a regular basis for formal critique. It’s only in the past year, in fact, that I’ve become familiar with the word ‘crit’ and what it means, it being a term used primarily in art schools. And up until acquainting myself with Q-Art, my naïve perception of what a group crit might be was of a rather harsh, unforgiving place where art students, metaphorically speaking, could be ripped to shreds – a place in other words to be avoided! Was I then, through committing myself to present at Q-Art’s 33rd cross college crit at Central St Martins, leaving myself open and vulnerable to being potentially torn to shreds in a terrifying, hostile environment?

All very exaggerated, of course and nothing anywhere near like the reality of the past Q-Art crits I’ve been to, including last night’s experience. But I’ve been wondering today about where my impression of art crits has come from, how I’ve come to pick up on so much negativity about them. Maybe it’s because the ones that back-fire and go horribly wrong are the ones that get most spoken about – the most memorable, the ones that stay in people’s mind and are always mentioned?

In a short space of time, I’ve come to recognise and appreciate the value crits can have. Last night was my first public one but I’ve had two one-to-one crits in the past year, too. I feel my understanding of my work has benefited as various conversations and dialogue about it have opened up – and through them, I’ve come to know who my audience is. It’s helped me put my work into some sort of context, too and helped shape its relevance in terms of social and political history, helping me feel more associated and involved with it.

For me, last night felt like a sound example of a situation created to help and support artists to develop and move forward with their practise. Any criticism, suggestions and advice about the presented work was handled in a gentle, caring and sensitive way. In some ways, with my counselling experience, it almost reminded me of group therapy. There was a sense of kindness around and I was hugely comforted by the person who, immediately I finished presenting my work last night, congratulated me on my courage to do what I’d just done. That was a really nice gesture and a far cry from the scathing, callous criticism I’d only ever heard about crit participants being subjected to. It was the release of tension and anxiety I suspect that made me sleep well last night.


After receiving the heart-shaped brooch gift last week, I’ve continued to think about the whole question of value and worth. I pass the shop I mentioned in my last post every time I go to the studio – shutters permanently down since last week, the cruel irony of the shop’s demise reflected in its name above the former shop’s entrance: ‘All Our Yesterdays.’

Yesterday coincidentally was another significant day – a day when, in the grand scheme of things, the whole issue of value and worth was put very much into perspective. An estimated 20,000 people turned out to protest against government proposals to make cuts to Lewisham Hospital’s A&E and maternity departments in SE London – cuts based entirely on profit over people. You can’t put a price on the strength of a community of people gathering together for a common cause like they did yesterday. I was proud to be a part of it; thanks to the tireless campaigning of the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign, it was a truly inspiring day.

Back to the studio, meanwhile … and as I move closer to starting the process of unpacking the boxes in my studio, I realise I’m soon going to be staring the whole issue of what things are worth right in the face, albeit in a very different context to the protests of yesterday. Some of the stuff hasn’t been properly sorted for a number of years and I’m going to have to make some firm decisions. What, amongst this huge collection of things is worth keeping – and what isn’t?

There never appears to be any real rhyme or reason to what’s considered to be something of ‘worth’ versus what isn’t. The criteria for decision making is hard to define – it’s based purely on a gut level instinct and comes from a deeply personal perspective. Just as the dolls I played with as a child were scrupulously examined for having the ‘right’ kind of face in order to be accepted into the fold and loved accordingly, so will each individual item be assessed to see if it passes the ‘test.’ I might end up throwing an awful lot of stuff away. Or, I may end up not able to bear parting with any of it – I just don’t know.

The practicalities of collecting need to be constantly monitored – with limited space, you simply can’t keep everything. I’ve had to come to terms with that fact rather reluctantly over the years and sporadic de-cluttering sprees have been essential in order not to – literally – crowd myself out of spaces.

Amongst the actual physical sorting, I’m aware that there will be some sadness to confront – deaths of dear, beloved members of the family, reminders of a broken heart (or two), sharp reminders of the rapid passing of time, the ageing process and so on. It probably goes some way to explaining the the current resistance to start the unpacking process.

So. What has the passing of time done? Has it changed things? Will the contents be ‘worth’ more to me, I wonder – now – after all these years? Will any emotional energy still be invested in the items, assuming they were originally kept on the basis that they were of some personal value at the time I put them into storage. Will I be affected still by the associative memories of them and will this be reflected in their overall value and worth? Or will I be disappointed at the unearthing of a pile of valueless rubbish? It remains to be seen….


So many times what’s happening in my art work is reflected back in life. I’ve been thinking about value and worth again a lot recently and it’s clear I’m not alone in this. In 2009 I wrote this about a participatory piece of work, Stock Exchange which I exhibited as part of the Deptford X arts festival:

‘The year 2009 has been a year of uncertainty and in the current economic climate, nothing seems to be safe. People are struggling to cope with the possibility of losing everything – their work, their income, their relationships, their communities.’

Four years on and nothing’s changed it seems. This weekend I said my good byes to another local, independent shop and its owner. I’d already done this, a month or so ago on the premises of another brilliantly creative, independent shop in my local area. So here I was again, in yet another abandoned, empty shop, chatting to yet another emotionally bruised and battered casualty of the recession. There’s nothing much to say except how sorry you are; sorry that yet another creatively led business you valued has gone, that yet another person is left feeling devastated about their business ‘failing’ – all that time, all those hours, all that money invested – all for what?

As we spoke, people were loading vans with the few remaining items – bargains galore – the owner’s voice was despondent as he gave things away for virtually nothing. On the one hand, I wanted to buy something – a way of showing my support, I think – and yet, knowing at the same time that I wouldn’t have the heart to buy anything at such ridiculous prices – the exact same things I’d seen in the shop window at sensible, realistic prices just days before.

The fifteen minutes or so I spent in the shop saying good bye summed up value and worth in a nutshell to me and as it turned out, I came away with something of greater value and worth than anything I could ever have paid money for – a small heart-shaped brooch which the owner handed to me with a quick ‘here y’are, have this.’

It’s a reasonably common brooch, made for the British Variety Club – you see plenty of them around and I know I have some of them somewhere in my collections in the studio, bought at a car boot sale some time ago. When it comes to value and worth however, clearly this one is unique. The shop owner’s action for me is a pertinent reminder that even in these difficult, cash-strapped times, kindness costs nothing.


New year, new beginnings and a resolve to try and get to grips with the ‘stuff’ in my studio space – life stuff; stuff that I now feel ready to start sorting – properly sorting – by which, of course I mean sorting through the emotional impact that reacquainting myself with some of it might have. I’ve resigned myself to having a routine in place to process it all – it’s a huge task, both physically and emotionally and fellow Artists Talking artist/blogger Elena Thomas’ recent advice for help in moving on from feeling rather ‘stuck’ art-wise was this:

‘I’ve found that one foot in front of the other one at a time, and routine, seem to do the trick.’

I know Elena’s right, but I’ve hated and raged against routine for as long as I can remember, even though intellectually, I know it’s often what’s needed in order to get things done. It will be a year in February since I moved the bulk of my collections to the studio space I’m now in and I’ve oscillated between feeling quite exhilarated to utterly daunted by the thought of unpacking the boxes. I’ve had moments of sporadic, intense unpacking but the boxes’ contents have invariably ended up being neatly packed away again each time I’ve started any kind of sorting. I don’t seem to have been able to tolerate the mess and haven’t felt able to leave the stuff ‘all over the place’ without feeling that it might impact on me and I might start feeling a bit all over the place myself.

Maybe that’s what’s at the heart of it all, this past recent spell of inactivity – a fear that I will be all over the place emotionally and unable consequently, to focus on what I really want to do, which is essentially to create art. I’ve felt rather trapped by the boxes recently – acutely conscious of their existence by their sheer bulk and the room they take up in the studio and yet feeling unable to get to grips with them in any shape or form – they’ve started to feel like a bit of a burden.

Stuart Mayes left a comment on my blog this past week:

‘Your most recent posts have made me wonder about how tricky it is to maintain the balance between the sensitivity we need to make the art we make and the resilience we need to make the art we make.’

I agree – the balance is a tricky one. If you’re opening yourself up emotionally for the sake of your art, then you’re laying yourself wide open – and you’re vulnerable. We return to that eternal question of how much to reveal versus how much to conceal; a degree of resilience is needed in order to survive any amount of self – revelation.

I’ve said it so often here – but timing to me, is everything. Last summer felt exactly like the right time for me to donate a book to ‘The Museum of Broken Relationships’ when it visited London. When it came to it, it was an easy and straightforward gesture of letting go; I’d confronted, processed and moved on from the emotional attachment I’d made to the book and was happy and ready to see it go. And given that an integral part of my practice is based around the themes of value and worth, it feels like a particularly apt resting place for the book.

And so – in terms of timing for now, I’m ready for this new challenge and conscious of being on the cusp of what feels like a momentous task. It feels a little daunting, particularly when I think about how I’ll be working against the flow of what comes naturally to me through an instinctive and intuitive approach. But I’ve increasingly felt the need to take stock recently; I’m going to be taking a more scientific approach – logging, recording, documenting. Change can be creative and I’m starting the project with optimism and hope that I’ll be able to put to one side my fears and anxieties around revealing too much about myself. Time to take Elena’s advice and to take that first step.


Twelfth night’s been and gone, time for the decorations to be taken down and stored away for another year – a familiar activity for me, this packing up and storing away business. Just been catching up with other’s blogs and was struck by Rodney Dee’s writing on containment in his blog, ‘Art as Therapy.’ The quotes he uses from Wilfred Bion’s psychoanalytical theory on containment truly resonate with me. I often mention the boxes in my studios as containers of emotions and one of my aims for this year is to make time to open them up and reacquaint myself with what’s inside them.

I’m conscious of what this might mean in terms of revisiting a lot of the feelings I’ve managed to keep under wraps for some time and on the basis of the ‘this time last year’ mentality that’s currently around, I’m intrigued as to how 2013 might unfold. Curious, too about how I might choose to record the whole unravelling process of my lifetime collections now that I feel ready to take it on. Will I write about it – here, on Artists Talking? Photograph it? Film it, perhaps? Is the anticipation of what I might find in the boxes greater than what I actually will? Will I be over or under whelmed by what I find? How will I best present them? And – that ongoing dilemma of mine – what will I want to keep and what will I be prepared to let go?

More than at any other point, packing away the Christmas things makes me acutely conscious of the passage of time – nostalgic for days gone by, thoughts about who is and is no longer here, in every sense of the word. Many memories are reflected in the various decorations – the passing of the years and the ageing process, things that however hard we might try, we simply can’t deny. The ‘Stop Here Santa’ sign has already become redundant and the musical crib hardly wound up and played this Christmas – my sons have grown older, as indeed we all have.

The rituals, the traditions – all useful in terms of helping us acknowledge where we are at any given points in our lives – what we’ve achieved and what we might like to achieve. Where am I, in relation to this blog, in terms of my creative work? An artist I respect and admire asked me recently about my work – how had ‘it developed ‘ he asked. And ‘How is it functioning now?’ Adding: ‘This is always an important question, I think. How a practice functions?’

It’s only recently that I’ve started to look at my work in this way – one of the many advantages of becoming a part of a wider and wonderfully diverse community of artists. There’s nothing like ongoing conversations with others who are actively participating in what’s going on in contemporary art to help you find your own place within it.

Much of December proved to be a difficult month for me creatively. I’m still thinking around the whole question of the extent to which my state of mind affects my creative output. For now at least, I’m already feeling decidedly more optimistic. I have some opportunities to show my work already confirmed for 2013 – a new position for me to be in so early on in the year – and I’m starting 2013 feeling like I have a better understanding of how I actually do function as an artist. Maintaining this blog has helped tremendously in giving me an overall picture of that. If someone were to ask what my work’s about, this blog would be one of the first places I’d direct them to, because if not about the actual process and production of the work itself, what I write does at least provide some insight, I think into the kind of artist I am. Someone recently described me as an ’emotional’ artist – more about that next time …