I’ve been thinking for a while about taking some of my found objects outside of the studio. In this particular case, my collection of china swans – out onto a pond or lake, setting them free to swim or whatever else they felt inclined to do. In actual fact, what they did do was sink! – into the murky waters of a pond – covered in green algae in no time.

I was excited about doing something more spontaneous with my work and it seemed like the minute I put out a call amongst friends about finding an accessible pond with reeds and waterlilies, I got a response. But I took the word spontaneous a bit too literally I think and turned up, china swans to hand, without properly thinking things through. For a number of reasons then, the ideas I had just didn’t work. I was pleased that I’d also taken along one of my favourite Vernon Ward paintings because the photos I took of it did, at least, seem to work in some way.

This was all last Wednesday when I took a rare complete day off to spend time with friends. I was lucky to be able to take my art with me and to be allowed time to play and experiment on my own for a couple of hours in the lovely grounds of a friend of a friend’s home. The home is situated in the most beautiful surroundings – right in the midst of woodland, currently covered with bluebells, wild primroses and wood anenomes and surrounded by three large ponds. It felt really liberating to be outside, especially after the long recent stretch of being confined to indoors – sorting.

Messing around amongst the ponds and reeds and seeing the wild flowers at their very best in the surrounding woodland, took me right back to my childhood – vivid, happy memories of growing up in the countryside. The Vernon Ward painting I took with me and photographed on the pond’s edge is rather aptly called ‘Harmony in Spring.’

Despite not getting the results I’d hoped for, it was great to have an opportunity to experiment – there aren’t any places I know in London (or anywhere else for that matter) where I’d be able to play around with twenty or so china swans for a couple of hours without being asked a) what I was up to and b) in the interests of health & safety, would I please leave?

Yesterday, for the third time this month, I was in the heart of the country again – very close to Bury St. Edmund’s, celebrating a friend’s birthday. I was in the region a couple of weekends before as well, staying with relatives in a place in Suffolk, close to the Cambridgeshire borders where I was born and raised for the first fifteen years of my life.

In spite of not having lived there for a number of years, it still feels a bit like going home whenever I return to the area – the familiar, flat agricultural landscape of the fenlands and the nearby villages, so reminiscent of the one I was born in; my late Nana, who has had such a big influence on my creative practice, is never far from my thoughts.

Coincidentally, while idly looking through an old notebook last week, I came across a Wikipedia reference which I earmarked some time ago. So much of it resonates, reminding me of my relationship with my own Grandmother and her legacy of respecting the things we own – cherishing and looking after them. Writing about the psychology of collecting, Oxlade-Vas describes the:

… intense emotional bond she had with her grandmother, and the rich heart-warming memories she had amassed at her grandma’s house as a child and even as an adult.’

‘Her grandmother, a product of the Great Depression ‘saved’ everything. As a child, the author recalls the loving and gentle way her grandmother organized seemingly ordinary items: rubber bands were neatly bound together and artfully displayed on the mantle. Tops of pens of all colors and sizes were neatly arranged in drawers and bins. Artificial flowers, saved from the dumpster decorated every room in the house. At her grandmother’s death, Oxlade-Vaz recalls the overwhelmingly pleasant emotions that overcame her as she sorted through her grandma’s collections. Though not valuable, the author kept these collections to remember her grandma’s thrifty, sensible, wisdom- reminders of the graceful way her grandmother was able to provide seemingly useless items dignity and respect.’


A number of things have happened over these past few days that keep bringing me back to the theme of collecting – both from my own perspective as I continue the process of sorting through personal possessions and in relation to other people. There’s been so much emphasis on sorting and collecting in these past few week’s posts that I’m starting to get edgy about making some art.

Last Monday I was emailed an article on the BBC website about mass consumerism and the ever growing storage business – about the amount of stuff we own nowadays in comparison to in the past and the growing success of the storage industry. The person who sent me the link has seen firsthand how I often struggle with guilt about the amount of stuff I own. It’s not uncommon for collectors to feel embarassed – seemingly greedy and materialistic and appearing to be in a perpetual state of want, want, wanting. The reality of collecting is in fact, often far removed from this – people amass certain collections for a whole host of reasons but are rarely concerned with the monetary worth of things in my experience.

Space of course, is always going to be an issue for anyone with any sort of significant collection – and especially when it comes down to sharing space with other people. I’ve been reminded of a 1990s tv series, a ‘Sign Of The Times’ recently. It was a kind of fly-on-the wall documentary about the way British people kept their homes. It had its critics, some feeling the makers patronised the people they made the programmes about, but my recollection of it is simply as a fascinating and entertaining show.

I remember one episode in particular when space came up as a real issue for a young woman moving into her boyfriend’s already well-established home. The camera captured her boyfriend’s rather unimpressed reaction to having to accommodate her vast collection of soft toy animals. He clearly hated them and didn’t want them invading his home; she clearly loved them and had no intention of letting them go. The problem he had with the bundles of (fake) fur wasn’t just about good versus bad taste in this instance – it was also about the amount of actual physical space they took up in an already cramped flat.

Having read the BBC article, I found myself thinking about the amount of stuff I own and the amount of space it takes up; I was coming to the conclusion that a lot of it might be unneccesary.

But then, the very next day, I visited the Haim Steinbach and the Martino Gamper shows at the respective Serpentine Galleries, Hyde Park, London. Amazing exhibitions – so inspiring, both of them.

The collections of Haim Steinbach were a visual feast for the eyes as far as I was concerned. I spent ages in the gallery – completely enthralled by so many of his personally selected objects and relating to so many of them in so many ways. I was fascinated too, by the imaginative and diverse ways in which both he and Martino Gamper chose to display their collections. I even spotted a twin to my own George Best figure amongst the objects Gamper had selected from friends and colleagues. (My George Best features in my ongoing ‘In My Life’ piece, shown in the ‘I Remember’ show in 2012. George featured very much in my life, in the shape of a 1960s schoolgirl crush).

Seeing the respective Steinbach and Gamper exhibitions convinced me that it was okay to collect what I have and that I was right to be cautious about discarding things. I came away from the Serpentine galleries believing that if space was no object, then I’d keep just about every single thing I currently own.

Talk about contrasts and polarising my thoughts around the big question I so often ask myself – what do I let go of and what do I keep? There’s no definitive answer to that question, really – if space wasn’t an issue, I daresay I wouldn’t want to get rid of anything at all.

Seeing the shows has inspired me and I’m getting excited about what feels like a new burst of creativity on the horizon. Well, let’s hope so, anyway – Easter’s just passed after all, with its references to rebirth, hope over despair and so on.


I called in at my studio on Monday evening to empty the flower vase which I suspected might be full of very past-it flowers, steeped in stagnant water. I was right and I’m glad I rescued them before the acrid smell of dead, mouldy flower stalks started to affect other artists’ enjoyment of the open plan space.

Being concerned with such matters – and what I’ve left out when I’m away from the studio – makes me question how appropriate an open space might continue to be for me in the long term. Unless I have time to leave my studio in a state that I’m happy with, it tends to play on my mind – niggling away and making me feel I have to go back there – often, when I haven’t really got time – and sometimes, when I just don’t want to be there.

I often think about how the open plan environment might impact on my way of working. Would my work have more of a chance to develop if I could close a door on my studio, whatever sort of state it might be in, and leave the work to just ‘be’ until I return to it – at a time when I want to, rather than feel compelled to? I sometimes wonder if certain aspects of the work might get lost in the process of tidying away – and perhaps, also, through hurrying the work along at too fast a pace? There’s a lot to be said for allowing things to take their natural course, I always think.

That said, it makes me feel tense to even think about any sort of additional disruption at this particular point in time. Stuart Mayes (artist/blogger of ‘Project Me’) posted a comment on my blog some weeks ago which I’ve conveniently pushed to the back of my mind:

‘… is there a way that you can make it more private so that you feel less exposed? Your studio should be somewhere that gives you the space you need to be the artist that you are!!’

I’ll no doubt want to address the points Stuart raised in due course. They touched a nerve, after all – I’m constantly struggling with issues around the concept of the public versus the private.

As it is, my time over the next few visits will be pretty much consumed with getting my studio back into some sort of order. More stuff has been added as a result of clearing my sister’s attic and my working space, not for the first time, has been completely taken over with boxes – getting some of them packed away will need to be my first priority if I have any hope of getting any work made. But like I said, even the thought of any imminent change of studio makes me tense and anxious – another thought for another day, then …

The author of the BBC article in the meantime claims that we have six times more ‘stuff’ than past generations:


My intrigue about and research into collecting is ongoing. When did it all begin for me, and for what reason? Why did I choose to collect the things I did? What affected my decisions when it came to deciding what to keep from the home of my late Nana, for example? What drives other people to collect the things they do? What drives some people to collect and others to be able to detach and rid themselves of any emotion whatsoever in relation to the things around them. Is there a common denominator?

The questions continue …


There’s a strong parallel between the ageing process I wrote about in my last post and these past few days’ ongoing finds in the boxes. It’s all about history and the passing of time; so much personal history and by association, so much political, social and cultural comment contained within the objects I’m bringing out of storage.

It’s over twenty years since a lot of them were packed away; life has moved on in all sorts of ways and I have changed. How relevant are these things to me? Here, right now, in the present? How much am I able to let go?

I wrote about the items of clothing and assorted accessories in my last post – those which, in all senses of the word, just don’t fit any more. Did I really have such a small waist! Did my feet really fit into those 1950s suede stilettos? Hard answers to come to terms with in many ways, and in any case, any amount of acceptance doesn’t necessarily make things more palatable.

The items in storage have become representative of the ageing process – they’ve aged and so have I, as well as the people around me – it’s an inevitable (but not necessarily welcomed) fact of life. And there’s that fine line again – between life and death and the fragility of human existence. Loved ones might die and yet, their clothing and personal effects still remain.

Similar feelings are stirred up by a lot of the other items making up my collections – books, photos, ceramics, letters and all their associative memories. It’s the objects as emotional containers that interests me most. After all, it’s the emotional attachment I’ve formed with the collections that’s responsible for them still being around me. Something drove me to keep certain things, just as something is telling me that now is the right time to detach myself from a lot of them – to shed some of the past, to retain the very ‘best’ of what I own and consequently, to lighten the load – to focus instead on the present and the future.

But not without some careful consideration – it’s much harder, emotionally to part with things than it appears on the surface. William Morris said :

‘Have nothing (in your house) that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.’

It’s a tall order, especially if you’re prone to seeing beauty in just about everything – and the more broken, weathered and beaten up, the greater the appeal for me.

Since the frenetic sorting of the past few weeks has calmed down, I’ve had time and space to think about the very act of collecting – what it’s meant to me over the years and what it means now. One of the positive aspects of ageing is that sense of ‘knowing’ yourself – I don’t feel I need the paraphernalia around me to define who I am as I did in my student days, for example – the CND and feminist posters that let people know which side I was on as soon as they walked into my home. I’ve experienced moments of real excitement, reacquainting myself with blasts from the past, to moments of sadness about the fast pace at which life is passing me by.

My collections define me in terms of my age and my place in the world – you have to be a certain age for Sandy (in his wheelchair) David (in his cravat) and Benny in his hat to mean anything to you. Re-finding The Crossroads Motel jigsaw puzzle is a good example of finding something that excites, amuses and brings memories of my teenage/student years flooding back. But it also raises the question of what to do with a lot of these re-found items. Yes, the puzzle depicting all the Motel’s best-loved characters is amusing – it’s retro and it’s probably quite unique. But it’s also a classic example of something I really don’t know what to do with. Maybe that’s the title of my next piece of art work – Things I Really Don’t Know What To Do With.


The whole issue of ageing and the passing of time is pertinent to the sorting process. There’s nothing like opening up a box full of vintage Oor Wullie and Schoolgirl annuals, or a suitcase full of retro hats and clothing, to jolt your memory, transport you right back in time and evoke the sweet memories of youth.

It’s over 20 years, maybe more, since I’ve worn any of these carefully preserved items of clothing and it’s made me acutely aware of the many issues around ageing. ‘Mutton dressed as lamb‘ is a phrase that’s sprung to mind more than once as I’ve looked lovingly at various pairs of shoes, hats and dresses, made of the most exquisite fabrics, and resigned myself to the fact that, never mind too big, I am also now too old to wear them.

Consequently, I’ve shifted from feeling I could never part with these unique, one-of-a-kind garments, to accepting that I could. I won’t actually ever wear them again and the time has come to move them on – for the next generation. Timing is everything – I’m ready and it feels okay – a relief, in fact, to let go.

My sister’s attic has now been totally emptied and the one hundred or so bags that were filled with pre-sorted items of clothing and accessories have been condensed to around thirty. I have been selective and picked out only the best quality items of clothing, hats, shoes and handbags left over and stored since the days when I sold vintage clothing to supplement my income.

There are both negative and positive aspects to having collected what I have over the years – on the one hand, feeling dragged down by the sheer volume of it all – on the other, experiencing moments of pure joy when I rediscover things that frankly, just seem irreplaceable.

What to do with them has been the big question; a lot has been packed off to various friends, family members and charity shops and a lot more is being held in reserve for a fundraising day I’m holding in May.

And of course, a proportion of it is being kept as raw materal for my creative practice – the art I’m currently making, based around objects and their associative, autobiographical narratives and the art that I will almost certainly make in the future.

I struggle still with the desire to keep everything – it all has the potential to my mind to ‘come in handy’ one day. But I’m increasingly finding myself with the ability to be more ruthless – and accepting that what can’t be sold, donated or given away, simply has to go. Despite all my best efforts to unite everything I own and have all my possessions together in one space, I’m starting to accept that it might not be possible. I can’t underestimate the sheer volume of stuff I’ve accumulated over the years. There simply isn’t enough room to keep everything.