I am a painter / video-artist making work based on nature and the “sense of place”. I am particularly drawn to worlds with a hidden history.

 


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Evolving from my ‘St Giles’ video shown in St Petersburg recently has been a new series of paintings and prints.

In a new series of paintings I have taken the octagonal motif of the video (distorted lights on a ferris wheel) and repeated it, playing with the gradual build up of tone as each shape overlaps the ones beneath. This is a new direction for my work, and one I think has a lot of mileage. I like the tension between repeated geometric shapes with surface texture and hand-rendering.

As usual, my platform for experimentation is the print room. I decided to experiment with the octagonal shape: I drew the repeated shape in a grid on a large sheet of paper and then twisted the paper to distort the shapes, hence creating a 3D quality of peaks and troughs. I then photographed these and projected them onto plates, the dots were then covered in carborundum, inked up and printed.

The success of these has inspired a new series of “paintings”. I plan to create the dots in relief (made from aluminium disks) raised above a support and displayed with a spot light: shadows will be created, which will move as the spectator walks past. Hopefully the origin of the optical illusion will be unclear. The synthesis of paint and texture will be introduced subtly. I am looking forward to where this slight detour will take me.


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A few months ago I received what I thought was a spam email inviting me to show in St Petersburg, it all sounded very dodgy (let alone the title: ‘English Breakfast’) and too good to be true: all travel expenses paid, accommodation, the opportunity for a solo show… I contacted Re-Title as I presumed it had come through them, they advised not to reply as it appeared suspicious. However, I looked up the venue for the show, Rizzordi, and it seemed to be a bonafide exhibition space, so I contacted them – the director confirmed that it was real. To make sure, I skyped the organiser. But even up until a month before the show I was still suspicious – I emailed the other artists regarding the visa application however, none replied.

To cut a very long and shambolic story short, it wasn’t until I arrived at the exhibition space and met the other artists that I truly believed it was real and it turned out to be backed by the British Council, marking the British/Russian 2014 Year of Culture.

Three of the artists, Joe King, Rosie Pedlow and Olga Jurgenson were in St Petersburg for the install and opening nights and Alice Anderson sent one of her assisstants, Marcela, as she was busy with another show in London. It was great to compare stories and take comfort in the fact that we’d all had similar experiences.

The organisers of the show had previously curated a show of Rodin sculptures at the St Peter and Paul Palace in St Petersburg, a template for their excessive big-budget approach we experienced at Rizzordi: numerous TV channels, radio and press interviewed us during two private views, whilst a film-crew documented each stage of the process.

What struck us as odd was how the press and public viewed the work as new and avant-garde. I thought this was funny as my St Giles video owes a huge debt to Len Lye’s ‘Colour Box’ of 1934, hardly cutting edge today. Also, it was the art of Russia, Constructivism and Supremitism, that impacted strongly on the UK almost a hundred years ago (via the Bauhaus and De Stjl) and not the other way round. That’s not to say that there isn’t a thriving contemporary art scene in St Petersburg… during the Nuit Blanches when all the museums were open late into the night, I witnessed quite a few art performances and happenings in various venues around the city, however, I got the impression that these were ‘underground’ and not a reflection of the establishment.

It is strange, but maybe understandable, that the two video installations selected of mine were quite ‘safe’, more about spectacle than substance – my work based on the concentration camp at Rivesaltes would be too controversial and subject to censorship. They clearly didn’t want another Pussy Riot. But having spent two weeks in Russia I can see how regressive the regime is and that freedom of speech is not a given. It must be a difficult time for artists, we in the UK take it for granted.

Despite all the stress and hassle (organising a visa, being let down by unreliable printers, communicating with a gallery without a common language, flying via Kiev on Ukraine Airways!) it was an amazing, albeit surreal, experience.


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I had confirmation today that my video installation idea for the show in St Petersburg will receive funding – really great news, but now a lot of work to make it a reality.

I plan to project a series of my ‘mirrored’ videos on to the floor/walls and fabric (cotton) hanging from the ceiling. The viewers will walk through the material and be covered in the images from the video making the viewing experience interactive and participatory.

I also plan to use the video-stills in other spaces – more on that soon.


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I’ve been busy recently, completing the new series on aluminium in my studio at Magdalen Road, printmaking at Oxford Printmakers, preparing some new videos for a show in St Petersburg and completing some large paintings for a show at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford with a friend from the studios (starts tomorrow).

I have a meeting with a doctor at the Department of Oncology, Oxford University, next week to discuss the possibility of having access to images of cancer cells; I’d like to make a new body of work. Cancer cells are surprisingly beautiful and worlds in themselves – I hope to make a series of works in a similar vein to the ‘beautiful’ and ‘seductive’ images of the camp at Rivesaltes which also hide a horrific dark side.

The subject-matter is quite close to home and I’m hoping the process will not be too difficult for me to deal with, it may even be cathartic.

I feel that the carborundum prints that I’m currently making are a farewell to the work based on Rivesaltes, the end of a chapter, I may revisit the subject, but now is a good time to start something new.


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Having a studio away from my home has meant that amidst the chaos in our house (due to moving) I have been able to make new work without distraction.

I’ve been painting in my studio, a few new series. It was difficult to get back into the swing of it again, but through perseverence some new directions have been discovered.

The first new development has been to use a squeegee to pull the paint over a sheet of aluminium, layers of paint create great depth. I think there is some mileage in this and plan to make more.

The second is a little out of my comfort zone, but I’m a firm believer that to make powerful work one must avoid ‘safe’ work… I’ve been using painterly marks over my usual texture of lines – the contrast between the neat lines and seemingly chaotic marks over the top are surprisingly successful. Is this the direction I wish to follow? I was very conscious not to slip back in to a recognisable landscape with a horizon line and to be honest it was difficult to retain the marks that don’t refer to the landscape, that exist as marks in themselves, which refer only to the paint surface.

This development has encouraged me to think again about abstraction. I have just finished reading about painters from the RCA prior to the ’90s… All the Professors of Painting from the ’50s to the ’90s encouraged figurative work; abstract painters did exist during this period, but one writer explained “…in England, figurative art has never been allowed off stage for more than five minutes. It is our national, established taste”. So, from this point of view, my work flows against the tide. My abstraction has evolved (subconsciously and consciously) out of making the work, in a similar way to Turner, gradually became devoid of figurative elements and emphasising process, mark-making and materials.

I went to an opening of an exhibition by a friend the other day. His work is abstract, but has links to landscape, as does mine. The profoundly strong impression I had at the exhibition was that he had given a lot of himself to the work, they were deeply personal and not just about the application of paint to a surface. The intensity of the paintings reveal that they were not easy images to make (or view). They demand more than a quick glance from someone passing by… So what struck me at the opening was overhearing someone explaining she liked the colours and thought the forms were evocative – this may be viewed as a complement by many artists, but for me I’d feel that the work had become diluted by the inability of the spectator to enter in to some sort of communion with the work. (In any case, how could that be possible within the context of an opening in a gallery?)

This issue plays on my mind a lot, it makes me ask: “What is the point in showing the work if the power and raw experience encountered when painting is removed by the spectator?”. I don’t think it’s a reason to stop making, more it’s a reason to limit the life of the work to its creation, not to let it out of the studio. How many people these days really ‘get’ the work as intended by the artist? I know that once it is made and released to the world it adopts a life of its own; but, if it is appreciated at the most shallow of levels, because it matches someone’s decor for example, then that’s the beginning of the end.

This is strongly linked to the subject-matter of abstraction; a figurative painting can be judged on other levels beyond colour, form and line (meaning that the narrative/story can be appreciated and interpreted), but, for an abstract painting those elements can, and should, lead to something more (perhaps the sublime, the numinous, the Wholly Other) – I’m such an old Romantic! I’d prefer to bypass the language of figurative narrative and cut directly to the essence of the painting which could act as a mediator.

Having said all that, there still needs to be an audience and market for the work…


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