Absorbed in Resins and Pigments.

I had the most wonderful day in my studio earlier this week. I can’t remember the last time I felt so excited about my work! Completely immersed in process, I was too absorbed to boil the kettle for tea. One idea flowed to the next, with new pathways opening up wherever I turned. And yet again it’s the interaction between resins and pigments which has absorbed my attention completely.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been creating intricate cracked patterns which, when viewed up close, bear a remarkable resemblance to the cracked, dried mud patterns found in river beds. This has started me thinking again about the way that mankind persists in mimicking nature. As a species we are inherently contradictory; on the one hand we struggle to control and gain power over the natural world, shaping it to suit our needs, and yet at the same time we place nature on a pedestal, forever reproducing and recreating it for our own pleasure.

Think of the smell of a flower captured artificially in perfumes and air fresheners, pine forest bleach, artfully arranged plastic ‘blooms’ in a hotel foyer and stunted trees cropped to suit the restricted growing space of an urban street. Or look to the extreme example of The World; fake islands constructed in the shape of countries and continents and arranged in the shape of the world off the coast of Dubai. When I compare these man-made endeavours (which somehow always retain an aura of ‘fakeness’ no matter the skill of the craftsman) to the real, nature-made wonders of the world, I can’t help but notice that in general we seem to prize our own attempts at recreating nature above and beyond nature itself.

I’ve been contemplating this seriously ever since attending a discussion event at Arcade Cardiff last week. ‘Don’t Bite the Hand that Feeds’ formed part of the ‘Rising Tide’ exhibition by the artists Catrin Davies and Lewis Wright, Ingrid Schildermans and Matthew Macaulay. The premise of the show was essentially to consider/highlight mankind’s utilisation and replication of nature to suit our own ends.

As part of the discussion, a lady from the Red Kite Feeding Centre in Bwlch Nant yr Arian, Ponterwyd had been invited to participate. She helps to operate a feeding programme for Red Kites which has essentially ensured the survival of the species in the ‘wild’. This, as a result, has altered the course of natural selection for by providing regular food the principle of ‘survival of the fittest’ no longer applies. Injured and deformed birds now thrive alongside their evolutionally perfect counterparts. If the feeding programme was removed most of these artificially sustained birds would die as there are insufficient natural food supplies to sustain their population.

This interests me greatly for it illustrates the full extent of man’s hand in nature, and that how even what appears to be commendable and ‘natural’ on the surface has been shaped by our input. Even the hills and fields of the ‘untouched’ countryside are unnaturally green and shaped by generations of farming.

So I guess my resin experiments fit comfortably into this theory, for at the moment the outcomes seem to be the creation of a superior, technicolour mimicry of nature. My own tough, more robust Super-Nature. And somehow I remain captivated by this quest and powerless to move on.


Mixing up Arts and Science in my Studio.

Arts and science collaborations seem to be cropping up everywhere at the moment. After reading about the Broad Vision collaboration at Westminster University http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2013/mar/19/art-students-find-beauty-in-science, it seemed appropriate to be heading to my studio the following day bearing not only traditional artist’s materials, but also more unusual substances like filter paper, microscope slides and Windolene! My art thrives on experimentation. There’s nothing like the glow of pleasure when an experiment goes well and turns up an unexpectedly beautiful outcome. And happily that is just what happened. Things are looking interesting so far in the world of Material Interventions, backing up my belief that just because something comes with a set of instructions it doesn’t mean you have to follow them. Just because its called Windolene doesn’t mean it has to be used for cleaning windows!

Alongside my own arts practice I run workplace training and team building courses for businesses. One of the things that I find surprisingly prevalent is the difficulty staff in various large companies have with lateral thinking and thinking outside the box. Have we all become so obsessed with following rules and doing things the ‘right’ way that sections of society are losing the ability to be creative? As an artist I am privileged to be able to spend some of my days following the paths of my brainstorming sessions to their conclusions; if I have a great idea in the middle of the night I can get up the next day and work to make that idea a reality, and in doing so, who knows what other great discoveries or lucky accidents I might come across? And that’s the basis from which my training sessions evolve. Creative challenges = thinking differently = workplace improvements.

Similarly I practice what I preach within my own work. I set myself a challenge, in this case defined by my goals set out in my Arts Council grant application. Using unusual materials in non-prescriptive ways means there is no rule book for me to follow, and thus I’m forced to think differently and experiment to produce results. This I hope will drive my practice forward to create things of beauty which have never been made, or even conceived of before.


The Beginning…

It was all very well when writing my proposal to come up a list of things I wanted to achieve during this new arts project. But now, when faced with actually getting down to it, nothing seems quite so straightforward.

I’m used to projects with a solid end goal- a concrete outcome, such as an exhibition, which must be achieved by a specific date or withing a certain time frame. This time, however, things are different.

Material Interventions is a Research and Development project. As such it has a definite beginning and middle, but what about an end? It does feel like a dream to receive funding for exploring materials, but it’s only the first week and already I predict that the lack of a specified end goal will make things challenging.

As an artist I’m blessed with never running out of ideas. As a result of this I’ve found I need to spend a good ol’ amount of time planning so I’m not sidetracked every 5 minutes by another random whim or ‘what if…’ musing. So I’ve begun this project with two good solid half days of planning just to get my ideas straight and in an order which I can cope with.

I’ll be interested to see whether this improves my efficiency and work productivity, or if I’ll just revert back to type, chasing ideas here, there and everywhere…

One thing I must just say before I begin is that Arts Council Wales have been awesome in supporting (and continuing to support me) in my ongoing experimentation. Thanks!

Now… to the resin…