In February this year I was fast approaching the big Four Oh! Many emotions were in my head about hitting this milestone but I cunningly sidestepped them by planning a trip to Delhi to see an amazing friend and to do some creative thinking.  I (well my partner) had some airmiles just burning a hole in the metaphorical wallet so it seemed to make sense to use them.  As luck would have it the only miles route available was via Helsinki on Finnair. A few years ago this would have thrown me into a bit of a tizz but I decided to make use of it and grab 40 by the horns so planned a three day stop there. It had been on my list of places I wanted to go forever so it seemed that the stars were aligned.

So after negotiating the joys of Airbnb, an evening stop at a functional hotel at Heathrow, and a flight over some beautiful European countryside, I found myself in a distinctly chilly Helsinki. And when I say chilly I mean it – a jolly -7 degrees.  I had of course been totally prepared with a suitcase full of ‘layers’, ready for whatever Helsinki could throw at me, but what amazed me over my time there was that it was a dry cold and so was quite bearable in a couple of layers and a lovely warm coat.  The insidious damp that follows us around in the UK from one season to the next was delightfully missing!   It made for a crisp landscape, lovely crystal blue skies and stopping for regular caffeine infusions at the many coffee shops.

I was excited to see the architecture of Finland as I’d always imagined it to be a mix of simple Scandinavian with a subtle Russian overlay – and I was right.  There is an overarching sense of austerity, but I was surprised that it wasn’t a cold austerity, but welcoming and strong.  None more iconic than the beautiful train station which I arrived at following a super efficient journey on the recently completed route from the airport right into Helsinki.

My apartment was only 15 minutes walk and it was with tentative steps that I began my adjustment to a world governed by ice!  It is everywhere, from the ground, frozen out of drainpipes, dripping down walls and in massive piles of compacted snow.  I stayed in a ‘Jugend’ style apartment and was reminded of the high ceilings and simple architecture of Georgian buildings in the UK.  I had everything I needed, a kitchen, sofa, comfy bed and bathroom and was happy with my choice.

Before heading to Helsinki I’d pored over guides of what to see, what was cool, etc etc and it meant that I got the most out of my few days. I had a list of galleries longer than my arm, some reflective spaces and some nature, so as soon as I’d arrived I was off out to sample some of the sights.  I bought a Helsinki Card which proved invaluable as it gave free entry to most cultural spaces and free use of the buses and trams.

I managed to fit in a lot and over the next few posts I’ll be talking about some of the things I saw and experienced.  It was an intense few days with some monumentally inspiring elements.  These included seeing a show devoted to the reflections of light through glass, cracking ice on a trip to the Suomenlinna fortress, and spending some time in contemplative spaces of which Helsinki has many!


Well after a period of being highly remiss in my blog postings it’s time to catch up with the developments since my show, Firmament, in 2017.  A lot has happened and it feels like the show at Thirtyfive Gamble in Nottingham was the catalyst for a variety of changes in my practice, and my life.

The opportunity to see all my work together in a single place provided an interesting opportunity to take stock and consider where I ‘was’. That sounds quite nebulous however it’s been crucial in letting me get a sense of my journey and where I want to go in the future.  In hindsight I’m really glad that I mixed the petri latex series with the works on paper, these are my two main bodies of work and I was pleased to see how they worked together. I also included some of my drawings, inspired by my sketchbook which I talked about in a previous post, Is a sketchbook essential? I always thought not

The key thing for me was the ability to take a step back and then say “You know what, I’ve achieved a lot, I’ve pushed myself and I’ve got some strong work to show for it”. The value of this simple act isn’t one to be underestimated.  It was the first time since finishing my Creative Practice course at the Manchester School of Art that I’d given myself the space for reflection – yes it was primarily about showing my work to others but the key thing was that I’d got somewhere.  I showed a range of work including some older stuff, and two works on paper that were my initial foray into going ‘big’.  There is something exciting about having a solo show – especially if you forget all the stresses or planning, organising and doing!

The best element for me was the ability to go big!  I designed a piece for one of the large Victorian windows, something that I wouldn’t have done without the space and time to think about it, and then execute it.  This simple act, for me a massive one, of going big seems to have been a catalyst for my work going forward.  I’m usually really focussed on the small, especially in my work with petri dishes, they are by design small, something that reflects their use in labs across the world.  While I like this ability to be really focussed, I also see the potential of using multiples to create a new larger entity. It gave me the chance to think about presentation.

Was I going to stick to a grid as I had done in the past?  Was I going to use the individual dishes to ‘draw’ something?  Or did I want to allude to something, to suggest a force or movement at play. In the end I went for the allusion and dipped back into my past, when first thinking about whether I wanted to ‘do’ art. I was always really inspired by Bridget Riley’s strong forms, so minimal in their composition but with often huge psychological impacts.  So it was with ‘Fall’ in my mind that I created my large piece – 80 dishes in 10 colour ways.  I won’t go into the fear that it wouldn’t fit, on the day it got in with a centimetre to spare but the finished piece really had presence. It changed depending on the environmental conditions which I knew however, it still felt revelatory, each change in the weather outside altering the colour and the way the individual elements worked together.

Another key step for me was meeting Holly Early, a sound artist, who came to the show with her friend, Ethan, a microbiologist.  I had great chats with them both, which would ultimately lead to me working with Holly on a collaborative piece, Empyrean, for the Lady Bay Arts Festival in May 2018 – more of that in a later post.

The show set in motion a change in mindset, the confidence to take changes and opportunities when they arose.  In the next few posts I’ll talk about my unexpected trip to Helsinki on the way to New Delhi and the task of co-curating All Hallows’ Church at the Lady Bay Arts Festival with my studio mate, Pip Crawforth!