Perfume as Practice began as a hunch; can the craft of perfumery, if approached from a contemporary art standpoint, accommodate portraiture? If so, how? What would the process be?

Chiefly, Perfume as Practice seeks to create portraits of other artists. This is achieved through an established process that poses the question ‘why do you make art?’ Then, through interpretation, intuition and investigation, relevant oils are combined  in order to achieve a fragrance that captures the artists’ persona, based on the response received.

This process raises questions of identity, gives artists a cathartic means of enforcing their creative processes and highlights the capacity scent has for communicating beyond its preconceptions. This last point is important as subverting and challenging preconceived notions and providing alternatives is vital to my creative output: I believe it can drive change, provide agency and provide a positive and constructive means of forming relationships.

This blog provides a means to highlight the possibilities of scent; describes past, present and future olfactive endeavours and provides a useful and cathartic platform to externalise some thoughts.


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Last week I had a holiday along the North Yorkshire Coast, taking in Whitby, Staithes and Robin Hood’s Bay. I didn’t get any work done but, as is the way with these things, I did draw in a little inspiration from my surroundings and experiences.

Chiefly, I re-considered the processes and functions that drive artists to work on the coast. I had an idea a few months ago to limit my perfume portraits to artists that work on the coast in order to reveal the collective and personal thoughts and inspirations shared between artists and their communities. This may be something I wish to revisit next summer as the environmental, economic and social differences that exist between the coast and inland is tangible, and as such artists occupy them differently.

Also of note is the notion of the Hand of Glory and the powers attributed therein. A Hand of Glory for those who don’t know is a pickled hand of a man who has been hanged which has subsequently been combined with a candle made from his fat. A Hand of Glory is also primed with various beliefs and legends, including the ability to unlock any door and the power to render people motionless.

As gruesome as it all sounds I believe it can be utilised in my own practice – particularly within candle making. Primarily, the historical and mythical contexts Hands of Glory are placed in can be re-imagined and re-evaluated within a fine art platform. It certainly presents another way considering the possibilities of candle making and the capacity candles have for storytelling.

Food for thought, then, certainly. But my holiday also afforded me the energy required to complete the reminder of this year’s creative endeavours. So let’s have it!


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My perfumed self portrait is complete and currently nestled between 15 other works in an exhibition curated and devised by myself and artist Sharon Mossbeck entitled Alternative Portraits

The aim of Alternative Portraits is to both investigate and celebrate innovative depictions of portraits, as well as provide a platform for artists who approach portraiture in a fresh and challenging way.

My perfumed self portrait captures the essence of my artist persona, and again highlights the capacity scent has for portraiture and, by extension, contemporary art. This alternative way assessing and responding to scent hopefully informs our knowledge of what scent can be, but either way it certainly befits the exhibition it is currently in: Alternative Portraits represents artists from around the UK and is open at Access Space, Sheffield, until 4th October.


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When thinking about what my audience will encounter within my residency space I concluded that essentially, the audience should be able to bear witness to How I arrived at the notion of perfume portraiture. But I want this to be presented speculatively, as if scent was our primary means of communication. Given all this, I present to you a poison bible:

The poison bible presents empty vials, a pipette and 2 perfumes; one containing subtle florals and musks that describe an introvert and the other containing  punchy, sharp citrus notes aptly describing an extrovert. As the introvert and extrovert dynamic is a continuum, then theoretically one may create a perfume describing any given individual by decanting relevant measures of each fragrance into the empty vials using the pipette provided.

This poison bible is a primitive, immature and simple solution to creating perfume portraits. As such, it can be read as a solid foundation and form of reference that has informed my subsequent, more complex perfume making practices. This is how I want it to be perceived by an audience – as a tool that I refer to and as a work of art in its own right. And just one of many items that contribute to both my creative processes and to the perceived authenticity of my residency space.


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My upcoming residency at Orchard Square provides me with the opportunity to purchase new equipment, props and materials by virtue of a £500 materials budget.

It’s an offer seldom presented to me, but provides me with a perfect excuse to improve the quality of the materials I use, purchase props that authenticate my exhibition spaces and even purchase furniture that allows me to present my perfumes in subversive or unexpected ways, potentially extending our knowledge of how fragrance can be perceived.

My first purchases have been essential oils. Good quality ones that will enhance and improve the quality of my perfumes. It’s amazing the difference a well sourced and good quality oil makes. The new Frankincense I have purchased has a depth and delicacy that alludes any Frankincense purchased previous – which smell somewhat burned by comparison.

The process of shopping itself is rather cathartic and revealing as it provides a means to order my thoughts and decide definitively what I require. Which hopefully will amount to a well considered and focused residency; only 1 month now until it begins!


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Through an established process of asking artists ‘Why do you make art?’ then using the response received to inform the use of fragrances, I have been making ‘perfume portraits’ of other artists for over 2 years, amassing 40 perfumes so far – and counting.

Naturally, the question that emerges as an audience becomes more familiar with my work is ‘Have you made a self portrait in this way?’ The answer, up until now, has been no.

However, upon devising a group exhibition (along with fellow artist Sharon Mossbeck) entitled Alternative Portraits, an opportunity emerged to subject myself to my own processes, thus achieving a perfume that captures my essence.

It’s also an opportunity to get firm with myself – directly externalising and ordering the processes that drive my creative output. It could result a cathartic and affirming statement that reinforces my creative integrity. Or it could result in a muddle of contradictions that throws up more questions than answers. Either way, it’s something of a challenge.

So, I presented to myself the question: ‘Why do I make art?’ Ultimately I concluded that it’s because I strive to find alternatives. Alternatives to pre-established conventions and alternative ways of experiencing, relating and responding to the world around us. To provide an alternative is to provide new means of communication that can potentially instigate social, moral and political change, provide agency, bolster and unify communities, and bring together otherwise fractious sets of people. An alternative can be important, necessary and powerful.

From my answer, the notion of the trailblazer emerged, and it’s dual meaning –  as one who discovers something new and makes it accessible and one who prepares a trial through a forest – have informed the fragrant and aesthetic designs of my ‘perfume self portrait’.


My perfume’s visual designs are based on the Czech Hiking Markers System. It’s a system that’s universal in it’s method of communication and can be used in a literal sense to illustrate new directions. It’s also a system that’s adopted in the Ukraine, and as such provides a neat, if abstract, nod to a certain part of my heritage.

The fragrance itself takes cues from the outdoors – woody fragrances allude to the very notion of the trailblazer; from the physical act of forging new grounds to the emotional tenacity and presence of mind to persist with innovation for the greater good.

Floral tones are also present, describing a certain vulnerability within my creative processes: A ‘fine art perfumer’ is a somewhat untested and undeveloped space to occupy, and is something I am moulding myself without any real precedence. As such, there exists a delicacy and nuance that emerges when the steps I take to assert my creative integrity are more unsure and tentative.

I do feel my perfume as though my self portrait is well rounded. It describes the spirit of innovation and trailblazing, yet has the humility to understand the untested task in hand . But don’t take my word for it, come and have a sniff for yourself at ‘Alternative Portraits’ – which opens at Access Space, Sheffield, with an Opening Evening on the 8th September, 5.30pm – 8pm.


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