Before September this year I didn’t know what my physical limits were when considering my career as an artist. Since the beginning I have adopted a somewhat cavalier ‘I’ll get things done at all costs’ attitude that, by and large, has paid off, seeing me secure opportunities that I may have missed had I been more conservative.
However, the events between September and November – which involved a residency, a solo show, 5 workshops and 2 group exhibitions – serve to highlight the physical stresses placed upon my position as a fine art perfumer. Moreover, it highlighted individual physical nuances between the various activities I undertake.
Suffice to say, it’s been a rather exhausting couple of months but, more pertinently, I feel as though the quality of a few of my activities have been compromised due to me overestimating my physical capabilities. Therefore I believe it’s important to document and assess each activity from a physical standpoint as more considered approach to taking work on will result in a better quality, more coherent output in the future.
My residency and solo show chiefly involved making perfume portraits. This doesn’t require much physical activity as a large chunk of the process involves thinking about what fragrances to combine. This can be taxing mentally, for sure, but it doesn’t exert much physical stress. That said, the act of being present within a space 4 days a week for 4 weeks, on top of other commitments, meant that my residency – while by no means exhausting – was physically tiring. My solo show too, which included making large scale paintings as well as perfumes, and lugging them over to Nottingham and back by hand, took its toll. Yet these two activities were both prioritised due to them being large, solo endeavours that are important to my career progression. As such, their quality wasn’t compromised and I doubt I’d do much differently. A bit of physical exertion never hurt anyone, after all!
However, two group exhibitions were also nestled in between my solo activities. These were more strenuous an undertaking as I prioritised my solo activities above them. As such, it emerged that I didn’t really have the time and resources to commit a great deal of time producing work for them. This is partly due to my ethos when it comes to group exhibitions, which sees me want to push and extend by body of work beyond its preconceptions; to try something new and experiment. While my solo shows are defined by ‘perfume portraiture’ I can play loose-and-fast with group shows – creating fresh and unexpected work. But it turns out that this approach has its own set of drawbacks when placed around other activities. Perhaps then, over the last two months, I reached a point where I shouldn’t have tried to make new work for one of the two group shows. Re-showing old work to a new audience would have been the appropriate thing to do as so not to compromise the quality of the work I made for my two group shows while still pushing the possibilities of fragrance to new audiences.
An interesting thing to note is the nature of my workshops, which are more of a physical – and more performative – than I’d realised. Perhaps I use performance to mask the vulnerabilities that come with teaching perfumery without being a perfumer. While I am always clear that I am approaching perfumery from a fine art context I still want to impart correct knowledge when it comes to fragrance design and creation, but I think a bit of performance helps reinforce my fine art background.
So on reflection, what would I do differently? Well I’d probably not commit to making new work for one of the group shows. That’s about it really. This may seem like a rather frivolous conclusion, but the truth is that generally speaking I have loved the last few months. I love the process of making fragrances and the challenge of making something new and unexpected. I love to push my solo shows beyond their preconceptions and I love travelling around the country teaching the art of perfumery. And long may it continue. It’s just useful to know what your limits are so that you can build high quality and deeply engaging activities around them.