Being elsewhere

There are benefits to leaving home to make work. I left behind my usual commitments and responsibilities, creating internal space, a blank studio and real time. At home my role changes, in accordance with the time of day and whom I’m with, whilst outside Bristol I am more likely to stay in artist-mode, a role reflected in and bolstered by the behaviour and expectations of the people I meet. In artist-mode I remain in dialogue with my work without guilt or distraction.

On collaboration

In Alkmaar I was lucky to work with my own technician, Marja Vleugel. This took the risk out of the print process I was using, as Marja is an expert lithographer. I enjoyed the slight pressure of her constant presence, her unshakeable knowledge and the feeling of ‘team’ she provided. I am not sure I would term this experience collaborative because the outcome was mine rather than shared and I’m not sure what Marja gained from the project, other than the possibility of further visits.

Jutta Vollmer and I acknowledged, when planning the Köln based phase of this project, the need for high levels of trust and respect to facilitate truly collaborative drawings. I thought we would get to a point where we could rub out one another’s drawings without compunction. We didn’t. We drew and painted over them however, an additive process being more positively experienced than a reductive one. Jutta noticed she needed to ‘reclaim’ her right to the drawing each time with a less important intervention before embarking on anything that might change the meaning of the drawing.

When I draw alone I feel I am in dialogue with the work. (In a good drawing there is a recognisable lack of ‘safe-ness’.) When I drew with Jutta it felt (to me) there were two dialogues taking place: hers with the work and mine with the work. Was there a third – ours, through the work? I’m not sure. Yes, we were communicating, but not directly.

I pushed my mark making beyond the pre-existing lexicon but the shared development of content was also a difficulty: each of us pulling slightly towards our own (unspoken and deeply personal) agendas. If we had been making figurative drawings I think this would have been less of a hindrance. It would have aided the development of structure within each drawing as well.

Structuring the drawings was problematic. I think perhaps the structure of a drawing, even more than the ‘handwriting’ is intrinsic to the individual. From the very first mark on each fresh sheet of paper I felt there were huge risks being taken and the need to stay connected to and investigate this feeling has remained.

I am now aware of an exaggerated sense of play in my drawing practice and the increased failure rate which seems to accompany it. The many failed drawings appear to be a by-product of working without a plan, or ‘sense’ or reasoned thinking. Perhaps, in the future I will become better at playing and these drawings will succeed more often than they fail. For now, I feel like I’m in a pool. I’ve left the side labelled ‘I know what I’m about to draw’ and am swimming towards the side labelled ‘I draw instinctively and can subsequently see the sense in what I’ve done’. In the meantime, I’m at risk of going under and I need to have faith in the longer term and the possibility of ‘getting there’.

A friend asked me ‘what do you mean by a failed drawing?’ This is such a personal thing. For me, a successful drawing has sense without being a statement, it has beauty without being self-conscious and structure without being planned. It prompts thought without defining an exact line of enquiry, allows the onlooker to experience or recognise emotion without illustrating it. And it looks simple whilst evoking something quite complex. (No wonder I produce so little.)

It was interesting though, to view my habits (aesthetic) through someone else’s lens – both Jutta’s and Marja’s. It has inevitably made me more aware of them as devices I use in the place of answers or solutions. This does not make them right.

Current ideas

Is a frieze experienced as time-based? One must walk along it and as one does, one’s experience of it changes? One cannot experience it all at once. I want to print a frieze.

I want to make a load of clay laps and odd-looking babies.

I want to experiment with clay with a young child poking and prodding the forms I make, marking them indelibly. (Nature vs nurture. Just as every child is the product of its environment so I have been shaped by the child I have had.)

I want to make an installation combining clay pieces and printed works.

 Social Media

Funders view social media as a magic wand creating a flow of information in every direction. My experience isn’t that. I struggled to make sense of what I should be doing – when to tweet and when to use the blog on a-n, Instagram feed, Facebook etc.. I couldn’t see it as one thing and knew too little to work them holistically. My a-n blog got no likes and no comments and I’m no closer to knowing how to change that now than I was at the start of the project. Clearly I need to source some training.

Generating opportunities

I talked with the staff at Grafisch Atelier Alkmaar about participating when they take over the Gröte Kirke with exhibitions, talks and workshops in the summer of 2018.

I talked to Val Byrne of Cork Printmakers about returning to Ireland for a residency at some point in the future, and I would like to work with her team, staff at CIT Crawford College, Cora Cummins and Andrew Folan.

I will go back to Kölner Graphik Werkstatt and work with Jutta again.

Do I want to write the bid for a Europe-wide Technicians’ Exchange Project? Although it’s a very practical idea and everyone I speak to about it wants to take part, I would have to stop producing work in order to gather information from prospective partners, raise the funds and deliver it. Better to walk away and make work.