In 2015, a rather lost, recently graduated artist, decided (with a little persuasion from friends), to enter a painting into the National Open Arts competition. Being a person of extremes (extremely organised, proactive go-getter verses racing around the rush of a deadline), I paid my entry fee two months early and only managed to complete my entry minutes before the deadline. Oh, how I am thankful for pushing past the panic and getting that entry in. Later that year on a warm October evening, full of nerves ,I approached the Royal College of Arts Gulbenkian Gallery and into the National Open Arts Exhibition guided by a huge banner with my work plastered all over it. That night, I collected a regional award for the South of England and later applied and won a months residency at an Artist retreat in South West Ireland.
Fast forward to 2017. The residency has been booked for the summer, it’s a popular (but rather secret) location and hence the dates have been organised over 15 months in advance, that’s a lot of time to plan if you plan. However I procrastinated about the technicalities of transporting a months supply of art equipment to Ireland and turned the whole affair into a gargantuan mountain. The problem, I’ll be honest, was confidence. Confidence to change/challenge and take a risk. In the Spring I decided to buy my first car since passing my test two years previously and road trip across countries with half my studio in the boot. I figured as I was already scared as hell at spending a month with perfect strangers I’d throw in a few extra challenges like driving to boot.
In the next few blogs I will introduce you to the work I created during my summer month in Ireland and the opportunities created since.
This was my first residency and all brand new to me. Unlike traditional residencies I was not obliged to produce work towards anything and participation and the level of social interaction with the creative residence occupying the other six artist cottages was entirely optional.
As the summer is a popular time most artists stayed for between 1/2 weeks so I felt very lucky to have a whole month. The residency has a communal cottage for artists to meet and share but it’s use, I learnt, varied depending on the dynamic of the group staying at the time. I would describe my stay as a social sandwich with a comfortable slice of solidarity in between.
Many interesting people ranging in age, background, culture and profession came and went as the weeks passed. Including, but not limited to painters, performance artists, dancers, print makers, animators, illustrators and even a musical composer, all from different ends of the globe. Being at the start of my career I felt overwhelmed (positively) and in awe of the way each person had built their lives around their passions. I would sit drinking wine and eating biscuits with perfect strangers bonded through their love of the arts and sharing their work. Then, full of admiration ( and wine and biscuits) I would go back to my studio and draw all night.
Back in the UK I have always considered myself to have a strong network of artistic friends and colleagues, but living in a big expensive, fast city like Brighton with so much happening all the time, it’s hard to keep a consistent community alive, to share ideas and a sense of support in what can be a rather solitary profession. The unique thing about a residency, especially in a different country, is the mental and physical separation and detachment it allows us from our everyday. Being solitary and meeting new people without a context-blanket is a wonderful thing. It’s through this vulnerability that we can be our most open and experience unexpected and new things. These connections are fleeting and impermanent, so in a way valued more in this situation. This residency highlighted a valuable lesson for me to appreciate and maintain a constant connection to the people I know, especially creatively. Although I live in a city full of thousands of people, I can spend many days without exchanging meaningful connections with likeminded souls. Sure, my job means I exchange words with hundreds of people a day but these exchanged are fleeting and surface and quick.
With everyday commitments and distractions its hard to keep a community of artists coherent, mutually supportive and exchanging. It is these exchanges, whether it be art critique or networking information, which are invaluable. Since this residency I have become more determined to see the value of such connections.
Before I talk art I want to focus on inspiration. Two of the things that make me smile most in the world are drawing and walking, both allow space for ideas and wonder. The first thing I did when I arrived at the residency in Ireland was to go for a trek around the mountains of Kerry with my camera, on a hunt for animalspiration. I encountered many families of cows and calves and became fascinated by them, taking the time to gain their trust allowing them to venture curiously closer.
Animals are a huge part of my work. The painting ‘Plenty of Fish’ that won me my place at the residency depicts a cow in a dress ,on a date with a mouse like man, in a way you could say animals are the reason I was fortunate enough to be here.
Being in a landscape devoid of a city girls daily sensory information i.e buildings, traffic, noise and movement, you become acutely aware of your own presence. The cows I encountered react and communicate on a sensory level far more delicate and calm than my own city energy, so to take the photos above I slowed down, spent the time to present myself as non threatening and I even had a conversation or two with them.
I found that many of the calves had different personalities and levels of confidence as they took it in turns to explore this strange two legged oddball crouched down observing them. The mother cows stood a little back, calm but wary and on a couple of occasions, when a calf got a little too close for comfort she would warn them back with a swipe of the head to the forequarters. It was very much like observing a human mother telling off a toddler for overstepping the mark. And in the same way the human child is ever testing the boundaries, so is the calf.
I suppose I use animal imagery in my work to understand what it is to be human, or at least to illustrate a human feeling or condition. The characteristics of animals and our judgement as a society about a species worth, acts as a tool to explore human emotions through the indirect symbolism each sentient being is marked with. By blurring and merging animal and human features in a anthropomorphic fashion an image can end up being interpreted and perceived in many ways and this excites me.
Below are some of my first drawings from the residency in Ireland. Having the luxury of a month void of distractions and the day job, I wanted to focus on experimenting with different images and media without the anxiety and pressure of working towards anything in particular. These drawings represent random thoughts and the simplicity of going with the flow.