My practice encompasses installation, object making and live art as well as research and teaching.  In June 2015 I moved my home and studio to Enköping (“Sweden’s nearest town”) where I am also working as assistant to Scandinavia’s only plume-maker!

Your comments and feedback are welcome and appreciated – thank you

www.stuartmayes.com

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The possibility of a new studio is simultaneously good and shifting. The landlord and leasing agent (a local housing association) are keen for us to take over the lower ground floor rooms of an old school gymnastics hall – which with five or six artists would be very feasible. We are waiting to hear back from their management committee with further details – the rent, terms and conditions, time-scales, and so on. In the meantime a conversation between one of the artists and a local music promoter has revealed that there are several bands desperately looking for rehearsal rooms. The music promoter is now interested in renting space in the building. This is fine, except that the housing association has already told us that they only want one name on the contract and that they are not interested in letting to multiple parties.

If the music promoter takes on the whole building we could sublet from them (which massively reduces the amount of administration us artists would have to do – saving much time, energy, and money). However they are most interested in lower ground floor rooms, as they have previously been used as rehearsal spaces and the acoustics are known to be good. This would leave us artists with the terrifyingly large single room on the entry level – the former gymnastic hall itself. While this room would suit a group of sculptors or a group of painters it’s openness and six meter high ceiling is not good for artists working in different and incompatible materials – oil paint and woodwork are not good bedfellows with their respective slow to dry surfaces and inevitable dust.

I am trying not to think too much about it. But a couple of hours at the current studio earlier today reminded me how urgent it is to find somewhere more hospitable to work. The plastic greenhouse that I have put up makes is possible to keep warm however spending to long in there does lead to a rather strange feeling in the head – so it’s on with the coat, hat, gloves, and scarf for a bracing walk around the rest of the studio, but not the kitchen as the electrics have gone and it’s dark in there!

 

On the other hand it was very good to be there and to play with materials and ideas for the June show*. This afternoon I realised that materials that I had thought would be prefect for a new series of works were not at all right for it – they demand to be something else entirely. The material in question is a growing collection of women’s silk squares bearing Hermés-esque type prints (those ones with equestrian and leather bridle imagery). I had been thinking to make ‘flags’ – each one using four or six scarves. What quickly became apparent from laying out various designs was that the scarves work well as individual pieces, and they work well all together, however four or six just looks busy and wrong. Hanging the scarves around the inside of the greenhouse created a peculiar, though not unpleasant, atmosphere – somewhere between aspirational Wendy-house and Liberace’s hunting lodge. It was good fun and might well be the start of something else!

The idea of the flags is still very strong – I can see their design if not their exact material in my mind. On the way home from the studio I stopped in at a charity shop and bought an old cotton sheet, from the hand-woven lace detail I would guess that it is most likely from the 1940s or possibly older. Perhaps the flags, with their simple graphic references to heraldic shields, might work as monochromes made from noticeably aged and worn white sheets.

 

 

 

Belated birthday greetings blog – now you are eleven, hurrah hurrah hurrah!

 

*A very enjoyable Skype meeting with the curator of May’s London group show resolved most everything I am now clear about what I will be exhibiting and that I have time and space to make it in London in the two weeks before the opening.


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[Thursday]

Tomorrow Klas and I have another look at a potential new studio. I really want, and need, to find somewhere to settle and get on with making. Without such a place it is all to easy for me to fritter away the days when I am not working elsewhere – I truly admire artists who are able to produce work at their kitchen table or in the bedroom, and sometimes I even doubt that I am an artist as I am unable to do likewise. However I am old enough to recognise that I am the kind of person who needs specific places for specific tasks. I get annoyed with myself for being tempted to believe that artists can (almost ‘should’) produce work no matter the conditions. I need a degree of calm and order for me to be able to work – it is as simple, or as complex, as that. Here’s hoping that the space is as appealing on the second viewing!

Speaking of distractions and working practices – I am about to turn down some paid work in order to prioritise my own ‘unpaid’ work. This is not something that I find easy to do. It is important that I take myself and my own work seriously – not the first time I have said that but it is worth repeating. Nor is it a revelation that for my own practice to develop and succeed it requires nurturing. New Year is an appropriate time to try and establish new patterns and routines!

Getting my hopes and dreams out of my head and into the physical world is equally exciting and daunting. Perhaps now that I feel/am more established here in Enköping I can take that vital step. I feel very naive about the art world and have always been frightened to ask for help and advice, frightened of (more) rejection. Calling it an ethical-political decision I never approached commercial galleries as a young artist, and at the same time I failed to build an alternative support structure or network. So I have always depended on part-time and casual work to finance my practice, the reality is that the demands of that kind of work – regular time commitments and/or having to be available – are becoming increasingly challenging. I am delighted that I have a half-time contract (for the coming six months) with the arts department however not being free to pick and choose when I work is surprisingly frustrating. I might have created my own millstone with the ‘Creative Saturday’ workshops that both the council and the participants want me to run every week. I do not really understand why it is so complicated to get someone else to run the sessions when I am away or have other commitments.

[Saturday morning continuation ….]

It was good, in several ways, to make Thursday evening’s round of gallery openings in Stockholm. Firstly it was nice to catch-up with people who I do not see so regularly – even a quick ‘hello’ is enough to remind me how important it is to keep in touch with the wider world, and it’s lovely to know that people remember me. Secondly it was inspiring to see such a range of objects, ideas, ambitions, and ways be being an artist. After the Christmas holiday project with asylum seekers here in Enköping it made me smile to see a large papier-mâché sculpture at possibly the most academic of the commercial galleries. We worked with papier-mâché and it got me thinking about its viability as a more accessible and environmentally friendly alternative to other malleable materials (it is based on renewable, recycled and bi-products of the paper industry, and it does not need firing in a kiln for example). The size/scale of sculptural pieces also gave me food for thought. While I am excited about the possibility of working big, I can see that making work that is more modest in size might increase its saleability – at least while I remain an unknown artist. And there is no reason why a number of smaller pieces could not be used in an installation. Obviously there are advantages in terms of both time and materials in working on a small scale.

So with my head full of thoughts about making seeing the potential for a good studio on the lower ground floor of an old school gym was very exciting. The whole building is owned by the council’s sister property company who had hoped to turn it in to flats, however it’s listed status prevents its facade being altered by additional windows, and therefore severely limits its residential potential. After looking around Klas and I discussed how other parts of the building would make a great spaces for the council’s plans to develop creative arts education and vocational training in the crafts. We just need to find the ‘right’ way to sell the idea to our unnecessarily cautious council!

Returning to thoughts about my own practice and feeling settled here in Enköping – it seems to be the right time to be a little more active in my approaches to both work and materials. Many years ago my dear friend Sheila commented that it took her about three years to get going every time she moved home and/or studio (it was a period when she moved quite regularly and often). This year will be my third in Enköping and I am aware that I have a sense of (all pervasive) confidence that I have not had for some time.

I think that 2018 is going to be a good year!


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I am very excited that Klas and I will be showing at the wonderful Målhammar next year! We spoke with Ann, who runs the gallery, at Klas’ opening last night and this morning I sent her an email confirming our interest and suggesting we show in June.

This is just the kind of incentive that I need to get a raft of ideas of the page and into the studio. Målhammar is a country estate dating back to 1390, in 1640 a large mansion was built there, this no longer exists however what remains are two very elegant buildings that face each other across a gravel courtyard. On the ground floor of one is a suite of rooms where Ann hosts exhibitions from Easter through to autumn.

The architecture and scale of the rooms demands work that is confident and resolved. It feels like the right challenge at the right time. I think that Klas and I make an interesting pair – both working in sculpture we have very different languages but speak about similar things. I am looking forward to planning the show with him. It will be my first two-person show and I am sure that working with Klas and Ann will be a very rewarding experience.


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So while I have been talking with the current leaseholder about taking over the remaining years on their contract, the property owner has been in negotiations with another organisation about an entirely new contract.

The potentially brilliant studio is looking somewhat less potential and brilliant right now. The revelation came about during a very productive meeting with Klas, Tina (another artist) and Hamad – the manager of the adult education centre. Hamad had heard that maybe the premises where going to be taken over by the local branch of the national pensioners’ organisation while their usual offices where being renovated. A few phone calls later we had the information confirmed.

Our meeting was good in that it identified mutual interests in establishing a creative space for professional artists, classes and short courses, as well as a workshop/studio that could be hired on a project basis. PRO – the pensioners’ organisation – is only hiring the first floor, leaving the ground floor workshop vacant. The owner intends to put up a partition wall at the top of the stairs effectively dividing the space in two. We are waiting to hear if he is interested in hiring out the ground floor.

Hiring just the ground floor is not ideal but it could be a good first step as PRO will only stay as long as their usual premises are being renovated (they estimate a year for that work). Re-thinking how we could use the available space – it could accommodate four or five artists in an open studio – could make it viable and attractive. In the meantime I continue to keep my eyes open for other locations.

The Royal Armoury in Stockholm houses a modest but fascinating collection of ceremonial armour, weapons, and heraldic objects, as well as the royal coaches and a selection of historical clothes from the palace. I spent a few hours there last Wednesday sketching and taking photos for new work. The skill and labour evident in so many of the pieces is stunning. It is something to appreciate rather than to emulate (or attempt to emulate). I was, and am, more interested in the forms of the objects. I do not know how this will manifest itself – it may not do so in obvious ways – however it feels good and appropriate to be looking at these pieces. The coaches reminded me of my ‘unfinished’ work for my degree (I completed the degree but what should have been a sculpture was presented as un-packed components – a work in progress). Funny to think that after all these years I am again drawn to things baroque and opulent.


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On Friday I looked around what could easily be a great studio. The place would suit up to about ten individual artists, or perhaps fewer if I/we can pull off a collaboration with ABF (a well established national adult education organisation) who are looking for some kind of collective/educational creative workshop here in town.

 

A collaboration could be mutually very beneficial. Logistically it would be simple as ABF already rent premises in the same building – the studios and ABF even share an entrance and disabled access.

I realised last week that a combination of the cold and the windowlessness of the studio that I currently share with Klas are very real disincentives to going there and getting on with things. Klas is in agreement that we need to find somewhere else.

The idea of having a warm and workable studio is very appealing. My head is full if ideas and things that I want to try out – I want to play with materials. I need to play with materials! I need to get the ideas out and made tangible. I need to see and feel things in font of me. Spending too much time pondering and thinking, even sketching and writing, lacks the materiality and reality that is needed. Things will only be resolved physically.

Or perhaps I should say that I want to resolve things physically. My most successful pieces to date have come through playing with materials and following my intuition.

 

Continuing to pack-up the studio at home …

 

The need to make feels quite urgent. There is something that I want to work out. (I had not really thought about the content of that expression before – now the word ‘out’ seems particularly significant.) Part of me is drawn towards shapes and forms that tend toward the baroque, another part towards things minimal and clean. I can toss these ideas around and contextualise both in relation to the social and political climates. But these ideas are not real – they have no volume, no weight, and no presence. I want to work with these qualities. I want to engage with processes that will take me somewhere that I cannot foretell. If I could predict the results then working things out with materials would be meaningless or at best illustrative. I do not want that for my work.

Getting an appropriate studio is a priority.

 


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