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

#stuartmayes on Instagram


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Yesterday evening I went to my first “Enköping Art Association” event, it was a discussion with several of the artists from the current show at the gallery: 8 Young Artists.  One of the artists, Fredrik Eriksson, I know a little from Mejan – he is on the five year combined bachelors and master programme there and we met during the ‘Explosion’ workshops.  He is exhibiting two of his fantastic sculptures.  It was good to catch up with him and to hear a little of how he came to be studying art.  Fredrik comes from Enköping and was more than a little surprised to see me.  He introduced me to a Nina who is the cultural development officer for the council here, we had a good chat about art and artists in smaller towns.  I was very pleased to be invited to the next Open Dialogue meeting that Nina and Giulia (the recently appointed Cultural Policy programme leader) will be holding in a couple of weeks.  I was also introduced to Gunilla Edström a great supporter of Fredrik and the journalist whose eight articles on young artists from the area inspired the exhibition.

It seems, though, that I may be the only artist living full-time in Enköping.  I can not believe this and think that it has more to do with the hesitancy of artists who have not been to art school to call themselves artists.  It will be interesting to see who else is at the meeting on the 15th!  It is very exciting to have the opportunity to get involved in such discussions and of course I want to do my best to ensure that art and artists (in the broadest sense) are recognised as a vital part of the community.  Hopefully the experiences that I bring will be of interest and can add something new to the mix.  I am also keen to learn more about the history of the (visual) arts here and what artists want and need.  After just our brief chat I had so many ideas racing around my head that realise that I have to be careful not to appear to be coming in and telling people what to do, nor to tread on toes or batter egos.

 

What follows is a post that I began writing in late January and did not get to finish.  As part of my re-engagement with my own practice I am determined to make time to write and post more often! …

Over the last couple of weeks of intensive work as an artisan and planning my own creative ventures I have been wondering whatever happened to the “supporting statement”.  I want to write something new to put on my website – actually I will re-phrase that!  I want to have a new text on my website, I do not ‘want to write’ it but as I do not know who I would ask to write something I feel that I need to write something myself.  Thinking about writing and the pressure on artists, and particularly those in education and outside of the commercial sector, to write has been bugging me.  After looking at some application processes for degree courses I was pleased to see that selection by portfolio remains common, however post-graduate and doctoral applications seem more concerned with written proposals of the research topic.  Along with the project description applications are asked to submit a (limited) selection of supporting visual material.  It seems to be increasingly so for project funding.  There is an implication that as one develops as an artist one’s ability to write gains more significance than one’s visual practice.  I find this frustrating as the more I make the less I am able to give an adequate linguistic account of my activity.  This was, in part at least, my motivation for taking those ‘Introduction to Artistic Research’ courses.

The conundrum that I keep returning to is this: Research seeks an authentic expression of communication, artistic research has one – art.  So why does writing often seem to have more authority than making?  And perhaps even more interestingly why do artists buy in to it and give time and energy to a discipline other than their own already highly specialised practices.  I have yet to hear of a chemist or social historian being expected to communicate their research outcomes in sculptural form or in the medium of dance.

Somewhere between these musings on artistic research and sewing costumes for the “World Premier” of Mamma Mia The Party I remembered that Olafur Eliasson’s exhibition at Moderna was about to close.  My trip to Stockholm to see one of the last public rehearsals of the show was timed brilliantly as it allowed me to see Eliasson’s ‘Reality Machine’ show too.  And what an amazing exhibition it was!  One of things that struck me quite quickly was how engaged people were with the work.  Everyone seemed to be really looking at the work, wandering around it, looking again, and even if they were not exactly looking at the work it was clear that they were thoroughly enjoying the experience of being in its presence.

The Sunday after I saw what in my opinion is one of the best exhibitions that I have seen in Sweden – Utopian Bodies: Fashion looks forward, at the Liljevalchs gallery.  It really is world class not only in terms of content but also in the exhibition design.  The gallery is built in a Swedish neo-classical style and the interior with two large central rooms and smaller rooms to both the left and right always looks and feels very similar – the curators of Utopian Bodies have completely transformed the spaces by incredibly skillful use of colour, light and temporary structures.  The individual pieces in the show represent not only the best of Swedish design but include international names such as Alexander McQueen, Hussein Chalayan and Issye Miyake as well as Iris van Herpen, Walter Van Beirendonck, Rick Owens and Stephen Jones.  It is almost certainly the first time that many of these designers have shown in Sweden.  It was amazing that we were able to get so close to so many of the garments, admittedly several were hung above arms reach and some beyond insurmountable obstacles but even in these cases there was an amazing sense of intimacy.  In addition to fantastic designs were some great examples of new technologies – garments that wirelessly connect to a smartphone to lead you to your destination without looking at a map, or that relay an athlete’s physical experience of competing to the audience.  But perhaps the most impressive, and one of the most discrete, was a dress made from milk!  To be more precise it was made of fibres constructed from milk protein, with the current crisis in diary farming and the over production of milk it was inspiring to see something that offered an entirely new use of a very familiar product.  I have no idea how viable the process of turning milk into fabric is but for me that is secondary to the idea of being able to see things differently.

Seeing things differently was how Rolf Hughes encouraged us to consider the potential for artistic research on his courses at Konstfack.  It was great to see two exhibitions that exemplified and communicated artists’ and designers’ abilities to do this in ways that were literally and metaphorically wonderful!

 

www.enkopingskonstforening.se

www.modernamuseet.se

www.liljevachs.se


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Some time between about 4.30 and 5.00pm this afternoon it suddenly struck me, and now I know what I want to make.  It came as something of a surprise – quite unbidden  – as I was tidying Tim’s studio after a day of alterations on the costumes for Mamma Mia The Party.  The image in my head is a little too new for it to be described here and now but it feel good and right!  How exciting to have something new weaving its way through my thoughts!  And what a fitting way to start the new year.

There are several things that I want to continue with – the doors and the puzzles for example – and this new thing is not entirely without heritage though it takes things in a somewhat different direction while referring to existing pieces.  In other words it feels like a natural progression that acknowledges previous work and extends it forward.  What a brilliant way to finish the week!

This week we (Tim and I) we joined by another costume maker and sewing machine ace – Christian.  He popped back to Stockholm one evening to sign a contract on his first studio.  Up until now he was always worked for people in their studio, now he is going to set up on his own.  It was wonderful to hear how excited, and both professional and energetic, he was about taking on premises and being his own boss.  It made me realise that I too want to a proper studio and that I need to be professional not only about how I do it but also how I make it sustainable.  It is not enough for it to be somewhere that I can make things for my own entertainment, it needs to be somewhere that I can develop and show what I am capable of artistically, culturally, academically, and even commercially.  It feels rather precious to claim “I simple cannot be an artist without my studio”.  And yet at the same time I need to acknowledge that, much as I love my home, the room that should be the bedroom does not really work as a studio.  Despite earlier announcements to the contrary it has never felt like a studio.  I can came up with all kinds of reasons for this, they are irrelevant though really, the important thing is to realise that I want to have somewhere else to work – not least so that I have literal (as well as critical) distance from my practice.

Tomorrow I take the train to Stockholm not only to see a preview of Mamma Mia The Party but also to see Olafur Eliasson’s show at Moderna and Utopian Bodies at Liljevachs konsthall.  If I have time and energy I would also like to do a round of the commercial galleries in the Hudikvallsgatan district as many had new shows opening yesterday and it feels good to start the new year with a look at what’s new in the art world.  This year I am determined to make it to Stockholm at least once a month.  It is important that I keep up my (fledgling) friendships there and not to simple disappear and drop off the radar now that I live beyond the city limits!

Yesterday afternoon I finished early as Tim and Christian drove in to Stockholm with all the costumes in time for the dress rehearsal.  On my way home through the beautiful snowy countryside I spotted a dark clump in a field not too far from the road.  I stopped and reversed back to it.  It was a pheasant, male, just lying there.  I got out and went over to it.  He looked so peaceful lying there with his head to one side and eyes closed, his wings were folded close to his body and his feet tucked up behind him.  Without really thinking I scooped him up and put him in the boot of my car.  I found him not at all far from where I found the pheasant hen last summer.  Now I have Mr and Mrs, winter and summer, pheasants waiting for me to ‘pluck up’ courage to pluck them and do something great with their feathers.

 

Do not ask me why but after my last blog entry I became quite anxious about the possibility that someone who started an ‘a-n blog’ before me (but stopped posting some time ago) while take it up again and knock me off the ‘longest standing blogger’ spot.  I can honestly say that I have no idea why this crossed my mind, nor why I had such a sense of disappointment at the mere thought of it.  Thankfully the feeling passed quickly, though it is interesting for me to wonder about whether I too easily become distracted by insignificant things while missing the bigger picture.  Length of service is no guarantee of quality!

I want to give myself the chance to be the best artist that I can be … and that takes (to appropriate a word so strongly associated with the late Roy Castle) dedication – a good word for the start of a year!

 


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The puzzle is lying pretty much as it was before Christmas, I have sorted out a lot of the edge pieces and even got some good runs started, though somehow I am not finding/making time for it.  Actually I am not finding time for much else than costumes for Mamma Mia the Party!  The good thing is that I know that I have time in February when I can concentrate on my own work – I really never thought that being an assistant plume maker would keep me this busy!  In truth Tim’s practice goes far beyond plume making, what we doing now is pure costume work.

When things quieten I am going to get myself some feather and play with them!  I am fascinated by them as a material and want to see what they can, and can not, do.  Will that be “artistic research”?  The nature of my work for Tim is teaching me a huge amount, and it is also awakening a lot of questions that will only be answered by experimentation.  I want to do things that have never been done before!  Or at least things that I can not find evidence of … which by definition must make it “research”!  Where or not it is research (artistic or otherwise) is not the really the point.  The point is that I am discovering a material that is new to me and as much as I want to learn its history and understand its heritage I also want to see what else it can do.  I want to spend time in the ‘feather laboratory’!

Reading Thor Hanson’s fascinating and absorbing “Feathers: the evolution of a natural miracle” has been great.  It is a quite remarkable book charting their evolution as both a biological development and cultural (western European) ornament.  When he writes about plucking a small ‘roadkill’ wren  - to understand the different types of feathers found on a single bird – with nothing more than a copy of the ‘Joy of Cooking’ I simultaneously smiled and winced remembering that there is a peasant-hen waiting for me in Tim’s freezer.

The costumes that we are working on are almost completely featherless – yesterday afternoon I prepared a length of ostrich boa that will feature on three outfits.  Sequins are the order of the day – blue, gold, and white sequins!  I am becoming more confident on the (domestic) sewing machine and I am beginning to understand a little more about how to sew garments together.

The long working days will end soon, and then I will have time and money to get on with my things …

Brilliant!!


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It dawned on me a few days ago that I need (want?) to take on broad what being an artist means in a more complete sense of the word … or perhaps ‘concept’.  And that I need to do this in the light of both “here” and “now”.  There is no doubt that I can call myself a creative person, or even an artistic person but can I really call myself an artist when I cherry-pick the bits that I like and do not deal with the bits that I do not like or find difficult.  It is good fun to make things in the studio, to dream up fantastic projects, to take courses, go to openings and exhibitions.  I do not find it so much fun to get myself shows, to write project and funding applications, to make work that might have commercial appeal.  If I am unwilling to accept the more challenging aspects of being an artist can I really expect to enjoy all the exciting and fun parts?

So, over the next year I will do what I think needs to be done so that I feel right in calling myself an artist.  I will also ask for feedback as I may have the wrong idea about things, and I am very aware that I am still learning about the Swedish art scene.

 

This afternoon I took a walk around the industrial area by the habour here in Enköping.  It was a preliminary studio hunt – “hunt” is perhaps a little to violent and aggressive, “search” might be a better choice.  As I re-read, and wonder about, that last sentence I notice that I feel more comfortable with a more academic “search” than with a competitive “hunt”.  This is a good example of what I mean about being more acutely aware of the here and now.  My world is not academia, I am out in the market place and it might be good and useful if I acknowledge, understand, and adapt to this!  And academia is hardly non-competitive – sometimes I wonder which fantasy world bubble I have been living in!  I should be careful not to confuse the positive and negative sides of passion, drive, and commitment, rather I should keep both sides in balance – to hunt for something is not inherently wrong, how we hunt and what we do with our prey are other questions!

Now back to the studio hunt!  There are some amazing dis-used buildings by the water, most however are too large and too in need of structural repair.  They are certainly too much for me to take on though I will get in touch with the property owners and ask about small to medium size premises.  In thinking through what I want for a studio I have realised that it is important for me to be in town rather than out in the countryside, that I want somewhere I can work the year, and day, round, that the property has good access and at least basic utilities and facilities.  There are a number of vacant shops in and around the town centre but these are less appealing than something more industrial.  Of course if I find something suitable and it happens to be a former shop I am not going to turn it down!  It is going to be interesting to find out what the rent is like here – I really have no idea.

Since early November I have worked almost full-time – this was never my plan (probably not Tim’s either but he has had a lot of jobs)!  Knowing that there is quite a lot of work up until May it seems foolish to take a studio now and not have time to use it.  It is nice to feel that I have time to investigate what my options are.  In the meantime I have my website to update and at least a couple of leads to follow up about potential exhibition venues.

I am very much looking forward to the coming year(s)!

 

 


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As I work more regularly with Tim it has been interesting to consider both the similarities and differences between our approaches to our own practices.  Last week it occurred to me that artists have far (far!) less distance from their work – or at least the majority of the artists that I know.  Claiming only to speak for myself I know how every part of the creative process has meaning and significance for me.  These meanings and significancies might never be visible, revealed or communicated to the viewer, this however does not diminish their importance to me.  Often when I work for Tim we are most focused on how the finished piece will look – especially when we are on a tight deadline and the piece is destined for the stage rather than a private client.  I have found myself wondering if my quest for perfection in even the unseen parts might be a disadvantage and distraction, on the other hand the time spent doing the very best job that I can gives me a particular relation to my materials and the piece that I am working on that I would not have if I employed other ways and means.  So am I making the work for me or for the viewer?  This is a question that I do not expect to find an answer to.

For several weeks now I have worked almost full-time with just the occasional day off during the week.  What I miss most is time to develop my own ideas and time to play.  This is something I want to address in the New Year.  As Tim’s assistant I do not expect to have ‘play-time’ while I am working for him, what I do want to do is to give myself time and space to play with my own work.  And for that I really need to feel comfortable with the studio – my work table has become somewhat of a dumping ground for things that do not really belong there, and as a result I have found myself dreaming of taking a studio elsewhere.  What I ought to do is clear the decks and start making something.  That is one decision made – good!

With the New Year approaching it is good to set some ambitions for coming twelve months.  I have started writing the updates for my website which is something long overdue. I wonder just how detrimental an un-updated homepage is?  I fear that it communicates a lack of interest and professionalism rather than an active and busy life.  Again I am reminded of the ratio of time that artists ‘should’ spend on all the administrative aspects of maintaining a practice compared to the time spent actually making – I think it was 80/20 in favour of admin.  It would be great to have some shows next year though I think that it is more realistic to aim for speaking with people about shows for 2017.  Of course if something comes up for 2016 I am not going to turn it down!

It is good for me to remember that not only have I moved home but my life has changed significantly in other ways too.  I am not taking any courses and I am working.  It should not be surprising that it is taking a little time for things to settle in me and for me to find my way in this new town, these new routines, this new life!

 

ps.  while clearing away I found some odd keys – one of which unlocked my ‘petty-cash’ tin which has been locked since I packed up the studio in West Norwood in 2010!  I am now better off by €51.75, 72 Norwegian kronor, and 21p.  There were also two first class stamps (UK). More worryingly there are a few receipts from a trip to Venice in 2007 … how did I balance my books in 2008?


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