Having now completed a ’test piece’ inspired by heraldic flags, family crests, and military standards, produced in careful and diligent applique I wonder if I am not on the wrong track.
It is the technique(s) rather than the references that I find myself questioning. And perhaps even the materials … I seem to be having an artistential crisis – what am I doing and who am I as an artist.
Uptightness has long been a part of my technical process irrespective of material. I freely admit that I rarely achieve the precis and skilful finish that I aim for, however a certain competence with the predominantly crafty techniques is evident in my sewn, cast, and constructed works. Now and for the first time I am questioning the relevance of striving for neatness and precision, and I am wondering if I dare do otherwise. Do I dare to make a mess?
Is this the shadow of Covid-19? It might equally be an artistic coming of (middle) age!
The question remains: do I dare?
Alongside seemingly cool and clean artist such as Felix Gonzales-Torres* I have always admired artists who lay bare the raw mess of life. Cy Twombly’s show at Tate Modern (2008) made me cry. There on the canvas in the gestures, in the scrawls, in the material was a man expressing himself. What do I give of myself in my work?
I give my desire to please, to do good work, to be neat and presentable. I give my desire to be thought of as clever, and my desire to be in control.
I am not sure that those things are either relevant, interesting or appropriate at the moment.
Do I dare let go of those things, let go of half-mastered skills and let the artist play wild? The few occasions when I have done this (play wild) the work that I have produced has always been well received – probably more so than for any of my uptight offerings (save perhaps the patchwork punchbag).
In the coming weeks I will put aside the rules that I set myself in advance of starting that ’test piece’: only second-hand clothes, neat stitching, durability, order, precision. I will instead play and be led by my feelings … the result I hope will be things unimaginable and unspeakable – which certainly sounds like things a bit further a long the road towards art.
*Gonzales-Torres’ visual language is perhaps so very tailored precisely because its subject is so very very raw. I do not think of his work as either cool or clean despite any initial impression that it might give of being so. It is so full of love and anger and sorrow and intelligence and frustration and hope and longing and joy. It is so very full of him. It pained me when a visiting artist at the Slade casually dismissed an artist who ’just put heaps of sweets on the floor’ … needless to say I found the (middle-aged, white, male) visiting artist’s practice tedious and egotistic in the extreme. The man was after all designing machines to make paintings – his goal seemed to be the erasure of humanness … ’cool clean’ art indeed!