My practice encompasses installation, object making and live art as well as projects and teaching.  In June 2015 I moved to Enköping (“Sweden’s nearest town”) where I have my studio and also work as cultural pedagog for the council.  Whenever I can I continue as assistant to Scandinavia’s only plume-maker with fantastic creations for theaters and private clients!

Your comments and feedback are welcome and appreciated – thank you

www.stuartmayes.com

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There is something very appealing about the idea of having my own studio. I mean a studio that I do not share with someone. It would be great to have a creative space where I don’t have to think about anyone else’s access or activities. As I have mentioned before it is rare that Klas and I are at the studio at the same time, and when he popped in ’just to pick something up’ on Thursday we had a really enjoyable, interesting, and inspiring chat, so it’s not that there is a problem per se. It’s more a collection of small niggles that irritate me: having to pack up and cover everything before I leave just in case Klas does something dust producing before my return, having to make sure that a path though the space is clear so that both Klas and Ola can easily access the ’temporary’ electrical outlets, being aware of another artist’s work or evidence of their process – it is like some kind of mild but constant visual disturbance (I realise how ’precious’ that sounds)!

 

Sometimes I’d like to take a nap at the studio but I am too self conscious about someone, not just Klas or Ola but any of the artists at the studio wandering in and finding me asleep. It is this last realisation that makes me acutely aware that I am not fully myself in the studio – and that is not a good thing. I want a space where I can be fully myself and that, rightly or wrongly, is more than likely in a room of my own.

 

The question is how to achieve this room. One way would be to renegotiate how Klas and I share our space. Currently we have a shared ’clean’ space and a shared workshop or ’dirty’ space. Although I have used the dirty space in the past I spend most of my time on the clean side, Klas (as far I as I can see) does the opposite. Could we simply have a space each rather than sharing both? Ideally I would like to take over the dirty space: it is furtherest in and therefore no one would need access, I could make it entirely as I want. I would have to walk through Klas’ space and potentially drag a little saw dust into my studio (Klas primarily works in wood and has amassed a fair collection of woodwork tools and machines). Ola, who accesses his studio through our current clean space, might not be so keen to have a wood workshop adjoining his photo studio. I wish I could not worry about that but I do.

 

And so I find myself caught between wanted to speak with Klas about re-configuring the spaces that we currently share, and not wanting to make things difficult for another artist.

 

It would be lovely though to have the ability to open and close the studio door as I choose. I think that being able to do that would make a significant difference to my practice. It feels like a necessary step … it feels as though it would be beneficial.

 

Writing this I begin to wonder if there might be something symbolic about having a room of my own. Might it be a declaration to myself about my seriousness … an acknowledgement of my needs (be they rational or not)?

 

With the ’autumn term’ fast approaching it feels as though it is a good time to at least raise the question with Klas. As my grandmother used to say, though about something else entirely(!) “better out than in” – I shall get this idea of a room of my own out of my head and start by talking it through with Klas.

 

 


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A good day at the end of a good week.

I was looking for a box of pastels that I am sure that I have somewhere, I didn’t find the pastels, or rather – before I found the pastels – I found several bags of glass seed beads that I had forgotten about. I spent the rest of the day playing with them.

 

It was a very fitting end to a week where I continue(d) to think through how to be less prescriptive.

I really do want to make some abstract things and see if they satisfy me. Finding a starting point has been stumbling block. Stumbling upon the beads and a roll of wire thread seems to have unblocked me. I enjoyed making two small abstract forms: the first black, the second blue.

 

Earlier in the week I spoke with Elena Thomas, she had asked me to look at a draft of a funding application. It’s something that she has asked me to do before but this time we spoke with each other rather than just sending emails and attachments – over the recent months speaking on Skype or Zoom has shifted from being a way of keeping in touch with friends and family in the UK to being part of my working process. The discussion that we had was so much richer than it could have been had we stuck to written communication. In addition to specific points in Elena’s draft we spoke about the importance of talking things over and through with other artists. Chatting with other artists is definitely something that I miss. The lack of it is, I am sure, what has led me to sit on so many committees and participate in so many artists’ projects. It did not matter that we were talking about Elena’s project rather than mine, the discussion give me a great deal to think. While speaking about another of Elena’s projects – The Drawbridge – I made an almost throw away comment that I find drawing difficult (I don’t want to draw real things and don’t know how to draw abstractly). Elena’s immediate reply was to get a roll of steal wire – a material that she is using to create wonderful three-dimensional drawing.

 

All week I continued to ponder how I could start to work more abstractly. Conscious that I didn’t want to copy her I rejected the idea of steal wire. I looked at the materials that I had in the studio and realised that nothing suggested ’drawing’. I wanted a material that would do something else … a material that would take me somewhere else … a material that was somehow abstract.

 

That is why I was looking for the pastels this morning. I thought that working large with them might satisfy my craving. What I found instead were tiny beads and (funnily enough) thin steal wire .. and my craving has been more than satisfied.

 

 


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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!


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Eugène Jansson, 18 March 1862 – 15 June 1915

 

Eugène Jansson, self portrait, 201 x 109 cm, 1910

 

Eugène Jansson, I, 101 x 14 cm, 1901

 

Eugène Jansson, self portrait, 32.5 x 32.5 cm, c.1880

 

I am enjoying re-engaging with this man and his legacy … still following, still learning, still curious …

 

 


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I let my mind wander and fantasise about Eugène’s Naked Youth (1907). How much can (or should) I read into the painting? The man stands in a doorway – on a threshold. This is not merely a conceit for a pose with raised arms – that could have been achieved by providing him with a barbell or similar equipment. Neither the pose nor the environment are particularly athletic. The man’s physique is muscular but perhaps not more so than any working young man’s physique would have been at the turn of the century. Is he perhaps purposely blocking the doorway – an action that at once both prevents entry and arouses curiosity as to what lies in the room that we are barred from.

 

Looking beyond the man we can see three of Eugène’s blue landscapes.* At the time of Eugène painting Knut – his Naked Youth – in that doorway these paintings were all unsold. From this can we deduce that the paintings were in Eugène’s studio, and that the room that we see beyond the naked youth is a part of the studio too?
Can I read the man with the raised and wide spread arms as symbolically blocking the way back to landscape painting?

  • * Top left, top right, bottom right: Mille reflets [A Thousand Reflections] 1903, this canvas was unsold at the time of Eugène’s death. Motiv från Timmermansgatan/Trapparna på Timmersmansgatan [Motif from Timmermansgatan/The steps on Timmermansgatan] 1899, was purchased by the National Museum directly from the studio in 1910. Soluppgång över taken/Solnedgång [Sunrise Over the Roofs/Sunset] 1903, was given to the National Museum by a group of ’art friends’ (konstvänner) in 1915. I found different titles for the same paintings in different books/catalogues. The most intriguing is sunrise/sunset – such different times of the day. Surely sunrise is out of keeping with the Eugène’s preference for evening scenes … ?
  • The painting I have been referring to as simply Naked Youth is titled Naked Youth in Doorway [Naken yngling vid dörrpost] in Nils G Wallin’s 1920 publication on Jansson’s paintings for Sweden’s Public Art Association [Sveriges Allmänna Konstförening: SAK].

 

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Naked Youth was exhibited at Verdandi in Uppsala. Verdandi is one of many student associations in the university town of Uppsala. The association was founded in 1882.  The association is still active and is interested in ideas around radical humanism. Have I perhaps found a group who I could involve in a discussion/event in conjunction with my show at the Artists’ Club next year?  I wonder if Verdandi is in the same building as it was in 1907?  Do they have an archive?

 

There appears to be an exhibition catalogue registered at the Royal Library in Stockholm.

 

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I was accurate in my prediction that I would not make it to the studio this week.

 


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