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

#stuartmayesstudio on Instagram


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It is been on my mind to re-engage with my blog for the last few weeks (months?) however I have simply been too busy, or too in need of time doing something relaxing (sitting in front of a computer, even a nice one, is not my idea of a relaxing time) that I simply have not gotten around to it.

The is something (or more specifically two things) that I realise are causing me an uncomfortable level of anxiety, my hope is that expressing that here might enable me a little respite -though the resolution of the situation(s) is far from my authority.

In mid-December I was finally invited to submitted my passport and a stack of supporting documents to the Swedish Immigration Office so that they can assess my application for Swedish citizenship. The documents cover the last five years (I have lived here over seven now), they include all my employment contracts, the certificate showing when I registered as freelance/self-employed, my annual income/tax declarations for my freelance work, all the periods of study, any/all other sources of income including money transferred from or earned overseas, and in addition details of all travel outside of Sweden. This amounted to a hefty pile as I have had several short-term employment contracts – some for as little as a day (certain education institutions issue contracts rather than accepting invoices from us self-employed even if it is just for a one lecture) – and I have taken several short courses. The Immigration service now investigate my application with the primary aim of making sure that I can support myself. They can easily run a credit-check and see that I am not in debt. My concern is that they have a ’template’ or formula by which they judge whether or not someone can, and will continue to be able to, support themself. I have a consistently low income as do many artists and am well used to living simply and sometimes beyond the cash/visible economy – swapping skills and labour with friends and their networks. The problem with this way of living is that it is not documented. For the two and a half years that I lived with a friend of a friend I took care of her children in lieu of rent – a good deal for both of us but not for demonstrating a sustainable livelihood. Although (Swedish) friends and colleagues say that I should not worry and that as I have been here so long that there should not be any problem. I am however all too aware that an established family living on the same estate as me were denied right to remain despite both parents having jobs, them owning their flat, and having committed no crime nor drawn on unemployment or other benefits. The reason they were turned down was that a previous employer had underpaid the equivalent of national insurance contributions for a few months (a mistake which the employer admits to), this error however meant that during the assessment of their application they were deemed to have failed to fulfill the employment criteria. The family were forced to return ’home’ to a country that they no longer know or have any connection with*. The Immigration Office agreed that their regulations are unfair (punishing an employee for an employers mistake) at the same time as saying that they are not able to change them – only politicians can do that and that process has not begun. So I do feel that I can take my application being approved for granted.

This alone would concern me. I want to be a full citizen in the country where I live. However in the light of the Britain leaving the European Union in a number of weeks the issue takes on a far greater significance. In the best case scenario I receive my citizenship papers on Monday allowing me to remain in Sweden no matter the outcome of how Britain leaves the European Union. The worst case scenario is that I am denied citizenship and the UK crashes out of the EU, this would necessitate me moving back to Britain where I would have to start over again. Between these best and worst scenarios are a plethora of variations, a myriad of complications and frustrations none of which I can steer. As nothing is certain my future is a tangle of ’ifs’ and ’buts’. If the time it takes to assess my citizenship application goes beyond March 29 and the UK either crashes out or even leaves on the current withdrawal proposal I could be in trouble. This is because current negotiations have secured some rights for employees but not for freelancers (this was recently reported in the Guardian). I am registered with all the Swedish authorities as a freelancer (freelancers in Sweden have the right to also accept contracted employment – PAYE work) as I suddenly non-EU freelancer I might not be able to stay here. I do not know how much time I might be given to pack up and leave. Should I follow France’s lead and prepare for a no-deal situation? That would be easy if I had my citizenship – I swap my Uk driving license for a Swedish one, make sure that I do not have outstanding British invoices, and brace myself for more expensive trips to see family and friends. Without it I truly do not know what to do … as I said in the worst case scenario I could be looking at having to give up my life here in ten weeks – sell my flat, leave the studio, cancel the shows at Glitter Ball, pull out of the exhibitions booked here for the summer and autumn … say good-bye to my friends …

 

 

Perhaps aware of the necessity to be distracted I have totally over committed myself to projects this January and February. On Thursday I spent a very happy day at the studio glittering over one hundred fake roses (and there are at least one hundred more still to be glittered) for an upcoming installation. I was not especially thinking about English roses when I choose them for the work, I choose them because I wanted to evoke cultivated species of formal and historic pleasure gardens. I am very excited about this work, it is a public piece that I was invited to make by Uppsala county. They approached me about the commission – I had been selected from a short-list that I did not know that I was on. It felt as though I had suddenly and unexpectedly reached another level as an artist. I hope that it does not become my Swedish swansong.

 

 

* The family were non-European and require a right to remain as well as citizenship.


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On Saturday it was Glitter Ball’s fourth vernissage and the last of this first season.  I had not thought to ever show my own work as it seems a bit egotistic to run a showroom and show one’s own art, however this is where I find myself.  The chief reason for this being my fear of a low turn out on the day that marks the beginning of the Swedish Christmas period.  Christmas is big (BIG) here and not least the celebration of Advent, the Saturday before is the traditionally the first day of a multitude of Christmas Markets – and it is no different here in Enköping.  So rather than invite an another artist and risk them having a less than positive experience I decided to take the (potential) hit myself.   It was the right decision, I had a select number of guests all of whom I know and have built professional relationships with.  And this was despite a glowing article in the local paper that both previewed my show and reviewed the previous ones.

On the (absolute) plus side I had time with every visitor and both the discussions and my recounting of the Project (Following Eugène) were enjoyably rewarding.

to be continued ….


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Browsing the news pages here I was surprised, and pleased(!), to read that not only is Sally Tallant about to take over as director of Queens Museum (NYC) but that she also has an OBE.  Sally is what I guess I could call (and to mis-quote Julian Clary – I think) my close personal art-world friend*.

 
Sally was in the year above me at Dartington College of Arts in the late eighties where we were both on the wonderful Art & Social Context course.  Dartington was a small (intimate) school and at the time had only just starting awarding art degrees so there were just two years of students.  To be honest I was rather intimidated by Sally.  Actually I was rather intimidated by most of second year students – they seemed so tough and together, and there was I an overweight, shy, awkward, closeted youg gay man from south-east Essex.  I don’t think that I exagerate when I say that art-school, and probably Dartington in particular, saved my life.  If I had not gone there I am pretty sure that one way or another I more than likely would not be around today.

 
By the time of Sally’s degree show I was on my way to having some confidence and I summoned up the courage to ask if I might buy one of the paintings in her show.  I think she wanted ten pounds for it.  I still have it and only recently was I thinking that when I (eventually) get around to decorating my apartment it will nice to show the few artworks by other artists that I have – of course including Sally’s.

 

 

The next time that I meet Sally was about six years later when I visited Bristol (where the Art & Social Context course had moved to a couple of years after my graduation) to ask a former tutor to be a referee for my application to the Slade.  Sally had gotten together with the tutor – another Sally – and they were both involved in the contemporary performance art scene in Bristol.  Thankfully by this time I was a much more mature person and was able to enjoy their company and hospitality.

 
I was accepted at the Slade and Sally at Royal College on their curating course.  We met up a number of times during our first years in London.  While I was dealing with the deaths of two close friends just as I was finishing my MA Sally was good at inviting me to the openings and events at the Serpentine where she had started in the education department.  When the Serpentine went stratospheric and openings became strictly A-list Sally and I used to see each other at other galleries.  I remember telling her about my plans to move to Sweden at the opening of the Royal Academy’s Summer Show.  It was about the same time that she had just been appointed director of the Liverpool Biennale.

 
And now I read what for me is a double whammy of her OBE and her move to Queens Museum.  The fact that I read about it rather than hearing it from her directly shows how we have lost touch again as our paths have taken us away from London and in very different directions.  I can not call Sally a friend now – to me a friend is someone whom I have regular and personal contact with – however that does not prevent me from being delighted to hear about her success(es) and wishing her all the best.

 
One thing that New York City and Enköping have in common is that they are a far far cry from the hilltop art school in the heart of the Devon countryside.  Life is fantastic and I hope that I never cease to be amazed at how it unfolds … I wonder if Sally and I will run it to each other at some time in the future.  It both would and would not surprise me!

 

 

 

* I am pretty sure that Julian Clary used the phrase ’close personal show-biz friend’ to refer to celebrities that he didn’t actually know, or not well enough for the to be really close or personal friends.  The insertion of ’show-biz’ was his way of referring to the lovey-ness of his profession where it can seem so important to give the impression that one is on intimate terms with the stars.


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The Swedish Immigration Service has amended information on its website regarding the timescale in which it ’must’ process applications for citizenship made by members of other EU states.  Until recently it said that all applications would be dealt with within 24 months, now it stands at 23 – 26 months.  It also interestingly explains they are not required to process applications for 1 – 6 months, and that the average waiting time for acquiring citizenship is 7 – 8 months.

 
I made my application in October 2016 (which was as soon as I had fulfilled the necessary five years permanent residency in Sweden).  When I made my application the only time frame mentioned was an average of 3 – 5 months from submission of the application to receiving an answer.  I am now in that 23 – 26 month period but am becoming increasingly nervous that the Immigration Service might well move the goalposts again and increase their working window as the result of a recent change in legislation requiring them to award residency to all asylum seeking teenagers turning eighteen who are registered as studying at high-school.  It is common knowledge here that the Immigration Service is under-resourced, understaffed, and over stretched.  The plight of asylum seekers is of course urgent, it is also a hotly debated subject in the Swedish media.  The unprecedented rise of the right-wing Swedish Democrats in September’s local and national elections are interpreted by many an indication of anxieties concerning immigration.

 
Under other circumstances I could say that this worries and upsets me – as does the increased popularity of nationalist politics generally.  However I now feel justified in claiming that this concerns me – literally.  It would not do so if the UK had not voted to leave the EU, or if everything was in place for a smooth transition period that included clear rights for UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU.  Hearing British and European politicians fears for ”no deal” and the UK simply crashing out of the EU in March next years worries me greatly. My right to live and work here is soley based on my coming from another EU country – if that changes overnight so does my right to work.  As a part-time employed and freelance artist I would have a hard task to convince the authorities to grant me the work-visa required by non EU workers.

 
Last week, on Wednesday I think, it dawned on me just how much the uncertainty of the situation is affecting me.  In the summer I had begun casually reading the Guardian online – limiting myself to articles about the UK leaving the EU.  I had not properly looked at a paper in a long time.  Several years ago, while John was alive but ill, I made the positive decision to avoid ’hard news’.  I realised that waking up to Radio 4’s Today programme and listening to the headlines and interviews for a couple of hours made it virtually impossible for me to go to studio and make anything of any sensitivity, wonder, or dare I say it – beauty.

 
The enormity of the UK leaving the EU and particularly my own situation lured me back to ’hard news’, during the heady days of the hotest summer on record, I began with the headlines and opinion pieces of the Guardian.  Online newspapers are not the same as the weighty paper tomes that I used to deliver early every morning on my teenage newspaper round.  Digital papers can, and do, update their content and stories numerous time throughout the day.

 

Understanding this and my hunger for some crumb of certainty had me, by mid September, online reading lengthy articles and following links to related stories three, four, … even more times a day.
And of course I never got the fix that I needed -the clear and simple sentence that told me that everything would be alright.  What I got was deeper and deeper into the complexities and intricacies of the differing fractions and the seeming impossibility of agreement.

 

Thankfully I woke up to myself and saw what was going on.  I was going to the studio and there in the peace and quiet my mind was developing kaleidoscopes of worse case scenarios.  The work that I should, and want to, be getting on with was not just simmering below the surface – it was becoming more and more submerged under a chaotic maelstrom of worries and frustrations.

 

Then it came to me – I could stop looking at the news -with immediate effect.

 

I was at the studio for just a few hours on Thursday.  It has been odd not clicking the familiar web-browser tab to refresh the Guardian’s front page over breakfast that morning but it paid off.  I started sketching and thinking about next year’s project in Uppsala.  It was great to be there with charcoal in my hand trying to capture something of the feeling I want to evoke.  It has been a long time since I sketched like that.

 

And all of a sudden something completely new began to form itself.  Quite unbidden I found myself sketching something that needed to come out, and that needs to be realised.  I felt excited – a feeling that has been absent in recent months.  Excited about this new thing, but the excitement was infectious and soon I felt a renewed excited about the piece for Uppsala’s Art Cube.

 
It is several days later now and the temptation to look at the news is quickly lessening.  In its place I have energy and enthusiasm for what I am doing in the studio.  On Friday I placed an order for a couple of hundred of pounds worth of materials for M (the working title of my Uppsala piece) – something that I had pushed to the back of my mind.  And yesterday evening at home I was compelled to get my sketchbook – an idea that demands exploration came to me while watching a wonderfully distracting You Tube video by a passionate cupcake decorator!

 

I am so pleased to have rediscovered my own passion for my own practice – something that was being quashed by distractions that I am unable to influence more than I have already done.  I feel re-engaged with my commitment to be the best artist that I can be and with my belief that by doing so I will make something worthy of exhibition.

 

 


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