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 am part-time arts education officer for the local council. 

Your comments and feedback are welcome and appreciated – thank you!

www.stuartmayes.com

studiostuartmayes on Instagram


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I continue to turn up at the studio, and today it was nice to not know what I would be doing before I got there. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that I was not already thinking about what I would be doing before I got there. I enjoyed settling in to my day relatively slowly by putting away a few things that I had left out yesterday after leaving to upload some photos that I had promised to send by the end of the week. Recently I have been listening to music in the studio, I have been pulling out CDs from my very modest and random collection, this morning I simply pressed play and listened again to what was still in the stereo – club music from the early 2000s when John and I used to go out and when clubs used to give away CDs. The music must be at least sixteen years old. It is wonderfully familiar and certain tracks take me straight back to sweaty nights on London’s gay club scene. John and I were good at clubbing, John excelled at it and I was quick to pick it up again after years of more alternative and arty nights out. Hearing those familiar beats time collapsed and it didn’t seem so long ago.

When I started this blog I was in my late thirties, now I am in my early fifties. I am in a very different place from where I was then – both literally and metaphorically: I am making and showing more, I have a job (half-time) in the arts, I sit on several art committees, and I have if not the best studio that I have ever had then certainly the largest and most used … I am living and working in Sweden in Swedish! Things have definitely moved on, and yes I can call it progress. It is both exciting and a bit scary that there is still so much more that I want to do. The dreams and ambitions that I have slide and shift between the readily achievable to the fantastically remote and unlikely, some have old and familiar tunes that I know by heart while others are young and immediate. An anniversary is a good time to pay attention to them all, and to acknowledge that some belong to another time and place.

With my year ahead seeming to be more impacted by covid-19 than the previous year it is a perfect opportunity for a ’reboot’. And that is a very exciting prospect!

 

Many happy returns!


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Until about a month ago I imagined that I would standing in Gallery 1 of the Artists’ Club in Uppsala right now. This afternoon should have been the opening of my show there, instead I am enjoying a peaceful afternoon at home – I have just baked some banana bread and am watching the sky turn from a tightly clouded expanse of chilly white to a shade of blue that if it were not for the increasing darkness could seem almost bright. I can hear a flock of starlings doing their rounds before no doubt taking their roostings on the not too distant power-lines.

 

Of course had the show not been postponed then everything would be finished, installed, and out there. As it is several pieces remain works in progress, I took time way from the studio over Christmas and NewYear – time that would (’should’?) have seen that rush of activity that I am sure many other artists also experience in the weeks immediately before an opening. Since New Year though I have been turning up at the studio pretty regularly – to the surprise of one colleague who assumed that I would down tools on hearing about the show not going ahead as planned. Honestly – I have really appreciated my frequent and slower days at the studio. It has felt like a more authentic way of working than I have been used to in a while. Perhaps I am at the point with these works where I could make fast decisions and quickly get them finished, however with the luxury of time I can now feel my way, pause and ponder, indulge my daydreams and meandering thoughts.

I think that the work, when finished, will be all the better for it.

Actually I think that I will be all the better for it! The postponement allowed me to spend the best part of a week testing different recipes for paper-mâché (perhaps it is closer to what people call paper clay). The tacit knowledge that I gained – I call it a recipe but I could never write it down! – makes me wonder if the material might become something that I work with in the future. Paper-mâché has gone from being the solution to a problem to potentially being a material in its own right . I really enjoyed the materialness of it, and as I recently mentioned to a friend the work in the studio feels more like sculpture than it has done in a long time. I look forward to playing around with it and seeing what happens.

And this stage of developing the material opened up space for thinking not only about the pieces in production at the moment but also that which will follow. My curiosity about the material is encouraging me to explore what it can do rather than what it might be about.

 

[written Saturday 16 January]


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I realise that reflecting on this particular past year focusses very much on what has been happening for and to me. Living and working (for the most) in a small town during a pandemic my focus has been rather limited. Sweden has not endured the lockdowns placed on most if not all other European countries, the virus has however been felt across all aspects of life here too. I have not travelled or collaborated as I would have liked to have done, nor have I visited the museums, exhibitions and events that I had imagined. And while this might sound as though it would provide ample time for investigating all the online offerings, learning new skills, or even reading the many unopened books on my bookshelves, I have to acknowledge that adapting to new ways of working as well as the ongoing re-thinking and re-scheduling of programmes both at work and with numerous artists’ groups has resulted in my own practice and range of operation becoming more insular than I would like.
There have of course been a good many positive and enjoyable things from the past twelve months, and almost inevitably a good many dreams for the future!

 

Highlights of the year:
Under the Same Rainbow
Working on the LGBTQ+ project and exhibition was certainly a highlight. From the moment Mikaela (at the public art department of Uppsala city council) rang to ask if I would like to be involved this has been a truly wonderful, inspiring, and at times challenging experience. I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to work with both the S.A.G.A. youth group and the public art team, as well as Uppsala art museum. I really can not imagine a project more suited to my interests and ambitions.

Under the Same Rainbow: new acquisitions and artworks from the collections of Uppsala Council, Uppsala Region, and Uppsala Art Museum selected by the S.A.G.A. youth group continues through to 21 February 2021 at Uppsala Art Museum. Free admission, wheelchair accessible.

Please check the museum’s website for updates on opening times, due to covid-19 restrictions the museum is temporarily closed until 24 January 2021.
Uppsala Konstmuseum
Uppsala Konstmuseum Facebook

 

Uppsala Artists’ Club – committee
I have really enjoyed getting to know the other committee members and beginning to work with them to affect some much needed change at this venerable institution. Many of our initial ideas were thwarted by the arrival of the corona virus, however we have taken the opportunity to do a great deal of ground work that I am sure puts us in a very good position, and we have probably avoided making some less than successful attempts at launching new ideas and programmes too soon.
I am delighted to be among such a passionate and committed group of artists some of whom I am sure will become good friends.
Uppsala Artists’ Club
Uppsala Artists’ Club Facebook

 

Surprises of the year:
A là Maud
Back in the spring I received an email from Maud Karlsson saying how pleased she was to have found my website and would I please let her know of upcoming shows and events. A few weeks later she was one of a very modest audience (news of covid-19 was just breaking) at an artist’s talk I arranged for Roberto Ekholm who was exhibiting at Glitter Ball. The evening went very well and Roberto’s presentation sparked engaging conversations. Not long after that Maud got in touch again and asked if I was interested in being a guest on her live/performance chat-show that she stages at Uppsala’s concert and conference centre. We had a great time when Maud visited my studio and we planned what I would do for her ’Bubbles & Bakes’ autumn show. Unfortunately a tightening of covid-19 restrictions in Uppsala county meant postponing until spring ’21.
Bubbles & Bakes at Uppsala Concert and Conference Centre

 

Roxane Permar
It was a fantastic surprise to hear from Roxane this summer. Roxane was my history and theory tutor at Southend Technical College where I took my art foundation course (1986-87). I don’t know where, or even who, I would be today if I had not met Roxane in Southend. It was Roxane who introduced me to politically and socially engaged practice, and who told me about the Art & Social Context course at Dartington – she was short-listed for the position that Sheila Clayton got. Sheila was my tutor and become a very good friend. I lost touch with Roxane while I was at Dartington but became reacquainted with her several years later. If I remember correctly Vikki, a friend I made at Dartington, met Roxane at Camden Art Centre and they became friends. When I moved from Edinburgh to London (1995) I spent a great deal of time with Vikki, and if I didn’t meet Roxane at that time I certainly heard a lot about her. When Vikki died in 1997 she left money for an artist’s travel award – I was on the selection panel along with both Roxane and Sheila. I think that Roxane was already on her way to Shetland at that time so we spoke on the phone and had contact via the post (email was relatively uncommon back then). Fast forward to summer 2020 and Roxane ’stumbles’ across me on Facebook. This last week we have been messaging each other and lamenting the lack of snow on Shetland and in Sweden.

 

Artuk
In early November I got what I initially thought was spam email – it was not. It was in fact a very genuine and rather surprising request for my permission to reproduce an artwork of mine on an arts website. Art UK are digitising artworks held by institutions and museums, they are ’the online home for every public art collection in the UK’ and their website ’represents a collaboration between over 3,300 British institutions.’ One of which is the Ben Uri London Museum of Jewish Art who have a piece by me in their collection. I cannot imagine who many other artists have received identical emails, nevertheless it felt great to be contacted. Of course I granted permission (with certain caveats – non-commercial use, appropriate credit etc). I am very excited to see what happens with Art UK is certainly sounds like a fantastic idea – making so much available for learning, research, and enjoyment.
www.artuk.org

 

Intentions, ambitions, and plans for the coming year:
Solo show in Uppsala: I hope to be able to present the show that should have opened at the Artists’ Club on 16 January later in the year. The club’s two galleries are closed until at least 24 January 2021 which means re-scheduling the exhibition. It is tricky as the 2021 calendar is already full so it might have to be early 2022!

Supermarket Independent Art Fair Stockholm will take place in October next year. Usually it happens in April however a later date seems a good idea under the circumstances. A full scale fair is planned and it will be my first time running a full Meetings programme, which I am looking forward to. This years ’local’ version of the fair featuring mostly Stockholm based artists’-initiatives was a good introduction to the delights and challenges of being the Meetings co-ordinator.

Exhibitions, commissions and projects: having participated in several online courses and workshops this year I feel far better equipped to approach galleries and exhibition venues, as well as beginning to understand how public commissions and projects work here. I have already drawn up a list of potential places to show and will join some artists’ networks so that I get to hear about upcoming opportunities.

Study/research trip: postponed from last summer, I plan to spend a couple of weeks this summer in southern Sweden visiting museums, sculpture parks, galleries, and some of the artists’-initiatives that I have met through the Supermarket Art Fair,

 

An overarching intention, ambition, and plan for 2021 is to spend more time playing at the studio – a bit less thinking and lot more doing would be good fun. I have made some progress with this way of working during the last year. And I am indebted to Cajsa Von Zeipel who, by means of her 2018 summer radio show (which I listened to this year) inspired me to make a sign that now hangs prominently in my studio and to which I refer when momentarily questioning what I am doing and/or why I am doing it.  The sign simply states:

det har med konst att göra / it is about art

 

 

 


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Guess what arrived this afternoon – YES, several kilos, maybe as much as half my body weight, of glitter! I am so glad that it didn’t get caught up in either the temporary suspension of freight travel between the UK and Europe, or the pre/post Britain leaving the EU freight situation that seems inevitable. If the end of the world looks any more immanent I might just fill the bath-tub with the stuff, crack open a bottle of something sparkling, dive in and wait the armageddon.

I am, as the Swedes say, holding my thumbs* for a better year ahead. Better in this context is a matter of relativity and interpretation if ever there was. Having an exhibition postponed would not usually be how I would want to start a year.  However I am far from alone in having to re-tune my expectations and to fine-tune my perspectives.  It is certainly more interesting and important for me to have a show that presents my work well and that is open for visitors. For now all I can do is hold on to those criteria … and of course my thumbs.

 

My first day of working from home (for my salary paying job) went well. I enjoyed the sense of freedom, not that I am not pretty free to plan my days at the office. It’s just perhaps more fun to be at home, even the task of tidying, sorting, and archiving the files on the computer seemed more enjoyable. Now though the computer (job computer that is) will be put away until January 11th – auto-reply activated.

 

Wishing you all a very Good Jul!

 

* Swedes hold their thumbs rather than crossing their fingers (apparently they felt that the idea of a ’cross’ could be construed as religious). So don’t be surprised if a Swede wishing you luck appears to be shaking a clenched fist at you – they are just showing you that they really are holding their thumb!


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Suddenly things are a lot calmer. Catching up on unread emails from Thursday evening and Friday I learn that my show in Uppsala is postponed. It should have opened on 16 January but Swedish regulations regarding covid-19 restrictions were strengthened on Friday and with immediate effect national, regional, and local public buildings are now closed until at least 24 January. Though the Artists’ Club gallery is not strictly such a venue, as we are a professional association, we are funded up the regional and local council therefore follow their advice.

With Christmas immanent and a minimum of a five week suspension of activities we on the management committee have taken the decision not to make any new plans until early in the new year.

We’re not quite in a lockdown here so I can still go to the studio on what Swedes call ’the between days’ (mellandagarna). I am looking forward to being there with a healthy chunk of Christmas cake and a good cup of tea! I am still working on getting the recipe right for the Mongolian paper maché that I want to use for a couple of pieces – too much potato starch in the first batch.

I was busy in Uppsala most of Friday. Some of the LGBTQ+ youth group, their group leaders, and I recorded a short film presenting selected artworks from Under the Same Rainbow. With museum’s closure also being extended the film is a way for people to see a little of what is on show and to hear our very personal interpretations and responses. There is still the chance that the full show will be open to the public from late January to late February. Though it must be said there is also the chance that the show will never be seen in its entirety – which is very sad. The exhibition opened with a live-streamed vernissage, if it closes (in real life) there will be a grand finishage!

Working with the teams in Uppsala has been great. I had met most of them earlier either through my work for council here in Enköping, one of the committees that I sit on, or even when I showed in the Art Cube (which was nearly two years ago now), but it’s been rather different to have worked with them over last six months. In some ways it is unfair to compare it to my work here for a small semi-rural council, on the other hand it is interesting to see what can be achieved in a more culturally engaged (and engaging) situation. I hope that it is the first of many similar projects, and first of many freelance possibilities for me.

The new covid-19 restrictions mean that I start working from home tomorrow. I am really not sure how I feel about that. It is of course the sensible thing to do, but I do like to keep my ’bread job’, even though it is in the arts, separate from my private life and my own practice. I might have to find somewhere else to have my job-computer, this desk is part of my work and my practice, and I do not want to muddle that with my paid employment.


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