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

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I think that I might be what you call ’an artist’s artist’.

Other artists at the studio have really responded well to the two Rest (companion pieces), and not only artists but also a very well regarded known curator and writer. The work(s) received considerably less interest from the art associations who made studio visits on Wednesday evening. To be honest I was kind of expecting it. The associations’ primary interest was in buying work for their members’ lotteries, and it was fascinating to see how focused on their task they were! One or two members took time to speak with me about my work, most though made a few polite noises and swiftly moved on.

 

This is the second time that I have met some of the associations on their buying rounds, and even though I did not sell anything I will continue to participate in such evenings – if nothing else I feel that it is important to show something of the breadth of practices to be found in Uppsala. And who knows maybe in the future we will come to have better understandings of each other … like all dances it takes time to get to know your partner.

 

Breadth and depth have been on my mind lately, specifically depth. I am referring to my own practice. There is (too) much breadth and insufficient depth. I want to go deeper … but into what? In my application for a recently launched mentoring programme I have asked for a mentor who can help me identify a good way forward. At the moment I find myself circling around and around various things that I could do (return to glitter, stick to shirts, focus on installations, make more marketable objects). What I need is someone with an informed eye and brain to help me see how I can usefully narrow my options, increase the depth, and in doing so hopefully begin to feel a more comprehensive sense direction. I want to be more knowledgeable about what lies ahead of me should I choose this or that particular trajectory. I am not expecting a perfect map but some idea of the terrain would be very useful.

 

It has only now struck me that I am probably still thinking and acting in the same ways as when I was living in the UK (and it is not as if my ways of thinking and acting were especially effective there). Thinking about it, I have been trying to understand and get into the Swedish way since I arrived here: I took courses at Konstfack and the Royal College, I joined a less than useful mentoring scheme, I sit on several committees, and still I feel outside of it. Perhaps that is just how it is to be an artist living in another country. Perhaps understanding is less important than doing. I am very open to change, what I need is some guidance so that I make the best possible changes. Trying to keep up with all the possible ways of being an artist is exhausting and actually counter productive as it keeps me in that broad and shallow place. I feel as though I am running around in a circle maintaining an equidistance from every destination/goal. My hope for the mentoring (if I am selected) is that together we can identify an appropriate destination for me and that I can start to set sail for it.

 

In other news …

I am excited and nervous as Supermarket: Stockholm Independent Art Fair approaches. I hope that the Meetings programme goes well. With all the last minute proofreading and some unexpected extra work with one of the committees that I sit on I was later than I would have liked with finalising the programme and getting out to the exhibitors. The email I sent explained that all exhibitors are invited to attend at least one meeting and that if they don’t let me know their preferences that I will allocate them a meeting. I really want to make sure than none of the meeting moderators/hosts finds themselves alone in an otherwise empty meeting room.

 

 


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Moving the two large work-tables from the studio in Enköping to the one in Uppsala last Friday felt definitive. Up until then I had been kind of camping out in the new studio. Having appropriate furniture and fittings may not be essential for making great but it goes along way to feeling settled and being able to work efficiently and easily. A couple of cupboards might get moved this week. It seems sensible and environmentally responsible to pack the car with as much as possible when I making the journey.

Being at the new studio is a little like being at the beginning of a new relationship. Everything is exciting and it is easy to imagine a brilliant future together. Being at the old studio is a little like being at the ending of an old relationship, so perhaps the less said about that the better.

Another artist at the studio, Mireia, and I decided to have lunch together that day, we took ourselves and our lunch boxes over to the ’old corridor’ where there is a kitchen with a proper table and chairs (and a dishwasher). Mireia has also lived in Sweden for about ten years, however she moved here as a linguist and has only recently graduated from art school in Gothenburg and moved to Uppsala. It was really good to chat about the various opportunities that are out there, and about how important it is to be around other artists. As if on cue Aron popped in to the kitchen, he is recently back from a short residency in Italy and in a very laid back way he enthused about having time and space to focus on his work. He also spoke about spending time with the other artists on the programme. It is exactly this kind of thing that I need … everything on the spectrum from a simple lunch with another artist to a residency abroad … this is what excites me, this is why I want to be at the new studio!

 

The previous weekend Pavel invited me to go to the commercial art fair ’Market’ with him. It has been a couple of years since I was at Market, last year it was cancelled and the year before I just did not go. Market was something that I often went to with Francois, and even if he could not make it he would send me his VIP pass so that I could go in his place. Both Market and Frieze (London) make me think of Francois, our friendship is still a bit of a mystery to me. I miss him and it still crosses my mind to get in touch with one of his other friends to find out how he died.

We were actually a group of five who met for lunch before going to the fair but once inside everyone headed off in different directions and at different paces. Unsurprisingly Pavel and I, the two artists in the group, were the ones who took the most time to go around and occasionally bumped into each. I noticed that Pavel is very good at striking up conversation with gallerists, I am perhaps too aware that they are there to sell and that I am not buying. I go to commercial art fairs to get a snap shot of what is happening in the commercial art scene, and I leave with an odd feeling of being both satisfied that what I am doing would not look out of place there and disappointed that what I am doing is not there.

Mireia happened to be in Stockholm that weekend too and joined us. She and Pavel met briefly at the exhibition in Tierp, and all three of us were in the Knivsta show though there no events organised for that one. We had a very quick chat about a vague idea for an exhibition that I suggested – the three of us come from different countries (Spain, Russia, Britain) and have different practices however we all moved to Sweden about the same time and we are all trying to find our places in the Swedish art scene so why not see if there is an exhibition somewhere in that.

 

In other news …

The Supermarket Independent Art Fair magazine and catalogue went to print today.  As always there was proofreading to be done at the second to last minute.  I am so impressed with Alice’s attention to detail and her patience, she really is a fantastic editor and over the years I have come to understand what an incredibly professional and determined artist and project coordinator she is.

 

 


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It feels as though I am caught in a bit of a vicious circle (or is that ’cycle’ – no matter). It is the start the of the funding application season here in Sweden: artists’ grants and awards as well as project funding, travel awards, and residencies, being offered at local, regional, and national levels. Any of these would be fantastic to receive, all of these are vital to apply for. Applying is seen as an artist taking their practice and career seriously – after all why would you not apply if you could?

And this is where I become unstuck, or rather stuck in that vicious circle. I am so busy doing other things that I do not have the time to make good applications. I am confident that an award enabling me to work full-time in my studio would be hugely beneficial to my practice and could easily lead to exhibition opportunities and to commissions and even sales. However the time that is committed to my paid employment and my voluntary work in the arts sector means that have neither sufficient time nor thinking space for my own practice, which in turn leads to me submitting poor applications that are (understandably) unsuccessful.

And because my applications are unsuccessful I need to remain in my paid employment to pay my bills – including my studio rent and materials, and I remain on voluntary committees to maintain some visibility … and then I have neither time nor material to make good applications …

How to break this cycle?

One application that I must make, and make well (whatever that means in this particular context) is the application for an artists’ mentoring programme. Last year I made an unsuccessful application for funding a mentor to me … I wonder if my application might have inspired this new programme (which is being offered by the authority that I made my application to). Hopefully my current situation makes me a good candidate for this professional artistic career mentoring.

It is relatively easy for me to identify distinct areas of my practice where I would like mentoring. And of course I am open for my mentor to say whether I have identified the most appropriate areas or not! My fantasy mentor is someone who works with both public commissions and a commercial gallery, someone who shows in both Sweden and abroad, someone whose practice is both aesthetic and political. The media that my mentor works in is less important than their approach and experience. My fantasy mentor someone who will become both a colleague and friend. Am I expecting too much? Perhaps!

 

I realise that it is not enough to just want things. I need to do things to make them happen. One of most basic, yet hardest to do, is to be honest with myself about what I want. I can find all kinds of reasons why I find it hard to say what I want – the reasons might be interesting but they are kind of irrelevant. The most important thing is to communicate what I want and to find those who can help me get what I want.

Writing that last sentence made me rather uncomfortable. The words after ’ … and to find’ were hard to write. Asking for help does not come easily to me, asking to get what I want makes me feel greedy, selfish, and egoistic. This is something that I need to get some perspective on, perhaps it is something that will be explored directly and indirectly through the mentoring programme, which makes getting accepted on the programme even more urgent.

 

 

In other news …

At the risk of creating some kind of weird feedback loop I want to thank Elena Thomas and Kate Murdoch (and our other guests!) for an inspiring discussion at Tuesday evening’s Discussion Festival. Our starting point was the article that we co-authored about our long-form long-term blogs here on a-n. It was the first time that I have talked about the blog and blogging, and it was really great to speak about it with other bloggers, artists, and writers. It was fascinating to hear other people speak about their motivations and intentions, as well as their ways of writing. The evening gave me a lot to think about and was particularly relevant in the context of wanting to shift and shake things in my practice. Why not shift and shake things here in my blog too?

This post (on reflection) is pretty self-centred and introspective. I think that it follows a pattern that has developed over the recent months (years?). I am excited to break this and other habits!

 

 


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Where to start?

There are some many threads (wisps) blowing around and I find it hard to weave them into any sort of order. Some things though are making themselves clear … and these things are the result of more than a single event or stream of thought … things are coalescing … weaving themselves together without needing my conscious input or effort.

I need to revise and shift how I use my time. Over the last few weeks I have become bored of hearing myself saying that ‘I do not have time’ for things. Most significantly I do not have time for my own work (a situation which is aggravated by wanting to be at the studio in Uppsala – an hour’s drive away). Thinking about time, often while in the car, led me to consider the verbs that I employ around the word … I talk about …

  • Wanting time for my art
    Making time for my art
    Finding time for my art
    Not having time for my art

I was not particularly happy with any one of these verbs. They seemed to abstract, passive, weak, or ineffectual. Then I came to a verb that seems much more appealing – use

  • Using time for my art

 

This phrase shifts things for me. It makes me a much more active participant in relation to time. Time is no longer something that I do not possess (’wanting’), nor something that I have to somehow create (’making’), nor something out there waiting to be discovered (’finding’), nor something lacking (’not having’). Time is always already there, the vital thing is how it is used.
And I am, to a greater extent than I often acknowledge, in control of that.

 

All of which leads me to ask: how can I use time for my art?

My immediate response is to say by treating time as a valuable resource, something precious and finite. So I am going to try and be better at valuing my time. Not doing this is what enables me to stick with inappropriate habits and routines – things which use time without giving a result, or even worse which use time and lead to negative result.

My involvement in an artists’ group is one of the threads that is woven in to this thinking about time. I am disappointed and angry with how the group’s recent exhibition was handled. These strong reactions have consumed too much time. I have made the decision that I do not want to use my time with this group any more.

 

Being around other artists a little more has led to another thread that weaves into thinking about how I use my time. It has been very good for me to hear artists talking about the opportunities they have seen, the articles that they have read, the applications that they have made. I realise that I want to use my time to do similar things. The hours that I use for local arts association, which will certainly not collapse if I am not on the committee, could be put to better use on my own artistic practice. I would rather be making art than making a framework for other people’s art. I have made the decision that I will step down from the committee at the next AGM.

These two decisions are a good start!

 

If I don’t use time for my art how I can expect anyone else to?

 

 


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My thoughts are hopping between a myriad of different projects and topics. These projects and topics range widely in terms of scale and proximity: some large and immediate, some large and distant, some small and distant, others small and immediate. If I am honest with myself then I should probably admit that there is too much going on … and that I am in this position, which I am sure that I share with many artists, because the things that I prefer/need to do do not provide an income, so a rather substantial percentage of my week is spent doing something that provides me with a salary. At the same time I think that I might be expecting myself to achieve things as if I were a full-time artist. The reality of having a fractional permanent job is that I can only be a fractional artist … and I do not know how to do that!

I have to remember that these are extraordinary times, and that this is too contributes to the irritation that I am feeling. Or perhaps the irritation is felt more acutely because of these extraordinary times – ’corona as amplifier’ – making me more aware of things that I already felt and knew.

It is almost the end of August – a month that all but disappeared in a flurry of workshops, projects, meetings, discussions, tasks, and deadlines. All of which, save one, would have been far more enjoyable had they not piled upon each other causing some to get crushed, others to be eclipsed, and even those at the top of the pile were not particularly well balanced. Perhaps I am being hard on myself … but I know that I can do better, and that I want to do better, so I get frustrated with myself when my enthusiasm overtakes my capacity.

Needless to say I have not had time for reflection through the lens of writing. And now I wonder what to do with those snatched moments of thought and analysis along with half remembered responses and ideas triggered by seeing so many shows while on holiday in southern Sweden. I think that I need to accept that those moments have passed, and I need to trust that anything vital will still be with me.

I (easily) allow others to make demands on my time. Why do I not allow myself the same? I say that my practice is important but I am not convinced that I demonstrate it.

In addition I find it so much easier to account for my time when I assign it someone, or something, else. I wish that I could shake this need to account for myself, especially as I know that it is a purely internal circuit/monologue – dialogue(?). I am pretty sure that asking why I feel the need to justify and rationalise how I spend my time to myself could keep me in therapy for years.

So do I accept that that is how things are and do my best to get on with it? Or do I put my spanner in my works and see if I can break my machinery and rebuild it better?

A bit of an aside: I wonder if my overly zealous account giving works against me when making certain award and grant applications. Could I be spending too long trying to work out how to justify and account for the award (should I get it) that I put lead shoes on the actual idea or project – that wonderful little spark of a thing that needs love and nurture.


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