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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This morning it dawned on me that I might have had the emphasis on the wrong syllable (as my old German teacher used to say). Suppose it is not the listening to the Swedish language on the radio that is filling my head and distracting me, suppose it is the content of the broadcasts.

 

It must be twenty years or so ago that realised that waking to Radio 4’s Today programme and listening to it until I got to the studio made it very hard for me to create anything beautiful or wonderful (I mean literally full of wonder). It is possible that as I approach ten years of living here that I understand far more than I give myself credit for. And as a consequence the hourly news summaries, the political interviews, and the investigative features of Swedish Radio’s P1 morning programme are having the same effect on me now as the Today programme did all those years ago.

 

Three, or even ’just’ two, hours of hearing the worst of what is happening in the world seems to take me longer to digest than the twenty-four hour cycle between my mornings. I get caught in a never ending loop of anger, frustration, despair, and disappointment.

 

Suppose that it is this mid set that takes time. Even if it does not directly take time, it takes my mind to another place from which it takes more time to arrive at that fantastic creative place. The distance is not just between reality and fantasy, rather it is between a particularly dystopic, disfunctional, often violent and or cruel reality and the world that I strive to create in, and for, my practice.

It is time, I think, to stop listening to the radio news … again!

 

This is not unrelated to my current feeling about my paid employment – that it too takes me too often to places of frustration, annoyance, disappointment, and irritation from which it takes too long to get to places of creativity, fantasy, imagination, and wonder. I hope that this has been the direct and indirect result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and that it will swiftly lessen as things open up again over the coming autumn. That said I will be keeping my eyes open for residency opportunities and will definitely be applying for the ’working artist awards’ that are given here every year … that way I could put paid employment on pause for a while too!

 

 


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There is so much going on! Despite it being July – month when Sweden is on holiday – I seem to be as busy as usual … so it is just as well that I am on holiday from my half-time job otherwise I would not have time to get anything done.

 

I love having things going on, however I have allowed myself to get to that point where I am simply running from one to the next without really having time to do anything properly. I do not think that it the first time that I have identified that the problem is somewhat logistic and/or financial. I am starting to do things now that I was not able to do in the last few months due to my paid employment – employment that I cannot afford to give up because most of the other things that I do are underpaid or done with no guarantee of return (financial or artistic).

 

I know that I need time … that my fantasy needs time to come forth. I want to be better at giving myself time. Time, as they say, is precious and I think that I am worth it. I also want to be better at giving my friends and colleagues time … a course in time management perhaps?

 

Today – my first official holiday day – has been spent at home restoring some order on and around the table that I work at in the living room. It is a relatively modest table and easily becomes laden with paper, books, pens, pencils, the hole punch, the stapler, the little device for logging in to my online bank account, my diary, a sketchbook, a discount voucher from a supplier, articles torn from various arts magazines. It is the evening and the table surface is not yet clear. The chest of drawers beside though has no clutter on or around it. The floor immediately adjacent to the living room door is clear for the first time this year.

 

Often I have the radio on when I am at home. Today however the radio has been silent and it feels as though I have had more time. Of course that is not possible and hour with the radio off is the same length as an hour with the radio on … right? Maybe not! Or rather maybe it is not the same kind of hour. I listen to the radio to improve my Swedish, which I believe is certainly does. What it may not improve is my ability to focus in other things at the same time. In fact it seems to have the opposite effect. The radio (or the language) commands so much of my attention that I can complete only the simplest of other tasks while listening. This is where I might be losing time. Whilst clearing and sorting in silence today I found myself thinking about things that I need to do and working through different ways and schedules for do them. As the day closes I feel calmer about my to do list than I did this morning although I have not actually tackled anything on the list.

 

I feel certain that I will achieve a good number of things tomorrow now that both some physical and mental space has been cleared. I know nothing about the relationship between space and time but by making space I feel as though I have made time. And that is what it is about isn’t it – making time for things.

 

 


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Suddenly one day last week a (’the’?) perfect title for the piece(s) that I am working on came to me – Rest.

 

I was not thinking about a title at the time, I was just quietly getting on with neatening collars for that part of the work.  At the moment I am considering that the work is one piece with two parts: one part collars, and one part cuffs – two companion pieces that together are a whole.

 

The cuff part is complete, all the cuffs have been neatened and buttoned together.  They are in the order that I unpacked them – only occasionally in pairs … I have not checked to see if they all have a partner.  French (double) cuffs and cuffs with press-studs rather than buttons are in a separate stack as they cannot be included in the length of buttoned cuffs.  I sat for while looking at the piece … I like it … I do not understand it.  it is a once playful and melancholic, it hints at bunting at the same as being rather sad.  The range of tones is quite extensive however seen en-masse they seem subdued.  Perhaps it is the piece’s stillness that lends it a somewhat mournful attitude.

 

Rest captures something of this quietness.  It suggests pause after action.  It also refers to something that remains – ”what about the rest of it?”.  Rest in Swedish means remains or scraps: matrest – food scraps, tygrest – fabric scraps.  That the word works in both languages makes it even more apt.

 

 

There are significantly more collars than there are cuffs.  I wonder why … perhaps some cuffs got lost in passing the material from one person to another (I do not remember ever asking Elena who she got them from), perhaps some cuffs got used along with the bodies of the shirts in the patchworks.  The pointed tips of each collar give that piece quite a different feeling – almost more mechanical, as though it were some kind of drive-chain – the angular tips having engaged with cogs or wheels and driving them on as part of a larger machine.

 

Buttons or collar stiffeners sometimes reveal the make of the shirt, most though are unbranded.  Nor is the fabric known, most feel to be cotton or a cotton blend.  Some immediately seem out of fashion, the proportions or design details suggesting a garment from the early 00s, the 90s or even the 80s.  Others are timeless – simple checks in beige, brown, and green that might equally be from the 50s as from last year.

 

As I have mentioned before I am very aware that the form the pieces have taken is informed(?) by the studio in which they were made.  I did not consciously decide not to unpack all the material when the parcels arrived at my studio in Enköping well before I had even thought of asking about studios at Hospitalet.  Could I have subconsciously known that the material needed another kind of space in which to shine?  I have plenty of other unused materials in Enköping but for some reason something made me take those packets of collars and cuffs to the new studio.  I do not need to know why or how.  Some things do not need to be, and cannot be, analysed they just are as they are.

 

I do not know why the work came to be, nor why its name came to be, but it has and it did, and for that I am very happy!

 

 


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What a difference a week, or two, makes! As if I needed reassurance that I enjoy hands-on doing the four day ’art camp’ (non-residential!) and five days of distributing ’art-bags’ demonstrated to me just how detrimental six months of computer-based working from has been for me.

In addition I also realised just how much my paid employment affects my own practice. Or perhaps more accurately how much how I feel about my paid employment affects my own practice. Without being conscious of it six months of working in a way that does not suit me has had a significant impact on what has happened, or rather what has not happened, in the studio. It should not have come as a surprise that my mood at work seeped in to my abilities to be creative and playful but it has. It feels very good to have had this realisation. It is something that I am determined to bear in mind after the summer break. I have already begun planning Creative Saturday 2.0, and activities for both the half-term and Christmas holidays. After my holiday I will return to working at the office – I have missed my colleagues and the inspiration that I get when talking something through with them, it is just not the same in a video meeting.

I found myself longing to be a participant in the art camp workshops, and on the receiving end of an art-bag. The studio – my two studios! – provide more than sufficient opportunities and materials to replicate both situations. With that in mind I feel myself much invigorated!

Quite separately (or perhaps not) I have been thinking about compromise. What I previous considered to be a sign of failure might actually be a route to accomplishment and success. It is something that I want to understand better and learn to embrace … use … enjoy!

compromise 1 n. settlement of dispute by mutual concession; intermediate way between conflicting courses, opinions, etc. 2 v. settle (dispute) or modify (principles) by compromise; bring (person or oneself) under suspicion or into danger by indiscreet action; make a compromise. [F f. L (promise)]
The Pocket Oxford Dictionary, seventh edition, 1984

concession n 1 the act or an instance of conceding. 2 a reduced price or fare for people in certain categories. 3 a grant of land, property, or a right made in return for services or for a particular use. 4a a small shop or business that is allowed to operate on the premises of a larger business. B the right to operate such a concession.

concessionaire n the owner or beneficiary of a concession
The Penguin English Dictionary. 2002

 

On first reading dictionary definitions seem to bear out my negative reaction to the term. Second and more considered readings make me wonder if I have simply had the wrong intonation. Focus on the settlement, the mutual, and the intermediate way rather than on the dispute and the conflicting course, opinions, etc.

Interestingly the Swedish dictionary defines ’kompromiss’ as 1 mutual agreement, a levelling out, a middle way, a place halfway between two things or places; 2 arbitration, award. In verb form 1 to take a middle way between different suggestions, 2 to be met halfway.

I appreciate this considerably more positive view of compromise – no mention of disputes, or conflicts, or suspicions, or putting things in danger, or indiscreet actions. I am not unaware of the potential for compromise to flatten things out to such a degree that they become banal but acceptable. I hope for compromises that retain sufficient integrity on all sides to keep them vital and vibrant.

What does this have to do with art … with my art … my practice?
Well I am realising that it might be smart to think about how to meet people halfway, and by people I mean galleries, museums, funding bodies, and the like. For all my interest in accessibility, inclusivity, and social engagement I can be very bad at making comprises that might enable me to move closer to my goals – ’my way or the high way’ is pretty meaningless when you have no authority. It is also a somewhat aggressive and egotistic stance.

If I want to make a living from my practice, and I do, then I still need to take in to account other peoples needs. I will very likely have to make compromises, and it has to be better to see this a positive and mutually beneficial process. Ultimately compromise is about not being so selfish, it is about building healthy relationships, respecting other points of view, learning to adapt … it is about belonging in, and to, a society.

I think that making good and appropriate compromises is a skill. And one that I want to learn!


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Tomorrow is the first day of the four day children’s summer school and I am both excited and nervous. It has been a year since I last ran a workshop and I am feeling out of practice. I am pretty sure that everything will be fine but I am nervous – which is perhaps no bad thing, it will keep me on my toes.

The summer school is part of my work for the local council, and is a new way of working. I have wanted to do something like this since I started back in 2017, and it is the situation with Covid-19 that has enabled me to try it this year. Normally I have to run drop-in activities suitable for all ages and all abilities. This year we are required to limit the number of participants and they have to book a place for all four days. It will be really interesting to see how both the children and I get to know each other over our time together.

Hopefully working practically will shift my mood about my job. I continue to struggle with it and how far it is from what I would prefer to be doing – being in my own studio. Actually it is not just that. I want to be working with other artists. I was reminded of this on Thursday when I had five meetings with different artists about different projects. The day was really good fun, I felt inspired, enthused, and encouraged. Yes there is lots do to realise even the first stages of much that was discussed but everything felt so positive. I find it very frustrating that I am unable to bring my passion to my paid work. And I think that is perhaps more acute because I work with art. When I have worked in other industries (to support myself) I have not expected to be passionate about what I do – though I have often ended up being so, I became a bit of an espresso nerd when working in both a local cafe and a bakery! I think the problem is that the local council is not driven by passion.

With all those meetings I did not have time to do more than open the box of reject and faulty ties that Sarah kindly left outside of my studio. Sarah is a professional photographer who also recently moved to the studios. One of her commercial clients is Sweden largest tie manufacturer/importer. Sarah (via email) introduced me to the company director who was more than happy to give me a box of ties that for one reason or another do not meet their exacting standards. It will be good fun to play with these new ties. I do not know what I want to do with them yet but I know that I do something different with them – no heraldic references, no roses …

I think that my starting point for the ties will be the materials themselves … give myself time to play them on their own and in combination with other materials …

Pavel came passed the studio last week – my first visitor! We had a really good chat about various things that concern us both: our artistic identities, how to develop our careers, our commitment and/or interest in being in an artists’ group. I had not expected to get feedback on the chains of cuff and collars that were hanging on the wall, however Pavel really liked them and saw them not only as finished pieces but being very attractive as public art pieces. His interest and appreciation of them is timely as there is about to be another chance to submit work for public collections. This time six counties in ’middle Sweden’ are buying work from each other’s artists. I had not thought about including either of these pieces but now I think that it might be a good idea. If nothing else it will make me get the work to a point where I can photograph it! I really do want to spend more time at the studio and I am looking forward to doing so during my time off from my job.

 

 


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