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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