chimera… 1. a mythical beast. 2. a fancy or dream; an imagining

This blog will chart something of the effects on my art practice of a Re:view bursary and an Arts Council Wales Research and Development Grant.


As my Re:view bursary draws to a close at the end of February, Rebecca Spooner, in her mentoring role, suggested we write about the experience from our different perspectives.

My plan was for a sustained, in-depth mentoring relationship as most likely to help me try out new approaches, and embed what I learnt in the way I work. I approached Rebecca because of my interest in and admiration for her artistic pre-occupations as well as her deep commitment to promoting exciting art to wide audiences, especially in a rural setting.

I was looking for a questioning, objective and critical view of my practice. A challenging approach of this kind demands not just knowledge and experience, but quite an investment from a mentor and I have been hugely grateful for the energy Rebecca has brought to the process. Her empathic, imaginative engagement, along with a professional rigor have enabled me to get to grips with many of my uncertainties, and given me the confidence to try new things.

It is no co-incidence that I have had a very full-on time over the course of the bursary, with developments in all aspects of my work. Along with exhibiting, these include:

* changes to my website

* 2 blogs – one about my artistic pre-occupations and Arts Council Wales R&D project boxingthechimera – and this one charting the a-n re:view process

* development of contacts database

* learning more about how arts organisations function, and adapting communications with them and with curators.

* meetings with curators including Amanda Roderick, Mission Gallery and Kathryn Campbell and Meg Anthony, Oriel Myrddin, to show new work relating to my Arts Council Wales R&D project.

* setting up AXIS page

Looking back at the hopes I had outlined in my initial application to AN, I found that all had been met. These included: development of professional profile; adapting presentation of work for different gallery spaces; presenting work to curators; relationships with arts organisations; reviewing where I was professionally, where I would like to be and identify ways of getting there. Whilst we did not overtly address other aims to do with critical appraisal of my work, I did find that my attitude and perspective towards it was changed. In retrospect I think these aims arose from insecurities and a lack of confidence: a focus on communication about my work with new external audiences, and Rebecca’s assumption that a more ambitious approach was completely in order have indirectly changed my internal dialogues about my work.

Here is Rebecca’s perspective on the a-n re:view process…

The mentoring sessions with Penny gave me a valuable insight into her artistic processes, thoughts, ambitions and concerns. I was impressed with the deep consideration she brings to all her work, whether producing a hand-printed business card or installing a solo show. Every element of her practice is carried out with authenticity.

Penny was very open to ideas and explored all my suggestions – some worked for her and others didn’t but she was always willing to embrace a new approach. She was prepared to challenge herself and to dedicate time and energy to her professional development.

It felt very satisfying to support an artist that I admire. I particularly enjoyed seeing Penny’s exhibition, Pantechnicon, at Arcade Cardiff in November as this was the culmination of an intense period for her, creating new work and experimenting with new ways of presenting her art in a public space. The mentoring sessions provided her with structure and momentum during this busy time.

Spending time one-to-one with Penny made realize the anxieties and insecurities artists feel about their work can be very real. However, we took a proactive approach and sought to take practical steps to develop Penny’s practice rather than indulge in too much reflective conversation. I hope this approach has provided Penny with greater self-awareness, confidence and resilience in relation to her work.

Rebecca Spooner

Thanks again to Rebecca and to a-n!


Seven poets joined me on the final afternoon of my Pantechnicon show at ArcadeCardiff. Nearly all of us have worked together before in some way and I have come to rely on our collaborations to help me make sense of – but also to extend – the work I do.

I’ve described more about this on my parallel blog boxingthechimera but the event and the show as a whole crystallised a few things for me which tie into the Re:view process. For much of my artistic life I have worked in a fairly reclusive way – on my own in the studio, showing rarely, and this isolated way of working is still important to me. Increasingly though I’m finding that other, outside voices and processes are essential also.

So although it was exhausting working in public and negotiating an inner and outer dialogue at the same time, one of the things I most enjoyed at ArcadeCardiff was the contributions of visitors. During the course of the exhibition I worked on drawings, using the found objects on display as motifs, combining them in new ways. People would ask me about or comment on the drawings and I invited them to add their words or make their own marks, and incorporated these into the images.

I had many conversations with people of all ages and different interests. Some told me about objects in the show that had always been a mystery to me: others had rather fantastical ideas, which I liked just as much.

Another surprise was the pleasure I got from being part of the life of this particular retail centre – which against all my expectations felt human – even welcoming. For just a few weeks I felt part of the community of security staff, cleaners, shopworkers and customers, thanks obviously to the relationships which have been developed over the years by artists/ArcadeCardiff curators Rob Kennedy and Morgen Hall.

As I’d hoped, I have learned a lot about the way I could work in future, and expect this to filter through my work as I develop ideas in the Arts Council Wales R&D Project, Boxing the Chimera.


On 18th November I’ll be moving most of the contents of my rural studio into ArcadeCardiff‘s empty unit in a Cardiff retail centre for a three week residency.

For years, I have been collecting objects found on walks, sometimes abroad, but mainly in Wales and particularly the Black Mountains near my studio. The influence these have on my artwork has so far been implicit, rather than explicit: in this residency, I will have opportunity to recreate elements of the studio where work in progress sits alongside found objects, and reconsider the relationship between them.

I envisage reproducing a domestic – even cosy environment which, on closer examination reveals objects which puzzle and perhaps disturb perceptions of what constitutes ornament – or beauty even. It will also be a working creative space in which I will draw from the environment and show new work.

Visiors will interact in a variety of ways: experience the strangeness of such an environment in a retail setting; handle, explore and rearrange the objects; draw alongside me; contribute objects of their own.

As part of the a-n re:view, the residency marks a transitional point between past and future projects. Use of my own collection of objects will inform the way I go on to respond to objects in museum collections, as I pursue the Arts Council Wales research and development project, Boxing the Chimera.

I’ve called the show Pantechnicon – partly to reflect the wholesale transportation of goods, but I also like another, looser meaning of the word: a receptacle holding a large number of miscellaneous objects.

As such it can equally describe my studio, the ArcadeCardiff unit and the retail centre as well as indicating something about the journey between them.


In the last month I’ve visited three museums, looking at their displays and storage areas, taking photos and drawing. Each one has it’s own personality, but at each the welcome was equally warm. Thanks to the time and interest of staff, my engagement in each area is taking an individual shape, within the context of the whole project.

If a museum can be seen as a container in which a nation, a people, a locality creates a kind of chimerical patchwork identity, part of the pleasure in my visits was seeing beyond the facades, into the inner workings: boxes within boxes. For example, the artefacts on display behind the imposing exterior of Swansea Museum and Art Gallery are drawn from the apparently chaotic contents of the Collections Centre.

At Newport Musem and Art Gallery, the boxes in store, with their cryptic descriptions, stimulate my imagination about potential contents in the way that a poetic text might do.

Back in the studio, I’m developing ideas in a free-flowing exchange between observations of concrete artefacts and imaginative responses as to possible and revealed contents/ownership/purpose/history. For example, how to depict something of the resonance of the first type of secret ballot box, held at Cyfarthfa Castle Museum and Art Gallery?

With re:view mentor Rebecca Spooner, I visited Amanda Roderick, Director of the Mission Gallery, and appreciated being able to show her initial ideas for the project and hear about the priorities for Mission over the next few years.

Thanks to re:view bursary and Rebecca, I’m now on AXIS, as part of widening my profile:


Soon after getting the a_n Re:view bursary, I was successful in a bid for an Arts Council Wales research and development grant for a project called Boxing the Chimera. I was excited that the two would run concurrently, giving a really clear focus to discussions with a mentor in reviewing my practice and the way I present it.

This blog will run in tandem with in which I try to capture something of my artistic reflections in a slightly more visual way. Here I can record more practical, factual elements.

So firstly, many thanks to a_n for the bursary: although it has taken me some time to start blogging, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.

Thanks too to Rebecca Spooner, who agreed to be my mentor in the re:view process. We have already met several times and I’m feeling the effect of her sensitive but thought provoking challenges.