Last year I received an a-n reView bursary as well as a Reseach and Development Grant from the Arts Council of Wales. I’m not going to go into all the details as I have already written about it; you can read more here.
It is the 3rd of January today and I am looking at the next year with anticipation. I am a couple of months into a residency at Ruthin Craft Centre and more details about it specifically can be read on Central Stn.
I am aiming with this blog to think and write specifically about my artistic practice rather than the content of my art. Hopefully, this will be a worthwhile venture!
This residency at Ruthin Craft Centre has been pretty much all consuming the last few months. I wrote on my last blog post about the challenges of balancing. This was good preparation for the last two weeks, I’ve not been able to manage much time in the studio but haven’t been beating myself up about it.
Things are progressing anyway and some events have been scheduled to correspond with the residency. I wasn’t going to bother with an opening but realised people need a firm date to make the trek out to Ruthin. Now I am looking forward to it and am glad that I have imposed a deadline on finishing the installation; I always work well under a bit of pressure!
I am also super excited about an upcoming panel discussion:
Craft and Concept – Roz Hawksley, Tabitha Moses and Alana Tyson consider their use of textiles within the conceptual art field; a panel discussion at Ruthin Craft Centre led by curator, artist and writer Melanie Miller.
How is conceptual art defined, what is its relationship to textiles? Why do we need definitions, how useful are they? When is a maker an artist? Rather than provide answers, the idea is to explore these themes through presentations by the panel, and discussions with the panel and with the audience.
Timed to coincide with the creation of an installation by Ruthin Artist-in Residence Alana Tyson, participants will have the opportunity to view Alana’s ambitious new work created as part of her residency.
Does anyone else out there ever feel like there are just not enough days in a week for studio time and artistic admin, let alone family time and normal domestic chores?
Last spring I wrapped up work at my husband’s business in order to devote myself to my artistic practice wholly. In Axisweb’s December Artist of the Month feature, abstract painter Julie Umerle talks about being in the studio at least four days a week plus one day a week spent at home doing admin. I have been trying to maintain this 1:4 admin to studio day ratio since September (after a holiday in Canada). I am now spending five days a week in the studio, either at home or in residence at Ruthin Craft Centre. I have hit a fantastic studio groove and feel like I am really making strides. This means I am already failing at my 1:4 ratio; I am doing admin at night and trying to fit more in, along with extra artist facilitator work and normal household chores, on my “days off”. I am starting to worry that this is not sustainable; I have worked three jobs before and ended up so exhausted, I made myself nauseous and completely crashed.
So something has to give. My house is not as tidy as it could be, the laundry pile is growing beyond the confines of its basket and I can’t remember the last time I mopped the floor. I was fighting guilt over this when I heard a radio programme recently about composers working on a commission. The lone female interviewee fixated on her guilt over the state of her house during the intense period of work, whereas the men brushed it off and flippantly admitted the washing-up wasn’t done in their homes. This really stood out to me and I started to consider my own guilt in a fresh light. I spoke to my husband about my worries and he laughed, he was unconcerned about any household deterioration and would rather spend time together relaxing. I am consciously trying to release this guilt and have decided my friends and family are more important to me than the dust-bunnies under my bed.
But then there is the problem that intensive time in the studio can really disconnect me from others as I retreat into making and my own headspace. I was really fretting about this until I read a super helpful correspondence between two artists, Kay Lawrence and Lindsay Obermeyer, in which they discussed the difficulty of finding a work/life balance(1). Lawrence advised her friend that it is not necessary to choose one or the other and that it is important to “acknowledge the inter-relatedness of all aspects life.” It is a complex balance and at times artistic practice will take precedence. Additionally, when ones priority becomes other matters in life it does not mean that your practice has been abandoned. This relaxed me so much, at the moment my practice is very heavily taking precedence, I don’t need to feel guilty about this (or the opposite, that this will not always be possible). It is not a choice of one or the other but of balance.
I don’t have all the solutions but I am hopeful balancing will become easier with experience. I can see that guilt does not help the matter and I am determined to not let it take up any of my already stretched time. Writing about it here has helped me to gain a bit of perspective and I hope that equally it is helpful to others.
- Lawrence, Kay and Obermeyer, Lindsay, ‘Voyage: Home is Where We Start From’, in Jefferies, J. (ed), Reinventing Textiles: Volume Two, Gender and Identity (Winchester: Telos Art Publishing, 2001).
Over the past couple of months I have serendipitously stumbled upon a couple of artist talks while visiting galleries. They have reminded me how important such events are for my own artistic development. Reading is great, but there is definitely something to be said for unmediated observations direct from the artist.
Two of the artists I heard talk were in the zenith of their careers. Irma Blank is in her 80’s and hearing her speak about her practice was fascinating. She is not at all concerned with how her work is perceived by audiences, as her motivation is the achievement of a meditative state through making (be that through painting, writing or some other means). I was struck by her conviction and asked if she had always been so strong (hoping that maybe I could be so confident one day) – her response was, “People don’t change.” Not the answer I wanted to hear but perhaps the truth I needed; as much as I admire Blank’s work I do not share her motivations and can only make my own work. Applying this to my practice, I am trying to examine my own purpose for making art and assessing my studio production based on whether I am achieving these goals.
I also attended a talk by Walter Keeler, one of the most eminent potters in the UK. He spoke eloquently about experimentation in his work and maintaining a studio practice for so many decades. His was an engaging talk with plenty of gems of wisdom such as, “if you aren’t making mistakes then you are not trying.” This may seem obvious but it is so easy to forget and I was grateful for the reminder. Keeler spoke of working on multiple series at the same time (one audience member accused him of “pottery schizophrenia”). Experimental and challenging new works fulfil some of his artistic needs but he also likes working on a series that he had been creating for decades. This series is like “returning to an old friend,” with whom he is able to let his mind relax and take pleasure in the making. With my current residency at Ruthin Craft Centre I have two rooms, one I have designated for experimentation while in the other I have been building an installation based on a longstanding series. I felt validated in this approach after Keeler’s talk. It is not that I needed permission but it is good to hear someone with much more experience has taken a similar approach.
Sometimes it feels difficult to find the time to make it out to such events. Taking the time to hear other artists talk, whether or not their practice is similar to you your own, is amazingly valuable and I have resolved to give it greater priority in the future.