I’m back to painting in my studio again. Painting is really difficult. I am of the mindset recently that I need to make work that is really good and if it’s not really good it’s not worth making. If the painting is not right I need to keep working on it until it is right, or for the bin. Paintings that are OK are just not good enough anymore.
The book by Don Thompson about the art market didn’t actually talk about art in the context of whether it was good or not, instead it is entirely about how much art is worth and I am sure that decision was made intentionally. Because it focuses so little on the art itself it almost leads you to believe that the successful artists are just there, selling for millions, completely by chance. I thought I should look up a few of the painters it mentions, including Chinese artists Yue Minjun, Cai Guo Qiang and Liu Xiadong and German painter Matthias Weischer. I think, because by reading the book intensively for the last few days, I’d been lead into this state of belief that the art world is all about money and nothing else, I was almost shocked to discover such amazing work. These artists are producing beautiful, technically accomplished work which is also incredibly ambitious and I think that’s the key to their success. Matthias Weischer is so talented. This video shows the work I really like. Recently he’s been making more abstract work using paper pulp.
There is also a lovely video about when he meets with David Hockney for mentoring
Don Thompson’s book makes you feel doomed as an artist because it suggests that the people with the big bucks only care about status, not good art, but now I’ve realised the much bigger problem, for me, that it is actually the standard of some of this art that is just unreachable. There is in fact more hope when, as it is suggested, you could become recognised because a branded collector decides to buy your work and less hope with the knowledge that these painters who are being bought, are so incredibly talented and are making the most amazing paintings. Now that is what’s really scary. So that’s why ok is just not good enough. This is the painting I’m working on at the moment. Needless to say, it is not as good as any of Matthias Weischer’s. I wonder if I email him he will email back. First problem would be getting his email address.
Yesterday was my last day in Allenheads and today I’m back in Liverpool, in Arena, my studios, priming boards to make a massive long painting to go in the Palm House for Liverpool International Music Festival in August. I am sure I have plenty of time to make the work, but I became progressively more stressed about it on the drive back to Liverpool. Painting can become stressful when you’re under pressure, and it then becomes a completely different experience.
I need to apologise to the lady in Sefton Park Palm House who was showing round prospective wedding customers as Andy and I were measuring the stage. She politely suggested that she could provide me with measurements, to help us know exactly how much material we would need to dress the stage and in an aggrieved feminist, important artist sort of way I took immediate offence to her idea that the only reason I would be measuring the stage is because I wanted to get married. I told her we are not getting married, we are definitely not getting married and we can get the measurements for the stage by measuring the stage. She was only trying to help and I get a bit snappy when I’m am stressed.
Is my aversion to marriage is actually a feminist thing? I have just Googled ‘Are feminists anti marriage?’ and read the first web page that came up, a blog post by Meghan Murphy, which, it turns out, completely sums up how I feel. http://www.xojane.co.uk/issues/unpopular-opinion-m… In defence of my reaction in the Palm House, I am the only woman I know of my age who feels this way and I feel quite alone and a bit defensive about the whole thing.
I won’t explain any more right now because you can just read Meghan’s post if you’re interested and actually I was planning to tell you about my time at Allenheads Contemporary Art and share some pictures from yesterday. I went back to Nenthead Mines and also found some of the burned heather patches to photograph. They mow down a rectangular boundary so that it can’t spread any further when they set the heather inside on fire. The heather burning takes place because the new heather shoots grow back and the grouse like eating them and rich people like shooting grouse.
I realise I haven’t said enough about Allenheads Contemporary Arts. I think I am finding it hard to describe the place and even my experience there. It is a special place which I think ultimately represents Helen Ratcliffe and Alan Smith who are doing something unique and wonderful. The idea of living far away from a big city has always given me the fear that there would be no strong and meaningful artist community to support me. There might be a few sweet little galleries selling arts and crafts but no one doing the sort of work or having the sort of conversations about art that I want to be part of. Alan and Helen found the solution; go and live wherever you want, in an amazing old Victorian school house, in a small village in the middle of nowhere, with a beautiful old local pub, where a gin and tonic and a glass of wine costs only £5.80, where it is pitch black at night time and the only noise you can hear is a hooting owl, with the landscape and the history and the three German Schnauzers and then bring the art community to you. All kinds of artistic people come and go from this place and the setting provides a platform to engage with them in an informal way that is truly unique. This experience has left an impression on me, which I will now carry with me as an artist.
I came to Allenheads because I wanted to draw and paint the land and the sky and I didn’t really mind what it looked like. For once I was not interested in pursuing a landscape showing the effects of man, but without realising it I had picked a place where the landscape for miles around is scarred heavily by industry, however until today it had passed me by.
I went out on a drive with Alan and the three German Schnauzers who also live here (very cute dogs, two of them sat on my knee for most of the journey) and he told me about the lead mining that took place here and how it marks the landscape almost everywhere you look. The ground is covered in mounds, which I had been looking at for days but had not really understood. They are slag heaps, partly overgrown with grass and heather but sometimes still brown earth, as those parts are so contaminated, nothing can grow on them. In some places even the trees die because of the contaminated ground.
Alan also pointed out large areas of pine trees which were being felled, leaving strange trenches in the land. The trees will be replaced with indigenous species as there is funding for growing these. There will come a time when all the pine trees here are cut down and replaced with indigenous woodland. The landscape is changing all the time.
We went to Nenthead lead mine where Alan had once carried out a residency himself and he still likes to make work there. It was made into a mining museum and a lot of money was spent on developing the site, but then it shut down because no one came as there was another mining museum already down the road. Nenthead is over the Cumbrian border and so the funding came from that area and the fact that there was already a Northumbrian mining museum down the road was overlooked. I came back later to make some drawings (see pictures). On the way back to Allenhead, Alan pointed out mine air holes, marked by circular walls, pieces of moor land where heather had been burned in neat patches and also the remains of a damn which was blown up by the land owner when a tax came in for owners of areas of water. But really all of this disruption to the landscape is lead by money. I see it all completely differently now, but I feel like I’ve only just touched on understanding how what I see and what I have learned today can be translated into art.
The curator has arrived. She is Dr Tracey Warr and she’s very nice. She knows Alan and Helen because she worked on a project to have James Turrell’s Skyspace at Allenheads. They were successful with the funding but couldn’t get planning permission in the end so it went to Kielder Forest instead
That’s a real shame, I think it would have been great here and they must have worked so hard on the project before it fell through. It’s funny what some people count as disruption to the beautiful landscape. Wind turbines are a classic example. I used to drive past a couple of really big ones on my way to Norwich from Hull, when I was at art school there. It’s much more common to see them nowadays but at the time there weren’t so many, especially that you could see so close up and I thought they were fabulous, big, white and imposing and representing clean energy, but so many people don’t like to see them on the landscape. The influence of people is everywhere though, even in remote rural countryside, the view will include farmland plotted out by hedges and and walls. You think it’s natural as you’re used to it being there. People just need to get used to wind turbines.
Tracey also told me about a recent project she worked on at Glen Nevis called Outlandia. It looks great, it is an art space in the trees, like a tree house studio.
It rained all of today, it didn’t stop until about an hour ago.
I have broken the bivvy! Just one of the poles actually, hopefully I can fix it.
The sky is amazing on the moors. Did you know the moors are man made? I did know that already but when I’ve mentioned it to other people they have always seemed surprised, so I’ll tell you about it in case you didn’t know. The moors were made by farmers who cut down trees for animal grazing and then the grazing animals stop the trees growing back. I’ve always thought it appropriate that I should paint the moors because of the man made link. I have made paintings of the moors before, a long time ago, but since then I’ve been looking for landscapes with more obvious human intervention.
Today I went to the point where the County Durham and Northumberland borders meet. Here’s some of the work I did today. The sky was changing and brooding the whole time, maybe it’s always like that here?
I’ve brought some books with me that I want to read, including ‘Junkyard Planet’ by Adam Minter http://newsfromnowhere.tbpcontrol.co.uk/tbp.direct… which is about the global scap industry and features Guiyu, the E-waste recycling capital of the world, which I will visit during my residency with the Chinese European Arts Center. Adam Minter also has a blog, which is very interesting http://shanghaiscrap.com/
I have a lot to say about all of this and what I intend to do in China but I am digressing, what I was actually going to tell you is that although I should probably be reading Junkyard Planet right now, what I’m actually reading is a book called The $12 Million Stuffed Shark http://newsfromnowhere.tbpcontrol.co.uk/TBP.Direct… which Nic Corke from the Corke Gallery lent to me, telling me to make sure I give it back. I wonder whether I should tell him I have accidentally pulled out a big chunk of pages and drawn on the front cover, or just buy him a new one. I could tell him I did it on purpose in a fit of passionate artistic rage because, although the book is really interesting, giving you an insight into the ridiculous art market, it also makes you wonder whether you should just give up altogether. If you are an artist don’t read it because it will make you depressed. Actually do read it, it is very entertaining and you shouldn’t aspire to sell your work for millions anyway, because thousands is enough don’t you think?