The reality of juxtaposition.

It has been just over 3 months since my Degree Show at Wimbledon College of Art (UAL). I had so much planned once this was over, so many projects I wanted to get started but in truth I have been like a fly trapped in a milk bottle – buzzing around wildly but achieving very little. It has been said to me that in order to make progress it is best to focus on one thing at a time.  This is all well and good, but I think for many of artists this is just not viable. I need to earn some income, I need (and want) to produce some art, I want (and need) to collaborate, exhibit and experiment. I also have a family, so hence have all the activities and responsibilities that entails. So my mission in respect to my art practice these days is to try and focus on just a few things at a time, and to try to relax into it more.

I have recently been playing with making small collages, physical and digital. They have tended to try and evoke a sense of place, a quick escape route in my head. One is based in Spain; Andalucia region. I have juxtaposed and transferred images of photographs I had taken on past holidays onto a solid oak wood block that I had previously primed with a mixture of rabbit glue and marble dust. It is relatively small; approximately 27 cm square. In keeping with my usual practice, I painted and drew upon this. I wanted the surface and image to be deliberately rough and incomplete in parts – as if an artefact with the surface showing through in places – like touching the walls of an old city, the heat of the sun bleaching the paintwork and drawing delicate cracks upon its history.

The other is a ‘New Zealand’ digital collage -in a wildish sort of state. I am from New Zealand originally but have not been back there for quite a number of years. Living in London, whilst I love it, there is a reassuring primal ruggedness about New Zealand which I miss and wanted to capture.


My latest series of work is focusing on interiors and objects – specifically my studio and my home. So far I have been looking at my studio but to be honest, I’m not really sure what I’m doing. I’ve been trying to vaguely look at the basic structure and layout of the objects within my studio using watercolour painting and pen drawing. Everything is very loose – broad gestures of shape, pattern and composition. I started to represent certain objects with certain shapes so a kind of system developed. I may not pursue this to any great degree but I do find it rather satisfying.

I start to think about some of the famous artists and how they at some point as they work maybe they used a similar methodology – for example Matisse and Picasso to name just a couple in their development of their portraits and interiors and the simplistic lines and shapes they used to do this. Still life arrangements have and are constantly being used as a method for formal experimentation by artists the world over.

I also think about the work of the contemporary photographer Laura Letinsky – a particular exhibition I went to years ago at the Photographers Gallery in London has stuck with me (called Laura Letinsky: lll Form and Void Full). Her ‘post meal’ still lifes using linen covered tables, food, cutlery and crockery are oddly reminiscent of old masters paintings of old style banquets. However in Letinsky’s photographs the colours are pastel and muted, her shapes often appear semi abstracted, the stains left behind as important as the objects themselves, the importance of space and light. In fact there is very little food to be seen, more of a melancholy suggestion of what has been.

I like the idea of at some point emulating some of the ideas she has used here, the semi abstraction, the colour schemes she has used, the use of positive and negative space, using my studio as the basis. A studio space has its own sense of place. It’s currently freezing in mine and I work with a hot-water bottle stuck under my jumper. There is clothing a plenty, not just for the purposes of necessary rags, but to wear as layers upon layer. Domestic items one would associate from home have made their way in – cushions, dish washing liquid, drying up cloths and various assortments of teas and packaged soups. And fruit. Fruit gets everywhere – mainly orange and apples. It’s important to do something when I am contemplating the making, whether it’s peeling an orange or sipping a cup of tea. There is something beautiful about a studio. Its simplicity of objects sitting within the space. The climbing pipes, the splashes of paint, the surfaces of the walls and floor, the casting of shadows; the basicness of everything.

Like still life, the studio is a frequent subject matter for many artists. It’s a contained environment that can transport the artist to new places and new ventures. What’s more, it’s there, it’s real. There is a purity about it that can be explored.

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I’m exhausted. I don’t know whether it’s just a post-Christmas feeling or seeing the end of a particularly challenging year. Depleted of inspiration; I haven’t been anywhere or seen anything to spark an interest. The grey skies mirror my outlook. Various parts of my body seem to shriek in pain and I just want to hibernate under my duvet for a few months. I’m exasperated by people and the most annoying person I find at the moment is me.

I’ve decided my Derbyshire and countryside series of work is complete – certainly for the time-being anyway. It seems so far removed from where I am now that I can hardly believe I made it. I suppose it is this reality that has suggested my next area of investigation, namely the space where I currently occupy the most; my home and my studio – a no frills approach focus on their interiors and objects. I will begin with my studio.

Photographing the objects in my studio ended up with selected frames of studio type bits and pieces in all their tarnished glory. Brushes that have seen better days, plastic bags and containers galore. Finger painted surfaces, legs of chairs and easels, tatty book corners, pens, pencils, paint. Bubble wrap and bits of orange peel. Coffee mugs, coffee and teabags. Shelving and string, old paintings and dish washing liquid. Newspaper and clothing piles. Tacks and nails. Hammers, pliers scissors and measuring tools. Bottles of liquids of various contents. As I note all these things down it occurs to me at just how much has actually made its way into this relatively small interior space. Each item with its own identity and purpose. It’s strangely quite a pleasurable task listing all of these objects. I feel there is a definite potential to explore this idea further. Hurrah, a start!


A change of perspective

How does one get inspiration for new work? What drives the creative process and how are these thoughts developed. How is one’s perspective on a subject formed and how does this change?

Growing up in New Zealand, I ended up doing a Humanities Degree majoring in Education. I was being encouraged at the time by my family to train to be a teacher. Although I did not go down this route I did acquire some interesting knowledge, particularly about some of the principles of how we learn, in particular assimilation and accommodation. When we come across something new in our lives, our brain automatically tries to find a familiarity (a schema) with other things we have learnt – whether this be an experience, a memory, a pattern, whatever. This is the quickest way of learning as the new info just moulds right in. However, if the information we receive is entirely new, then our brains have to create new connections and new schemas in order to accommodate it. This process takes longer.  This is a very simplistic summary but hopefully one gets the gist. Our schemas as children are very simple and over time they develop in complexity and sophistication.

For example, ever since as a child I have always had a particular penchant for Scotland due to the fact my paternal grandparents were from there. Not that I ever met them, they died before I was born. It didn’t stop my childhood imagination taking over. I knew my grandfather was a lowlander and my grandmother a highlander. In my child’s mind I took this to mean that my grandmother lived up the hill and my grandad somewhere at the bottom and one day they happened to meet in the middle. A mixture of growing up, knowledge and experience have adjusted what I know to be the truth but I still remember fondly my childish explanation.

I wonder how my sons see the world, and how this is changing over time. They were born in London and have only lived here so far so experience-wise they don’t know any different. But they are obviously exposed to the media and the news which has considerable influence. I wonder how they perceive their New Zealand heritage, whether they think about it at all? They never mention it. Will this change as they grow older and seek wider pastures and more knowledge about their heritage?

My recent art work developed from a trip to Derbyshire did not just include the local landscape or my reaction to that landscape. I was studying my oldest son as he sat on the ground surveying the scene during one of our trips out and was wondering how he was currently viewing the world in front of him and how this might change as his thought processes matured. I’m in the middle of creating an art piece on this, combining aspects of the landscape, environment and this idea of an individual’s changing perspective.

The attach image is work in progress and I call it ‘Alex’s changing perspective’.


I have been continuing my work on my Moor series which was instigated by a trip away to Derbyshire. I’ve extended this remit to essentially include the more wildish aspects of the UK countryside as I normally spend most of my time in a city and urban environment.

What I notice most about being on a moor or open expanses of countryside is the infinity aspect where one can stare out into the distance for as far as the eye can see. No more buildings obstructing ones views and dreams from my usual ground floor perspective. Also the light is different and more changeable. In London, the predominant colour of the sky is grey followed by more grey. Having for years missed the light and bright blue skies of NZ it’s a blessed relief to see more dynamic and exciting skies.

As I make my art, different things spring to mind. Bits of poetry and literature, where others too have been influenced by their natural surrounds. The Moor in particular inspired the well known Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’, Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’, W.H Auden’s poem ‘In praise of limestone’ to name a few.

The Moor is perceived as being wild and mysterious. The unstructured, the uncontrollable – refusing to be defined by man’s hand however much we try to contain its borders and development.There is something humbling and grounded about being surrounded by countryside. The whole thing about feeling just a small part of it, a tiny entity situated in the wider landscape.

The knowledge that hidden away but within close proximity is a variety of wildlife. This lurking delights and intrigues me and I often wish I could just sit in wait, hidden myself to see what might appear. I can quite understand the occasional story of a big beast or cat being seen on the Moors and how these stories are sensationalised in the news. If I were a wild animal a moor is precisely where I would head as well. A place to completely run free like a car without a speed limit. The enigmatic power of a beast roaming free, unpredictable and relentless in its bid for freedom. Ted Hughes poetry springs to mind.

We tend to romanticise these untamed spaces, delighting in the colours and moods the craggy environment displays. There is also often areas of dense bracken or woodland – many probably introduced by man in the first place. But somehow even these inscrutable spaces appeal to our sense of relief and surrender. There is nothing to prove in places like these. It’s not just about being at one with nature but we can’t help but come face to face with the reality of ourselves.

The pieces I’m working on take a long time to do. Photography followed by digital editing and some montaging, then deliberately roughly collaged onto surfaces I have put together myself. The handmade is an important part of the process for this series of work. It’s like working on the land. It wouldn’t have felt right to use pre- made and already primed canvases. Then it’s all about preparing the surfaces ready for painting. Matt varnish x 2 layers followed by 2 layers of clear primer – waiting to dry between each layer – like a ritual or preparing for the growing of crops.

The gaps between the collaged bits are deliberate – scars in the land; carved out and defining the shapes in the surface. Colour is equally important. Purples, pinks, greys, greens, browns, and yellows of various shades try to encapsulate the wide variety of hues of the ever changing landscape.

One of the things I plan to do whilst working on this moor series is to apply some of the same techniques and practices that I use on my urban city pieces. For example I like to seek out the patterns and movements that my original photographs suggest to me and emulate these with drawing and painting onto the collaged image – my interventions; walking with my fingers, instinctively using touch at a basic level to respond to what I see in front of me. The works I display here are not finished and I don’t know how these will turn out. Each has its own journey in terms of what and how paint or other material is applied. I like to let my processes guide me.


Much of my recent art has been about the graffiti, shadows, reflections and gritty periphery side of urban areas and cities. It is also about how all these aspects blend with the corners of my thoughts – both conscious and subconscious.

In counterpoint to this I recently spent a week in Derbyshire and wanted to explore my response to the wilder areas of the moors and countryside. I have been reading the book ‘The Moor – A journey into the English wilderness’ by William Atkins and his detailed accounts and personal reflections on the ecology, history, and influences on literature of English moors. This book has inspired me to take those ideas and practices I use within a city to a completely different environment.

As usual my work starts with documenting via photography the surrounding landscape, both close-ups of wild plants and surrounds to distant rolling hills. I am interested in the light and how it falls, the different textures, colours, movement and the natural shapes the landscape suggests to me. The idea of using references from relevant literature appeals to me greatly and I am thinking about how I could incorporate this.

As a child growing up in New Zealand I use to frequently imagine the wild and deserted areas of Scotland. My grandparents were Scottish and this connection no doubted whetted my appetite. Once in the UK, the Scottish Moors did not disappoint. The landscapes, mountains and ever changing colours of Rannoch Moor filled me with wonder and I would dreamily imagine I was that tragic and brave heroine in a novel striding across the moors, hair and skirt flowing behind me.

Now I’m back in London I only have secondary material to work from, such as photographs and literature. In a way this may be useful in that I can focus on the purely visual aspects and literary descriptions of Moor land which should keep my work quite focused.

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