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.


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Readiness

Where do I start? It appears that my art musings are somewhat patchy yet again. However I do feel that there  is a connection and a convergence in a way which I will try to explain.

I was recently diagnosed with Breast Cancer and whilst I am very fortunate that it has been caught early, it does completely screw with one’s brain. As I was waiting in one of the BC sub-waiting rooms in a NHS hospital, my eye was drawn to a piece of art on the wall – the only piece of art on this particular wall. It was a print by Helen Chadwick, and beautiful as one would expect from this deceased artist’s work. She often combined landscape and body in her work and this piece was no exception. However this piece looked like a breast cancer lump. I don’t care how apt this is, and maybe to the medical specialists within the premises this was an artwork that appealed to their combined intellectual and aesthetic senses. But to a BC patient, stuck in an incredibly silent room where this work is the only thing to look at instead of into the eyes of the other very subdued BC patients, this did not feel good.

Anyway, the only positive thing that has come out of this unpleasant encounter was that I started to think about what I do want to look at in my current predicament. I am still having a play with pattern, surface, text and mixed media. I alluded in last month’s blog about trying to explore my roots a bit, namely my New Zealand background. I have been continuing with quick drawings of patterns within the landscape using old New Zeland photography books. I have also been looking at patterns and colours from Morocco and other Arabic and oriental references. The lush and exotic colour combinations appeal to me and I am keen to try to emulate these in my work.

It is clearly indulgent escapism on my part and my explorations on Aotearoa are probably a nostalgic yearning to revisit my country of birth; no doubt enhanced by my recent increased conversations with friends and family over there. Here in the UK; even in liberal and culturally diverse London, it feels like that the non-English are being marginalised and that this is a noose that is becoming tighter. However I like to resist and actually try to consider myself global rather than profess to a narrow definition of who I am by nationality, as to me that feels reductive and unfortunately these days kind of anti-humanist. This is not to denounce or devalue in anyway the richness and importance of cultural heritage.

Anyway, I digress. What this all means is that I am having a lovely time focusing on the patterns, textures and colours of this diverse and wondrous world as I prefer to see it – in a rather random and unapologetic way. I am keen to explore and combine these cross culturally and joyfully. Prior to my surgery I bashed together a couple of stretchers with canvases and as I recover, my non-sore side has been happily sealing and priming these surfaces in readiness for future playful endeavours.


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My my, we are well into February aren’t we. Art-wise what have I got to show for it? It certainly has been a patchy month. Having received 2 bits of news, (one bad and one sad), I have to confess I have been very distracted. It’s probably easier just to list the art stuff I have done with a little explanation for each.

‘Home’ Series
I have very slowly been working on my ‘Home’ series. I introduced these late last year. I have started a couple of them again from scratch as I wasn’t at all happy with them. They are mixed media pieces of work as normal but much more figurative than I would normally produce and I have had a tendency to overwork them. I have to keep reminding myself what I am trying to achieve with these. This being as I have discussed before, a modern day interpretation of the paintings of Vilhelm Hammershoi – focusing on the simplicity within the home with an emphasis of light, shadow and space. Ironically I seem to have to give them space after working on them for even just a bit. I think this is because silence and time are the true essence of these pieces.

Rubbish collection
I have collected a few bits of rubbish and primed them ready to use them as surfaces but I would like to collect more before making a concerted start on them. The idea of what I am going to do with them is growing and morphing in my head and I need it to brew for quite a bit longer. Currently one thing I plan, is to continue with the idea of pattern that I used in my ‘Migrants’ and ‘Jewels’ work, but maybe this time introduce some of my own New Zealand heritage into them.

Text and drawing
Also I like the idea of introducing text into the work. In another life time I did a Humanities degree in New Zealand and alongside this studied literature and poetry, including New Zealand poetry. It spoke to me. James K Baxter, Bill Manhire, Hone Tuwhare… All these years later and their words still reverberate. I have no idea of recent day New Zealand poets – this is definitely something else to explore. But I like the idea of including words and poetry within my visual art – kind of like the past and famous New Zealand painter ‘Colin McCahon’ who did this. I’m not quite there yet – it’s slowly fermenting. I need the words and the connections to manifest themselves and the news I have received lately would appear to have temporarily silenced me. So I am letting myself write and draw more with pen, without thinking, just doing. I like the freshness and naivety of this approach.


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Uninspired workings

I’m back to collecting rubbish. Strangely the streets are relatively rubbish free at the moment so I will have to give it time. The reason I am back to collecting local debris is because of what I am currently doing art wise.

I had been feeling particularly uninspired since Christmas. In fact I haven’t written for a couple of months. It had been a busy November and December as I was involved in a couple exhibitions plus Christmas at my home is a bit of a festival of cooking art event in itself.

Come January I entrenched myself in the studio to see if I could kick start myself into anything but it hasn’t been easy. One of the big advantages of this type of situation is that I get so frustrated that I get to the point I think ‘to hell with it’ and just get started on anything.

A few months ago I had begun work on my refugee series and this had come as a complete standstill. It wasn’t that they weren’t working as such, but more that my initial ideas for developing them felt flat. Looking back at these small pieces on canvas I started to paint into them. I realised as I worked how inspired I was by the ‘Making and Unmaking’ exhibition by Duro Olowu that was on at the Camden Arts Centre last year. It certainly had lingered on in my head and I think that perhaps the vibrancy and positive vibe of this exhibition was just the thing I needed to propel me into a new art year.

My initial work had originated from internet and media images of refugees and migrants. I then had digitally manipulated these images to focus on the small things, blurring the faces of the individuals concerned as an utterance about invisible voices. Whilst this premise is as valid and importance as ever, I needed personally to have a different focus and to cut loose a little.

I started playing with the patterns, shapes and colours within these pieces. I seemed to be abstracting the abstract. I like the idea that I was using the materials and textures of the clothing of the refugees as a way forward, celebrating the beauty and preciousness of cultural diversity.

They are very small so physically hard for me to work on. It was easier to work on them all at once so I didn’t get too tied up with them. It also meant that I was continually refreshing my aspect with them and seeing new potential every time. Some of them have lost their original visual context but I think this has made them more successful.

I tried not to think about them too much but just enjoyed the doing. It has helped me think about my next steps and how I would like to work on the same basis but using the debris that I find around me. So we are back to the rubbish….


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November is a busy month for me. I was fortunate to have 3 small art pieces selected for the 2016 ING Discerning Eye exhibition taking place 17 – 27 November at the Mall Galleries in London, SW1. In addition I have been asked to do an artist demonstration at the Friends and Members evening on the 16th November. As there are quite a number of processes involved in my work, I had to think long and hard as how to achieve this and make the most of this opportunity.

I have decided its best I take a ‘Blue Peter’ type approach where I have various pieces ready at different stages to work upon. This takes away the necessity of demonstrating the computer and digital aspects of my work which whilst important to my process would make rather dull viewing. Also at times, as with most artists, my working can become extremely messy. However I don’t think doing this in a smart gallery, with people with drinks milling about would be advisable either.

Hence the necessity to get cracking on my work at different stages. The pieces that were selected for the exhibition were essentially about bits of the urban environment, buildings, trees and weeds coming together in a kind of urban collage, using my mixed media processes. I wanted to carry on with this idea of using my urban and every day surroundings as inspiration.

I recalled this fantastic exhibition at the Royal Academy years ago by a Danish Artist called Vilhelm Hammershoi. Austerity, limited tonal palettes, glimpses of a person from behind or side on sitting or standing looking out a window or walking from one place to another, interiors of houses, more specially bits of a room, simply focusing on the space, light and shadow. The works are understated, quiet, celebrating the banality of the everyday.

I decided to do a modern take on this, using my own home and family, but with a slight twist. Yes, I used a limited palette but rather than the neutral colours that Hammershoi employed, mine are much more vivid. I also included singular people in my works going about their business, but in a contemporary environment, such as using a computer, or wearing headphones. I also focused on bits of my home’s interior such as corners, the walls, landings and hallways, emphasising the space, light and shadows.

This of course I did using my own mixed media processes. Starting with photography as the first instance, then digitally simplifying and playing with the photographs until I roughly get the image that I want to eventually paint and draw upon on canvas or board. I display a couple of the digital images here. My plan for the demo is to have a number of pieces at various stages to give a flavour of what I do. Wish me luck.


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Little voices

Sometimes there is a natural lull in one’s art work. Caught between a mixture of wanting to try new things completely, to wanting to use my tried and tested methods to communicate current concerns. Ideally I should both.

My present dilemma surrounds 8 very small canvases I am working upon. Actually, its early days – I am still at the stage of playing with images digitally with the view that they are likely to end up on these small canvas squares. These works follow on from my squashed drink can migrant and refugee series called ‘Jewels’. These recently were on display in a UAL one night pop-up exhibition called PArt of Us which focused on the potential of creative ventures engaging with social issues (with special emphasis on the Calais Jungle.)

My new works in progress are focusing on the materials and patterns that the refugees wear, trying to emphasise the preciousness and uniqueness of each and every person by drawing out the vibrancy and detail of their clothing and material items around them, even though it seems the people themselves get lost in the pure volume and numbers we see in the media every day.

Using photos from newspapers as a starting point, I used photo-shop to hide the features of individual people and then digitally drew on the images to illustrate items of material. I found it to be an uncomfortable working practice eliminating the faces of people but that was kind of the point. I am hoping that the deliberate obscuring may in fact emphasise the opposite.

Anyway, my dilemma is to do with the fact I keep changing my mind in how I think I should approach these works from both a composition and technical point of view. I feel uneasy and unworthy of trying to communicate the magnitude and complexity of this political and emotive issue. These are very little pieces and it is with a very little voice I try to communicate. It mirrors the huge sense of powerlessness I believe many of us feel surrounding this.


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