It’s good to review what has been happening. End of the year is as good a place as any, and lots of other people are doing the same so I might as well join in!

As I read my diary and look back on the things I’ve done, 2022 seems to have been a year of looking outwards into the world, spreading further, and making plans to go further in 2023. 2021 was a more introspective year I think.

I have continued to show work with the RBSA, and continued conversations with fellow members, and I have had a particular interest in showing up for a small Crit Group I was invited to join.

Drawing Songs drew to a close in January. I started to collect things – particularly twigs – on my daily walks. My intention was to feed the abstract, to ground myself after the internal, cerebral nature of Drawing Songs… to look outward, deliberately. The drawing of the twigs and lichen became an almost obsessive cataloguing.

Alongside this early in the year, I note the completely failed expedition into trying to show and sell work at the RedBrick Market in Birmingham. It failed commercially. I sold nothing, and nothing (in comparison to my fellow artists) was stolen either. A complete waste of money and time and effort. But hey ho. I had a couple of nice outings there with my friend Sarah Bagshaw, and I learned something. This was NOT my audience. That can sometimes be a painful thing to learn but I was actually heartened to discover that I do have an audience for my work and that I have found that with the RBSA… not without its faults, of course, but it is more aligned with how I think of myself perhaps.

I’ve continued writing, rehearsing and performing with The Sitting Room. We are now back to the original trio we started with, and it is a thing of joy. We are working hard on new material nearly all the time, and have a good collaborative relationship. We have just recorded our third EP, called Three or maybe 3… undecided as yet. It’s sounding good. Produced by Michael Clarke, who also did Drawing Songs with me. It will be released soon… final mixing and mastering happening at the moment.

In another period of outward looking, I found myself over the spring and early summer working with Helen Garbett and Bill Laybourne (Workshop24) again on a social art project called Radio Public. Social art is not a thing I usually do. But under the guidance of Bill and Helen I found it rewarding, and stimulating, and again, good to look out at the world around me. I am happy to turn up at anything they put on. Always fun, and also always peppered with interesting and thought provoking conversations with intelligent people who know different things to the things I know… I hope I will be doing more with them in 2023.

I also was selected to show work in the WM Open at New Art Gallery Walsall. This felt like a very special occasion, and it was good to look around the room at other artists I admire and follow, feeling I was among friends and comrades. I have also benefitted hugely from online and email conversations with both Kate Murdoch and Stuart Mayes… thank you both for keeping me going!

This year of venturing out (physically as well as artistically and intellectually) also has seen me become more active in a political sense. I have been a member of the labour party for a few years now, but couldn’t really see how as an artist I could offer anything. This year though I have been painting placards, and encouraging others to do the same. Small steps. I have had a few conversations about my new work too, as for the first time I find myself doing work that sits very firmly in the political sphere.

My work drawing twigs turned into twig wrapping, and then became an exploration into the statistics of child poverty in my area, and after talking to my councillor and the team at local Labour HQ, I have decided these wrapped, cared-for twigs will stand as metaphor for the 33% (ish) of children in my area that live in poverty. Fellow artist and poet Rick Sanders and I , inspired by the Bank Job film made by Dan Edelstyn and Hilary Powell, have decided we will do some social art in our community, in the park where I have collected most of my twigs, and hopefully with one of the local schools too.

Following a conversation with the RBSA, I submitted a proposition, which was accepted, to put on a solo show in May 2023, called Five, Six, Pick Up Sticks. It will be a challenge I think, but one I am definitely up for!

I became a member of RBSA in 2021, and I was the first artist ever to include a sound piece in their candidates’ submission. This still feels like a big deal, and I’m very proud of this. RBSA had an extraordinary general meeting in 2022 to allow photography, and a wider range of media to be accepted, and this motion was overwhelmingly agreed. It feels like the time is right to push gently at boundaries. This is why I feel like I am in the right place. I have been asked to help select the applicants for next year’s Graduate Artists Programme. This is such an honour and privilege and I am thrilled to be part of this movement towards opening up the society to a broader range of art and a broader demographic group of artists too. A gently push to move a 200 yr old rock into the future, so that it has a future!

I was also asked to be a judge for the Frontier Gallery Open exhibition at Exchange Studios in Sheffield this month. It is the first time I have done such a thing, but really great to be part of another art conversation with my fellow judges.

As I read back over this, it does seem a bit like a trumpet blowing exercise, but there are lots of things I failed at too. Two more rejections for small funds, and yet another rejection from the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize. It’s not all rosy. I think it is important to state both sides… it can be tough. I am still broke. The ACE money ran out quickly. But I have another application in for funding the solo show, and intend to apply for something for the Pick Up Sticks community work with Rick too.

In amongst all of this, I have had to apply to renew my passport! Debra Eck has asked me to revisit the USA in the spring, and also to ship over a load of work for a mini-retrospective exhibition of my practice over the last ten years. I am so thrilled by this, and look forward to 2023 with huge enthusiasm and excitement! (Hoping my knees stand up to the stresses!)

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Due to all sorts of reasons, I’ve not been in the studio now for over a week. The cold weather, having a few days away, impending Christmas holidays and the possibility of doing some computer based work at home have made me lazy.

It’s not good for me to be away for so long really because I lose my rhythm. How do other artists feel about being away from their work over holiday periods? I’m ok for a few days and then I get a bit twitchy and feel the need.

I have a very busy 2023 ahead of me, more details later, as things get sorted, but initially I need to make a list of work from the last ten years or so that shows a sweep of my practice, in order to ship it out for an exhibition. Not a retrospective exactly, but a sort of pick and mix, maybe a mini-retrospective? This is definitely focussing my mind somewhat! I’ve done LOADS – so what to choose? Are my favourite pieces necessarily the ones that tell the best story? I expect before I send them off, I will change my mind several times! And also, which music?

This afternoon I am at home again, sat at the computer, writing this blog post, but also listening to the first mixes of the band’s third EP (called intriguingly ‘3’) to send back to the gloriously talented Michael Clarke who is producing it. I worked with him on Drawing Songs, and he truly is a miracle worker. 

I feel the need to decorate the tree and make mince pies. But while I do this I keep thinking of the work in the studio. And when I am in the studio all I can think about is mince pies and painting something festive on my front window. I’ll be like this till about 3rd January I expect… and then it’ll take me ages to get back into a rhythm.

I am torn!

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It was Stuart Mayes, writing in his blog about having “a band” of artists, (Project Me 11/11/22)  like a band of musicians… that’s what started me thinking. I’m in a band of musicians and the way it functions is very different to life in the studio, working alone. I like working both ways, but have often thought that the world of art could take a leaf out of the musicians’ handbook on a few things.

In the band, we regard the thing we are making as the most important. I am the main vocalist, but some songs, Andy and Ian take on. It’s good to have variety in a set, particularly a long one, and also, some songs just sound better with a male voice, one or the other, they have very different voices. But the thing is, those three voices blend well, so it depends on the song, lyrically, or musically, they might work better with a voice other than mine. A couple of songs we have done just with one guitarist. Ian and I wrote a lullaby that sounds great with just his guitar, so we left it that way. What I have found is that musicians (these musicians at least) are not bothered about ego, they just want to have had a part in making a good song.

Sometimes (not always, but sometimes) visual artists are very much more concerned about their own work, and giving things up to a group is difficult. They might be concerned that their message is watered down, or out of their control if they share any of its making.

The work I make in the studio, particularly at the moment the project I am doing with the twigs, concerning child poverty, is most definitely mine. But there are aspects of the issues I am working with that can, and possibly should, be shared, in order to widen the audience. So in addition to the work that will eventually be hung in the RBSA gallery in May, I have other irons in the fire, working with poet Rick Sanders on a school based project, and also something in the spring in the local park, community based. The details are yet to be worked out, but to have someone to talk things through with, and share the load, is great. It also leads me to things that wouldn’t be manageable on my own.

I have been working too, sporadically with Bill and Helen at Workshop24. When I work with them, I take a sort of empty head. I like to go with no preconceptions about what I will make or contribute, preferring to riff off what happens in the room. Sometimes there’s a prompt, sometimes not. But it becomes like a jam session. We all have knowledge and experiences, that when you get in the room with other artists, if everyone is open to it, you end up with work that would not have been impossible on your own. It is a real privilege then, to see how others work, and soak up what they know, and how they go about things. It is huge fun and always informative.

So I think the idea of a Band of Artists is a really good idea. Maybe we can borrow some of the other language of the genre, to remind us it’s a different way of working? Make an album… Jamming… Riffing… Verses and choruses? Drum solo? Maybe not… More cowbell?

It doesn’t take away from the solo performance, but adds a new dimension and a bit of adventure and most of all camaraderie. We all need support and friendship.

Lullaby #2 Lyrics by Elena Thomas Music by Ian Sutherland