B.A (Hons) Fine Art, based at K College’s Henwood Campus, Ashford. My blogger profile: www.a-n.co.uk/p/1650297
Now that the degree show has opened in Chatham, it’s time for my last post.
I’ve been thinking about why it’s meant so much to me. Why have I been trying so hard to prove myself, and to whom?
In 2000 I told my ceramics tutor at MassArt, Ben Ryterband, that I was dropping out to get married. As he walked down the corridor, he turned dramatically (as actors in American movies do) and said, “You’re good.” I held on to that for years, probably because I felt it was all I had.
When I came to the UK as a 21 year old newlywed, it was with the promise that I could start again where I’d left off, but that went unfulfilled. All of my ideas hung in the air, and getting to grips with my new life, and what I was supposed to be from then on, made my former art practice seem alien and out of place. Was it actually any good?
At first, I didn’t have a kiln, so I tried to go back to painting. Nothing worked. I had no confidence at all left. Most of my ambitions or ideas were batted away with, “You wouldn’t be able to do that,” or, “You can’t.” I believed it eventually. I assembled a ceramics studio and spent my free time working away at that, but without the grand, groundbreaking result that would convince the world (and myself) that yes, I was actually good. By the time I was expecting my son, and could no longer reach into a top-loading kiln with my expansive pregnant belly, I felt that I could never get myself back.
After I discovered a few years later that my husband didn’t exactly share my view of monogamy – or living with me, for that matter – I sold the entire contents of my ceramics studio in a panic for £100 and moved a few villages away. Sewing handbags and cushions to sell to country ladies wasn’t the worst thing in the world, but it just wasn’t worth it after all the work I put into it. And I put a lot of work into it, mostly at night when my son was asleep. Apart from the laborious nature of the work, I just fell out of love with it. It wasn’t me, but I hadn’t been me for years. It came down to now-or-never, do the degree or forget about it forever. The plan: be practical, become a teacher for the term-time work, and that’ll take care of the single mother/scapegoat for society’s woes problem. Then I could get far away from here. But what was I good at again?
I was nervous when I started the course in the second year of the HND, because I wanted to prove that they’d made the right decision in letting me in at that stage. As soon as I realised that it was alright, the goals changed; I had to prove that I hadn’t wasted all those years, that I was still good at this. But good enough for whom? Or what?
Where did this obsession with validation come from? I think it’s come from so many years of being unfulfilled and unhappy, and trying to make up for lost time. Sometimes I think of how my life would be if I’d have done my four years at MassArt… would I have gone back to Barbados, or stayed in Boston? I never had any plans whatsoever to even visit England on holiday. Of course, I couldn’t change anything, because I couldn’t imagine my life without my son.
Since September, I’ve learned an amazing amount about myself – what I’m capable of, what I’m not good at, and what I want to do. Being a primary/secondary teacher isn’t on my list. I’ve realised that all of those years weren’t wasted, but that they’ve made me the driven, focused worker I am today. Now, I’ve got my first-class honours degree. I know it doesn’t define my real value, but means a lot to me, a lot more than it could ever have done if I’d have finished it nine years ago. I do know now that the only person I wanted to prove anything to was myself. And now that I’ve done it, whatever comes next is going to be all right.
My neighbour’s music is once again seeping through the brick wall as if it were nothing more than a sheet, but as soon as I started to stir some indignation, I realised that this time it’s a live Peter Gabriel dvd, and I can’t think of any way to complain about Peter Gabriel. Apart from the sound being a bit muffled, and not being able to watch it.
In a way I’ve looked forward to this post and dreaded it at the same time, because of having to admit to what an extraordinarily emotional week I’ve had since the show opened. What on earth was that all about? Fatigue, mostly. After pushing uphill towards the goal of the opening on Friday night, I got to the top and promptly rolled down the other side, and ended up aching all over. All of Saturday was spent in the house, most of it lying flat and near comatose, apart from having to feed Mr. T and the birds. After campaigning for the Saturday opening, I was too knackered to make use of it. When I did get up, I could do nothing but fret about not getting the jobs I’d already applied for, and frantically search for more.
Feeling better on Sunday afternoon, I decided I had to make use of the last two hours of South East Open Studios, as I’d found out there were two on the other side of my village. I dragged myself and the boy out to walk around to the artists’ houses, which coincidentally were side-by-side, semi-detached cottages; the proverbial two birds to my one stone. It seemed like a good thing to do, to see real people making the art they wanted, without a module, crit or brief in sight. I should do the Open Studios next year just to see how the village reacts to my post-Goldsmiths work…
Now I can waffle, but my talent for waffling has been tested to the limit. Mavernie, our course leader, brought some college bigwigs over to my space on the opening night and bade me speak about the work. So I spoke, and I’m not sure, but I think it made some kind of sense. I can’t really remember now, as I was exhausted, running on fumes (and a glass of Private View wine, naturally) and obsessed with trying to stop my labels from falling off the wall. I did stay nearby and chatted with viewers, and I’m sure I managed to appear normal throughout. By the time Monday and the final crit came around, I’d perked up enough to string some more fluff together about the project and the way it had progressed, and all that. We know each other’s work so well now, though, that it turned into quite a good little chat. It also helped immensely that Ellie served up tea, cake and chocolates from her protest tent throughout the entire day. I’ll be disappointed by any performance art that doesn’t involve tea from now on.
We left feeling buoyant, but the next day, the tension returned with the arrival of the external valuator, Deborah Gardner. We tried to come up with ideas to pass the time as we waited in the refectory to be called in individually. I was last. By that time, I’d really had enough of talking about the work. I was also struggling with the fact that I still hadn’t had any success with my job search, and was becoming increasingly depressed about it. Having an unjustifiable amount of pride doesn’t help in that regard. I felt like a week-old party balloon. Still, I did my usual thing – talked and talked and talked.
Since then, mercifully, I haven’t had to say too much. I wobbled my way through the unemployment blues like a kite without a tail, but managed to emerge yesterday. Having a cackle whilst invigilating with Kate Linforth helped, as did hearing lots of praise for my work from some more bigwigs brought my way by Mavernie – from the council this time. Getting a package full of chocolate goodies from Ireland when I got home sealed the deal! Today, the first artist whose studio I visited on Sunday came to the show, which was a lovely surprise. I didn’t mind talking about the work then. But I’m definitely looking forward to a week of shutting up before setting up in Chatham for next Friday’s opening.
Shattered only just begins to approach my current physical state – pulverised seems far more adequate for tonight. After a late night/early morning spent squatting on the living room floor, screwing frames together into a strange jigsaw arrangement, I was wondering how I would find the energy to stand up straight at the opening. My knees didn’t want to co-operate. Yet somehow I did manage to stand up straight, in shoes, whilst holding a glass of wine, and speak mostly coherent things on demand. In the end, the construction dramas faded away, the shelves I made looked just fine once they had their respective Philips atop them, and I decided that I did not, after all, hate all of my paintings as I had done at 2 a.m the night before. But I’m too tired to say much more, so I shall have to expand on the night that was my degree show opening in the week to come.
Since Wednesday the dismantling of the studios has been attacked with a real vigour that’s buoyed us all up, but it’s wearing off a little now. I’m tired. Poor Xanthus is exhausted by the amount of work still left to do with mounting his 420 paintings, and as the only one of us with any training in construction, he’s ended up doing a lot in the studios. I’ve been going to the college for the last two mornings and then driving over to Stour Valley Arts’ gallery to do my afternoon shifts, and trying to finish my work in the evenings. I’ve also been prodding everyone to get their cards printed for the catalogue, which has meant performing a bit of late-night photoshop surgery on others’ photographs. As long as they all arrive before the show opens, it’ll be fine. It’ll be fine.
Although I’d had enough of dismantling walls and marking out new ones, I did go to Jon Adams’ talk at the gallery on Wednesday night. I thought it would be interesting in itself, and also an interesting insight on the delivery of artists’ talks in general. I wasn’t wrong – I was very surprised at just how much the exhibition came alive for me because of the presentation, and very glad I made the effort. In fact, it might have led to other things as well. Beforehand, I was speaking to Dan, SVA’s curator, about Goldsmiths (he’s an alumnus) and my plans for writing, and today at the gallery, the acting director asked me if I would write a piece on Jon’s talk. After that, I managed to tell her about my idea of SVA holding an open submission exhibition – I was chatting about this with Kate L. a few weeks ago – as a way of forming links with the local arts network, and y’know what? I think it went down quite well! Since I won’t be disappearing down to Portsmouth any more, I’d better see what I can do to stir things up close to home.
I’ll need to divvy up my time carefully in the next few weeks though. Even though the show will be up by this time next week, I’ve got quite a few things to fit in after that. The piece on the talk/exhibition, first of all, then scheduling a few regular articles for two culture blogs I volunteered to write for a few months ago which have just come back to me, and of course, rehearsals for the band projects. I’m only sure about one of them going ahead because I seem to have lost the emails from the new group, and can’t quite remember what I said to them or even when I said I’d say something to them.
There’s still a firm offer from the original band, an offshoot of the 10-piece I temped with last year. They’ve got a fantastic bass player from a well known 80s band (whose biggest hit always gets played at all the weddings I’ve been to – I’ll say no more) so they won’t be needing me for that. However, I did get an email asking if I could play guitar. I said yes. A week after getting that email, I finally got the guitars down from the wall with their mocking, dust-encrusted headstocks, and tried to get my fingers around their six teeny strings when what they really want is four fat ones. Well, I’m pleased to say that the results weren’t as crushing as I thought they’d be! I can still find B7 from C without too much trouble, but there’s no way I want to actually have to do this in front of a professional musician. The days when I’m not invigilating at the degree show until the rehearsal on the 23rd are going to be spent in intensive practise sessions until I’ve got some level of confidence up.
It’s fairly important that I give these groups a good shot, as worryingly, they’re my only promise of paid work post-graduation. I’ve been applying hither and yon, but admittedly, only for jobs that I actually want. Of course, everyone wants them, and there’s the issue of experience. I’m experienced, but probably not in that minutely specific way each one seems to expect. Soon I’ll be going for more generalised office-type gigs, I suppose. Still, a gig’s a gig.
I don’t have room for uncertainty. I’ve been through enough of it in my life and nothing rankles with me more. That’s why I need a plan, or a list, or some kind of diagram. And that’s why the last seven days have been such a – dare I employ such a cliché – rollercoaster ride.
Seven days ago I received an offer of a place at Goldsmiths.
Six days ago I drove to Portsmouth to spend some time with my boyfriend, went to Art Space Portsmouth’s open studios event, did some carving and got some difficult news from an old friend.
Five days ago I asked my boyfriend a question and got an answer I didn’t like, fell out with the old friend, bought some sandpaper for my sculpture, did some more carving, got into the car, sobbed briefly and drove back to Kent.
Four days ago I went to an interview at UCA for an MA course, patched things up with my old friend, patched up my soap sculpture, cleared up my space in the sculpture room and had an awkward phone call with my boyfriend.
Three days ago I poured some plaster around a ceramic face, talked about shelves and plinths, got an amazing mark for my dissertation, grinned for the whole day, decided that my boyfriend was right, tried to work on my sketchbook but ended up listening to rocksteady and reggae on YouTube and skanking around the living room.
Two days ago I went into college with a head full of Toots and the Maytals, sang in the sculpture room and got caught by a fashion tutor, worked on my sketchbook and curation essay, took some of my equipment home, worked on a bursary application, planned with my boyfriend for his visit over the weekend, played a lot of dancehall and dub and danced around some more.
Yesterday I went into college, worried about how I would manage to go to Goldsmiths, worked on my sketchbook and curation essay, volunteered at my son’s school, barely maintained my sanity in the midst of the baying herd of children, stayed up far too late re-writing the essay and evaluation, and thought about how well things were going with my life.
Today I went into college to print my paperwork and hand it in with the sketchbook, rushed to Stour Valley Arts gallery with my son tagging along as it was a teacher training day, set up the gallery and spoke to a visitor about the show, received an unexpected email from my boyfriend, read the email, tried to understand it, replied, read the reply, replied, read the reply, asked for a decision, broke up with my boyfriend, smiled at the gallery administrator and drove home.
During the course of writing this blog I’ve been worrying out loud about all sorts of things. From the very start I was sweating about doing an MA, and now I’ve got a plan for that. Now I need to come up with a plan for working it around a small child, but I’ll do my best. I’ll sweat about it a bit as well, but that’s what I do. I worried about the process of recording relationships in my artwork, and now I’ve done just that with my last, as well as recording its beginning and end in public prose. I managed to experience the very transition to ex-dom I described… and dreaded. Never mind; it’s a risky and usually painful thing, having relationships as a fundamental part of my practice. But I’m a big girl. There’s a kind of poetry in having painted parentheses around this part of my life, in which Luke featured. As for the future? Right now I can only think fourteen days ahead, when all of this work will reach its peak and the show will open.
In the meantime, I have Toots.