Tuesday, 30 August 2011


Performance art is weird isn’t it? It straddles the gap between mime, acting and unfortunately, on occasions, straightforward annoyance. But I was truly eager to try it, perhaps more than anything else on my ever lengthening art-to-do list, which is why on one glorious sunny day, I was seen wearing (please no – not a bunny costume!) a bunny costume while wandering around a park.

Whenever I witness performance in a gallery, I am never sure exactly how to react: do you applaud, or ignore it? Maybe critique it as you would a painting, or stand and gaze in awe? It’s so very difficult.

I’ve seen a few performances recently: one involved a breathless woman skipping around whilst reciting snatched phrases from a script. Most people sat still and scratched their chins (when not glaring at me, the philistine who forgot to turn off her mobile phone. Really sorry about that.)

Another was unexpected and sinister: two cloaked figures brandished small ornamental pyramids and enacted an elaborate ritual, to rapturous applause when - eventually - it ended.

And I’m still wondering: when performance occurs outside gallery confines, where does it exist? Is it real only when others can see it in the form of a film and/or photograph, or do you have to be there? I plan to use the subsequent photographs for some more photomontages, but seriously, to enjoy the performance itself, you really had to experience it yourself.

My make-shift costume was resonant of, but did not replicate, a bunny. I met a friend/collaborator in a park, who managed to attach the home-made rabbit ears. I couldn’t see a thing when wearing the eye-patches painted over with tippex, which was the point of it all. I walked aimlessly around, pausing to pose for photos (and messed the image up slightly by having a bulging carrier and handbag in full shot.)

The totem/metaphor for my time spent blind has become a giant bunny rabbit (it looked like a bunny – it was actually a man waving his arms around.) That bunny has been appearing in my paintings, but the vision of a huge rabbit must have come from my own unconscious memory. It is part of me, so I absorbed and became it.

I didn’t bother with the full-on furry bunny costume I toyed with previously (most notably for graduation day at the art-school I decline to name, an omission I now deeply regret.) For the performance, it would have too much, more so than bunny ears. As I wandered around amongst some lush foliage pausing next to street lamps apparently straight out of Narnia (how appropriate) everything made sense. I couldn’t imagine painting or sewing about this one moment in my life, that is, showing others what I had seen, namely a giant bunny.

Onlookers remained aloof, although I had been willing to engage with them. People were curious, but this event occurred next to an art gallery, so perhaps rabbit-related performance art is commonplace. Please note: I am available for formal functions. See my agent – the guy with long ears and big teeth.

Friday, 26 August 2011


I joke about an awful lot around here, but on this point I am deadly serious: the artists I know are some of the cleverest people I have ever met: universally and routinely erudite, eloquent, literate, informed, storing a specialised knowledge which is carefully shared and generally worn lightly.

Also – they are philosophers. Seriously, they can’t order a shandy without quoting Badiou, which put me in something of a quandary, if not a major disadvantage. I am not schooled in  philosophy, especially aesthetics. When anyone suggests I try, I start to sulk, mumbling: ‘can’t make me.’ When I mentioned this, the artists insisted that philosophy would help. At certain institutions, philosophers were even kept on hand in case of emergencies: “…quick – pass the Plato. No – wrong man, stupid. He’s having an existential crisis!”

But if I am to be a real artist, that is – a wise and learned one, then I must play the game, which means reading (or actually studying) philosophy. And I’ve tried. Honest. I read Aristotle, but he didn’t work (made him sound like a floor-cleaner, haven’t I?) Heidegger? Baby steps…I did time with Baudrillard and other French chaps, but soon realised that as with all the better things in life, I’d rather do it than think about it.

Until that is, my friend Mark (a fervent Deleuze man, just so you know) suggested reading up on Foucault. I did, nothing too weighty, just a few short articles and essays, so I don’t get a medal or anything, unlike my friends who sit casually sunning themselves and genning up on Debord (they are all French aren’t they?)

And then I read about heterotopias. It was a revelation. It wasn’t about disciplined thinking. You see, I had noticed that certain places were fruitful places to gather material for my samplers based on overheard conversations and graffiti. Heterotopias are ‘other’ places, situated outside of the mainstream. They are ‘elsewheres,’ like prisons, airports, and – I have argued – public toilets and CafĂ© Nero (sue me. I own nothing…) all untied from the usual boundaries and rules, disconnected from usual behavioural norms.

It hasn’t changed my work, but it has unveiled why I do what I do: explaining why I go to places where they are simultaneously welcoming and yet alienating (well - do you spend longer in the toilet than is necessary, and yes, women as well?) And why it is that people feel able to sit a crowded coffee bar and talk loudly so that all may eavesdrop the details about their reasons for having an abortion. It’s a heterotopia: a place outside the world, and yet still in it.

So that’s it, then. I have philosophy. It doesn’t control or dictate what I make, but it does  clarify what I do, especially for funding purposes, providing effective, reasoned legitimacy for sewing rude words.

So who do I read to explain why I then sew the overheard words into a sampler. Perhaps it’s because I am weird? Marvellous. Anyway: must dash. I need the heterotopia.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Oil Paints (and Poverty)

Recently I’ve been lurking outside art supply shops with my face against the windows, gazing longingly inside like a hungry Victorian urchin, gasping: please sir: can I have some oil paints? For ages I was fine with sewn text art – totally affordable, but then I had to go and get ambitious, which costs money, lots and lots of money.

I’ve closed my eyes and asked the art pixies for oil paints (and an easel) (and brushes) (and linseed oil, turpentine, and rags) but nothing happened. I will even supply the deluded and self righteous sense of doing proper, traditional art, like Caravaggio and other similar chaps of the renaissance persuasion. And no: acrylics won’t do – they also dry to fast. But at least I’m poor. Poor is authentic. Poor is how proper artists used to live, until they started covering skulls in diamonds.

Yes, I am poor. Too poor to achieve my art. I’ve even done my special naked voodoo oil-paint dance, and that was expensive after paying the fine and everything (although I did get all five tassels spinning in different directions.)

At the time of writing, I am faced with a choice: food, or oil paints, which means I’ve arrived: I am a poor, impoverished artist, faced with pursuing my creative muse or eating real food (and not the cardboard box that food comes in).

I’ve been testing the boundaries of watercolours and they have been found wanting. They dry too quickly, colours are insipid, and they are not suitable for layering. I’ve done my best, I really have. Watercolours are fine for sketching, but I want some oils.

Oils are what I want. Oils are what I need. You can layer them on with a trowel (so symbolic) and amend work a few days later. You can place massive 3D splodges of colour, and then form it into a shape. I know there are skills: canvas stretching, under painting, etc, but lack of skill has never stopped before (cue indulgent pause for readers to enter your own gag here.)

I am currently all over the place (by which I mean I am travelling *further pause for reader to insert own gag*) and couldn’t carry a box of oils, but even so, I am still craving them. The smell is so evocative, and oils are not considered dry until 60-80 years old, at least. I’ll be dead by then. Still: I love the idea of finishing work, and then scraping or wiping off an entire layer.

All of which is entirely academic: I can’t afford oil paints, and am resigned to this until I look at the names of the colours: Alizarin Crimson, Viridian Green, Prussian Blue, Rose Madder (need. Need a lot.) I have to find some ‘trainer’ oils, and use them up to practice, refining some semblance of a technique.

Food or paint - hardly Sophie’s Choice is it? Even so: I want some oils. (And canvasses. And an easel.) Art pixies? Where are you.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Conceptual Art

How do you know when you’ve encountered conceptual art? When you recognise it for yourself, or if someone points out that you’ve been standing in it?

I ask because conceptual art was high on my list of ‘most dreaded’ perhaps because of all the practices (I must practice getting used to saying that: ‘practice’) it's also most likely to inspire the reaction: “Call that art?”

Don’t think I am dismissing all conceptual art, especially as the only artwork ever to have made me cry in public arguably qualifies for that label: Steve McQueen’s ‘For Queen and Country,’ where he turned snapshots of UK military personnel killed in action into postage stamps. I cried. 

My best guess is this: the idea is everything, so without a grand philosophy the art produced is creatively worthless (that’s if any is produced). So where will it end? The absolute limit must be someone walking into a room and declaring their concept to anyone present (actually, do we even require an audience) then adding: will this do? Or writing an idea on a piece of paper, and passing it around, so that people can read your thoughts. Oh, I feel like such a fool: I bet that’s already been done, hasn’t it?

With a heavy heart, I began my research (conceptual artists love their research) and immediately encounter a problem: what the hell is conceptual art? Nobody seems to know, not so that they can explain it to me anyway. In desperation I consulted the wise and flawless oracle that is Wikipedia, which summarised the notion nicely enough: ‘Conceptual art is art in which the concept(s) or idea(s) involved in the work take precedence over traditional aesthetic and material concerns.’

Right then: inspired I use all the usual buzzwords and phrases, like there being no need for a gallery outcome or an artefact, so I don’t really need to make anything, which is difficult as I also term myself as a ‘maker’ (listen carefully, I shall say this only once: my text embroideries are NOT CRAFT!!!) Anyway: I am not averse to the occasional installation, in fact I have some form in that regard. I like the notion of ideas led art, but I am floundering.

And so I need to conjure up a concept. Well it just happens I have one close by that I made earlier, and it’s this: we can organise our lives online. We don’t book with travel agents, but seek all info on the web. How far can we go? By far, I mean can I get to Berlin – can I find a life, ie a home, a gallery show, friends, everything, all online? Ideally, my admittedly ambitious ‘outcome’ will be an installation of my project shown in a Berlin Gallery, along with footage/tweets/posts about the journey both real and metaphorical.

Speaking of concepts, here’s another idea: a novice artist tries to organise a solo show or sell work, on the basis of experimenting with various visual art forms all for the first time. It’s certainly a concept. But is it art?

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Silk Painting

In my mission to try as many forms of visual art I can, the more refined skills were not top of my list. I want to do all the hip, edgy practices, like performance. But I’ve had no instruction in technique, and so when I was offered the chance of a free class in silk painting, I accepted. I was supposed to paint pretty pictures of flowers and ferns, but here’s how it all went if not wrong, then certainly different.

I am already dangerously close to working in the dreaded field known as ‘craft’ simply by the act of sewing, and so painting cloth with pretty paints is another step down the path towards craft fairs with cross-stitched kits of pretty cats. Silk painting is delicate. It is dainty. It is everything I am not.

The instruction session was held in the classroom of Glasgow’s Winter Gardens. We were all given a square white scarf, and taught the basics. I loved this bit: I felt like a Victorian girl being given instruction on an improving pastimes suitable for a young lady, perfectly upright in a crinoline.

Stoking the fire of inspiration smouldering within my bosom to an inferno, we wandered around the massive greenhouse sketching plants. I did my best, and I will say that at least, the colours were lovely – albeit in February, mostly green.

Next came the tricky part. When we returned, we learned how to stretch the silk hankie on a frame, and drew an outline with a thin line of wax from a tube. Already it started to go haywire, as while everyone else was rigidly drawing a defined plant, tongues out in concentration, I thought – ooh, bright colours and lovely patterns. Penny, she like colours!

Again, my instinct for abstraction kicked in. Accurate plants are nice and everything, but when you step outside the line, the beautiful clear primary colours splurged and splodged all over the material, running into each other and making new colours. I was entranced. The lady next to me overflowed with pity.

But I was on a roll! I began to peel off the barriers (is this symbolic – a landmark moment do you think?) and went wild with colour. It’s funny: some artists have an innate skill for replication and accuracy, but as I discovered with watercolours, I love making bold statements of shape. And so the (to me at least) beautiful oozing, creeping splodges grew. And grew. The woman sitting beside me gave a look that indicated she thought I was ‘special’ then backed away to paint  more ferns and branches.

I couldn’t stop. I was happy, dabbing and daubing. The teacher stood beside and stared for some time, before offering, tolerantly and as if she didn’t want to make any sudden movements: ‘Yes. It’s pretty when that happens isn’t it?’

If I really was a young Victorian lady, I would have been given laudanum, committed to an asylum for moral insanity, or forced to scrub the poor by my weeping mama who swooned when shown my work.

Not all experiments are successful. This one? Epic fail. (Watercolour above, silk has been 'filed.')

Monday, 8 August 2011


Making art means being judged. Fair enough really, as artists are usually asking for money in some form or another, either by dreaming of gallery commissions and sales, or hoping that art-lovers will take the time and pay the fares to view and then buy their work. Artists learn fast that gallery reality involves overhearing unasked for opinions, all delivered with the  discretion of a furious, neon pink buffalo. They grow accustomed to being critiqued in terms such as: “This picture’s crap and the artist is a twat.”

In art-school crits, students gather round to appraise work displayed by fellow emerging artists, a process intended in part to acclimatise students to the cold hard world outside. During a crit, students say: ‘Your piece doesn’t work as a coherent installation, neither does it engage or communicate your intentions of exploring the ephemeral nature of meaning. And there’s far too much mauve.’ You know – stuff like that.

But do not fear the appraisal, despite there always being that one harsh judge who boldly, exactingly and infuriatingly states that they do not like the sculpture, but can’t explain why (others are insightful, so listen to them). Crits might seem like Stalinist denunciation sessions, but need not be if they are helpful and kindly done, which however negative, they usually are.

For artists who have flown the warm, nurturing nest of art-school, self-evaluation is difficult. Some retreat to a highly critical other-world, where nothing looks right and not understanding why, they chuck everything in the bin. Others submit mediocre or utterly terrible work because their quality-control/ego meter is calibrated to assure them that everything they do is brilliant.

During my time at The Institution I Decline To Name, I attended what I thought was a crit. My embryonic installation attracted thunderous indifference, after which, things got weird. One student glowered at us silently near a plinth, then shared details of their terrible life, before offering up the ‘creative response’ - a recording of someone screaming, madly and loudly for ages. Did we have any thoughts? Talk about uncomfortable silences.

Another student presented some research papers but half-way through began to weep inconsolably for no obvious reason. After our ordeal was over, we were rewarded with applause. Which is why I was delighted to attend a proper crit session run by the excellent David Dale Gallery

Several aspiring creatives, half-crazed from working alone, spent most of a grey Sunday helpfully and supportively appraising work. I submitted my larger, colourful sampler-style embroideries for comparison with the silver-on-muslin work I am struggling with, mainly because it’s a nightmare to make (I have some sight problems). Others were looking for an opinion about subject matter, and how to improve their presentation.

The people at David Dale were critical in its true meaning, not in the common understanding of brutally slagging things off. Thanks to their feedback I feel able to decide which way to go. Now I am a great fan of crits, mainly because (get this) nobody laughed, not even a sly giggle. Even better, nobody cried.

Friday, 5 August 2011


Having come out as an artist I am totally going for it. Seriously. I am following my dream, and the next logical step is quite apparent: I must be controversial.

Imagine the joy of being called controversial. You’ve finally arrived: the red-tops are baying at your door, accusing you of corrupting children and distressing the elderly. Society is crumbling and it’s all your fault. Hooray!

During a seminar about cultivating and managing press contacts, I highlighted some common inflammatory buttons, so that students who pressed them accidentally (or on purpose) weren’t amazed by the resulting lynch-mobs. For example, anything involving religion will be picked up by the worldwide network of crazies gagging for somewhere new to picket, as the art students who included a deep-fried bible in an auction to raise money for an exhibition found out. They made the local news, however. Result!

Some artists are naturally controversial – others have the adjective thrust upon them. Marcus Harvey’s portrait of Myra Hindley made from children’s handprints was in my opinion deeply moving, and I doubt that while creating it Harvey envisaged the fuss it would cause. He may well have relished the attention, as apart from anything else, press coverage does encourage those prices to rise, and rise.

Don’t try too hard, though: a Belgian performance artist earned the qualification ‘controversial’ by squatting in the middle of an art gallery and shitting on the floor. You’d think his friends would have intervened, saying: ‘Why not try painting by numbers? Poundland will sell you a set and everything. For just one pound!’ I hope he wasn’t looking for love, as at the glamorous champagne opening, guests didn’t glance admiringly from behind their catalogues thinking: ‘I wonder if he’s single.’

Even in our liberal times, the idea of consenting adults having sex has sensitive moralists bathing in disinfectant and calling for an exorcist. Tracy Emin’s ‘All The People I Have Slept With,’ for example, was taken to imply that she had multiple partners, when in fact, she insists that many sleepovers were platonic, that is, without bonking or other daft code-words for shagging you care to share. Or maybe it was about her youth hostelling holiday – those bunk beds can be really tricky for fucking in.
Apparently, there’s another direct way to confront moral straitjackets and prudery: swear.

At the time of writing, some work of mine is proving popular online, because, I suspect it includes profanity. Apparently, I am controversial, but I didn’t mean to do it.

The piece is the size of a postcard and the language is entirely frank and earthy. I have made other work containing swear words but the fucks, shits etc were blended into overheard conversations, and here I’m quoting graffiti found on a wall in Glasgow. Perhaps this piece is better, or more beautiful than the others, but I doubt it. The truth is this: if you want attention, swear a lot. Fuck. Just say fuck, that’s all you have to do.
I love my new life.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011


Carrying out the philosophy of this blog (that is trying any which way of making art) I freely admit that photography is the one studio-practice, discipline, endeavour or ‘thing’ I’ve been most dreading.

My fear is caused by the little box called a camera. It’s technology, which to outsiders might seem extreme (‘can she really be that inept?’) but please remember that for me, a door is a complex piece of machinery operated by invisible wizards. As for cameras… In order for my camera to obey me, I might sacrifice a goat to appease its spirit, or something. That camera can sense my fear. I approach it respectfully.

First, I need some subjects, but people ruin pictures by being difficult or ugly, and I include myself in that: in real life, I am a foxy babe, but whenever someone takes my photo, an obese angry nonagerian babushka jaunts in from a bygone age to stand in front of me while scowling at the lens. I have long admired those photographers who can, in one instant, capture not just a person as others see them, but something more, something deeper – a sense of what’s in their soul. I dream of doing that.

But on my bog-standard camera, people will seem like dots and landscapes will never seem sweeping and majestic, but distant, hazy and vague. Animals? Oh perr-lease. Staged tableaux? At some point maybe. Random stuff it is then.

I wander round the city, snapping whatever takes my fancy, following my friend’s wise advice to have fun, and oh – it’s like a Visconti film: camera in hand, artistic face, distracted air. I try buildings (small ones – skyscrapers are notoriously hard). My already immense respect for proper photographers increases with every picture taken.

I seek advice: my friend Ian Tilton who says: “The 'old school' advice in amateur photo magazines was to shoot with the sun always behind you. Well this just ain't right,’
Grammar Ian, grammar…

‘Backlight can often be best. You will have to increase your exposure if the light source is in your picture (or if it's just out of shot even), but your photographs will have beautiful atmosphere and depth. And the captured flare effects from extraneous light bouncing around your lens can be ethereal, psychedelic and heavenly.”
But this is me, wrangling with electrical equipment.

“Go against this "Old School Rule" and capture the spirit of God's lovely light. Let me hear y'say hallelluja, my Sister and Brother photographers ! Play, play, play. Xxx” 

And Ian should know. He’s taken some of the best portraits in the past twenty-five years.

I follow both his advice and his spirited encouragement, and visit  a beach. It’s slightly overcast albeit with bursts of the sun. There is a beautiful and tempestuous sea, and I take some wild-card snaps of still-life (ie rotting seaweed) but it just doesn’t work. I take pictures of my friend who is painting – which turn out, alright, I suppose. Then we get bored with sitting still, and go for a paddle. The result is infused with backlight. I like the sense of movement, and the composition.

Ian, your career is safe.

Life drawing again.

Life drawing again.

Life Drawing

Life Drawing
Almost human