Wednesday, 28 September 2011


How many Freudian analysts does it take to hang a penis? I mean my mother…I mean a painting!

The answer is all in the mind. When we make art, we reveal the innermost workings of our psyche. Look at my embroidered samplers and you can clearly see my mental bits and pieces. Apparently.

At the art-school I decline to name, a certain lecturer was very keen on art and psychology, and during lectures on the subject revealed details of her own neuroses, dramatic epiphanies reached after much gruelling and intense psycho-analysis. Amongst other afflictions, she admitted to being an hysteric, although had she crossed my palm with silver, I could have told her that ten seconds after meeting her.

But look, it’s all about being deep, and revealing yourself in your work. And so we reach confessional art, and of course must refer to Tracy Emin who, with her unmade bed and other stylised personal outpourings looms large. Hang on - why do I mention her so much, when I’m not a huge fan of her work? It’s odd, but she does keep recurring. Mummy! Why were you so cold? Ah, that’s better!

Anyway, obviously when you put yourself into your work, you can’t help but reveal some of your innermost thoughts. I pause now and take a deep cleansing breath, remembering that I frequently draw bunny rabbits. How does that make me feel? What’s up doc?

Back to my point, though. There is the work of the crazy kitten man, for starters. He drew lovely cute cats, but was sectioned in what was then called an insane asylum when he went mad (...pauses for readers to say because he painted cats…) and his mental torment showed in his work. Cats, previously portrayed as idealised creatures living pampered lives in a paradise of slow-moving mice and bowls of cream were painted looking distressed and surrounded by jagged lightening halos. Yes, he was trying to tell the world something, but don’t worry he recovered, once more to draw pretty, happy cats.

We have surrealists like Dali and all those other artists who begin their conversations ‘last night I dreamed about etc.’ But you switch off because they are boring (other people’s dreams usually are) only they get Turner nominated and have dedicated South Bank Show Specials and I’m not bitter or anything.

I don’t know how to reveal more about myself. I tell people, as honestly as possible can why and how I choose my subject matter. Except again this isn’t how it works. You have to complete your work, and then even if it contains the slogan: ‘I am well mad, me!’ observers make their own interpretation. It’s like the dream I had last night where I was naked but I couldn’t move in the train station, and people were staring and pointing. There was a giant bunny rabbit! Help me!

Oh, good grief. Shall we let it pass? Good art is based on ideas. It usually reveals something about the artist. I’m off now to draw lot’s and lot’s of bananas and cucumbers. Stop looking at me like that.

Thursday, 22 September 2011


Nature is beautiful, and doesn’t benefit from or deserve the indignity of my meddling, clumsy interpretation, abstraction or replication. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to play with what I find.

I believe that landscape art can add to its surroundings, especially where work is placed wisely within the scenery. It can enhance rather than ruin the beauty of some magnificent views, especially when skilfully applied, using natural abundant natural materials close to hand, like Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, Avebury Stone Circle, and anything by Andy Goldsworthy. But again, I am not a funded artist and am currently staying in a commercial sunspot, not a humbling wilderness, so must curtail my soaring ambitions.

At least am close to the seaside. I began casual beachcombing, hoping to discover found objects to use as material, harvested carefully for a work to be lovingly made, but intended to vanish when waves wash it away. I admire the transient nature of most landscape art.

I found myself on a shore where found objects are anything but natural: nature is covered by a carpet of cigarette ends, littered with lolly sticks, paper cups and empty cans. Every morning, a massive tractor arrives and churns up the crystal sands (beautiful to look at, painful when found later where it doesn’t belong.) I had to look hard for nature, rather than come across it. I tried using the rubbish, but it looked horrible. I couldn’t even find any seaweed, and had to rise at an ungodly hour to see the beach where humans had (sometimes literally) left their shit lying around.

I wanted flotsam: floating branches, or a few jewel-like pebbles, shells, fresh and also rotting seaweed, mermaid’s purses and empty crab shells. Seashores are always overflowing with material and supplies. Not this one. More than anything, I wanted some stones, but even the beach pebbles were man-made: crumbling fast-food chicken bones, shards of polished glass, and some eroded red bricks. So I gathered what I could, and made the work above.

The sea was rough, and the shore had a steep incline after which it was too deep for me to paddle safely, and I didn’t want to drop and lose my camera. I made one small piece but the minute my back was turned a terse and fearsome, topless Brunhilde trampled and crushed it, deaf to my shrill objections.

And so I got up early, and placed my planned creation on the shoreline close to a clear but empty rockpool. I gathered the stones, which changed colour as the water touched them and created a footprint in the sand, pressing them into the earth. Slowly, the sea washed them away.

This is one experiment that left me unfulfilled. I need an empty beach or landscape, or at least more space. Even the photo had to be cropped savagely to remove the shadows of curious onlookers, who were entitled to watch but did get in the way. And do you know, I never saw a single seashell on that seashore.

Saturday, 17 September 2011


Artists are as shy as woodland creatures. They hide, and only emerge at twilight when tempted by a trail of warm white wine in paper cups. After establishing trust by telling them you love their work they might even drink out of your hand.

I am not like that. I don’t believe there is some kind of fairy art-mother who will correct my use of colour, improve my brush strokes, and announce: “You shall be selected for the next Saatchi New Sensations show!” before my slot on The Culture Show (but then I screw up by leaving after midnight and all my work turns into Vettriano looky-likeys, and I am forced to paint a portrait of the queen, or am I alone in waking up screaming after that particular nightmare?)

But I don’t have an agent, a gallery, or any representation at all. My exhibitions so far were down to my own efforts, or a gallerist coincidentally stumbling upon my work online.

And so I am being pushy.

I want a show and to sell some work, but I have no idea how to go about this. So I updated my artist CV, polished the bollocks-speak in my artist statement, and emailed galleries, asking simply if they have space or time to show my work. Aw bless my naïve little soul.

And of course, I’m still waiting. Even the gallery that asked to show my work was incommunicado, and was amazed when I tracked her down via the clever people at BT and was crafty enough to phone. She seemed confused, but I twisted her arm, and she has agreed to show work...eventually. (I know: a gallery owner being flaky and disorganised. Astonishing.)

And there are so many galleries in every city. There are public galleries, boutique private galleries which choose work on the whim of the owner, strange galleries where they sell only chocolate-box landscapes and cat portraits. I am grateful that this campaign is possible using email, as postage would bankrupt me. I am also certain that those emails are instantly deleted.

Perhaps I should use the old-fashioned postal system, and send carefully printed examples of work, my cleverly designed business card enlcosed, but there is something contrived about that.

When an emerging artist is adopted by a name gallery, you wonder how this came to be. Perhaps it’s word of mouth, or who they know, or maybe those artists are pushier than I am. Possibly, there’s a knack, a trick to sending emails or invites. Is it the timing, or the title. Is it down to the image and personality of the artist: must they be authentically wizened and crazy, child-like, amazed and trendy, or stoically professional and business-like?

I know I am unlikely to be selected for a retrospective at The Tate, but a well-chosen piece exhibited in a regional gallery: is that too much to ask?

I need advice. Seriously – is anyone out there? How do I this, because being innocent isn’t going to help with this part of my project.

Saturday, 10 September 2011


I was really looking forward to the sculpture experiment part of this innocent artistry mission, partly because I think sculptors are mad. I used to go to the club-night in an art school years ago and the following day, the dance-floor was usually littered with blood and body parts: for some reason all those rugged sculpture boys (and they were boys) were the meatheads of the place, and wouldn’t stop fighting. Maybe all that carrying and carving lumps of wood and rock had knocked the sense out of them.

I can’t see myself using marble (oh come on – how the hell…?) Nor can I picture myself standing enraptured in front of a rock waiting for its spirit guide to communicate, or for the shape to emerge. Predictably, when male artists ask the stone what it wants to be, the answer is often a naked lady.

Also, I loathe most of those awful mannered marble efforts, like Cannova’s creations, finding them prissy. As for classical Greek sculpture, I want to replenish their original gaudy colours, because they are too pure and soulless without it.

I will not be forcing massive ingots of metal through a grinder, or nailing forests together. I must accept the limitations I am working with. I can’t see why sculptures must be massive, or even made of stone (despite that making the majority of purchases for the those fantastic new outdoor sculpture parks) so I decided to make some micro-sculptures.

As for materials, well I am still travelling, and will always remember the joy of luscious Mediterranean fruit, sometimes standing over the sink as the delicious juice ran down my wrist. I wanted to use, and channel this image, while evoking the legend of Persephone and the pomegranate pips. I began by saving and scrubbing all my fruit stones, and consulted my talented friend Sybren Renema  who had the following advice:

(1) The back is just as important as the front
(2) The sculpture tells you when it is finished

Wise, useful and inspiring words.

I’ve bought some metallic ink along. While researching icons, I was reminded that we now associate precious metal, especially gold, with being tacky, and with bling, and with nouveau riche notions of value. It’s easy to forget that gold is appreciated not just because of its price, but because it is beautiful. It glints in the sun.

I assembled some stones, and encased them in metallic thread. It was the most intricate to achieve, and took the most forward planning. You can see the result above.

When every task is over, I must decide what to do with anything I produced. I can’t possibly carry all of my creations, but I’m pleased with this piece, and I might try sculpture again. I think the setting contributed to the work, and having seen it glistening in the sun on crystal sands, the ocean sparkling in the background, I can’t imagine that it would look effective on rainy concrete. I might keep it, just to make sure.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011


I’ve been dying to do some wrapping. I’ve long admired the colossal work of Christo, and (ambitiously) that’s what I want to try next. I dreamed of wrapping entire buildings until they billowed with silk, but reality bit: my plan was flawed as I would never gain access to a bridge. And so - there being no Reichstag readily available - I had to settle for wrapping a chair.

Before beginning, I asked my friend James, who reminded me about the practice of wrapping by choosing an excellent shrouded object as his facebook profile picture. I asked for his advice, but it’s a library shot of a statue being transported, although he does have a wrapping qualification, albeit to do with conservation. Neither of us know much about, or have shown any prior talent for rapping (getting that gag out of the way) and so I will wrap alone.

I am currently on the road, and in preparation, borrowed some toilet paper from my pensione (which is like Fawlty Towers relocated to Hoxha’s Albania) and brought out the muslin I am using later to sew on. FYI: you should be grateful you aren’t my sherpa – I packed a rucksack full of art-supplies which makes me walk with a stoop.

There was a chair in my ‘pensione’ (I am shuddering at the horror, the horror of that pensione) which was crying out for a fresh lease of life as an art object. I was contemplating its undeniable and majestic serenity when a cheery ‘HOLA!’ intruded. It was the cleaner, who graphically and effectively mimed ‘do you need any more bog-roll?’ and in reply I gesticulated: ‘I’ve plenty thanks for asking.’

But that chair looks lonely. Perhaps I am anthropomorphising a chair, but it does suggest a past life. The varnish is chipped and yellowing. The plastic cover is worn. The toilet paper doesn’t look right; too obvious and clumsily symbolic. Muslin is the way forward. I mummify a sad old chair, which sits in the sunbeams blazing through the window. We have both been in better places.

Wrapping is like dressing an artefact in different clothes. Wrapping bestows an object with new layers, making the viewer look afresh. When hard edges dissolve, we seek clues in an anonymous bundle of covers as our preconceptions are seen at another angle. What’s angular and harsh becomes smooth, and unknown.

It’s impossible to look at objects wrapped in muslin and not think of mummies, those vainglorious attempts by pharaohs to become immortal, a visual echo I appreciate, along with a remembrance of crepe bandages. I wish I could have placed the chair outside to record the entire process, but think the hotel would have objected (anyway: my room was four flights up with no lift.)

I think I will return to wrapping objects, but ideally with more space, and better materials. I knew that length of muslin would come in handy, although I have yet to use my value pack of J-cloths. Give me time people, as I might be heading to Berlin, and the Reichstag beckons.

Thursday, 1 September 2011


I hate nature. It smells. Worse still it’s been known to bite as well (although it is usually edible, which we can all agree is a good thing.) You can perhaps understand that I am asking myself why I have spent so much time painting and drawing its many bounties.

By rights, as an aspiring artist I should be wandering forlornly around the hills and dales, wearing a beret, oil palette in hand, pausing only to weep at the majestic beauty of nature before rigorously painting it (sometimes actually paint onto to, or use it to create work.)

I recently read a fantastic quote from Georgia O’Keefe who said words to the effect that she painted flowers because they stayed still. I echo her sentiments: I’m the same with creepers, grass and ferns. I am supposed to transport myself into paroxysm of ecstasy over a tree, due to an epiphany that humanity is but an insignificant part of nature. But I don’t. It’s a tree. A very nice tree, but a tree nonetheless.

Actually, the only piece of art that I would buy (and as you will see, it will never be available for purchase) is of flowers. It’s a cave painting, where stone age artists painted poppies. It’s beautiful, and on seeing it, Picasso said: we have learned nothing. That’s the exception though.

Okay, I’ll keep trying. Does still life count? I gathered an abundant basket of fruit (well some plums and a banana) but to be honest, it didn’t grab me. I tried photographing the sky, but it seemed pointless: you’ve seen my photos, and I’d rather look at the sky in reality than have me replicate or abstract it.

And so again, I spent some hours drenched by water from a dripping tree, a tree determined not be a vision of green exploding with autumnal hues, but grey. With every passing second,  it got greyer.

One word though: greenhouses. I found a greenhouse and fighting an urge to complain about the humidity (turn it down for art’s sake) I worked for some time. The benefits were obvious: I wasn’t shat upon by a seagull (the acknowledged lot of landscape artists everywhere.)

When I first began drawing, I used flowers: cheap flowers, which I then watched slowly die (makes me sound truly morbid but seriously - it’s only a bloody flower) and drew them in colourful pastels. I got bored soon, because they didn’t move: they were dying, not living.

However, I did find that sketching flowers helped me use colour, and proportion and they stayed perfectly still (except the slow process of wilting). I know that in the future, I will be found wandering amongst hosts of golden daffodils, sketching until I get it right. I will not be defeated by flowers. Flowers are pretty and frail, but they are also my enemy.

Oh why bother? Nature is green. It has the best reds, which we then try, hopelessly to replicate/emulate with acrylics, but nature always wins. 

Life drawing again.

Life drawing again.

Life Drawing

Life Drawing
Almost human