These drawings… on Valentine’s Day … they’re all about love. They’re as much about love as they could possible be.
It is a very human thing, I think, to think in metaphors and analogies.
That tale of our lives flashing before us as we die, or in near death situations is a way of searching through our files to find something that will work to save us perhaps… to apply the ultimate analogy.
Working abstractly these days, I find I am doing this more and more. The paper, the paint, the pencil… and the application of water, a hairdryer… these elements are analogous… each one holds their part in the story.
The story concerns me. Of course. The work is autobiographical, egotistic. I am trying to figure it out. By using the materials to represent/reflect/explain to myself how I exist in my small world, I seek something. I don’t know that I am consistently pencil…or paper… or paint… or hairdryer. My existence shifts between them all. I could be the paper, absorbing, repelling, taking the wounds the pencil inflicts. Holding everything together under stress? I could be the paint… Causing chaos, staining, making my mark, bleeding all over the place… a bloody mess. I could be that pencil… 6H… carving, making some sort of scarred structure… 6B… soothing… a balm for the ills… calming… stroking… it’ll be ok… or not. The hairdryer is a manipulator… thinking it is in control, but it is not. Something in the paint quality, or a small greasy spot on the paper jerks the blown paint off its predicted path and is sworn at… control is an illusion…all is chaos.
And all of this is, at the same time as helping me, complete bollocks along the same lines as a newspaper horoscope. I have difficulty with the art bollocks phenomenon… it’s one of those things that is complete bollocks right up to the point at which you recognise something that fits with your view. Then of course it is an absolute truth.
The process helps me think about it all, yes… and the results are pleasing… to me at least… and they do suggest to me an organic, metaphorical life… but it is really difficult to explain how this actually feels… what it means…
After my last blog that told of my new year un-resolutions, and sowing seeds for the year, the words of my friend Bo have been ringing in my ears:
“If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans…”
So here I am then, plans already slightly scuppered and delayed by circumstances!
Oh my you should have heard the language. Yeah. The really BAD words.
I was on my way to my friend Michael’s music studio in Kings Heath… I was actually at the last set of traffic lights, stationary, red light… possibly 500 yards from his front door… he probably had already put the kettle on…
BANG! …..some idiot drives into my car.
I’ll not go into detail, because that’s between me, three insurance companies, the police and a breakdown truck… suffice to say, I’m fine, but my car is not. It is not apparent economically feasible to repair it (although for someone it will be… but not me or the insurance company)
Anyway… bye the bye… I have a hire car while someone searches for another one, and all will be paid up without argument with me.
Michael and I have re-arranged a date in the not too distant future, to pick up where we left off.
And in a bid to regain some sort of normality, I’m zooming up and down to the studio (in a very sporty car that I could never afford) to paint and draw and listen.
I laid down some paint on a large sheet off my lovely roll of paper before Christmas, and I had been drawing on it, but wasn’t really very content with it.
I am aware that if left to my own devices I can become a bit “safe and pretty” in my work. It all looks nicely produced, competent… blah blah blah… but boring.
This is why Bo is always a useful ally… because he challenges this in me. He doesn’t let me get away with it. I have become aware over the years though that I now seem to have a little bit of him lodged in my brain, saying “oh yeah?” when it all gets a bit comfortable. I kid myself it is me, but the internal monologue definitely has his voice.
This paper then, being very expensive, needs to earn its keep. I cannot afford to just let it languish under drawing I’m not happy with. The glorious nature of this paper is also though, being very good quality, it will take a pretty good scrub. So this is what I did. I got a sponge, washed it all off. The graphite came away, as it was resting for the most part on the watercolour paint. I swooshed it about and got rid of most of the darker marks, and was left with a ghostly shadow of what went before. Sometimes, when you are unhappy with a piece of work, you have nothing to lose by pushing the destruct button.
The sponge had left marks too… not happy, so took to using the water spray on the wiped marks. …better. Then being left with more puddling, took to my hairdryer, and the resulting tracks of watery paint lay over the ghosts… better again.
I went home (zzzoooom)… and let it dry.
I don’t usually describe what I have physically done in such detail, but I wanted to here, as a record for myself, but also to show that my preference for simpler processes can be pushed to its limit. To my limit. I am able to break my own rules.
So this large sheet of watery ghosts has some very interesting patches. And for some reason, I decide to slice up this big sheet into nine.
Each piece is now around A3/2ish sized and what I find most interesting now is that the focus of each piece is not conveniently in the middle.
What I have now are nine pieces that are difficult to work.
Where I want to draw is not in the middle, but is falling off the edge.
This is challenging my inclination to fall into “nice” without thinking about it. I have to think far more carefully about which parts I draw into and which I leave. The sheets are watery and ethereal. The bits I draw are pinned down, so I find I am drawing on them less… just defining an area, a mark or two… and then leaving the ghosts to interact and fade away.
The drawing suggests a somewhere-other… these marks fall off the edges and make something different known.
I like them more, not because they are nice, but because they are suggesting that something isn’t right. That it’s perhaps not nice at all. The drawings are saying “Go on then, make a plan with your paint… see how we laugh…”
New Year then… 2019… seems like some mad futuristic thing doesn’t it? Our dystopian future…
Time will tell whether after March we are living on tinned tuna, chick peas and home grown spuds, treating our maladies with bread and spinach poultices.
I saw a meme, someone saying they saw flowers in their future, because they had planted flower seeds. So, as an eternal optimist, I shall plant metaphorical flower seeds. The political situation, whether it contains tinned tuna or not, will not stop me drawing, or making music.
So these are the seeds I have planted:
I am currently working on a commission following on from a conversation with some friends, about my drawings. I was telling them about where they had grown from, why they were special to me, what they meant. It seems they got it. They came back a few weeks later and asked if I could do a smaller drawing for them, they had a sum of money, and they just wanted me to draw whatever I wanted to draw, whatever I was moved to draw…
So I am.
I hope when they see what I have done, it will bring them joy for a long time, and that they continue to find meaning in it for themselves after I have handed it over.
Musically, I have sort of slung a seed bomb in the direction of the band to see what sticks and what germinates. Before Christmas we arranged a series of rehearsal dates and writing dates. Andy asked if I had any lyrics I could send out earlier, so that he could have a ponder…
So I did.
This is a bit of an emotional wrench, sending out words I have written, not quite fully formed into songs, but with enough there to give a flavour of a story, a feeling, perhaps a vague structure and a bit of rhythm…maybe. When the music arrives, then they get edited and sharpened up. It’s like sending your child to school on his own for the first time. He might come back with a black eye, swearing! But you trust… I trust… and Andy has come up trumps with three ideas already! No doubt when we get together all five of us there will be a bit more shuffling before it’s a finished song. But they already sound great to me. I should trust myself too, I sent out some good stuff, and got it back sounding even better!
And something that may take longer is a solo music project. Well, not completely solo, but in terms of the germination and development, these seeds will take longer. I need help to sort it out, and to decide what I want it to be, and how I want to present it to the world. All in good time. First of all, I have to make it.
So I will.
The seeds sit in a playlist on my laptop, waiting, yes, but as I play them to myself on repeat, I recognise that they have a personality, a group dynamic… a herbaceous border of a collection!
I’ve applied for a couple of bits of funding too. I have grasped a nettle. I also did something I’ve never done before, and it has caused me to take a big gulp… the forms asked if I was disabled, or if I had a long term health condition. For the first time ever, and certainly not the last, I ticked “yes”… Osteoarthritis is not going to go away. It is undoubtedly going to get worse. I have to suck it up and get on with it. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.
So how do you move on?
Pain and ongoing ill-health will undoubtedly continue on both fronts as my husband and I straddle that (in?)significant number 60.
I think, by way of looking back and realising that growth is possible under difficult circumstances helps. I can plod on when feeling dull and delicate. Then I can zoom about when feeling energised and well. I shall try not to hijack myself as I am prone to doing. By seeing myself as unworthy, not seeing the value in what I have to offer, I scupper myself. I might not be what other artists, singers, songwriters are, but I do have an all-pervading Elena-ness that they cannot hope to achieve. I hope that the looking back enables me to be brave as I look forward… that I learn to persevere and accept.
Elena-ness is a daft word I know, but it encompasses everything I am or have been: the child, the mother, the woman, maturing with inherent wisdoms and invisibilities too. The artist I now am, and the singer and songwriter that I’m still shy to admit to being. I recognise individuality and the value and strength in it. My reach may become less as I become physically restricted. But influence and affect is not about physical size or fitness.
2019 is already looking interesting in the planning – especially musically to push the year off. I’m looking at the songs that are not band songs, but most definitely Elena songs. I’m pushing them as far as I can, so that I know who they are and the shape of them before I take them to someone else to help me record, play, produce… I have things to say in songs that are different things to those in my drawings, or they are needing to be said in a different way.
I will be working with people who I love, admire and respect, who I feel give me the same in return. These people recharge me and I leave them always with a full heart and a smile, with a brain buzzing with inspiration. There have been some in the recent past that I have allowed myself to be used by, taken advantage of, who have discarded me with no concern. So now, with wisdom hard earned, I don’t do that any more if I can help it. If I surround myself with the ones I know to be warm and encouraging, the pain in my joints will feel less significant.
In 2018 my work came closer to my skin.
It has become more real to me.
I came to love it more deeply.
This is where authenticity sits.
I tend to do some sort of year-end review, and write my findings. These can be a bit of a slog, they are ostensibly for my own benefit, although I welcome any comments that I might have struck a chord, in agreement or otherwise!
I’m not one for New Year Resolutions. I prefer, (because the resolution is a fixed-point) to go with the flow. Often by mid February the resolution has become redundant, and so there is a tendency to feel you have failed. But I do find it useful to look back at what has been achieved through following interest and inclination.
Early in the year I wrote about insignificance and significance and how it can be tricky to spot the difference. Seemingly big things that take up your time and your complete field of vision turn out to be walls. Small items and moments turn out to be seeds that grow in significance. It’s possible to miss them.
Seeds then… I talked a couple of times about regression and how I acknowledged the need to recognise old memories and states of being as instrumental in who I am now. I regress, pare back, expose a preference for the simple things. I like a stitch. I like a line drawn on paper. I like a song sung by one person with one instrument. I like those places where there’s nowhere to hide. I like the bones to show. I like process yes, but not if it muddies the water. In my own work, the drawing, stitching and songwriting, I see the processes as those of thought rather than a complex product. The complexity is in the tale, the idea, not necessarily how it is then communicated. That, I should be able to do with very little. I try to avoid tautology. A good habit of self-review guides my methods…my judgements are of myself, my “value”. This naturally wavers between the capable and incapable, the novice and the accomplished. The child and the adult. I blow paint around the paper… the large paper perhaps in the scale of the work rendering me childlike again? There is perhaps then a relevance previously unnoticed in my choice of material and scale and method?
I give myself restrictions and rules all the time. I do this in order to build a vocabulary, to get to know something both visual and sung, in order to convey meaning succinctly, simply. I strip back lines, words, marks, colours… to an essence. An essence of myself in the work.
Things have shifted this year I feel. Which is why that self-critical review process is invaluable. I have not been “comfortable” for much of the year, despite trying to cling to that much-maligned “comfort blanket”. During the year I bemoaned the peri-menopausal unpredictability of mind and body. This now seems to have stabilised! Thank god! Age has worked its magic and I’m ok with that now. I’m ok with a lot of things that used to bother me. I used to pride myself on the accessibility of my textiles work. Abstraction has rid me of that. I really don’t care. It is what it is. I’m not doing it for you. If you find a connection, that’s great, let’s talk. But regardless, I’m working like this. I will find my own significance. I am protective of my right to make whatever I please. My responsibility as a professional artists is to do so with as much critical awareness as I can muster.
I think the biggest factor in my work over the year has been the influence of pain.
The first concern of the year continuing from the one before, was my husband’s health. In the coming months I was limited in thought and action by my own pain from rapidly developing osteo-arthritis. The way we shuffled around each other was a slow dance in which you couldn’t tell who was supporting, and who was being supported. In October I had a steroid injection in my knee which resulted in a short lived freedom from distant car parks and flights of stairs. In my optimism in having 5-6 months pain free, I neglected to notice those small but significant words “up to”. At the beginning of December, despite me trying to ignore it, the pain started to return. It is now clear that some of my symptoms are due to my spine, not my knee after all. I have been very grumpy coming to terms with what this might mean. Maybe that is the reason for the dearth of December blog posts? I’ve encountered turmoil in my self-reflection. Returning pain and the rejection of a funding bid knocked me back, but I’m wondering now if my own doubt or lack of the elusive clarity showed in my writing of the bid? If they had said yes, there may well have been problems with how I delivered the project. There wasn’t a great deal wrong with it, I could have rewritten the bits required, and resubmitted, but in the intervening weeks, things changed. It turns out this was one of those big things that turned out to be less significant than I had originally thought.
I had enough going on.
The edge of my reach
Oh my it was a good gig.
The inaugural exhibition of the artists who inhabit General Office is going well, and there’s still another week to run of “Body of Work” if you want to add to our count!
The Private View was on Thursday night.
I seem to be quite successful at hiding from myself. Or hiding from my work. I think I was so chuffed to be in and working, with the prospect of exhibiting in what’s turning into a really great space, that I had forgotten that I was exhibiting new work that I hadn’t quite come to terms with.
In at the deep end then… other than studio conversations with fellow exhibiting artist Sarah Goudie, and my long time art-friend Bo Jones, I hadn’t had the opportunity to talk about this work in a gallery context. A fact I hadn’t actually realised until the pv night. FFS Elena! There were times on the night when I felt clumsy and inarticulate, waving my arms around frantically and refreshing my bright red lipstick and fluffing up my hair in an attempt to distract and confuse the audience, for whom I hadn’t rehearsed, or learned my lines.
But… if you chuck yourself in the deep end, you sink or swim… and I think I’ve probably done a bit of each.
I was asked, in disappointed tones: “Where are your textiles?” “oh… no children’s clothes?” and “I told my friend there would be bras… why haven’t you done the bras?”
“I’m currently drawing… same themes, but the drawing has allowed me to dig deeper…”
I got the impression from some that this wasn’t a good enough response.
But… I did also have some amazing conversations about how great the drawing was… both strong and sensitive: there you go… getting there… this is along the way to why I’m not currently using textiles, why my break, originally considered a very temporary cul-de-sac has turned into a major arterial route.
From a conversation this afternoon I realise that the stitching process is regular, whether by hand or machine… up~down~in~out… governed by the pressure of pedal, or speed of needle. Pencil/graphite has a brain to paper connection that can be so much more intimate and emotional. If I see a way of doing that with the textile I may well return. But my pencil marks are enriched beyond the capability of stitch, by having the capacity to be angry and aggressive and dark… to slight… almost invisible, delicate…
I have often referred to stitching as mantra…
This drawing is more like music… on some days as mad as high falutin’ opera. It can be fast and slow, deep and surface sliding… on other days a gentle hum… a chorus snatched by the wind…
Bo asked me about the themes, and I proceeded to continue talking about technique… I was temporarily wrong-footed (yep, he still does it), but I do have an innate understanding that actually, it is the same. My work is always about relationships, touch, effect and influence. What is happening with these drawings on watercolour base is exactly that Bo… it might take me three days to articulate it, but this is what it is:
When I talk about my materials and my marks, I am talking about people.
The paper is 300g Bockingford watercolour paper (expensive, donations gratefully received, haha!)
I’m using professional quality, pigment rich watercolour paint (as above, thank you…)
I’m getting through the big fat soft Faber Castell pencils as if I was eating them… (ditto)
So, when I describe my process, and talk about technique, I’m talking about how people have an effect on each other.
The watercolour paper is thick and soft, but is strong and holds its shape even if I pour water/paint on it. It can puddle nicely, and hold the puddle safely. The puddle sinks in. It is an organic process. When the paint runs in tracks along the paper it lifts it in ridges, so the surface undulates. This sculptural feeling would be lost if it was framed, so they are not framed. It is allowed to do what it does, the paper isn’t stretched. It’s left to move and adjust freely. In it’s own time. Just like people.
Sometimes though, I do use a drier to speed things up, move the paint and have an effect of it. I interfere. And sometimes I don’t. Just like people.
When the paint is dry I spend ages trying to decide which areas need to be left to their own devices, and which bits need more interference, and at this point is is possibly an experience thing… a composition thing perhaps. But once I get going with the pencils… which range from a big fat 9B graphite stick, all the way through the Bs to 6H… I am reacting, provoking, responding to the paper, the paint, texture… and this feels like a very sensual, emotional act. I could go on, but it would be freakishly, fetishistically, like art-porn. Just like people.
This is where I am then. I was stuck, I couldn’t stitch the story, I had to draw it. It’s closer to my skin, and closer to my thoughts this way.
“I wouldn’t have written this poem if it wasn’t for…..”
These are the words of my poet friend Heather Wastie in her new book “Don’t Oil the Hinges”