Research and Discovery

Why do I (we?) need permission to do things our own way?

Art research is a thorny, prickly, uncomfortable thing for me. I don’t really like reading other people’s thoughts and opinions… although I do like it when something is pointed out to me in conversation… I really don’t like to engage in what a bunch of old or dead French guys think.

I like my own personal discovery process.

I have been through periods of pretence here. I have hidden parts of myself over the years. And now, I fight against it, or at least try to be aware of the hiding, and try to make it a conscious choice.

If I hide parts of myself, my thinking, then the bits I don’t hide make no sense (I think?)… it is only in the total openness that it will make a coherent artist… a coherent human. Hiding the child-like; or the grief stricken; or the sexual being; or the deliriously happy from making lemon shortbread; or the fucking miserable… makes the picture skewed. The composition is wrong.

This is currently where my research is hovering. This is where my personal voyage of discovery lingers… this composition of my self… and my interaction with the world and those around me…

My drawings are emerging as that connection between the inside and the outside and the inside again. The interaction with materials is either satisfactory or not. I explore and try to push at things… Ink and brush is good, charcoal is not… pencil is good… pastels are not… gliding is good… scratchy is not… watercolour is good, acrylic is not… Gluten free sponge cake is good. Gluten free bread rolls are vile. We live and learn.

Performance is also part of this process… I put part of myself out to the audience, and get something back that provides another piece of the picture. The audience reaction to me (us) and my returned response is the research too. The breathing in and out here… the inside and outside and the connections between. It doesn’t matter that no one else can see the connections between me singing with the band, and these drawings.

I see it. This is all about me after all…

However…

It is a truth of mine, that the personal is the universal. If I make my work generic, no one relates, it is too bland and unrelatable. The closer my work is to myself, the more open and honest I am, the more people relate to the humanity of it.

In my research then, the research that happens in my daily art practice of life-living, if I dig deep into my place in the world and present these findings in the way that feels right, someone, somewhere, will relate, and find it useful… maybe?

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Napping During Pointless…

Maybe there’s some sort of transition going on in my brain/body/life?

I’m a night owl. Or a sporadic insomniac. Have been for years. It can be useful, I’ve learned to live with it. I’ve developed a way of coping with free, alone, silent waking hours when it’s dark… I like it now. I get stuff done and get thoughts thought.
But recently there’s been a disturbing change. I’m in bed, but typing this into my phone at 6:45am. The birds are shouting at me. I do feel the impulse to ACTUALLY GET UP. This hasn’t happened before. When I had to get up at this time in the olden days I didn’t want to. I didn’t like it. It made me grumpy till 10:00.
Do you think my husband would think it weird if I just went to the studio now? I could possibly get three hours in before he noticed I was gone? Then come home and bring his tea and toast up to bed on a tray as if I’d just got up…
I want to get that list of things done. I’ve got stuff to… Write… Draw… Record… Make… Think…
The problem is the transition period… I can’t sustain going to bed at 2 and waking at 6. Not without napping during Pointless.

New Studio!

I feel I’m properly in now, which is surprising seeing as I haven’t got a door yet.

The shelves have nearly filled up. I do think I could probably bring some of the stuff in from the loft, so save us worrying about ten tons of fabric crashing through the bedroom ceiling, and it would make me sort it all out. Maybe.

It feels right. Home, but not home. The only space in the world that is totally mine. I have been without for eight months. People who follow this tale will know that in some ways, that’s worked out fine. But oh boy I was ready for it. It’s been on and off and on and off and on again for so long!

It can be an expense, yes, obviously. But the feeling you get from working in a studio is different. It is my professional space, not my hobby space. It is where I earn money – or at least initiate the process of earning money. It involves professionalism, validation, a seriousness of intent… That this thing I do here is legitimate. I find it hard to feel like the real thing at home. I know this sounds self indulgent and that many artists work at home, but I find I don’t think ”properly” at home. I pick at it. I write a bit, maybe for 15 minutes, then make a cup of tea. Then I might draw for an hour while someone is watching Pointless. Don’t get me wrong, I like watching Pointless as much as the next retired teacher or geography student, but that’s not where my head should be.

and I’ve just read that paragraph back and it annoys me…

If I was an accountant no one would think that having an office was self indulgent, so why the hell is an artist’s studio? It isnt! I have to stop saying these things, we have to stop each other saying such things. We all do it. I’ve heard you!

Anyway…

I’m getting to the point now where I have done most of the unpacking and sorting and shelf stacking and can get on with the task of actually working.

Today Ian my band-mate popped round for a nosey, a coffee and a cake, and a bit of a strum and a sing. So that was good – even without the door! (we were the only ones in the building).

I have a proposal to write, an ACE project application, someone else’s application to support, I have recordings to make, drawings to draw, songs to sing…

And now I have a place to do it.

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(I’m going to try to post one of those panorama photo things… if it doesn’t work I’ll take some ordinary photos tomorrow.)

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On the Nature of Weirdness…

Conversations with certain people “bring me on”. By asking the right questions and not being afraid that they are difficult questions. They tell me their truth, and it encourages me to face my own.

I’ve been laughing at my “weird” works. By doing this I preempt any suggestion of weirdness from others. They have nowhere to go because I’ve already said it. I shut down any possibility of discussion . Other than by those awkward people who poke me with a stick to make it happen (thank you). I’m not yet prepared for the conversations that might ensue if I show that I take myself, and this work, seriously. Beneath the ridiculous bluster of “I’m a weirdo I am!” lies a vulnerability and a rawness I’m not yet ready to encounter in public. Two conversations with two people who know me, and my work, well, have brought me close to tears. Ok. Not just close. Over the edge. But they are both a safe place, so I’m ok. But I need to feel stronger before showing this work in a formal setting. Just in case someone astute asks the wrong/right questions. I need to prepare myself. Writing this post might form part of that preparation.

A discussion over dinner wandered all over the place, but touched on when and why we exhibit the work: do we exhibit when it is “finished”, done and dusted, safe, complete, and we feel we know everything about it? Or do we exhibit when it still feels raw and a little precarious, in the hope that exhibiting it will help us learn more from those who view it?

So… In forcing myself to encounter these drawings properly, by pinning them up to view, I look at materials, methods, meaning. It’s like REALLY looking at yourself in the mirror and accepting what you see. (No I can’t do that either.)
I don’t think I have REALLY looked at these drawings. I don’t think I have accepted fully what they are about. They scare me a little…. They are NOT weird to me you see? They’re not. They are a true thing. They are a true expression of what my brain is trying to process. To be honest the last few months have been a bit shit. I’m still coming to terms. I’m still trying to find my equilibrium here.

The methodology and the process of my drawings have rules. I extrapolate those rules from the patterns that emerge. I pursue them until they bore me, and then they mutate until I have a new rule. Materials, composition, technique, the colour palette all have a place within this rule-making.

Meaning then? Digging deeper, but also simplifying. Drawing I find is a purer, more straightforward way of working. It is more immediately connected – brain to paper… No filter…. No distraction…

Abstraction is attractive. Liberating.
I have lived a life filled with symbolism. The Catholic Church, Renaissance art history studies, and the occasional dip into semiotics. I see symbols and infer meaning all over the place. My brain seeks it out.
Abstraction could be my saviour then?
Abstraction is my secret confessional?
I can’t help myself.
Abstraction is a shouted whisper.

In.

In.

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After eight months of looking, looking, looking some more, finding, losing, getting, losing again, will they won’t they? Yesses, Nos, Maybes…

…We have just… TODAY… moved into the studios. Exhausted but relieved… it’s like someone opened the window in my head and let some fresh air in.

I have no more words… for now…

Mary Beard and The (female) Artist

The nature of this blog is that is as much (if not more) for the writer as the reader. I try to capture those fleeting thoughts that affect my thinking… so that I can return to them to pin them down as they make themselves known in the work.

So here goes… this might be a bit of a ramble. When I get to the end I will read and edit for clarity if necessary…

I’ve just finished reading Mary Beard’s Women and Power. I admire this woman greatly, as we all should, frankly. She is full of knowledge and insight, her knowledge of the ancient casts light on the present. There’s a grand sweep about her writing that is deeply affecting.

Women and Power then. So far to be a powerful woman one has to be a parody of a man? We should be looking perhaps at what power is and how it manifests itself. Our definition of power being currently, inherently male. There is a passage in the book about the balance of women in government: our own being around the 30% mark, but that in Rwanda it’s 60%… indicating perhaps that the outward facing parliament is NOT where the power lies?

The power lies, says the wonderful Mary Beard, in being taken seriously.

Women being taken seriously is the issue then?

I look at my own work sideways…

Up until very recently my work has focused on the feminine, and the domestic: embroidery, bras, children’s clothes… my themes being the relationships between parents/adults/children…

I am still very proud particularly of the works “Are you listening?” and “Nine Women”. They still stand up well to scrutiny I think.

My recent work is more abstracted from these themes… concentrating on the essence of connection and touch. My materials have changed from the feminine and domestic to a more neutral, non-domestic pencil and paper (with a bit of ink or watercolour here and there). I have been wondering about the increase in Likes/Follows/Shares on social media by men since this change and why this might have happened.

Is it because the work of women is seen as only FOR women and the work of men is universal? This is where the power struggle is I think… when the creative work of women is also seen as universal we might be on to something? How can 51% of the population be seen as a “minority group”?

(“We’ve already had a woman’s play in the programme this year” – yes that really happened!)

By switching materials, is it now more universal in its appeal? Women (on the whole) really understood the previous work, and I have had so many amazing conversations about those installations mostly with women, all sorts of women, artists and otherwise. The conversations with men about these works have been men that I already know, most of whom are artists themselves.

The work I am now doing in preparation for The Tenth Woman is getting rather dark… animal… visceral… and men seem to respond to this more readily, and are happier to talk about this than an old bra embroidered with barbed wire, or a child’s dress embroidered with abusive hand marks… equally dark in my eyes… but… what is going on here?

I must admit it is good to have a wider following, and different conversations. I do now however find myself wondering if this change in materials comes from an unexpected place? I still think the drawings are feminine… but what is the nature of graphite that makes it more neutral/acceptable to the male gaze?

I’m also puzzling over myself and my own change in attitude. There is an element of Don’t-give-a-fuckery about this. I used to pride myself on the accessibility of my work, that people could relate to the textile, the stitch, the domestic… I could easily explain what it was about to those who asked.

I now find I can’t be arsed to explain. Why the fuck should I?

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Athletes and Artists

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I’m no athlete that’s for sure…

I admire the women athletes who have begun talking about how their menstrual cycle affects their performance. I admire the marathon runner who allowed her flow to flow to make the point. I think I am probably too old to make such a personal and public performance/demonstration, and I certainly had the sort of upbringing that continued and reinforced the taboos. But I’m older now. I am more of a feminist now. I see the importance of eliminating such taboos now. I think it would have been helpful to me as a young woman to know more about my own body. How I have come to know it is through my own experience. I could not have done, and would not make now, that public a stance. Some things are too ingrained. But I can support and admire. And of course I can write.

I am 57. Peri-menopausal. Every 28 days (or close, it’s getting rather more unpredictable lately) My heart sinks. Here we are again. Surely I’ve done enough?

Those things have an effect on my work. Of course they do. Many days in the month I have boundless energy, I am well up for life and art and gigs and fun…. but…. Yesterday, to be frank, was a fucking miserable day. Really. I dragged myself out of bed just before noon, having hardly slept until 4:00 ish, when I descended into a deep and weird-dream-filled sleep until 11:30… THAT day. My joints ached, I had a headache, my eyes wouldn’t focus properly, I had cramps… the whole box of delights.

I read a little and drew a little. The drawing was grim. Fitful. Frantic. Vile. Cruel. It was a direct representation of my mood on the page. Bones and blood and gnarled forms. I slumped in a chair. I ate the wrong things at the wrong time. I snarled at anyone who approached, in reality or virtually.

Today is a different day. Throughout the awful days I try to tell myself that I will be ok tomorrow, or the next day. I try not to make important decisions or do important things. But of course you can’t always predict with accuracy which day it will be, and some things you have no control over. Sometimes the gig or the work elsewhere is on THAT day and I’ve spent 45 years just getting on with it. These days I do less, but it still gets to me. Every woman will have similar experiences, some more, some less.

Anyway… the point of all of this is that in amongst the abject fog of yesterday, an idea started to grow. It had germinated ages ago I’m sure, but I have only just recognised it. From under the quilt and hot water bottle the connections between the drawing, the songs, the sounds began to coalesce around The Tenth Woman. I knew it was there, I trusted it. I’ve been working through it every day for months now. And yesterday, overnight, and this morning it has become real.

My work goes in cycles as well as my body. Every part of those cycles has a purpose and meaning. One part relies on the other. I can’t have those periods of high energy and productivity without the periods of stillness and pain.

For The Tenth Woman, this is how life is made. This is how life is lived. And it is certainly how the Art is made.

The Importance of Titles

I registered my new project with the Arts Council and began to write the words in the letter boxes.

(Handy Hint no 1: DON’T type them in the letter boxes on the form, type them somewhere else, check the character count, then paste them in, then click save IMMEDIATELY)

About half way down the page concerning the quality of the project, where I describe in more detail what it is I want the funding for, I realise that Ive registered it under the wrong title. The stupidity cuffed me round the earhole. For over a year I’ve had two titles rolling around in my head, and for some reason I decided one was to be the project title. I was wrong! Big Time wrong! So I have changed it. I’m not going to say what the wrong one was, as I might use it for something else down the line. But the right title is:

“The Tenth Woman”.

Now those of you who have been following this might recognise the title. Now I’ve changed it, everything makes so much more sense, is balanced and focussed .

*forehead-slap*

(if you feel inclined to look back, the dates of the posts are 03/05/17 and 12/05/17)

So this is the “new” project, with myself and my multifaceted, interdisciplinary practice I embody The Tenth Woman. Under her auspices I can gather these elements and work. I can allow myself to just BE The Tenth Woman.

Suddenly it all makes sense.

Funding and Terror

Trying to write an artist statement while at a crossroads in your thinking is difficult, as you want to sound confident don’t you? My friend Debra Eck  is currently in this place too. I feel empathetic as I sit here trying to write a funding application from a similar position of uncertainty. Changed work… Shift of focus… But this is precisely why I need a period of funding, to get me through that period of precarious perching to a place where I can commit to a body of work and plough through again to (hopefully) find a higher plane.

So I’m teetering on the brink again. Applying for funding is very much about speculating to accumulate. If they say yes, then it’s all worthwhile. If they say no then it’s weeks of work down the pan. Work that will never be paid for or offset against the joy of being given the money!

I’ve spent months pondering the amorphous blob of ideas, willing it to coalesce into something firm and focussed and useful.

Last week, thank god, I could actually see it. So it’s time to start filling in the form.

I’ve spent time helping and supporting other artists fill in their forms so I am now quite familiar with the format and the idiosyncrasies of the Grantium platform. I’m even now in a position to offer professional help if anyone wants me to, and if you have any specific needs in terms of accessing the forms (for example if you have a visual impairment) then ACE will pay for that support for you. They are wonderful people and it is an amazing organisation, but the application process can be a nightmare.

But however familiar I am with the process, writing my own bid is a different beast. the emotional attachment to the work creates obstacles. My own terror can too. I have decided that one of my targets for this project should be to gain the confidence and technical skills required for a solo performance. These words have been inserted, deleted, and inserted agin every time I open the application.

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The glorious thing about being in a band, or even with one other person accompanying is the camaraderie. Dan is a wonderful man to have next to me on a stage. I swear that man can read my mind, and can certainly pick up on anything untoward, and steer it off! The band is great too. I have Ian, Andy, Lloyd and John all beside me, or hiding behind me. their support for me up front singing is palpable to me. I feel it properly. It is easy to “perform” the relationships between us all, and in doing so, immediately the audience know we are good people, they see it in those relationships. It is relatable.

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But how do you convey that without the onstage interaction?

And this is exactly the point at which my thoughts about the project coalesced.

Those drawings about relationships and interaction rely upon there being several elements on the page/stage.

But what happens when there’s only ONE?

How and Why?

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I like there to be some sort of relationship between the WAY that I work and my SUBJECT.

Sometimes I have found this takes a long time to develop. I keep saying “Trust the process!” But I can get to the point of desperation and question the truth of that statement as time goes on.

This new work, these drawings, has been tricky. Textiles and garments are easy peasy. It is fairly simplistic, representational. Stitches are also easy to connect to the themes – see?

But that is exactly my point. That simplicity, while inherently beautiful, is also the sticking point.

I have outlined here in previous posts, how the circumstances of work, home, family, and studio conspired to change everything. I don’t know if everything would have changed if it had all stayed stable? But it didn’t. So what the world offered me, along with all that crap, was an opportunity to think differently for a while. Ditch the objects and the stitching (maybe temporarily, who knows?) and get on with something else. The something else was a diversion, I told myself, occupational therapy… all that… but… niggling at my hindbrain was the fact that I had been stuck and I needed to get UNstuck. The drawings have evolved over the last six months or so to a point where the start is now not visible. I know where it is, and if you’ve been following, you might be able to too.

Just this week, I have, at last, noticed where it sits.

As my pencil searches for anomalies in the texture of the paper and the surface marks of the watercolour, I realise that while I had been stitching, that’s what I had been looking for… a relationship to pick up on.. an unseen “thing” to latch onto, to draw attention to. I have been looking for mutations and anomalies and family resemblance, inherited traits and cycles. In the drawings I have been setting up the culture for these anomalies: Using watercolour, making my own indentations in the softer papers. I then look for one place, one part of the drawing to relate to another, just as I had searched for one person’s affect on another in the garments. I wasn’t pushing or stretching those relationships when I was working with stitches so much. What I can do now is manipulate and provide a culture that allows me to interfere more I think. The drawings are more experimental than the textiles. They are more exploratory. I am able to do more than just point at things and say “look at this”.

With the drawing I am reaching and reacting. I am doing more than observing and illustrating. I am making something happen.

Sometimes you need to get out of the place where you are too comfortable, where things are too easy. Sometimes uncomfortable is the place where things happen.