Welcome to my online Journal where i hope to share my thoughts, feeling, inspirations, processes, problem solving, and completed works as well as works in progress.
Surrender........that is a lesson i learnt this year. I don't mean that in a defeatist kind of way, don't let life beat you up. Singing in the rain.
I mean just use everything that happens, everything you cant control, use it. It was a weird start to the academic year, i had three wonderful people pass away within weeks of each other which knocked me a bit. I have never been very good at the whole death thing, i tend to go numb and quiet. The style of work i was making was the perfect way to express these feelings without speaking. Using large loose canvas's, natural pigments as well as inks, charcoals and chalks. It was the perfect medium to work with. I didnt have to be tidy, it was all out-doors, i didn't have the pressure to create something that had to look like anything......and it helped a lot with these emotional processes.It is far easier to explain grief in patterns and color than words. My partner and i also moved a lot this year.....a week before the start of the academic year i lost my job, which also came with our cottage, another blow but it turned out alright. We decided to house-sit full-time until we found somewhere ideal. The plus side of this was that everywhere we stayed there was a new woodland, a new setting to make work in. The down side was it was very unsettling, no sooner had you got into some sort of routine then we had to move again. Art really does help me, being an artist isn't a choice, you don't wake up one day and think "I am going to be an artist" You do realize one day when you have had a string of messy random creative jobs and you are always covered in paint and your house is full of moss and tree branches that really the title of artist would be most appropriate, you just can help making something. And i guess that is what i mean by surrender....to use all life's ammunition to make and inform your work. I guess a musician thinks and feels in notes, and a poet thinks and feels in rhymes and riddles.....and i think in color and texture. I never think "i am going to make a peice of work now, i am going to put three hours aside for making, i find i am always making something, gathering something from every walk, i dont know what i will use it for but i know i have to collect it. I realized this year i am never off duty as an artist, because i am never on duty....i am just doing my thing, which feels authentic. Struggling with the idea of choosing an academic or artistic path in life, history of art at oxford, or a creative masters at the RA....i am terrible at choices. It has been a great yet exhausting year. There are lots of ideas i have had over the last few months but just not the time to make then, so i am looking forward to having more free time in our new home to birth them over the summer. We shall see. For now i am running into the woods and not coming back for a while x
I always find installs a slightly surreal experience. At first it always looks like a bomb has gone off in the Blue Peter props department, then gradually, a show appears from the rubble. This install was the usual early morning chaos of last minute finishing of work, getting someone to open the gate early for the van, loading and then fighting rush hour traffic to London.
stewart edmondson - Landscape Painter
Work experience with Jodi Whitby
There were many reasons why I wanted to do work experience with Jodi Whitby. I find her work beautiful and her techniques and style with regards to her landscapes is a level of skill I would like to have myself. Her use of light, texture and colour. She has also reached a realistically achievable level of success, financially and academically, and I felt she would be a great positive role-model. She manages to raise enough money for her own home and to raise her three children with the profits from her paintings, illustrations and from copyright for her images to be used on greetings cards. For me this is the ideal goal for my life and career.
We started the day off with coffee at her kitchen table, she was very interested in my large-scale landscape paintings and sculptures that she had seen on my Instagram and liked hearing about the processes I was using to make them. We discussed what it is to be an artist, her personal battles with different painting styles and marketability when having several different looking projects on the go at once. Her illustration work is very different to her landscapes, and also the paintings used for cards have a totally different style according to where they will be used. She said she understood and had fights with herself about how to market so many different threads. I mentioned being told once I should use one name for my modern works, and another for my traditional landscapes….she had had similar ideas about her own work but decided that it is best to have all your work under one name, it all comes from yourself she said, be proud to show all the different sides of you to the world. She gave great advice and support on being true to your own self artistically. She understood my spiritual approach to art making, and she really made me feel more confident about doing my “thing” without doubting myself or allowing others to distract me from my personal processes.
We spend a lot of time in her studio, which was a large wooden cabin in the garden of her country house. She was working on a large impressionistic sea-scape. She uses sponges and rolled up cloth to make marks which was new for me to see. See helped me experiment painting on different surfaces to make the impression of water. Glass, mirrors, copper sheets. She had never got it right before, so we were kind of playing together and experimenting before she applied it to the larger work.
There were some brilliant recommendations for artist I may like, one in particular, stewart Edmondson was amazing. He paints abstract landscapes outdoors, often using soils and sands, leaving canvases in the rain before taking them into the studio to work on again. We discussed practical ways of approaching a landscape painting. She prefers lights t dark and then working light on again. She will also often paint a picture and then sand it down again, sometimes liking the sanded painting more. She also works almost exclusively with the canvas on the floor. She explained this made the paints behave in a more abstract way and the movement of the body working around the canvas helps give the work movement. She also explained that you can mix inks with acrylic paint to give whites a sheen, perfect for impressions of clouds and water spray.
All in all it was a really amazing experience to work with Jodi. I found her practical advice really inspiring and her general advice and encouragement gave me a much-needed confidence boost!
水石 - viewing stones
My tutor Kate suggested i look at Suiseki or viewing stones. Suiseki is the Japanese art of stone appreciation, which values aspects like stability, longevity and immortality. Formed through time by wind and water, stones can take several sizes and shapes, reminding us of natural objects. They are often placed on delicate wooden stands or trays, called daizas and dobans, respectively. The wooden stands serve to display the stones and create an image of harmony. The stones are naturally occurring and unshaped. Literally translated 'Suiseki' means waterstone, the stones often represent mountains, waterfalls and other natural scenes. The art of Suiseki involves the collection process, preparation of the stone (though not altering their shape or appearance) and appreciation. I really love the idea of making these viewing stones. It really resonates with my own practices of natural found objects. I often have a desire to place a natural stone or tree branch in a gallery setting, as in my mind they are already ready-made art object.
Each of these gods ruled over thunder and lightning, and oak trees are prone to lightning strikes as they are often the tallest living feature in the landscape. Druids frequently practiced and worshiped their rituals in oak groves and cherished the mistletoe that frequents oak tree branches. Royalty has had a long association with oak trees too; ancient kings adorned themselves with crowns of oak leaves, King Charles II hid from his pursuers in an oak tree at Boscobel House and Roman Emperors were presented with crowns of oak leaves during victory parades. In England the oak has for centuries been a national symbol of strength and survival. It has played an important part in our culture – couples were wed under ancient oaks in Oliver Cromwell’s time, the festive Yule Log was traditionally cut from oak, it features on the 1987 pound coin and is the inspiration for the emblem of many environmentally focused organisations, including the Woodland Trust. Personally i have always held Oak very dear to my heart......such a symbol of strength and endurance.
Having recently moved back to Sussex to look after a friends dogs and country house for a month, i find myself back in my childhood forest, miles of deep woodland dotted with small ponds and lakes....heaven! Home! On my many excursions exploring half remembered paths i often find little objects i collect to use in my work, a small mossy stone, a twisted honeysuckle stem.....or in this case, long lengths of rusty old barbed wire from a forgotten boundary line. I broke off and gathered up as much as i could find, initially thinking of weaving a basket or little nest from it. having bought it home and looked at it for a while i was inspired to make a small tree sculpture from it, i like the idea of using something that was intended to keep nature and bay to make a natural form, something man-made into the illusion of wildlife. I have always loved the art of Bonsia, the patience involved and skill to make a tiny tree appear as a perfect miniature of its full size relatives. Originally inspired by the stunted and twisted trees found perched on windy mountain-tops, clinging on for dear life!
The wire is very malleable, very old rusty steel. The little spikes have half rusted but instead of making them blunter, the outer rust peels away when touched exposing a razor sharp core inside....a total nightmare to weave and sculpt with but i like the challenge. I decided the best way to start was by tying the lengths of cut wire around a log and holding it in place with rope. I then twisted the wire together in twos either end so when the log was removed you were left with the hollow trunk of a tree where the branches and roots could be formed and twisted from the top and bottom. Once a rough tree shape was made i needed a base for it to sit on before i could continue sculpting. I originally thought i would use a mossy iron-stone that you find in these parts, i walked for a few hours looking for the perfect stone but instead stumbled across a large twisted mossy tree stump. It was perfect, very dramatic and sculptural, the moss on it looked like sea grass on a cliff edge.
This is as far as i have got so far with the sculpture. I decided to make it appear to be swept by the wind to give it movement. I even left it out in a storm to be blown and swayed naturally. I have begun experimenting with wiring small branches onto the wire ends of the branches, i have used rusty wire and carefully attached them individually, at a glance it is hard to see where the wire ends and the natural materials start. It is quite a large sculpture and i am mindful of having to fit it in the car to bring to the studio to finish. I think this is the piece i will use for the London show and if i carry on much more it wont fit in the back seat of my car. I will attach more branches and use barbed wire nails to attach it permanently in place on the log. Once this is done i will experiment with positioning and how to display the piece, whether to use a plinth or if i need to make something bespoke for it to stand on.
In my last crit show i showed my three large scale canvases with the video of me making the work projected over the top ( a theme others copied, i mean appropriated, themselves in the last crit show) they however made it to the top 20. The critique from my tutors was to be less "new-agey", what ever that means. I decided for this next crit show to make something extremely simple, to demonstrate and idea or observation with the minimal amount of materials, relying on small details to tell the story or make a point or observation. I currently have zero funds, work or a permanent home so i needed a way to work that would be possible in abject poverty and fluid living conditions. My large scale canvas's were such fun to make but the costs for the large canvases and natural pigments were high and not something i can afford to develop further at the moment. I sat in the woods and asked myself what i am trying to say or observe in my work. The main idea is to see how humans effect the natural world, how we change and twist it to meet our needs, i wondered how i could make a work to demonstrate this without being to new age or obvious, extravagant, or showy. Remembering a peice i made in my first year where i sprayed one leaf neon pink and photographed it, and also twisted honey suckle stems into a loop and also sprayed it, i simply gathers six dead branches from the forest floor and sprayed one bright red paint, the natural color of warning, or poison in the natural world and a color also used in England for public services, fire engines, post boxes and traditional telephone booths. I simply took them and placed them in the space, to add more human touch i broke the end of each one and snapped into three or four small pieces. I placed the branches upside down, skinny end on the floor, the opposite way a tree would grow and arranged the smaller pieces in a very human zip-zag pattern in-front. The effect was very simple but also i felt very effective. Would the point still get across, was it too cryptic, was it effective? It was the simplest work i have ever made and felt strange, almost cheating to make something so simple, how ever if Duchamp can call a urinal a fountain then why cant i objectify a stick to my own means?
How did the crit show go???
I was surprised at how well the work was received. The work was put on lots of peoples top five lists but didn't make the top twenty that the tutors chose. Before explaining what the work was about the other people in the crit had to try and guess what the work was trying to say, the first lady to speak said "i feel it is is about nature and how humans mess with it. It is about tree's, deforestation. The branches have been placed upside down and distorted, one is painted red to symbolize toxicity, danger." I was a little dumb struck at how all the little clues were picked up on and the story told with hardly any process being involved. My other works take days and days of meticulous process to complete, this work was as simple as could be. They said it looked visually interesting, the way the light fell on it was effective, the positioning of the branches was interesting. I told them how i was struggling with making something so simple, that it felt almost like a cheat and they were all very adamant that it was perfect as it was, it made its point and that was the important thing. One even went as far as to say it was one of my strongest pieces. It was all very reaffirming if not a little disconcerting.
Where to go from here??
I would like to continue with this theme to see what else i can make. I like the way only one part of the work is a man-made color. I think several more works can be made using this new simple format. Curious shapes and object made quickly and simply from found natural materials. I am currently working on a Bonsia inspired tree made from found wire and twigs which is quite complicated and fiddly so i feel allowing for time and budget this new way of approaching my practice could help me to make the points i want to make within these limitations.
Micro - Macro performance piece. My original idea was to combine microscopic footage of my body with flashing images of men at all ages of life, from a new born baby to an elderly man, to show the vulnerability of men, their flaws and wounds and imperfections. The work was loosely in response to third wave feminism, the friction between the sexes that is prevalent in the media a lot at the moment. Men and woman finding their new roles and expectations of eachother. I felt it was important to show male vulnerability, there is such a projection on men to be strong, powerful, gentle, loving, protective...a tough act to juggle. I complied the original video but wasn't pleased with the end result, it looked slightly disjointed and almost too strange and cryptic to make the point i was trying to make, i decided i would do it as a live performance, with the image from the microscope projected live on the wall behind me. I felt the contrast between micro and macro would be really effective and engaging. I also decided a voice over was needed to tell more of a story and guide people through the narrative the piece was implying. I decided to write a script but to ask dean from our year to read it aloud, my voice and accent can come across quite traditional (Radio 4 as a tutor put it once) dean has a lovely urban London accent, which i felt would compliment the work perfectly. I also wondered if i should be naked but decided against this as i didn't want the focus of the work to be lost and felt it didn't need to be titillating to be successful. I also felt the contrast between being dressed yet seeing what was under my clothes would be more true to life. That we don't normally see what we are hiding underneath.
How did the performance go? What was the critique?
The work went down well, it was unlike anything i had done before which i think supersized people a little. With out any kind of rehearsal dean read the wording beautifully and it was felt the words went well with the piece. There was a moment when i focused on a small wound on my hand, which when projected 1000X larger onto the wall looked like a bloody gaping maw, it literally made people gasp. There was some debate about whether i should have been naked after all, the tutor Kate thought it would have made it more powerful, others thought it would have been distracting. All in all i was pleased with the reactions/feedback and was glad i had spontaneously decided to do the piece live instead of a pre-recorded video edit. The micro-macro contrast in certainly something worth developing and using again. I would like to do this performance on a larger screen, in a gallery setting.
How to develop this work???
There is definitely part of this to use in future work, making the tiny huge and vise versa. It is a perception shift that can be utilized in lots of works. I would like to use the microscope to make a series of works on the natural world, looking at the unseen detail and beauty, or ugliness that we miss with our naked eyes. There is nothing i can see me using this for in the immediate future but definitely in the back of my mind, perhaps as a backdrop to other pieces of work. Time will tell!
I adore his images, he shows us how amazing the natural world can be, how complex and magical!
Carl Strüwe (born December 2, 1898 in Bielefeld, January 7, 1988. Carl Heinrich was a German graphic artist and photographer , with his book "Forms of the microcosm" (Munich, 1955) the art of Founded photomicrography as a separate artistic subject. In 1951 and 1954 Strüwe received the Photokina badges, for high-quality photographic achievements of his photokina exhibitions. In 1986, he received the city of Bielefeld's Culture Prize for his photographic oeuvre. I love the simplicity of his work, all images are from the natural world, tiny details the naked eye could miss.
Micro pictures using an iphone.
Not as magnificent as using an electron microscope but enjoying looking through the lens of the Micro world. It is amazing how ordinary objects become little worlds in their own right when observed close up. The roach for my rollie on the table cloth looks really cool, perhaps micro-poetry can be a thing. Have looked at digital microscopes online and have asked for one for Christmas......lets hope Santa is kind to a naughty little boy this year. Ohps. Would love to experiment more with this idea, Show images of the natural world close up.....there is definitely more of this to come.
I had originally planned to show my final canvas with the edited film of me making it projected on top. The film was edited to show only the above shots, so when projected on a canvas on the floor would give the illusion of a life size me making marks on the canvas. i had planned for a slightly dark area with room to mount a projector from above. Unfortunately the space i was given couldn't accommodate this as it was too high with nothing to support a projector, in a corridor so no room for the work to be spread on the floor and much too bright for the projection to be from above as edited and intended, however, I finally got to show my three large scale canvas together as a trip-tic. I was advised to hang them in a row, on simple hooks, however after trying this it didn't feel authentic, it didn't show them to their fullest. Ideally these pieces should be stretched and hung, as intended but the tutors advice has been to leave them lose....god knows why. They are intentionally large and dominant, trying to capture a whole landscape in a few meters of fabric, i felt hanging them made them shrink and droop and didn't show their colors and textures to the max. it looks a little pretentious. The end result of the way they were hung made them look like a theater, a stage to be played upon....i liked it. I was mildly frustrated as a lot of work had gone into editing and preparing the work and found having to show the work differently at the last minute really stressful and upsetting. If i had known the space i was being given in advance i could have planned something else. Still, a learning curve.....dont go into a show blind, get exact locations and space size agreed before hand and never change the work to fit someone elses needs at the last minute. onward!
What was the feed-back from the crit show??
The feedback was a little schizophrenic. The head of year came along as i was setting up and told me my work was Phudo-abstract which was a little confusing considering the amount of well known artists that make work by simply lobbing paint at a canvas and still call it abstract yet mine is Pseudo, was a little confusing. The critique from the students was good, everyone said they liked it, the scale and the film, the sounds. There were no negative comments which was nice. Another tutor said that she hated the sound track too it, that it was a bit new age. I explained that the sound was from a recording i made in London near parliament square, a normal day in our capital, the wonderful mix of cultures and traditions....it cannot be helped if London is that way, The idea was to have the contrast between urban and rural textures. it was a strange crit as all of my fellow students loved it, and all of the tutors had negative comments to say. I was mentioned in the presentation as being ambitious, it is always considered ambitious....which i guess is a good sign. Maybe i dont want to be ambitious......maybe i am just enjoying myself and the process. I think i will try something new and smaller scale, budget and time are running low and i dont have the studio space to do this kind of work inside at uni and i am being pressured to use my studio more. Time will tell.
Nils Udo born 1937 is a German artist of the earth. He began in the 1960s as a painter on traditional surfaces, in Paris, but moved to his home country in Bavaria and began planted creations, putting them in Nature's hands to develop, and eventually disappear. His work has always inspired me. It has a deep and profound connection with nature, questioning beauty, questions human touch and questioning permanence. Some of his works are on a huge scale such as the 80 ton birds nest below left. Some are more delicate and would only last a few hours before returning to nature. He is such an inspiration when it comes to sculptural works but i fear any one else making work like this would just be accused of mimicking goldsworthy!
Usually it is a physical process that makes my abstract work. Love-making, rolling, burning, burying, dancing have all played parts in past works. Having had several deaths close to me in the last few weeks i was thinking a lot about the process's around grief, how we cope or not, we all have a unique way. I decided to make this personal piece on the theme of grief, using grief itself as an art making process. I used an existing experimental piece with the turquoise stains of plant food still visible o the canvas. It seemed right to use a canvas that was not shiny and new but had an existing story to tell already embedded in it, such is death. Clearing out my grandmothers house my family found lots of cards and letters i had written her over the years which they had saved for me but it seemed strange to be in ownership of a letter you had written to someone else, i have letters she had written to me. I decided to burn these cards that i had sent her on a fire in the garden and use the remaining ash and charcoal as a pigment. It had a raw, crumbling deep black quality to it. Essentially carbon, the building block of all life on earth. The only other material i used was scarlet ink that i had been given on a trip to the paint laboratory in London...its blood like movement and hue seemed fitting, life, death. The process this time was simple, i lay the canvas in front of my shrine and wept for the missing characters in my life, remembering, missing, thanking them whilst instinctively applying the pigment and ink with my bare hands. It was not a process i fully documented on this occasion as it was a very personal moment and don't want people to be overwhelmed by my own grief when they look at the work and how it was made, but to make a painting that is relatible to all individuals grief without pushing my own narrative. I have no desire to make work that is art therapy, an uncomfortable personal regurgitation.....just the finished work and the title is enough to get the point.
a kindred spirit in Penone.
Giuseppe Penone (born 3 April 1947, Garessio, Italy) is an Italian artist and sculptor, known for his large-scale sculptures of trees that are interested in the link between man and the natural world. His early work is often associated with the Arte povera movement. In 2014, Penone was awarded the prestigious Praemium Imperiale award. He currently lives and works in Turin, Italy.
I have always been inspired by this mans work and the reasoning behind his pieces. We share the same awe in nature and the same intrigue in how humans and nature coexist. My eye was particually caught by the piece shown bottom left, the way the large canvas was hung, gets me thinking of way to display my trip tic with the projection.
Making my third large canvas in the set.
This third large canvas was to be a reconciliation between the first totally natural and the second totally man-made and marked canvases. The first canvas had a softness and pliability to it having been embedded with the elements before painting with it. It felt that this third canvas had to go through the same process the achieve the same effect, to bring it alive. I left it in the spring first for two days, returning daily to walk with it and to turn the fabric over. I then placed it on a fire whilst it was still damp from the spring until it had been smoked and small marks and holes had started to form. I then left it for a day hanging in the forest to air it. I then buried it in the marsh and swampy land and returned the next day to retrieve it and walk with it again. I used the same water and ashes from the fire to experiment with making different pigments.
I was lucky enough to have moved back to chithurst manor in west sussex which is an ancient space, the house dates back to 1080 and many trees in the wooded grounds are old enough to have preservation orders on them. Also excitingly i could use the straw bale and clay round house we had built in the grounds as a meditation and meeting space. The shrine in there simply has a large broken wagon wheel on it, to represent the wheel of life, how we are all broken our own ways but we must keep turning and rolling onward. I like the neutrality of the space, neither making a spiritual statement or disregarding any....it just is there. I lit the fire and had the canvas spread on the ground with the pigments in dishes around me. I was naked, this felt important, so i could use my whole body freely to mark make and play with the pigments and textures, explore the topography of the canvas. I also filmed it this time to edit and use later as a projection in an installation with the work. I spent a lot of time sitting at first, clearing my head, a dear friend had passed away the day before so i took time to calm my mind and think of them. It was around Halloween which traditionally is a time to honor and remember the people who have passed so i spent some time honoring this, smudging the room with sage and giving thanks, not to a god or spirit...but to life. There is a very pagan element to a lot of my work, almost nature worship but i hate the idea of people confusing my work and ideology with some outdated tepid 1970's (i wasnt even born) hippy movement, ajawaska drenched (tried it) spiritual belief system or dusty claustrophobic religion (born into it). I just honor, question and explore the natural world as a teacher, a phenomena of great beauty and inspiration that has earned my complete respect, protection, admiration and trust over many years. Our egotistical human melodrama plays out on this vast secretive canvas of a cosmos and it has earned our awe and amazement. It deserves to be explored, to be experienced, to be poked and prodded, lent upon, dived into, sung to and rolled across....why else are we here?
So there it is, and here we are....what ever I or We or Here is, your guess is as good as mine!
Chalk under a microscope......if you ever wonder why i like using chalks to make pigments just look!
Chalk rock (calcium carbonate), a pure form of limestone formed in warm, tropical seas about 100 million years ago in the Cretaceous Period when Dinosaurs ruled the Earth!
Microscopic marine algae, called coccoliths, lived in the ancient sea. Their shells were made of calcite. As the algae died, their bodies sunk to the sea floor thus chalk sediment was deposited, so Chalk rock could be described as a "biological graveyard!"
Over millions of years layers of chalk sediment were deposits caused compaction of loose sediment into solid chalk rock.
surface tension - off-side project space uca - Curating and testing the work in a gallery setting.
Lowdown: The two pieces have been facing each-other on opposite walls all week whilst i decide how best to combine them. Do i tear them, weave them, glue them, over-lap? The best thing for now was to see them meet and touch and see what happens organically (i know it sounds like i am introducing a potential couple, but that is what it feels like) A group of us decided to do a pop-up show together as we felt our work explored similar themes and questions. Our work was about man meeting the natural world, Maggies photographs were about abandoned houses, where nature had taken over, Katies paintings were exploring the flow of paints and how process could effect it, mine is a mix between the two, when man meets nature. I wasnt ready to allow them to mingle totally but i was interested to see how they would work as a set visually, when they overlapped even a little. When hanging them i decided to hang them low on the wall so that they could be stretched and folded to the middle of the room, i felt this gave them more presence in the room and forced the viewer to engage with the work. We met and positioned the works as seen in the pictures below and invited our tutor Greig to critique the show as a whole and the individual pieces.
The crit: As a whole the crit was good, we were told the pieces had been put together succinctly. It was felt that maggies photographs may have been more effective as a life size projection and kates paintings more exploratory. With my work Greig felt the work needed a third piece instead of joining just the two together in some way later. The idea was that another one should be made combining the two techniques (nature and nurture) to make a consolidationary piece which then could be hung as one constructed work.
Where Now?: I am undecided as yet where to take this further......it will go further, but i dont yet know in what direction.
Part of me wants to make an enormous ceremonial clay orb and have three pieces gathered in the middle of the room by it, but space is a limit here. The work is made in miles of woodland but must be shown in a small space for now....do i adapt my work to the spaces provided to show it, or let it grow larger into the vast space it is made in? My main excitement here has been the process of making the work, which can still go a lot further and bigger....it seems a shame to make something less vast (almost compromised) to fit into the urban space it so questions. I think at the moment i should present my work as a whole and let it fill and spill and intervene.......as it should.
After spontaneously using the plant food for the larger canvas and loving the effect of it on the wet surface i decided to experiment with it on different gradients to see the variations. Each canvas was effected differently and the color flowed and weaved more or less urgently depending.
It occurred to me whilst i was putting away my gardening tools at the end of the day that for all my love of nature, my gardening career revolves around trying to control it, to mold it into a different form, to cut and burn and dig and disturb the natural balance of things, to make and carve an area of land that contradicts the laws of nature. How fickle we are! It was then i thought a blur of things....What if i used these tools to mark a canvas? What if i went against all of my normal eco friendly ways and used paints that were not nature friendly? what if i then left this canvas for a week or so in the woods.....what would nature do to it????? Could i uncensor my ethics and make work like this? What would it look like? what would it smell like??? what would it feel like??? What would i feel like??? I gathered all my usual tools, spade, fork, hoe, rake, broom, sythe, watering can, plant food, all of the left over paint from painting my house and went up to the woods with a huge roll of canvas. Well, there was only one way to find out.
I gave myself three rules:
1) I could only use man made dyes and paints.
2) I could only use the gardening tools to make marks.
3) I had to leave it for 1 week in the woods, no matter how hard it rained or i wanted to save it from the wind etc.
I lay the canvas out on a gentle slope in the woods under oak trees. Then i moistened the canvas with water from the stream. From past experience i knew that a damp canvas would absorb more of the dyes as well as the dirt and stains of the woodland.
I used my hands to scrape out great globs of paint and threw it across the canvas with no regard to composition or color. Once the paint was on i used the tools to scrape, jab and push the paint around, I took care to use each tool with the same motion i would use to work with in the garden, the broom for sweeping, the sythe for long flat broad strokes, the hoe for jabbing narrow furrows. I pored more water over it, flung plant food over it, scraped and jabbed some more and then walked away for a week, praying the badgers wouldn't choke to death on house paint and plant food!
Below are details of the process and how it merged with the nature, leaves, stones, soil.
I returned after a 1 week. It had been a wet and stormy few days and had been blown slightly further down the slope but had stayed the same way up. I dragged it back to the clearing it was made in and sat on a log smoking a cigarette whilst i meditated on its presence.
How did it look and feel??? Well, it looked almost schizophrenic, a manic disturbed maw of color and texture. The paints still seemed wet and unset from the rain, leaves and dirt had got stuck and mixed in its surface and gave it the look of a disheveled cast off Technicolor dream-coat. It looked a little forlorn, yet also a little optimistic, a confused blob of man on the brown floor of the forest.......lost.
Crit show: I decided to be very straight forward when displaying this piece and nailed it to the largest wall that would accommodate it in the UCA studios. There it was, in your face, take it or leave it, stop or walk by, wonder or not. It didnt invade or hide, it was just was.
The feedback was interesting. They knew it was my work by the size and look of it but i didnt indicate how this work was made. (No fucking this time though unfortunately)
Initial reactions were in one word answers, that is was: Earthy, textured, materialistic, colorful, scented, process led (no-one guessed the process) Experienced (interesting word, they wrote experience, as in the work had had or was made by one)
They said it was like a map, that it seemed somehow spiritual??? That if it were an animal it would be a Camelian.
It was an interesting crit, i like to look at peoples faces when they view my work, do they frown, smile, tilt their heads. In this case they looked a little curious and three out of four reached up and touched the surface with their hand. It is interesting to make work that makes people want to reach out and feel it, and also nice that they feel they can, it doesn't have that prissy, this is "art", self important, do not touch vibe, it is more intimate, approachable and tactile.
What next? Hmmmmmm, i like the idea of using the canvas for another project though what i am not yet sure. Maybe photography, maybe performance, maybe part of another installation. My next giant clay orbs may sit well on its surface. This work lacks the vibrancy of colour in my earlier work with natural pigment making, do i take this further, perhaps use only chalk and charcoal, or more vibrant, more alive??? The element works of last year had a woody scent, a lust to them that i feel worked well. I think i need to sit with it in the woods again, smoke a cigarette or six and listen to what it suggests.
Apart from researching various artists, authors and thinkers we continued to make work this summer! My themes last year were working with nature and the elements which was a process i enjoyed and learnt a lot from. I had always been interested in the tantric arts, most people in the west think of sex when they hear the word tantra but the 64 Tantric arts were an ancient Indian education system that affluent men and women were expected to learn. The 64 arts are wide and varied from learning about jewels and gemstones, gambling, mathematics, music, art, dancing, flower arranging/gardening, languages, riddles/rhymes, teaching birds to speak, carving, learning to read a mans character by his facial features and many more. I decided to pull one randomly out of a hat as a way of making myself try something different over the summer and perhaps learn a skill i never noticed or given much thought to. The first one i pulled out was: The magic of sorcery!
This was a great one to start with (mathematics would have made me groan) a lot of my later work last term involved some sort of ceremony and often had a spiritual almost nature worship element to it. Also my past work running retreats and ceremonies had equipt me with some knowledge of sorcery, albeit a modern approach to it.
I decided to go to the lake in the woods where i grew up and collect a bucket of natural clay. Clay to me symbolizes raw potential, creativity, earth spirits, craft, birth, new beginnings and practical magic. Perfectly, the cottage i grew up in was called "Claypit cottage" due to the large Victorian clay mine nearby which was later turned into a large and private lake hidden in ancient woods. My most fond and lasting childhood memories are embedded in the beautiful landscape there, the deep forest is my home, my virginity was lost there, i learnt to swim in the waters there, i go there when i need to think, or stop thinking and the clay there holds a certain personal symbology and meaning. Having gathered the clay i organized a sound ceremony with a shaman friend who was coming to stay for a few days. We lit a fire, summoned and raised the energies with chanting, sound bowls, singing, incense, flower offerings and incantations. we took it in turns to take a ball of wet clay and to say out-loud what it was we wanted to make solid in our lives....what our desires and wishes were, one for each ball made. These balls were then placed on the open fire to symbolically solidify. The balls were taken from the ashes the next morning and wrapped in cloth until the beginning of term. One of the balls disintegrated being taken from the ashes but it held its own broken charm and was kept in the hope its magic was still inside and hadn't lost its potency. Randomly all of our wishes came true within 48 hours!!! including a new house and new job for each of us. Sorcery indeed! It was very freaky, the little orbs which now looked like strange bread rolls were extremely precious and now had a new sense of importance. Even our language towards them changed, we had fondly referred to them as "balls" up until that moment but now they were reverently referred to as Orbs. I loved the way they looked so small and unassuming and liked the idea of just presenting them in a studio space without any obvious clue to there deeper personal meaning, magical purposes or potency.
sMy initial plan this summer was to find a piece of twisted wood for the orbs to sit along. In my mind i had hoped to find an antler-like piece from a dead oak, the pagan tree of life. The only rule i set myself was that it had to be found and not bought and the wood had to be freely given by the tree so if i found a perfect bit of wood that was still attached to a tree i was not allowed to take it if it didn't come away with the gentlest of pulls. I found several beautiful pieces of wood that were still attached and they did not come away, it was very tempting to yank and fight, or even return with a saw or rope but i made myself stick to my original, nature friendly, approach. It had to be given to me......and it wasnt. When we returned to uni i bought the orbs in with me and pondered on how best to display for the crit show without some sort of stand for them to sit upon. I tried placing them on the floor, and contemplated using plinths, neither option felt right. In one of the studios was a stack of concrete blocks and there ridged, utilitarian vibe appealed to me as a contrast to the work. My orbs were man made also, but from raw clay, imbued with the elements of earth, air, fire and water with a spiritual intent, clear individuality and with separate personality and intent for each one, these blocks were machine made, quickly, dully, mindlessly, practically. The contrast was neat and effective. I decided to place the broken orbs pieces on an upright block and push it over, it broke in half, the effect was fluid, chaotic, and gave the collection a sense of momentum and drama.
So what next???
Successes: I feel the overall process and final visual work was successful. It had a depth and each stage of the making process had a meaning. I would hate to make random, meaningless pieces that didn't come from a personal process. I would like to make more ceremonial works using natural materials and rituals.
Failures: Although the process was documented in photos from my iphone i feel that this piece and perhaps other past pieces could be documented more artistically. The photographs and film documentation could be made into a projection of some kind for example, or used as a visual index to give clues and hints about how the objects were made, it is there process of creation which is the most interesting point and it would be a failure if the viewer wasn't made aware of this. Otherwise these could well be just random clay balls, and not Orbs. I wouldn't want the documentation to take the attention away from the works but i don't think viewers should have to read a load of printed blurb to understand what they are looking at.
Scale! I would love to make another much larger orb using this process. With a larger piece it would be possible to see the detailing of the cracked clay, the bits of root and vegetation embedded in them. Though i think you would still need several of them to see how different they all are, how the fire licks each one differently, or even how the different spells effects them,
if you believe in such things.
August 22nd, 2018
Timothy Francis Leary (October 22, 1920 – May 31, 1996) was an American psychologist and writer known for advocating the exploration of the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs under controlled conditions. he believed that the mind altering and broadening effect of LSD and other hallucinogens could be harnessed to rehabilitate prisoners and alcoholics. The results of his tests on prisoners and finally students at Harvard where overwhelmingly positive. Having used Hallucinogenic drugs myself both recreational and ceremonial i can certainly agree that the effects can be mind expanding and at times even life changing. To use the effects of these drugs to explore and create works of art is an interesting idea. Though i do wonder what would be the final result.....certainly worth a try and this does fit into my ceremony theme for my current work.
John Adams Shaker loops.