Creative Outlets

13687254_141506512950038_1833900222_n“I think that the very great artists were not trying to express themselves.They were trying to trap the fact, because after all, artists are obsessed by life and by certain things that obsess them that they want to record. And they’ve tried to find systems and construct the cages in which these things can be caught.” – Francis Bacon, Tate Liverpool ‘Invisible Rooms’ exhibition catalogue

I read this quote last night and it has stuck with me as I tried to grapple with Bacon’s analysis in relation to my own work. In my view he is absolutely right, artists are obsessed with life; whether it is the architecture we live in, our own bodies, nature and the natural environment, urbanism, industrialism, consumerism. You name it. We’ve made art about everything. Art in a sense could almost be compared to science. It is a route to discovery, a journey of experimentation and deduction. Much like scientists employing  mathematics in an attempt to predict the movements of particles, artists engage with their surroundings and various mediums in an attempt to express themselves and their ideas. Conceptual art is at the forefront of modern art today, as by utilizing artworks as tools we are able to realise an idea and convey it to a public audience. Yet there is also and will always be the most expressive form of art; art that does not require proposals and adherences to restricted budget costs, art that does not require a white cube gallery space to be displayed in, but art that simply is from the self. Raw, unaltered sketches, drawings, illustrations and doodles. The purest form of expression and that emotional/creative release.

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Doodling culture and the professional art world have more in common than most people initially think as they are both incredibly different, yet simultaneously the same. Yes, in galleries there are large scale installations and elaborate industrial sculptures Jeff Koons style, but it all began in the artist’s mind. It quite likely originated with a little paper doodle or a frantic sketch on a table napkin at the crucial moment of realising the sketchbook was left on the coffee table at home. I feel in a lot of cases there are too many barriers between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art forms, too many words that separate what is classified as good and not so good work. Of course, personal taste and style plays a vital part in these judgements as negotiating personal opinion is one of art’s main experiments; to make people question, to challenge them into realising what it is they do and don’t like is at the core of several artistic practices. In a lot of cases however it is the observers who validate what qualifies as good and bad artwork, who make the official distinction which everyone should follow.

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Like anything else in this world, people are happy to follow trends. Whether that is reading a book that everyone else is reading, engaging with an artist who everyone is talking about, visiting an exhibition that everyone else has seen. Despite the creation of artwork being one of the purest forms of human expression and the most individual and personal entity in human existence, art  is still not exempt from the trap of following what is considered mainstream. In a sense however, this actually makes it more interesting as you could ask the question who do we make art for? In this day and age, with the pace of social media and the digital information we are constantly fed, there is a heightened sense of expectation in artmaking and inevitably, artists react to this. So who do artists actually make art for? Is it purely for themselves as the most raw forms of self expression? Is it for an art based audience who will engage with it in the way that the artist themself has? Or is it for a public audience, whose art background and knowledge is probably sparse? Or does it fall within all of these categories? It’s interesting as in a lot of cases I would say it is a combination. You often make art for different purposes which include selling, giving as presents and so these distinctions in themselves also affect the purpose and thinking surrounding the making of the piece.

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I’m not criticising any of these modes of artmaking. I think art is personal and the purpose of the artwork extends within that personal realm. Each person is different, as is each artwork and artist. I know that my artwork varies a lot of the time depending on audience, how I’m feeling, whether it’s for myself or for display. Given that traditionally and throughout human history art has been hung on the wall in Salons and grand entrance halls for all people to see, it is ironic that my art is actually very private. My doodles are my ‘me time’ turned into physical forms. I find it soothing to get lost in a swirling world of colour and fine lines as I carefully navigate across the page. My performances are less concentrated and more physical expressions of my innermost thoughts which can only be conveyed and released through this immersive and bodily art form. I think the reason Bacon’s quote caught me was because I myself can relate to it quite strongly. Although it is not always a conscious decision, life is fundamentally a core part of my artwork. As Eva Hesse once said “my inner soul art and life are inseparable”.

 

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Northumbria University Degree Show 2016

 

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Jack Davison

It’s degree show season at the moment which is why I have been so absent from this blog. It’s nice to finally sit back and be able to enjoy the artwork without the stress of deadline, rushing around like a madwoman and having to juggle so many things. Today marks the start of the final week of Northumbria University’s Fine Art Degree show. It’s open daily 10-5pm so get yourself down here if you fancy a look! I’m exhibiting in a curated environment along with seven other students in Gallery North and at the time of putting all of this together I was also organising and coordinating the degree show catalogue that goes alongside the show (hence my prolonged absence from the blog!) Thankfully I had a brilliant team to work with in putting this publication together, however it was a lot of hard work to say the least and it has taught me a lot about time management! I’ve learnt a gained so much from the editing process and putting things to print so it’s been a fantastic (but at times) stressful experience. As has putting together a curated show. I have never experienced anything like this before, so it was really interesting to work so closely with others whose work differed so greatly from my own.

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Kat Bevan

Putting together a Degree Show is even more work than you imagine; there are so many tiny things that pile up and make all the difference, I couldn’t believe it! My to do list at the time was just endless and expanding constantly, especially with all of the work that was going into the catalogue. As a course we were all so busy during the preparation period that none of us had any time to see each other’s work in advance, so preview night last week had the most amazing atmosphere as everything was revealed. Instead of being all rugged in studio and paint splattered clothes, everyone was dressed up beautifully and we all finally had the chance to see each others’ work!

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Alan Barrett & David Graham

I must say I am proud to be a part of this show. There are so many incredibly works on display and the diversity of it all just amazes me. I was fortunate to have an insight into a lot of people’s practice prior to the show given the amount of text editing I was doing for the catalogue, so it was particularly rewarding to see it all in person on the night. Even still I was not prepared for the level of professionalism, the attention students had paid to the smallest of details and like I said the range of work. There was everything you could imagine and beyond present; performances, glitch based videos, fully immersive installations, workshops, digital art and green screen, unconventional painting displays, you name it, it was all there!

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Jenny Wheatley

I think  a lot of us were nervous for the preview and opening to the public, but on preview night I feel every student let go of any of those feelings and instead just felt relief and delight. It really was an incredible moment to see everyone come together after all their hard work and I think the show really does reflect the efforts that have gone into it. The pieces are full of so much energy; walking into Jack Davison’s installation with it’s  bombardment of pink and heavy club music is instantly absorbing. As a viewer you feel transported from the University corridors you had just left into an erotic jungle of disco balls and plush pink velvet. Being in a studio with Jenny Wheatley for two years now has been amazing, as I’ve seen her practice grow and adapt on a first hand basis – I’ve seen the tiniest of changes day to day. So when this year she started deconstructing the materials incorporated in painting and playing about with jars filled to the brim with paint, I was incredibly excited to see how her work would evolve for the show. The end result is an expansion of bold beautiful colours which cascade from wall to floor with a scattering of paint filled jars littered across the canvas.

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Jordan Boyle

I think that what the most exciting aspect of the show; seeing three years worth of people’s work come together in this environment. It’s incredibly strange having submitted and now being finished, I feel almost numb at the thought of it all coming to an end.  Not that it’s really coming to an end, I will never ever stop making art – for me that would be like stopping breathing! Studio life however is over for the time being. One day I will hopefully be able to afford one again, but I will be sad to say goodbye to such a creative environment. Coming in every day and making work alongside people, having them tell you when it’s rubbish or when it’s worth it, pushing your practice into realms you never expected, utilising all the facilities, it’s an experience I will never forget and I am so incredibly grateful for.

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Daniel Mupungu

Walking round the show you can see that people have made the most of these aspects; students have pushed the boundaries of what art is and what it can be. Yet students have also furthered aspects such as the studio aesthetic. That fully immersive feeling of making and the tactility that comes with it. A prime example of this would be Alice O’Hagen’s stunning work, I am so drawn in by the way in which she has captured the trace of touch and human gesture within the materials. I love the way in which she plays with softer elements which manifest in the form of duvets and evoke a strong sense of comfort, against more solid plaster and clay-based materials. Then there’s fact it is all more ceiling as opposed to floor based which personally I find incredibly compelling, given it plays on the conventions of sculpture and it’s almost like an Alice In Wonderland topsy-turvy environment.

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Alice O’Hagen

I think one of the reasons Alice’s work appealed to me so much was not only because I felt wrapped up by it and could imagine every movement in its making, but also because I almost long for that immersive sense of making again. Having worked predominantly with performance this year, I am ready to take a break from it and go back to painting for the next while. That is not to say I am giving up performance, I don’t think you ever give anyartform up, but you have to do what feels right at the time. Given that I have been performing live for both assessment, the preview and throughout the duration of the show, I have found it can be quite draining both emotionally and also physically (especially given my performance requires me binding myself up in 24 metres of ribbon! Quite restricting to my breathing let’s just say…) So for now I’m happy to take a break from it and instead bury myself in a pile of artbooks and sketchbooks as I start doodling and painting away with my watery inks. After all this hard work, it’s time to take it easy and enjoy the show!

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Marina Collinson 

Panic Attack Series

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Being a creative person is the best thing in times of trauma, sadness and general unhappiness. Being creative provides you with an outlet that may not otherwise exist; a space to release all the inner burdens. I had a series of panic attacks last year as a result of some emotional baggage and initially they were out of control and horrific. They are very physical events that consume your entire body. I’d never experienced anything like them before so it was something entirely new and very unpleasant. However, as usual art came to my rescue and I found refuge in it as an expressive tool. Having experienced the physicality of the panic attacks, it seemed natural to translate this kinetic experience into the art-making process. Consequently I created a series of works, what I call my ‘Panic Attack Series’. 

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Given the process it took in creating them, they could be considered Action Paintings. Action Painting first came into being in the late 1940s and early 50s with pioneering artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning leading the way. Action Painting is a loose and fluid mode of art making in which the paint is dripped or smeared onto the canvas. In this instance I was smearing it on, using my forearm as a brush which given the friction between the paint and paper was painful at times. Yet this pain became part of the piece. Working large scale was necessary as I required the breathing space to expel my negative energy. The works are far from perfect, but I think my vitality comes across especially given the unconscious circular motions I ended up working in. I was surprised to find I visualised my panic attacks as circles and this meant that they went from being a nightmarish experience to a visual object which I think aided my healing process. I was not surprised by the fact black felt like the only suitable colour; darkness and the heaviness of my emotions was encapsulated perfectly in this palette. 

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I also did some smaller charcoal renditions which looked almost like circular sound waves (top right of the above photo). I think the need to get messy was an instinctive impulse I had in these expressive works. Sitting tidily working in a sketchbook would not have had the same impact. I needed to immerse myself physically as well as mentally in the work to be truly unburdened. 

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And it definitely worked. The creation of these pieces was incredibly liberating and I literally felt like a weight had been lifted. My shoulders felt lighter and my head felt clearer. It was as if by creating these works I had expelled this mass of black energy from my system and I was free to start again. 

Bodily Structures

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Sometimes you can look like an absolute weirdo in your art making. I think this moment was one of those instances. It looks a lot stranger than it was, but the moment in which I placed myself in among this structure and walked about a section of uni campus did allow for feelings of self-consciousness. It was interesting however to place myself within a structure I had been working with for so long. The structure is a sculptural representation of the human body; the wooden components symbolise the bones and support structures that hold our bodies upright and the bags represent the lungs and air pockets that keep us breathing. In some of my experiments I hung little bundles that dripped onto the floor with ink, as a representation of both small organs and our bodily fluids. To have worked with this sculpture as a representation of the body for so long, I had developed a relationship with both the structure and the materials. So as well as creating some interesting images and getting some strange looks doing this, it was great to physically immerse myself in the piece. 

The Power of Image

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Having been looking at and researching a lot of Performance Art lately I have inevitably been thinking about its modes of documentation. How do we accurately record an ephemeral event in which setting and audience were so crucial? The atmosphere of the room and the reactions of the audience are in a sense part of the artwork; the audience in a sense become co-creators of the work, yet this does not always come across in documentation. It’s incredibly problematic and an obstacle for most people working with performance. There are all forms documentation can take; photographs, film, film stills, text, written accounts, you name it. It’s a matter of finding what works for you and the individual piece of work. In a lot of cases one single image comes to represent a performance piece and this becomes the image that gets circulated. I myself have fallen into doing this with one performance I did (pictured above). This one image is the only one that truly represents the piece, especially given the angle of the room and my feet against the floor in this shot. It’s an exciting moment when you do find the perfect document, but the obstacles it takes to get there are often plentiful!

John Virtue

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I was looking through some old work when I came across these images of my First Year studio. This was probably the one and only time my choice of topic deviated from Body Art and instead focused on the natural landscape. I think I surprised even myself in this shift as there was no real explanation for it apart from my discovery of oil paint. I think I felt that abstract landscapes were a better means of exploring this medium, as opposed to again working with the female body which I was already so familiar with. This shift was also due to the fact I discovered the work of John Virtue (see below).

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‘Landscape No. 707’, 2003-4, image sourced from The National Gallery website.

I fell in love with his whimsical monochrome depictions; how they were abstract yet figurative simultaneously. How he combined nature with industry. The blend of such intense darkness against the stark white also lends a satisfying balance to his work I found. This equilibrium allows the eye to shift peacefully across the page, taking the time to absorb intricate aspects such as texture which are so imbued with the studio aesthetic.

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What I found particularly interesting about Virtue’s work was his ritualistic aspect of his art making. Every day without fail he would walk to the same location to sketch. This of course resulted in an excess of drawings, but the dedication this required fascinated me. So for a while I chose to copy this method of working and walked to a park everyday. It was quite out of my way and in some cases an inconvenience to all of the other daily necessities occuring in my life. However, having this task and this escape also gave me the best kind of zehn I could have wished for. I had an excuse to leave behind the rush and pace of daily life to focus fully on ritual-based art making. 

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I also tried to employ Virtue’s use of the monochrome palette by removing colour from my work. Depicting landscapes and working with oil paint was a time where I was using really vibrant and sunset-based hues, so this removal was a real challenge for me. It forced me to think a lot more critically about texture, shape, scale and all of the other elements that could compensate for lack of colour. I poked needle-thin holes through paper, I worked with impasto and modelling paste, I used charcoal and inks to create that messy studio look. I tried everything and had great fun experimenting, but of course I gradually began bringing colour back into my work. I also sadly had to stop my daily excursions to the park given all my other commitments, but I may some day start that again for a brief period at least. Employing the working methods of another artist was a really interesting and liberating experience for me, as I was giving up all sense of control that I had over my work and instead completely yielding myself to working in a certain way. It was an incredibly enjoyable experiment and is something I think I’ll definitely go back to at some point!

Happy Accidents

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Sometimes we spend so much time thinking and planning as artists and conceptual thinkers, that we forget how useful happy accidents can be. Case in point; these photographs. What started as a simple and very basic projection experiment in my bath room, soon turned into something much more interesting. I had not considered ever using it as an art material, yet my shower curtain came in surprisingly handy. It picked up and diverted the light of the projector to create this rippling and water-like effect across the surface of my images.  

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Although it’s presence is very subtle in some cases, I just feel it adds a certain depth to the image. It creates a collection of layers that bring painterly elements to a photographic setting. Looking at these, I felt again like I was painting; constructing the direction in which the layers would formulate; manipulating the imagery to satisfy my intentions. I could not have been more delighted in this accident occurring. I have a theory that half the genius scientists made their discoveries accidentally and then decided to tell everyone that was what their intention all along! I’d probably do that if I was in their boat and ever discovered anything significant. Although, it’s more likely I would pass it off as intentional because I’d be too embarrassed to admit I’d made a mistake!

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In some cases I was so fixated  and fascinated by  the reflection of the shower curtain, that it took more priority then my actual projected images! Consequently ,abstract images such as the above came into creation. Now there is one happy accident! I think the reason I found it all so mesmerising is because there was so much movement within these ‘reflections’, yet they were entirely static. They are highly evocative of water, yet there is not water present. There is only the suggestion of water and the associations of its sound and movements, all of which enhanced my experience of these images. 

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I wasn’t too bothered about getting the camera in focus either, in fact the lack of focus really worked in this instance. Especially in relation to the colours; the soft pastel hues are not a result of editing, merely a result of the lighting in the space. For me there’s something calming about the way the reflection of the curtain falls across the image. I don’t know if that’s because the images themselves are quite peaceful with their blurry lines and lack of forceful energy. Or if it’s simply because the rippling reflection is so reminiscent of water and all of the connotations that carries. The soothing sound of a river gushing, water’s necessity in the continuity of life, the comfort of a cold, refreshing shower. Or maybe I’m just getting carried away with all my contemplation of water. Then again, it’s such a big part of this whole zen thing that everyone’s got going on that why not join the crowd and start listening to waves and water as I fall asleep!

Doodle Galaxy (Doodle Time Part 2)

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I didn’t really notice the kind of doodler I was until I compiled them altogether for these posts. Given that they tend to be entirely separate and individual occurrences, I don’t pay much attention to the technique or style at the time. So photocopying them from my notebook and creating digital copies was quite a sterile process for me, as it almost diluted the fluidity of such personal drawings. 

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For someone who is generally not too interested in natural forms, it is interesting to see how much these feed my depictions. Flower motifs are abundant in my drawings which is highly unusual when compared to my body of work, as I tend to avoid explicit feminine depictions like the plague!

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Yet for me there is something incredibly soothing in creating these organic forms. Water and leaves are also core components to the drawings, as is an almost excessive use of line which I exploit almost to the point of exhaustion. 

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It’s a soothing and somewhat addictive repetition. Molten forms and swirling shapes cluster the pages. Unlike a painting I don’t think you can ever overwork a doodle, as you can simply adjust your progression across the page if it goes wrong. In most cases however I know when a doodle is done, as I no longer have the urge to pursue and extend it. I just know that I have done all I can and all that I want to do and as long as I have that therapeutic longing satisfied, then that is all that matters. 

Muscular Awareness Part 1

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The other day my friend kindly gave me a hand in the photography studios to help me capture these images. If you have been reading my posts you will know by now that my artwork revolves around the human body. If you have never read a post this could not be more perfect an intro! More often than not my practice is about the implicit body; it relies on subtle hinting and allusions to the human form. So for once I wanted to deviate from that quite strongly and create a really direct link to the body.

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As a result, these images came into existence. I have been gyming for about five years now and I absolutely love it. It is my zone, my head space. For an hour I leave the outside world behind and focus purely on the relationship between mind and body. I focus on the pain I feel, the endurance I push myself through, the tiredness and aches when I finish an exercise. I think of gyming as a discipline and it’s one I keep up as often as I can. People often underestimate the importance of stretching and often do this hurriedly and hastily. That is not the case for me. Stretching is one of the most important components of my work outs, which is probably a result of my love for yoga. So I spend a lot of time on the mats, which more often than not are in front of a mirror. 

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Yes, the instant connotations of a mirror mean vanity, but for me that is not the case. All of these years stretching in front of a mirror has made me notice little dents and muscles in my body that normally no one pays attention to. Because I’m stretching myself into bizarre and unusual positions, the less prominent muscles start to emerge, which I have always found incredibly fascinating. Most interesting to me are the dents and muscles surrounding my shoulder blades; there is a surprising amount of detail in this area. Up until now I have merely observed these muscular formations. Every time I see them in the gym I think about how great it would be to study them more closely. To draw them in pencil and charcoal and exaggerate them Michelangelo style. Of course, I’m not going to bring a photographer into the gym with me to document them! Not only would that draw a lot of unwanted attention but I would also probably have to fill out a whole bunch of Risk Assessments and Ethics Forms. No thanks!

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So instead I thought I’d bring myself and my stretches into the studio; really highlight all these muscles through dramatic lighting. This was quite an adventurous experiment for me as it was a very explicit display of my relationship to the gym (it was also an hour of nonstop stretching for the camera – what a work out!) Yet it could not have come at a better time. Recently in uni I have been having tutorials that critique and discuss my work. They have taken a surprising turn for me as the feedback I have received is to further my exploration of the gym and this notion of head space. How funny that I thought these images were too explicit in their reference to the gym, yet that is what the tutors want to see more of? It’s my lucky day! 

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I quite like how the images I have posted here are essentially faceless; there’s a sense of ambiguity to them as a result. The lack of face also heightens the focus on the body. This is further highlighted by the stark black clothing (or lack of it!) against the whitened backdrop. Some incredible shadows have emerged too – perhaps I need to do some sketching of merely the shadowed areas. With this high contrast lighting, I finally get to emphasise all the little folds and creases that I have spent so long studying all this time in the gym. Artists talk about spending a certain amount of time with an artwork and sitting on it. If you think about it, I’ve been contemplating this specific work for years! So not only is it exciting to see it come to life as an artform, but it’s also a relief to finally realise and create it!

If Only…

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I was looking through some old photos on my laptop and came across some snaps I’d taken years back at the exhibition ‘From Death to Death and Other Small Tales: Masterpieces from the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and the D. Daskalopoulos Collection’. I could kick my younger self! If only I could go back and relive this exhibition knowing what I know now! I must have been about…seventeen when I saw this? I think. So only really starting to realise the direction my art would take. This exhibition, although I did not realise it at the some, had some really big names to it. Artists such as Paul McCarthy, Mona Hatoum, Helen Chadwick, Ernesto Neto were all part of it. I have researched and studied them all since being at uni and therefore have an entirely new found appreciation for their work. 

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It gets worse though. Other artist work included belonged to Marina Abramovic – one of THE innovators of performance art. One of the most prominent females in what had previously been a largely male dominated art form. One of my current main influences! Marcel Duchamp as well, one of the pioneers of the Dada movement which not only fueled Surrealism but was the platform for conceptual art. Joseph Beuys, again very revolutionary and brought about a whole new dimension and meaning to the word sculpture. 

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Knowing what I know now, I could not be more frustrated by the naivety of my younger self. I was looking at revolutionary artwork by revolutionary artists and I didn’t even know it! So frustrating…The absolute worst past is that the entire exhibition is centered on the human body which is of course the subject of all my work these days. If only I could see the entire exhibition again!

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I think one of the works I would be most excited to see again is the work of Ernesto Neto (above). I still remember my reaction when I walked into the room. It was not the site that struck me initially; it was the smell. He had filled his installation with a variety of spices to the point that is was almost overwhelming. Yet it was also incredibly exciting as for the first time I was experiencing multi-sensory artwork! It actually inspired me to use spices in my own work. Slight mistake given that at A Level you have to paint your final piece in two days straight. Not good when you’re using spices – I don’t think curry powder has ever given me such a headache!