Nostalgic for Newcastle

Someone came up with the fantastic suggestion when I was leaving Newcastle in July, that before I say goodbye to the city I should document what have become my favourite and fondest places over the last three years. I thought this was a wonderful idea, especially given how cities change and evolve over time, how interiors get renovated, or places close down. I might come back some day and not be able to go to my favourite little wine bar! I therefore felt taking a few  documentary photos was the perfect way to remember the good times. I’ve had them on my hard drive for a while, but it wasn’t until I revisted the city yesterday that I remembered I’d taken them. I was just visiting for the day to work with the Newbridge and Newcastle-based artist Rosie Morris for her upcoming exhibition at The Laing Art Gallery (preview Friday 30th September, 5-7pm with a live performance at 6pm). It was a fantastic today and I am very excited to be a part of her work (more on this next week or on The Laing Gallery’s website, click here to view).

I only realised yesterday however, how lacking my photographic documentation of Newcastle is. I’ve got the Quayside and it’s pubs – the beautiful river front, all of which I frequented often, The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (sometimes I kick myself for not keeping track of how many visits I paid there, just for the sake of curiosity!) Grainger Market where I bought all my fruit and vegetables (how I miss it!) Flares, the cheesiest club you will ever enter, but always with the gurantee of a good night! Blakes, one of my favourite cafes, mainly because you can get the yummiest breakfast served as late as 2pm (never miss your breakfast!)

However, I now realise I’ve only really captured the exteriors. The buildings and architecture are of course beautiful, but the interiors are what I want to remember more. I want to remember the dim light of the pub where I was laughing madly with my friends, I want to remember the coffee shop where I had to take my shoes off, I want to remember the chandelier of spoons that hangs in Quilliam Brothers tea house. I suppose, if you have read my previous posts, I am contradicting myself. In the previous statements I mentioned the lack of necessity with imagery, how words can satisfy and be enough. However, in nostalgic projects like these and in the act of remembering, I am definitely a visual person. I feel another few trips down to Newcastle may be needed, for me to complete my collection of memories.

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Beautiful Berlin

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It’s been a long time since a city has inspired me as much as Berlin. Amsterdam was absolutely fantastic – there was so much to see. Our art-orientated sightseeing ranged from seeing traditional artwork at the Van Gogh Museum to more contemporary works at the Stedelijk, Amsterdam’s equivalent of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). However with Berlin, it’s different. You’re not just entering buildings and spaces to look at the art; it’s everywhere. It’s in the buildings, not just physically, but inherently. It’s ingrained as part of the architecture, it’s on the street, down alleyways, on subway routes, it’s even encapsulated by people’s eclectic mix of clothing. The city seems to pulsate with this artistic aura, which threatens to overwhelm you it’s so inspiring. You feel as if you’re going to burst with this creative warmth brewing in your stomach as you take it all in!

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The history of the place seems to enhance this sense of creative energy, particularly given the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. With the fall of the wall, came the fall in both political systems and social barriers. Berlin realized a new kind of freedom that had never been felt before and consequently aspects such as the music scene flourished as people endlessly celebrated the reunification. Given their history it seems people in Berlin have something to say; it’s as if the years of oppression made them realise that they want to be heard. With transient chalk-based artworks on the pavement, alleyways bursting with colourful graffiti, the life and soul of the city can be found anywhere and everywhere. I think this is why it had such an impact on me. The creative culture of the city was not confined to sketchbooks and galleries, or exclusive artistic spaces. Instead it was living and breathing on the street, trickling into the galleries from outside.

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Walking through this cultural hub that is Berlin really focuses your mind. Because there is so much to absorb, you realise what it is you want to pinpoint and fixate on; what explorations you want to further. I’ve always been fascinated by graffiti, however in the past it was more of a subconscious fascination. It was only as we walked through Berlin and I was catching glimpses of it in places and on the facade of big buildings that I became aware of how interested in it I actually am. Now that I am more aware of this interest I reflect and realise that there have been very poignant moments that fueled my interest in street art. One of those moments was years ago when I was walking behind Edinburgh Waverly station and I came across this wall absolutely crammed with colour and bubble shaped writing, graffiti creatures curling out of the wall. There was someone spray painting and I remember thinking how free they must have felt in that moment. To have no paper or easel, no barrier between their spray can and a permanent site. They were leaving their mark in a space that didn’t belong to them and I thought it was beautiful. Joseph Beuys once said that anyone can be an artist if they realise their potential and find the necessary form in which to communicate their ideas. This sentiment has caused a lot of debate and I am in agreement with him to an extent. However I am more of the belief that art is everywhere. Even though we don’t necessarily see it, or aren’t necessarily looking, it is still present. It’s present in the black polka dots of a lady bug climbing over a green leaf,  it’s present in the synced rhythms of our breathing and living bodies, it’s present in the way we gesture as we speak. Art is everywhere and it is the ability to take the things we see; to capture them and their essence and translate them into an entirely new form, that I believe makes you a true artist.

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”.

 

The End is Nigh

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Catherine McLaughlin

So today marks the final day of Northumbria University’s Fine Art Degree Show. It all closes at 4pm so get yourself down to catch a final glimpse of all the amazing work on display. I will be doing my final performance in Gallery North at 2:30pm which is both exciting and unbelievable. It will also be my final performance in Newcastle (for the time being at least) as I will be moving to Edinburgh this summer – another wonderfully artistic city! Time for some exciting exploring in a new place, yet much to my delight I will still be relatively close to Newcastle and my much loved BALTIC on the Quayside. Following my work this year, I plan on taking a break from performance art and instead hope to  focus more on my research, writing and theory – with of course some practical thrown in here and there.

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Matthew Young & Nikki Lawson

I was delighted to meet up with Luke from Left Leg Gallery the other day who is interested in collaborating with me having seen some of my work and the Degree Show, so there are definitely some exciting practical elements for the future! We met up, discussed and had a really interesting conversation which touched on so many different topics, but primarily focused on both of our interest in the gym; the culture, the colours, the ‘uniform’ if you will, the mindsets, the stereotypes and this will form the basis of a future collaboration.  It was really inspiring to talk to someone so enthusiastic and interesting and who shared so many of my views. It is moments like this where I could not be more happy to be making the kind of art that I do and feeding off the energy of the places and people.

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Kathryn Harker

I will be incredibly sad to leave Newcastle behind but saying goodbye to studio life I think is going to be the hardest aspect of my farewell. Seeing the diversity of Northumbria’s Degree Show really made me realise this. Going from seeing all the experimentation among my peers on a daily basis, to making art without this strong sense of community, is going to be a strange sensation. I will just have to find myself a new unit in which to make my art! Yet I love the fact that in the studios here I’d have no real idea of what someone’s work consisted of and then I’d walk into a project space where they’re experimenting one day to total surprises. I love the fact that people work with things I myself would never even consider, such as camera obscuras and natural light. In saying this I am referring to Kathryn Harker’s technical photography and the way in which she has transformed a space into an experience through her manipulation of light (above). Depending on the time of day you go, your experience of the piece will be entirely different and I think this ephemeral quality is incredibly appealing. As is the beauty of the light that is captured, it feels so delicate and fragile, especially given that you know it’s going to inevitably shift and flutter away at any given moment.

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Paul Barron

Ephemeral qualities of course apply to Performance Art and it’s strange to think today is my last performance as a student of Northumbria University. After two weeks of the Degree Show being open to the public, it is now time to take it all down, de-install and start a new chapter in our lives. It will be sad to see the studios gradually return to their summer state of emptiness. Seeing installations coming down and the skip filling up. I feel in a sense that people will be dismantling parts of themselves, as the more our practices have evolved and the more work we produced throughout our time here, the more we ourselves have became apparent in our work. People’s characteristics, interests and issues, all became more evident through the artwork, through the statements of intent and through the way in which it was all displayed. Each decision was a reflection of the person, of the way in which they considered their work, in many cases it was a physical extension of themselves.

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Dale Harmer

I think this is what I find most beautiful about art. I have lived and breathed it since childhood, always drawing after school , carrying pencils in my bag and doodling expansive patterns and flowers across my hands (much to my mother’s discontent!) So I can’t imagine life without it and I will never have to. But I think being on this course has been the creative journey that I’d always imagined, it has been the challenge that I needed to push myself into realms previously unexplored. And I think it’s safe to say anyone would say the same; fellow students would probably never have expected certain things of themselves and I think that’s amazing. To realise a new medium or technique or discover a new artist who transforms your way of thinking. When you dedicate three years of your life to making art, you become so immersed in it that personally at least I feel my life will never be the same again.

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Marcus Wheeler

And I could not be more excited by that fact. I have a whole new way of thinking and seeing artwork. I have met so many different people, learnt so much and am eager to learn even more. Although today marks the end of the show, it also marks the start of so many other things. Thank you Northumbria, it’s been a pleasure!

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Woon Prize Nominee Hannah Barker

Artist Takeover at The Laing Art Gallery

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At the weekend The Laing Art Gallery held an amazing Artist Takeover Event. It was the first time they had ever held such an event and it was partially a testing ground and partially to raise awareness in their aim of winning a bursary. If they succeed and win this bursary it will bring artist Marcus Coates to the gallery to host a ‘Museums at Night’ event in October. Given the success of Saturday, I am feeling positive for The Laing, however it will all depend on voting (see bottom of blog page). The Artist Takeover was unlike anything I had ever participated in before. It was a very exciting day with the event running from 10-4pm. Not only was the event open to working artists, but to anyone who considered themselves an artist and a whole range of mediums were therefore accepted. These included contemporary dance, paper-cutting, a blackboard of ideas, modernist installation art, live painting, charcoal and inks, and performance art. This made for an eclectic variety of practices and a room bubbling with creative energy and people. 

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I myself had proposed to do a piece of Performance Art which explores the relationship between the serenity of yoga and the manifestation of trauma within the female mind and body. I had never proposed anything before and this was a very interesting proposal in the sense that only one sentence was required. This was challenging  yet helpful to me; as to sum up my work in such a short word count is difficult, but also beneficial as it forced me to really consider and realise what my work is currently about. 

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So not only was the day itself exciting and new, but the experience was also a great one. I spoke to so many different and like minded people, artists, non-artists, the curator. It was a day filled with learning and inspiration, of pushing the boundaries of what art could be and the way we view conventional gallery spaces. It was also a whole new experience for me performance wise. As it was an entire day event, I decided to perform more than once, which I have never done in a single day before. I thought I would be more nervous doing this, however the relaxed and creative atmosphere helped put me at ease. I did the first performance in the room with all the other artists but in a different room for the other two in order to create a different environment for myself. It was interesting how the differing rooms affected and shaped how the performance evolved as apart from my prop of ribbons it was entirely improvised.

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I had a sound piece to accompany my work which filled the gallery space with the sound of my breathing, which brought an unsual atmosphere into the room. In comparison to a lot of places, I would consider The Laing quite a traditional gallery as it holds a lot of spectacle artwork such as that of John Martin (he is one of my favourite artists and I actually did a performance piece in the room where his works were hung which was an incredibly exciting moment for me!) Yet the Artist Takeover completely transformed this stereotype of it for me. I realised that The Laing was willing to engage with its local artistic community. It is a rarity for local artists to be asked into a professional gallery space which is why I was so honoured to have my proposal accepted. It was such a great experience and can hopefully be the first of many events such as these.

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I think a lot of people can feel isolated from the arts or not good enough to either engage or practice art. Events such as this however I feel help break down those boundaries; they make you realise that art can be anything. There was dance, there was mime and there was performance present in the gallery alongside more traditional art forms such as painting and it was refreshing to have these conventional forms of artistic segregation removed and the broad umbrella of the word ‘art’ applied instead.

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Art is limitless, but art also relies on an artistic community and I think an event such as this truly harnesses this and taps into what contemporary art means today. Hopefully this sense of community and artistic discussion can be expanded and built on with Coates’ arrival in October. 

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If you’re interested in finding out more about the October event, take a look at The Laing Art Gallery’s website: 

https://laingartgallery.org.uk/votesforcoates

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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. 

Sensual Materials

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I have this absolute nightmare of my tights ALWAYS getting holes in them. It drives me nuts; my toes peep out, the ladders run up the back of my leg, I don’t think I own a single perfect pair of tights! So being an artsy creative person I of course think of new ways to use them when they’re on their way out, otherwise there are far too many tights going to waste!  When I did these shots, I’d recently been using cling film to cover and wrap my body in. So these photographs were kind of an extension of that experiment. Of course, wrapping your body in cling film holds very different connotations from interacting with fragile tights. 

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I was quite pleased with how these photographs turned out. They are completely unedited, I just used a desk lamp directed at a very certain angle to get these colour shades. Normally putting something over your head is claustrophobic and uncomfortable, but given the transparency and delicacy of the tights there were no problems at all. It was more exciting trying to develop a relationship with the material and mould it into interesting shapes that worked both within the frame of the photograph and in relation to my body. I had a tripod set up to take these, so it was all very trial and error; I only got three good photographs out of all the ones I took. That happens most of the time with photography though and the shapes I did manage to create here complemented the warm hues of the lighting. 

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Despite the lack of editing, the colours came out really well; they shift between pale pastel yellows and orange-tinted pinks. I was also really happy with the blend of focuses; the fixed outline of certain areas such as the head in the photo above, against softer and more ambiguous outlines as in the case of my fingers in the above. Out of all components of my torso, I think my hands looked the most interesting encased in the tights, as the fingers are usually so mobile and free to use that is was strange to see them restricted. Yet the conflict present within the restriction is interesting as the hands are encased by the most fragile material and have the ability to break free at any moment. This potential is most evident in the middle picture where my fingers are most pronounced. I also think this potential is evident in the blend of static and movement. Although I am holding still and posing for the camera, there is so much movement in the light and the material which provides an interesting contrast to the overall result. I think these aspects are why these photographs are successful to me; I’ve taken a simple everyday material and tried to adapt it into something entirely new. 

Studio Fun

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Sometimes it’s really refreshing to step away from all the thinking and the books and just work with a material. I had these foam polystyrene pieces (the kind you put in packing boxes) that I decided to paper-mache into limb-like forms. I didn’t really have a plan or know what I was doing, I just wanted to get my hands dirty. I had to wrap them up in cling film first to create a more solid framework for the paper-mache to sit on and this was a very fiddly and frustrating process. 

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Despite this, it was great to be back in a boiler suit and sat in my studio making mess. So much of my work this year has been film, photography or performance documentation; essentially all digitally based, so it was a relief to make some physical objects and hold these items in my hands. I’ve enjoyed working in this way this year as Performance Art has been the direction my work has naturally taken. I never planned to go down the route of performance, but my will to push personal boundaries and explore the human body in ways I haven’t before has resulted in me drifting into the realm of performance.  

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These limb-like objects eventually ended up being used in a performance piece. Initially this was not the plan, I had no idea where or what these would become. These days I always tend to have a rough notion of where an idea is going to go or how it will work out. It’s never perfect of course but having a rough outline gives me something to work towards. So in this case it was strange just making with no outcome in mind, yet it was also quite liberating. 

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This liberation eventually turned into frustration however. These objects were so time consuming to make, especially with the drying time factored in, that I eventually lost interest. I think this was mostly due to the fact I had no direction and no idea to follow, so the objects became dormant. They ended up sat clustered in my studio for ages and eventually I started to develop a kind of resentful relationship towards them. Recently I had the impulse to use them as I couldn’t handle the idea of all those hours of labour going to waste. So I decided to incooperate them into a drawing-based performance. I was really glad it worked out this way, as it was interesting to go through such a journey with these objects. At first I was excited to create them, then the making process evolved from being therapeutic to a chore and finally I got fed up and found them to be useless. This period of uselessness lasted for ages, so it was incredibly satisfying to draw them back into another piece and find them to finally be useful and exciting again. 

Take a look at my Performance Art post to see how I eventually used the objects: www.themindofmilla.com

Pink in Progress (Over/Under work)

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‘Rizzo’ in progress

Working for the piece for the Pop Up Pink exhibition has made me realise how much I miss painting. Although I love the direction my work has taken and all the exciting things it’s led to that I thought I would never do (performance being the prime example), I will never give up the paint brush. There is just something so special sitting down with and focusing on a material; building on it, contemplating it, analysing the creation process. When I paint, I can not get enough water. I love loose fluid works, drips, diluted colours, layers. 

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My paintings are very time consuming and are very much a long drawn out process, mostly due to the necessity of drying time. If I get to eager and paint over a layer that’s still wet, my effect is ruined. So patience is key. I tend to paint in stages, dipping in and out of a work. I think this is actually the way I work best in most senses, as when I write an academic piece, I have to let it sit for a few days before I go back and look at it again. I tend to bang it out in one go and then leave it for a week and almost forget about it as the deadline nears! But it’s the same when I work with paint. I like to be fully absorbed by the process, but then I also like to step back and leave it. Really think about what I’m doing and how I’m layering it. Sometimes this really doesn’t work as despite my attempts at contemplating, I still over work the paint. 

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This is the most frustrating moment for me, as my paintings are not the kind where you can just cover up a mistake. Once the mistake is made it’s there to stay as the paint is applied so thinly, it would completely ruin everything if I tried to obscure it. So I think this is why I have started to implement time into a piece more over the years. the older I’ve got, the more I’ve realised you can not hurry or push the creative process. Otherwise you put a pressure on it and it backfires with you creating nothing! With this work I feel I overworked it slightly, but hey I’ll know for next time!

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.