Words Speak To Me

Given that I would consider this blog post to be almost a continuation of my previous one, I would advise you  to read my most recent post on imagery and the Self-Portrait prior to reading the write up below. Click here to view the previous article.

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13687179_1140432052704433_1840139293_n1As well as recently thinking about the ‘necessity’ of images, both in life and on my blog (particularly alongside larger chunks of text), I have also been thinking about the lack of their necessity. About how the text in itself can become an entity through it’s strength. About how presently, I am more drawn to writing and to reading than to the creation of visuals. This is a shift which has occurred quite naturally, it has not in any way been a conscious decision. However, over summer I found myself merely dabbling in the making of artwork and instead ripping through several books as I devoured the words on the pages hungrily. I think this is an interesting transformation of interest, as I have always been immersed in the making of art and the documentation surrounding the process. However, I am now content to retreat and instead observe the process from afar. Watch others conceive and create. Take a practical sabbatical if you can call it that.

13741013_554567611334947_978616461_nWords have become my substitute for the studio. They have become my addiction. I think working so conceptually over the past three years is much to blame for this. Often, my notebooks were more precious than my sketchbooks. All of my thoughts and ideas that were so hastily sketched out as they entered my head, soon became a sacred collection for my own creative reference. Sol Le Witt and Eva Hesse were huge inspirations to me in their reliance on writing in relation to their studio practice. Sol Le Witt because he was a conceptual artist and his work would not exist without his words. Hesse because her diaries were her own backdrop to her work; her words were her refuge and respite from what could at times be quite a consuming mode of art making. Artists never stop. Their minds never turn off. They are always thinking, seeing, looking, observing. It is only natural therefore, that words on a page can become an escape and a freedom from the frantic energy of being an artist. I know that I myself feel unburdened when I write. That once my thoughts and feelings are down on paper they no longer physically inhabit my body. I believe Hesse must have felt the same.

14350434_198530390560672_4054096995940302848_n1Following her tragic death from a brain tumour at the premature age of 34, her diaries were published. I am very conflicted over this action. On the one hand, I am sure it is amazing to have specific insight to her work and thought process. On the other, it is an invasion of privacy which reduces her work given the direct translations and observations the diaries provide. For Hesse, the diaries were a document of art and life. To her, the two were inseparable. However, I feel it is slightly tragic that her work is always read with this trajectory. In some cases her death and diaries inform her pieces almost more than the materials, colours and spatial relations do. Which of course is wrong, as no art piece should be spoon fed to its viewer. I could never read her diaries. It is my belief that they belong to her, were for her own sake and so I should find my own way of interpreting her life and work. I think this stance is probably because I sometimes keep a diary myself. Not often, just when I feel like it and need some form of release. Or I have had such a brilliant day that only words will do the justice of documenting properly. Either way, the diary is a personal entity which I feel should remain that way.

13768303_181033652308440_1820311018_nRecently I have had an urge to write in my diary again, mainly because I am feeling slightly lost. Although I am happy about my accelerated interest in the theory of art as opposed to the practicing of it, I am also left feeling slightly guilty. For someone who has been making art for as long as they can remember, it is strange to suddenly be left without the urge to make. I would go as far as to say I have an artist’s guilty conscience; that moment where you are not creating in your studio, mainly due to an inspiration dry spell, resonates with how I feel right now. I suppose however it is just a shift in focus for the time being. I am currently starting a Masters at Edinburgh University in Modern and Contemporary Art: History, Curation and Criticism. So being more drawn to reading, like bees to honey, is only a natural consequence of this. I think it is just strange for me, yet another thing I am unfamiliar with at the moment. However, instead of having the urge to draw and drip paint from giant canvases in a studio, I just need to adjust. I will now dedicate my time to reading my theories and prose in a quiet little Edinburgh cafe or the gardens and fully absorbing the context to contemporary art making, knowing that in time I will start making again.

 

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Visual Essay on Architecture

Being in Berlin gave me so many revelations that I can’t stop thinking about. It also, much to my delight, reignited my love for architecture. I did a project on architecture as part of my Art coursework at GCSE level, but have never returned to it as a topic since. Partly I think because I was put off by the result of my naive endeavors. At GCSE level I explored Omani architecture with it’s beautiful mosques and arched doorways, as well as more modern twisting architecture in the form of the Armani Hotel. I feel the way in which I approached it at the time was far too broad; I just plunged in with the only focus being ‘architecture’, meaning the results were weak due to the lack of specificity. Now I look at things with more refinement, far more critically and only really pay attention to things that ignite my utmost interest. Which pretty much all of Berlin did! I always remember someone telling me to look upwards as you walk round cities, because that tends to be the place you see the most exciting and unexpected things. Watching ‘The September Issue’ (a fashion documentary) years ago also made me think about how and where I should be looking as what was said has stuck with me. In the documentary, Creative Director at the time, Grace Coddington, talks about how you should never shut your eyes and sleep, but always look out the window of a car and absorb the world as it flashes by. Never miss a minute.

Walking around Berlin allowed me to contemplate the city and its structures at my own pace and I am slowly starting to formulate the idea of exploring the bridge between architecture and life within my artwork. I have studied and worked with the human body for so long now, I feel it is time to refine even that as a topic.Possibly merge it with my revised interests in the buildings that surround us on a daily basis. Culture of course comes into architecture, as does history. Not just of the buildings themselves, but of how infrastructure has developed over time. Perhaps a comparison between Egyptian architecture and the historical buildings of Berlin will feature? Perhaps a trip to Barcelona to finally see the work of Antoni Gaudi will happen? I don’t know. All I know is that I want to explore more. I want to try broadening the palette of my focus. So again I have resorted to a John Berger style visual essay on the architecture of Berlin.

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Back from Berlin

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I am not long back from Berlin and let’s just say, it is one of those places you don’t easily forget. I am struggling to pinpoint what exactly about the city had such a lasting impact on me, but it’s difficult to specify given the broad range of things that appealed. Firstly, of course, was all of the culture. There is even a Museum Island.  An island dedicated entirely to museums! Yes, that is my idea of paradise (we have already established on countless occasions that I am a major nerd). So there is no shortage of things to absorb and learn which is my kind of holiday – what I call a holiday/research trip. We did so many things ranging from the National Gallery, to The Jewish Museum, to the Berlin Biennale. What luck our visit coincided with that! For those of you who don’t know, a Biennale is a very prestigious art festival which takes place in countries like Venice. If an artist’s work is represented in a Biennale, that is something they will be glueing to their artist CV for the rest of their career! So being the contemporary art fans that we are, my boyfriend and I got very excited by that (as you can probably tell by my sidetracking). Anyway, culture. Culture, culture, culture. There is something for everyone under that broad umbrella – whether you like art, history, architecture or music.

13643565_1076082349149719_139534304_n The architecture I must say is absolutely breathtaking, especially on Museum Island. Everywhere you look there are beautifully shaped buildings. Curved dome roofs, intricate designs and embellishments, magnificent and proudly standing statues, ceiling and wall murals; it is a visual feast! It’s not only the older buildings, but the modern architecture is also truly incredible; tall skyscrapers are built at almost unimaginable angles, with glossy glass windows glinting in the sun from top to bottom, dwarfing you as you crane your neck looking up. Almost everywhere I looked there was something I wanted to draw. Which is why we ended up spending several evenings sat on and near this lawn of Museum Island sketching, drinking and just absorbing the evening atmosphere. This was another thing that greatly appealed to me, the general mood of the city. Although everywhere was crammed with tourists, the pace of life just seemed so calm and tranquil; public transport moved smoothly, people everywhere were laughing and smiling, buskers on this lawn had everyone clapping, people were casually drinking beer in most places we went. It was all just so magical and unforgettable. It stayed light late into the evenings and even when we were full of beer and arted out, we couldn’t help but keep admiring the place. The bridges, the wide wide roads and the cycle footpaths were all so peaceful in the evening light.

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We were there for only four nights and for a city as big as Berlin, it was not enough. You need a week at least to do everything you want to do, whilst still allowing time for adventuring down alley ways and seeing where they’ll take you. I have been to Berlin before – in 2013 on a school History trip, which was lovely, but for such an art orientated person like myself, it was not enough. I thought this extra trip back would suffice, but again I am left unsatisfied and with a thirst for more exploring. I feel each trip has to be better than the last (although this one will be hard to beat), because I know I’ll definitely be heading back. Although this time, I will be better prepared for the language barrier. That was tricky. Tourist places do of course speak English, but the little restaurants we discovered off the beaten track were very much native speaking. And neither me nor my boyfriend are the master of the German language. For some bizarre reason, French phrases kept popping into my head every time I tried to converse with a local. It’s good to know I’ll be fine when I get round to visiting France, but it just wasn’t any use in Germany. So my advice to anyone visiting, get a book and learn some of the language!

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Having now visited Berlin twice, once in winter and once in scorching hot summer (my pale self actually got a slight tan – which is an absolute miracle!) it was really interesting to see the contrast of the seasons. Mainly because of the fashion. The Germans have such an effortless look, they could throw on a black binliner and look like they owned it. I think European style in general just tends to have that effortless, ‘I just threw this on’ look; whether they’re snuggled up in thick coats and winter scarves, or wearing cascading summer dresses and ripped up mini shorts. I think the fact that a lot of them smoke also contributes to this glamorous aura. I’m not saying smoking is good, I’m just saying some people really do look good with a cigarette between their lips. Having now branched into visiting more of Europe with Amsterdam and Berlin under my belt, I am beginning to realise that I could happily live there. Or live abroad at least. There’s something mesmerising about a place that isn’t home. The very fact that you could eat a sandwhich for breakfast in Berlin delighted me, as I am very much a traditional breakfast eater with porridge and coffee generally the norm. Yet in Berlin you can have a breakfast consisting of a mozzarella and tomato sandwhich (to die for!), a sandwhich absolutely crammed with brae, croissants with sausages and cheese melted through them – an endless and yummy variety of options. I am very much a social meal eater. If I am alone, I couldn’t care less about food and I just eat for the sake of fueling my body. However when I am with other people, I absolutely love making an occasion of it; having a late breakfast, eating a long lunch, people watching from the cafe you’re sat in. Sometimes I think drinking tea and observing the world is one of the most peaceful past times that I would be happy to do forever, especially in a city as bustling and exciting as Berlin.

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So if you’re planning your next holiday, think of Berlin. Think of the buildings. Think of the art. Think of the history. Considering Berlin was not long ago divided by the Iron Curtain and had a Communist regime imposed in East Berlin by the GDR, the composition of the city; it’s infrastructure, it’s culture and it’s economy is incredibly impressive, particularly given it’s rapid progress. These features all show that despite it’s bleak and dark history, Berlin is a place that is very much orientated on the present, and what a superb present it is.

A Time of Reflection

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I’ve been away from the blog for a while as I felt I needed some reflection time. Time to stop and contemplate. Time to consider and reflect. I wanted to take a step back from everything following the pace of life during degree show period. Both my creative and mental energy had been wholeheartedly consumed and I therefore decided to withdraw from participating in physical elements in favour of simply reading some theory. The fact I am now studio-less has partly contributed to this shift in thinking. Not that I’m saying you need a studio to make art, I’m just saying I am currently in the adjustment phase and therefore having a break. Yet when I say that and taking time out, I’m lying. I am not a person who takes time out and does nothing – that’s just not in my nature. I get twitchy and start doing the washing up or something. For me taking time out is putting a pause on the practical. Performance for the time being is not on the cards. But my creativity is still bubbling away as I have been dabbling in light painting activities and a little bit of photography. Yet these activities in themselves have been scarce as I’ll be consumed in a doodle mood one minute and then the next my sketchbook goes untouched for days. Books instead have become my predominant creative outlet for the time being.

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Have you ever read a book that changed your life? Or that you feel will stay with you for a very very long time? Well, that happened to me the other day with Hand Ulrich Obrist’s ‘Ways of Curating’. What a read! I have not ripped through a book so quickly in a long time. Having said that, I didn’t really have a spare minute over deadline and degree show time.  Yet now that I have finished my degree, I have been sat reading in cafes and in the garden, watching people go by and observing daily life. Contemplating. Thinking. I’ve come to realise that my mind is very much designed for research; for absorbing information, words and visuals. I will be moving to Edinburgh next month to embark on an MSc in Modern and Contemporary Art: History, Curation and Criticism (I am aware that is quite a mouthful!) I could not be more excited as I feel Edinburgh is the perfect transition from Newcastle. In the interim period however I have been in Aberdeen, which is the city of death for anyone or anything creative in my opinion. I’m not saying that’s the case in every instance, but the lack of gallery visits is starting to agitate me. All the more reason that books have become my seducer.

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‘Ways of Curating’ by Obrist has left quite the impression on me. Obrist is a world-renowned curator, critic and art historian. He is currently director at the Serpentine Galleries in London, has published a wide array of books, conducted endless artist interviews and revolutionized the way in which we think of curation. Needless to say, I found him and his professional exploits quite inspiring. Prior to reading this book, I had always viewing curating as quite a static activity. Arranging and rearranging the works of an artist in a room. Conversing with said artist to gauge their artistic needs. Engaging public with the final displayed work, etc. etc. How wrong I was! Obrist entirely transforms my way of thinking about curation with his discussions of shifting and temporal artistic platforms, the idea of curation as an artistic practice itself, the importance of stimulating conversations and the methodologies which surround and extend and exhibition beyond itself and into forms such as 24hr conversation marathons. For the first time, curating actually appeals to me as it is so much more than arranging art in a room. It is about bringing people together. About exchanging ideas and bridging cultures. It is about travelling and exploring. It is a journey of creation.

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It’s been a strange few weeks for me as I go from being a full time art student with a public show and a studio in the vibrant city of Newcastle, to being a graduate living in the granite grey city of Aberdeen over summer. Quite the shift. Yet it’s been a transformative one. I feel I have learnt from my period of non-production. I almost feel it has taught me more than when I am fully absorbed in my artwork. Somewhat ironic I know, but in those moments as I am fully aware of myself as a creative and an artist, yet it’s only really after all this reading and reflecting that I realise how much of a thinker I am. You might wonder why I have not turned to writing more given this has become the case. I’m not sure myself really, I just did not feel compelled. I suppose even that felt too creative. I wanted simply to sit back and read about others being creative and harness my energy through them. And I think it’s been a good idea as I am now inspired and itching to create again, in one way or another. I’m definitely hoping for a residency at some point. I am off to Berlin not long from now and for me that is just as much a research trip as a holiday with all of the beautiful art galleries and historical museums I’ll be visiting!

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

Acrylic Work

 

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Eye Study (Warm Hues)

It’s fascinating looking back at old work and seeing how my style has evolved and changed over time. What intrigues me most is not simply my evolution in technique, but my interest and use of material. I have experimented a lot over the years and have come to find that you can never fail with fine liner pen! You could argue it’s a very simple material; everyone owns a black pen, yet I have come to find it is also the most effective in a lot of cases. For me the addition of fine liner is often the perfect finishing touch to a painting. My love for pen has remained constant over the years, yet my feelings for other materials have changed drastically. When I was younger I found watercolours difficult to use and frustrating to control, yet these days most of my paintings are water and ink based; I can’t seem to get enough of the fluidity!

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Eye Study (Cold Hues)

I went through a phase where acrylic paint was my favourite medium (this was before I discovered oil paint!) mainly due to the layering it allowed. When I paint I build my work up slowly by gradually applying multiple layers, as you can see in these colourful eye studies. Acrylic was perfect for working in this way as it meant a short drying time which was perfect for my instantaneous manner of working. It’s also a very affordable material, especially when compared to oil paint which is depressingly expensive most of the time. I came across these old painterly experiments when I was looking through things I’d submitted as part of my university and scholarship portfolios. They’re about four or five years old now and I haven’t used acrylic paint much since then. Having looked back over them, I’m tempted to give acrylic paint another go given how much my skills have changed over time.

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!

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!

In Time

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It’s always funny looking back at old artwork. This is because I look at it with all of the feelings and emotions I was applying at the time of its creation, yet I’m also looking at it with my more current artistic views. So there ends up being this two-way reading of a work. What I felt then and what I feel now. Which can either be quite paralleled, but more often then not is more of a “what the hell was I doing?!” kind of reaction. It’s sometimes quite amusing to see the difference in the two thought processes. One of the reasons I am so grateful that I’ve made art throughout my life, is that all my works are essentially a document and narrative to my growth and development. Or at least, to my development as an artistic practitioner. It is me expressing myself during a given time period and over the years my drawings have taken on all sorts of forms. These include Beatrix Potter-like creations of animals in clothes, fashion illustrations, running inky portraits, landscapes, sketched copies from the work of Egon Schiele and Michalengelo, life drawing, the list goes on. The above image is from my experimental phase with Indian and batik ink. I love the fluidity and seeping of colours, as I never know how a piece is going to turn out, which for me is incredibly exciting. This way of working led onto a whole bunch of ink-based experimentation and essentially changed the way I paint forever, as I still apply dripping and watered-down techniques today. Funny how one thing can lead to another and you never look back!