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Working Around The Edges and Finding Myself 2019

Looking back at my previous blog posts my writing seems to flow and my thoughts seem organised. They are generally positive in the hardest of situations and my visual creative output alongside makes me feel fulfilled despite the challenges of daily life. 2019 has been a very different and very strange story and I really don’t quite know where we are or where we are going…

All that I keep thinking is that I am ‘working around the edges’, following a strong tradition of female artists who juggle their creative work around caring for family. Anyone who knows me well knows that I always have my office/studio in my backpack. It’s heavy but always has my laptop, diary, sketchbook, linoprint or stitch projects. This year I have curated and managed the Waveney Valley Sculpture Trail for it’s 6th year, all the design work, admin and communications have been done from a space in my son’s school on my laptop as his PTSD and separation anxiety following his lengthy treatment for Leukaemia mean he won’t stay at school without me. I believe that the best thing for his current and future happiness and success mean getting him reintegrated properly with his peers at school. He is doing well but the progress is slower than I would like, I am impatient at the best of times and want us all to be able to get on with our lives and move forward positively.

This is literally what ‘working around the edges’ looks like… all of my work this year has been created either in school or hospitals on my lap using any chair/corner/space I can find. It has meant a lot less painting as I need dedicated time in the studio to do that but I have been developing sketches and drawings so that when I can get into the studio I have sketchbooks and ideas to work from.

I have to remember how hard our journey has been and how important creativity has been to all of us to get through so many things. Whether it’s finding our way around hospitals by following the artworks on the walls, listening to music on the journeys to and from hospital or doing stitchwort while I wait for Hen to come round from multiple anaesthetics. Working with other artists in exhibitions I have curated in Raveningham and Norwich Theatre Royal have given me a connection with other creatives that is crucial to my wellbeing. Being an artist can be a solitary pursuit, being a carer has multiplied this solitude and I find the duality of enjoying time by myself and craving creative connections with others often means that I swing between the two often wanting the opposite and not being in the moment – it’s all too much or not enough.

Finding Myself Again – Who am I, what do I do and why?

I feel I am at an interesting crossroads in my life as I can see the possibility of beginning to start to re-engage with myself after years of what I like to call ‘extreme parenting’! Thinking about what I do and why, I started writing a list of moments in my life that have  stayed with me in an attempt to work out what common threads there are and what I can carry forward in my art and life. I found quite quickly that some of the key moments were related to seeing artworks and installations for the first time, I find it difficult to express in words the feelings that those moments evoke as the words I come up with often feel inadequate or that they don’t fit with the immensity of the feeling which for me is purely visual but I am going to try. I have put links where I can to video or articles with more info about the artists and their works. In no particular order:

Sheila Hicks
Sheila Hicks Installation at Venice Biennale 2017 

Walking up to Sheila Hicks’s installation at the Biennale 2 years ago filled me with a sense of awe, joy, positivity as I felt the pure energy of the colours that towered above me and the softness of the circular forms felt warm and inviting. I stood in front of the installation taking it all in and slowly noticing how the work was not only in front of the architecture but was also at some points entering the building through cracks in the ancient stone walls which the artist had filled with colour and fibres. If I need a moment of joyful reflection I take myself back to the work in my mind’s eye.

Carpet Moth
Petrit Halilaj Carpet Moths at Venice Biennale 2017

Petrit Halilaj’s installation of gigantic moths made of carpet with a single bare, bright bulb, was a work of absolute joy, ingenuity, humour, history.

I made a little box of the images sent for Henry’s Odyssey fundraiser 2018, so many of the tiny artworks sent lifted my spirits and I keep them close and look through them when I need an emotional lift.

Rouault

Georges Rouault  paintings of religious icons and landscapes at the Pompidou Centre, Paris. 1998

Jennie Fifield  – Ice skaters in a sink at the Fringe at the Factory in Norwich 2006. I don’t have a photo but remember the installation so clearly, it was a resin sheet that looked like a sheet of ice fitted in one of the sinks in the factory. There were wintery paper trees and ice skating figures if you looked into the sink. What I particularly loved was that the exhibition feature around 100 artists and groups with a huge range of painting, sculpture, film, installations, sound and this tiny, magical, imaginative piece could easily be overlooked but the artist had created an entire peaceful world in it’s own place and time alongside the visual and actual noise of the huge exhibition.

Rochechouart kids workshop in response to Richard Long installation – I was visiting the exhibition at Rochechouart and afterwards went for a walk around the grounds of the chateau and watched a group of young children with their teacher as they collected pine cones and used them to create a drawn line through the grounds. They worked together but independently searching for pine cones and then bringing them together to create the piece of land art inspired by Long.

Juliet Arnott – Installation in Salthouse chapel. Juliet worked in the chapel over the summer and slowly created a subtle immersive installation that seamlessly combined the natural decay of the chapel and with freshly woven windows and arches. The piece had a gentle impact on the space and became a celebration of a lost corner of the Churchyard. 2006

Maman Bilbao
Louise Bourgeois, Maman, Bilbao, 2019
Mona Hatoum
Mona Hatoum Installation at Newlyn Art Gallery 1996

 

So what is it that brings together these seemingly disparate artists/artworks/installations/projects? They have all resonated deeply with me in some way. COLOUR. SCALE. SPACE. SERIES. NATURE. QUIET. PEACE.

Winter and My Creative Manifesto

My 9 year old son Henry finishes treatment for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia March 9th 2019. We still have a winter to get through but I am thinking gently about the change at end of treatment. Lots of people have told me that I will probably find it very difficult but I am not sure what that looks like… I am trying to put things in place to help the transition. Often I find the extremeness of the situation and the adrenalin gets me through things that if I stopped and thought about them would feel beyond impossible. I think that after having lived a life in such a traumatic state for such a long time adjusting to ‘normal’ life will be one of the hardest things. A friend told me that often people returning from war stop off somewhere else before returning home to decompress. I need to decompress somewhere, somehow, my studio is my sanctuary and maybe that’s the place to just be, where I can have time by myself to really think and process. Stepping between a world of childhood cancer and day to day life does feel like living in two very different worlds. I often find it really hard to adjust to walking round the supermarket after a trip to Addenbrookes, thoughts of Hen’s treatment, the other people we meet and the terrible journeys that they are supporting their children through make both places feel like a dream/nightmare. The winter scares me now, I think we will be hibernating, keeping our heads down to hopefully get through it without too much time in hospital. Last winter was very hard with lots of time in hospital, Henry needed to get to N&N with a temperature during the heavy snow, it was terrifying. The little girl who was poorly in the next bed at Addenbrookes in 2016 died in February, everything felt like it was crashing in. Sometimes when I drop Hen off at school I look at all the kids running around and think about her and the children in hospital fighting for their lives right now as I write this. They should be collecting conkers, running to school, laughing with their friends.

Last winter I spent a lot of time stitching. I looked for some images from my Instagram feed and realised that I set it up in March 2016, the beginning of Hen’s 3 years of treatment after 3 months of intensive chemo. Looking through the images I have posted between then and now felt so uplifting, joyful and positive. Full of Exhibitions, Drawing, Painting, Stitching and Walking – My Instagram. I noticed many things but particularly that around this time, Sept/Oct 2016, 2017 and 2018 I start stitching! I hadn’t realised it was a habit linked to the seasons. In 2016 I needed to make tiny stitched hearts, I can see now that I was mending my heart with stitch, thread and colour. I started with the broken heart on the left when we thought we might lose Hen, a star for each of us.

Heart Stitching 2017.png

I then started making scrappy little birds, something I am feeling an urge to today again this winter…

Stitched Bird 2017.png

I have started this Winters stitching with this cross stitch for my sister. Counted cross stitch is my meditative creative practice, it’s a bit like doing a sudoko puzzle with thread! I can pick it up and put it down without much thought, which is useful for long waits in hospital when there is too much going on to concentrate on reading a book.

Yarthkin 2018.jpg

So what has this got to do with a Creative Manifesto?

Autumn and Winter are a real time of reflection for me after the busy Spring and Summer of Exhibitions and Workshops. I look forward to getting in the studio or out on the marshes to draw. This year with the approach of EOT (End Of Treatment) I feel like I really need to keep my focus and steer myself through what could be a joyful but difficult time as we really take stock of what we have come through. In order to do this I am going to give myself the time and space to create what I need to create, take the pressure off painting for exhibitions and just make what I need to make. Stitching, Printmaking, Drawing, Painting and alongside this really think about what I do and why. Question my practice, challenge my assumptions, change direction, experiment, play and use all of this to develop my own Creative Manifesto as a means to keep me on track and help me through hard times both creative and emotional. I am really looking forward to it!

EOT.jpg

Eileen Cooper, first female Keeper of RA

2018 has started for me with an inspiring exhibition at Diss Corn Hall in Norfolk. Last year I went to a Print in Action day with my family which was being run by a printmaking friend, Annette Rolston, at her workshops in Diss, Designermakers21. It was fantastic with a mixed exhibition of master printmakers in the Corn Hall opposite, Henry Moore, David Hockney etc. and then demonstrations by professional local printmakers using a variety of approaches: linoprint, drypoint, stencil, woodblock. We were able to ‘have a go’ and all felt the satisfaction that printmaking gives, it is such a contemplative creative process, for me it feels much calmer and more considered than drawing and painting. Having produced some interesting pieces we had to rush back home to receive delivery of a life-size rhinoceros sculpture made from scrap metal for the Waveney Valley Sculpture Trail 2017… another story!

When Annette called me a few months ago to ask if I would take part in this years ‘Print in Action’ day my immediate response was yes… for me it ticked all the boxes of including good professional artists, displaying work to a high standard and being inclusive and accessible to the public. I will be demonstrating my keyblock linoprints, which are then hand coloured with watercolour, on Saturday 10th February at the Corn Hall. As an added bonus Annette called a couple of weeks ago to invite me to put works into a mixed exhibition of prints alongside a solo exhibition of prints and sculpture by Eileen Cooper RA in the main gallery at the Corn Hall. I jumped at the chance and so found myself at the PV a couple of nights ago, I didn’t realise there was a film and conversation with Eileen as part of the PV. The film was so inspiring, it featured footage of the artist in her studio, showing how she overcame particular technical challenges such as registering linoprints of life-size figures as well as watching her paintings in progress. I was struck by the amount of working and reworking her paintings took. Entire parts of the painting would be painted out and repainted to put figures into different poses, all to ensure that the lines were just right and that the overall composition was the best it could be. She also talked about her creation of a series of sculptures, with the help of studio technicians Eileen was able to create paper cut out sculptures in bronze. There are some on show at the Corn Hall and it was interesting to see all the decisions involved to create the patina and colour that she required.

On practical terms the evening was fantastic for me as a painter, printmaker but something else has been running through my mind in a much clearer way than it ever has before. Eileen is the first female Keeper (boss) of the Royal Academy in it’s 250 year history. She has held the post for 6 years and having just retired from the position has, thankfully, handed it on to another powerful woman artist, Paula Rego. A question was asked about who Eileen’s female role models were at art school in the 1970s and she said that there just weren’t any, the art world then was so steeped in patriarchy and women had only just been allowed to enter the Life Drawing rooms let alone establish a tradition of female artists. I was born in 1974 in a rural Norfolk village and didn’t know any painters as I was growing up, my art education at high school was poor to non-existent and I sometimes wonder how I came to be a painter at all!* I have always had a sense of the art world being a male domain and even recently looking through the art monograph books at Foyles the balance seems to be about 80/20 representing men. When I was at Falmouth Art College I wrote a dissertation on the lack of women artists at the National Gallery and the representation of women in the gallery through the male painters eye. I have visited the Venice Biennale for many years and one of the most striking installations for me was the Guerrilla Girls at the entrance to the Italian Pavilion, including their famous ‘Advantages of being a Woman Artist’

Guerilla Girls

I think what I feel is anger and hope. Anger that childcare and housekeeping are still things that my contemporary male artists don’t have to contend with in the same way as female artists but hope that at this year’s biennale there was a large representation of fabulous women artists in their 70’s and 80’s. (I will never forget Sheila Hicks’s epic textile installation in the Arsenale.) Hope that I can follow their hard won paths. Essentially I no longer feel that the male dominated Norwich School of Painters – Arnesby Brown, Crome, Cotman, Seago – really is my inheritance, despite the fact we walk, draw and paint in the same landscape. I really am ploughing my own furrow and following my creative drive single mindedly. I am excited to see where it takes me…

*I am fortunate that both of my parents are creative, they have instilled in me and my sister a relentless work ethic and drive to pursue our creative visions regardless of the day to day practicalities. This sense of endurance and focus is in my core even though life  can pull me away from it. I always return to what I know and love in the studio and make sure I visit the galleries and artists works that inspire me.

The Greater The Distance, The Clearer The View

I have been told by many people that my recent experience of having a very sick child will change me. That you come out of the other side of the ‘journey’ as a changed person in many ways. We are half way through Hen’s treatment so it is difficult to see what this change might be from here, where we might end up, how my thinking or approach to life may change. I have continued to paint and show throughout Hen’s illness but for the past couple of months my usual source of inspiration hasn’t been holding my attention in the way that it has for years.

I grew up in a small rural village on the edge of the southern marshes of the Norfolk Broads, the big skies and waterlogged carrs native to Norfolk were my playground as a child and have been my constant companion. The vast, often bleak, landscapes have always felt like home but over the past year and a half I have started to find the marshland overwhelming. The trauma of our recent experiences has overwhelmed my limbic system and the marshes are just too much to deal with. I have often described the landscape as raw and exposed, it is just that and I have found myself automatically seeking the safety, shelter and calmness of the woods.

There is a pocket of ancient woodland next to Haddiscoe Church near my studio which is hidden in a hollow along a landspring between two parallel main roads. Cars race past either side of the woods and huge arable fields are intensively farmed with little in the way of hedgerow or diversity. The woods in the hollow go unnoticed and are known as Devil’s Hole as the church sits physically higher, locally this is explained as ‘heaven up above and hell down below’. The woodland walk at Haddiscoe combined with my familiar marshes at Reedham and the dense, thriving hedgerows of the rural lanes inspired me to apply to Cley Contemporary, an annual curated contemporary art exhibition in North Norfolk. My idea to create three tunnel books of woodland, marsh and hedgerow was accepted just before Christmas and I am developing the works to show at Cley Contemporary, July 2018. The brief, set by curator Caroline Fisher, resonated with me: “The greater the distance the clearer the view. It encapsulates the idea that something seen from far away can resolve itself to become clearer than something seen close up or that a long journey can allow us the greatest perspective on a subject. It implies either distance or time between the object and the viewer.”

I hope that through the process of making new work and giving myself creative freedom to experiment and play with materials, process and subject matters I will be able to either rediscover my love for the wild marshes or find a love for something new.

 

 

 

New Year, New Ritual

My sister, Laura, is a musician and has developed a series of curated evenings with other musician friends called Modern Ritual performed in London at Cafe Oto, Union Chapel and The Barbican. For all creatives there is an element of ritual or habit that we create to give structure to an otherwise unstructured way of being. Over the past couple of years, whilst caring for my 9 year old son during his treatment for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia, my painting practice has got me through some hard times but I have also lost elements of the ritual and habit that help to create the right environment for me as a painter.

The painting at the start of this blog has special significance for me, I created the drawings in an ancient woodland on a particularly hard day. I parked the car at Haddiscoe Church and walked into the woods crying uncontrollably. I have found during Hen’s illness that 90% of the time it is absolutely necessary to hold it together, not let the emotion out as it could take over everything and wouldn’t help the situation. I didn’t feel much like drawing but made myself walk into the woods. The combination of moving my body and being in such an ancient place worked it’s magic and soon I could breathe properly, I felt properly rooted to the place and sat to draw for a couple of hours. Time slowed, my senses focused on the sounds in the woods, as I was sitting amongst tree roots I watched a tiny spider walk across my legs and I felt the slow turn of the planet.

I know drawing can do this for me, I know that this, along with my love of paint, paper, colour, drawing, is why I am an artist. I know the creative and emotional freedom I feel when I’m in my studio or out drawing. I know the excitement I feel when in the presence of great paintings, they make everything else drop away. But somehow I forget…. I forget how important it is to me… I forget how it helps me… I forget how other people might feel like this too…

My plan for 2018 is simple…! Reinstate the ritual, get back into the creative groove, make work I love, visit galleries, be inspired, inspire others. I am not the best at routine but this blog is going to be my reminder to myself to focus, take myself seriously, to give myself the time I need to develop as an artist and to be proud of the work I have produced by the end of the year.

Devils_Hole_Haddiscoe_drawing

This is the drawing that reminds me how to be… Devils Hole, Haddiscoe, Norfolk.