Thursday, 28 April 2016


This first third of my year has been somewhat fraught to say the least; a birth, a wedding, illness and a death. . . .  not all of which I have been prepared for and certainly not the best situation to be in when trying to make new work for the AA2A scheme, which has suffered as a consequence.

However, it is all part of life's rich tapestry, I am beginning to resurface from it all and trying to be kind to myself and not plan any major new things for the whole of the rest of this year. My original plans for the work will get made eventually, and will hopefully get shown in some galleries once I have the energy to sort it out.

What I am showing for this exhibition is a compilation of my research so far in the form of 3 banners on Chinese paper.  I have managed to produce something that is visually arresting, I think, and which has masses of information when you look closer; something I have always aimed to achieve.

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Monday, 22 February 2016

Basil Beattie at MIMA

The impressive, fabulous grid of drawings that hits visitors to the exhibition as they enter.

It was such a privilege last Saturday, to attend the public opening of Basil Beattie's exhibition When Now Becomes Then: Three Decadesat Midlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. The exhibition runs until 12th June and I heartily recommend it to all people interested in painting and the development of visual art in this country.  

I completely agree with Mel Gooding's remark at the end of his conversation with Basil that it says something about the cultural state existing in this country today that a show of this magnitude by one of our great painters has taken so long to come about.  I have followed Basil Beattie's work since I was a student, not always closely, but he is one of the painters that I have long admired and a go to for affirmation that painting with gesture and guts and interesting imagery is still a worth while thing to strive for.

When I am visiting a major exhibition of a painter I admire, I like to walk through the galleries quite quickly to start with, to gain an understanding of the sequence.  I then go round again more slowly and meander backwards and forwards, looking at the work, noting formal points of interest, the use of motifs, colour and how the works communicate with each other in the space.  While I do this, I sometimes jot down words or phrases that spring to mind about the works; it helps me to connect the works I am looking at with my knowledge of art history and experience.  Then I read the accompanying texts and make note of dates when the paintings were made; I don't like my opinion of the works to be influenced by the texts until I have done this but I am happy to have my thoughts altered and expanded upon once I have had a chance to form my own connections.  When I say connections, I mean that I like to work out where the artist may have responded to works from the past, how the works connect with artists working today, how the artists' work has developed over time and the philosophical and psychological connections that may exist.  I am not an expert on philosophy; I wish I was, its connections to art are strong, lets face it, because art is about life.  I am constantly trying to improve my knowledge of philosophy but I can never remember what I have read!

Anyway, a few of the words I jotted down are as follows:

Goya?  (existential)
de Kooning
fantastic painterliness

And here are some of Basil's own words, spoken during the conversation with Mel Gooding (that I have taken from MIMA'S web site):

“I always try to make the next painting not like the last one, I’m often asked if I make several paintings at once – I don’t. I have to turn all the last ones to the wall in order to grasp the identity of the specific painting I’m working on.”
“The art of painting… leads you to thoughts and ideas that you may not have had if you didn’t start painting. You have to know how to deal with them. A lot of people know exactly what they want to paint so they have to get it right. In my case I recognise it when I see it, when I feel it. It may be that I’ve got the bare bones but I have to put the flesh on and that’s a very different matter. It may be that it becomes something else during that period.”

“When Now Becomes Then: Three Decades is a look through one's artistic life over the last 30 years. I’m expecting surprises, in terms of juxtapositions because there will be combinations of paintings that I won’t have seen before and it will be interesting to play around with that opportunity. I’m looking forward to the show in terms of learning more about what I’ve been doing. I mean, if it gives any value to anybody it will be value to me.”

Basil Beattie's words have such resonance for me; I approach painting in very much the same way, letting it develop, finding connections as the work emerges.

I am not attempting to critique this exhibition but to try and give a flavour of what it feels like to be within it.  I hope that this tempts lots of you reading this to visit!

Basil Beattie (right), in deep discussion.  I didn't dare to approach him!

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Sunday, 7 February 2016

Talk about self employment

I seemed to spend the entire day on the train last Thursday.  My car was in the garage to have a broken spring mended - a common problem living where I do because the pot holes in the narrow roads have to be seen to be believed. (And when they are invisible, as in my experience recently because it was full of water and much deeper than anticipated as I pulled over to give way to an oncoming van, they are very damaging and dangerous).  So, I made the treck by train to Middlesbrough via York to attend the talk given by Wendy Mason of AA2A, about self employment.
Thank you to Wendy, for a frank and informative talk outlining the basics along with some of the pitfalls and for pointing out that there is joy to be had in the independence that being self employed can bring to an artist's career.  And how easy it is to fill in a tax return, once it has been done a couple of times.  The links Wendy supplied were not all known to me either, so that was also very helpful.
Now, I am in a strange position when it comes to self employment; I have, since I moved to North Yorkshire, never earned even a £1000 profit in a year.  I was teaching part time and paying my taxes before I moved here. I hasten to add that I am not a dishonest person trying to avoid paying tax.  I have been on a few courses about being self employed and my current situation simply does not fit any of the normal career outlines.  Namely, I moved here because my husband was offered a job and have not been "employed" since although I have worked as a volunteer at a gallery.  I make work that I want to make, because my lovely partner told me it was my turn to develop my career; I know this means I am lucky. So, I do make the work I want to make, what interests me, and which very rarely sells.  I am so below the tax threshold, it simply is not worth me wasting HMRC's time with declaring myself as self employed.  I am what would be termed a "hobbyist", but not in the derogative term that most people use the word.  I just do not make my living from my work; it does not mean that I am not a consummately professional artist.
I was lucky to be able to chat with Wendy while we waited for our trains home about this and I was heartened that she agreed with me that declaring myself to be self employed was not necessary at this point.  I had been feeling a little uneasy about the whole thing, so it was good to know from someone who knows what they are talking about, that I am not doing anything wrong and that I should just keep going with developing my work.  Thank you Wendy!
 I just wish the well known local artist that attacked me about this a few years ago, in front of a lot of other local artists, saying that what I was doing was illegal and that I was despicable, had thought to talk to me first.  Oh, and maybe check her facts.  It's a shame too, because she has refused to acknowledge my presence ever since, even though it was she, not I who was in the wrong.  

Monday, 1 February 2016


I have not begun to make any final works for my AA2A project yet; I am still busy collecting material to incorporate into it. My aim is to combine text, image and mark making to create a visually interesting surface in three dimensions.  The use of print and paint on Chinese paper will have a beautiful way of diffusing light and creating shadows, depending on where it is shown and how it is draped or hung. This will mirror the hoped for quality of the acrylic piece I am planning as part of the trio of free standing pillars. I am already thinking about other venues where the work could be shown but not approached anywhere as yet.
I am planning to make at least three free standing pillars that represent the qualities of earth, air and water.  (This is the working title of the piece).  These are the "holy trinity" of our life support system that will be threatened if fracking is allowed to take place.  One pillar of steel sheet (homage to Middlesbrough steel manufacturing as well as a nod to my original ballot box piece), one pillar of ply wood and one of acrylic sheet, all painted and printed upon with a variety of text, imagery and mark making to produce an interesting surface.  The work is not meant to be polemic; it is my personal response to the threat that fracking poses to the land, water and air where I live, and beyond.
I put out a call last Friday to local people fighting fracking to provide me with a few sentences each about how they feel about it.  I have had ten responses back already and am hopeful of a lot more; this community engagement aspect has grown out of my continued thinking process about the whole body of work.  
I am also continuously surprised at the connections I am making with ideas within the project; I have already mentioned textile construction, its relation to "taking a line for a walk" in drawing and recently the ideas of darning to repair holes has become a metaphor that I have begun to speculate on.  Recent research into chemicals used in the fracking process or those that are brought up to the surface of the earth as a result of fracking has startled me; the diagrams of the different chemical bonds looked very similar to crochet diagrams!
Attending the recent lecture at Teesside University by Alice Fox was interesting; her method of collecting, refining, thinking and producing, have certain parallels within my current work. Also; her absolutely beautiful artists' books (I have been lucky enough to own one for a few years now), constantly inspire me. Alice self publishes books as well; kind of catalogues of each body of work she produces; this is something I need to seriously think about too because, like her, I simply do not manage to sell many of my original pieces and as Alice pointed out, everyone can manage to buy one of those for a few pounds.
I may not be around Teesside University campus very much during February; my daughter is due to have her first baby in about a week.  I will however continue to collect material together and to make small drawings so that when I am able to be back, I can get going with producing the final works.
I am beginning to feel excited and a little daunted!

The works illustrated here are part of the interim exhibition at Teesside University that illustrate my research methods during the early stages of a project and reflect my studio wall during this phase, hence the tape rather than nicely presented work!

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Wednesday, 20 January 2016

AA2A project research

At the presentation I gave to students at the beginning of my placement, one of the students asked me if I would use fracking as my subject matter.  At the time, I said no, although it was a possibility.  I have since decided it is too rich a seam to ignore.  Excuse the pun!

I am only at the research stage in terms of content and deciding on how the art works will be made and look but I do know that the work will be presented in three dimensional form.

All four of we AA2A artists were required to present the work we have made so far in an interim exhibition in the walkway of part of the Fine Art complex at Teesside, which we put up this Tuesday 19th.  I have completed some prototype artists' books along with collecting lots of information, quotes and sketches linked to my thinking.

I decided to put it all up on the boards as a reconstruction of my studio wall during researching the project using tape, just as I do when working and gathering material.  I'm hoping it gives the students an insight into my working practice; it has certainly helped me to appraise where I am so far, to see some interesting connections and to make some decisions about the way forward with the experimentation and continued research.

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