Taking on the history of art and making something new or original is very challenging. Everything seems to have been done before. Picasso said, “good artist copy, great artist steal.” Banksy crossed Picasso’s name out and stole what he said. “The bad artists imitate, the great artists steal.” Pablo Picasso Banksy.
Advertising was stripped and cleansed by Warhole as he took and re-aligned it’s image, colour and details. Pop art mirrored the overload of capitalism by using the tasteless and repetition of consumerism itself. The minimalist through their dislike for capitalism made no attempt to represent the outside, they approached art making differently, by focusing on materials and order, the form of the work became their reality. They accumulated objects and striped them bare. The supermarket stack became a careful composed stack of bricks reflecting the coldness and emptiness. The minimalists, like the pop artists before, wanted to say wake up and smell the coffee, capitalist and consumerist objects are empty and without meaning. No matter how much you buy there is still no hope of transcendence or ascendancy.
I strove to create a dialogue with what came before, Pop art, minimalism and Koons amongst others. However, my work has developed over time, and through setting up my own system of working, my thoughts have moved on. I am no longer focused on creating a dialogue about consumerism even though that’s where I started. My work has deepen and expanded through the process of making. My painting ‘the quality of absence’ allows the viewer to indulge in their own taste and expectations.
I now experiment with and explore a visual grammar. I take shapes and forms with colours and look for the underlining beauty beyond the emptiness of the surface culture. This work is extremely hand crafted with physical man made marks made through painting. By exploring pictorial convention I have developed an interest in the language of space; the space between art and life.
This new work certainly seems to have struck the right note, ‘the quality of absence’ has gone to a new home. The home of one of my customers.
There are many challenges to making good art. I would like to share some of the problems l have overcome along the way.
When l was starting out as an artist l hoped that a fantastic idea would hit me like a lightning bolt! I thought to be a successful artist all l needed was one great idea. I now realise that for me, ideas work better when they come while l’m working rather than having an idea before l start. Pablo Picasso said, “inspiration does exist, but it has to find you working.” You need to trust that inspiration and creativity will be there when you get deep and into the flow of your work.
In the past self-doubt and my ego have often made me freeze in the studio. The impulse to freeze can be overwhelming, it feels like being caught like a rabbit in headlights when you’re not sure what to do next. I have come to realise that these feelings are perfectly normal and are to be expected. Previously, these freezes made me lose my way, but over time l have realised that everyone who is creative has thoughts and fears of failure at one point or another. In the Guardian Newspaper, Susan Hiller discusses her daily battle.
I realise by wanting to be successful as an artist; l am volunteering for self-doubt. Success comes to those creative people who overcome this problem. I have learnt how to get out of my own way, calm an overthinking mind, to channel myself to get back on with my work.
Part of the creative process is making mistakes and stumbling on the way through the process. Mistakes are essential to figuring things out and working out what works. Previously they have felt like the end of the world. I have learnt to adjust my mindset, and see these mistakes as beneficial learning opportunities to figure what doesn’t work. Now when mistakes or accidents happen, l understand that it was meant to be and l am able now, to quickly move on with a new sense of purpose, taking on board the newly learned knowledge.
I have also learnt about the importance of technical skills in making good art. I have realised however, that although technical skills are essential to make good art, it is much more important to know how to be creative. By learning how to be creative and how to get into the creative flow, it is possible to use technical skills to broaden your artistic output.
I recently realised that an audience is not initially drawn to your work because of your idea. Through creating, when the object and making become inseparable, the resulting work is much more intriguing than a big idea. An artwork is successful when it communicated something to its audience that the audience relates to and understands. My potential audience and hopefully collectors will buy into my work because they know why l made it, instead of what and how l made it.
When I’m feeling self-doubt, when things don’t go my way or when I’m overthinking, the best advice l learnt through these challenges is to get out of my own way. There are no short cuts to making good art, just lots of small steps along the way. So get working, make mistakes and enjoy the process. Like everything in life that is worthwhile, it takes hard work and perseverance. Making good art is about finding your unique voice through your artwork and figuring out why you want to make it. By communicating the ‘why’ through the work you can make better sense of this world, and make good art!
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Hopes and Fears (2007) symbolises a key tipping point in my career. It was the most successful painting from my work of this period, when I painted with a representational figurative style. It has been exhibited in many places from London to Los Angeles and has won two prizes. Needhams Open in Cambridgeshire in 2008, and X-Power International Art Competition in Beverley Hills, California in 2009.
It is up for sale here or alternatively contact me directly through email or Facebook.
Background to the painting.
“The piece ‘Hopes and Fears’ by Stuart Bush is profoundly influenced by London’s city streets. In the foreground, a well-dressed man blends into the city, giving it a dreamlike quality somewhere between fact and fiction. The work obsessively documents a personal psychological journey relating to themes of guilt and obsession with everyday consumerism. Space, structure, angst, alienation and juxtaposition are all key elements with this work.”
Back to the story…
I was born in the UK in 1978 and while growing up my family and l moved to several different parts of the UK. Moving around the country had an impact on my education, and l only put effort into the classes l liked and ones that came easy to me, like art and design.
My first ambition as a child was to be a stunt man, as l was a big fan of The Fall Guy, The A-Team and Airwolf! But my passion and talent for art started at an early stage. I had an interest in drawing and it seemed to come easily to me, I soon realised that being a car designer or an architect might be a little more realistic.
At 16 when l received my final grades l realised l had to reconsider becoming a car designer or an architect as l would need to be good at all subjects to meet university entry requirements. Nevertheless, l continued my education studying Art and Design ‘A’ levels with the intention of being a designer of some sort. However, after my ‘A’ levels, the foundation course in Art and Design l studied meant that rather than having a design portfolio to get into a design course at university l ended up with an art portfolio! The foundation course l studied was not Art and Design it was more like Art and Graphic Design.
Nevertheless, l enjoyed the course even though l ended up in a different place than l intended. I received advice from my college tutors who suggested that l studied Illustration at university. I didn’t know what l wanted to do and l didn’t think too much about my future as an Illustrator but l took their advice and gained a place at Wolverhampton
I got off to a bad start at Wolverhampton when l didn’t get into the halls of residence. This meant l had to find a shared house to live nearby.
Not getting into halls of residence limited my number of people I knew significantly. My friends were mainly the people on my course, and I lived with 3 of them. In my second year, I also realised it was the wrong course at the wrong university. Things went from bad to worse and I wasn’t happy and wanted to leave Wolverhampton and change classes.
I was determined to make a change and make the most out of the situation. I approached my University and said I wanted to transfer universities. I meet with a lady in an office, and she told that the university has additional places on an international transfer to America. The were places available to go to ISU Illinois State University near Chicago in January. At the time this was only nine weeks away, and I was given one night to decide. I was lacking self-confidence and very concerned about going, but I was determined to make a change, and this appeared as my best and only option.
After a very long conversation with my family, I applied the next day to go to America on an international transfer. I enrolled in painting and photography classes. It was very different from Illustration course at Wolverhampton. It suited me better, and I gained a great deal of much-needed confidence in my self and my abilities.
In Chicago l started three studio classes including Painting, Drawing and Photography which wasn’t easy as there was a heavy workload. I quickly made two main groups of friends and lots of other friends in the inernational halls of residence. One group who liked partying and another group who liked a good time aswell as making art. I was torn between the two. I took me a while to realise who my real friends were and thankfully they were the hard working artists. This tough decision was a central life changing decision.
I enjoyed both the painting and photography classes l was enrolled in and they have both become a major part of my Art. This life changing trip had a fundamental effect on me and l was helped by being able to travel to many parts of the US. I returned to Wolverhampton to finish my degree with ‘A’ grades from Illinois State University and with a new passion for painting and photography and a new self-belief!
After university l had the confidence to go travelling on my own for six months visiting Hong Kong, China and Australia. During my travels l carefully thought about how l was going to make a living when l returned to the UK. I realised that l was not in the position to make a living as an artist, so l thought carefully about getting the right type of full-time job that suited my needs. I ended up choosing a job with a four days on and four days off shift pattern that l have grown to love. This crucial decision was base on my determination to become an artist and it has paid off.
After a few years of full-time work l started an MA in Fine Art. I now rent a painting studio a few miles from where l live and happily paint at every opportunity. The decision to go to America was certainly life changing. It was where l found my passion for art. I now look forward to everyday with my varied and exciting life.
When starting as an artist rather than waiting for a big idea, I took my camera to the city. I took pictures of everything and anything that interested me. I just pressed and released the shutter. When l reviewed my photos, l realised that l was naturally discovering interesting material. My ideas came from living, painting and repeating.
When returning to the city with my camera, l followed my natural curiosity and my ideas deepened and expanded. At times it was hard to choose which way to take my work. It was essential to review and understand what l had. I took many directions but kept returning to taking photos of the city and taking them forward by painting them on canvas. The trick is not to give up Helsinki Bus Theory link.
I realised over time that my original idea was chasing some obscure knowledge through a simple process that I could repeat.
I feel like I have been painting the same painting for ten years as now I realise that my original ideas just got the work started. The original idea is still in my work but it has changed and developed in ways l could never have predicted. My work has grown to portray something unique that help us to understand our life on this earth a little better.
These seeds begin to germinate in many different directions like a plant does when it is attracted to light and water. It has taken many years for my original ideas and intentions to bloom into flowers. Now the interesting thing is not my original ideas or intentions. It is that l have found my way to communicate; my unique voice and inclination. As my work has deepened and expanded, it has lined up with natural talent, unlocking bigger ideas. Bigger ideas that l could never have predicted ten years ago.
The point of this post is that it is impossible to know where your practice as an artist will take you. One of the biggest challenges is learning to trust the decisions you make and to stop doubting yourself. Instead, l have developed confidence in my inner voice even when l can’t see where it is taking me.
My advice is to play, as there is no such thing as a mistake. Anything can lead to a breakthrough. If self-doubt is getting the best of you put your trust in a process and live, paint, repeat.
Over time when you review your work a way forward should reveal itself. Trust yourself and your creative process. Rather than paying attention to your own intentions, pay attention to what the work actually does. When the thinking and doing come together the work becomes more convincing.
At times I have found juggling a full-time job while being a parent and starting a career as an emerging artist, very frustrating. When I have tried to put in lots of effort in my art career, my family time and job has suffered this, in turn, has left me feeling unhappy.
I have read about artists, like Picasso and Matisse who decided to prioritise art at the cost of everything else in their life including their family. I think the choices they made don’t suit me. By putting my family first, it means prioritising family time and paying the bills. Art has ended third on my list of priorities.
I have been frustrated for a while coming to terms with this. Over time I have come to realise this gives me the opportunity to take more time, to make the art I want to make for me. I wonder about the solitude if I was working on my own in my studio. Of course, I realise that this wouldn’t be every day but thinking about this has made value my full-time job more, as I enjoy the social side of working in a team.
I love spending time and seeing my family growing up, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I have meet artists making a living from their art where they have very little money. The artist I have come across are unlikely to afford to buy a house or have a good pension. I wanted to make sure I had a good income to allow my family to flourish and thrive. I have reached the conclusion, by working full time, having a mortgage and good pension I can look forward to the time when my family are older. I will be able to move my art up my list of priorities. I feel happy about this order of priorities, and I know it is the way it should be. I now accept it rather than fight it.
To fit everything in, I have to have some sort of order to my life, a kind of time management priority list of sorts. I prioritise my family life and job and my art making time fits in around that. I try to plan my year ahead and decide what my priorities are for each year. I am working towards depth in my artwork rather than bereft. I then break down each week so that I can allow time for each activity. I am only able to have a couple of art objectives on a weekly basis. They typically are making artwork and writing my blog. My other art career plans just have to wait.
Allowing freedom in the studio for creativity exploration is essential. When I work on a plain sheet of paper or in my sketchbook, I seek to have an openness in my drawings that allows and embraces a large number directions and options that can be pursued. A chain of evolution takes place in my pictures over an extended period of time and patience is essential. Working on and towards a finished piece too early can make the outcome contrived and often can leave me frustrated.
This explorative phase is more like problem-creation stage than problem-solving stage. I am looking to generate new ideas to stimulate my visual imagination and leaving space for creativity and ambiguity. I have often found that without this freeness, the development and exploratory of my thoughts are restricted, and the work comes to a dead end.
With creative freedom in my drawings, my insight and intuition give me an inkling of what to do next allowing me to focus on specific issues and open questions. I can then remove certain details and concentrate on the whole by copying and repeating to expand conceptual ideas and structures by following a hunch.
Inspiration is an essential ingredient and can come from chaotic and imprecise work made with an open mind or by viewing another artist’s work or for me, by being inspired by the city. Accidents and chance can lead to seeing embedded ideas in a different way. The freeness leaves space to suggest moods and emotions and enhancing abstract concepts. I often feel the need to revisit unresolved ideas and expanding on them. Sometimes this leads to radical changes and often, exciting new artwork.
It is always important to remember that overworking can remove the essence, spirit, the actual original thoughts, and potential. The outcome is successful when the liberty and pleasure are still visible. After all seemingly effortless art signifies greatness and shows the way forward for an artist who can then capture what is immaterial into the material.
My work starts with street photography. I wander the streets as a Flaneur. Charles Baudelaire, the nineteenth-century poet described a Flaneur in his essay ‘The Painter of Modern Life’ as a stroller and loafer of the city streets observing modern life. Likewise l wander around the city like a man of leisure as l try to take it all in. Following my intuition and hunches I take pictures of what seems important to me. I look to capture that important element in the frame of my viewfinder, the essence of the importance of life.
The photographs I take allows me to record a rich visual diary. By having this source material I always have something to return to if inspiration is running low and I need revisit my original ideas and intentions.
The next stage is in the studio with a blank sheet of paper or a blank page in my sketchbook. The main thing that happens in this first stage in the studio is reducing and simplifying the rich source l have gathered and extracting important elements to use. As well as painting and drawing, l sometimes print the photos to create collages or put layers together in a photoshop.
Things come together slowly, often my ideas and sketches don’t go anywhere at first. The next time I’m in the shower, or going for a walk, or the next time I am in an art gallery I realise how I can use these snippets of life l have gathered! I then return to the original photographs and sketches and try to refine and develop my ideas.
Often I come to dead end. Then l try to be patience and wait and allow ideas to develop. Allow my mind to bring ideas together. This normally happens when I am not particularly thinking about artwork, but when my mind is open and free to wander.
However, once l feel I am on to something, I look to develop a process and repeat the format in order to create a series of work.
My art studio is on the top floor of an old shoe factory in Northampton. I have been working in this space for over ten years now. The space is quite full. Ten years means ten years of equipment, ten years of paperwork and ten years of ideas on paper and canvas.
I have weekly access to London where I go looking for inspiration to bring back to the studio and process my ideas. It is great to have the exposure to view the best galleries and exhibitions and to be able to walk the streets of London with my camera.
A studio is a place of unique freedom; it is a place for me and my thoughts where I can figure things out. It is a place to use my intuition to look for problems, get things wrong, make mistakes and follow a hunch. I have learnt a way to lie to myself, and accept whatever comes out of the creative act is good enough.
I feel a strong need and desire to process the world. Thinking about my artwork is done in pencil and paint as I process what I see, as I look to figure how to process it. I believe that what I am trying to grasp through my art practice is of importance, to get a better understanding of the seemingly meaningless void, what we call life.
Through my practice as a painter if I painted nature I would want to paint the treeness of a tree, something that resonates strongly with us. In the lines and colours of my ephemeral moments I look to reflect a visual equivalent of the rhythm the city. The work deepens and expands to harmonise the whole. I paint my inclination of form from the structural elements of the figure in the city to express us. A simplified and symbolic vision that selects what is essential through reduction. In between representational and abstraction, reality and painting.
Josef Albers said in the Interaction of colour, “In musical compositions, so long as we hear merely single tones, we do not hear music. Hearing music depends on the recognition of the in-between of the tones, of their placing and their spacing.” This quote is important to understand how I see individual pieces of my work in the studio as linked into a wider conversation I am trying to have. My blog is titled “The Poetic Painter, Painting in pictures rather than words” because music, poetry and painting have a lot of similarities. Like David Salle said, an iconic image has the “visual equivalent of a tenor reaching a high note.”
I enjoy my opportunity to communicate my thought and ideas. I like to hear what you enjoy about your creative time. Please join in the conversation in the comment box below.
Art is about using your creativity to make new connections from things around you. The intention is to reconsider what you previous thought to give you a better understanding of what life is really about.
Creativity in art is really about playing and experimenting. Taking two random things and letting things happen. Being overly self-critical or self-conscious can prohibit a breakthrough. You’re not trying to re-invent the wheel; you need to encounter discomfort and ignore any fears and tell yourself, this is for me and try not to worry what other people think.
You could connect something banal like house bricks, reflecting coldness and the mundane, as a wake-up call to the excesses of capitalism like Carl Andre and his artwork, Equivalent V.
You take on some of the big topics, like immortality, life and death by linking the cycle of life, with flies living and dying in a glass box like Damien Hirst, titled ‘A Thousand Years’ (1990).
Or you could take up a skill like drawing, painting or pottery and just get making and see where it takes you. The trick is once on a path, you’re bound not to know where the work is heading. If you thought you knew where your ideas are going, your artwork is probably stillborn or dead and lacks any inside energy.
The Helsinki Bus Station Theory by photographer Arno Rafaela Minkkinen explains some interesting and worthwhile advice:
The Helsinki Bus Station: let me describe what happens there.
Some two-dozen platforms are laid out in a square at the heart of the city. At the head of each platform is a sign posting the numbers of the buses that leave from that particular platform. The bus numbers might read as follows: 21, 71, 58, 33, and 19.
Each bus takes the same route out of the city for a least a kilometer stopping at bus stop intervals along the way where the same numbers are again repeated: 21, 71, 58, 33, and 19.
Now let’s say, again metaphorically speaking, that each bus stop represents one year in the life of a photographer, meaning the third bus stop would represent three years of photographic activity.
Ok, so you have been working for three years making platinum studies of nudes. Call it bus #21.
You take those three years of work on the nude to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the curator asks if you are familiar with the nudes of Irving Penn. His bus, 71, was on the same line. Or you take them to a gallery in Paris and are reminded to check out Bill Brandt, bus 58, and so on.
Shocked, you realize that what you have been doing for three years others have already done.
So you hop off the bus, grab a cab (because life is short) and head straight back to the bus station looking for another platform.
This time you are going to make 8×10 view camera color snapshots of people lying on the beach from a cherry picker crane.
You spend three years at it and three grand and produce a series of works that illicit the same comment: haven’t you seen the work of Richard Misrach? Or, if they are steamy black and white 8×10 camera view of palm trees swaying off a beachfront, haven’t you seen the work of Sally Mann?
So once again, you get off the bus, grab the cab, race back and find a new platform. This goes on all your creative life, always showing new work, always being compared to others.
What to do?
It’s simple. Stay on the bus. Stay on the f*cking bus.
So play and make random connections. These new connections you make are only significant if they generate new meaning. Use your intuition to sense which have potential and to figure out the best to communicate this idea to someone. Make art from what is around you and try to make a comment about the world.
When telling a joke, the funny part comes when two different separate ideas connect, generating a new meaning, similar to connections within a successful work of art. Remember art is wonder! It doesn’t matter if someone else likes it or dislikes it. What is important is that your audience can’t stop thinking about it. The possibilities are endless. And remember to stay on the f*cking bus!
I am taking positive steps to make me more productive in the studio including things like planning and reviewing what I am going to do in the studio before I arrive and creating some studio ground rules.
I have a list of current projects and series of work l am trying to complete. Before l go to my studio I write down a short list of next steps l need to take, often between two or three depending on long each one will take. This brief list is hand written in my diary, so it is clear to follow. This way I know what my first task is, therefore avoiding beginning with an extended period of uncertainty. Of course, uncertainty when painting is always present, but I try to remove it at this stage with preplanning.
To choose the right tasks, I ask myself a series of questions; If l only achieve 2-3 tasks in a day what would these tasks be and would l be satisfied if l only get these done? If I made only one work of excellence, which one would make an enormous difference and have the greatest consequences?
To help keep my mind clear and on creative studio time I write down all the distractions l might encounter on a to-do list. Plus l avoid all office and business related tasks while in the studio to avoid all low-level activities. Even if these task are urgent, I still try to do them after my creative block of time of one to three hours. The creative time must come first.
The rules I have put in place while working are;
Phone on silent, select music quickly (if I choose to listen to any at all), no tv or video, no newspapers, no friends dropping by, no emailing, no internet research unless it is related to making my next work therefore, hopefully, no diversions and distractions from the creative task ahead.
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