When I enter my studio I often have times when I need to be inspired. No matter what l do l meet resistance. I walk around the room, or I sit feeling frustrated with a closed mind. My mind doesn’t feel like being creative. Fighting this situation never works. All that happens is that l waste the day. I have to get out. I need to find a place to go to for inspiration.
Over time, l have learnt to embrace these moods and seek solace and inspiration elsewhere. Near my studio, I have a lovely country walk. Whatever the weather, I put my shoes on and head off.
While I am walking, I can consider all my unfinished business and jobs. Then I begin looking at the things around me. I try to move my mind to focus on my breathing and relax. I notice the sounds of the birds, the footsteps in the gravel and the beauty of my surroundings.
A related post to the places to go for inspiration
My primary objective is to cultivate a happy mind. I might sit down on a bench and watch people walk past. Or I might pop out a sketchbook and draw whatever comes into my mind. If I don’t fancy a walk or if I return and my mood hasn’t shifted, I look through some of my art books. I start sketching from what seems interesting.
If I’m feeling at a loss about where to start when that pencil hits the page just start by moving it. I start with anything from a circle to scribble. Like a child, I try to create without judgement or expectations.
I see my job as an artist is to record what I see. For this to work well, and to be able to translate what I see in a new unique way, good quality inspiration is essential. I try to visit the museums and galleries in London at least once a month. I also look for opportunities for collaboration and to engage in useful and uplifting and stimulating discussions. Sooner or later I return to the studio with inspiration for my next step.
It is easy to be impressed by the work of Jeff Koons. He has an impressive art career and has gained international success. Koons has developed a secure grip on the art market and he can make whatever he wants. He often turns the popular; Michael Jackson with his pet monkey or scoops of Play-doh; into an expensive ceramic or stainless steel sculpture.
Plus, Koons is not afraid to make work that could potentially alienate him. It is easy to sneer at his works based on topics like guilt and shame. After all, we are all bound by our own unconscious and conscious signals. He openly encourages opinions on his art saying there is no right or wrong interpretation. His art challenges the idea that art needs emotional depth and taste. Koons work, whether your ambivalent about it or not, it clearly reflects our age and society especially his gazing balls and balloon dog.
Jeff Koons describes Balloon Dog: “It’s very mythic. There’s a sense of the interior to the piece, which is a bit like a Trojan piece. It’s very now – it’s like a balloon from a birthday party, and because it’s inflated, you imagine the birthday party was recent, not 20 years ago. A normal membrane of a balloon from 20 years ago would be completely deflated. At the same time, there’s a mythic and ritualistic quality; you can imagine people going around Balloon Dog in a sort of dance. A tribalistic quality.”
However, instead of just enjoying his work I am often distracted by the hype that surrounds it. He takes a couple of things from contemporary life that are somewhat one dimensional then puts them together to try to create a new meaning. They become carries or cyphers as Koons seeks to get you to think. Nevertheless, I feel his work lacks empathy and intellectual curiosity. Once you understand the idea behind a piece of his art, there is no hidden depth. For me, his wealth has become the spectacle and not for the right reason.
Koons has taken the idea of turning art into a business to a whole new level. He has developed a style of work that does not include the ‘original’ artistic hand. Instead, he employs specialist highly skilled artists and craftspeople to bring his concept to life while he focuses on micromanaging the output.
In doing so, Koons creates a new religion for art that celebrates the shallowness of capitalism and celebrity as his ego seeks to promote himself as the modern-day equivalent of the great artists of the past.
Whether you like his work or not his art does come across as uplifting and joyful. But I am sceptical about the broader intentions of such art. This leads me to find what he does and his unflinching confidence and self-belief admirable, while at the same time, disagreeable.
Sarah Sze is well known for her sculptures of large-scale installations. When l walked into the exhibition I was immediately meet by the flood of ideas. Sarah stimulating installations take the detritus from the frame, and her work appears to explode as if trying to escape. She instinctively relies on her painter’s instincts, as ‘Afterimage’ takes a closer look at the artist’s working practices as she looks at the relationships between objects in space and the contradictions between them.
Sarah Sze international art career started in the 1990s. In 2003 she won the won the MacArthur Fellowship. In 2013 she represented the USA at the at the Venice Biennale. She has exhibitions in many countries and her work is in many museum collections around the world.
The exhibition starts with her two-dimension work. These images are laid out like a collage on the wall. Everyday items from roughly torn images, photographs, string, sketches and more overlap. They are taped and stuck together as they continue to generate new thoughts and ideas. They gradually accumulate to turn the collage into part of the canvas. The paintings start with no definite beginning or end. They form a vast assemblage of content allowing thoughts to take off in many different directions at the same time.
One of the most intriguing parts of the exhibition for me is the presence of time and space. I realised the artist must have added to her works while in the room. This is engaging and stimulating. I felt like I was able to explore Sarah’s train of thought before, during and after the work was created. Sarah is communicating and documenting how we live in the present moment, how we are meant to focus on the present, but our thoughts are often elsewhere.
I found the contradictions in Sarah’s work absorbing. Not only do they show how time continues forward and backwards with videos, plants growing and decaying but also the presence and absence of form in the construction. As I interrupted the video projectors on the walls, I saw myself in the mirror and my silhouette appeared on the wall. However, Sarah is not interested in the objects themselves; her interest lies in the relationship between elements and what they say about us. She is showing us evidence, evidence of humanity’s impact. Giving an overall feeling of a laboratory where you are the witness. It reminds me of what Picasso once said, “Art is the lie that reveals the truth.”
In Sarah’s artwork, the individual objects have no value. However, Sarah creates value in the way the collage, painting and sculpture come together and the way the items are treated and placed. The physical relationship to the objects is familiar but this intimate experience of development and demise, in time and space, is encouraging us to reconsider everything again.
I found the exhibition very revealing about Sarah’s working practices. The exhibition asks questions about what we experienced before we arrived, what have experienced during the show and how this will change what we will see after we leave. The show left me thinking about the human race as a species and what evidence we are really leaving behind. I thoroughly recommend a trip to Victoria Miro to take a look.
External links to the Sarah Sze ‘Afterimage’ exhibition;
Many children spend a lot of their time with their peers. In my childhood, I changed schools five times. This meant l had to learn to start over again and again. At the time I couldn’t see the benefits of adversity. I could only see the challenges of the upheavals. Making friends and building strong relationships was a continual challenge. It felt like before I knew it, I was moving again.
As I didn’t have easy and regular access to friends, I naturally was drawn to the easy path of finding things to do on my own. I didn’t spend my time playing sports. I was shy and it took me a long time to get to know people and trust them.
Like most kids, I enjoyed watching television. For me, it was mainly the A-Team, the Fall Guy and Airwolf. My childhood dream was to become a stuntman. The main activities I found myself doing were building models, drawing, playing lego and riding my bike.
By spending time drawing and making things I become quite good at these activities. l remember that l stood out in my class and was noted for my drawing abilities. This made me feel good about myself and it gave me more encouragement to continue drawing.
As I got older I started dreaming about becoming an architect. The impossible concept of becoming an artist never entered my thoughts for a moment. However, I stumbled into an art degree without a plan. Then I stumbled out looking for a job. When I graduated the thought of making a living as an artist still appeared impossible.
As I look back to where I started I have the benefits of adversity to thank for being an artist. And of course, the Internet has helped me to have a career as an artist. I still would have continued to draw, paint and make things but few people would see them without the Internet. Art is what I love doing, and I wouldn’t change my experiences and path for anything now.
I would love to hear from you if your adversity had a positive impact on your life.
In 2012 Neil Gaiman gave a commencement speech for the University of Arts in Pennsylvania. Neil Gaiman is a writer of novels, comic books, graphic novels, audio theatre and films. He was born in Hampshire, UK, and now lives in the United States near Minneapolis. Neil’s most notable works include The Sandman, Stardust, American Gods, Neverwhere, Coraline and The Graveyard book. He has also been honoured with many international awards. His speech is packed full of helpful advice for creative people.
I thought I would write this blog post and highlight many of the learning points l found in it.
“Instead of having a career plan, make a list of everything you want to do and just do the next thing on the list.”
“Goals are like mountains in the distance.” Set them and be clear what they are.
“Do things that feel like an adventure. Learn to write by writing. [For a painter, learn to paint by painting]. Stop when it feels like work.”
“A life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles, open it and read it, and put something back in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. But you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back to you.”
“Nothing I did where the only reason for doing it was the money, was ever worth it.” If you do things you’re proud of and if you don’t get paid, at least you will be proud of your work.
“The problems of success. They’re real, and with luck, you’ll experience them all. The point where you stop saying yes to everything is because now the bottles you threw in the ocean are all coming back, and you have to learn to say no.”
“Write fewer emails, write [and paint] more.”
“Get out there and make mistakes.”
After you have finished copying things remember, “The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”
“Do the stuff only you can do.”
“You should enjoy it, let go and enjoy the ride. Don’t worry about the next deadline or the next idea.”
“Make up your own rules.”
“Pretend that you’re someone who is already successful… and pretend to be wise.”
“Make good art!”
“And now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break the rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art.”
I have a modern house and l love having modern art on the walls. I try to make my art collection personal to me.
I also enjoy spending time in London visiting museums and galleries. I appreciate having time to look at a variety of artist’s work and considering their different styles and types of work. Artists are generally in the know and are usually very helpful. I also try to go to alternative spaces to meet artists. I learn a lot by talking to artists and uncovering who they admire and who influences who, and what they think about other artists. If the same name keeps cropping up l take notes and do my own research on them.
I often go online to find which dealers are working with particular artists. I sometimes go on Artnet.com to see the prices that artists sell their work for, it gives me a better understanding of the art market.
I like to visit art school on their open days like the Royal College of Art or the Royal Academy Schools. It’s an added advantage to spend time in an art school, l may come across a piece l like and try to remember it’s been done before. Having knowledge of what has been done in the past is particularly important if you are looking to buy or make modern art.
I listen carefully to the advice l get from galleries, curators and collectors. Personally, I’ve never used art consultants but l have heard that they can be very helpful. I don’t follow trends, l like what l like. I am interested in art that is personal to me.
Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy, Tate Modern (8th March – 9th September)
The subject of this exhibition is the influence of love, fame and tragedy on Picasso’s work over a one year period. This year long output is a rich visual diary which gives away a great deal about the artist; from his professional career, to the way he worked and his personal life. There are more the one hundred pieces of artwork, showing his entanglements with love and fame, his convolutions with colour and form, and his intricacies as the 20th century’s most influential artist.
Using this review, I am seeking to unpick how a highly accomplished artist approached and explored form, colour and space in his work with the intention of helping me in my journey as an artist.
The first room of this impressive exhibition starts in January and moves forward throughout a particularly special year in Picasso life. Most of the work is referenced to a single day in 1932. My first thoughts were how impressive his daily output was. It is hard to imagine working at such speed day after day and producing such high-quality work. Picasso made his paintings feel like a grand and confident experiment. He gave himself permission to trust his instincts and senses. Rather than using direct observation, he preferred to work from memory, focusing beyond what he could see. The result was an operation of his mind. Picasso said, “I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them.”
Picasso started each painting with a simple outline drawn on the canvas. The free and loose drawings of curves, contours and form feel as if they spring from discovery. They give his paintings a visual rhythm and a harmony of fragmented structures. The abstract shapes work independently but at the same time together, as they each have a direct impact on the next form. They all come together creating striking compositions, filled with movement.
In working this way, Picasso is always looking for a new way to read the world and express a new visual vocabulary. As my eyes wandered around his paintings l was amazed and intrigued by how effortless Picasso makes his beautiful pictures look. The colours and forms of the painting respond to each other.
Picasso was interested in colour and had the intention to outshine his closet friend and rival Matisse in all areas. After visiting ‘Matisse: The Cut-Out’, in 2014, and comparing the two artists work, in my view it is clear that Matisse had the upper hand when it came to colour. Picasso often used a joyful palette to create a warm and expressive ambience and at times with paintings like, ‘Seated Woman by a Window’,1932, Picasso’s use of colour creates dynamic energy and audacity of simplicity. But to me, colour came second in Picasso work. It is not a fundamental part of his work; instead, it is often an afterthought.
Picasso creative genius lays not in the use of colour as an integral part of his work, but in his ability to understand and manipulate form. Picasso could view structure from multiple directions, clearly shown in his cubist work, and combine these many viewpoints. In capturing three-dimensional forms, in two-dimensional drawings, paintings and in his sculpture, Picasso clearly shows a highly advanced genius. His creative talent and mastery are distinctly evident in the subtleties of his advanced spatial awareness. Picasso plainly indicates he has the self-belief and confidence to push this as the dominant theme in his work and this is where he can outperform his friends and rivals.
I found the exhibition and following one year in the life of Picasso immensely successful. It enabled me to consider what was going on in many parts of his life and how through evident self-confidence in his own abilities he was able to handle all that life threw at him. This exhibition will have a significant impact on my work. I see similarities in Picasso’s processes and topics that I can learn from. I think the biggest take away for me from this exhibition is Picasso self-belief and confidence and how prolific and dedicated he was to his work. Picasso’s bristling energy unquestionably comes through.
From the radical simplification of a form, you can see the building blocks of abstraction. He uses his artistic skills to the full to capture three-dimensional understanding. Each shape seems to be the product of another shape. Picasso said, “Cubism is neither a seed nor a foetus, but an art dealing primarily with forms, and when a form is reloaded it is there to live its own life.”
As humans beings, we have an extraordinary ability to recognise an image and label it. A silhouette of a person is instantly recognisable. A two-dimension shape of the figure is not human, but we can read it as an image of a person. I am interested in using this extraordinary ability to record and to explore the structure and nature of reality.
My new painting, ‘Empire State of Mind,’ has a lot to do with how my mind is working on and wondering about my instincts regarding perceptual information. I am trying to show and paint what I see. I’m not inventing; I’m investigating how things look. I’m an image maker, painting the previously hidden nature of things. I receive an emotional response from an image as I discover an optical relationship and create a striking composition. I have stepped away from the conventional representation of reality in order to be competitive with it. The deeper I go into this practice of painting, the more mysterious it becomes.
If you are enjoying my blog please join my mailing list here.
On entering my studio, I often find myself in a low emotional state, where I am not in the mood to make work. This often happens when I have rushed around to get the kids to school, tidied up and done some basic housework. On those mornings I feel worn out before the day of work has started. I am very conscious that I am tired and overwhelmed with life and it all pressures. However, I am also often determined to try to move out of this negative state of mind and get back to being productive.
I have realised that by preparing what I am going to do the night before, as explained in a previous blog post, helps me to know what to do first. But sometimes my energy is so low not even this is enough to get me going.
In order to wake me up and change my energy levels, l find a hot or a cold shower helps to reinvigorate me. I follow this by sitting in an upright position and focusing on controlling my breathing. I think about what I am grateful for, what I appreciate and what makes me feel alive. I appreciate my relationships, I have a lovely family and happy place to live. I am grateful and lucky to have the opportunity to be creative and paint regularly in my studio. The last part of this re-focusing is to go for a short walk to remind myself of my conviction as an artist. A change of location can make a big difference. I feel the sun, wind or the rain on my face. All this takes no more than 30 minutes.
The real trick is to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. My unconscious mind needs time to sort itself out. I need space to pose open questions concerning my next piece of work. I mull over issues and gently filter out my distracting, conscious thoughts. This process stops the excessive focus on myself and feels like a reset and a physical transformation. It creates a natural high until I can’t wait to get back to work and I haven’t got a moment to lose.
As an artist, my work is an extension of me. Each painting has its own interesting story to tell and I enjoy disclosing anecdotes of how the work came into being. A painting has its own power. When a striking artwork makes a connection and speaks to the viewer, it invokes a deeply personal relationship.
Everyone reads each piece of art differently. I find it very gratifying to discover how art lovers respond to my work. I love to hear different and engaging interpretations. I get an overwhelming feeling of happiness when I can see this connection occurring on a persons face as they light up.
Art is not about the potential value; what it costs or what it is worth. Art shouldn’t be seen a financial investment or a commodity. A vibrant, bold and skilful painting should bring pleasure and make you think. It should add an extra dimension to any room it is hung in.
Owning a piece of art is about looking at it and enjoying it. This emotional affinity creates a tremendous, heartwarming feeling. Once the purchase is made it becomes part of its owner’s life and integral to their home and their identity.
If you would like to hear more from me about my art, my influences and my journey as an artist, please sign up for my mailing list by clicking here.