With consumerism at the forefront of western society and seen as the purpose of life, we live to work, to earn and to consume, this is a significant part of our lives. However, I find myself drawn to expressing an alternative view of life through my art. Why do I paint..? I want to communicate what I see.
Although many people see painting as being based on traditional values and having a limitation to address contemporary issues, I believe that painting offers the challenge of finding new meanings. I see it as a way to create new insight and uniquely capture people’s imagination. Some people might see this view of painting as naive, that nothing is truly original anymore in this postmodern society.
But for me, other forms of communication don’t compare with the excitement of art. They don’t come close to allowing me the opportunity to look in detail at the interesting and unexplained things l see about me in this world of ours. I am interested in the position that a painter has in relation to the world. I discover things through painting. When I paint, I am looking at the history of art, the present and the future by painting myself and the world.
Through painting, I have a chance to investigate something that is evasive. I continually have to ask myself what it is that I see. I try hard to identify what it is, as it continuously slips. I never get a chance to see what it would be like if l did something else while painting because, what I love about painting is that you can’t undo the last mark. It is utterly instinctive, for me this makes the process of painting is addictive. I’m always hoping for improvement, but realising that grasping a frightening clarity by showing my true soul and that of the world is unattainable. But I keep coming back to try again. The question nearly always arises; do I risk spoiling it by continuing or do I start a new painting? I am a risk taker and painting suits my way of working and what I want to communicate. I love taking risks as l try to unlock the world about me.
I have a deep down urge to try to master a form of expression where I can communicate my unique view, where I am part of the painting. When I feel this, I feel like I am doing what I am here for. I get deep joy and despair, anxiety and confidence. I feel more alive.
This painting titled ‘A pocket full of dreams’. Take a moment to stop and think what this painting says to you. Pull back the curtain, to consider what it means to be human. In my view, people rely too much on words.
One of the lessons and obstacles I have learnt to deal with is being a perfectionist. Over the years I have visited many galleries and museums and enjoyed looking at other artists work. I use to look at other artists work and compare my work to theirs. But l now realise that looking at other artists work and comparing mine to theirs is counterproductive.
Instead of being helpful the visits made me focus on my insecurities as an artist. I would ask myself; Am l talented? Is my work good enough? And, what if no-one likes my work? I was creating an impossible mindset to overcome. These thoughts were very destructive. However, I slowly came to realise I need to accept what I do and who I am by making my studio free of judgement.
Self-judgement is a learned behaviour that comes from living in our type of society. By comparing my work to someone else’s, I not only noticed that my work was not perfect, by someone else’s standards, I observed that l had changed my standards. These thoughts made me confused as to who I was making the work for; an audience or myself.
By thinking my work was not good enough against someone else’s standards, it was impossible to be playful and enjoy what I was doing. Without the freedom to play and take risks, my work had become stifled and dull.
To be an artist, I realised I need a lot of self-belief. I needed to bring excellence to every I do. By measuring myself against myself, rather than against others l came to realise that art is not like sport, it is not competitive; it is subjective. I needed to reassess what I see as good enough.
I now know that when I go to a gallery, it is useful to compare my thoughts and processes to other artist’s and their work but not their output. I realised that if I wanted to make successful artwork, I had to find a way through experimentation, trying things out and playing to improve what I have already created. Once I realised this, I was able to show up at the studio with a different intent. An intent to be present in the task and make better work than I did yesterday. From that point on I couldn’t help feeling good about my output and about myself.
The question, ‘What is success to me?’ has made me think a lot about why I have chosen to be an artist and what I want to achieve. Every artist has a different view of success, and what it means to them. Success may include; enjoying the process, the blood, sweat and tears invested in the work, attainment of exhibition space, residencies, peer recognition or column inches and often it can be seen as material and personal gain. However you are putting a lot of pressure on yourself if your measure of success is to have all of this.
The Guardian wrote an interesting article titled ‘Can you make a living as an artist?’ and is worth a read. https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2012/jul/29/artists-day-job-feature?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other
Rose Wylie was born in 1934 in Kent. She studied in Folkestone and Dover School of Art and at the Royal College of Art. After completing her MA at the age of 47, she started her career and since then has spent most of her time in the art world wilderness. In the last few years however, Rose’s career has taken off, and she is receiving deserved recognition. She has won the Charles Wollaston 2011 and the John Moores 2014 prizes and has her latest show at the Serpentine in the Sackler Gallery.
Rose Wylie’s work is a perfect case study in the importance of creative freedom. The title of the show ‘Quack Quack’ draws attention to her unique down to earth and unpretentious view of the world. In today’s world of the internet where naive first steps are often written about, filmed or photographed; Rose’s paintings are fresh and free from expectations. Her time in the art world wilderness away from a critical audience has allowed her work time to mature. Although Rose has always wanted her work to be accepted, she clearly has made no changes to meet public expectations or dogmas. Now the public has to take her and her work as they find her, trainers and all, and this I found it a refreshing change.
During the extended period of being unacknowledged, Rose has gained in confidence and learnt to rely on herself. She takes an idea straight from a drawing in her sketchbook, which is a definite extension of her life, and repeats on to the un-stretched canvas. Her actions whether they are rough pencil outlines, or the accidental drips and spills become part of the work. The work is understandably a daily challenge where her surprise enhances the process. If an area becomes bogged down or not to her liking, in a natural, carefree way, she cuts the section out of the canvas and sticks a new piece on top. There is no set of shared doctrines or beliefs. Her thoughts and ideas are distinctly spontaneous and instinctive. I’m sure the make do and mend approach comes from living through World War 2.
When Rose discussed her working practices in a recent BBC podcast, she said, “Working on the floor was less big boy art, big boy art is done on an easel. [Working on the floor] is a nice idea that is close to housework, what women do in a sense. You find yourself clearing things up of the floor, that is what painting is like. It is not work, it is not painting. It is something you do, but it is not painting. I’m not really a painter, as my canvases are not stretched.”
This plain-spoken and unsentimental approach to making art benefits Rose’s work as she is not overly concerned about the importance of her own personal role. Rose sees things differently and wants to communicate her feeling and sensibilities in a carefree way. She uses all her perceptions, not just her sight. Her paintings are rebellious, instinctual and organic. The process is as simple as one idea comes from another, creating a vibrant visual language with painted text and sketches from art history, tv, sport, magazines and movies.
In today’s art market it is refreshing to see an artist’s work that challenges society’s sensibilities. In comparing her painting processes to housework, Rose highlights how studio processes are just a vehicle to get an idea across. The references and potential narratives in her work aren’t relevant. Rose holds on to what is necessary to her. She allows a concept to exist, to show others how to break down the constraints and to be free.
Her results show the benefits of not fearing disapproval or of offending others. We all have the right to get our interpretations of the world out there. Rose comprehensibly shows that fulfillment in her practice is much more important than fear of achievement. Her work promotes and defends artistic freedom and the freedom of expression.
Little has changed for Rose since her work has started selling, apart from she is unable to work on the floor since her hip replacement and the canvases aren’t stacked to the ceiling anymore. Rose has no constraints; she doesn’t try to anticipate what will come. To me, her work embodies true freedom. She has learnt not to be concerned about what other people think. She allows her work to exist without feeling the need to justify it.
If you talk to people who procrastinate when in the studio they will often say…
‘First l have to travel to the studio. Then l change my clothes, so l don’t get paint on them. Next l usually choose some music to listen to and make a cup of tea. Somehow, l need to unwind and turn my mind off from all the stuff that’s been happening in the week and focus on being creative. It’s hard getting started.’
However, if you talk to an artist who doesn’t have this problem, they might say, ‘you just pop into the studio and start drawing.’ If you then ask them about the steps involved, they will say, ‘there is just one step, you just get started.
We all have this ability to make some things simple and other things complex. Daily success in the studio can be simple. ‘Just decide what to make before you get there, arrive and get busy. But it doesn’t mean it is easy.
Ernest Hemingway offered this advice to a young writer, “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel, you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing l can tell you so try to remember it.”
The first thing I am drawn to do when I arrive at the studio is to check my phone. I have personal errands, reading the news, checking my bank account, paying bills, following up on loose ends, researching things of interest on the internet plus personal messaging and social media messages. If I walk through the door and allow myself to have unplanned time, I’m finished for the day before I have even started. All the personal errands need their own block of time on my calendar, later in the day so I first have 3 hours of quality studio time. If you notice your mind is making things complicated and stopping you from getting started, turn the dial towards simplicity in your mind.
I prepare a simple problem in advance that I can explore or play with when I arrive at the studio so there are no obstacles. I set up a clean sheet of paper and a form of inspiration like a photograph. This is often enough to prevent obstacles. The inspiration needs ideally to be a simple interesting problem to resolve through a quick sketch.
I have found it is important not to be judgemental about the outcome. If it is a mess, I can always do it again. There is no such thing as failures in my studio as I learn from every mistake. I am pleased if I have picked up a pencil I have started, that way it has been successful. Now I’m in the open creative mode it is easy to move on to something more challenging.
At the end of each day I organise my work with the juicy ideas laid out with your pencil and paints ready for your return, aswell as a quick piece of work to get me started. By leaving my work prepared for the next day, I just arrive at the studio and start working. There is no need to stop and reflect on what to do.
It also means that by preparing what you are going to do, you have the night to ponder it sub-consciously while you are asleep. Thereby allowing new insight to come forward without you having to think about it.
For further ideas about how other artists have developed strategies, I recommend reading the book: ‘Daily Rituals: How artists work by Mason Currey.
Rachel Whiteread was born in 1963 and grew up in London. After studying painting at Brighton Polytechnic she enrolled on a sculpture masters at Slade School of Art. Rachel takes casts of familiar objects like hot water bottles and furniture. She uses the traditional casting processes of plaster, resin, rubber and concrete to encourage the viewer to rethink their spatial relationship with everyday forms. In this review of Rachel’s exhibition at the Tate Britain gallery in London, I’m interested in exploring what it is that is so intriguing about Rachel’s exploration of space and what I can learn from her approach to making art.
Tate Britain is the home of British art from 1500 to the present day. Rachel’s exhibition at the Tate highlights the role of an artist in society. Throughout her practice, Rachel has taken previously overlooked subjects and turned them into an intriguing and insightful exchange of thoughts. The large room is full of sculptures of various sizes from throughout Rachel’s career. The raw appearance of the casts creates a distinct visual impact. My first thoughts are of shared histories in similar spaces. Her work made me think about memories of daily struggles and human connections. Her artwork is simple; but at the same time complex. The culminating feeling is one of surprise; of where beauty can be found.
Rachel was first nominated for the Turner Prize in 1991. In 1993, she became the first female to win the Turner Prize. This was the same year as her ambitious public project ‘House’ in Bow in East London. The project was centred around a Victorian, terraced house. Rachel created a concrete cast of the inside of the house before it was demolished, once the inside of the building was cast in concrete, the exterior was removed. The outcome was that Rachel had coagulated the air of the original house. This project lead to Rachel gaining international attention. The cast of the inside of the project in ‘House’ stood for 80 days.
Rachel seeks to make the space that we are familiar with. Post war furniture is immortalised in ‘Closet 1998’, along with her memories. As a child Rachel was locked in her grandmas wardrobe by one of her sisters. In Closet 1998 she succeeds in visually recreating these memories but it is not just the darkness of those memories that are recreated but also the sense of palpable fear that the total blackness invoked.
To understand what Rachel was trying to achieve with her sculptures, she wrote, “I want to mummify the space” about ‘Ghost’ (1990). Domestic space and empty quality of space as subject has previously been overlooked by the visual artist. Rachel however, found a way to focus on this one thing that enables everything else to exist. Her work stands out. Space isn’t normally given the opportunity to do this. Her work asks what is the essence of this space? Without confirming or denying anything she allows the audience to think it through. The result is portal to contemplation.
When I looked at Rachel’s work across the room in the Tate gallery, I wondered if she felt unbalanced and deprived by her relationship to life in general, and if her work comes from need to communicate this. In the age of information overload Rachel’s work is like an antidote and yearning for order and peacefulness. The sculptures are silent and serene. That stillness and harmony allows our minds space to think and mull things over. As Wilhelm Worringer put it in his essay Abstraction and Empathy, in our lives we have an “immense need tranquillity.” To me Rachel’s artworks feels like spaces for existential understanding as we reconsider the material world we live.
I started my blog in 2016 as a result of wanting to write for myself. I put my thoughts, ideas and what I learned as an artist down into words. The fortnightly goal of writing has helped me develop a better understanding why I feel the need to make art and process the world. I am writing about this mysterious thing inside me. I am discovering who I am and this is leading me to grow as an artist.
The intention is to create a regular and fresh content. Enhancing my online presence and finding an audience and evoking a conversation about what I do.
The blog has helped me learn to keep my writing simple, improving my clarity and persuasiontherebyenhancing my skills as a writer. When I review another artist’s work, I write to discuss my influences. I seek to communicate what their work means to me and my sensibilities. I do further in-depth learning about a great many subjects that influence my art process and informing my unique perspective. The whole method of communicating my thoughts and ideas is a gratifying experience. I am proud of the results; I hope you enjoy the posts. Thank you for reading.