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.
There are a lot of artists out there in the world and many of them are striving to achieve all of it. It is hard to put a number on how many people achieve success but becoming a household name like Jeff Koons or Damien Hurst is highly unlikely. If you don’t reach this ambition you need to be able to deal with the disappointment; as many artists are struggling to make a living.
Understandably many artists give up on the way as they try to reach that kind of success after realising how hard it is. I believe if you’re making art to be rich and famous you are making it for the wrong reasons. If that is the reason why you want to be an artist, then you should do something else.
One way of looking at success is; rather than seeing it as material or personal gain; is to love what you are doing. Enjoy the journey and the effort you put in, then when you to go the studio and are creative, you are already complete. By doing the best for yourself, you will always succeed.
I have the urge to direct my life in the way I want it to be, and that’s through my art. I realise that this is the area where I have to most control. Many of the other areas of my life are much more of a compromise.
I believe that being able to make art full-time will make me happy and content but only if I can provide enough financial support for my family. For me this must come first. I realise serving others and having the people I love around me is an essential ingredient to my happiness. It is undoubtedly more important than money. Money is just a tool; it isn’t something to strive for as an end in itself.
Coach Wooden, the highly successful American basketball player and coach, sees success as; “Peace of mind, attained only through self-satisfaction when knowing you made an effort to do the best you’re capable of. You’re the only one that knows that. You can fool others but not yourself.”
I try to focus on the present moment and whether I am doing the best work I can with the resources available. By viewing success this way, I can keep a playfulness in my practice. So for me, success does not lay in being rich or famous or in my artwork but my relationship to my artwork.
I believe I am capable of so much more and I feel I have hardly started on the path of becoming an artist. By working on what comes naturally, playing off my strengths, using my instincts, observation and curiosity I strive to make my work a manifestation of the best bits of me.
I believe I am capable of so much more and I feel I have hardly got started as an artist. By working on what comes naturally, playing off my strengths, using my instincts, observation and curiosity I can make my work a manifestation of the best bits of me.
I am looking at the long game and realise that my chance of success improves as my work matures. After several decades; when most artists have given up; my prospects are significantly improved. The artist Michael Craig-Martin said, “when you’re 20, there are 50,000 other artists, by the time you’re 30, it’s down to 5,000, by 40, it’s 2,000. If you make it to 70, there are only 12 of you left, and you’re all famous.”
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.
In my artwork, I am interested in these moments to give myself a better appreciation of the world. I am interested in considering the world anew from a fresh perspective. We often overlook the familiar, and I want to explore its depths. I want to become more aware of the humble things we ignore like volume, form and space. I want to pursue a direction where I take note of and record the visual information from the beauty of nature and the material world that is right in front of me.
My intention to create a re-enchantment with what is unnoticed and to appreciate ordinary moments. Abstract shapes and imperfect forms have no obvious signs of importance and are seen as unimportant. I want to draw attention to their overlooked beauty and their aesthetic qualities.
The paintings are not an exact transcript of the scene but a perceiving of the scene. They focus on simple forms. Creating space for silence and thought in a world where everything is constantly moving and unfixed. The paintings are a window of reality, telling no lies, reinventing nothing, just recording, a reworking of the spatial chaos of the visible world.
In the paintings, the flat images are to help us deal with the complexity of our perception. Our minds automatically make connections with the shapes. There is a lack of perspective, there is no direction of light, and they have different rules of composition. The shapes and forms are like the pleasurable moments of seeing an elephant in the clouds; the forms slip between representational and abstract pattern. At this point forms and content merge into together like a beautiful poem.
This painting is on show at Leyden Gallery, 9/9a Leyden Street, London E1 7LE. There is a private viewing between 6:30 – 9 pm in 18 July 2017, please come along.
My idea of success is linked to what l have rather than what l haven’t. It is common to hear of success being tied to financial wealth. That isn’t success for me; profit does not drive my artwork. I have the opportunity to discover who l am, to find my own voice, to find my true self through my art. My goal is to make better work today than l did yesterday, it is as simple as that.
I finished university in 2006 and when l look at my early paintings l can see l have taken small progressive steps each year. Now over ten years later l know l have made significant progress. However, l feel as if l have been making the same painting for ten years, each time exploring my interest in seeing the body in space. The concept of finding what my personal gift is and discovering my potential is more exciting than any material needs. That is why l have chosen this life as an artist, or maybe it has chosen me.
I see being an unknown artist as a positive thing. It enables me to consider the long game, to build on each day and to go deeper to see what the ‘it’ is. Many of my paintings are built up gently in the studio. Each painting supports the next one, thereby pushing me forward in a positive way. I have a conviction, a commitment and the determination not to give up. I believe firmly in what l am doing.
By doing art for myself, l can avoid criticism and avoid making commercial decisions. This allows me to find a way forward without manufacturing art. The art l make is more about emotions than constructions, more about art and poetry, and less about resolved ideas. I want to make work for myself that l feel really passionate about, l don’t want to dilute my work. l want to make the decisions about what needs editing before the public see it. I want my work to be the best that it can be. I realise that this may divide the potential audience. However, once the work is made public, it could potentially turn me into a public person. I’m not sure that l want that to happen. I want to make work for a small audience that appreciates and supports my work. More importantly, I want to make the work for me.
I am a figurative painter, and I want to get close to the source. I want to make work within an intellectual framework inspired by my muse, my muse being my experience of the city. This framework is the key to the art within me, allowing me not to overthink what l am doing and allowing me to initiate an inner response, thereby preventing me from being distracted by my head or my ego, competition with other artists or self-doubt. Reflection comes later, after a period of time, when l can contemplate and think about what l have made.
I want to make art as good as it can be. My competition is with myself and being better than yesterday.
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.
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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I have an inherent need to communicate and express something. I am constantly looking for a new way to read the world to understand the physicality of forms. I see my practice as an exercise of being a painter/curator of moments of our lives; reclaiming a more agreeable melody, restoring, reordering and decluttering to focus on what is truly important.
By focusing on the space and the possibilities of structure and composition, I hope to emphasise the beauty and harmony from the chaos in the city, to invoke a new reading of its noise, movement and pattern. By revealing things through a slow open process, my work uncovers the importance of the positive and negative space. Where rhythm, colour and form play off each other, and each shape takes it configuration and meaning from the next, as a metaphor for the qualities of a seductive poem or an intriguing piece of music.
There is truth in the paintings as I try to deal with the present tense and how these ephemeral junctures were for me. A situation and context where discoveries and revelations happen. There is a layered time as I grapple with evidence of awkward moments, aspects of failure and changes of direction. Leaving the physical traces of responding to mistakes, that relate to intrinsic qualities of being human.
I like documenting the world with a camera as a way to stimulate my visual imagination. By viewing the world like a voyeur, I can focus on aspects to home into, capturing a moment in the viewfinder. I am constantly looking to find a way to make the invisible visible.
I don’t think you can ever underestimate the use of play and intuition at this point. The following work from the photos can go in almost any direction, finding ambiguity in the work is essential. To stimulate my imagination and generate new ideas I sketch with an open mind in paint, pencil and mixed media. The work itself often directs a change of medium. This long process is different every time, it involves searching, analysing, selecting, editing, improving and rejecting the photographs, and the prep work, combined with other visual and textual information in the studio creating a multifaceted sketch book.
The paintings come out of drawings, and a significant amount of labour takes place behind the scenes. The work is often a struggle, and as an artist, I am often overwhelmed with self-doubt. Afterwards, the work may look as if it was achieved quickly without effort. But I am aware that a reductive sketch, that may seem effortless, can often signify ability and skill.
During the problem-creation stage my thoughts and skill are juxtaposed with accidents of the initial rough ideas. When I was trying to get my thoughts down on paper I recognised the potential in this study above straight away, even though it is a simple coloured wash made in a few strokes that came about by chance. It is too easy to lose the potential when trying to repeat it or refine it and knowing how to turn it into a finished work. Over working and excessive labour can remove the movement, action or expression. At other times it is not easy to recognise potential straight off. This is where time helps and why I move my work so I can’t see it for long periods of time.
The space for play and chance to expand conceptual ideas is part of a process, as work passes through many physical processes. The challenge of creating a finished work from the prep work is repeating and keeping the problem-creation open. Often when the process does not allow imprecise marks, smears and stains to inspire radical changes at any stage of the process, the work can be still born and dead. All the works l make are biographical and very personal.
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