After graduating with a degree in English and a post-graduate qualification in Information Technology I studied for Higher Art at evening classes. After that the thread of art and writing ran through the background of my life as I worked as a market researcher, librarian, and web manager.
At times over those years I flirted with a greater commitment to being creative, taking adult education classes and modules in painting and writing with the Open College of the Arts, but none leading to a qualification. Finally, I decided to work part-time and study for a degree in Creative Arts combining painting and writing.
I have credits at Level 1 in painting, interior design and writing. For Painting 1: Painting in Practice, I worked mainly in acrylics and experimented with texture and mixed media culminating in a series of paintings based on Dumbarton Rock. In this I was influenced by the work of Beth Robinson-Fiddes, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham and Joan Eardley.
At Level 2, Concepts in Practice, my main focus is on developing a routine of creative practice and experimenting with making limitations of time and space work to my advantage.
I usually start with the wisp of an idea. This could be something said in conversation or something overheard. Visually, I tend to zoom in so I may see some texture on a wall, colours in a puddle, chewing gum on the floor of the train, little things which spark my interest.
I play with this idea, making lists of what it brings to mind through word association and free writing. I make notes, connections and leaps of faith between ideas. For the best of these I think about the possibilities, what I want to convey and how to do this through the subject matter, colour, scale, composition, materials or viewpoint.
At this stage I research artists who have worked with similar themes and look for ideas on the materials they use and their working process.
I then get these ideas down visually with quick sketches working towards an option which offers potential and can be explored through tonal studies, different materials and supports, colour and changes in scale.
I am learning to keep an open mind and let the work inform the direction that I take.
Identity – My research for the initial part of Concepts in Practice focused on medieval sculpture, particularly polychrome figures, and the work of Gwen John and Amadeo Modigliani. A number of connections between them interested me. There was the quiet, spiritual quality not only in the religious figures but in portraits by Modigliani and sun-lit interiors by Gwen John.
An idea that intrigued me from the medieval world was the move away from the realistic representation of the individual. This was to accommodate the transition from the pagan world to emerging Christian beliefs that did not allow for the worshipping of images. As a result, the features of the individual became more formulaic and space was flattened. Other ways of conveying identity were used including attributes, such as the cockle shell of St James, coats of arms or inscriptions.
How do we identify others? How do we identify ourselves? What objects would we choose to represent ourselves if we had to? Modigliani’s portraits can be seen as formulaic yet, despite how he pares down the features of the individual, they are unmistakably who they are. Gwen John can give a sense of her own identity by showing a bare room with a chair, a table, a teapot and a cup.
Ageing – These ideas stayed with me as I focused on the theme of ageing for the second part of the course. In recent years I have helped to care for elderly members of the family and this has caused me to reflect on what it means to get older and the situations we face at a time when we may feel least able to do so including being in hospital, having carers in our home and giving up our independence to go into a care home.
My initial focus was on the anxieties and fears aroused by being in these situations. Through research into the work of Ed Ruscha I experimented with stains to consider the vulnerability of old age when food is often spilt causing the distress and humiliation that goes along with feelings of losing your independence of, literally, losing your grip.
I also looked at the fears that arise when going into new situations, such as a care home. I wanted to explore the feelings of enforced dependency and losing control. My work here was based upon a dream that my mother had about a mechanical doll. The work of Shani Rhys James, Louise Bourgeois and Mona Hatoum were influential.
Memories – Old age impacts not only on the individual but on family and this was something I began to explore in the third part of the course, based on memories inspired by a childhood sketchbook. I had entitled the sketchbook ‘Things That You Find in the Long Grass’ and it is made up of a number of scenes ‘in the long grass’ of objects that meant something to me as a child. This connected with previous research about identity and the idea of objects having meaning to you or representing you.
Working with ideas suggested by my childhood self has made me consider not only this aspect of identity but also how we associate ourselves with a particular place. Research has led me to the work of aboriginal artists including Judy Watson and ways in which to map not just our external world but also the inner landscapes of our lives. The work of Susannah Ramsay is also infused with a sense of place and the impact this can have on us.
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