Outside the Box – Developing the Theme of Ageing

For this module my aim was to develop the theme of ageing that I started to explore in Honing In, Part 2 of the course. In that module I focused on ideas around ageing and the impact on the elderly themselves. My mother was in a care home, something which had been the culmination of several years of increasing frailty, and we were in the process of sorting through the family home, making decisions about possessions and dealing with the associated emotions and memories. My initial thoughts were to think about the house and my own memories of it and, from this, begin to develop some ideas to work with.

Mum passed away in January and since then it has been difficult to focus on coursework.  When I did think about it I debated continuing with this theme wondering if it would be too difficult to consider in amongst everything that needs to be done at this time. In recent weeks I’ve decided to continue with it, or at least revisit some of my initial thoughts, and see where they take me. My reasoning, after weeks of all the practicalities and emotion that need to be gone through, is that all this will continue anyway. The family home still needs to be cleared and, as a family, we need to adjust to this change in our lives. Perhaps working through this, using the filter and reflection of coursework, will help in some way.

The theme of ageing – revisiting my initial thoughts

When I started working on this module I wanted to consider the concept of Post Studio working, that is working outside the studio environment, and think about how this could work with the theme of ageing.  In doing so I was mindful of being open to thinking ‘outside the box’ and to include painting but also be open to other approaches and materials.

I began with some free association, just thinking about the family home and my memories of it. By loosely grouping these thoughts I came up with a number of areas that could be explored.

  •  Rooms within the house
  •  The garden
  •  Views from the house
  •  Possessions – my own and those of other family members
  •  Household items
  •  Holidays

Things that you find in the long grass

While thinking about my own memories I remembered an old sketchbook that I had created when I was a child. At some point when I was drawing Mum had asked me what it was that I was doing and I answered that I was drawing things that you find in the long grass. Subsequently, the sketchbook was always referred to in this way. The mix of things that I seemed to find in the long grass was eclectic and included a skyscraper, radio, horse and boat as well as items that could be more reasonably expected.

In tandem I had been reading about artists such as Robert Smithson and Ed Ruscha as well as researching aboriginal art. In addition, I had gone to an event, The Essence of Place, by artist Susannah Ramsay, that resonated with some of the ideas I had been thinking about.

In reading about these artists, I was intrigued by elements of their work including,

  • The idea of a site-specific location – possibly using mum’s garden as a backdrop for interpretations of the images.
  • Natural decay – perhaps physically and also in the broader sense of nothing stays the same.
  • The sense of a journey, through physical and emotional space.
  • The memories and associations of a particular place.

Taking into account the concept of Post Studio I began to consider ways to create, or re-create, some of the images in the sketchbook and bring them to life ‘in the long grass’ in the garden. My thinking was that this would allow me to explore on a number of levels both the idea of ageing and also of working Post Studio.


The research for this module had included the work of several artists whom I felt I could relate my initial ideas to for different reasons.

Ian Kiaer – Kiaer’s work creating ‘landscapes’ out of seemingly random objects has various elements that I would like to explore further. These include his creation of miniature scenes where the objects have particular associations and also how he uses scale within these installations using both small-scale models and larger objects to impact on the viewer.

Joel Shapiro – Shapiro’s sculptures of miniature houses have, again, made me consider the idea of scale and how this affects the person looking at the object. Shapiro presented his work in different ways – some of the miniature houses were displayed at floor-level and also at eye-level – and I am interested in considering how these different viewpoints affect the experience of the viewer. He also wanted viewers to bring their own memories and associations to familiar objects such as a house or a chair and this is something which I would like to think about in relation to the exercises for this module.

Robert Smithson – The work of Robert Smithson and others associated with the Earth Art movement of the 1960s/1970s, has several elements which appeal in relation to this project. The idea of ephemerality seems relevant not just in the context of materials being used and left to degrade but the wider context of nothing stays the same.

Smithson also differentiated between ‘Site’ and ‘Nonsite’ as terms which defined the different physical context of the work being produced. ‘Nonsite’ was an ‘indoor earthwork’ and was work which could be shown in a gallery setting, displacing natural materials from the original sites and documenting this with drawings and photographs. ‘Site’ referred to works outside the gallery in site-specific locations and with material taken from the location. Earth work artists also documented the conception of their work through photographs, maps and drawings.

Smithson also worked with the concept of viewing art from above, aerial art, and this struck a chord in relation to one of the sketches from my childhood sketchbook and also made me think of the viewpoints used by aboriginal artists and their use of scenes depicting landscape in a map-like form.

Ed Ruscha – The use of photographs linked with my ideas about memories, making me think of those black and white and colour photographs from my childhood with the white margins. I had seen some of Ed Ruscha’s work at an exhibition in Edinburgh and been intrigued by the idea of photographs showing mundane scenes but captured as if they had some significance, as well as his ideas on artists’ books.

Susannah Ramsay – In October 2017, I attended an outdoor event, described more fully in another post, The Essence of Place.  I found it moving at the time and the ideas around it seem particularly relevant now, in a world without mum, where everything seems familiar but everything is different. Susannah Ramsay’s installation, part of a doctoral project, was designed to investigate phenomenology through the creation of a filmpoem. This study of subjective experience and the relationship we have with the world is something I would like to explore further.

Moving on

These were my original thoughts in relation to this project. Having decided to continue with the theme I have begun to explore some of the ideas, in a limited way, using my childhood sketches as a starting point. I am not entirely sure where this exploration will take me but there are some threads, based on research so far and my own thoughts, that I would like to explore further. These include:

  • The idea of connecting a physical landscape with an inner landscape.
  • Memories, what is meaningful to us and how this impacts upon us.
  • Belongings, what we choose to keep and why.
  • Change, nothing stays the same.

In doing so I am trying to think more widely of different mediums and ways to present these ideas using not only paint but also photographs, maps and found materials. Another area I would like to explore is the idea of  artists’ books and scrapbooks.

Related Posts

Things That You Find in The Long Grass – https://katespainting2.wordpress.com/outside-the-box/things-that-you-find-in-the-long-grass/ (Accessed on 30.03.18)

The Essence of Place – Susannah Ramsay – https://katespainting2.wordpress.com/2018/03/30/the-essence-of-place/

Artist Rooms: Music from the Balconies – Ed Ruscha and Los Angeles – https://katespainting2.wordpress.com/2017/10/01/artist-rooms-music-from-the-balconies-ed-ruscha-and-los-angeles/ (Accessed on 30.03.18)

Ian Kiaer and Joel Shapiro – Research Notes – https://katespainting2.wordpress.com/2018/05/03/ian-kiaer-and-joel-shapiro-research-notes/


The Art  Story. (s.d.) Earth Art. At: http://www.theartstory.org/movement-earth-art.htm (Accessed on 30.03.18)

The Art Story. (s.d) Robert Smithson: American Sculptor and Writer. At: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-smithson-robert.htm (Accessed on 30.03.18)

Tsai, E. (1991) Robert Smith Unearthed: Drawings, Collages, Writings. New York: Columbia University Press.