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This blog currently relates to the multitude of things I found when making my 'Roar Like a Paintbrush' exhibition. To contribute, please email me or leave a message on the website

* Roshan and I have an exhibition at the India Club

13/10/17

Last week I put up two large - I suppose you'd call them posters? - at the famous India Club in the Strand. I'd wanted to show there since my first visit - the place has charm, it is wonderfully cared for in an idiosyncratic way by Hagdar, the gentleman who has run it since its beginning when it was started as a meeting place for those involved with plans for Indian independence.

There are funny old original fittings such as ancient lino, some wonky photos of Nehru and Gandhi, the famous pegboard by the bar with its nonsensical words and displaced prices. But the tranquil plant-filled bay windows give onto the trees in front of Aldwych, and upstairs there's a great cafe with jolly cheap food. It's also a place where one can easily get chatting to strangers, so that is really why I like it.

Roshan and I showed one piece each from our ongoing 'Indo-Anglian/Anglo-Indian Conversation', each poster being made up of images, motifs, snatches of our chat on Instagram. These have now been replaced by smaller framed formal images that are excerpts from our Instagram exchanges and will be up till the end of the month. I hope the artworks we now have there echo the theme of friendship that the Club is famous for.

Drawing on my studio wall

29/09/17

Recently in the course of my chars with Roshan about how to make images we could exchange and work on, I began drawing, painting and writing directly on to my studio wall. This sudden removal of the arbitrary boundary imposed by tubsing an exisitng piece oif wood has been incredibly lib erating. The size of the wall - over 3m x 2m, stickig photos up to work with, collaging, writing unny snatches of our nattering, all this has been ioncrdeibly liberating.

The downside is, I will to paint over this beautiful face, though as I have a great big phoo with him on I suppose it's not so harsh. Or I suppose I can keep painting around him, change him into diffrent people, treat him as a start rather than an end.

This photo features in the big wall-hanging I've made for the India Club, opening on Monday 2nd October. - another neat soloution to the problems of presentation, making new holes in a wall, buying frames etc - with my big prints I can just roll them up and go!

Major Nixon and me in the same photo!

20/09/17

When I had my exhibition in Udaipur City Palace I set all the old sepia photos of political agents up in the gallery, so they made a counterpoint to my paintings; my colourful chaos of portraits were one end, arranged in dynamic clumps with lots of negative space, while the agents were arranged set around a white cubicle in the centre of the gallery which I thought of as an a sort of inside-out. I had arranged the photos with the agents I liked the look of at the front and the men who looked like awful swine at the back.

I took photos of all the agents again, taking care to be at the same distance, in the same pose, to make myself the one constant feature of the photo. I wore my favourite shirt from Udaipur market which is black with clubs, spades, diamonds and hearts all over it. So I was monochrome, the photos were monochrome. I had insinuated myself into the past so the agents and I shared a virtual 2D space.

I had all the agent photos enlarged to A2 - the originals varied from cartes-de-visite to large etchubgs, but now they are a uniform large fornat. Each photo has me reflected in them, my shirt, my yellow bangle, and in this image of Major Nixon toyou can clearly also see the guard at the gallery door, and the reflections of my paintings in the background.

I'm so pleased with this image - I feel it has chimes like a bell, echoes of different times and dimensions.

Collaborating with Roshan

14/09/17

When I was looking for an artist to work with, I didn't have a particular vision of how what the process of collaboration might be. I've avoided making work with anyone else because I couldn't imagine how it could work for me - partly because I make single pieces that relate to the next piece I'm making, for example a sculpture that will form part of a set of similar size pieces to make up an installation; and also because I enjoy the physical process of making too much to want to share it - even the drudgery like sanding or undercoating is soothing and allows the mind the wander.

Also it's an ego thing - I'm used to the artworks originating in my imagination, in identifying the forms and inspiration that lurk there and teasing them out till they are clear enough to become real, so I couldn't iagine how this could be helped by having two people trying to imagine the same work.

To start with, Roshan and I had to get to understand each other as artists and people, apart from becoming familiar with each others' practises and works. We identified common threds such as a fascination with what the 'colour' black can do and mean, how to depict movement in drawing, drawing funny things.

There is something new and unfamiliar to me about a prolonged conversation in written form; because I'm from an older generation it seems to me like passing notes in the back of class, quick, intimate, haphazard, full of spelling mistakes, sudden silences, rushes of ideas. In this manner a template for our working emerged, the idea that we could begin with an image and make suggestions to each other about what to do next. For example, Roshan suggested I look at Joseph Kosuth, who places a hyper-real painitng of an object next to the object itself. In displays of his drawimgs and paintings I liked the way Roshan had put a black oil can, so I painted my work shoes black and placed them on a little plinth next to a photo I as painting. Roshan has enjoyed the correspondence of colour and form that chimes with his istallations, and it has become a motif in our installations.

I took the idea of using text fom him too - I've never tried to put any kind of writing anywhere near my work, but it was immensely liberating to write out scraps of our chat, and to use the framing device of the round-cornered boxes of Instagram to present scraps of ides that suggest a longer talk.

Both of us have found this way of working very exciting and stimulating, and capable of generating unexpected possibilites of working, both together and in our own ways.

Anglo-Indian Converstions with Roshan Chhabria

02/09/17

Roshan is an artist from Baroda, famed for its art school and cultural atmoshere. He and I have beeen chatting on Instagram for several months, about art and all sotrts of other things in our lives - trivial stuff like what we are about to cook, and feelings about art in our like and unlike countries. He is doing a three month residency at Kochi, home of the Biennale. His brief is to draw every day - that's it! how jealous am I!!

Our plan has been to develop a painting/process based on our chatting, and I've been making a start in my studio, pausing to ask Roshan for his feelings about what I'm doing.

Our styles are complementary and overlapping in a gneral way - we both drawn to using black, to drawing what we see around us, to a kinetic frisson in our surfaces.

At the moment we are planning our exhibition at the India Club on 2nd October, how we will fit into the two walls they've offered us in the bar.

Green-skinned Alien Colonisers

12/03/17

It has been said that if you want to understand America's foreign policy, look at Star Trek. In trying to make paintings about the British Raj amnd colonialism I have decided to sidestep the colouring of my subjects' skin, and try expressing The Other as green.
This evokes the idea of the Other while keeping an ambiguity about the viewpoint of Otherness, which of course has to work both ways. Greenness keeps it freighted, but dual.
This painting decision also caused a train of thought about depiction of the Alien from Outer Space, the Little Green Man, the ultimate coloniser. The parallels between Outer Space and colonisers bring out how we Westerners actually do understand how the colonised feel: Beings arrive in an incomprehensibly-powered craft, landing either plonk in the middle of Civilisation or inexplicably but sinisterly in a remote place; if they speak, they show no empathy, if not they are difficult or impossible to communicate with; they want to take, potentially by force, something that has been exhausted or is otherwise unobtainable in their own place of origin; they view the natives (us) with cool objectiveness as inferior but possible harvestable stock; they are capable, even interested to administer pain in pursuit of knowledge and conquest, and it is not possible to imagine how to placate them except by giving them what they want. They are physically repulsive and clearly designed for conditions on some unimaginable but depleted home planet.

Ring any bells?

*The meaning of 'miniature' in Indian painting

23/12/16

Yesterday I was trying to see the Sainsbury Centre's collection of Indian miniatures online, and was intrigued to read that the term 'miniature' doesn't refer to size, but to the use of minium, otherwise known as red lead. This red colour was used for capitals, headers, important words, and was mined from Roman terms in Iberia, near the wonderfully named cinnabar mines. Imagine mining cinnabar - I suppose nuggets of it were plucked from glittering grottoes by toga-wearing youths with willow baskets.
I want to check Spike Bucklow's excellent book 'The Alchemy of Paint' to see if this is something to do with the red youth, as I vaguely remember red lead as being personified. Colours were understood in terms of their symbolic meanings, and created in accordance with arcane numerical calculations, the practical science of the times.

*Painting faces of men rather than women

15/12/16

I keep being asked why I'm only painting mens' faces and not womens'. It's pretty much only bearded and moustachioached men - the facial ornament gives more interest to the shape, as chins aren't interesting to draw per se, they are just a bit of oval tacked on to the general shape.

When I was in India I was constantly being talked at by Indian men, telling me what's what about their world. This left me with a post-event impresion of dark eyes fixing themselves hypnotically on mine in a way that I found unfamiliar and disconcerting I am carrying on mute one-sided conversations in my paintings.

It's also my inspecting of these faces. Staring is rude, even subversive, and invites strong reaction - an approach, a turining away, a feel of unease. As an artist you feel some license - you need to stare impudently. As a woman it is something you may need to be careful of.

I also feel the female face is just too hackneyed and well-trodden territory, there's nothing new I want to say, and I'm not interested at the moment.

*The problem with painting about another time and place

28/10/16

'Initially I responded viscerally to the beauty of the archive images with their intense dark eyes, baroque headgear and the sense of aliveness/deadness.The ideas that interested me included the Indian profile and the European gazes, 'darshan' - you behold the deity and the diety beholds you; the princes' distain for the portrait gift exchange system foisted on them by the British and the maharajahs' increasing refusal to wear the or richly symbolic nate costumes that led to the British perception that they ere decadent, mystical and in need of governance.

However I have found it increasingly difficult to both make a painting that works as a painting and means what I mean it to mean. If asked what the paintings were about I have said the frontal pose was reminiscent of the passport photo, the icon, the mugshot, the face on the mummy's case - the most direct engagement between subject and object, which I was then subverting with small painterly devices that defied engagement - blots of paint over the eyes, a tongue sticking out, a funny nose that to me conveyed the object refusing to be engaged with. They are about admiring the Indian's self-presentation, and having a living conversation with some dead people.

I became aware that what seemed to be to be droll in the painting could seem mocking, that in altering the images I was doing what Said railed against - not allowing the subjects to speak for themselves. I knew little of the horrible behaviour of the East India Company and then the British Raj, of post-colonial theory, or much of philosophy or cultural theory, beyond what a year of reading history has given me.

However I feel that these difficulties of negotiating an unfamiliar culture shouldn't preclude my making paintings that have a benign impulse behind them, while I'm also anxious that my naiveté will make them liable to be received as offensive and patronising in ways I'm not able to foresee.' Stephanie Douet October 2016

*The difficulties of painting about another culture

03/10/16

In January I had an exhibition of 16 heads of political agents* who had had worked in Udaipur for the royal family ('Roar Like a Paintbrush'). I painted their whiskery sepia faces with as much colour and life and as little inhibition as I could, enjoying experimenting with colour while just painting faces. Later I thought it would be interesting to paint the Indians they worked for as a counterpart, using archive photos dating from the mid C19th. I limited myself to using shades of black and white because I wanted to overpaint them afterwards with some colour, as had the court painters with their images, using only faces that I cut out from the rest of the photograph.

Wanting to find out more about the period, the people and the photos I had several conversations with historian Sean Willcock of the Paul Mellon Institute, who passed on images, books and articles which he thought would interest me, and through talking to him I honed in on several fascinating aspects of the use of photography as propaganda. I have done much wonderful background reading including Edward Said's Orientalism, Barthes "Camera Lucida', Flaubert's travels in Egypt, Willaim Dalrymple's 'White Moghuls', Jonathan Gil Harris' 'The First Firangis', was well as both 'Kim' and 'Flashman'.

Initially I responded viscerally to the beauty of the images with their intense dark eyes, baroque headgear and the sense of aliveness/deadness.The ideas that interested me included the Indian profile and the European gazes, 'darshan' - you behold the deity and the diety beholds you; the princes' distain for the portrait gift exchange system foisted on them by the British and the maharajahs' increasing refusal to wear the or richly symbolic nate costumes that led to the British perception that they ere decadent, mystical and in need of governance.

However I have found it increasingly difficult to both make a painting that works as a painting and means what I mean it to mean. If asked what the paintings were about I have said the frontal pose was reminiscent of the passport photo, the icon, the mugshot, the face on the mummy's case - the most direct engagement between subject and object, which I was then subverting with small painterly devices that defied engagement - blots of paint over the eyes, a tongue sticking out, a funny nose that to me conveyed the object refusing to be engaged with. They are about admiring the Indian's self-presentation, and having a living conversation with some dead people.

I became aware that what seemed to be to be droll in the painting could seem mocking, that in altering the images I was doing what Said railed against - not allowing the subjects to speak for themselves. I knew little of the horrible behaviour of the East India Company and then the British Raj, of post-colonial theory, or much of philosophy or cultural theory, beyond what a year of reading history has given me.

However I feel that these difficulties of negotiating an unfamiliar culture shouldn't preclude my making paintings that have a benign impulse behind them, while I'm also anxious that my naiveté will make them liable to be received as offensive and patronising in ways I'm not able to foresee.

*'A Resident or Political Agent was an official of the East India Company (and after 1813, the British Government), who was based in a princely state and who served as part diplomat, part adviser to the native ruler, and part monitor of activities in the princely state. He was an instrument of indirect rule of princely India by the British.' Wikipedia

*Sinopticon', and I finally finish reading 'Orientalism'

06/09/16

In 2012 Eliza Gluckman, Gayle Chong Kwan and I saw our long-planned exhibition Sinopticon take over Plymouth. In Saltram House, Plymouth Art School, Arts Centre and Museum, 13 international artists whose work was about contemporary takes on the historic form of chinoserie showed a wonderful range of beautiful and intelligent work: Erica Tan filmed local migrant workers performing in Saltram House's dining room, Grayson Perry had pottery interventions among Plymouth Museum's collection, Karen Tam set up a souvenir shop in Plymouth Arts Centre, Meekyoung Shin made exquisite chinese pots from soap. If you Google 'Sinopticon' images you will find a glorious rit of imaginative and smart work.

Eliza, Gayle and I had spent endles hours researching chinoiserie, prowling round the V&A, mining the great mind of National Trust's expert Emil de Bruijn, visiting far-flung stately homes to peer at ornate bedchambers and teapots. Fruits of this included a Friday Live at V&A curated by Eliza, in which Wessie Ling played chess with her chinoiserie set, Gayle set up her taste memory booth and I took my 7 foot tall green robot for a spin. We also had a symposium at V&A chaired by Glenn Adamson, discussing the idea of using chinoiserie as a prism through which to view the past and the Orient.

Part of my own research was to read Orientalism and now, 4 years later, I've finally finished it and I'm feeling a bit bereft. For someone used to munching novels like I watch telly, reading non-fiction is something I need to train for. By the time I finished it, the book had become floppy and stained, here and there underlinings marred the whiteness of the page. In the end I started reading it out loud to bring my wandering mind to focus. But it was a massively rewarding effort and stranf=gely has made my mind more accepting of challenging writing.

But it is a wonderfully rich book, full of character and erudition - and anger. Said, an Arab intellectual working in America, has stunning command of his subject and writes with passion. He charts the rise of Orientailsm - 'a Powerful European ideological creation - a way for writers, philosophes and colonial administration to deal with the 'otherness' of Eastern culture, customs and beliefs.' He recounts how (mainly) English and French academics made and owned 'their' Orient by definition, description, classification and interpretation. Historians, philologists, travellers, anthroploogists, military and administrative men subjected the Orient that Said ultimately likens to domination of a woman - an orient in decline from a past ascendancy, decadent, sensual, mystical, needing guidance and assistance from superior Europeans.

Much of what said says about the building of a belief to deal with Otherness is true of attitudes to other Others - women, madness, criminality. It also make me prickly about my own attitudes - this is something I'm always dealing with as I look now at the British raj and think about my visits to India. My own felings of enchantment and ownership of the oriental experience make me sheepish, and I watch what I say even though I feel only warmth to the country - I must be aware of my own urge to fictionalise it.



Sinopticon at Plymouth Museum, showing Meekyoung Shin and Laura White's work

*Painting from a photo

29/07/16

In Rajasthan the men are famous for their excessive moustaches. I was intensely disappointed when I went there, that there were neither many moustaches nor was the air thick with flying peacocks. This spade-shaped moustache is achieved by training it in a cloth hammock, tied at the top of the head, which gives it a fine upward sweep.

*Exhibition at Voewood - trying out new setups

27/07/16

A few weeks ago I showed my currrent work about the Raj at Voewood, Simon Finch's beautiful flint and brick Arts & Crafts house in north Norfolk. Simon has been warmingly interested in my painting project as he too has family links in India - even some Indian blood. I wanted to see how the work would look out of the studio, and felt that the atmosphere and decoration of the house lent itself to the work.

I was given the music rooom, decorated in mellow colours with an African tang - wall streaked with plaster patterns, stuffed animals, woven textures. This suited the palette of the paintings and though friend Frances Kearney thought the paintings would look best dotted around the room, I wanted to see them in a considered group relating primarily to each other and only secondarily to the room, through echoes of colour and scale: the heads on the paintings are life-size, which somehow suited the homely setting. Too small and they would have seemed more ornamental.

The three boards that the paintings were to hang on were sited in front of the north window 3 feet from the wall; this gave them a monolithic presence, a single large simple geometry within the organic shapes and forms of the room. The crisp white surface of this sub-wall contrasted with the nubbly textures and earthy shades of the surrounding space, and the white within the pintings could dance freely with the solid areas of paint.

The spacing of the paintings was not as free to make as I had thought, and relationships of colour mostly determined what hung where, as well as getting a good variety of size. I was aiming at a broken wholeness. Natural light was very good, as there are windows on three sides of the irregular shaped room with its sofas, piano and assortment of skulls, heads, cloth and parquet - a distinctly Raj atmosphere.

I love to show work in a non-gallery way, and this was site-specfic in the sense that the white-wall set-uop was mad just for Voewood. The plus is that the paintings become briefly part of someone else's life, adjascent to someone else's story. Also the work becomes new again - once I had it back in the studio I tried out arrangements I'd briefly explored at Voewood with the fruitul result that more work suggested itself.

THE PURPOSE OF THIS BLOG

16/06/16

I am really going to have to run to catch up with myself - I've been putting off writing this blog/ journal/ scrapbook. The longer I've stalled, the more I've read, made and done that I want to record before I forget. I want, in no special order, to:

1) write about 'White Mughuls' by William Dalrymple, a marvellously researched and written book that made me fall for the romantic C18th India he describes
2) put down, before I forget, what photographer and over-painter Rajesh Soni told me about the photos of my Udaipur political agents, how his grandfather took the photos and overpainted them
3) wonder about the 'gaze', both Indian (profile and averted) and European (but then Indian). Anyone who knows any visual/ cultural theory, please feel free to contribute!
4) give some accounts of the many stories I've heard from people who had relatives who worked and lived in india and were part of the Raj.
5) describe how it feels to paint with a brush made from squirrel fur, given me by the artist that made it
6) to keep up to date with my future exchanges with new friend Sean Willcock, who studies colonial India
7) to describe my thinking behind the paintings I'm making - why I'm doing what I do, what I want to try, my experiments, failures and successes
8) to entice people to join in this blog with your own ideas, memories, opinions, photos
9) to record ideas for future development

Roar Like A Paintbrush: exhibition in Udaipur City Palace

05/03/16

My second-ever painting show! However many times I had set the paintings up to work with on my studio wall, I hadn't bothered thinking about their final installation. I knew something would occur to me once I got them into the building, and got a feeling for the space. Ideas occurr at the last minute that no amount of pondering can produce. I would have like to involve coloured panels but knew this would really be too risky in case re-painting became awkward - poor quality paint that would have needed plural coats for instance.

Paul Vater and his partner Paul suggested that I include the original photos as a reference and echo. I decided before going that I'd make a 'room' to hang them around, breaking up the long gallery into something more articulated and encouraging a flow of movement around the space. I placed my original man Colonel Eden (Why the Long Face Eden) on the far wall, aligned with the photograph to imply some kind of axis. Amazingly, the gallery manager declared herself intrigued by my spirit level, saying she had never seen one before. It is now part of their kit.

Setting the paintings on the ground, I played around with possibilites, starting with a linear arrangement and shuffling them around like Scrabble tiles till something more exciting emerged. I soon had fixed on an arrangement for the paintings that included some reaction with the white walls, using them as negative space. Photographs of the audience posing among the paintings makes me there is something inclusive about this way of hanging that invites people to approach and have their faces framed by my faces - maybe it's because the heads are roughly life-size.

Rajesh Soni, the grandson of the photographer who took the original photos came to see the show and toured me around each picture, analysing whether each was a copy or original. He explained that some were originally tiny calling cards, and that you could see the grain where the photograph has been blown up. One image Iparticular took my breath away when he oointed out that what seemed a glossy almost oily finish was in fact the most delcate over-painting, done in the most miniscule brushstrokes.

'Roar Like a Paintbrush' - an introduction

21/01/16

When I visited the City palace last February and stumbled on the dark chamber with the agents' photos I could not have forseen what would develop. A year later, I'm about to take my third trip to India, with my first solo exhibition outside England coming up in Udaipur. This blog will fill in how this came about and when I've caught up, I'll go onto what I've been reading and looking at and how my painting/thinking has developed.

Firstly I want to describe the chamber where I first came across the photographs. The Palace has a big isitoric colleciton of photos, discovered in manyshoeboxes and now organised into a splendid archive and exhibition, with a book called 'Long Exposure' to accompany it. Serious-faced Indian princes gaze haughtinly at you, first in sepia then painted colour then ful colour.Many were keen photographers themselves.

In a small dingy room with a pair of magnificent painted doors 18 photos are lined up smartly in their wooden frames. When you inspect them, you see how some have their moustaches and topknots carefully touched up, faint lids are embellished with eyeliner. The court artists haven't gone as far as the full colour treatment that elsewhere turns a photo into a full painting. The faces of the agents and residents look at and past you, faces from England looking out at India.

When I first saw them I felt how far from home they were, how far from life, how far even from sunshine and fresh air. At that point I was conmpletely ignorant of the history of the British in India, and over the next few months have been discovering how abysmally Britain came to treat India.

A triangular conversation with the Singh Twins

15/12/15

One of the most dazzling paintings in the 'Artist and Empire' exhibition now on at Tate Modern is 'EnTWINed' by the Singh twins. I hadn't come across these fasinating sisters before, but immediately wanted to know more about their very individual art. They paint almost as one entity, a twin team, paintings using traditional Indian miniaturist techniques making work packed with erudition, imagery, painterly skill, imagination and wit, a treasure hunt of visual information.

I was thrilled when having messaged them via Facebook they agreed to have Skype chat. I wore a brilliant pink paisley cravat with India in mind, they wore identical baby pink fluffy dressing gowns, post-supper and shower. I asked them about what about them felt Indian, what English. They fired me up to be bold, and not worry about asking outsider questions. I asked them about paints. They told me I was using my Udaipur squirrel brushes wrongly. They suggested contacts in India and reassured me that the India art scene is no labyrinth.

Thank you twins for your interest and friendliness.

New paintings based on British Raj photos

23/11/15

In February I trotted round India bothering the Rajasthanis, and fetched up in Udaipur. The City Palace mounts the city like a titanic creamy mountain, with the sloping square issuing from its gates like a great golden tongue. The swarming streets seeth with saried women, bullocks, running children, traders, tourists, motorbikes. The lake spreads out below the palace, merchant houses painted pastel colours fill skinny streets, where people wander among the animals and it is so pleasant to amble around, chatting and looking at everything.

I did the City Palace tour and of course all was lovely but I was most intrgued by a small collection of dingy photos hangig in a dark room. These showed soldiers and officials from the British Raj, and I was fascinated that a delicate hand had painted in details of eyeliner and moustaches.

When I returned to England I began working on paintings based on these photos, and doing a bit of reading around the subject. I discovered to my horror just how awful the Britsh had been to the Indians - but more of that in another post.

Painting news

13/09/14

Still immured in the studio as the summer begans to wither away and I begin to remember how cold it gets there. We're relinquishing the Project Space - all having too much to do to feel fiery about doing more, specially as the cold approaches.
I'm feeling more confident about my paintings, getting the sense of how to make them. First seems to be to track down (mostly while in insomniac state at 4ish am) what image is urging itself upon me. Being true to this seems to be key to beginning something with a sense of conviction. It can be a colour, act of pairing, detail like a nose. I'm not bothered by the trivial level of subject matter, something is being 'said' to me that I must trust.

August Art Trail

21/08/14

Last week I spanned the UK in my search for visual stimulation. I saw the Hayward exhibition 'The Human Factor', and was struck by what a lot of shop dummies there were. When you see several together you have to assume that each means something different - do they all mean the same dummy thing or different dummy thing? My own Human Factor would have included Frances Upritchard and Stephen Claydon, two of my top art idols.

I also visited both Hunterian museums, coming over all faint at the London one with a superfluity of cream-coloured slimy bodyparts in formaldehyde. The vast vaulted Glasgow Hunterian was more up my street, like a massive trainless Liverpool Street station elegantly dotted with modern glass cases. Favourites include the trim brass and chrystal prisms, the giant bronze tuning fork (as yet unheard by curator Nicky Reeves) and the inky 19th century miniature lava-flow making its imperceptible way down a three-step staircase.

At the Edinburgh Fruitmarket I saw Jim Lambie - he has had a lot of mileage over that stripy floor. The sculptures seemed arbitrary, unconnected with the entirety of the concept. Two pieces worked for me - black binliners dripping paint onto the floor and a sparkly black turntable with multicoloured hangers. Both made a physical connection to the floor rather than a juxtaposition or ornamental placing that was not linked to the flowing and pulsing physics of the stripes.

Hunterian visit

20/08/14

Last week as I wandered round the Hunterian museum in Holborn my knees started to quaver. The endless rows of pickled human parts, squashy cream-coloured matter suspended in fluid, had an accumulating effect of memento mori.

The Glasgow Hunterian, home to the collection of the Other Hunter Brother, has less to trouble the squeamish. A great beamed ceiling covers the 60ft (?) high hall, beautifully crafted iron pillars Curator Nicky Reeves showed me

'Daily Optical Experiment' on Twitter

28/07/14

I'm still unconvinced about Twitter. I started doing it last year as my contribution to marketing my Arts Council funded residencies, to connect with the audience and record what I was doing. A year later, I've got about 150 followers but I can't say anything concrete has come of it - worst is the feeling that it's demeaning and addictive, while not achieving its object of effective promotion. The introductions I made are ones I could have made in the flesh.

Last October I went to Sluice, gritted my teeth and schmoozed. It was such a jolly place that chatting was no problem and I left my card with a few people. In January I skulked around the London Art Fair plucking up courage to nonchanantly introduce myself to gallerists and had a pleasant conversation with Cathy Lomax of Transition, but couldn't bring myself to whip out my Ipad and dazzle her with my pictures.

The main disapppoiintment is that I have now a (very) few fun Twit friends but haven't struck lucky with a community of like-minded artists. Maybe I'm trying so hard to be interesting that I've rendered myself incomprehensible? Anyway, I've just started a daily optical experiment - partly to keep my hand in, partly as bait to allure an audience.
RealNon-Real project image

#PayingArtists - how the money goes around

13/07/14

How the money gets divvied up
Typical: artists wanted to be part of an exhibition looking at (fill in theme) in a publicly funded venue. A nominal fee (or none), minimal expenses (or none). Venue gets audience (with entrance fee/donation), curator gets paid, assistants get paid, venue gets income. Work gives on tour over course of next year. Ditto those who get paid (except artist).

#PayingArtists Experiment

12/07/14

The Paying Artists campaign on Twitter is really worth supporting and should be noted particularly by galleries and museums that get national funding.

In support of this I am offering my paintings for one week only at a flat rate of £350, till 18th July. Painting is new to me -I use many other firms including installation, sculpture, performance, photography, and often don't gave a marketable product. I've been lucky with Arts Council funding, which has been terrific in enabling me to make and show non commercial stuff.

But I love the idea that someone might own something I've made, so for this week there's a painting sale on my site.

Getting ready for Real/Non-Real/Diorama

29/05/14

A couple of weeks ago I visited lecturer Nick Hopwood in his pyramidal book-lined office under the eaves of the Department of History and Philosophy of Science in Cambridge. I'd been reading his ( and Soraya de Chadevarian's) succulent book 'Models: The Third Dimension of Science', about 'wooden ships and plastic molecules, wax bodies and a perspex economy, monuments in cork and mathematics in plaster, casts of diseases, habitat diorama, and extinct monsters rebuilt in bricks and mortar'. The book is a wonderful brew of stories and analysis and I recommend it highly.

I had been hoping in an unformed artisty way that when I outlined my project to Nick he might spontaneously suggest a brilliant way in which we could collaborate, but he seemed a bit baffled by my non-sequential Impressionistic description of what I am doing. Actually I realised that I was as well; perhaps it's because in this long story of 'Real/Non-Real' I am doing an authentic 'response' to instruments and models. Rather than logically interpreting their stories and construction I am in a dream of admiring the neat stocky brass fittings of the microscopes, their sleek sharkskin casings and, as Ludmilla Jordanova puts it, teaching models of embryos with 'alluring flesh and sexually inviting postures'?

After twenty minutes of mutual bewilderment and general goodwill I left Nick with the hope that we might collaborate in some way in the future, and a box of six quails' eggs I found in my handbag.

Running Wild

10/02/14

Under a huge and luminous pearly sky a young girl strains at a taut rope, heaving a great white bag of some heavy matter across a snow-spattered field. A blur of some cheerful pink stuff on top of the bag is the only colour in the wintry waste. The rope is almost exactly parallel to the horizon, the girl pulls left towards the third section of the composition, while the converging lines churned by the plough meet at a leafless tree in the middle distance. In another picture a girl stands, face averted, framed by the whale-like inverted ribs of an opalescent polytunnel. Here and there discarded pots, tubes and very dead plants mess up the dominating foreground. The girl's remarkable ash-coloured hair and her pale clothes echo the pallor of the polythene in contrast to the scruffy disorder around her as she stands apparently sealed into a disused greenhouse.
Kearney's new series of develops themes and images explored in her 2009 series 'Fishing for Trout', in which girls on the cusp of puberty play in the landscape. Away alone in the wild, on the marsh, in a derelict industrial site, each girl looks as though she is caught up in a deep state of solitary dreaming, possibly talking out loud to invisible people, self-sufficient in her preoccupation. She will have a prop - stilts, a barrow, a dead seal - and odd clothes (is that a squirrel costume?) but she will mainly be engaged in being on her own in her imagination.
The Project Space in Norwich Castle Museum has been painted a deep stormcloud grey, and sits within the collection of Norwich Castle among Norfolk landscape painters such as Cotman and Munnings, placing Norfolk-born Kearney in a historic context. Some visual echoes occur between the paintings and Kearney's photographs - a child shepherd on a heath, a ruined industrial agricultural landscape, great waters and big skies. Kearney stresses that she is an artist who uses photography, not a photographer.
The adult viewer, prompted by modern life to be anxious, at the same time remembers their own free-range childhoods, playing out in the wild all day long and only back home at dusk, muddy but happy. There are hints of threat - the dereliction of the sites, made by adults then abandoned; the compositional device of lines that pin the child by strong horizontals and diagonals like a butterfly in the centre stage, the bleak almost monotone palate, so unjolly. Many of these games look like imposed fairy-tale tasks - hauling heavy objects, sitting high up like Rapunzel in a concrete wall or on a straw mound near a strange bit of military hardware.The girls are almost dwarfed by the great brooding skies which withhold rain, while practically no living plants give a hint of life to the land. They are playing in a silvery half-place of imminent rain, makeshift defences and infinite waters.
The wistful loneliness of the locations and the weepy palette suggest that one's memories of childhood landscapes as being long yellow beaches, dancing blue waves are not the places where fruitful dreaming actually happens. These 'real' liminal locations that no-one else occupies provide landscapes that make you dream, where the action is your own, where nothing is provided except a backdrop. ...more

Republic of the Moon review

28/01/14

The wildest blasts of icy wind from the Thames drive me spluttering through the OXO tower where the gusts made a theatrical howling through the glass doors, and into the pleasantly crumbling brick interior of the Bargehouse. I was short of time, so I'm speeding through the dim and resonant interior with you, past the basement with Liliane Lijn's ethereal 'Moonmeme', Agnes Meyer-Brandis's moon-geese follow her on an extendd lunar flight training session, Leonid Tishkov's 'Private Moon' photos, recording his glowing moon's resting places.

Best for poetry is Katie Paterson's 'Earth-Moon-Earth' and 'Second Moon'. Familiar but stuttering phrases of Beethoven drift down the stairs of the Bargehouse. In a dim upper room an unmanned piano steps woodenly through the Moonlight Sonata, reproducing the dreamy tune with an unwavering tempo. The melody flows along then suddenly stops, stutters, reappears in the upper register, starts in mid-flow. Paterson had translated the Moonlight Sonata into Morse code, beamed it up at the moon and it was beamed back and transcribed into notes. The transmitted musical message was interrupted by craters and canyons on the lunar surface, so what you hear is partial, intermittent, you are embarrassed for the piano.

I love this richly prismatic idea - imagine the increasingly deaf withdrawn composer in the faltering candlelight reaching for each note; centuries later his inkblots turn to dots and bars, get beamed millions of miles from earth, land on the silvery moon, turn around and come back, dodging past the Moon mountains. Then the painstaking transcription into a mathematical language, the voyage of the invisible beams of notes, the lack of the composer's emotions in the playing, the making neutral of passion, only for a different kind of longing to be expressed almost despite itself.

And the rest of the exhibition was lovely but I'm off to my studio now so - just go and see it for yourself.

Agnes Meyer-Brand, Leonid Tishkov, Katie Paterson, Liliane Lijn, WE COLONISED THE MOON, Hagen Betzwiesser, Sue Corke, Joanna Griffin, Tomas Saraceno

Bargehouse?Oxo Tower Wharf?South Bank?London SE1 9PH?UK
10/01/2014 – 02/02/2014 ?11am-6pm daily, late opening 6.30-8.30pm Thursday 9 January and 6.30-10pm Thursday 16 January

Review of Lee Granjean's 'Weights and Measures' exhibition

13/01/14

Lee Grandjean: Weights and Measures
9/11/213 - 30/11/2013
Nicolson gallery and the Theatre in the Woods, Gresham School, Holt, Norfolk


It's dark. Rain beats down on us as we approach a large thicket of black trees, silhouetted from inside by the brilliant white light of arc lamps. Framed by an arch of branches a tall glistening white figure stands sentinel, marking the entrance to Gresham's outdoor theatre Below you on the raked steps of the semicircular auditorium scattered figures stand around on the terraces, each object in its pool of inky shadow, where for three weeks this autumn sculptor Lee Greandjean installed a new set of 35 sculptures.

This anthropomorphic tribe of objects, part human, part discarded industrial plant, form a body of work entitled Weights and Measures. This workmanlike yet lyrical title speaks of what sculpture is, physical matter that is also abstract. His large objects have sticks for limbs, box heads, lumpen feet and spindly legs. Their aesthetic is rough post-industrial - pipes, tanks, braces, burly, awkward. The colours too are industrial-looking - dust, mud, cement, with splashes of uncomfortable pink and blue and his use of gloss paint highlights the roughness of their texture. I had first seen this new group of sculptures in Grandjean's studio, where they stood close together like visitors at the beginning of a party. Now, they were spread around the auditorium in dramatic declamatory style, as though each had something very particular to convey.

Their sheer quantity, the coherence of their appearance, their family likeness, gives Grandjean the opportunity to concentrate on form and size, design permutations, and the use of one main material (scrim, coated by coarse concrete sludge) allows him to work through a lot of ideas. Many of the objects such as 'Swan-necked Woman' have inviting handle shapes that dare you to lift them; a while their jokey quality tells you you might be surprised at the result: they might put your back out, or maybe you could swing them up like kittens. Are they for storage, such as 'Dirty Sticky Pink' or 'Sweat'? Are they the remains of some abandoned experiment?

The small objects act like commas or beads between the larger objects, alternately linking and separating the larger objects within the tableau. These also act like a base numeral from which to judge the 'size' of the others - without the little ones, you might read the big ones as small versions of even larger objects. There is also an impression of moving objects suddenly stilled, effected by the many legs, trucks and dangling limb-like protrusions, and an absurdity and pathos that recalls Guston.

Grandjean's assured touch igives a strong personality to the work, and the application of the surface of the works reminds me of the way a farmer controls an animal - patting, smoothing, slapping. There is a masculinity to the objects, but also a disarmingly childlike goofiness that marks them out as the product of a powerful imagination. and a well-practised hand.

Neuroscientists in Newcastle

18/11/13

I've done enough talks to feel confident that, being the world authority on Me and My Work, as long as I have a logically ordered and explicative mass of images I can launch into My Talk without my knees knocking. It wasn't till I was standing in front of my audience in the Neuroscience Institute at Newcastle University that I felt the audience probably had a collective IQ reaching into the thousands, and that my own was perhaps on a level with the mantises they study.

I had come to Newcastle to meet Jenny Reid, Reader in Vision Science at the Institute of Neuroscience. I wanted to discover more about her special thing, 3D vision in all its manifestations, to add a contemporary aspect to my piece-meal knowledge of optics. As Jenny described anamorphic projection and the possibility of projecting onto an actual, in-the-world space, I felt my brain contorting like a pretzel in an effort to comprehend.

Mantoids are favoured friends to Jenny and her colleagues because of their stereoscopic vision which is now known to be wider-spread in the animal world than used to be thought. One of her colleagues showed me a photo of his mantis wearing a minuscule pair of specs on its great spherical eyes, and the platform the mantis perches on when watching 3D telly, its head twirling as it follows the images.

My next move is a field trip to see 'Gravity'; to get in touch with Norwich art school's games department, and to make a preparatory 'landscape' to be rendered into 3D.

Review of Real/Non-Real

12/11/13

For one weekend only Stephanie has put together an exhibition of her own work made during a residency at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford.

The gallery space resembles a laboratory in its whiteness and has become an environment to be experienced and explored, populated by a series of sculptures in black and white. The viewer is immediately thrown off balance by the addition of large mirrors curving around corners, distorting the space and producing disquieting reflections of the sculptures and the viewers.

Douet's interest in optics and in both the mechanics and psychology of vision is clear There are references in the work to scientific instruments, but reinvented from unlikely materials- childrens wooden blocks, blackout card, lenses and old camera parts. Some of the most successful pieces are a series of small assemblages which hint at useful objects but are at the same time nonsensical and sinister. The inclusion of the occasional hand drawn eye in these beautifully made, whimsical sculptures lends them humanity but also a strangeness which defies description. Just like in the best portraits, the eyes seem to follow you around the room. These eyes turn out to be those of scientists who have influenced the project- Max Plank, Einstein, Schroedinger.

Another element of the work is how artists have used and often appropriated optical equipment for their own ends, through photography and tools such as the camera obscura. But the work is not purely about the science of this encounter. Douet says herself that her approach is ‘more reckless than scientific’ and that this exhibition has something of a testing ground about it. The residency context is a great opportunity for this sort of approach and has kept the feel of the show playful and improvisatory.

The effect is curious- the whole exhibition looks something like a scientific experiment, but one which might never have an end point and could easily continue ad infinitum. Douet sees this body of work as just this, an experimental beginning. She wants to continue her enquiry into both the science and art of optics and it is an exploration which is set to be extremely fruitful.

Residency at MAO

15/08/13

The two weeks I spent in the project space at MAO must count as the most cloistered and intense time I've spent since college. Getting in to the project space early each morning and having a good uninterrupted run at remembering, sketching, gazing vacantly into space, snipping, getting burnt on the glue gun threw up a good load of ideas both new and reworked.

I allowed my hands to get on with making things, letting the last few weeks of working in the Museum of the History of Science percolate into my production. Black became increasingly interesting as a substance. Using only black wiped away peripheral concerns and let me focus on its own qualities of receding and advancing at the same time, its historical appearance in Vermeer, Velasquez, Bacon, Caulfield.

I made some sculptures, I suppose you could call them, and photographed them so the shadows became as substantial as the objects. Still would be good to find a burlier material than paper to use. Black gets marked with each exhalation. - infuriating. I love its utter soft flatness but it needs handling with cloth gloves(which of course I didn't always do). ...more

Packing up

11/07/13

Just getting packed up to start residency at Modern Art Oxford on Tuesday - even in the act of packing I get sidetracked by new combinations of objects - see photo. Just upturned the frilly papery thing I made the other day and it went sort of shaggy dog on me.
I love the way modular working produces results that are generated by the physics of the material and its 'behaviour'. Just make a form, make lots of it, and see how it stabiliuses itself.

Visit to WW Gallery

07/07/13

Yesterday in the throbbing sun I staggered down Hatton Garden nipping between pools of shade in front of shops glittering with diamonds and sapphires. Fancy shopping for gems in such heat, on a Saturday! Smiling maidens and beefy geezers hovered along the street, keeping you out and getting you in. The only ornament I was wearing was a lurid lemon yellow corsage from Top Shop, so I wasn't bothered by maidens or geezers.

I found WW Gallery without being tempted (at all!) by superfluous diamond purchases and met Debra in the welcome coolness. I wanted to find out how to make the most of my residency at MAO, and found her advice very practical and achievable. No, I'm not passing any on - pay her the money!
Thank you, Debra.

Update on Real/Non-Real

28/06/13

Having the Queen of Hungary Project Space empty next door is invaluable. I put the geometric solids (still love that phrase!) up in there and they looked a bit bleak, like abandoned giant Lego. My plan is to carry on with component parts and put them in as I make them.

However I've been feeling unusually stalled - normally this way of working generates lots of ideas, but I began to be fearful that the ideas had dried up. I'd read a snippet about Chuck Close always knowing what he was going to do when he started work at 9, and I know that it can be better to go in with some idea to fall back on.

So in the giant black eyelashes. Still a bit puerile, mixed in with older stuff from Offcutter. Thankfully that triggered other ideas and before long the chemistry between the objects had started to kick in and off I went,and I'm now looking forward to today with a fulsome heart.

Plunge

17/06/13

I've spent the past week making plinthy type things that will form part of my 'vocabulary' of things to take to Oxford. These are based on the wooden bricks, wedges and cones I used to make models with, and will form part of the architecture of the installation.

I'm getting bored with jigsawing, sanding, filling and so had a first attempt at putting the work up to look at. Pleased with the feeling that the things suggest more ways of playing around and of making other things. Evident that the finish needs to be better, so wet&dry out again (ugh). Fingers now dessicated and permanently black under the nails.

Scientists' eyelashes and geometric solids

15/06/13

The studio is heavenly at the moment (as long as the Boy Scouts aren't around), ponies graze in the field, the trees are in full summer leaf. I'm making big geometric 'solids' that will be part of my assemblage kit, cutting the ply with greatest care so it doesn't fray, which however it always does, wiping filler with my finger along the length, sanding, fitting, tapping in the tiny panel pins then my favouriet part, knocking them home below the wood's surface with a blunt naul and hammer. I love the way they vanish into their neat little holes.
I'm also scaling up the 'eyelashes' of the scientists. This builds an old design I used for a Queen of Hungary invite years ago, a thick black circle with fringe of black lashes, and an eye inside. Still working on the eye drawing.

In the Laboratory

01/06/13

My workplace for the past fortnight has been a massive oak refectory table among the virines in the subterranean lab at MHS. Using any optical matter from around the museum that caught my eye - microscopes, mostly, astralabes which aren't really to the point but are loveley to look at, telescopes, cameras - daily I'd set up a micro studio of scalpel, sheaves of black card, mirror vinyl and sculptual oddments and see what I could come up with. Every so often a visitor would drift past and linger by my table.

Making things - I usually let my hands lead my brain, fiddling about with tools/materials till something dawned on me, and relying on the undertow of interest and observation in my subconscious to generate an object/way of working through my hands. I found I used old, old ideas of mine that had been roosting, waiting to become pertinent, and flashes that produced satisfyingly finishe pieces within minutes. Some days I got stuck, screwing up sheet after sheet.

Other times I could have gone on for hours, surprising myself with what I could put on my plnth at the end of the table at closing time.

Designing an invitation for Real/Non-Real

05/05/13

Making, editing and buggering up
I don't really want to get going on making work for Real/Non-Real before I start at the Museum - it feels like cheating, but I have to get out invitations for the events. Why does it take so long? Text - looks like it's all there. Then think of another thing. Justify then everything goes wonky. Re-align. Argh! something else I forgot - logo -it's gone huge and shunted previous text along like a big fat crow landing on a wire with little birds on it!

Starting my residency at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford

30/04/13

As a child I so loved the museum above Folkesone library. Shells, birds' eggs, an ancient skeleton from Caesar's Camp, shards of pitted pottery, utterly a place for dreams to swell and float. The Museum of the History of Science is likewise a place to - well, to make you muse. Vitrines with hand-tooled leather and brass telescopes, wooden polygons, astralabes, and I'm lucky enough to have a dirty great oak refectory table in the cellar on which to be working from mid-May.

Real/Non-Real Blog

25/03/13

A journal for Real/Non-Real - images, ideas, deep and shallow thoughts
I've just heard my Arts Council funding came through for Real/Non-Real - eek! and yippee! It has got to go from being a non-material plan to the start of a material presence; stocks of matter can now be bought - lots of sooty black paper, a myriad of mirror or whatever the collective noun is; glue and more glue.

Last week we went to Maastricht antique fair, and saw how even beuatiful objects are enhanced by immaculate presentation. Sharp whitish lights hung from the ceiling locking onto single pieces from bisecting angles, lifting them slightly away from the background and bestowing dimensions of light and shadow, depth, sparkle, texture.

I want to try this - a batch of 'scientific' instruments made glorious with exquisite lights.

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