The MA Degree Show was a great experience in planning, selection, setting up, exhibiting and then taking down the work. It has been fulfilling and rewarding. Some pieces sold, and I graduated with honours, but more importantly the process helped me solidify my desire to continue in this field. The research for my dissertation was enriching and reached beyond the confines of my artistic practice, leading to new ideas and successive development. I have been granted an artists in residence at Gray's School of Art so I am going back to the drawing board to set out my intentions for my next endeavours.
For more images from the Degree Show please refer to my blog.
In the seminar series this year I found the lectures on socially engaged art to be the most inspiring. Claire Hamilton’s lecture on Place Making and a Socially Engaged City was particularly poignant for it contextualised my multifaceted creative web of studio practice and socially engaged community work. It explored place, the importance of community, educational reform and the role of the artist. She mentioned Joseph Beuys' famous quote, “Everybody is an artist,” meaning that each person has a multitude of pathways for their artistic expression, and even the mundane and ordinary can be art. My work is largely connected and interwoven in this similar pursuit for creativity, through my studio practice (exploring colour first, then line and eventually form), my research into process-oriented methodology and the improvisational aspects of facilitating a community group.
My daughter has recently begun drawing circles, “Look, there are windows!” she exclaims. Anthroposophist Michaela Strause describes how drawings relate to child development, and that circles are the initial forms children draw, big rings and expanding ribbons, where the movement takes the line further than the page or starts beyond the edge of the paper (Straus, 1988, p.13). Pythagoras also noted that among the five simple and perfect forms the circle was the deity of all, the universal form (Birren, 1961, p.10). Circles symbolize completeness, comfort, a focal point and a safe place to explore and develop from and recently, in my exploration of colour and form, I instinctually stumbled upon the circle as well. Deleuze & Guattari (2013) associate the possibilities of creative growth not with the calculated step-by-step development of a tree but with the growth of a circular rhizome-like stem which extends horizontally underground, putting out roots at adventitious intervals.
“Most modern methods for making series proliferate or a multiplicity grow (that) are perfectly valid in one direction, for example, a linear direction, whereas a unity of totalization asserts itself even more firmly in another, circular or cyclic, dimension” (Deleuze & Guattari, 2013, p6).
The rhizome therefore is more resilient than the tree as each part along its stem is connected to the source and it is continually building new connections between “semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles” (Deleuze & Guattari, 2013, p.7). This is a growth field where everything is connected to the circular focal point, i.e. the doer, but the doing is heterogeneous in expression. In my artistic practice, I am similarly expanding out in a rhizome-like way from the comfort of my own circle and my known themes and methodologies, challenging my practice with new techniques, exploring existing and emerging themes and increasing my understanding of my own process. For instance, for the past few years I have been exploring a botanical theme in oil and photography but, through my recent study of colour and form, I am now working on abstract pastel pieces and a watercolour series which touches upon social and political issues. I am also facilitating a creative and socially engaged community group, which I see as part of my artistic development.
I began my MA by contemplating why I was drawn back to mark making after a long hiatus. I started by considering the fundamentals of 2-dimensional art, colour and form.
I dove into colour by eliminating form from my work, looking at Goethe’s colour theory (Schindler, 1964), Cage’s Colour and Meaning (2000) and others. I experimented with various mediums: watercolour, oil, acrylic, dying cloth, printmaking and I researched colour field painting, abstract expressionism, contemporary use of colour in painting and installation work and various artists of interest. I picked up pastels and found that the pure pigment lent itself to the exploration of colour, which I was then able to experiment with on a large scale.
Goethe’s research initiated the study of colour phycology, with the aim of uncovering colours secrets. (Pipes, 2008, p.171) I found that light quickly became one of these secrets in my own work with colour, for without light the pieces seemed dull, flat and lacking substance. Colours are seen more clearly when there is light, (Kalderon, 2015, p69) revealing themselves “…as a moving interval between the unseen creativities of light and darkness.” (Collot D’herbois, 1979, p.17) Therefore, once I added light (and subsequently darkness), my pieces took on a more dynamic nature. Through this development, along with others, I started to find out what interested me about making art and one of the responses that arose was simply: process.
I began deconstructing my process of mark making through the process itself, the more I created the more I learned about my practice and the importance of ‘process painting.’ Practice comes before theory (Albers, 1963, p.1) for through the making the theory can then be discovered. The analogy with the rhizome and the tree is an ideal paradigm for my practice, for I find the intuition-based route of making more inspiring than the intellectual design of a project. There is some intangible element of creative unknowing that is compelling when embarking on an improvisational work of art.
“Finally, one opens the circle a crack, opens it all the way, lets someone in, calls someone, or else goes out oneself… launches forth, hazards of improvisation” (Delouse & Quattari, 2013, p.311).
This leap into the unknown is a “radical moment of rethinking,” (Douglas, 2012, p.2) where intuition takes over and the play of improvisation begins. It is a delicate dance, stepping out from the comfort of the circle, between the familiar and the foreign. Douglas and Coessens (2011, p.149-50) describe this state as the interval between two levels of expression, a known stable “aboutness knowledge” and an experiential “withness knowledge” which allows for change and at the same time continuity.
It was therefore liberating to improvise with colour, to experience it physically through scumbling and blending pigments, to sense its pictorial content and then to stand back and intellectually contemplate the final product. In my developing understanding of colour I began to realize that colour has difficulty living alone and that there are numerous elements that affect it: light/darkness but also hue, complementary colours, saturation of colour, juxtaposition, extension of colour and depth (Itten, 1973).
“Method is a kind of route to something, a pathway towards something.” (Nelson, 2009, p.100) I work predominantly with this improvisational methodology where the materials lead the way, and my work transforms as the materials change. I follow through intuition like the sensitive nerve fibres in the rhizome that feel their way through the creative process: growing, making connections, and enlivening the surrounding area. I believe that “discovery and invention are the criteria for creativeness” (Albers, 2013, p.9), and through focusing on the process of making through improvisational methods of learning and playing with the materials, development and growth naturally occur and the work slowly develops and moves into new innovative areas.
Artists can be stereotyped (Kaprow, 2003) or become stuck in the repetition of their practice, as I was stuck in my past theme and methodology. “New names may assist social change. Replacing artist with player, as if adopting an alias, is a way of altering a fixed identity. And a changed identity is a principle of mobility” (Kaprow, 2003, p.125). In order to relinquish the past and create new avenues for creativity the artist can think of themselves as a player, for “play” is the essential key in an improvisational method, and it was through play that I returned to line and consequently form again.
Line & form:
More recently in my practice, I have been rediscovering line. After having explored colour for some time I intuitively fell upon the importance of line and found through experimentation that “colour is integral with form and cannot be divorced from it” (Birren, 1961, p.11). Line is the natural development of form, even for children, for lines are used in abstract shapes that appear “flowing rhythms which gradually materialize as a symbolical language of forms” (Straus, 1988, p.13). I had stumbled upon circles without knowing their significance as a universal form and the foundation for development in drawing. As I worked with this form for a while the line slowly changed, naturally breathing into space and off the page, then widening and straightening. It was as if after my break from art, I needed to first consider the foundations of colour, and then to investigate the fundamental form of line: circles.
Paul Klee described drawing as “taking a point or a line for a walk” (Pipes, 2008, p.17), with the picture becoming a testimony to the movement of line from one place to another. The circular form represents unity, expansion from current methods and themes, and my line is still developing through the process of investigation. The question subsequently arose: is the act more important than the final piece?
Movement is integral to my work as well, and with the circular form spiralling beyond the page or the abstract line filling the space, a performative element arises. Performance theorist Peggy Phelan says that “Performance's only life is in the present” (Phelan, 1993, p.146), and for the moment I am more concerned with the present for myself than with the performance for others, though residue of the present lingers on in the pieces.
How can one line say something in an abstract language or in a pictorial one? Jackson Pollock initiated action painting, initially inspired by improvisational jazz, by pouring paint directly onto the canvas and allowing his “unconscious mind to determine the outcome” (Pipes, 2008, p.239). His pictures were spontaneously ‘drawn,’ while contemporary artist Gary Hume, in his water paintings, intentionally used line to create form, which then became indistinct, morphing into a milieu of social commentary. There can be a subtle line between representational form and abstraction and I find that my work is between realism and abstraction, between the discreet and the continuous (Douglas & Coessens, 2011). The question then ensued, what form? What would you like to comment on with your form?
Recently I have started a watercolour series to help me digest current news articles, be it about migration, poverty, drugs, politics, racial crimes or child labour. A question arose for me while considering the function of line, can I transform this line into another form, can it depict something personal or incorporate something bigger? What if the beauty of colour and form were to transcribe something tragic, would it help a viewer re-consider that subject? Lecturer Claire Hamilton spoke about activism, saying that it is important for artists “to push back in society and to think about critical questions”. This is a quiet protest, currently evolving in the studio, that hopefully will find its way to fruition as it evolves.
In contemplating the possibilities for social change as spoken about by Claire Hamilton and other lecturers this year I began considering what it is I feel strongly about and what I can bring to the local social environment. I recognised that creating social change begins with individual beliefs and small daily actions such as buying organic food or baking bread from scratch, up-cycling, making natural toys and not adding to the production of plastic, keeping a positive outlook, and finding a peaceful path through life and especially parenthood. I realised through the various lectures on Socially Engaged Art that these elements all culminate in the group I started a couple of years ago.
Socially Engaged Art:
Through Jonathan Baxter’s lecture on Dialogical Curation, I came to understand the varying degrees of artistic expression, from the artist as experiencer, reporter, and analyst to activist (Lacy, 1995, p.5). At the moment I am an experiencer but I realised, after grasping the concept of socially and creatively engaged more fully, that I too am an activist working in a socially engaged community project. As a foreigner I have struggled to find my place in Aberdeen and Claire Hamilton’s lecture brought up the importance of place making and how our layers of community assist in affirming that place. She spoke about the local culture and how artists can help Aberdeen become a more Socially Engaged city. Dr. Nuno Sacramento’s lecture on Deep Mapping was also a creative way of finding place, through contemporary means of mapping experience. One of the aspects that has been helpful in establishing place for me as a foreigner has been the Seedlings Parent & Child Group.
I believe that education is a direct means towards social change (Male, 2006, p1) and in 2014 I created a space for parents and young children to share in a Steiner-Waldorf inspired pedagogical group, centred around alternative education, wholistic childrearing, and a health-oriented philosophy. The Seedlings families are offered a home-like environment where they can be inspired creatively: through crafts, music, storytelling, sharing experiences and ideas, open-ended natural toys which stimulate the child’s senses, inspire movement-based learning and lay the foundations for analytical thinking and creativity. The group is parent-led so that it may be community-run, with the facilitator laying the background for discussion, work and play, by setting the foundation for interaction but leaving the parents and children in freedom to add to the existing structure and develop new elements. As lecturer Jon Blackwood mentioned ‘curation’ comes from the Latin word curare which means ‘to give care’ which is what the facilitator undertakes to do. Similarly, Claire Hamilton stressed the importance of making spaces “where people are free to be more human,” and this is precisely what I aim to do here in my own small way: to be socially engaged and strongly passionate about a subject, which can hopefully inspire others to take action. The groups aim is to cultivate creative methods of parenting, by promoting artistic projects, meaningful work, giving space for a resourceful exchange of ideas, encouraging inquiries into child development, nutrition, alternative medicine and promoting progressive education methods.
Everybody is an artist: children, parents, teachers, etc. The importance is finding creativity in what you do and using improvisational methodologies which stem from play. Through play, the child develops creative ways of interacting with the world (Jenkinson, 2001, p.16). I hope that as adults children will be able to enjoy their work, and their work can become their play (Mendizza, 2003 p.42). Offering parents and children a place to find community, creativity and a moment to play at this time in their lives is key to sustaining them in a healthy way.
“A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo. The tree is filiation, but the rhizome is alliance, uniquely alliance. The tree imposes the verb "to be" but the fabric of the rhizome is the conjunction, "and ... and ... and... (it represents) another way of traveling and moving: proceeding from the middle, through the middle, coming and going rather than starting and finishing (Deleuze & Guattari, 2013, p.25).
The creative process is interwoven with the projects and interlaced with the substantiality of the artist. I have come full circle, and my artistic practice is still developing, moving onwards, spiralling out towards new prospects. “Within improvisatory practices, by questioning the certainty of art, by breaking with continuity, a new potential emerges to establish something radically different from what went before” (Douglas, p.11). Structure holds my practice in place through materials and place, with exploration of new techniques and further development of known ones, and through intellectual inspiration from various lectures on socially-engaged community work. Ultimately, it is the freedom that holds my interest, the freedom to improvise and play, the investigation into the process of painting and creativity for myself and others. All creativity stems from one source and can be used in a multiplicity of ways to interact dialogically with the environment, from the private place of the artist’s studio in the exploration of colour and the search for form, to the open spaces where children play.
Albers, J., 1963. Interaction of Color. Yale University Press, New Haven. 208 pages.
Beuys, J., borrowed the phrase “everyone is an artist” from the German Philosopher Novalis. See “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art,”, Artforum, June 1967.
Birren, F., 1961. Color, Form and Space. Reinhold Publishing Co., New York. 128 pages.
Cage, J., 2000. Colour and Meaning: art, science and symbolism. Thames & Hudson. London. 320 pages.
Collot D’herbois, L., 1979. Colour: part one. Stichting Magenta, Driebergen. 100 pages.
Deleuze, G & Guattari, F., 2013. A Thousand Plateaus. Bloomsbury Academic, London. 744 pages.
Douglas, A., 2012. Altering a Fixed Identity: Thinking through Improvisation. Critical Studies in Improvisation, Vol 8, Nov 2.
Itten, J., 1973. The Art of Color. Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York. 155 pages.
Jenkinson, S. 2001., The Genius of Play: Celebrating the Spirit of Childhood. Hawthorn Press, Gloucestershire. 189 pages.
Kalderon, M.E., 2015. Form without Matter: Empedocles and Aristotle on Color Perception. Oxford University Press, Oxford. 234 pages.
Kaprow, A., 2003. Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life, Jeff Kelly (ed.), Berkeley: University of California Press,. 270 pages.
Lacy, S., 1995. Mapping the Terrain: New Public Genre Art. Indiana University, Bay Press, USA. 304 pages.
Male, D., 2006. Parent & Child Group Handbook: A Steiner/Waldorf approach. Hawthorn Press, Gloucestershire. 233 pages.
Mendizza, M. with Pearce, J.C., 2003. Magical Parent Magical Child. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley. 213 pages.
Pipes, A., 2008. Foundations of Art and Design. Lawrence King Publishing Co., London. 272 pages.
Phelan, P., 1993. “Unmarked: The Politics of Performance”, p.146, Psychology Press
Schindler, Maria. By Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 1964. Goethe’s Theory of Colour. New Knowledge Books, East Grinstead. pages
Straus, M., Understanding Children’s Drawings. Rudolf Steiner Press, London, 1988. 95 pages.
The December Masters Student Exhibition at Gray's went well. It was interesting to learn how to frame my work with floating images. There was a lot of preparation for this piece of 12 images and I feel that it came together well. I hope that each image was given enough space for observers to get to know the political and social issues they portray. It is difficult to see in the images above, but each image arises from news articles found online or in newspapers. This theme began as little sketches and was and continues to be a way for me to digest some of the challenging stories and headlines that we get in the news today. I find it also a way of finding empathy with those involved by sitting with the issue or persons for a longer period of time.
When I have a photo shoot at Gray's I see my work in a different way, lighter and clearer. Last week I had another chance to get some work photographed and I had a little tutorial session about how to photograph my work at home as well. Here are some of my recent works in oil and textiles:
Yesterday was the first time I've presented a slide show about my work. It was only 7 minutes, so I couldn't really fit all that much in, just a re-cap of what I've done over the first year of my MA. It was great to hear all 19 other students present their work, it made me feel like part of something larger and diverse. What I came away thinking was, we are all drawn to making art in our own way, everyone just needs to create and they'll find their way. The important thing is how to help others make without judgement or criticism, how to encourage fruitful activities in art where we can learn from our doing. All we need to do is create, with little suggestions or nudges and genuine engagement from our peers or teachers.
My work is largely connected and interwoven in the pursuit for creativity, through my studio practice this year, in exploring colour first, then line and eventually form and in my research into process-oriented methodology.
I began my MA by contemplating why I was drawn back to mark making after a long hiatus. I started by considering the fundamentals of 2-dimensional art, colour and form.
I dove into colour by eliminating form from my work and experimented with various techniques: watercolour, oil, acrylic, textiles, printmaking and I researched colour theories and colour in contemporary art. I picked up pastels and found that the pure pigment lent itself to the exploration of colour, which I was able to experiment with on a larger scale.
Through this development, along with others, I started to find out what interested me about making art and one of the responses that arose was simply: do it, make, be in the process.
I began deconstructing my process of mark making through the process itself, the more I created the more I learned about my practice and the importance of ‘process painting.’ There is some intangible element of creative unknowing that is compelling when embarking on an improvisational piece of art. I work predominantly with this improvisational methodology where the materials lead the way, and my work slowly transforms over time and as the materials change.
More recently in my practice, I have been rediscovering line. After having explored colour for some time I intuitively fell upon the importance of line and particularly the circular form. As I worked with this circular form for a while the line slowly changed, naturally breathing into space and off the page, then widening and straightening. It was as if after my break from art, I needed to first consider the foundations of colour, and then to investigate one of the fundamental forms of line: circles.
Recently I have started a watercolour series in order to digest current news articles, be it about migration, poverty, drugs, politics, racial crimes or child labour. A question arose for me while considering the function of line, can I transform this line into another form, can it depict something personal or incorporate something bigger? What if the beauty of colour and form were to transcribe something tragic, would it help a viewer re-consider that subject? Activism is to go against the societal grain and bring up critical questions. So this is my quiet protest, currently evolving in the studio.
The creative process is interwoven with the projects and interlaced with the substantiality of the artist. My artistic practice is still developing, moving onward towards new prospects. Structure holds it in place, with the exploration of new techniques and further development of known ones, but it is the freedom that holds my interest, the freedom to improvise and the investigation into the process of painting and creativity.
"If you are only moved by color relationships, you are missing the point. I am interested in expressing the big emotions - tragedy, ecstasy, doom."
I began by creating a picture today which is very Rothko - like. A field of green with a patch of purple at the bottom. I've been exploring colour for months now, on small squares of wood, on silk, with pastels and watercolour. I have not wanting to allow myself to make a picture like his, but today I allowed myself to make it with Rothko in mind, and to feel my way through the picture, because these shapes come out organically in considering fields of colour and juxtaposed colour. It was a beautiful experience of colour. Peaceful, harmonious, even if it was contrasting colours.
This evening I finally delved into Rothko's story and Colour Field Painting a bit more."Color Field Painting emerged out of the attempts of several artists in the late 1940s to devise a modern, mythic art. Seeking to connect with the primordial emotions locked in ancient myths, rather than the symbols themselves, they sought a new style that would do away with any suggestion of illustration." (the arts story)
Many aspects of this rang true for me, the fact, in the quote above, that colour can represent various emotions, and that these paintings come about in an individual process oriented manner, instead of a projected planned way. Rothko "ceased to be interested in representational likeness and became fascinated with the articulation of interior expression." (the arts story) It was interesting to see who influenced Rothko, philosophers such as Nietzsche and many artists and who he influenced. I had not come across Jules Olitski before and I was surprised how similar his work is to mine, or vice versa. I can see his influence from Goethe-an colour theory in his soft fields of changing colour. His painting is the one above, titled, "Instant Loveland," which I remember seeing at the Tate Modern.
I look forward to studying more about these artists, and more importantly to see how I can forge my way forward in my personal process of exploring colour.
"We are creating images whose reality is self-evident and which are devoid of the props and crutches that evoke associations with outmoded images, both sublime and beautiful...The image we produce is the self-evident one of revelation, real and concrete, that can be understood by anyone who will look at it without the nostalgic glasses of history." Barnett Newman
I have been aware of the work of Hilma af Klint in the last couple of years. A friend went to see her exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery, Painting the Unseen, and gave me a card. At first glance I wasn't too interested in the content, but looking closer and reading more about her process I found it fascinating. She was turn of the century, a contemporary to Kandinsky and Mondrian, looking at colour, size, and working in an intuitive way. She was influenced by Rudolph Steiner's esoteric ideas and many of her organic forms stem from these. She began painting the "invisible worlds hidden within nature, the spiritual realm and the occult."
"In 1896, Hilma af Klint and four other women formed the group “De Fem” [The Five]. They made contact with “high masters” from another dimension, and made meticulous notes on their séances. This led to a definite change in Hilma af Klint’s art. She began practising automatic writing, which involves writing without consciously guiding the movement of the pen on the paper. She developed a form of automatic drawing, predating the surrealists by decades. Gradually, she eschewed her naturalist imagery, in an effort to free herself from her academic training. She embarked on an inward journey, into a world that is hidden from most people." (Moderna Museet in Stockholm)
In my own work I have found that intuitive methods of creating are ideal. By creating and listening, or feeling your way through a painting, to what comes next you can then see where it will lead you. This I believe is intuitive expression, allowing yourself to create one colour at a time, by following your instinct. I haven't felt it for some time, but I remember when I was really in the creative flow times when I would step back from a piece I was working on and think, "Wow, did I make that?"
My current artistic practice consists of deconstructing botanical images. I am intrigued by the various shapes created in nature, in particular the peculiar and odd shapes that natural objects take on when seen up close. My paintings are an abstraction of botanical material, much more than a classic botanical illustration or still life. I look at nature because it has so many easily accessible objects, but it’s how I decide to interpret them that gives my work substance. I try to feel my way into a painting, looking at the composition, the contrasting surfaces. I find the scientific aspect of plant morphology and plant anatomy thought-provoking as an art form. It challenges the observer into trying to decipher the painting, giving them the experience of color and space and the tactile surface.
What constitutes art and craft. Is craft simply useful art? I have been working with craft for a while now, in one way or another, exploring various craft methods: weaving, spinning, felting, knitting, sewing, woodworking. Now coming back to painting I am contemplating new ways of creating large pieces. One of the things I found difficult about painting on a large scale was the transportation. It's wonderful, an amazing feeling to work on large canvases, but they're a pain to deal with after the fact and how useful are they really. So it makes me consider looking into more useful art, such as painting on fabric to create a large piece or to work with cloth in various ways. I was reading American Craft Council magazine and Marie Watt's work was inspiring, she makes large pieces using textiles. She speak about community, history and the political situations of today in a beautiful way. Her piece Witness (2015), exemplifies this.
So here I am, delving into art a bit more seriously again. After taking a 10 yr break to teach Waldorf Education and study Anthroposophy, which I thoroughly enjoyed and don't plan on completely giving up. In terms of my artistic background I graduated in art in 2000 from Bennington College in Vermont, then moved to Italy where I painted in oil, exhibiting my work locally and working as a children's book illustrator, having 13 children's books published. Now I find it's time to re-focus on my art and give it a jump start by starting the MA in Art & Design at Grey's School of Art in Aberdeen.