It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …
This summer and autumn I’ve had work in a number of shows. Janine Hall, a member of HB Drawing, invited us to join an ‘open house’ exhibition she stages regularly with other artists at her Suffolk home. She was insistent that it should be new work – such a task master but I know she’s right. So I took the opportunity to show a new large drawing inspired by one of our As I Walked Out… trips, to Stanford-le-Hope in Essex. The drawing is so large – 350cm wide x 150cm high – that it is difficult to get good photographs. In fact, as it was installed by Janine and others, I had not actually been able to see it in one piece until I turned up to the show on August Bank Holiday weekend!
As you can see, the drawing at that stage was successful in parts but the junction between the ‘pylons and grasses’ section and the ‘posts and mud’ section didn’t work. I could have made it into a diptych but I wanted to try to make it work. An impromptu crit with colleagues suggested that the first thing to try would be strengthening the grasses section, which, through drawing/rubbing back/redrawing, had become perhaps a bit too emergent. My studio isn’t big enough for me to see or photograph the whole thing, so here’s a Photoshopped version with the new left hand section stitched to the rest, to show how it’s going. Better but perhaps not yet there.
The title, by the way, is from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: ‘What greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of an unknown earth!’ The narrator, Marlow, is speaking I believe of the Congo River, where the action takes place, but is telling his tale on a ship at anchor in the Thames, possibly in Essex. Conrad lived in Stanford when he wrote some of his novels and will have known this stretch of the Thames well. That phrase ‘of an unknown earth’ seemed to me just as apt to describe the muddy, grey/brown, indeterminate landscape of the creeks and marshes of Essex, where you never quite know what you will find.
The first-year Part Time students on the MA Drawing course at Wimbledon continued the mini-tradition of putting on a show alongside the final degree show and this year they invited alumni to submit work under the title Dissecting the Archive. I submitted Analysis of Motion 1 which I had made for a Muybridge show in the spring but which fitted the brief very well. The curation team have set up a website as an archive of all the work shown which is well worth a look if you didn’t get along to the show itself in September.
I was lucky enough to be shortlisted for the Derwent Art Prize 2018 and a piece I completed while at Wimbledon, Tanhurst House/Piazza Epiro, was on show in September in the Mall Galleries, London. I wasn’t sure about submitting a piece which now seems quite old (!) but in fact it had never been shown in public before, not even in one of the short-lived interim exhibitions we put on a few times during the MA course. It’s good to keep making new work, but equally it’s good to give work more than one outing. The piece is about the distance – in time, space, meaning, style … – between the block of flats which was our childhood home, in Lambeth, and the apartment my sister lived in when she worked in Rome in the late 1970s. I used a photograph of the two of us standing in front of her wardrobe, indulging in a favourite sisterly activity of checking out the clothes she had bought lately.
Most recently, HB Drawing had its first group show in the Kaleidoscope Gallery in Sevenoaks, Seven Artists in Sevenoaks. More new work, this time inspired by our visits to the British Museum Prints and Drawings Department every month. More new work! I’m trying out new layering techniques using acrylic medium between layers of photo-transfers and drawing. The resulting pieces have weight and dimension and the layers seem to float behind/in front of each other as you can see in the detail photos below. Images of the complete works are on the Portfolio page.
And last week I heard that I had been shortlisted in the Drawing and Printmaking category of the Signature Art Prize 2018, alongside fellow alumna and HB Drawing member, Ruth Richmond, and 8 other recent graduates. As the title suggests the Prize is about identifying and helping emerging artists promote their signature style. My entry was the large drawing from my final degree show, A True Story. When I made the submission, I wasn’t entirely sure that that was my signature style any more, but I’m more confident now that I’m developing the approach in new directions, but it’s still recognisably mine. There is due to be an exhibition at Somerset House this month – details to be confirmed.
So you can see why it has been ‘the best of times’: I’ve exhibited more than I would have expected this time last year, and I’ve made more and more varied new work than I expected. So why ‘the worst of times’?
Well, since autumn last year my mother had grown increasingly frail and after major surgery – essential but nonetheless risky – died in the summer. As those going through similar situations caring for sick, elderly or frail relatives will know, it’s the uncertainty that is so emotionally draining. There are so many decisions to make and yet you learn that most situations are much less clear-cut than they are in films or TV. You just keep going, one step at at time. Until one day, you don’t need to any more. Here’s one of my favourite pictures of my Mum, as a 14 year-old. Her memory was pretty bad towards the end, but she remembered that the pinafore dress was a brown and cream houndstooth check and the blouse was pale pink with small brown spots.