I have an interview tomorrow afternoon at Goldsmiths for an MA in Art Psychotherapy. I have 10 minutes to present myself as a practicing artist with a portfolio of artwork as part of a group interview! My wonderful friend Jo spent Friday evening with me. We drank sparkling wine (my first drop of alcohol in 40 days – well almost) and we went through all my art work and together we worked out something about the journey that I have been on over the last few years – and here it is…
I did an O and A level in art. I think I got an A for the former and a B for the latter. I didn’t go to art school at 19 although I might have done but instead I headed for Sussex to do Social Anthropology which not only sounded fantastic (I had never heard of it as a subject before then) but meant that I wouldn’t be following in my mum or dad’s footsteps. They would know nothing (for once) about what I was learning. Some years later after doing many many averagely interesting evening classes I decided to go for an Art Foundation. Two years part time and just down the road at City College. I wanted the opportunity to apply myself and make a commitment to my art.
I spent two years taking my art and myself seriously (!) and decided to make it all about developing and honing my drawing and painting skills. Using pencil, charcoal, paint and ink I explored form and the line using my body as my subject. Only because it was there and I could access it easily. I was not at this point thinking in terms of my drawing having any actual relationship to me as the subject. I was looking at artists like Lucian Freud, Stanley Spencer, Euan Uglow and marvelling at their skill.
Then I discovered Jenny Saville and was totally blown away. Her work made me really want to paint and think about form. She works a lot from photos. Learning this, I took permission from her, which I now realise I had been doing all along without being aware of it. I started working from photos taken of different parts of my body, then drawing from them. My exploration of self in sketchbooks began with lots of looking and working stuff out.
Around this time I found out I was pregnant. I decided to continue with the course without really knowing how it would work out and started a fantastic sculpture class in the hope of taking my figurative work further. Every week I drove across country for 40 minutes to get to Partridge Green and work in a drafty studio with a small group at the sussex sculpture studios. Working from the figure in clay was really powerful. But almost more exciting was drawing from the contorted body (what was left of my beautiful sculpture) that I pulled from the mould. It was more interesting somehow than my sculpture – mirroring perhaps how I was feeling about my changing pregnant body.
About the same time I went to see Louise Bourgeois at the Tate. I marvelled at her fantastic little figures made from fabric found about her own home. Mother and child images – disturbing and beautiful. I decided that I too could use my life and pregnancy as the subject of my own art. It was time to confront my self censorship so I started looking at images of mother and child and motherhood in art; Henry Moore, Mary Kelly, Frida Khalo. Having found Tracey Emin’s work annoyingly self referential and self absorbed – I realised that actually I was doing the same without really owning it.
At the same time as my body was changing we started to prepare our flat by ripping out the kitchen to make a space for a baby room. This meant unexpectedly that I got to have a little studio – the domestic space started to become really important. I could have several pieces of work on the go at the same time. Using paint I started looking at space, lines and the structure of the kitchen which was being built. I was dwelling on the external (home) and internal (pregnancy) space.
Once the baby arrived I went home to my mums in Suffolk where I grew up. I needed some familiar space and to get away from the chaos at home. I took lots of photos around the garden of the barn which I started working from in paint and charcoal. Finding the line and drawing back into the image. I really enjoyed working from these images that mean so much to me. I started to have ‘feelings’ while I was painting. This hadn’t happened before – not quite like that!
Trying to find a focus for my final major project, in my ‘studio space’ I was exploring figures and self portraits again. This time it was an inter-generational theme – my mum and the baby, my dad and the baby – me. Even tho they won’t meet, I was thinking – my mum and dad could be linked perhaps, through my paintings and through my baby. It’s a bit nostalgic, but I was using my skills and trying to bring all of what I had learnt together.
An abstract figurative painting and an explosion of expression. I finally realised that my work had to be about what I am going through – a major life experience – why avoid it when it’s such a huge life changing event. Embrace it I think. Also, as much as I enjoyed making the self portraits they just weren’t very dynamic.
Making a large scale painting about the death of me and the beginning of motherhood based on photos Mike took in the Pompidiou – I look at line, colour, tone, space, figure, identity – everything goes in! The baby in the painting staring out beneath a very vivid and colourful blanket is the same baby that watches me from her pram as I paint. The whole process enables me to manage my transition into motherhood – I have more than one major project to work on and that suits me very well.
I have spent a few months looking at art and thinking. Anish Kapoor over the summer in Brighton, Pop Life at the Tate; Emin and Lucas in particular, Turner, Turner Prize, Saatchi Gallery and the Abstract America exhibition. Looking at other people’s art gives me inspiration and motivation. I notice what I do and don’t like. In the Saatchi gallery – one room literally drains the energy right out of me. I don’t like the work in the room and it’s exhausting just sharing space with it. I look more and read more about Tracey Emin and start to really admire her bravery. I am thinking about hidden realities and truths, the mundanity, the every day and about domesticity.
I have started an experimental drawing phase. I am drawing figures fast and furiously and it’s not about skill now but about movement and expression about space behind and about the line. It’s free – it’s more abstract. Drawing in charcoal from moving images projected on the wall is so difficult and so incredibly great.
I am ready to begin and take confidence. To be emotive. I have worked out some very important stuff preparing for the interview. I have been on a major journey and I am in it for the long hall. All my thinking and feeling has to go into my work. I am ready to bring the thoughts and visuals to together – the body and the mind – and see what happens??
The body and mind hold the emotion – the unseen – hidden truths – the tension between containment and overflow, hiding and holding it all together. I see a body bursting at the seams – with ideas and excitement, tied up with brown string – and that’s how I feel right now.
I will hear back from Goldsmiths about the interview in a few weeks time. I think it went quite well.