Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Failing To Impress

I was recently interviewed for a Feeney Fellowship, following a proposal I made in response to a call for applicants. The Fellowship awards two bursaries a year of up to £3000 to Birmingham based arts practitioners to, as outlined on their website, ‘broaden their expertise and develop their careers…the proposal should allow exposure to new, outside influences…rather than simply giving the applicant time to develop a new body of work’. 
  My proposal was centred on an interest I’ve had for some time in developing some sculptural ceramics based on my interest in the urban environment, and in particular based on the recent lorry and vehicle paintings. The idea of the trucks as ‘vessels’ or containers seemed to naturally lend itself to this idea and, for the proposal at least, seemed like a good opportunity to potentially extend my practise and skills. I know plenty of ceramicists whose work I admire, and have very much been a part in fostering my interest in this art form, who were happy to support me in my endeavours with their knowledge and expertise, and, most importantly, their kilns (!). 

Anyway, this is all a bit circumspect as, following my interview, I was unsuccessful in the end, and did not receive a bursary. For the interview I had to give a brief presentation in support of my proposal. I decided it would be a different approach to develop and present a sketchbook of possible design ideas, and so during the time I have been signed off work I spent a few days working on this. I made nearly eighty studies over thirty pages, which I enjoyed a great deal: making initial drawings from my son’s toy trucks and then developing ideas about different surface treatments using paint and collage. As I said, it’s all a bit circumspect now, but I thought it might be nice to share some of these in this post. 
Road Mending Machine Teapot!
My good friend, Marian, who acted as a referee, was very disappointed I was turned down and wondered if her reference had not been, in her words, ‘sophisticated enough’. I am certain that this would not have been the case, but rather more likely to be the lack of sophistication in my ideas that would have been the problem. I think also that it may be that it looked, and probably correctly, like I would be producing a whole new body of work, rather than extending my existing practise. I will never know….Still, despite this I do think some of the designs have potential to be carried further, and maybe, without the pressure the Fellowship would have undoubtedly brought, I could attempt something in clay yet in the New Year. 

Thursday, 12 November 2015


I love all the webs that we get much nearer to the house in the autumn as the spiders seek the warmth. I’m often walking face first into their dewy, glistening large tangles, strung from wall to fence, and occupied by some magnificent, and often very large, spiders as I make my way down the garden to the studio. 
  The studio itself is a real home for them, and big ones too, as they seek homes in the high roof and in the insulated walls. I’ve often been in there and heard a gentle thud as one large and hairy spider drops to the floor and scampers away (that may seem an exaggeration, but check out the one in the photo), or I catch sight of them slowly crawling across the walls from the corner of my eye. 
  The studio is also full of their dried out and desiccated corpses as they eventually die. I’m always finding their papery bodies in unusual places, like inside these old jars of sticky, dried out linseed oil. I suspect they have dropped dead from the ceiling into the jars, rather than making their way into my oil and dying a slow death. I hope so anyway. I’ve become really fond of them. They are the only company I have in the studio.  

I’ve felt a bit like those spiders trapped in the oily jar of late, as I have recently undergone surgery to have some pre cancerous skin cancer cells removed from my face. I’ve felt rather frozen and inert waiting for the days to pass to when I would hear the results of tests to discover whether they had taken root in other parts of my face, which would require more surgery. Thankfully, I’ve now heard they haven’t and I’ve been given the all clear. It’s been a scary, and sometimes traumatic, time. 
                                                       Vija Celmans, Untitled (Web 2) Mezzotint on Paper, 17 x 19cms
All this talk of spider webs can’t help bring to mind artist Vija Celmins eerie and beautiful drawings of spider webs. I really like these pieces and the evocative symbolism they conjure up, as do all her pieces, which include images of the sea and even constellations of stars. There is a strangeness to all her work which simultaneously draws you in but also keeps you at a distance, unable to mentally grasp onto things. These are feelings that seem to echo my own recent state of mind as I have spent time waiting and recovering.