The pleasure and anxiety of working to comission!

This week I have been enjoying catching up on a number of commissions.  Some have been in the pipeline for a while, others are the result of discussions held with visitors to the Wimbledon Open Studios last month.

It is a wonderful experience to be creating a special piece for somebody and yet, at the same time, it is slightly daunting.  For much of my work to date, the only person that I have had to please has been myself.  I have been completely free to make decisions about how tall, how wide, how much to scrape back and so on.  I have not really had to think too much about whether one particular person will like it, as long as somebody does, that’s ok.  Theoretically the same goes when you are working to someone else’s contract.  You are the artist.  They are paying you to do what you do.  Yet there is a huge responsibility to get it just right for them and this does add to the pressure.

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There is a huge responsibility to get it just right

This week, one of the pieces I have been focussing on is a wedding present.  I cannot say much about it, just in case it blows the element of surprise.  What I can say is that there is something delightful about making a piece which will be a permanent reminder of a very special event.  All the time that I have been with it I have been conscious of an awareness of the people for whom I am making it; those who have commissioned it and also those who will be the recipients.  This has guided every movement.  Will they like the way the line flows there?  Will that edge excite them when they realise what they can see beyond it?  If I remove this line and smooth that down a bit, will it be more evocative of the place, the time, the memory which was imagined in the initial concept?

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Will that edge excite them?

Now that these pieces are in the kiln I find that I am more excited than ever to get back and see how they have come out.  I am longing to give them to the people who asked for them and to watch their expressions.  They think they know what they are getting but they have had to trust me with their memories, their emotions, their special places and that has made me feel extremely privileged.  I just hope that I can prove myself worthy of that trust.

An unexpected Pleasure!

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Serpentine Rock from the Lizard peninsula
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This rock goes by the wonderful name of Polyphant!

So the summer of love has turned into the summer of rain, too much wind or not enough wind and very poor visibility.  All this means that a coffee (and one of their waste-line wrecking cakes) at the Arts Café, Truro, seemed a much better bet than going sailing!  Given that I am a card carrying member of the Royal Cornwall Museum next door it seemed a good idea to go and explore the displays and stay out of the rain.  I love the geology section of this museum.  I have spent many a happy winter hour gazing at remarkable rocks from around the county.  I really enjoy the way that you can open most of the drawers to discover hidden secrets about rocks, the earth and all things rocky.

Having spent a while reacquainting myself with the beautifully marked samples of Serpentine and Polyphant  I wandered upstairs past Poldark’s Cornwall to an exhibition in the temporary galleries by an artist who I try never to miss – Kurt Jackson.

I first came across Jackson at Lemon Street Gallery, Truro.  I was drawn to his work because of its expressive quality.  I love the exciting, liberating loose marks with which he gives a fabulous sense of freedom and I find his colour palette really draws me in.  Much of his work is about Cornwall and Devon, my favourite counties on the planet.  I share his love of the wild places; his paintings, which are often done en plein air, represent the moors, rivers and coastline which I adore and have within them a real sense of passion.  So I was a little surprised by this newest exhibition.  It is called Place and in it Jackson has worked with a number of writers from different parts of Britain and from different backgrounds.  The outcome is a diverse range of paintings and sculptures which hint at the diversity of our landscape but also have a sense of nostalgia about them.  The paintings are exciting and have a real sense of feeling and yet there was something missing.  I found myself looking in a rather more detached way than I am used to with Jackson’s work.   By working in areas which meant a lot to other people but little to him he has moved away from the personal and I think the work reflects this.  Somehow I encountered an air of detachment which I have never experienced when I have gazed at his work in the past.   Place[1]

Bridget Macklin Wyck Vessel.
What is it that is making me so excited about this new work?

I am left puzzling about this – is it that I have no attachment to these places or is it because he has none?  Do we, as landscape artists of any genre, need to be personally involved  in order to imbue our work with that deeper sense of meaning which is so intangible and yet clearly speaks to us?  If so, this makes it really difficult to branch out and explore unfamiliar territory.  Is there not a risk that any such adventure will be thwarted by unfamiliarity and subsequent loss of deep involvement?

I don’t think that this can be the case.  I have recently been experimenting with including local finds and information about a place in my work and have been completely engrossed in the process.  I am really excited by the results which definitely have a great sense of meaning to me.  So far this work has been exploratory.  The first pieces were in response to some clay which I was given from the foundations of my sister’s house extension.  This is a place that I know well and yet it holds no particular draw for me.  I suppose time and more work will tell whether the sense of passion which has grown in me for this new line of work is because of my feelings for my sister and her home or down to my excitement at the unpredictability of adding strange, untested clay to my work and just letting things happen.