Oh no! Just when I thought that I knew where I was going, along comes a true fan and expresses a considerable desire for work which I no longer make and thought I was finished with!
Here we go again!
I spent last Saturday at Klay London working a stint in the gallery with my friend and fellow artist Ranti. I love her exciting colourful work and I respect her opinions hugely. The gallery was quiet – everyone must have been south of the river at Wimbledon – so we got to talking about the direction in which our work is going. She was firm with me – go in the direction that you have set yourself. It works, it is what you want to do. I nodded sagely. She is so right and anyway, I have written reams about which direction to head. I have, as my devoted readers will know, made up my mind.
Sunday came and I was back at the Open Studios in Wimbledon. One of the early visitors to my studio was Dave. He is a bit of a fan of mine, although he loves my rebellious side and insists on continuing to call me Frankie long after I acknowledged that I needed to conform a little bit and call myself by my given name. He has a couple of my pieces already and had made a return visit for more. But what to choose? To my surprise he took relatively scant notice of my new work and headed for the older pieces, the bits that I am no longer interested in.
He also expressed a wish to see the final pieces that I made for my diploma – which I had not even bothered to bring in from the car!
I am left wondering whether this level of self doubt is ever going to leave me or whether, as an artist, it is my lot never to be absolutely sure ever again. Perhaps I just need to accept it and remember the words of architect Frank Gehry to get with my intuition.
Emotional leakage: That is why I am an artist I suppose. It allows me to grasp all the powerful emotions, which would otherwise leave me exhausted and wrung out, and turn them into something which carries different messages to different people but for me is somehow exciting and reinvigorating, sometimes at the most unlikely of times.
Fred Gatley from the exhibition Artists in Search of a Landscape at the APT Gallery in Deptford in 2014
I love studying at City Lit. So much so that if anything goes wrong with it I feel doubly betrayed. Once because it hasn’t lived up to my expectations and once because I feel personally bereft. This week there was a minor glitch in the proceedings and, coupled with a whole raft of other stuff which was going on, I hit the buffers! In actual fact it was a wonderful week. A tiny comment from one of my tutors sparked an exciting trail of thought which, along with everything else that happened, had sown the seed for some exciting developments in my work, although it was much later that night when I realised it. I met the amazing Fred Gatley who generously gave me a couple of hours sitting on the floor of his office, looking at his work, discussing his ceramic journey, comparing notes and making me feel like an equal – Oh I wish! He didn’t see me leave, which is just as well because people in their fifties should not be observed skipping along the street!
The day then got progressively worse! One thing after another tipped me further and further towards the downward surge. There is only so much of a roller coaster that my mind can accommodate and so, eventually, when my phone rang to inform me of the next crisis, I began to leak: Quietly, inexplicably, all over the show! And so it was, that at 2:00 the following morning all these things came together and I discovered a little idea growing unstoppably inside me. In fact it was a passing comment from Fred which nudged the seed Robert Cooper had sown earlier into germination. Later that morning I scuttled to the studio and started making tears – they have a way to go but these are intended to be treasured things of true beauty – watch this space: – – – -So this blog in is honour of all the ups and downs we endure and in praise of tears.
Tears: some take a while to come but all should be treasured.
Weeks and weeks of apparent brain ache are about to be over. I have the distinct feeling that part of my problem since the beginning of this final semester has been my attitude to my tutors. I had practically made up my mind – and so, I think had they – that the road to the decision on what to make for the final work was likely to be fairly tortuous and so, as is the nature of a self fulfilling prophesy, it has proved to be just that! All the time, the answer has actually been staring me in the face. I have been gaily making and making but I have made the fundamental error of telling my tutors that I didn’t know what I was doing. I really should know better! I know perfectly well from being on the “other side of the desk”, as a teacher for many years, that if a child says they don’t get it or cant do it, they don’t! They cant! And the teacher believes them! But if you say to a child ‘yes, you can, I know you can’, they find that it is suddenly so much easier than they thought. Its all about attitude. Because my tutors have been asking me things such as ‘So are we going to have the same tortuous route as usual?’ that is precisely what I have been presenting them with. Timely reminder to self – never, ever, for any reason, be negative with a child who is vulnerable – it will end in tears!
So, just in case anyone is the least bit interested in the aching of my potty mind, I am creating an eclectic range of work for the final show. It is based loosely on my love of Cornwall and my fascination with relationships within and between objects and people. I have not decided yet how it will be exhibited, that will depend on how it speaks to me as the body of work develops. I shall use local materials, mud larking finds and natural glaze materials. I shall make and then abuse moulds and my work will reflect my thoughts. The way it develops will depend on how I am feeling and the ideas that strike me and, no, I am not the least bit concerned that nothing is finished yet – the best is clearly yet to come.
My instant response to the above question is yes, of course it does! But hang on a second, if that is the case how do we explain the success of Du Champ’s Read Mades, or Andy Warhol’s Brillo Boxes. Surely there is not a lot of skill there – anyone can plonk a box of cleaning materials on a plinth or screw a urinal to the wall. And yet these pieces are universally recognised as great, much talked about and very well known pieces of art. So maybe skill does not matter at all. If that is the case then, why does going to art college seem so important? Why am I spending every free moment working on technique and glaze chemistry?
Marcel Duchamp, Fountain.
Andy Warhol, Brillo Soap Pads
Anish Kapoor, Marsyas. 2002
Artists like Damien Hurst and Anish Kapoor employ a workshop full of artists to make for them. I remember having a fierce argument with a fellow student when studying at Bath Spa where I maintained that it was cheating if, as an artist, you did not actually make the work. Several years on I have changed my point of view. I find myself appreciating that there is skill in the idea and that it might be better if someone with more technical acumen actually executed that idea according to your instructions. If, as an artist, your piece requires a considerable degree of careful mould making or engineering then perhaps there is justification in getting a skilled technician to follow your design brief. Does this mean that the work is yours or theirs? If the work of art is about the idea and the semiotics within that idea are yours, then isn’t that a high level artistic skill?
Damien Hurst, For The Love of God
I suppose that as a ceramic artist, much of the “art” is in the tactile nature of the material and in the making. In which case, surely ceramics requires the artist to be the maker. yet, on reflection, maybe that also rather depends. An artist who relies on their skill on the wheel to throw vessels must surely get their hands dirty and ‘feel the clay’. But even here, they might only be the ideas person who, having given shape to the idea , would chose to pass it on to others to follow instructions. Who, then, is the artist?
As I get drawn further into my course I become more and more aware of what I can’t do! What of the skills which I lack – do they matter? Or am I going to reach a point when I decide that I know what I want but it would be best; more successful; less wasteful of time and resources if my staff made the work for me?
My gut feeling is that I will never tire of getting my arms sunk to the elbows in buckets of mud, nor of exploring its behaviour for myself and that, for me, the ideas belong to the artist but, in my case at least, so does the clay!