I spent Tuesday evening with a fabulous group of people at the Royal Opera Arcade Gallery in Pall Mall. It was the private view of a sculpture and ceramics exhibition in which I had been invited to have seven pieces. The gallery was full – of wonderful art and super people. I arrived thinking that this was it – I had arrived! In actual fact there is something horribly daunting about putting one’s work into a gallery such as this. I suppose part of the problem is that while making a piece you get to know it intimately. I spend hours and hours on each of my pieces and when they are finished I know they are not perfect. I am fully aware of each of their little foibles. I can convince myself, in the privacy of my own studio, that they will do but then I have the stupid idea that it would be good to send them off to a public space and expect everyone to think they are amazing. When did I get so smug?
The thing is, as soon as I walked into the gallery, the feeling of smugness evaporated faster than frost on a warm winter morning. There they were, crouching among some truly fantastic works. Was anyone even looking at mine? Did anyone think they were any good? Was anyone actually thinking about them at all!
As the evening wore on, my nerves settled down a bit and I could see that people were taking notice of my work and that some did appear to be appreciative rather than just curious. Later my darling daughter tried out her amateur psychology on me. Do I trust her? Yes. Does she like my work? She says so! Therefore if I have no confidence in my work I am questioning her judgement. Well . . . . . . . . I know she loves me and wants me to be happy so she is hardly likely to tell me there and then in the middle of a private view that my work is by no means the best there, is she?
The fact of the matter is that I think anyone who runs the risk of exposing themselves by putting work into the public arena is going to worry about it. These are my babies; nurtured and brought to life by me. I desperately need them to be admired and yet, until the reach the plinth I have only my judgement to go on and of course I am biased. I am told these fears are called brain weasels. Yesterday, they were eating me from the inside out!
I thought that I would follow on from my theme of last week in which I described one of Annie Turner’s matra to the ceramic diploma students at city lit. I popped in to college yesterday to borrow some shelves and some plinths for the upcoming Great Northern Contemorary Crafts Fair which I have been invited to take part in as an emerging artist and as a direct result of exhibiting with City Lit at New Designers this summer.
There they were, the new cohort. Looking a bit anxious and having a group session showing their summer projects to the rest of the students with Annie. Oh I remember that day! Have I done enough? Have I done the right kind of things? Is my work good enough for me to be here?
But here I am two years on and one look at Annie gently coaxing the students out of their ceramic shells is enough to remind me of Annie’s instruction. All week I have been ‘putting it on and scraping it back’!
What this means in practice is that you can add a lot of decoration or thickness to a piece but that the magic comes when you start taking it back off again so that you are left with just a trace. This image shows what I mean quite well. At the start the vessel looks dreadful – smudged colours and no definition. But as you begin to scrape away the outer layers line and flow appears. You can control it to some extent but the real trick seems to be to know how far back to go. It can feel a bit like sharpening a huge beam of wood and ending up with a small pencil but if you get it right it is really satisfying.
It seems to me that I am suddenly discovering a way of working which I really enjoy and which other people seem to appreciate as well. I now have 4 exhibitions in the next five weeks, a private commission and, of course, the next open studios. All of them are based on work which involves a lot of scraping. In fact it seems to me that there are times when most of a vessel ends up on the floor. But if what people want is the bare bones, scraped thin – well that’s fine by me because the process is so satisfying!