A Serious Attack of Brain Weasles

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When did I get so smug?

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I know all their little foibles.

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?

707665[1]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!

More on the Summer of Love

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Barbara Hepworth, Two forms. 1937

Three Forms 1935 Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975 Presented by Mr and Mrs J.R. Marcus Brumwell 1964 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00696

Three Forms 1935 Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975 Presented by Mr and Mrs J.R. Marcus Brumwell 1964 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00696, aching to be gently stroked!

I have wanted to renew my acquaintance with Barbara Hepworth for some time and what better opportunity than the exhibition Sculpture for a Modern World in London this summer.

Hepworth always used to make it into my list of strong influences but over the past two years, during the diploma she has been superseded by a number of ceramic artists and it is not done to list too many influences on ones profile etc and so poor old Barbara became relegated to the back pages for a bit.  However, having been to the Tate Britain the other day and met a number of old friends and a few new and fabulous pieces, she is going back where she belongs, along side Richard Long and Adam Buick.  The exhibition follows Barbara Hepworth’s rise to fame and included a number of pieces by other artists who were an influence on her work, including sculptures by Gill and paintings by Ben Nicholson.  So maybe, if I make a clear note here that she is one of my major influences, then when Tate Britain does a retrospective on the Life and Works of Bridget Macklin they will remember to include a couple of her pieces alongside mine!

So why do I love her work so much?  Because she was right – about so much, but importantly about relationships between making and the ideas.  Actually, I think I should let her speak for herself on this because she put it so much better than I can.

‘There must be a perfect unity between the idea, the substance and the dimension: this unity gives scale.  The idea – the imaginative concept – actually is the giving of life and vitality to material; but when we come to define these qualities we find that they have very little to do with the physical aspect of the sculpture.  When we say that a great sculpture has vision, power, vitality, scale, poise, form or beauty, we are not speaking of physical attributes.  Vitality is not a physical, organic attribute of sculpture – it is a spiritual inner life.  Power is not man power or physical capacity – it is an inner force and energy.  Form realisation is not just any three-dimensional mass – it is the chosen, perfect form, of perfect size and shape, for the sculptural embodiment of the idea.  Vision is not sight – it is the perception of the mind.  It is the discernment of the reality of life, a piecing of the superficial surfaces of material existence, that gives a work of art its own life and purpose and significant power.’  (Barbara Hepworth in Sculpture, Circle: International Survey of Constructive Art 1937.  Taken from the Tate Britain hand out for the exhibition Sculpture of a Modern World).

I believe that, as makers, we would all do well to have these words tattooed on our arms so that as we are working we can refer to them constantly and never lose sight of what we are doing.  As I explored the exhibition I experienced a wonderful inner tranquillity which stemmed from being in the presence of so many beautiful and balanced forms.  Just one little thing though, these sculptures ache to be felt.  When you visit the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Garden in St Ives, Cornwall, you can walk amongst the sculptures and get up close and personal.  Here, in the rarefied atmosphere of London it would give the curators an apoplectic fit if you went within a mile of the pieces.  I would like the Tate to take note that, when the time comes for my retrospective, there are to be no glass cases and the pieces are to be available for all the senses, touch included.

Get Outside and Get Looking!

ab2ed00f563201a378a3056b5b55cc61[1]This week I decided that it was high time I got outside and had a look to see what is going on.  It seems ages since I took in any exhibitions and I have been so shut up in my own little world that it was about time to open my eyes!

I went to see the exhibition of Gordon Baldwin’s work at Eskine Hall and Co just off Piccadilly, London.  This is a lovely, light gallery which specialises in contemporary and 20th century ceramics to which I have enjoyed a number of visits over the last few years.

I didn’t realise, until after I got home and looked Gordon Baldwin up in David Whiting’s book on Modern British Potters, that Baldwin has an interest in the coast and the sea.  His work reflects his exploration of space and the elements.  Maybe that is why it appealed so strongly to me.  The exhibition contains some fabulous, sculptural pieces.

Today's pebble is brought to you via my pocket from Towan Beach, St Antony in Roseland, Cornwall.

Today’s pebble is brought to you via my pocket from Towan Beach, St Antony in Roseland, Cornwall.

I think my absolute favourites have to be Baldwin’s Paintings in the Form of Bowls.  I love the rounded shapes and the idea of a three dimensional canvas on which his mark making is understated and minimalist with a limited pallet on a dry, white background.   Whiting describes his work: ‘at their quietest and most concentrated these objects are often most akin to the shapes and textures of stones, washed and worn by the sea’.  It certainly resonated strongly with someone who always has a pebble from the beach in my pocket, for no other reason than to be able to feel and touch the coast at all times where ever I happen to be land locked.

I know now that Baldwin is renowned for not becoming embroiled in ceramic debate but, whilst I was in the gallery looking at his work I could not help feeling that my experience might have been enhanced by knowing more about the man and his work.  I was certainly not going to gain any deeper understanding from the exhibition catalogue which is extremely economical on word count!  I suppose the counter to this would be that it serves me right for not looking him up before I went.  But I am not in the habit of looking the artist up before I go.  I never have been.  On the one hand this could be put down to idleness however, the question which I am constantly up against is this; would knowing more have enhanced my experience or was it better to go and view the work with little knowledge of the man or his work and then to investigate him more deeply afterwards?  Now that I have a mildly better understanding I suspect that this was the right order to do things in, this time at least.  It made me look more carefully than I might have done if I had already discovered that Whiting considers Baldwin’s pieces ‘difficult to know’.  That might have scared me away!