Author Archives: antalbot

Is selling ‘selling-out’

Art versus craft versus product……Where are the lines? Are they (or can they) all be the same? What matters for what market?

In the turmolic washing machine that is now life at Canny Maker HQ this is the current question of the moment. I am standing still but beginning to look forward and wonder which way to turn next. This summer will mark 4 years since I left my office job to look towards a new pasture. The various life changing events in between have somewhat delayed arriving at the new pasture I had in mind, but we must still move on and persevere, There is now no way back. But what next? After finishing my MA I was set on working in the art world, making works which reflected an inner poetic expression, seeking to offer a personal experience shared with the external onlooker. I moved away from the making of map string, a natural shift but one originating in a creeping feeling of something being too contrived. The poetry of my work I shifted back to the writing and calligraphy – its natural home – and one where there are still so many worlds left unexplored.

But again, a pause.

As time passes, idealism fades into reality, and the reality of life with a family is one where the family must come first. Ideals are all very well when all I’m wasting is my own time. So I am back asking myself what I want to do – do I want to go back push my art, making work for exhibitions (of which I have not been in any) or do I want to make work which can actually sell. For money.

Someone once told me that they would be really sad if I ended up “just selling stuff on Etsy”. Lately I have been wondering why? Is there something so wrong with making handmade products and selling them online? Is it some elitist thing which means I need to only be making and selling in Liberty, not in some other small scale way? This is the question isn’t it – why do so many people see selling work as selling out. I could be just as much a designer maker as being an artist. Or both, at the same time. Its all just a matter of labelling isn’t it?

 

 

Artist’s Profile: Michael Brennand-Wood (v2)

I first wrote a profile of textile artist Michael Brennand-Wood (MBW) back in Jan 2015. His was among the first profiles I wrote when starting my MA – and as I review past things now, I find I am still fascinated by his work. Time to investigate a little deeper!

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MBW’s practice is a synthesis of historical and contemporary sources, both contextually and for his technique. He persistently works within what he describes as “contested areas of textile practice: embroidery, pattern, lace and recently floral imagery.” 

Whilst respecting the history of textiles, he has built on old techniques and has tried to find new ways of thinking about them – skills such as weaving, knitting, lace-making and embroidery. He sought to move away from the decorative aspect of stitching, for example, to allow it to become more expressive. He also explored its sculptural potential as a mark made in relief on a flat plane. It is this exploration of the relationship between the two-dimensional and three-dimensional surface which piques my interest the most. MBW described his exploration of three-dimensional line, structure and pattern as:

Exploring the illusionary space between two and three dimensions, these works are colourful, dramatic, rhythmic and holographic in feel with intense detail that merges at a distance into strongly optical configurations – From MBW Website

Rather than creating an illusion of space with design or image, Michael adopts a Modernist approach of drawing attention to the physical characteristics of the thread, particularly its texture and tactile qualities. This leads to the following key characteristics of his practice:

  • Structure: the underlying geometry is responsible for giving MBW’s works a good structural foundation. The surface may often appear free, expressionistic and even chaotic, but close examination will always reveal a unifying grid beneath the layers.
  • Touch: MBW has stated that it is through touch, scent and sound – not just vision – that meaning is conveyed. The memory of feeling, smelling and even hearing the rustle or movement of certain materials interests the artist along with the resonance of textiles associated with specific events in life or history
  • Materials: work incorporates diverse materials as paint, sand, wire, net, aluminium, wood, resins, ceramics, and he uses the techniques and processes associated with other disciplines such as sculpture, embroidery, weaving and carpentry.
  • Meaning: each observer responds differently to the textiles, objects, colours and forms according to their own associations, but sometimes MBW guides his audience with signifiers, such as text, images or the inclusion of loaded objects and materials.

 

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BABEL | Machine embroidery, wire, text, glass tile, resin, ceramic

LACE THE FINAL FRONTIER (2012) | Metal discs, acrylic paint

So what now?

Well, I remember some advice I saw for Foundation students once showing how to work with a reference artist’s processes and/or materials and use them as a platform for exploring further. This seems like a good place to start. I like the repetition of similar but non-identical forms; I like the grid structure which sits as a strong underlying foundation; I like the freedom of materials (a refreshing change from 100% maps only!)

A good opportunity to be inventive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picking up the pieces

Someone sent us a card once which said “When life throws you lemons, make lemonade”. Sometimes though it is hard to see the way out when you are weighted down with so many metaphorical lemons. So you carry on doing what you do, running from the past, doing anything not to look forward and managing to completely miss “now” from any part of your life. It has been like that for a long time at CannyMaker HQ: I realised it is now 8 months since I last posted anything on this blog, and 16 months since leaving Camberwell. Time flies when you have your head in the sand.

Over the last few months, I’ve been doing some mindfulness training, and slowly trying to sort things out. I’m not sure what I’m doing or where I am going – both in life and work. In life I’ve at last been slowly making my metaphorical lemonade, and it is time to do the same in work. Perhaps the uncertainty will bring back the creative freedom which was lost in the post-MA haze of trying to make a career of it. Mum often says to me, “don’t try, just do” (I think that might have been from Yoda), but it is true that we are often guilty of trying too hard and not just getting on with things.

I thought I would start again, looking back through all of the ideas pushed aside during my MA. There was some really good stuff in there which was left half-explored and it’s time to blow the dust off. My starting point is the pure pleasure of a brand new sketchbook, and the topic I had originally in my first week at Camberwell – that of liminality and the liminal space. Now with my new practice-based research skills, I might have better luck at detangling the topic which I found just too big at the time. I dug through some of my old ‘inspirations’ notes and found this quote from Do Ho Suh; it suits both the topic and the life lesson rather nicely.

“I see life as a passageway, with no fixed beginning or destination. We tend to focus on the destination all the time and forget about the in-between spaces.” – Do Ho Suh

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Artist’s profile: Elisabeth Couloigner

Boredom inspires all sorts of creativity, and so it was that I came across this French artist while idly browsing pinterest boards. I saw a number of images which were heavy in calligraphic forms and gestural lines, so looked into her a little more. She describes her practice as an exploration of the material and composition of the space offered by the medium – as an emotional and suggestive language.

“Above all, and always, there is the look at the world around, the precise listening to perceptions that question physical reality and sensuous reality. Playing with ladders, identifying analogies, making matches. 

Observe the outside world, and learn about its inner world. Confront the two in the formal game of composition. Coexist. Separate and bind, establish passages, breaches, ascensional movements, lines of communication, areas of interaction. Gather reassemble fragments and unify them into a harmonious whole. Use imbalances to create new balances. Transpose, extract, sublimate. Then, give a concrete existence to perceptions, transpose them. Shaping optical relief, giving sensoriality to matter.”

Many of her works are pure explorations of composition through material textures, line and colours. These are a selection of pages from ongoing work in sketchbooks, “I’m Searching”.

As well as the rich painted backgrounds, she also has a few more open, more heavily calligraphic works, which I very much liked, and reminded me a little of mine…

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Weaving with ink

I’ve been continue to work on my calligraphic drawings, building on the ideas around expression through handwriting and gesture that I was exploring last year. I am enjoying working with a range of different inks and papers, looking for what combinations give the quality of line I want. I started with some busy sketchbook work which combined my different key elements – the calligraphic gesture, fluid movements, strong lines and layering – with different types of asemic writing and background colour.

The first sketches had some very interesting textures but were a little busy and overloaded in places. I worked with different types of cartridge paper and watercolour paper and although the watercolour paper gave a nicer colour range (left below), the rough texture of the paper detracts from the precision lines I was aiming for.

I took the key textures I liked and started to pair down and tighten up the drawing, focussing on getting a stronger expression of movement but keeping just a small colour palette for each one.

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I have been continuing to explore this series of gestures over the last week, with different open-ness or opacity to the drawings. I like the vibrancy and the movement which they capture, and this series doesn’t need the specific visible ‘writing’ of my earlier sketches – it is all about the gestures. I have also found both new brands of paper and ink which are giving very pleasing results – working towards a finished series of pieces which I can look to get properly mounted.

So far, this is my favourite finished piece:

 

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Artist’s profile: Yukimi Annand

I’ve been looking back at some of the calligraphers who inspire me to see what I can learn from their ways of working and use of materials. The first one who came to the top was Yukimi Annand. She works on a mixture of traditional calligraphy, textural art and books; her works are often clearly based on the shapes of the Roman hand and various mark making and textures from the natural world. Her current work is starting to look at eastern calligraphic techniques and abstract expressionism. I like best the pieces which have a stillness to them, yet still capture the vibrancy of her expressions. As I am still so focused on asemic writing, I’m not that bothered by the ones which you can read…

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I really like her book works, which combine a series of drawings into a beautifully bound narrative. This is definitely something I would like to work towards creating with some resolved work and/or a series of experiments.

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Yukimi also runs workshops regularly, sadly only in the US (as far as I can see, no visits to London). This extract came from a blog on one of her classes on exercises for the students. A great idea which I think I will do as a practice:

“Yukimi had us put random marks or text on black Arches cover stock using a small squeeze bottle filled with Golden white acrylic paint with fine metal tips. We used a 3” wide piece of balsa wood to make patterns using sumi ink on inexpensive hanshi rice paper. These were left to dry overnight and then sealed together with diluted Golden brand matte medium, which resulted in wonderful patterns and shades of gray. These  were turned into little 2”X2” masterpieces attached to cards.”

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Playing with asemics

I have been slowly working on another piece of map weaving, based on experiments I did last February. 12 months ago already! I started in the new year, and have been struggling to get motivated to get it finished – it is a meticulous and laborious process of cutting, twisting and twining. Right now I am not enjoying the process as much as I did last summer – it’s just not speaking to where I am right now. What I keep coming back to instead are two older drawing themes: 1) working with stream of consciousness poetry and asemic text and 2) the ideas of anachronism (feeling out of place). I start drawing to warm up the creative juices and don’t ever get around to doing the weaving.

One of the key things my MA study showed me is that I believe art must come from your self, not your head. I’m not going to spend time developing something ‘just because it might sell’. I don’t need to get money from my art (I am going back to work in an office). Instead, I want to freedom to express the things I want to in the way that I want to. At the moment, this is through pen and ink.

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My current fixation is back on playing with layering of fragments of poetry, using a range of different media to experiment with the textures and quality of the pigment.

I would like to turn these experiments into a series of different textures expressing different aspects of my poetry. Should I use of specific poem, or just the fragments which resonate at the time? I’ve never worked on properly resolving a drawing project before, so this will be an interesting adventure.

I’m also working on a sketchbook writings project – looking at creating a stream of consciousness piece every day (or at least most days….), playing with the expression of mood through the calligraphic form. Yesterday’s poem was a bit like the weather:

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It’s nice to be back at the drawing table.

As the rain turns to silver glass

There is a long road ahead of each of us in life. Meandering though a land we cannot see until we pass through it. Like many, I find uncertainty difficult. My mind tries to help me by always fixating on finding a destination, finding the right path through the divergent choices we face, so each step points forward. When you are sure where you are going, the gentle meander of day to day life seems easy to deal with.

But the universe is too cunning to outwit it with such strategies. We can never see far enough through the rain to know where we are going. No sense of dimensional space applies to fate: what is forwards can also be backwards, and what can seem like downwards can often be forwards. Coping with this Escher-esque world requires us to continually change our frames of reference. Adapting ourselves to progress, meeting each circumstance as it is thrown at us. Lest we find ourselves crouched at the side of the road, too paralysed with fear to move on.

And so, I have found myself at a fork in the road. A fork with many paths leading off in different directions, with no signs to post the way. What do you choose when you no longer no where you want to be? Being forced to pause momentarily allows you the chance to reflect. Not just the school-book reflective essays which you write knowing your tutor is marking what you say. No, this is real, personal reflection where you don’t care anymore if anyone or no-one ever reads what you say.

It has been 7 months since the end of the structured learning of my MA has ended. Looking back from here I see how much I have needed the validation of others to give me a the confidence to move on. Once that is taken away, so quickly life is plagued by uncertainty and the shadow of creeping doubt – of your talents, your desires and your ‘plan’, which rapidly fades into dust once it sees the light of day. Where now? The old festival of Imbolc has just passed, the moment we start to see the light of spring slowly returning to warm the winter dark. This is the perfect time for reflection and re-dedication. Should I release myself from the pressure of achievement? Not doing anything for any reason other than the rawness of desire? In the business world, not having a  corporate vision & strategy is the easiest way to fail. But life is not a business, and living without passion and joy is surely not living at all. Then again, we still have to pay the mortgage, and no decision (however hard you try) can ever be made in a vacuum.

Context is everything.

Highlights of the degree show

Almost a week has passed, since the exhibits came down, the walls were repainted and the lights turned off on our final degree show. It was a great experience, although I am glad it is all over. I promised you all some potted highlights, in case you didn’t make the show!

Do you know who you are?

If you turn and look back
Do you see the places you passed on your way here?
Each dwelling, carving it’s nature onto your identity,
However fleeting the pause.

Shadows, built from real and imagined places,
Embedding themselves into your self.
You may not even have noticed it happening
Until you were already gone.

The absolute identity does not exist;
The self is nothing but a haunting of memories, experiences and fiction.
Each pause is an unravelling,
A fragment of identity found or remembered;
A choice, a path, a longing.

You should not have come here looking for yourself.
You will find nothing.

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In total there was 221 metres of map string made from 32 individual maps, carefully chosen to represent specific places significant to my own identity. The book of poetry sits alongside offering a glimpse as to the nature of the memories belonging to each place, each thread.

And lots and lots of visitors!

Thanks again to everyone who helped make the show possible, particularly those who generously offered their help in sourcing or offering vintage maps. You all got a mention in my book 🙂

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And then, it was all finished.

So that’s it. All over – the show is down and the studio is being packed up and emptied. After today I won’t be back on site as a student in Camberwell again.

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I realise I have been so wrapped up in the chaos that has been the show, that I haven’t blogged on how it has gone. This post will be coming soon! For now though, that strange mixture of relief, happiness and the slight melancholy of leaving is all I can think about. Yesterday was the last day of the show and as the final visitors walked around our whole class gathered in the 32C sunshine behind our studio for an improptu bbq. A jug of pimms, fresh watermelons and a host of terminally undercooked sausages made for a light hearted, friendly farewell to the year.

The mood today is different. Reality sets in as the grade results letters and feedback are passed around. Sadly not everyone is so cheerful as last night. The show is all being packed away and many people are wondering what’s next – knowing the world of real work awaits, and the likelihood is most of us might not ever see each other again.

I’m sat in the shade waiting for one last chat with Maiko, before I disappear into the world outside of college again. It has been a long but fulfilling road of personal development to get here. For someone who had not even a GSCE in Art (I used to consistently get 2/10 for homework), I am pleased to have made it and – even if it wasn’t the qualification I was after – its nice to officially have an MA to add to my collection of degrees. [Just for the record, this is it; I am not doing another one].

There will be time for ideation and business planning later, for now I think it is time for a wee rest.