If the title hasn’t given it away, I’m Paula, AKA Paula Jane Art. I am currently in the final year of a BA Fine art Degree, studying at Blackburn College Art School, Lancashire, UK. I joined the degree programme in 2017 as a mature student, little knowing how much creativity was about to be unlocked through the support of tutors, peers, art research and experimental practice.
I am a nurse who currently works for the NHS on a busy frailty unit, and I’m about to enter my 20th year of being qualified (time flies!!). I am also a mother of a teenager, and that can often be a tough job in itself, but I’ve found that my life and work experiences have manifested themselves into my art over the last 3 years. My love for art and creativity has helped me to compartmentalise my life, and often stressful job, bringing with it clarity and perspective. It has opened doors and taught me that even in your 40’s you can begin an exciting adventure, learn new things and meet new people. Yes, I am a nurse, yes I am a mother, but most importantly I am me, I am an artist!
The main content of this on-going blog will be the journey through my final year of the Degree course, but it marks the beginning of my creative future as an artist. The links to my first and second year blogs are added below if anyone is interested in my journey so far, it’s been one hell of a ride and I’ve relished every moment……enjoy!!
This collection of artwork encompasses the idea that a spark of memory, or a cluster of forgotten memories, can be reignited by an event. This event is usually one that shocks, or emotionally moves an individual, whether that be in a positive or negative way. Feelings of loss, nostalgia, or in extreme cases anger can surface, as if that evocation of memory, stored away in a locked box, or in the corner of your mind has been disturbed and opened up. The event can create a ripple effect, lighting a litmus paper of conversation which can also be a catalyst to piece together broken pictures in our minds. Our own conversations becoming past tense as soon as they are spoken, hanging in the air, becoming yet another recollection in our own histories.
The event in this instance was the demolition of the Thwaites tower that had stood as a foundation to the people of Blackburn and it’s heritage since the 1970’s. The tower had stopped functioning as a working brewery in 2018 remaining an empty shell, a sad vessel of the working class lives that had passed through its walls. This industrial structure was a forgotten entity, a memory within itself. It was seen without being seen, until it was decided that demolition would pave the way forwards for progress and change.
The artist connects to the shock of hearing about the demolition, which acts as the event catalyst to her own memories. Through conversation and research she learns more about herself and her heritage. She throws the doors open to the people of Blackburn to share in her journey, as they are invited to bring a piece of themselves to the artwork. The narrative grows and manifests itself as a public entity, with the piece becoming much bigger than the small spark of memory originally ignited within the artist. The piece eventually demonstrates itself as a memory within a memory as we say goodbye to this beacon of hope and are left with the ghosts of the past.
The cans document the demolition process of the tower caught by the artist as she reminisces and uses her own emotions to add original poetry to the images. These are installed as a uniform grid formation to echo the structure of the lost industrial construction as it faces destruction.
The bricks and cans will be pre installed and securely grouted onto sections of white MDF board and the structure will be secured to the wall with screws.
Video Installation of Original poetry to be played via projection on a large projection screen
The artist takes the pictures from the can installation and presents them as an emotional video piece in order to connect to the memory of the viewer. The video is used as a tool to help the viewer remember and bring those forgotten pieces of the past to the surface and enable conversation.
Projected images of Thwaites Tower rising like a ghost from the demolished bricks. (To be curated in a dimmed area)
The artist uses projection with the demolished bricks to bring forth the feeling of remembrance. The tower rises like a ghost from the deconstructed brickwork as the people of Blackburn will still be able to picture the tower in their mind when looking into the empty space left behind. It is a piece about acceptance and reflection as the artist grieves for her disappearing heritage.
The projection is shown in a darkened, or dimmed area against the white gallery wall with the bricks lying loose at the base. This section will be cordoned off with rope to avoid disturbance of the bricks and to adhere to public safety. The projection will display images of the tower in colour and black and white to contrast between memories of the past and feelings of the present.
Public engaged Hanging brick installation with evolving audio.
The artist envisions this as a public piece of art, inviting the people of Blackburn and beyond to share their own memories, thoughts and feelings. It is anticipated that an audio booth will be available to enable the public to record and share their stories and be added to the multitude of voices.
As the viewer weaves their way through the installation, multiple Blackburn accents will fill the gallery space from different areas to add to the auditory experience. This will be an ongoing updated piece with the new memories and voices added as the exhibition progresses. The artist also anticipates a memory wall as she takes into consideration that not all people are comfortable with talking out loud. She offers the alternative of a space where the viewer can pen their thoughts and feelings, their own stories becoming part of the artwork.
Strong metal hooks will be used to support reinforced rope, the kind used by abseil enthusiasts as she takes into account health and safety precautions. The installation will also be inspected by an independent health and safety official to ensure public safety is paramount.
Throughout my time as a student I have been involved in planning and curating group art exhibitions. Working as part of a team to bring together a collection of artworks and showcasing them within a gallery setting. The one thing that always stays with me when being part of the planning and implementing process is the idea of professionalism. I remember back to my first year when my tutor said “Treat every exhibition as if you were curating the Tate Gallery” and this has remained a great ethos of mine. I’ve painted the walls in many coats of white, gotten down on my hands and knees to scrub gallery floors and learned how to hang a picture correctly. Each small attention to detail from the non glamorous behind the scenes, to the curation and invigilation of a show.
Before the pandemic we had once again gathered as a group to discuss our degree showcase. This was to be our final show as students, marking the end of our Fine art degree and how far we had all come as artists ready to be unleashed into the big wide world. Now well into quarantine we have come to terms with the fact that a physical exhibition is an impossibility. But, due to the resilience of a great group of fellow students, supportive tutors, and the wonders of modern technology, the exhibition will now be taking place as an on-line event on 5th June 2020.
We decided to come together as a group and discuss how other Universities were tackling the issue of their cancelled exhibitions, and saw that many were going ahead with their showcases as an online event. In this day and age, with the help of technology, I have been able to visit many art galleries worldwide from the comfort of my armchair, nothing is impossible with the help of the world wide web. In fact, we saw this as a fantastic opportunity to reach an audience we never would have reached in our tiny town in the corner of our small country.
I am no stranger to social media, so I offered to start generating interest via my social accounts on facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Having been part of an on-line exhibition earlier in the year, I was happy to throw myself into this challenge wholeheartedly. In early January I was contacted by an Instagram user via my art account who had seen the artwork I had done on teenage anxiety, and I was asked If I would like to join their Instagram based art exhibit.
Being part of the ‘Through their eyes art exhibition’ I gained more followers on my Instagram account where I regularly post works in progress and follow many other artists who’s ideas inspire and excite me. During quarantine I have had more time to focus my attention onto my professional social media accounts. I have linked my accounts together and added my wordpress blog, so that it all becomes one cohesive embodiment of who I am as an artist, and the kind of work I am doing. The blog has become such a large part of my individual journey and has enabled me to interact with people worldwide, still finding it unbelievable that anyone is interested in the creative ramblings of a middle aged woman! It has become a major part of my practice now, where I have expanded my community of artists with possibilities of future collaborations across the globe.
We have treated this exhibition like we would a physical show with weekly meetings via zoom and roles being delegated. Susan Brazendale and Christian Bell have acted as co-hosts for the meetings and liaised with tutors regarding updates on the showcase. Each person responsible for ensuring their work was properly photographed and sized to the websites specifications, and that a bio of their piece be clear and concise, with a deadline for submission. The weekly meetings have been typed up as minutes and shared within the facebook group page as we would do normally. We even had an on-line poll to choose the image for our exhibition page and advertising campaign where suggestions were made and votes were cast. These weekly meetings have been an invaluable source of connection. We have come together remotely, not only as artists, but as friends. We have all been thrust into unknown territory, but to keep going within our community has been motivational and a great boost to our personal mental well being during qarantine.
After researching the strategies other art degree students and their universities were adopting to bring their final shows to the public, I set up the Instagram account for the BA Fine Art degree show. I contacted each member of my art class individually for a snippet of their work to offer up as a sneak peek, along with a short sentence explaining what their work was about.
I had many ideas for the page to keep it exciting with a introduction to the artist popping up at random, and a countdown to be put on daily to keep the page fresh in peoples minds. I linked the page to my public facebook art account and twitter to increase the possibility of a potential audience. During the run upto the exhibition I added an artists bio with their Instagram name and images on as a visual platform to increase the interest and create potential followers for each individual artist.
As the weeks have rolled on, and the exhibition draws near, I have to admit that the initial disappointment of and anti climatic end of degree has shifted, and I am excited about this new opportunity. Our show is due to run from 5th June 2020 at 10.00 GMT and will remain online until September. I will continue to advertise the degree show throughout this time and will be adding the link to my blog posts to reach a worldwide audience.
The weight of the world is a fusion of visual performance and auditory stimulus, which takes the viewer on a journey into the mind of a medical professional living and working within the Covid-19 pandemic.
The artist brings to the forefront their own fears through a series of images incorporating the hospital sign. ‘Welcome to covid-19: Part 1’ in which they are buried under a multitude of bricks. Each brick constituting to the magnitude of the situation the world has found itself to be in. The video represents the over whelming weight of the responsibility for the salvation of human life, and the effect it is having on the multi disciplinary workforce, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
The steady heartbeat repeated throughout the video creates a claustrophobic ambiance, and reminds the viewer that we are all human, and with human emotion comes fear, even from those we look to for strength and guidance during dark times.
The artist compares the reality of the crisis to that of dystopian fiction, and performs their own creative poetry during the video installation.
The World faces a threat from an invisible enemy, the biggest pandemic since the plague of 1665 that ravaged it’s way through the UK, killing a quarter of the population of London alone.
In 2020 this enemy is being fought by an army of brave men and women armed only with PPE and sheer grit and determination.
The NHS, the backbone of Britain, can only function with it’s army of nurses in full force, with the Government imploring women to return from retirement, and student nurses to put down their pens and join the fight.
The artist responds to how the Government has dealt with NHS shortages through the pandemic with a nod to the propaganda tools used during the first and second world wars.
The hospital sign from ‘Welcome to Covid-19: Part 1’ is used, as it interweaves it’s way throughout their narrative. She becomes a part of the artwork, portraying her own role as member of the workforce of nurses.
The digital image is manipulated to represent the popular culture of mass media advertising and the Governments reliance upon the strength of the vocational duty instilled in nurses, to increase their ‘army’.
Medium: Projected digital image, available as a limited perspex sign
Size 50cm x 70cm
Artist: Paula Simpson
Over the last three months the world has been spun off its axis and become a place of fear and uncertainty. The artist finds herself asking, how have the UK’s Government dealt with the crisis of Covid-19 in comparison to other countries around the globe? What has been the main focus of their decision making, and how has it effected us as a nation?
The artist uses a social and political agenda, in the form of a traditional NHS Hospital sign. She is thinking about her own experiences as an NHS nurse during this pandemic and the pressure that has been placed upon key workers across a multitude of jobs in the UK.
The artist sets the scene by creating a visual environment of a hospital waiting room.
The words on the sign are intended to resonate with the viewer as they deal with the crisis of Covid-19. They reflect upon their own experience and how each point focussed on has had an affect upon their own lives during this time
In order to develop my own skills as an art student and to think about my own creative future, it is important to me to take in as much diverse creativity as possible. During a trip to London in January 2020, before the outbreak of Covid-19, I had the pleasure of visiting the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery which is found just off Trafalgar Square in the bustling heart of London.
The National Portrait Gallery stands in all its grandeur with the busts of the three men responsible for its existence under the reign of Queen Victoria, echoing the importance of the arts during the mid 1800’s, a while before photography was invented during the late 1800’s. As I walked into the building through its grand entrance, I was struck by the history surrounding me. The ornate architecture, the kings, queens and privileged class of days gone by staring at me with eyes that follow you around the room, almost whispering secrets about the changes they have seen over the centuries. I am particularly interested in the literature of this era and often reach for the classics to absorb the sense of gentility, yet the cruel intention of the class system during this time. To see this first hand, these intricate slices of history, was completely breath taking. These paintings, some larger than life adorn the walls, set in grand frames and curated in such a way that the viewer takes a journey in time, a walk through history.
The costumes, the drama of the paint upon canvas and the proud master with his hound, the children in their Sunday best with bored faces from pausing for the artist. One thing that struck me about most of the portraits is that people of this time appear much smaller, with pinched faces and small, delicate features, so far removed from the people we are today. This could be an evolutionary development, a nutritional factor or even the mixing of races and cultures over the centuries that give us more of an individuality in the present. Even the curation of the pieces in this section were tightly structured together giving it a historical, almost museum like quality.
Each cavernous room intertwining with the next, moving through history and taking the viewer on a visual feast from the ridiculous to the spectacular. The portrait of Polish performer Joseph Boruwlaski by Reinagle (1749-1833). Boruwlaski was born with achondroplasia, a cause of dwarfism and stood at a mere 3ft 3” tall. The portrait is strategically positioned next to Marshall’s (1767-1835) painting of the fattest man during the early 19th century, Daniel Lambert. This era’s fascination with the spectacular led to Lambert becoming a celebrity, making monetary gain from others curiosity, and at 52 stone was the heaviest person on record until the 20th century. I loved how the portraits complimented each other and could imagine the crowds they would pull in their day
The further into the gallery you go, the more modern the work around you becomes, the surroundings take on a more up to date feel and this is echoed in the curation of the pieces in the first extension built in 1933 right through to the modern lighting and spacious contemporary design of the second extension built in 2000. Contemporary portraits from the 1930’s onwards adorn the walls of the second extension and I was particularly drawn to the self portrait of L.S lowry (The man with the red eyes 1938). For a portrait it was quite small in its relatively plain gold frame, non remarkable in comparison with some of the more ornate pieces such as the Anna Neagle portrait by McClelland Barclay (1940), or even the Beatrix Potter by Delmar Banner (1938). But even in its plain frame and curated within the surround of grand statuesque ladies I found it a real stand out piece. Very unlike a usual Lowry painting depicting workers outside of factories, Lowry had turned his attention onto himself, the red rimmed eyes being the focus of the piece. I learned that the artist painted this during the time that his mother was dying and that he was 51 at the time and I could feel the tension set in the frown lines and the lack of sleep and possibly unshed tears in the redness of the eyes.
The modern contemporary feel of the second extension was echoed in the modern contemporary paintings and sculptures that adorned it. I could see how artists were starting to embrace other mediums such as the stained glass piece by Pauline Boty (1958). The artist creates a real contemporary pop art piece with a fusion of an almost renaissance ethereal image captured upon the glass. Lit from behind to cast a daylight glow as one would find in a church or cathedral, I loved how this piece had been curated and it was so modern yet so intrinsic of the past.
This modern feel carried on with a pop art portrait of Dame Zaha Hadid upon a wall mounted LED box By Michael Craig-Martin (2008) with the colours controlled by computer software, making the piece continually changing with the colours selected at random by the computer. This nod to the modern age reflected in its surroundings and showing us the infinite possibilities one can use to create a piece of art.
I loved how at one side of me I had Hockney’s ‘Self portrait with Charlie’ (2005) and when I turned around, to the other side of me was a large and very impressive portrait of Sir Harry Djanogly and Lady Carol Ann Djanogly by Wim Heldens (2017), both oil on canvas and both creating the portrait off to the side and bringing the surround into view giving the observer not just the portrait, but a narrative of a situation. A far cry from the portraits seen at the beginning of my exploration around the gallery and good insight into the journey of art upto present day, another nod to the clever curation throughout the building. Amidst the paintings was a sculptural piece by the artist Tracy Emin, a bronze death mask (2002) depicting her own face, a nod to the autobiographical nature of her work, representing herself as a museum piece and offering herself up for the scrutiny of generations to come.
The last portrait to catch my eye after hours of immersing myself completely into this historical artistic journey was a modern portrait of the musician Ed Sheeran by Colin Davidson (2016) Oil on Linen. The colours on the fabric and the representation of skin tone was amazing. The portrait was large and imposing with Sheeran’s face appearing pensive and introspective, a contrast to the performer seen in the public eye. Below are other pictures I took from the day throughout the gallery.
Other images from around the gallery.
A progression of my own portraiture work over the last 3 years.
I have always aspired to be a great portrait artist, and I still do! I hold painters in such high esteem who manage to capture the light and realistic quality of character. This is an area of weakness for me, but it is also something I constantly work on to try and improve my own creative practice. I love to experiment with textures, text and colour and have added collage and even experimented digitally throughout the degree course. My interests at present are the fusion of poetry and image and I am currently working on a family portrait made entirely from collaged poetry which I have written myself.
I challenged myself to compose some short poems during lock down. Mainly thoughts and feelings. None taking longer than a few minutes to write. The idea is not to think, just feel.
Ode To my mother…
A cup of tea with a digestive, Nestled in the glow of the light from the electric fire, A few words of wisdom, or a clip around the ear, never too old for a telling off. I miss it, I miss the familiarity of your smell, the way you roll your eyes when I’m being cheeky, the warm hug hello, or goodbye,
but I haven’t lost you,
you are safe in your cocoon,
you are safe as I see you on the cold screen of FaceTime, you are safe, and I’m thankful for that,
waiting patiently for this silent war to end, then we can be together once more.
Oh sweet day…
Oh sweet day,
The one my heart anticipates,
The day that ends, yet begins,
Where the grey dissipates into history,
Bringing forth the rebirth of kinship,
These small, once insignificant things we did,
Become our hope,
Until our reliance upon technology to connect ends,
And we can bask in the warmth of a physicality,
We reconnect through disconnect,
Throw our arms wide to embrace the world once again,
Take in the beauty of a soul that’s been missing for so long,
The synchronous beats of hearts reaching out,
Oh sweet day,
the one my heart anticipates……
Two metres apart.
We are all strangers,
Sharing a commonality,
looking at each other as if we were the carriers,
The breathers of death,
As we wait in line,
Trudging forwards in our own protective bubble,
We are two metres apart,
But the gap between us is much wider.
I’ll hold your hand.
Poetry with added internet stock image
During these times of uncertainty, fear and great change, it is important to take stock and reflect upon the journey our lives have taken us on so far. As an art student about to cross the threshold of graduation, this sudden halt in the academic year has been a shock that no one could ever have predicted. The world has come to a standstill, but yet it keeps moving, a strange concept for us all to grasp I’m sure. Schools, colleges and universities worldwide have shut their doors, with technology now becoming the back bone of every day life and learning.
The 3rd year showcase for my art degree has obviously been cancelled with the hopes that we may have an exhibition after graduation. This would have been an extravaganza of mixed media achievements from all students across the cohort. Not only is the degree show the final, most important mark of the BA, but it is a chance to show the art community what we have to offer as graduates. However, taking things into perspective, it is important to use this time as a learning curve, rising to the challenges as artists, changing and growing as necessary. As a group, we decided to have our exhibition on-line on 5th June (which would have been our original show date) and are now working towards this.
Since I began the 3rd year in September 2019, after the challenge of dissertation. I have been researching, reflecting and experimenting for my narrative about the Thwaites Tower. This consists of a 3 part narrative about the emotions of memory and includes poetry, projection, installation and public conversation. I am determined to exhibit this piece at some point, whether it be as part of the art school, or independently, but due to circumstances, I will only be able to submit this as a proposal in order to obtain my degree. Which also means that it was back to the drawing board for ideas about what I would enter into the on-line exhibition.
I am an NHS nurse, which I have continued to be throughout my degree, and now, more than ever the world is heavily reliant upon its medical professionals to provide them with the emergency treatment needed to attempt to combat this pandemic. I’m not going to sugar coat things, at the moment it’s a tough job, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t shed a tear or two over the past months. However, as I have discussed in previous blog posts, I tend to thrive artistically from my emotions. I use art to understand the world around me, and my place within it, how I deal with situations that arise and how I can express these creatively.
Quarrantine art for on-line exhibition: Part one
This brings me back to the current climate, and the realisation that I was having all of these creative thoughts due to the nature of my job. Most of my research intertwines perfectly with the way I want to express myself, and I was excited to re-imagine a past piece of art I had done for ‘the great austerity debate’ exhibition in 2018. As a political response to austerity, I designed a hospital sign and had this made for me at the making rooms, Blackburn.
I wanted to respond to the covid pandemic as an NHS nurse, and re-constructed the original sign to reflect this. Of course, I cannot have the sign physically made at present, so I manipulated it digitally with the intention of using it as a staged projection in my own home. So with the help of my 13 year old techno-geek daughter, we redesigned my original digital version of the sign using photoshop.
I wanted to stage the sign as if it was in a hospital and insert myself into the picture, so with a precariously balanced projector, and me in my scrubs and PPE (please note this is my own personal PPE and not taken from the hospital). We projected the image onto the bedroom wall, used a plant as a prop and a bedside lamp angled up from the floor to create an eerie glow, and I stood next to the sign. We took many pictures, some with me in them, some without, but there were only a few suitable ones due to the focus or the elongation of the projection, and we were limited to an ipad as a camera. I was happy with the darkness of the photo’s as I felt that it reflected the atmosphere I wanted to create.
I also took a ‘selfie’ which I was really pleased with, the sign becomes more realistic I thought even though only some of it can be seen. This was the image I was thinking of using for the on-line exhibition we were organising as a group.
I began to experiment with digital photo applications, using some of the images to collage and add different filters to.
The final image I chose will be added to the professional practice blog as part of a post quarantine proposal and I have sent off for an A2 poster to be made through an on-line company.
Quarrantine art for exhibition: Part two.
I had also been experimenting with the many bricks I had from the Thwaites tower and had been thinking about a performative or creative way of using the bricks whilst in isolation. As I have discussed in an earlier blog, I find that I often become a part of my art work, either physically, through my writing, or poetry and through my voice. This actually became a family project as I asked for my Partner Andy, and daughter Milly to help. My intention was to collect together a group of photographs, very much like I had done during year 2 when I projected poetry onto my skin. I took inspiration from the video works we had been discussing in our online classes, and the potential to make art with the resources available. I was motivated to make another video after watching the decaying still life of Sam Taylor Wood, who used an available medium to document the decaying process of fruit, set out as a still life, and a further video of a dead hare and the sped up decomposition of it’s body.
This was also another chance to reflect upon past work and revisit my ideas and research. I guess in a way, my own art became my primary research in this case and made me think about how I could bring this into my current project. I wanted to be buried under the bricks with my face showing, whilst of course thinking about health and safety! So I laid on the patio in the garden, Andy placed the bricks gently so they were safe and not about to get me injured with Milly taking charge of my safety. Then Andy took many photos of me while Milly photographed the process. It was a creative afternoon and not only did I get loads of inspiration and photos to use, but we bonded as a family and had a lot of fun in the process.
There were lots of photos for me to manipulate and formulate together as a video project which is just what I was hoping for. I also had Andy lie on the patio whilst I made a silhouette of him with the bricks, just to see if these added more dimension to the video project, then I took some close up pictures of the bricks on their own.
I contacted friend and fellow student Michelle Elaine Ayers who is a photographer, for a critique and advice on how to add drama to the images I had chosen. We discussed what my project was about and what I wanted to achieve and she helped me manipulate the photos in light-room in order to create this.
I was really pleased with the overall outcome of the images and could already see the narrative I had in mind coming to life. I started to experiment with time lapse applications by adding the photos and started thinking about the dialogue or poetry I wanted to add to the finished piece.
Whilst making the video I wanted to think about how the effects of covid-19 had impacted upon the world and how I personally felt as a mother and NHS nurse. I have been reading a lot during lock down, my favourite type of books being science-fiction or dystopian novels. I was directed by my tutor to the work of Daniel Defoe ‘A journal of the plague Year, written by a citizen continued all the while in London’. The book is Defoe’s fictionalised account of one mans experience during the great plague of 1665 has some frightening similarities to what we are facing in 2020. Uneasy jolts of recognition indeed washed over me as I read the haunting passages about the emptiness of familiar streets, and how they were told that avoidance and quarantine was the only way to stay alive. Defoe describes the transmission of the infection and how the unsuspecting ‘breathed death’ upon those they came into contact with. It seems strange to think that Defoe was describing events which took place 355 years ago as the correlation between the past and present is strikingly familiar. The book was published in 1772 and although it is a fictionalised account, it almost feels as Defoe is describing at least the mass fear and panic and the unknown that sits uncomfortably true with me.
Reading the book gave me the inspiration to add what feels like the beginning of a dystopian novel to my video in the form of poetry. I wanted to add my own voice as this video project was a result of the effects of covid-19 on me personally, and how I was feeling. I also wanted to experiment with sound in the form of a heartbeat, to give the viewer the claustrophobic feel of being underneath the bricks. The question ‘what if’ lingering in the air with the realisation of ‘this is actually happening’ reaching the viewer by the end of the short video. It didn’t take me long all to pen down the passage that was bubbling to the surface and I intend to read this and add it to the video to enhance the images.
The finished video will be uploaded as a proposal for the online exhibition and will be available on YouTube once complete.
I had a once in a lifetime opportunity in November 2019 to visit New York for the first time. Amongst the splendour and buzz of the diverse metropolis, there housed a fiesta of creativity, ranging from small independent galleries, street performances and urban street art. To the larger sophisticated art galleries such as the Guggenheim and the MOMA. I had been eager to visit the MOMA throughout my year of planning prior to touch down on U.S soil, and was in no way disappointed by floor after floor of modern and contemporary art.
I was taking this golden opportunity to not only see some of the worlds greatest modern masterpieces up close. But to look at each section of the gallery as a curatorial exercise. To see how each painting, installation, sculpture, piece of film or photography had been fused together to take the viewer on a visual journey. With the third year final show in mind. I was searching for inspiration, and how I could incorporate my own wow factor into the exhibition that would not only stand out, but compliment and be complimented by the work around it.
During my time at art school, I have been involved in the full process of curating exhibitions on a miniscule scale in comparison. I couldn’t even begin to comprehend the amount of man hours, blood, sweat and tears that could possibly have gone into this visual banquet. Although I am fond of much smaller exhibitions as a personal preference, I didn’t feel that any of the art works were lost in the vastness of the architecture. The rooms were spacious and set out in a way for the viewer to feel relaxed and able to take time and enjoy the artworks, and not become visually overwhelmed by the quantity of art on show.
I found artists and artwork I was unfamiliar with amongst the world famous paintings of Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne and Van Gogh. To the modern feminist art of Kruger, Holzer and Sherman. European and American influences of Duchamp, Klee, Hopper and Lichtenstein. The list is endless, and indeed it would probably take me the full day I spent at the gallery to begin to catalogue them all.
The Starry night: Vincent Van Gough
I didn’t expect to be so moved by pieces of work I had previously studied But there was something magical about being in the presence of great art, that one couldn’t help but be swept away in the emotion, the message and the story, amplified by the vast white space and clean lines of the building. I was particularly moved by Van Gough’s Starry night, a painting I had previously appreciated on an aesthetically pleasing level. To see it close up, each brush stroke and layer upon layer of oil paint, standing vibrant into the 21st century and making me feel that this is the closest I would ever get to time travel. I hadn’t expected it to be my favourite piece of art in the gallery, but I found myself transfixed and revisited it a number of times during the day.
The mid scale oil on canvas painting, is dominated by a moon, and a star filled night sky. It appears almost turbulent with the intensely swirling patterns that appear to roll along the surface like waves. Beneath the majestic sky sits a humble village, surrounding a church, where the steeple rises sharply above the undulating blue-black. A cypress tree is the focus of the foreground, rising almost like a flame towards the top of the canvas, serving as a visual link between the land and the sky. I later learned that cypress trees were regarded as symbols of graveyards, or mourning. The painting Starry night, is based on Van Gough’s direct observation as well as imagination. In a letter to his brother, he had told him about the morning star and how big it shone above the countryside. I think I was drawn in by the combination of contrasts generated by an artist who found such beauty in the night sky, and I felt invited in to his world, if only for a short while.
Pablo Picasso/Faith Ringgold
The MOMA housed a large collection of works by Picasso, each one stylised and curated to represent the period it was created in. I had wondered why Picasso’s work hadn’t been grouped together to form it’s own cohesive collection. But I was intrigued to discover each piece standing recognisably amongst other contemporary, and post modern works, creating an interesting contrast. The personal collection galleries proceed largely in chronological order, each is arranged curatorially according to a different theme. Each is like it’s own exhibition, linked to the others, yet structured independently. Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, painted in 1907 was of a particular interest to me, as it was a painting I had concentrated on during an early second year contextual studies assignment. It was paired with Faith Ringgold’s American People series #20: Die (1967).
The passages of Die recall the pink and yellow sections and the interlocking blues and whites of Picasso’s Demoiselles. But it’s reference to protests of contemporaneous violence strikes me more as a Guernica (1937) homage, which hit me the moment I saw it in all its grandeur. Although aesthetically pleasing to the eye against the starkness of the white gallery walls, I felt that Ringgold’s Die would have been better placed alongside Guernica in the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid where it currently resides, however, one might distract from the other if that had been the case.
In this instance, the curator cleverly paired the two large contrasting, yet somehow complimentary pieces together. One depicting the vibrations of a tribe at peace, bathing during Picasso’s period of colonial interest. The other depicting a post modern Americanised interpretation of violence, with it’s composition echoing the Guernica original, obviously purposefully done and colours carefully chosen by Rinngold.
The relationship between architecture, design and art is a theme I found consistently running throughout the gallery, hosting sculpture, installation, photography and film into it’s mix. I was particularly impressed with the increase of female artists work, hosting pieces by Sherman, Krueger, The guerilla girls and Holzer, who have all been a massive part of my research and inspiration during the degree.
I was interested in piece by Marlene Dumas, Chlorosis (love sick) 1994. It consisted of acrylic and gouache on 24 individual sheets of paper. The images representing Polaroid snapshots, and painted with a wash of green hue to suggest apparitions of internal states. The title and colour describing an anaemic disease and coming from Greek origin. Chlorosis was sometimes referred to as the virgins disease, and was considered a sickness caused by the suffering of unrequited love. I researched the work of Dumas and the pieces meaning at a later date, and as a hopeless romantic with a medical background, I loved the piece even more. My initial impression of it at the gallery was the raw quality of the way it had been displayed which caught my eye. The individual images weren’t framed, but hung to the wall crudely, and with a uniformity giving the images a softer edge and enhancing the washed quality of the gouache against the harsher edge of the acrylic.
I have done quite a bit of experimentation with mannequins, mannequin heads and semi sculptured pieces during my time as a student, and found this porcelain sculpture ‘Retrospective Bust of A Woman 1933’ by Salvador Dali strangely fascinating.
I was even more fascinated to learn that the representation of woman in this case, was like an object to be consumed with the loaf and corn as obvious symbols, and ants crawling up her forehead to catch the crumbs of bread. Dali uses his unique blend of alternate reality with a fetishistic fantasy always prominent in his surrealist paintings. Allowing the viewer to escape reality and explore what lies beneath the surface.
My favourite gallery space of the day was the collection of pop art/ popular culture pieces. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Lichtenstein’s work at the Tate Gallery in Liverpool that can be found as an independent blog on https://wordpress.com/post/paulajaneart.wordpress.com/804 Pop art has always appealed to the feminist side of me, challenging the conventional values propagated by mass media, which I think stands even more prevalent today through the often toxic culture of social media. We live in a vast consumerist society, and pop art artists pioneered the satirical notions of femininity, patriotism and domesticity, with even the movement itself causing a stir in the art world. From Lichtenstein’s tongue in cheek Drowning girl, to Warhol’s repetitious Campbells soup cans, you can’t help but be pulled in by the vibracious wonder that is Pop Art in my opinion.
OOF Edward Ruscha (1962)
Drowning Girl, Roy Lichtenstein (1963)
Campbells soup cans, Andy Warhol (1961)
Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol (1967)
A piece that did stand out to me due to my love of combining text with other mediums to create art, was a large scale oil and collage on fabric mounted plywood. ‘Flag’ (1954-55) by Jasper Johns. The painting is a regular American flag, a symbol of independence and patriotism, but it’s not until you get up close and personal with the artwork that your eye seems to catch the multitude of text underneath. The text underneath is a collage of newspaper articles who’s dates locate this commonplace symbolism within a particular moment. it took me back to an exhibition I had been part of at the Harris museum in Preston last year where I used articles about Brexit collaged onto the canvas, with an eye painted over the top, the symbol of the UK and EU flag mirrored within the eye.
Jasper Johns, Flag 1954-55)
Close up of underlying text
Close up of underlying text.
The MOMA was indeed an unforgettable experience of culture and diversity, and I could literally just keep typing and typing about all the pieces of art I saw. I would highly recommend a visit to this iconic gallery if you have the opportunity to visit new York. Or even any gallery, big or small, there is such a big world of culture out there. Even during lock down because of Covid-19 we are able to interactively delve into the art worlds via our laptops and ipads, why, I was at Seoul gallery only yesterday!! What a fantastic opportunity the art galleries have given us by throwing their doors open wide.
Pictures I collected from the gallery…
Picasso, Woman dressing her hair (1940)
Morris Hirshfield, Inseperable friends (1941)
Seraphine Louis, Tree of paradise (1928)
Jenny holzer, Trust visions that dont feature buckets of blood. (1983-84)
Picasso, head of a sleeping woman (1907)
Picasso, Girl before a mirror, (1932)
Keith Haring, Untitled (1982)
Jackson Pollock, Number 1A, (1948)
Barbara Kruger, Untitled (1985)
Cindy Sherman, Untitled film stills. (1977-1995)
Barnett Newman, Vir Herocious Sublimis (1950-51)
Jeff Koons, Pink Panther (1955)
Egon Schiele, Portrait of Gerti Schiele, (1909)
Gustav Klimt, Hope (1907-08)
Frida Kahlo, Self portrait with cropped hair, (1940)
**Please note, this is a direct follow on from Thwaites Brewery Tower, Part two: A concept*
Installation part 1…
I had many ideas brimming away creatively, and knew that I wanted to continue using projection, and had researched the work of Jenny Holzer in-depth during my second year. I had also been to the Tate modern gallery at the end of last year and had witnessed her instillation work first hand. I love Holzer’s use of truisms fused with mixed medias, but especially enjoyed her earlier grand scale projection pieces and her use of light to create her art. I had looked closely at her use of text, but this time I was particularly inspired by her building projection on to large architecture.
Holzer’s work for me conjures up a nostalgic feeling, as if she is giving you a glimpse into past events, feelings, or even traumas that have driven her to shout it out to the world through this early form of projection mapping. Of course, my own projection project in my own little part of the world was a miniscule state of affairs. But I wanted the viewer to feel the ghost of Thwaites tower emerging from the debris of the fallen bricks below it.
After obtaining the original Thwaites tower bricks, I began to plan and make a maquette, a small scale model of my planned installation in order to explain my plans to tutors and peers during critique. (A more in-depth account of the critique can be found on the blog post ‘Using critique for professional development as an artist). I’d never made a maquette before and it did look a little amateur, however, it was merely a visual representation of how my finished piece would look in a studio setting. I used clear acetate with an outline of the tower to represent the projected image submerging from the bricks.
Due to the outbreak of Covid19 we are no longer permitted to go to the studio and the exhibition is now going to be an online event until a physical exhibition can be realised. As I had the bricks and projector at home I decided to continue with the installation in my garden and in a true British style I ‘carried on regardless’. Of course I feel my piece would have worked well within a white space, but as an artist one must be open to sudden changes and obstacles and basically work with what we have got. I installed the bricks against my garden wall (more of a northern terraced back yard) and set up my projector, photographing the images. These first images are very raw and only a reflection of the finished piece I intend to submit, but I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome. I experimented with a few images of both colour and monochrome, but I did find that I preferred the vibrancy of the colour palette against the rough old bricks and the rustic wall behind. In my final piece I intend to concentrate on the angle of the projection and the height at which I take the photograph to avoid the elongation or distortion of the image, I also intend to add some light for more depth.
Installation Part 2…
The gallery space we were originally going to use for exhibition is also the third year studio space in the ornate Victoria building on the Blackburn campus. The ceilings are high with large beams and lots of natural light, creating the perfect tempo to curate a successful showcase. It was suggested by tutor and artist Jamie Holman that no one really considered the roof space when thinking about their work and it had me thinking about a second installation project. I had the idea of hanging some bricks from the ceiling by thick rope and I discussed this with my fellow art students. I find these times of calm and reflection such valuable commodities where we gather in small groups and bounce ideas from one another.
Fellow student Susan Brazendale pointed me in the direction of an artist she had seen whilst visiting South Africa. The artist Kendell Geers at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary art. Geer’s work ‘Hanging piece’ 1993 used bricks, rope and metal hooks to create an installation of a multitude of bricks hanging from the ceiling. Geer’s work edges on the political with his installation being a nod to apartheid, and how town shippers hung bricks from highway overpasses to cause damage to the cars passing below.
(Photo credits Susan Brazendale)
I seem to be drawn to political art and found a lot of insight and inspiration in the works of Ai Weiwei. Weiwei is best known as a political dissident, famously undergoing incarceration and constant surveillance by the Chinese authorities. His work centres around his experiences and his personal struggle for freedom of expression. His studio in Shanghai was demolished in 2011 at the insistence of the state. Weiwei constructed an edifice of rubble from the debris of his studio as a poignant installation, a reminder of how the authorities sought to silence his voice.
Photo credit INHABITAT (inhabitat.com)
My installation was dealing with memory and loss, and I wanted each brick to represent a memory or a word spoken, suddenly becoming past tense and a memory within itself as soon as it leaves the mouth. This would be interpreted through 16 hanging bricks to represent my own memory of my father who worked at Thwaites for 16 years. The red rope representing the vibrant lettering that adorned the tower, lit up like a beacon over the town, and I wanted to add some form of spoken narrative as the viewer meandered their way through history. I discussed the health and safety aspect of bricks hanging from the ceiling with tutor Steven Baldwin and technician Bill Kelly and we agreed between us that wood beams balanced between the steel girders of the upper studio space would be the safest way forwards. The ropes would attach to the wood beams and the bricks would hang as I wanted, with enough space to allow the viewer to walk through and take in the art as intended.
Obviously due to the pandemic this installation would not be happening, at least any time soon, and I could hardly start hanging bricks from my dining room ceiling. I thought back to the maquette from the first installation and considered a small scale model to be used to make a representation video and include the audio I wanted. This was the best solution under the circumstances as I had already put a lot of thought and research hours into this project. It was also something that I felt brought me closer to my fathers memory as well as being a collection of art for the people of Blackburn, who all had their own memories and thoughts. I reached out through facebook to friends and family and asked for their help in the form of voice messages, explaining that these would be used as part of a recorded narrative. Doing this gave the piece more of a political angle, it raised conversations about the local council, and Thwaites decision to demolish the brewery, raising feelings of displeasure and in some cases anger. It showed me how this art installation had the potential to become a public piece of art and was malleable as a piece of work, something I could definitely move forward with in thefuture.
I knew I needed to put more effort into this model as essentially it was going to be my prop to showcase what I envisioned my final piece to be. I had limited materials due to lock down so I improvised where necessary and produced a small making video of the construction of the maquette. The finished piece will be added to my final proposal with full audio and I have to admit, I’m glad I didn’t give up on this piece as it’s an imperative part of my narrative.
Maquette making video (Video edited by Milly Davies, GCSE creative computing student)
angled shots from inside the maquette.
Installation Part Three.
After the initial critique of the original demolition process photographs that I had added my own poetry to. I began to think about ways I could integrate these into the installations to form a more cohesive transition between works. I really wanted to have the images transferred onto beer cans and thought about hanging these on the wall, or balancing on the bricks. I researched online businesses and spoke to some companies who personalised beer memorabilia, but unfortunately met a dead end, I was even laughed at by one company and asked If I was serious! I just couldn’t let this go though and I was determined to have my poetry displayed in an original way that coincided with my work. The alternative I found was a company who made sticky labels for wine bottles, and so I arranged to have my photos printed for an affordable price. The photos were the perfect size to fit around the front of the cans and I was really impressed with the way they looked sat upon the bricks. For exhibition I will need to resize some of the photographs as some of the text was missing. However, these were still suitable to photograph and use for experimental and proposal purposes.
As I was experimenting so much during lock down, I also made a video of my poetry as another way of showing the piece. The viewer would be able to get the full impact of the work with the images and poetry merging together. It is also a been consistency within my own practice to experiment with video, bringing my own poetry forward as a way to express myself. I added emotional audio from one of my favourite bands ‘The Wandering Hearts’ and tweeted the video to them via my Twitter account who were happy with me using the audio.