Art: A window to the soul and laying oneself bare

Hey, I have a Collector! This has got to be the pinnacle of my art career so far that an almost random (the use of the word “random” not in any way a reflection of this person’s personality who is actually anything but, and is more along the lines of someone who is not related to me and has never had a meal at my house) now has two of my knitted life paintings hanging in his home! Wow what a buzz. To think that someone has connected with my artistic vision and interpretation of the world not just the once but TWICE, although credit has also got to be given to the person many years ago who told me over a cup of coffee that of course one should always work in series.

Selling creative work is a funny old business isn’t it? I was brought up in a world where children were encouraged to ponder on the meaning of life and have opinions but it was also drummed into us that while it might be a fundamental right to have that opinion it didn’t necessarily extend to sharing it and having it listened to (social media is still a relatively new phenomena!). “No one is interested in what you think/have to say” was a phrase I heard on numerous occasions while growing up. Navel gazing was not encouraged as a healthy pastime and debating in a family of five was just too noisy.  And then I ventured into the world of Art where a good dose of anger, opinion and angst can inspire a lifetime’s work and therein lay a problem. What if you don’t think you have any?

“A problem with Beige” by Nicky Barfoot. Hand stitch, paint and cotton applique on calico.

Now I’m definitely not saying that I would trade my safe and loved childhood/early adulthood for the type of emotional trauma that some of the revered artists of our time have suffered (Tracey Emin and Louise Bourgeois being two who immediately spring to mind) but in the words of talented poet Kate Tempest “enjoying the beigeness” isn’t really going to cut it either.  The importance of the word “Why” was highlighted during college and for every piece of work made there had to be research, context, planning and critical evaluation. It certainly wasn’t acceptable to write an artist statement along the lines of “I just fancied making it” or “I thought it looked pretty” and it still takes me hours to write a 50 word exhibition statement even after practising it for a number of years now.

The problem for me is the exposure.  When I create a piece of work it comes from within, a place that I keep hidden from all but my husband and even he shouldn’t have access to all the dark corners of my brain as it just wouldn’t be healthy. In other words I’m just not used to sharing.  Showing the work without explanation allows the viewer to come to their own conclusions and as long as I don’t have to confirm or deny, they don’t get to SEE me and while the work itself is judged, I’m safe. However, where I am required to verbalise what was going through my head at the time of creating the work and what I am attempting to say with it, I open ME up to judgement, MY thoughts, MY feelings, MY opinions (and no one wants to hear those anyway, right?) and MY emotional state. Now that’s uncomfortable and a little scary!  I think this feeling of laying ourselves bare through our work is why when someone buys a piece it is so special.  We feel a sense of connection to them. They got it! They understand where I’m coming from! It isn’t just me!

“Window to the soul” photograph by Nicky Barfoot

I think that it must be even worse for authors, this feeling of nakedness created by allowing readers a glimpse into your head.  A very talented customer of mine recently wrote a novel and being of a Sci Fi nature and therefore right up my street, I read it. It was a great story and I thoroughly enjoyed it but I have to admit that the first few chapters felt uncomfortable.  I was being given access to a place in the head of a person who I knew well on a professional level but not exactly on a personal level.  Thankfully there wasn’t too much raunch in it as that would definitely have been a step too far!

A friend of mine also bought a picture from me this week.  I was pleasantly surprised and somewhat shocked when she expressed her interest in it as not being one for gushing over previous “stuff what I have made” (although a strong supporter of my greeting card range), I had no idea that she would like it. So, while she was looking at it and knowing that it is probably good practice for me to talk about my work, I explained my vision. Her response was “Well I don’t know about that, I just like it because it looks like she’s walking out onto a stage”.

That theatrical interpretation was exactly the metaphor behind my intention, so it worked for me!

“Woman Awakening” – at defined stages in her life a female will awaken, she comes into existence, and is reborn as a Woman

So, readers (Mum!) I shall keep producing my artistic interpretations of the world according to Nicky (verbalising when required), encouraged by all of the lovely people who have bought my work over the years (blame them not me!). The only slight problem I have now though, is that after this week’s unexpected sales, I no longer have any work suitable for an upcoming exhibition in a few weeks time.  So, I must sign off and get on with some knitting as the weekend is fast escaping me and I still have thirty rows left on the substitute.  Have a healthy, happy and creative week.

Knitted painting, work in progress.

Dog Jog Musings: should labels be worn on the outside?

Needy sheep and a 50 mile time trial resulted in a solitary run for me this morning (only Big Dog for company and she is not much of a conversationalist when surrounded by wide open spaces, wildlife and fresh horse poo).  The result was ponderings a plenty as I had the luxury of seven miles of peace and quiet to contemplate the happenings of the past week and was surprised to find the thread of a theme running through it.

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I don’t do conversation!

Here in the UK we had a minor political event last Thursday, that being the small matter of a General Election. Right up until the last moment I was still umming and aahhing, influenced by the last thing I had read on social media or heard on the news, and it occurred to me how much easier these decisions had been for me in my twenties and thirties when I had a strong political identity.  I didn’t need to listen to promises and try to work out how much Peter was going to be robbed to pay Paul (and whether this was acceptable) as with an identity came ideals and it was these that guided the cross (of pencil in box variety).

Identity matters! It gives us a sense of belonging (you only have to venture into Southampton city centre on a Saturday afternoon amidst the sea of red and white striped shirts to know this).  It helps us to relate to one another in social gatherings (being a something makes life so much easier when asked the inevitable “and what do you do for a living?”).  But while we may embrace the positives associated with wearing our label on the outside we also recognise that while we might be individuals with a shared identity, who wants to be a stereotype?  I cringe inwardly when friends introduce me as a Knitter and describe what I do as Craft.  Knitters make sweaters, socks and gloves, right? Yes I knit and I used to be a Knitter but my identity is currently evolving into what? artist? maker? designer? procrastinator!?  Heck what do I call myself? My inner critic panics in these situations suggesting that this unintended faux pas in labelling me and my intentions, suggests that my friends don’t get me which, rather than resulting from a lack of communication on my part, surely is a reflection of the inadequacy of my work!

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Why would you think I was a Knitter?

Labels and names have connotations too (for us and/or others) so in the words of Prince Roger Nelson: what’s in a name?  I’m sure the revered Purple One didn’t realise he had anything in common with a teenage witch in denial but both Prince and Agnes Nitt knew how important a name can be.  The former famously changed his to a symbol in 1993 so that his relentless productivity could not be tempered by contractual obligations to his record company.  The latter developed a pseudonym into a full blown second personality as Perdita X Dream complete with black lace gloves to give her permission to be more than just a great personality and good hair, something that an Agnes is probably always destined to be.

During the much loved by tutors humiliation of the around table introductions on a recent art workshop (how on earth does one sum oneself up in a few sentences without sounding pretentious or boring?), two of the participants labelled themselves apologetically as “scientists”.  Up until that point it hadn’t really occurred to me that being a scientist and an artist should be mutually exclusive.  I wonder how many people have been told by teachers, parents and society in general that their inherent ability in one means that they shouldn’t indulge in the other.  Have they heard of Leonardo da Vinci, I wonder?   Anyway, this links nicely to an event I went to last night at the Winchester Science Centre who are hosting the Observatory Artists Studios, an opportunity for three artists in residence to make work in this amazing space in the first half of 2015.  The aim of the project is to encourage collaborations between artists, architects and engineers, and students.  Art meets Science, yay!  Current artist in residence Sean Harris took us from daylight to darkness looking out onto the South Downs while enjoying his animated imagery (digital and clockwork) and in his words: “exploring our relationship with the land – past, present and future”.  At the end of the evening I wasn’t sure whether I had participated in performance art, collaborated with other “artists”, or viewed an artist’s work but I did feel that I had connected with the space, coming away mesmerised by the imagery of the evening including that provided by the artist, the sight of other visitors laying out candles in jam jars around the hut as darkness fell, and the inherent beauty of the landscape.

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Sean Harris event at Winchester Science Centre: projected animation

Well, dear reader(s?), it feels better to get some of these ramblings off my chest.  Rumour has it that I shall have some human company on next Sunday’s dog jog so provided there are no more sheep related incidences to divert his attentions he will bear the brunt of my week’s musings and I shan’t have to subject you to them.  But then again, we haven’t even touched on the definition of Art yet…………..Have a good week.

Turn up the Volume!

Apologies for being a bit remiss on the posting front recently.  This isn’t a reflection of a lack of productivity, in fact, quite the opposite.  I have been extremely busy making over the past month driven by commissions, a number of internal and external factors, and inspired by everything from the weather, exhibition visits, recent workshops, my usual doggy muses and exhibition deadlines.

“Jess the Doodle” recent commissioned knitted doggy head

Perhaps it is the volume that has created the problem in searching for an interesting sharing experience with you. A bit like driving into a supermarket car park and finding too many spaces to choose from? Anyway, rather than just post pictures of “stuff what I have done” which probably only interests my Mum (sorry Mum, I’ll post one of those soon too!) I thought I’d share two inspirational experiences that have really added to my productive drive.

The first was a video from Ira Glass, the host of “This American Life” radio show which a friend had posted on her facebook feed. In the clip Ira talks about how creative people are trying to be good at what they do but due to their inherent sense of good taste (as per their creative nature) they are continually being disappointed by their output.  At this point it could be easy to quit as one invests so much time and energy knowing that the work being produced just isn’t up to one’s own high standards.  He urges us instead to keep going and in fact create a huge volume of work with the aim of closing the gap between our ambitions and our output.  Thanks Ira, that was just the excuse I needed to drive on!

The other source of huge inspiration I wanted to share with you today is this book.  I picked it up at the Tate book shop a little while back and nearly missed my train stop on the way home as I just couldn’t put it down.

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In it the author asks 50 successful artists in various media a number of questions regarding why they do what they do, where they get their inspiration from and particularly how they deal with creative blocks.  This is, of course, accompanied by mouth watering pictures of their work.  At the end of each interview the artist is asked to set a task for the reader to help boost creativity and work through a creative block.  One of the really interesting things for me was to see how even these successful creatives have huge amounts of self doubt (I thought it was just us aspiring types!) so I guess this links in with the taste thing that Ira was talking about.  In particular, US illustrator Sidney Pink came out with a fabulous quote which has burrowed into my subconscious and I’m sure will keep surfacing in times of need: “Any thing of value comes from hard work and unwavering dedication.  If you want to be a good artist you need to look at other artists, make a lot of crappy art, and just keep working” (ref page 88 of Creative Block by Danielle Krysa).

So readers, yet again we are faced with the dilemma of not enough hours in the day (and storage space!) and I am feeling the need to get the inks out and create an illustration triggered by my Jack Russell’s antics this morning. I also recognise that there are not enough pictures in this post and far too many words so I shall leave you with an image of an illustration I finished a couple of days ago inspired by Sas and Alfie on a recent Sunday dog jog.  Get creating!

“The Hunters” ink on watercolour paper by Nicky Barfoot