‘What is it?’
Review of Roger Ackling’s exhibition ‘Sunlight’ at Norwich Castle Museum


Don’t ask ‘What does it mean’, ask ‘What is it?’

Roger Ackling’s exhibition ‘Sunlight’ was opened by Simon Ofield-Kerr with these words, and they feel like a glass of fresh water. No need then to refer to context, art history, his influences and friends.

What are they? ‘Sunlight’ is a gentle word, caressing, evocative, but the sun is the monstrous atomic generator of our universe, powerful beyond imagination, obliviously pumping out energy whose effects are benign and destructive.

Roger sits by the sea with his little mirror forcing the mighty sun along bits of weathered wood with his will and his steady hand. Line below line - you have to ask how he makes them so straight, so uniform, so mechanical. Why this size and not that? why horizontal? Burning so evenly is an act of controlled damage like cutting, and the lines are also a way of cross-hatching, drawing, the muscular connections between brain, eye and hand operating together.

Line after line - why? obsessive, without function, a choice he sticks with, showing the sunlight who is boss. Did he ever get bored with his own particular process, which became a path, an identity? did he feel trapped by the lines?

Does Roger want to be a machine? he allows the substrate to have had a rich life, evidenced by its weathered surface, and then he imposes a quasi-mechanical motif on it, making it his, making it him. He suits the motif to the surface, larger, smaller, its geometry echoing and contrasting with the wood.

He used what was to hand - but not really. He ran out of driftwood and a friend gave him lolly sticks! maybe the friend was teasing him about his romantically-found materials? Someone brings him what he calls ‘lolly sticks’ and they are his Thing. He probably liked the childish word, and this is part of the intrinsic nose-thumbing of Roger’s work. He could have gone Big, gone Long, scaled it all up so each work would stop you in your tracks with its monumental scale, but he does the opposite.

You picture him wandering along the beach or wood rummaging around, lighting on a tiny shapely thing, seeing it and its possibilities. A form can be huge or miniscule - when it is art, is there any purpose to being either big or small? Hold the form to your eye, it is big. Stand far away, it is small.

Lolly sticks start out as trees, timber, cut down, encased in ice-cream, packaged, stored, licked, thrown away, weathered by tongues, a moment’s tasty fun. Not like the sea-tossed driftwood, shed from a ship in a storm, carried to the Baltic, turning up at Sheringham, accidentally coming into Roger’s path. Quite like the trajectory of a beam of sunlight, made from gaseous explosions, travelling millions of miles, falling wherever it falls.

You can infer contentment from the large number of Roger’s works, see him sitting peacefully on the shore, the regular rhythm of the sea matching the rhythm of his hand and glass moving carefully over the wood, the small plume of smoke. He controls the sunlight like a rider controls a great big racehorse, man against nature, man with nature. The sense of Roger’s touch is always everywhere in his objects - calling them ‘work’ sounds pedestrian. Touch of sun, of sea, of fire.

Chance encounters in the wild with things that will become his substrates - in the gallery these will be exquisitely placed, each thing with lovely white clean airy space around it, lighting completely considered, hung in relation to the body of the audience, each gentle shadow surely cherished.

So - what is if?

'Human Geometry'


This is the first wall-drawing Roshan and I have made for a couple of years. We have been asked to do this by Ruth Brumby, curator of the artist-run gallery Cromer Artspace.

It is the visual manifestation of the Whatsapp conversation between us. .
The conversation began with Roshan finding a C19th ethnographic photo of a woman and a man overpainted with geometric measurements. We replaced the male figure with Roshan's existing drawing of a diagrammatic man, drawn onto the picture-plane as though in conversation with the sculpted photo of the woman. The measurements purport to be objective, yet the picture fizzles i to molecules and pixels the closer you look.

We talked about the various elements within the drawing, but it wasn't till it was almost complete that I noticed that I hadn't made anything authentically mine – the drawings and ideas were really all Roshan. Yet I enjoyed taking a backseat, and copying his drawing, which was copies of photographs in his very distinctive style, subsuming myself to another person's vision. You could say we are questioning the authorships of the images, both the original intention of the antique photo and of Roshan's drawing but my reluctance to shell out £20 for a digital print plays a part too.

Rather than download and print, Stephanie has drawn large freehand copies of Roshan's messages directly onto the gallery wall. This unlikely relationship echoes their own, connected and simultaneously seperated.

Medium: Pencil, ink print, acrylic paint, found objects, digital print
Dimensions: 150 x 200cm
Date: 2024i
Price: Limited edition A3 hand-finished unframed digital print, £50 ...more

Open Studio 2024


My studio is 12 mikes north of Norwich, so I don’t expect a torrent of visitors; it’s an opportunity to trumpet my work to the wider world, and any flesh-and-blood visitors are the icing on the cake.

The week kicked off with a long visit from a curator and as she was my first visitor’s she got deluged with a torrent of ideas. I’d just drawn a new mind map and everything felt fresh again. Last autumn’s residency in Split is continuing to yield ideas as I make work and read.

For instance, the octopus head I had given Diocletian ( green bust in the foreground) has led me to think about Mycenaean jars decirated with jaunty smiley octopuses, an animal the ancient Greeks likened to the womb with its fluid shape and tenracles that supposedly ran into the limbs.

Most fruitful was discussion with visitors (all artists, except for a couple of cyclists who thought the garden school had a study day) about how to stand the sculptures up. They’re not really sculptures as they are flat, but they’re not really paintings because I’ve gone off the word.

So I have two new ways forward to consider - junking the plinths so the work sits on the floor directly, with a discrete steel stand or maybe hung from the ceiling on fine cords.

Again many thanks to my visitors!

Chloe Steele writes about my Flash Exhibition


It began to make more sense when I saw the room full of clocks and I thought I saw them move or turn into people, they all looked so different

Imagine if shadows were made of liquid colour, that spread and dripped and fell out of time and hope and ideas and fun – fun’s a dumb word. But this lot are dumb, standing aloof, posturing, posing in their hosiery and their hats and shoes, contorted on edgy planes, angular and supple made laughably pretending they are cut from emerald, sewn from a harlequin’s stocking worn as a hat, face like a plate with a pair of marbles for eyes rolled in opposite directions, one to the ceiling, the other next door. Next door is next a friend, perhaps a friend, perhaps a no one. No one’s face is pinched sucked into its tiny hoot with painted paintwork sloshing around looking stroked strange by five fingers, it is islanded this personage, totally on its own. Nailed apart. This trophy wall, girls and old women’s stroke men’s faces swirl and swell and suck-in diminish laughing down a tunnel and seen through a prism they seem caught in the trap of light becoming at the same time finishing. Clipped and cut. Their finish is in their cut out. The full-blown cut out curiosities crowd the middle, a gaggle of gawpers and gigglers fanny about and gesticulate and chatter nonsense with Alice and Maggie and anyone else who wanders in. Everybody sucked into this whirlpool of colour and magic and delight, delight found in the full spectrum of colour jammed together red and pink and brown, highlighter lines, acid hues, calligraphic shapes and the sliding geometric floor of some demented medieval hall that one imagines falls towards us, heading towards us cyclonic in a rush, in an absurd dance macabre, this silky parade of the not normal with legs made of marble and stained glass, hands of gilt and all the vivid colours of a Shahnameh as it catches light its pages lift and curl and float away into a configuration of such astonishing beauty, where armoirs become human and clocks grow heads, and feet look like noses and clouds jigsaw like moustaches. And those three noble heads, cool in their knowing three-dimension, preside over this House, this slipped court, with their eyes sliding into their noses they shout, sadly, ‘Order, order’, and this lot freeze into this momentary configuration. Say cheese. Caught in the act. But never caught, always ready to power flight always in the process of becoming some thing, some body, some colour some other, shape.

Notes for Panic Paintings


Notes for Panic Paintings

I’ve only been to the Lake District once, but I remember standing in sunshine among the tipping hills and describing to my friend a sense of blustery exhilaration. The feeling was a slightly hysterical impulse to run and yell, a sort of mob terror and joy. ‘That’s panic’, said my friend, ‘as in Pan.’

For a modern person it’s not easy to conceive of panic in that particular sense. In the wild Greek wood, gorged on dance, wine and singing, an orgiastic state was attained where the wild goat-man-god takes the revellers onto a level of frenzy, a Bacchinal.

It seems to me that an orgy (I haven’t actually been to one) will give you both a body and an out-of-body experience. It used to be very normal for anyone and everyone to become lost in ecstatic religious trance and dance at a village level. The church provided opportunities to be carried away with spiritual fervour, and though folk dancing now seems an anodyne or hip jollity, it can become a deep and transporting experience; I have sometimes played a repetitive Macedonian tune on my flute to dancers to the point where I became inhabited by the tune, swimming in it, losing myself. I felt able to curdle milk, to cause crops to fail, tgat I could be sucked into a dark turmoil. This was in Tuttington.

I’ve always lived in and near woods and there is nothing as thrilling as running among trees and bushes with a big wind blowing, as the dusk falls. To be lost in the woods is to become your nameless self, experiencing primeval sensations of being alive; the rushing leaves, the twigs tearing at you, the ground now flat, now tussocked, falling branches. As a child in the woods I read the Brothers Grimm, the Langs ‘Fairy Books of Many Colours’, Roger Lancelyn Green’s ‘Tales of Ancient Greece’.

Woods are places of dense elemental habitation, both vegetable, animal and fairy, with eyes, hands and tongues everywhere, The feeling of being looked at is the feeling that you are prey, and maybe it is why surveillance in cities is so deeply unsettling. Donna Tartt evokes this so well in ‘The Secret History’ where the god Pan enters the students in the wood, and they tear apart one of their number in an ecstatic frenzy.

Heads of Famous People


While I’m painting, a famous person will sometimes hover around inside my head - maybe someone I’ve been thinking about, reading or listening to. I put them into the work near the end of the making as the fun flourish. These aren’t portraits as such, though I use a downloaded photo (chosen with care, I now realise), they are more like markers, nods, waves of my hand. They come to my mind with their own visual objects, like the attributes of saints. Really they are more the spirit of the painting than the subject.

Stravinsky; marking that I have loved Russian composers since getting The Rites of Spring in my teens.

Benjamin Britten: the tweed, the reeds on the marshes, beloved Peter and the Wolf with Ustinov

Shirley Williams: she really meant it. She was a Fabian Old Labour intellectual with a gentle voice - but tough.

Mark Morris; I heard this American choreographer on ‘Private Passions’, a favourite Radio 3 programme, and got a beautiful John Adams symphony from him.

Matthew Parris: he’s himself, urbane, independent-minded, brainy.

I painted a set of Johnson, Sunak, Hancock, Patel and Rees-Mogg but came to dislike seeing them in my studio.

It amuses me to not properly engage with portraiture in an artist-subject way, by studying the character or even the features of a sitter - artists are meant to be psychologically perceptive and I don’t care about that. Maybe ‘muse’ is a better description of what’s going on in my creative process, but in the sense of vaguley thinking, not Pygmalion-style inspiration.

I never feel alone in the studio; people of every kind, mostly dead, hover around like angels in a medieval heaven. Painting a remote celebrity who would have no interest in meeting me in my remote Norfolk field seems slightly comical and pathetic. It is also an act of power - I could do whatever I like wiith their images. The paintings are neither cariacatures nor fantasies, more a mark that the6 have been, for a time on my mind.

Two Black and White Artists


Two Black and White Artists

On Friday I looked at two artists depicting death with black and white drawings. Kentridge has taken over the first floor of the splendidly classical Royal Academy and shows wall-drawings, film, text, prints, tapestries, animation, sound, sculpture. In contrast I experienced Khan’s drawing as a small digital image among others on his Instagram feed, and although the image had comparable content to Kentridge’s its effect on me has been quite different, and has insidiously lodged in my imagination.

Khan’s heavily stylised image shows a schematic three-bay house containing a pattern of skeletal figures with raised hands, drawn in black against a white ground. A blood-red sky fits over the house like a carapace. At first sight the drawing looks like a historical diagram of how to arrange slaves in a boat so as to maximise the cargo space. It is nominally a house, but it could as easily be a tomb or a boat. Are the figures standing and looking at us, or lying down? Khan says with chilling simplicity, ‘Here is a bloody house, made up of house slaves’.

The Gingerbread House is also an image of horror, being the magical food for abandoned children Hansel and Gretel, a house in which you cannot take refuge and which fails to nourish you. The skeletons look a little like a Mexican Day of the Dead frieze, patterns arranged precisely to fill the white space in an even rhythm; the positive and negative spaces are equally valued. They speak of the gaiety of the dead, a Catholic relish in lively deadness. Fingers and ribs fan out like spiders – are they Anansi? They remind you that fingernails and hair keep growing in the tomb.

Pattern makes one think of the weaver, the Greek fate Clotho who orders our lives on her loom. Incidentally, looms also feature in banking; the Guerney banking family who became Barclays began in medieval times as Jacquard weavers and transferred this way of dealing with numbers and order into lending and borrowing numbers.

What struck me so forcefully about this drawing is the emotional power of pattern. The restraints of form provoke – almost mock - your imagination, contrasting with the actual meaty, bloody, smelly horror of the subject. The aloof thoughtfulness of the design evokes the inhuman planning of evil – slavers, Nazis – for me, more effectively than Kentridge’s lively tumult. Like a flamenco dancer, Khan expresses passion through the control of his artistry, unusual in times where hearts are generally worn on sleeves.

I came away from the Kentridge exhibition feeling surprisingly equanamous, in spite of having been drenched with a flood of moving images. Guilt, death, hunger, dispossession gush from an artist who has the medieval humour of water; torrents of sketchy figures, waterfalls of dissolving landscapes, waves of emotion.

That Khan’s is a digital image, not made from physical ink or charcoal, means that it has - at present - no material body and therefore is still an idea, making this sophisticated and sad drawing difficult to forget.

Notes on 'Zabat' - Maud Sulter exhibition at New Hall Cambridge


When I visited New Hall to look at the exhibition of Maud Sulter's photographic series ‘Zabat’ (1989), I had avoided reading much about her so as to let the images do their work in their own way. The large gold-framed photographs are hung in a long light-filled walkway overlooking New Hall's atrium with its rills and giant pot-plants . On display are six of the nine photographs of black women as Greek muses with Sulter herself as Calliope.

This mage comes from a photograph of Jeanne Duval, the Haitian born actress and dancer and mistress of Baudelaire. Sulter holds a classic Pre-Raphaelite pose with heavy tresses pressing on her bare shoulder, in her hand a small case whose contents are in shadow. The case apparently contains an image of Jeanne Duval, but it is hidden, unknowable, secret and private.

As with each of the images there is a play of what is seen and what is unseen; they all have the basic studio-style background familiar from early photography, but each of the backdrops is crumpled paper or cloth, lacking the usual props of potted palms, rugs, architecture, as though the women themselves had no backgrounds, no settings, no things of their own. They are improvised from the least thing that was to hand, decontextualised and cut out not only from the aesthetic tradition of portraiture but also from their own personal histories.

Sulter's curved wing of inky hair is dense, almost geometric, sensual but articulated as though carved from ebony. Heavy hair is one of the Pre-Raphaelite fixations; the subject often gazes in a mournful unfocussed way as though lost a dream, an object (snowdrop, pansy, a tress) in her hand, pearly nape exposed. Here I have to say that as a child I loathed these boneless fish-like images, shiny women who didn't seem to be looking at anything and who you couldn't imagine talking, running, eating. At the same time I was fascinated by the technical skill that could create such paintings and have remained repelled by the squeamish atmosphere of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

Her skin is gleaming and when you look closely you can see its fine texture and surface and its sheen of life. It is awful to see this vivid life and know that she died so young (48) though she and her fellow muses are all caught here forever young, forever gleaming. The velvet she wears is glossy too, but it is visibly a shiny cheap nylon cloth - like the backdrop it is a gesture at sumptuousness on the cheap.

Sulter is twisting away from the viewer as she looks out of the frame, as though about to turn her back. The relationship to the viewer is almost discouraged; you can look but it is one-way, in no way is your gaze returned. The ‘gaze’ is often an act of possession, but here Sulter takes the power by intimitating that you can look all you want - as the cloth slips down - but she’s about to go her own way.



I can't remember why I started making these miniature sculptures last week - can't recall my train of thought, but it's immediately become an addiction . Using glue, embroidery scissors and old copies of World of Interiors, it's possible to explore form, colour, space and composition very quickly, running through countless options until something feels right.

Although in the flesh there's plenty of light and shade and volume to the assemblages, they don't look so real in the photos. I enjoy their ephemeral character and might try rendering them in oil on a small scale, which would also help with working out composition and palette, two things I struggle with.

The possibilities of this form seems endless! I used large-scale digital prints in IndoAnglian Conversations to make 3D paper sculpture, but the expense was prohibitive. This throw-away method appeals to me because it;'s so Blue Peter, childlike. Pencil, paper, clay, scissors, pencil, rubber, glue - with these basic tools, what more do you need?

Painting Thatcher


Thatcher - that filigree fan of iron hair, the controlled intensity of her gaze, the perfect skin, the pearls, the blue suits. Her ministers were scared of her, not scared that she'd cry or faint but scared in an archaic way of her hard will-to-power.

Every portrait is a contrivance by artist and sitter - when a woman wears make-up it's a double contrivance, she has already begun the journey of self-imagining, so there's already views in the relationship between artist/sitter, sitter/self before a brush is picked up.

I've been painting men pretty much exclusively but was side-tracked by Thatcher because of her eye-catchingly powerful gaze and because she used 'feminine' accoutrements (pearls, handbag, hairspray etc). I wonder what she'd have looked like in mens' clothes without the theatrical presentation?

She was said to use her femininity in dealings with male colleagues, but because women with her degree of power are rare I was curious to look at her for a while, to get a sense of how this femininity manifested itself. She looks a little Zvengali - look into the eyes, the eyes! and the green skin - men are from Mars, aren't they? Aliens have green skin, don't they? or maybe she has fine lizeard-like scales....

You can categorize power portraits : brilliant leader gazing into distance at vision of wonderful world s/he has created; leader doing something emblatic and significant with small child/ spinning wheel etc; leader covered in booty to show he got the lot (can't think of any female ones of this category); leader gazing fixedly at sculptor/painter/photographer as though directly at - me!! to show that even the little people are in their mighty minds.

It feels a bit weird to be painting these leaders, it feels cheeky, powerful, nosy - I can make them into anything!

'The Red Robert'


This new sculpture came from wanting to try out making a painting into a three dimensional object. The painting is a yellow pearly cutout with biopmorphic curves with a ruffled fringe and a boot on one foot. About the form itself; I had in mind a stone sculpture I'd seem outside the Royal Academy - I think it was by Phyllida Barlow - which looked like a deflated sea-cucumber. This deflation seemed humorous to me, slightly satirical, as though sculpture is a puffed-up thing to be, and needs taking down a peg or two. It also gave it some kind of narrative - what had it looked like and what would it look like when it had finished deflating?

Also I liked the idea of this object being a 'windbag' - the pomposity of the site, outside the RA, among the grown-up sculptures. It made me think of ageing, the sculpture getting withered and wrinkled like a balloon, a sculpture that was allowed to be a bit silly. I wanted to carry this look of inflation/deflation into my own sculpture - this slight silliness, the connection of its being like one of those crazy blow-up figures that are no more than a bit of cloth over a fan, dancing outside a burgher joint.

Like all my work, the sculpture's about my size and made of plaster over a wooden and cardboard armature. The decoration was so fun to do - I had no plan beyond starting to copy the existing painting. It was like decorating a pot, a finished form, but with the liberty of responding to the form underneath, nothing practical, no particular idea. Because I felt the painting worked well, it gave me a freedom to lift constraints and paint intuitively, feeling small discomforts at the discords that arose within the decorative 'scheme' as I worked.

The name - I was thinking of a very bossy man I knew, and the Carly Simon song 'You're so vain'.

Unforgettable Exhibitions #1


Some exhibitions stay lodged in your memory. 'Land', a site-specific installation by Netherlands artist Krijn de Konig, is one such.

He re-sited some of Edinburgh College of Art's College's collection of 265 casts of antique, Renaissance and Gothic sculptures, though I think only classical ones were used. These great beasts were in a stepped landscape of ply thatr occupied all of the splendid classical atrium at the heart of the College. The casts are in different scales, different states of decay. Some he half-submerged in a sea of wood, some were at strange angles, there were odd juxtapositions, all visually unified by their pallour in the creamy terraces of ply.

It was a perfect show; ambiguous, ineffable, a rare physical and psychcological experience that felt like being in a porridge-coloured painting by de Chirico. Powerfully shaped objects of the utmost craggy beauty, many dismembered, broken, truncated, but all the more moving for this -these were juxtaposed with two kinds of linear formality, classical and contemporary. And the setting - splendour and order, mathematically disposed pillars and arches in richly articulated space, the third element being the terraces of wood.

Suddenly you could get close to the nose of the Winged Victory of Samothrace, while the Venus de Milo pressed her nose against a wall and Zeus cradles an infant up to his armpits in ply, like a father teaching his son to swim.

Being toppled and lying down


In a recent webinar given by PSSA (Public Statues and Sculpture Association) with the Burlington magazine, Hew Locke says 'When Coulston came down it was not the erasure of history but the making of should be in a museum on is side, raise it up and it becomes an aesthetic object, but on its side the power is not there any more'.

This 'toppling' ( always this word, not pushed, not fallen) was a long time coming, and when it came it was on a roll of rage. The equation is: silent figure on pedestal ( another loaded word), vast anger, energy, movement of people, shouting, pushing, falling, a short moment of the energy of gravity, stillness. Like other statue topplings the moments of falling are thrilling. Once he's down, as Hew says he - it - becomes an aesthetic object, starts a new life as a thing with no life, meaning, dignity; becomes like lumber, to be stored somewhere.

Maybe it would have been more fitting for Coulston to have been left where he fell under the sea, distorted by the water's movement, to be peered down at from above as he silts up, becomes green, gets barnacles, becomes an object of dreams? It would be a symmetrical end for someone who caused other bodies to lie at the bottom of he ocean.

Statues like this, commemorating people who don't matter any more, or matter in a different way, had become largely invisible unless you had reason to be narked by them. And a plinth isn't something you normally notice but suddenly they are interesting. Platform, dais, pedestal, podium - I've been thinking about them recently for my own sculptures, thinking about giving the sculptures more presence, pushing them forward like a balcony bra, like shouting, like flags, to make them more seen.

Lying down can draw attention to yourself too. Fallen statues have a poetic pathos when the subject is not hated. Is it possible to hate a statue that's lying down? It's pretty amazing that these lumps of metal and stone are still read as human, as being hurtable.

I remember a little film that demonstrated stability, the movement from one stable state to another. Salt is poured into a pile, and at a certain point it topples, and what is left is a newly stable form.

After 5 years I finally get it


'In imagination, we chase the dead, shouting, ‘Come back!’ We may suspect that the voices we hear are an echo of our own, and the movement we see is our own shadow. But we sense the dead have a vital force still –they have something to tell us, something we need to understand.' Hilary Mantel, BBC Radio 4, Reith lecture 2017

It has only just occurred to me what I have been painting for the last 5 years. When I first visited India and came across 16 portraits of political agents of the Raj, painting them was a way to get an exhibition together, to get back to India, to be in Udaipur. After 5 years of painting single faces of men I now understand that I am responding to the call by each image I have studied to answer them with my gaze.

My subject became studio portraiture of the 1850s, first the political agents then the Royal Princes, the British Raj officials; always the single (male) figure looking, in his own present time of the sitting, from the past at the lens of his photographer who stands where you and I stand. The men would have been thinking of other viewers, the admiring family, the supplicant, the purchaser, the worshipper, the envious rival.

The visual language of these images is probably typical in its scope of any public portraiture: Fayum and swagger portraits, images of kings, leaders, officials to be shown in public places, mementoes, talismen. On the religious side icons, gods sitting in shrines, rood screens - anywhere that a didactic, expressive one-to-one relationship is being expressed. There is the person looking out, the pose, the clothes, the facial expression, the background, the items sharing the pictorial space. We are overseen by these eyes that follow us.

The single constructed curated image is what interests me. My interest began with reading that Emperor Augustus liked people to shield their eyes from his gaze so they were not scorched. This power of the gaze to transfix and speak to the beholder is what mostly interests me, and because it assumes a living relationship between viewer and viewed.

I’m specially interested in the ‘active’ gaze between image and viewer, ‘Darshan’ in Indian theology in which there is living spiritual exchange between image and viewer. This must have applied to Christian portraits too, hence the eyes of saints and angels scratched out of any church you care to visit by Reformation iconoclasts, blinding the images and taking away their power to communicate through their eyes.

So what I'm doing with my paintings is being that single viewer, looking back.

Sculpture outside


Improvising is fun, acting on an idea that suddenly occurs to you with almost no time for thought. Outside my studio is a gardening school, and as well as long thin beds for plants there is lots of garden equipment such as black plastic sheet, sheets of brown cardboard for mulching, mountains of rotting dung, and one day this stack of palettes. I'd not been able to use the empty studio at the end of our block, and I suddenly realised that there was a ready-made plinth outside my door. Out goes the cut-out sculpture, up on the plinth, and bingo! click and back indoors again.

Next day the palettes are made into a neat compost heap.

Conflict in my work


I've just been trying to pull the different strands of my work together, to see if there are themes that go through fit all. I realised that conflict, warfare and side-taking is a recurrent theme, starting with my 'British Bulldog' and my interest in WW2, through the silent emotional tussles between Freud and his early analysands. After comes the East India Company, which I understood mainly as cultural imperialism, somehow overlooking the damage. My most recent interest has been in the British Raj, though the conflict aspect only dawned on me as I delved deeper into the history of the invasion, you would really call it, of India by the British.

Maybe it is thinking about the styles that I'm attracted to that causes me also to consider conflict; the style of the furniture in Freud's house expresses anthropomorphically his time, the materials of leather, wood, tweed. This is in opposition to the 'matter' of his patients, dreams, fancies, terrors. With WW2, the hardware is a manifestation of the brilliance of the engineers, designers, architects, whose inventiveness produced machines to see, hear and, I must acknowledge, kill far away. In India, it is the comparison of the respectively feminised dress that intrigues me, the opulent maharajahs, the opulent viceroys, both using dress to signal hierarchy and place to each other.

Acceptance and rejection are part of the making process - I want this rather than that.

Reading list for the British Raj, photography and colonialism in India


When I visited India I knew nothing about its history and connections with Britain. When the British finally left in 1947, Dehli was filled for days with smoke from the burning of papers in a fire designed to leave only material that supported the idea of a benign rule. It wasn't till I stared reading around, following hares, reading footnotes, that I began to get a picture of the British Raj. I came to be convinced that the contemporary emphasis in education on the World Wars was to stop people probing round in our horrible past, and that understanding this history helps how our modern society came to be constructed, and why people from other countries come to be here.

This is a fullish list of my reading around the British in India, Orientalism, colonialism photography and art in mid-19th century India, books I came across when I started trying to find out about how Indian people felt about the Raj, and about Colonialism, about which I knew nothing, had been taught almost nothing that adequately explained the relationship of the two places. Most shocking is Shashi Tharoor's account which came from his astonishing speech at the Oxford Union, deftly analysing what Britiain took from India in the way of wealth.

"Orientalism' by Edward Said: the great classic, giving a critical account of the West's attitude to the East

'Inglorious Empire' by Shashi Tharoor: An expansion of his famous speech given at the Oxford Union, laying out what the British Empire from the East india Company onwards had materially taken from India

The White Mughals' 'and 'City of the Djinns' by William Dalrymple . The story of the love between an East India Company man living in India and the Mughal princess he wed.

'Composing the Spectacle: Colonial Portraiture and the Corontion Durbards of British India, 1877 - 1911' by Sean Willcox: A paper about visual imagery used for political control in the raj

'Photography and Anthroplogy' by Christopher Pinney How Anthroplogoical photography was used to define Otherness in Eastern cultures

'Long Exposure: The Camera at Udaipur 1857-1957' by Pramod Kumar: Archive photographers from a pivotal time in the raj

'A Second Paradise: Indian Courtly Life 15990-1947' Paintings, photographs and culture of Mughal India

'Posing for Posterity: Royal Indian Portraits' by Pramod Kumar

'A Passage to India' E.M.Forster '

Jonathan Gil Harris 'The First Firangis' Stories of ordinary people who were early travellers to India

'Photographic Interventions and Identities: Colonising and de-Colonising the Royal Body' by Julie Codell: How photography was used to define and redefine Indian princes

'Eastern Encounters' Emily Hannamcatalogue from the Queen's Gallery of presents given her by Indian royals

'The Story of My Experiments with Truth' by Gandhi

'A Writer's People: Ways of Seeing and Feeling' by V.S.Naipaul

' Last Train to Pakistan' by Khushant Singh: A story about Partition

'Annals of Mewar' by James Tod: A 19th century account by a political agent Essays on Indian and british cultureof life in the court of Udaipur

'Flashman and the Mountain of Light' by George MacDonald Frazer: Historically accurate adventure novel

'The Spirit of Indian Painting' by B.N.Coswamy Overview of Indian and Euro-Indian art

"The Raj Quartet' by Paul Scott

'Hobson-Jobson' by Henry Yule and A.C.Burnell: A glossary of Ando-Indian word and phrases

'Lowlands' by Jhumpa Lahiri: A novel about terrorism

"In Conversation" with Myself


What do you intend your work to convey to an audience?

I have a hope that when someone sees my work they will feel the energy of different interests clashing and jostling in a dance together, a sense of rude life and fun.

Why do you work in your chosen medium?

I began my practising life hoping to be a painter, but initially I couldn't find my way into working with flat geometric canvases, so I began making sculpture. It was easier to invent 3D forms, but there was an inflexibility too, the difficulty of construction. I somehow couldn't make things that were robust, but the idea of making temporary objects from cloth or paper - though it would have been easier to do, it didn't seem that I'd be putting a real whole new object out into the world. I recommenced painting, but always there was the problem of the geometry, the background, the rationale of the arbitrary shape of the board. Why I suddenly thought of cutting out the paintings I can't recall, but it immediately made sense, and I found I could 'think' in this way.

Technically speaking, how do you go about constructing your work? that is, the image or the object itself? What devices do you employ?

I sketch in one of my innumerable sketch-books, then transfer the drawing onto board in my studio. Sometimes I use a photo or painting o bounce ideas from, and bormally I have an artwork in my head - currently Franz west, and caulfield for his Cubist sense of space.

Which periods/artists/specific works of art are you influenced by, and how directly? How does this manifest itself in your work?

The Padshanama Mughal miniatures, Cubism, Victorian religious furniture, optics, instruments and furniture

What stimulates / informs your work from the world around you?


What stimulates / informs your work from your own personal experience?

Currently, my love of India

From where do you derive your other visual source material (ie: non-art-historical), and how do you implement this material within the work?

My imagination, design, textiles

What are the main problems you face when making your work?

Cowardice and lethargy. Too cautious about trying different techniques, and too slow to ditch poor work.

Where do you intend to take your work from here?
Back into 3D, with papier mache, cardboard, cloth, plaster, and make work that can go outside. Wearable sculpture too, and working with dancers.

Using 'Dance' to make compositions


One reason why I've never tried to write a novel is that I don't have an instinct on how to structure it. How quickly do you make events happen? how long do you linger on character? how can you adjust the pace of the action, moving between slow and fast?

Reading Milan Kundera's novels last month I became aware of the way the construction is choreographed. Characters come into the scene, pausing to show themselves, pass and turn, move before and behind each other, veer into the foreground, retreat, stand in patterns, sweep together. You see someone close-to, they move to the back. Someone from the distance looms up into focus.

I'm using the endless possibility of dance to improvise new arrangements in setting up my pieces, keeping the idea of a stage in my imagination. There is no reason or order really, just happy accidents. A tall piece I put at the font suddenly springs into life when I add a small portrait at its shoulder. It make me eager to add new elements such as mobile landscapes, speech bubbles, large faces, so that there is a pack of components that can be shuffled and reshuffled like the cardboard Pollock theatres of my childhood.

Maybe the next step is to introduce ways of arranging the choreography in different methods - blindfold, in the dark, by order of size?

Life-drawing my Friends


I've been feeling stale and stuck about figure drawing recently, so I decided to look around for local people to draw. I invited a man who is sometimes a model who has great physical of grace, my neighbo0ur's daughter who has spectacular chestnut tresses, an oldish woman friend who has a great mane of curly and my friend's daughter who was born in Ethiopia.

I asked my first subject to bring an item that 'spoke' of him, and he brought a violin. I sat him against a white wall on a white pedestal, but was too coy to get him to form any challenging poses, and feel I left him confused. I quickly dashed off this life size figure of him as a one-legged redhead. The beard ran away from me though, and the Memphis-style lower region doesn't express much of his inner being. I'll return to this when a little time has passed and more about his personality floats into my hind brain.

Another friend brought her beautiful six year old daughter, whose skin is a gleaming plum brown. I hadn't specified what I wanted her to wear, and the dress she had on was black and white horizontal stripes of increasing size against which was a striking pattern of red roses. This dominated her appearance, and I became shy and could not ask her to pose the way I wanted to. However I have seen her in a fluorescent pink dress with her hair in long plaits, and that fluorescent pink looks amazingly dramatic against her skin. She will retrun to my studio and pose in one of her favourite Pokemon stances.

The last person I drew is the 20 year old daughter of a friend who came to pose in bright purple bellbottoms and earrings and lilac shirt with her her copper hair in heavy hanks. Again I was paralysed by coyness, and failed to diret her with any certainty. But it was when I came across her in a shady car park wearing orange and metallic turquoise outfit that I saw how I had to paint her. Her milky skin has a mother-of-pearl lustre, and there was something folklorique about her costume.

The strange thing about drawing people you know is the burden of making an image that they will like. I can deal with this by paying them, which objectifies and distances them enough for me to feel free to paint adventurously, even rudely and wildly.

It was a mistake not to have rehearsed some poses for them in my head before they came, because I became abashed and did not want to strain their bodies or their patience. I also feel prepared to wait for a while after the drawing session for their meanings, significance, emblems and colours to develop in my imagination.

Back to Sculpture after a long gap


It's been a long age since I made a proper big fat gorgeous sculpture - since wandering of into painting a few years ago I had allowed myself to forget its joys. After my initial meeting with my mentor Manick Govinda at Tate Modern last year I sloped off to look at the current exhibition, which happened to be Franz West. His boisterous forms, irridescent rocks, wearable sculptures and general exuberance (and Sarah Lucas's delicious plinths) made me itch to get back to making a dirty great colourful non-sensical object, incorporating my new painting practise.

The wonderful thing about sculpture is that there is a lot of time when you can mindlessly pat, sand, wind, rinse, and stretch it without being constantly on red alert like with painting. Drop your guard with a painting and it collapses. You need constant vigilance to make sure you are being both spontaneous and wild, controlled and thoughtful. Many happy hours can be spent making sculpture with your mind rolling along nowhere in particular.

My studio neighbour Dominique Rey has been using Modrock and I got my son to give me a few rolls for Christmas. Finishing some paintings I've been working on since July 2019, I thought I'd have a bash at making a 3D version of a pony-like cutout I'd been delighted to make last year. I'm now addicted to Modrock, getting to the studio at 7.30 yesterday to try a solution to its non-drying that I'd been figuring out in bed - most of the night, it felt like. I'm now halfway through a large thing that looks a bit like a cactus, a bit like a galleon. It's taking form on its wooden armature made from bits of salvaged timber ( parts of some signage and old cot) , and it still needs sort of dewlap or bingo-wing under its neck, but I'm on the home run and looking forward to giving it a luscious satiny coat of pearly plaster then painting it up with rich colours.

Not-working: DYCP journal


'Yesterday I was at Kettle's Yard 'Homelands' symposium. Unfortunately I squandered the best networking opportunity I might ever have - sitting next to #BritishArtShow curator Hammad Nasar, I chose the moment to launch into one of my ill-thought-out, possibly racist rambles about the decline of colour in Indian fashion.

I was unable to extract myself from the quagmire of embarrassment I created, and now will never be able to go to Cambridge without being reminded of being stuck at a lunch table with people who clearly thought I lost my wits.' 19th January 2020 Facebook post

Most artists I know cringe at the idea of networking, picturing a cynical and creepy exercise in manipulative self-promotion. I tend to see it as the opportunity to talk about what interests you with other people who share your interest. I did a good schmooze at Kettle's Yard for the launch of 'Homelands'. I had gone there mainly to see the performance by Nihkil Chopra, whose performance and drawing I've very much admired. In the course of the event I managed to 'bag' Tara Lal of Chatterjee and Lal, Skinder Hundal of New Art Exchange in Nottingham, and Harriet Loeffler of New Hall art collection (though I knew those two already so maybe it doesn't count as a raw schmooze). Encouraged, I boldly introduced myself to my hero Nihkil, who delighted me by remembering having seen my paintings on Instagram.

I thought a visit to the symposium on 'Homelands' would consolidate the tentacles of my network, but I didn't know anybody there. In spite of sitting between a Dr from the Courtauld and a curator from the Tate, I failed to make any kind of connection, falling deeply asleep during a live-streamed artist's talk from Karachi. At lunch I had a delightful chat with two young men with no artworld connections - a sixth-form teacher and a soft-ware programmer who were just there for pure intellectual curiosity. Hammad Nasar joined us randomly to eat his lunch, and when I found out who he was I was so awestruck that I ceased to make sense.

I blame my geographical isolation and working life in a field in Norfolk. My social grace has suffered from starting the day trying to make a decent impersonation of a hen on my way to the studio

Evaluation of 'Happening' at Outpost Studios Sweet Spot Night


When Henry Newcomb Jackson invited studio members to open the Sweet Spot social night in the common room with events around the studio, I thought it would be a great chance to try doing something different with my cutouts. I'd been looking into the Commedia Dell'Arte, as suggested by both my mentors Manick Govinda and Sacha Craddock, and found some terrifically lively and droll acting classes on Youtube given by the National Theatre on how to move, laugh and speak in a Commedic way. I thought people might like to try on some sculptures and swagger around grunting and strutting, holding up my portraits as though they were masks, walking around with my 'legs'.

Although this didn't happen I did get to reorganise my studio. The stuff stacked by the last occupant I stacked into a great big beautiful wall of old boxes, carpet and tubes. Two sheets of mirror acrylic I'd used in my 3 metre high 'radar' was pinned to wooden stands from an exhibition in Voewood Hall, and formed a fine fourth wall to hide the crap one. The floor was swept, the heads arranged, and nothing happened.

After a while I wandered downstairs, took a fine snap of Henry N.J. posed against a wall (drawn on by Jerwood winner Jade Monserrat) and coaxed Ilona Brinton upstairs, where she tried on a green face that reflected beautifully in the wobbly mirror. Sadly Nicky Deeley, a performance artist down my corridor, is leaving for New Zealand - I wanted to quiz her about how to animate such an event and bring it to life. She tried on my Mark Morris head, looking a little rueful, and promised to keep in touch and chat about live art possibilities.

Apart from the practical outcome of making the studio look wondrous, the non-Happening had been a most useful and stimulating exercise. I'm thinking how well the reflections of the artwoprks reflected in the slightly warping mirror worked - maybe I can cut out some tall mirror shapes and site them among the sculptures to increase a shimmering impression of illogical space. More holes could be cut in forthcoming sculptures to make them wearable (in the loosest sense). Bigger variations in scale might pump up the feeling of disorientation - big faces, tiny feet, far awayness, nearness.

I like the way the cutouts slumped on the walls - there was a look of potential about them, something in their slanting forms suggests future movements and functions. I've thought about finding dancers and trying some formal movements but I like the appearace o the work as though it's been quite carefully leftin an order, hinting at some theatrical thing that's about to happen, something is being planned. It reminds me of Franz West who oftemn slumped or slouched or assumed positions that were in-between positions, slightly uneasy, unresolved.

I meet Nihkil Chopra, one of my art idols!!


Last week I visited Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge to see the internationally famed artist Nihkil Chopra, fresh from a triumphant residency at the Met in New York, perform his live art work ‘Rouge’. The performance was part of the exhibition ‘Homelands’ which featured work by artists from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, but I must admit I mainly went because I’ve been a fan of Chopra for a long time and had missed his exhibition at New Art Exchange in Nottingham – he performs fairly often in the UK.

The performance began in a large cage in which Chopra dressed himself in a stylised Renaissance-look black pantaloons and jacket, before slowly walking around the corner to a large expanse of white wall. There was a pile of black tubes on the floor – the lipsticks which he used to draw a Gainsborough-esque English landscape.

The picture gradually emerged over the next three hours, during which time the audience came and went, looking at the other artworks, chatting, visiting the house next door, eating. Once the landscape was completed, Chopra stepped out of this constructed English world he had depicted. Carefully removed his clothes he arranged them on a chair in front of the drawing, leaving a his ghostly shell before the red world he had created

There was a very friendly atmosphere, and I was delighted to meet Skinder Hundhal of New Art exchange Harriet Loeffler who used to curate Norwich castle and is now curator of New Hall’s collection I also got chatting to one of the director’s of Chatterjee and Lal, Chopra’s gallerist and one of the biggest galleries in India

The evening finished with a conversation between Chopra and Catherine Wood, head of International Art at the Tate. Chopra is an entertaining and lively talker, and described ‘Rouge’ as an act of siting himself within an illusory English landscape. He and I have common ground in our interest in studio photography, those strange sepia mimic worlds inhabited by stony-faced posers that mark the Westernisation of Indian dress and ways from 1850s.

I was doubly and trebly thrilled by my boldness in introducing myself to NC as his Instagram friend, and he exclaimed how much he liked my paintings! Result!

Shortlisted for CBP prize!


Like many artists I'm always scouring the pages of Artquest, Art Rabbit, Wooloo and the like, sifting through the many art opps on offer. Although there are always lots, when you whittle them down to exclude ones you are too old for, the wrong ethnic or sexual orientation, the wrong artform, outside the location, or you have to pay a whacking fee to enter, there aren't too many that are worth trying for.

You feel you can narrow the odds by seeing if you know the selectors, by seeing what kind of work the gallery or whatever has shown in the past, and by feeling that the time is right to enter. I've had scores of disappointments, and the glum feeling of getting that rejection letter - 'Thank you for...we were overwhelmed by the quantity of... however on this occasion...'

So when I read the email confirming that I was shortlisted for the Contemporary British Painting prize, all I could do was stand rooted to the spot and say 'Fuck' about twenty times. Then I walked round for about a week with a lovely warm feeling in my stomach trying not to show off.

It was joyous to see my work set up in the gallery at Huddersfield, standing securely on smart plinths, and to look round a show full of beautiful work of great variety. But mainly it was the lovely feeling of being part of something, and meeting the organisers and painters; the funny feeling of being with your tribe, people who like you spent much time alone in their studios, questioning themselves, making solitary breakthroughs; people who wouldn't look at you all funny if you go close up and squint sideways at something, or will patiently answer questions about poppy oil versus linseed.

So thanks CBP - but maybe I won't tempt fate by applying next year!

Plinth Problems


Both my mentors Manick Govinda and Sacha Craddock suggested that my cut-out paintings would have more physical presence if the way they sit on the ground was addressed. The cut-outs are made from 6mm plywood, and propped up in a way that pleases me - a bit provisional. rather wobbly, using curvy painted sticks or pieces of white-painted baton to keep them upright, but they are liable to fall over in a strong draft.

I have different solutions to presentation, one of which is to prop the works together in an improvised way that often brings unexpected conjunctions and can lead to new ideas being generated; I've found making good compositions to be a laborious process, and mainly rely on randomly flinging things about until something randomly happens - that works better for me.

When I found to my delight that I'd been shortlisted for the Contemporary British painting prize, I still hadn't begun to resolve this problem. What works fine in the studio won't do in a public gallery, with The Public endangering my oeuvre with careless swishes of their cagouls

Studio visit with Sacha Craddock


I met Sacha from Norwich station, and we reached my studio after the dreamily quiet walk through the grounds of Norwich cathedral. The sun was beaming cheerfully and the cathedral close looked like a medieval film set, minus mud and peasantry. Walking up Magdalen street she was delighted with the big old merchants' houses functioning as shops - Ruth's Jerusalem Kitchen, Ernie's Fill-up Shop, the Congolese tailor. She'd taught at Norwich School of Art a while ago, and seemed happy to be back in the city.

Sacha's immediate reaction to my cutouts, set up in a colourful sprawl in the studio, was that they had a courtly quality; they were like players in a pack, not individual faces so much as emblems who could be reshuffled into different configurations. Like Manick, she too observed that there was something of the Commedia Delle Arte about them (it's in my notes to check this reference out - I've only the very vaguest notion of what this was).

Another aspect I'd also discussed with manick was how to present the pieces so as to give them more presence. Sacha felt the sticks I'd been using were out of another world, natural not made by me. With some artists plinths and supports do more than just present the work, they add an archgitecural domension, change the relationship to the ground, add a dimension of geometry. I'm thinking of Stephen Claydon, Lothar Hempel, Franz West.

Another suggestion was to focus on drawing once more. Always return to drawing! The real will offer things you cannot conjure up just through imagination. Drawing would lead, Sacha suggested, to including the hands, the legs, taking up more than the face alone.

I recorded this on a miniscule dictaphone which, to my amazement, actually worked! I've been transcribing Sacha's melodious tones and my annoying gabble into my sketch book, a good way to let what she said sink in.

Studio visit with Manick Govinda


Manick's first sight of my 2D 'sculptures' was at the far end of the long gallery in Outpost Studios, where they formed part of the members' annual show. There was a shocking-pink head (Rory Stewart), a life-size red, black and gold soldier, a squiggle intersecting another squiggle and a stick painted with mother-of-pearl (arranged by curator Mark Scott-Wood). Manick's immediate reaction to them was that there was something of the Comedia Dell'Arte about them (I have still to pursue this idea), a bit theatrical and carnivalesque.

This was elaborated when he saw the rest of the work in my studio, arranged so it all faced the entrance to greet him in a colourful flat crowd. I had not really been anticipating what an acute critic he would be, having been thinking of him more as someone who would give me ideas about how to get my work seen more widely. But he took me through various ideas about ideas, presentation, meaning, contextualising, suggesting artists for me to look at. He thought they needed to be more physically imposing and wondered how they would look if transformed into 3D, and made up by a fabricator.

Manick's suggestion that I try hanging them on the wall of the studio was very exciting to me, and I did it as soon as he had left. I've been trying to figure out how to move the cutouts into paintings, and this practical idea means I can try out compositions easily. We also pondered about using the cutouts perfomatively _ I've been thinking for a long time about this, and was re-inspired by Franz West's 'passstucks' and Rebecca Horn's prostheses, both of which were on show at the Tate the very day I first met Manick - a sign, for sure!

I also went to see a fabricator who happens to live near me, recommended by Roman Vasseur - 'Other Peoples' Sculptures'. Phil and Katie were wonderfully calm and helpful, and I suddenly realised how delightfully easy it would be to make macquettes and just hand them over to the professionals, rather than struggling with old cardboard boxes and cheap glue guns to make my wobbly sculptures.

Finally, I have just acquired a miniscule dictap[hone, as I didn't remember to write down what Manick was saying till half way through our session, and I want to be ready for my next mentor Sacha Craddock, when she visits my studio in September.

How come I got Arts Council funding? (YIPPEE!)


When I heard about this funding 'Develop your Creative Practise' I thought it sounded excellent. Funding to shove you up to the next level of your ideas, work, plans, dreams, and a short application form to boot. Being asked to write about your dearest wish is pretty darn easy, and there were enough prompts to focus the dreams into a single shaft of light, shedding the extra bits and thinking more acutely about what was needed to effect them.

I applied for funding for two mentors, Manick Govinda and Sacha Craddock, with a budget for follow-up visits to galleries and venues suggested by the mentors; and for materials, as my pathetic collection of shrivelled paint tubes and manky cheapo brushes is a disgrace. I wanted Sacha because of her enthusiastic involvement in so many aspects of supporting artists, curating, her critical acumen, her general connectedness. She has a long and wide overview of the comings and goings of contemporary art and artists.

I had been aware of Manick for years as a figure in Arts Admin whose name seemed to crop up in connection in lots of practical, effective, useful contexts, and wanted his input to help me order my ideas, suggest ways to gain my targets, marshall the scattered parts of my various projects, and give me some critiique about my Indian connections. I also admired his contrarian viewpoint, sticking to his own ideas instead of conforming to the art world's zeitgeist and dogmas.

I've had funding before for particular commissions and single projects, but this funding will go towards shaping the bigger picture of ordering and realising both the planning I've been doing with regards to securing exhibitions, and with developing my work at a crucial point when I feel I have truly hit my stride, making painted work that feels authentic to me. I have cultivated connections in India that I hope will bear fruit, artists whose work I admire, a couple of curators, some galleries. Working from the Norfolk countryside has made me quite dogged in pursuing opportunities independently.

My new studio


I moved into Outpost Studios in December because my working studio in the fields is too messy and crowded. Whenever I needed to photograph work, I had to repaint the wall and it never looked good, with flashes of maroon and turquoise peeping through the white paint. Now I have half a whoipping great studio on floor 4 (it always see,ms a long way up), and I have painted it white with smart grey floor. I set up work there to photograph and try out different arrangements.

The strange thing is, as I have moved almost all my work out of Messy studio, I can't really remember what I do! without the recent work to refer to, I have to try out new things - exciting! I've even done a couple of abstracts!

Mutinous thoughts on sculpture


Sculpture has certain intrinsic values, right? weight, heft, mass, volume, siting, texture, substance blah blah blah. Painting has problems: composition, mainly, for me. So I'm cuting out the problems of painting, literally by cutting out. No more need to worry about what to put in the corners, or how to introduce space and distance. I am making sort of paintings but without the frames, sculpture but without the difficulty of making something in the round.
This has led me to question the nature of sculpture, its need to take part in the real world by being solidly in it. My new flatties are fun, thin, white on the back so they disappear, skimpily made, ridiculously colourful. I would say girlish, except that I'm not a girl. Maybe that can just be another part of their conundrum. A girlish quality, which is to say toi have qualities associated with girlishness.
Maybe childish would be more apt.

My new sculptures


Since I finished my paintings for the Museum of Legacies, I've thrown myself into pure experiment and fun, abandoning the portrait format in favour of cutting up ply into shapes that I then paint with faces, flowers, patterns, and stack together. This way of working makes it very easy to experiment, swapping parts around, handing them on the wall, stacking them with supporting sticks. I'm calling this series 'Born in a Museum', after the first cutout I made, which is based on my favourite portrait in the MoL, with the addition of big red dots. My idea is to liberate the pictures from the walls and extend their life into 3Dimensions, playing with the idea they can move and have a real individual identity.

I'm also feeling quite excited and rebellious. It's making me think how massive and pompous sculpture can be. These are inspired by the beauty of Mughal miniatures, by cartoons, by playfullness. Why should sculpture be large, solid, weighty and voluminous? It can be flat, skimpy, wobbly, pretty.

"Hobson-Jobson' at the Museum of Legacies


The title 'Hobson-Jobson' comes from the classic Anglo-Indian dictionary printed in the nineteenth century. The phrase was originally a corruption of 'Ya Hossein!Ya Hassan!", which is called as a lament at the Moslem festival of Moharram. This became corrupted into Hosseen Gosseen, Hossy Gossy and ultimately Hobson-Jobson. It suits the exhibition because it's like the way an original idea becomes personalised - debased - from pure to personal forms, and because it starts off as Indian and ends up as English, like other pieces of Indian culture did.

When I opened my weighty parcel of paintings in the museum's chamber, I immediately realised that I had forgottten what the rpom looked like, forgotten it was cream, forgotten the arches and niches, and had been preparing paintings for a room that was white and regular. The creamy colour of the walls - a heritage paint concocted from seeds and sand - dulled the colours of my work, and the work looked too large and cumbersome to fit into the space.

The ten days it took me to adapt my work to the real live site is like the way I adapted to India - shock, despair, challenge, amusement, triumph. It was an exhausting time of putting-up, taking-down, arranging accidental encounters, quick successes and slow failures. In the end, I was delighted by what I had managed to do, and have learnt so much about the difficult art of hanging. Although I had visited the Museum some months earlier, I hadn't taken in its scale, and I had used an arbitrary size for all my images - 84 x 63cm, which doesn't relate to anything in particular.

But working like this caused me to do things I wouldnn't have been capable of doing before, so - I'm glad I got it wrong!

Death of VS Naipaul and new painting


Since I first came across Naipaul's writing last year I have read almost no other fiction. I've been trying to work out just why his prose is so beautiful to read, and I think it's something to do with his syntax, with the rhythm of his writing. It's never 'stylish' or straining, it seems effortless as though he is talking aloud to someone he's very comfortable with.

There is a feeling of strength and purpose about it, as though there is always a steely framework, a coolness in his inhabiting and observations of the characters and even of his own self. I don't know how much he used his imagination, but I feeel that what he saw was like the raw ingredients of a cook, who makes something new from real ingredients.

My painting of his is a focusing of my mind for a little while on an unrepeatably great man.

Portrait of Queen Victoria: 'A Prune in a Lift'


I've been trying to get a fluid dreaminess to my figure-painting, so the images look a bit emulsified. This is so when I paint colour on top it evokes the over-painting of old photos, and gives the painting surface another dimension. Success seems to depend on brushes, and sometimes I get a joyous feeling in my hand that I can do nothing wrong, that the paint will come out right.

Queen Victoria was always a byword for prudery, but it's become clear recently that she was a horny woman with a strongly romantic streak who hated racism and found some of her Oriental subjects exotically attractive. She was an early 'Pink Lady'. This painting gives her a joke title (What';s wrinkled and brown and goes up and down?) and half a joke in a speech bubble - 'What do you call a man...'. I did this to give the painting autonomy and a little jauntiness.

She often appears in later photos with this gauzy white lump ornament on her head, like an ectoplasmic turban, and the pearls gleam at her neck so there is some shimmer to her appearance. She often looks deeply sad, so maybe these jokes will cheer her up.

Indo-Anglian Conversations


Visual experiments based on Instagram conversations between Stephanie Douet and Roshan Chhabria


Following my first visit to India in 2015 I became fascinated and horrified by the British Raj, and wanted to find out how modern Indians felt about the Empire. I searched on Instagram for an Indian artist with whom to correspond, and Roshan Chhabria’s drawings appealed to me for their liveliness and truthfulness. We started chatting and swapping images, comments and ideas and gradually this formed into a wish to work together formally.

Though Roshan is half my age and lives in tumultuously busy Baroda and I live in a sleepy market town in Norfolk, our work has much in common. We are both fascinated by blackness as a physical presence in drawing and painting; abstract geometric forms appear alongside natural bodies as though inhabiting the same lives; we use collage as a means of introducing different spaces in our work; and we both have a taste for the same kinds of material objects that appear as personalities in our work.
We also like to work in mononchome, to draw from life, to make kinetic marks, and humour is a core to both our practises.

We brought in all the things that interested us - Roshan’s sketches, pages torn from books, handwritten notes, large-scale photo cutouts, even my black paint-spattered studio shoes, and played around with different arrangements. It was an exhilarating process and we produced work that neither would have made independently.


Last summer we began experimenting with working together in our separate studios in England and India, through our Instagram chats. I used my studio wall to play with forms that represent Instagram text boxes and used collage, painting and assemblage to represent our conversations. We brought in all the things that interested us - Roshan’s sketches, pages torn from books, handwritten notes, large-scale photo cutouts, even my black paint-spattered studio shoes, and played around with different arrangements.

It was an exhilarating process and we produced work that neither would have made independently.

The work culminated in the two large digital prints we exhibited at the India Club in London - chosen for its history of Indi-Anglian friendship, it was founded in the 1950s by Krishna Menon and a symbol of Anglo-indian friendship.


It became clear to us that working in the same space would be interesting and fruitful for us both. We are exploring ways of doing this through residency, live event and exhibition, and have been joined by a writer-curator in Delhi who is working with us. Such a project has a naturally inclusive potential, bringing in the public both to contribute text and actual objects.

Update on the progress of IndoAnglian Conversation


Roshan has been busy preparing drawings and installations for his show that opened in Mumbai yesterday and I've been preparing backgrounds for our conversations, when they resume. I'v e found painting in this very restricted abstract way comes so easily, it feels almost too flowing and satisfying. I'm making painting with empty text boxes and empty circles, freely moving and intersecting acorss the white board, letting the white play too, with lots of lovely subtle squishy marks.

Why can't I do this with the human form? Why is this easy? These look to me like proper paintings, they do exactly what I want them to do, but I don't feel very gripped by them. Maybe when Roshan begins throwing some ideas at me they will start to become more engrossing, maybe get some colour in, the occassional nose or boot or moustache.

I like the emptiness of the forms, is is an invitation to fill in the blanks with something. I've applied to paint these live at the Edinburgh Festival with 'ZOO", waiting to hear if that;s going to be accepted.

India Art fair 2018


India art fair

I'm just back from India where I had a wonderful time meeting people and seeing things. India Art Fair feels like every international event, with glamour, instant carpets, wine, speed-mingling and celebrity-spotting, till you get back outside the park gates into the gritty bustle of the streets. One minute you are walking along broad kempt walkways with uniformed officials wearing lanyards, the next you are outside the gates trying to find a surface on which to lay your feet which is not crumbling or occupied.

I came on setting-up day and met Roshan Chhabria, the Baroda-based artist I've been chatting to on Instagram. We sat on the warm grass outside the marquees, re-orienting ourselves witin this new actuality of meeting in real life, them he had to zip back to his gallery to continue installing his work. I also met Kartik Soud, another Instagram name, and saw Sudarshan Shetty and Boze Krish being Famous Artists. On the day of the private view, Sonia Gandhi admired Roshan work, and I said hallo to William Dalrymple.

Hooray! I'm off to Delhi Art Fair!!


Jumping about with glee that I'm off to India in February to schmooze the India Art Fair, and best of all meet my collaborator Roshan Chhabria. I'm too excited to make a prioper plan. All that's obsessing me at the moment is how best to get to Heathrow for 6.30 am without travelling all night or staying sleeplessly in a cheap hotel. How well do you have to know someone before you can ask to be put up at their house? is friend of a friend ok? someone you bumped into outside the Nizmuddin mosque (my planned Delhi quartering). My sons look on in horror.

The aim of this trip is to experiment with drawing with Roshan, visit his studio in Baroda, set up an exhibition or two or ten, visit Varanesi and see a really big stepwell. I am allowing myself to imagine meeting many of the artists I've been following on social media - Nihkil Chopra, Kartik Sood, Sumeshawr Shetty etc etc and hoping I can smuggle myself into the opening night. This is unlikely to happen as I invariably bottle out of thrusting myself forward.

Invented Portraits


My Instagram paintings based on chats with Indian artist Roshan Chabria have been very prioductive, first with the fast wallwork that included scraps of our conversations and shared images presented in boxes that echoed the forms found in Instagram. This led to adapting the box format to my portrait paintings, as the boxes look a little like the carte-de-visite popular in C19th with curving borders, so I have kept them a deep brown. Somehow it's easier to paint if I feel the paintings could at any moment morph into texts and conversations.

I've also been starting each new work with random brushstrokes and letting the subject emerge, forming itself through an accumulation of strokes until the patterns start to remind me of something. Introducing more colour helps with the composition, as there is something else for the brushstrokes to react with. I'm pleased that each 'portrait' came out looking androgenous and of non-specific, not fully human and a bit cartoony. I feels doors are opening.

* Roshan and I have an exhibition at the India Club


Last week I put up two large - I suppose you'd call them posters? - at the famous India Club in the Strand. I'd wanted to show there since my first visit - the place has charm, it is wonderfully cared for in an idiosyncratic way by Hagdar, the gentleman who has run it since its beginning when it was started as a meeting place for those involved with plans for Indian independence.

There are funny old original fittings such as ancient lino, some wonky photos of Nehru and Gandhi, the famous pegboard by the bar with its nonsensical words and displaced prices. But the tranquil plant-filled bay windows give onto the trees in front of Aldwych, and upstairs there's a great cafe with jolly cheap food. It's also a place where one can easily get chatting to strangers, so that is really why I like it.

Roshan and I showed one piece each from our ongoing 'Indo-Anglian/Anglo-Indian Conversation', each poster being made up of images, motifs, snatches of our chat on Instagram. These have now been replaced by smaller framed formal images that are excerpts from our Instagram exchanges and will be up till the end of the month. I hope the artworks we now have there echo the theme of friendship that the Club is famous for.

Drawing on my studio wall


Recently in the course of my chars with Roshan about how to make images we could exchange and work on, I began drawing, painting and writing directly on to my studio wall. This sudden removal of the arbitrary boundary imposed by tubsing an exisitng piece oif wood has been incredibly lib erating. The size of the wall - over 3m x 2m, stickig photos up to work with, collaging, writing unny snatches of our nattering, all this has been ioncrdeibly liberating.

The downside is, I will to paint over this beautiful face, though as I have a great big phoo with him on I suppose it's not so harsh. Or I suppose I can keep painting around him, change him into diffrent people, treat him as a start rather than an end.

This photo features in the big wall-hanging I've made for the India Club, opening on Monday 2nd October. - another neat soloution to the problems of presentation, making new holes in a wall, buying frames etc - with my big prints I can just roll them up and go!

Major Nixon and me in the same photo!


When I had my exhibition in Udaipur City Palace I set all the old sepia photos of political agents up in the gallery, so they made a counterpoint to my paintings; my colourful chaos of portraits were one end, arranged in dynamic clumps with lots of negative space, while the agents were arranged set around a white cubicle in the centre of the gallery which I thought of as an a sort of inside-out. I had arranged the photos with the agents I liked the look of at the front and the men who looked like awful swine at the back.

I took photos of all the agents again, taking care to be at the same distance, in the same pose, to make myself the one constant feature of the photo. I wore my favourite shirt from Udaipur market which is black with clubs, spades, diamonds and hearts all over it. So I was monochrome, the photos were monochrome. I had insinuated myself into the past so the agents and I shared a virtual 2D space.

I had all the agent photos enlarged to A2 - the originals varied from cartes-de-visite to large etchubgs, but now they are a uniform large fornat. Each photo has me reflected in them, my shirt, my yellow bangle, and in this image of Major Nixon toyou can clearly also see the guard at the gallery door, and the reflections of my paintings in the background.

I'm so pleased with this image - I feel it has chimes like a bell, echoes of different times and dimensions.

Collaborating with Roshan


When I was looking for an artist to work with, I didn't have a particular vision of how what the process of collaboration might be. I've avoided making work with anyone else because I couldn't imagine how it could work for me - partly because I make single pieces that relate to the next piece I'm making, for example a sculpture that will form part of a set of similar size pieces to make up an installation; and also because I enjoy the physical process of making too much to want to share it - even the drudgery like sanding or undercoating is soothing and allows the mind the wander.

Also it's an ego thing - I'm used to the artworks originating in my imagination, in identifying the forms and inspiration that lurk there and teasing them out till they are clear enough to become real, so I couldn't iagine how this could be helped by having two people trying to imagine the same work.

To start with, Roshan and I had to get to understand each other as artists and people, apart from becoming familiar with each others' practises and works. We identified common threds such as a fascination with what the 'colour' black can do and mean, how to depict movement in drawing, drawing funny things.

There is something new and unfamiliar to me about a prolonged conversation in written form; because I'm from an older generation it seems to me like passing notes in the back of class, quick, intimate, haphazard, full of spelling mistakes, sudden silences, rushes of ideas. In this manner a template for our working emerged, the idea that we could begin with an image and make suggestions to each other about what to do next. For example, Roshan suggested I look at Joseph Kosuth, who places a hyper-real painitng of an object next to the object itself. In displays of his drawimgs and paintings I liked the way Roshan had put a black oil can, so I painted my work shoes black and placed them on a little plinth next to a photo I as painting. Roshan has enjoyed the correspondence of colour and form that chimes with his istallations, and it has become a motif in our installations.

I took the idea of using text fom him too - I've never tried to put any kind of writing anywhere near my work, but it was immensely liberating to write out scraps of our chat, and to use the framing device of the round-cornered boxes of Instagram to present scraps of ides that suggest a longer talk.

Both of us have found this way of working very exciting and stimulating, and capable of generating unexpected possibilites of working, both together and in our own ways.

Anglo-Indian Converstions with Roshan Chhabria


Roshan is an artist from Baroda, famed for its art school and cultural atmoshere. He and I have beeen chatting on Instagram for several months, about art and all sotrts of other things in our lives - trivial stuff like what we are about to cook, and feelings about art in our like and unlike countries. He is doing a three month residency at Kochi, home of the Biennale. His brief is to draw every day - that's it! how jealous am I!!

Our plan has been to develop a painting/process based on our chatting, and I've been making a start in my studio, pausing to ask Roshan for his feelings about what I'm doing.

Our styles are complementary and overlapping in a gneral way - we both drawn to using black, to drawing what we see around us, to a kinetic frisson in our surfaces.

At the moment we are planning our exhibition at the India Club on 2nd October, how we will fit into the two walls they've offered us in the bar.

Green-skinned Alien Colonisers


It has been said that if you want to understand America's foreign policy, look at Star Trek. In trying to make paintings about the British Raj amnd colonialism I have decided to sidestep the colouring of my subjects' skin, and try expressing The Other as green.
This evokes the idea of the Other while keeping an ambiguity about the viewpoint of Otherness, which of course has to work both ways. Greenness keeps it freighted, but dual.
This painting decision also caused a train of thought about depiction of the Alien from Outer Space, the Little Green Man, the ultimate coloniser. The parallels between Outer Space and colonisers bring out how we Westerners actually do understand how the colonised feel: Beings arrive in an incomprehensibly-powered craft, landing either plonk in the middle of Civilisation or inexplicably but sinisterly in a remote place; if they speak, they show no empathy, if not they are difficult or impossible to communicate with; they want to take, potentially by force, something that has been exhausted or is otherwise unobtainable in their own place of origin; they view the natives (us) with cool objectiveness as inferior but possible harvestable stock; they are capable, even interested to administer pain in pursuit of knowledge and conquest, and it is not possible to imagine how to placate them except by giving them what they want. They are physically repulsive and clearly designed for conditions on some unimaginable but depleted home planet.

Ring any bells?

*The meaning of 'miniature' in Indian painting


Yesterday I was trying to see the Sainsbury Centre's collection of Indian miniatures online, and was intrigued to read that the term 'miniature' doesn't refer to size, but to the use of minium, otherwise known as red lead. This red colour was used for capitals, headers, important words, and was mined from Roman terms in Iberia, near the wonderfully named cinnabar mines. Imagine mining cinnabar - I suppose nuggets of it were plucked from glittering grottoes by toga-wearing youths with willow baskets.
I want to check Spike Bucklow's excellent book 'The Alchemy of Paint' to see if this is something to do with the red youth, as I vaguely remember red lead as being personified. Colours were understood in terms of their symbolic meanings, and created in accordance with arcane numerical calculations, the practical science of the times.

*Painting faces of men rather than women


I keep being asked why I'm only painting mens' faces and not womens'. It's pretty much only bearded and moustachioached men - the facial ornament gives more interest to the shape, as chins aren't interesting to draw per se, they are just a bit of oval tacked on to the general shape.

When I was in India I was constantly being talked at by Indian men, telling me what's what about their world. This left me with a post-event impresion of dark eyes fixing themselves hypnotically on mine in a way that I found unfamiliar and disconcerting I am carrying on mute one-sided conversations in my paintings.

It's also my inspecting of these faces. Staring is rude, even subversive, and invites strong reaction - an approach, a turining away, a feel of unease. As an artist you feel some license - you need to stare impudently. As a woman it is something you may need to be careful of.

I also feel the female face is just too hackneyed and well-trodden territory, there's nothing new I want to say, and I'm not interested at the moment.

*The problem with painting about another time and place


'Initially I responded viscerally to the beauty of the archive images with their intense dark eyes, baroque headgear and the sense of aliveness/deadness.The ideas that interested me included the Indian profile and the European gazes, 'darshan' - you behold the deity and the diety beholds you; the princes' distain for the portrait gift exchange system foisted on them by the British and the maharajahs' increasing refusal to wear the or richly symbolic nate costumes that led to the British perception that they ere decadent, mystical and in need of governance.

However I have found it increasingly difficult to both make a painting that works as a painting and means what I mean it to mean. If asked what the paintings were about I have said the frontal pose was reminiscent of the passport photo, the icon, the mugshot, the face on the mummy's case - the most direct engagement between subject and object, which I was then subverting with small painterly devices that defied engagement - blots of paint over the eyes, a tongue sticking out, a funny nose that to me conveyed the object refusing to be engaged with. They are about admiring the Indian's self-presentation, and having a living conversation with some dead people.

I became aware that what seemed to be to be droll in the painting could seem mocking, that in altering the images I was doing what Said railed against - not allowing the subjects to speak for themselves. I knew little of the horrible behaviour of the East India Company and then the British Raj, of post-colonial theory, or much of philosophy or cultural theory, beyond what a year of reading history has given me.

However I feel that these difficulties of negotiating an unfamiliar culture shouldn't preclude my making paintings that have a benign impulse behind them, while I'm also anxious that my naiveté will make them liable to be received as offensive and patronising in ways I'm not able to foresee.' Stephanie Douet October 2016

*The difficulties of painting about another culture


In January I had an exhibition of 16 heads of political agents* who had had worked in Udaipur for the royal family ('Roar Like a Paintbrush'). I painted their whiskery sepia faces with as much colour and life and as little inhibition as I could, enjoying experimenting with colour while just painting faces. Later I thought it would be interesting to paint the Indians they worked for as a counterpart, using archive photos dating from the mid C19th. I limited myself to using shades of black and white because I wanted to overpaint them afterwards with some colour, as had the court painters with their images, using only faces that I cut out from the rest of the photograph.

Wanting to find out more about the period, the people and the photos I had several conversations with historian Sean Willcock of the Paul Mellon Institute, who passed on images, books and articles which he thought would interest me, and through talking to him I honed in on several fascinating aspects of the use of photography as propaganda. I have done much wonderful background reading including Edward Said's Orientalism, Barthes "Camera Lucida', Flaubert's travels in Egypt, Willaim Dalrymple's 'White Moghuls', Jonathan Gil Harris' 'The First Firangis', was well as both 'Kim' and 'Flashman'.

Initially I responded viscerally to the beauty of the images with their intense dark eyes, baroque headgear and the sense of aliveness/deadness.The ideas that interested me included the Indian profile and the European gazes, 'darshan' - you behold the deity and the diety beholds you; the princes' distain for the portrait gift exchange system foisted on them by the British and the maharajahs' increasing refusal to wear the or richly symbolic nate costumes that led to the British perception that they ere decadent, mystical and in need of governance.

However I have found it increasingly difficult to both make a painting that works as a painting and means what I mean it to mean. If asked what the paintings were about I have said the frontal pose was reminiscent of the passport photo, the icon, the mugshot, the face on the mummy's case - the most direct engagement between subject and object, which I was then subverting with small painterly devices that defied engagement - blots of paint over the eyes, a tongue sticking out, a funny nose that to me conveyed the object refusing to be engaged with. They are about admiring the Indian's self-presentation, and having a living conversation with some dead people.

I became aware that what seemed to be to be droll in the painting could seem mocking, that in altering the images I was doing what Said railed against - not allowing the subjects to speak for themselves. I knew little of the horrible behaviour of the East India Company and then the British Raj, of post-colonial theory, or much of philosophy or cultural theory, beyond what a year of reading history has given me.

However I feel that these difficulties of negotiating an unfamiliar culture shouldn't preclude my making paintings that have a benign impulse behind them, while I'm also anxious that my naiveté will make them liable to be received as offensive and patronising in ways I'm not able to foresee.

*'A Resident or Political Agent was an official of the East India Company (and after 1813, the British Government), who was based in a princely state and who served as part diplomat, part adviser to the native ruler, and part monitor of activities in the princely state. He was an instrument of indirect rule of princely India by the British.' Wikipedia

*Sinopticon', and I finally finish reading 'Orientalism'


In 2012 Eliza Gluckman, Gayle Chong Kwan and I saw our long-planned exhibition Sinopticon take over Plymouth. In Saltram House, Plymouth Art School, Arts Centre and Museum, 13 international artists whose work was about contemporary takes on the historic form of chinoserie showed a wonderful range of beautiful and intelligent work: Erica Tan filmed local migrant workers performing in Saltram House's dining room, Grayson Perry had pottery interventions among Plymouth Museum's collection, Karen Tam set up a souvenir shop in Plymouth Arts Centre, Meekyoung Shin made exquisite chinese pots from soap. If you Google 'Sinopticon' images you will find a glorious rit of imaginative and smart work.

Eliza, Gayle and I had spent endles hours researching chinoiserie, prowling round the V&A, mining the great mind of National Trust's expert Emil de Bruijn, visiting far-flung stately homes to peer at ornate bedchambers and teapots. Fruits of this included a Friday Live at V&A curated by Eliza, in which Wessie Ling played chess with her chinoiserie set, Gayle set up her taste memory booth and I took my 7 foot tall green robot for a spin. We also had a symposium at V&A chaired by Glenn Adamson, discussing the idea of using chinoiserie as a prism through which to view the past and the Orient.

Part of my own research was to read Orientalism and now, 4 years later, I've finally finished it and I'm feeling a bit bereft. For someone used to munching novels like I watch telly, reading non-fiction is something I need to train for. By the time I finished it, the book had become floppy and stained, here and there underlinings marred the whiteness of the page. In the end I started reading it out loud to bring my wandering mind to focus. But it was a massively rewarding effort and stranf=gely has made my mind more accepting of challenging writing.

But it is a wonderfully rich book, full of character and erudition - and anger. Said, an Arab intellectual working in America, has stunning command of his subject and writes with passion. He charts the rise of Orientailsm - 'a Powerful European ideological creation - a way for writers, philosophes and colonial administration to deal with the 'otherness' of Eastern culture, customs and beliefs.' He recounts how (mainly) English and French academics made and owned 'their' Orient by definition, description, classification and interpretation. Historians, philologists, travellers, anthroploogists, military and administrative men subjected the Orient that Said ultimately likens to domination of a woman - an orient in decline from a past ascendancy, decadent, sensual, mystical, needing guidance and assistance from superior Europeans.

Much of what said says about the building of a belief to deal with Otherness is true of attitudes to other Others - women, madness, criminality. It also make me prickly about my own attitudes - this is something I'm always dealing with as I look now at the British raj and think about my visits to India. My own felings of enchantment and ownership of the oriental experience make me sheepish, and I watch what I say even though I feel only warmth to the country - I must be aware of my own urge to fictionalise it.

Sinopticon at Plymouth Museum, showing Meekyoung Shin and Laura White's work

*Painting from a photo


In Rajasthan the men are famous for their excessive moustaches. I was intensely disappointed when I went there, that there were neither many moustaches nor was the air thick with flying peacocks. This spade-shaped moustache is achieved by training it in a cloth hammock, tied at the top of the head, which gives it a fine upward sweep.

*Exhibition at Voewood - trying out new setups


A few weeks ago I showed my currrent work about the Raj at Voewood, Simon Finch's beautiful flint and brick Arts & Crafts house in north Norfolk. Simon has been warmingly interested in my painting project as he too has family links in India - even some Indian blood. I wanted to see how the work would look out of the studio, and felt that the atmosphere and decoration of the house lent itself to the work.

I was given the music rooom, decorated in mellow colours with an African tang - wall streaked with plaster patterns, stuffed animals, woven textures. This suited the palette of the paintings and though friend Frances Kearney thought the paintings would look best dotted around the room, I wanted to see them in a considered group relating primarily to each other and only secondarily to the room, through echoes of colour and scale: the heads on the paintings are life-size, which somehow suited the homely setting. Too small and they would have seemed more ornamental.

The three boards that the paintings were to hang on were sited in front of the north window 3 feet from the wall; this gave them a monolithic presence, a single large simple geometry within the organic shapes and forms of the room. The crisp white surface of this sub-wall contrasted with the nubbly textures and earthy shades of the surrounding space, and the white within the pintings could dance freely with the solid areas of paint.

The spacing of the paintings was not as free to make as I had thought, and relationships of colour mostly determined what hung where, as well as getting a good variety of size. I was aiming at a broken wholeness. Natural light was very good, as there are windows on three sides of the irregular shaped room with its sofas, piano and assortment of skulls, heads, cloth and parquet - a distinctly Raj atmosphere.

I love to show work in a non-gallery way, and this was site-specfic in the sense that the white-wall set-uop was mad just for Voewood. The plus is that the paintings become briefly part of someone else's life, adjascent to someone else's story. Also the work becomes new again - once I had it back in the studio I tried out arrangements I'd briefly explored at Voewood with the fruitul result that more work suggested itself.



I am really going to have to run to catch up with myself - I've been putting off writing this blog/ journal/ scrapbook. The longer I've stalled, the more I've read, made and done that I want to record before I forget. I want, in no special order, to:

1) write about 'White Mughuls' by William Dalrymple, a marvellously researched and written book that made me fall for the romantic C18th India he describes
2) put down, before I forget, what photographer and over-painter Rajesh Soni told me about the photos of my Udaipur political agents, how his grandfather took the photos and overpainted them
3) wonder about the 'gaze', both Indian (profile and averted) and European (but then Indian). Anyone who knows any visual/ cultural theory, please feel free to contribute!
4) give some accounts of the many stories I've heard from people who had relatives who worked and lived in india and were part of the Raj.
5) describe how it feels to paint with a brush made from squirrel fur, given me by the artist that made it
6) to keep up to date with my future exchanges with new friend Sean Willcock, who studies colonial India
7) to describe my thinking behind the paintings I'm making - why I'm doing what I do, what I want to try, my experiments, failures and successes
8) to entice people to join in this blog with your own ideas, memories, opinions, photos
9) to record ideas for future development

Roar Like A Paintbrush: exhibition in Udaipur City Palace


My second-ever painting show! However many times I had set the paintings up to work with on my studio wall, I hadn't bothered thinking about their final installation. I knew something would occur to me once I got them into the building, and got a feeling for the space. Ideas occurr at the last minute that no amount of pondering can produce. I would have like to involve coloured panels but knew this would really be too risky in case re-painting became awkward - poor quality paint that would have needed plural coats for instance.

Paul Vater and his partner Paul suggested that I include the original photos as a reference and echo. I decided before going that I'd make a 'room' to hang them around, breaking up the long gallery into something more articulated and encouraging a flow of movement around the space. I placed my original man Colonel Eden (Why the Long Face Eden) on the far wall, aligned with the photograph to imply some kind of axis. Amazingly, the gallery manager declared herself intrigued by my spirit level, saying she had never seen one before. It is now part of their kit.

Setting the paintings on the ground, I played around with possibilites, starting with a linear arrangement and shuffling them around like Scrabble tiles till something more exciting emerged. I soon had fixed on an arrangement for the paintings that included some reaction with the white walls, using them as negative space. Photographs of the audience posing among the paintings makes me there is something inclusive about this way of hanging that invites people to approach and have their faces framed by my faces - maybe it's because the heads are roughly life-size.

Rajesh Soni, the grandson of the photographer who took the original photos came to see the show and toured me around each picture, analysing whether each was a copy or original. He explained that some were originally tiny calling cards, and that you could see the grain where the photograph has been blown up. One image Iparticular took my breath away when he oointed out that what seemed a glossy almost oily finish was in fact the most delcate over-painting, done in the most miniscule brushstrokes.

'Roar Like a Paintbrush' - an introduction


When I visited the City palace last February and stumbled on the dark chamber with the agents' photos I could not have forseen what would develop. A year later, I'm about to take my third trip to India, with my first solo exhibition outside England coming up in Udaipur. This blog will fill in how this came about and when I've caught up, I'll go onto what I've been reading and looking at and how my painting/thinking has developed.

Firstly I want to describe the chamber where I first came across the photographs. The Palace has a big isitoric colleciton of photos, discovered in manyshoeboxes and now organised into a splendid archive and exhibition, with a book called 'Long Exposure' to accompany it. Serious-faced Indian princes gaze haughtinly at you, first in sepia then painted colour then ful colour.Many were keen photographers themselves.

In a small dingy room with a pair of magnificent painted doors 18 photos are lined up smartly in their wooden frames. When you inspect them, you see how some have their moustaches and topknots carefully touched up, faint lids are embellished with eyeliner. The court artists haven't gone as far as the full colour treatment that elsewhere turns a photo into a full painting. The faces of the agents and residents look at and past you, faces from England looking out at India.

When I first saw them I felt how far from home they were, how far from life, how far even from sunshine and fresh air. At that point I was conmpletely ignorant of the history of the British in India, and over the next few months have been discovering how abysmally Britain came to treat India.

A triangular conversation with the Singh Twins


One of the most dazzling paintings in the 'Artist and Empire' exhibition now on at Tate Modern is 'EnTWINed' by the Singh twins. I hadn't come across these fasinating sisters before, but immediately wanted to know more about their very individual art. They paint almost as one entity, a twin team, paintings using traditional Indian miniaturist techniques making work packed with erudition, imagery, painterly skill, imagination and wit, a treasure hunt of visual information.

I was thrilled when having messaged them via Facebook they agreed to have Skype chat. I wore a brilliant pink paisley cravat with India in mind, they wore identical baby pink fluffy dressing gowns, post-supper and shower. I asked them about what about them felt Indian, what English. They fired me up to be bold, and not worry about asking outsider questions. I asked them about paints. They told me I was using my Udaipur squirrel brushes wrongly. They suggested contacts in India and reassured me that the India art scene is no labyrinth.

Thank you twins for your interest and friendliness.

New paintings based on British Raj photos


In February I trotted round India bothering the Rajasthanis, and fetched up in Udaipur. The City Palace mounts the city like a titanic creamy mountain, with the sloping square issuing from its gates like a great golden tongue. The swarming streets seeth with saried women, bullocks, running children, traders, tourists, motorbikes. The lake spreads out below the palace, merchant houses painted pastel colours fill skinny streets, where people wander among the animals and it is so pleasant to amble around, chatting and looking at everything.

I did the City Palace tour and of course all was lovely but I was most intrgued by a small collection of dingy photos hangig in a dark room. These showed soldiers and officials from the British Raj, and I was fascinated that a delicate hand had painted in details of eyeliner and moustaches.

When I returned to England I began working on paintings based on these photos, and doing a bit of reading around the subject. I discovered to my horror just how awful the Britsh had been to the Indians - but more of that in another post.

Painting news


Still immured in the studio as the summer begans to wither away and I begin to remember how cold it gets there. We're relinquishing the Project Space - all having too much to do to feel fiery about doing more, specially as the cold approaches.
I'm feeling more confident about my paintings, getting the sense of how to make them. First seems to be to track down (mostly while in insomniac state at 4ish am) what image is urging itself upon me. Being true to this seems to be key to beginning something with a sense of conviction. It can be a colour, act of pairing, detail like a nose. I'm not bothered by the trivial level of subject matter, something is being 'said' to me that I must trust.

August Art Trail


Last week I spanned the UK in my search for visual stimulation. I saw the Hayward exhibition 'The Human Factor', and was struck by what a lot of shop dummies there were. When you see several together you have to assume that each means something different - do they all mean the same dummy thing or different dummy thing? My own Human Factor would have included Frances Upritchard and Stephen Claydon, two of my top art idols.

I also visited both Hunterian museums, coming over all faint at the London one with a superfluity of cream-coloured slimy bodyparts in formaldehyde. The vast vaulted Glasgow Hunterian was more up my street, like a massive trainless Liverpool Street station elegantly dotted with modern glass cases. Favourites include the trim brass and chrystal prisms, the giant bronze tuning fork (as yet unheard by curator Nicky Reeves) and the inky 19th century miniature lava-flow making its imperceptible way down a three-step staircase.

At the Edinburgh Fruitmarket I saw Jim Lambie - he has had a lot of mileage over that stripy floor. The sculptures seemed arbitrary, unconnected with the entirety of the concept. Two pieces worked for me - black binliners dripping paint onto the floor and a sparkly black turntable with multicoloured hangers. Both made a physical connection to the floor rather than a juxtaposition or ornamental placing that was not linked to the flowing and pulsing physics of the stripes.

Hunterian visit


Last week as I wandered round the Hunterian museum in Holborn my knees started to quaver. The endless rows of pickled human parts, squashy cream-coloured matter suspended in fluid, had an accumulating effect of memento mori.

The Glasgow Hunterian, home to the collection of the Other Hunter Brother, has less to trouble the squeamish. A great beamed ceiling covers the 60ft (?) high hall, beautifully crafted iron pillars Curator Nicky Reeves showed me

'Daily Optical Experiment' on Twitter


I'm still unconvinced about Twitter. I started doing it last year as my contribution to marketing my Arts Council funded residencies, to connect with the audience and record what I was doing. A year later, I've got about 150 followers but I can't say anything concrete has come of it - worst is the feeling that it's demeaning and addictive, while not achieving its object of effective promotion. The introductions I made are ones I could have made in the flesh.

Last October I went to Sluice, gritted my teeth and schmoozed. It was such a jolly place that chatting was no problem and I left my card with a few people. In January I skulked around the London Art Fair plucking up courage to nonchanantly introduce myself to gallerists and had a pleasant conversation with Cathy Lomax of Transition, but couldn't bring myself to whip out my Ipad and dazzle her with my pictures.

The main disapppoiintment is that I have now a (very) few fun Twit friends but haven't struck lucky with a community of like-minded artists. Maybe I'm trying so hard to be interesting that I've rendered myself incomprehensible? Anyway, I've just started a daily optical experiment - partly to keep my hand in, partly as bait to allure an audience.
RealNon-Real project image

#PayingArtists - how the money goes around


How the money gets divvied up
Typical: artists wanted to be part of an exhibition looking at (fill in theme) in a publicly funded venue. A nominal fee (or none), minimal expenses (or none). Venue gets audience (with entrance fee/donation), curator gets paid, assistants get paid, venue gets income. Work gives on tour over course of next year. Ditto those who get paid (except artist).

#PayingArtists Experiment


The Paying Artists campaign on Twitter is really worth supporting and should be noted particularly by galleries and museums that get national funding.

In support of this I am offering my paintings for one week only at a flat rate of £350, till 18th July. Painting is new to me -I use many other firms including installation, sculpture, performance, photography, and often don't gave a marketable product. I've been lucky with Arts Council funding, which has been terrific in enabling me to make and show non commercial stuff.

But I love the idea that someone might own something I've made, so for this week there's a painting sale on my site.

Getting ready for Real/Non-Real/Diorama


A couple of weeks ago I visited lecturer Nick Hopwood in his pyramidal book-lined office under the eaves of the Department of History and Philosophy of Science in Cambridge. I'd been reading his ( and Soraya de Chadevarian's) succulent book 'Models: The Third Dimension of Science', about 'wooden ships and plastic molecules, wax bodies and a perspex economy, monuments in cork and mathematics in plaster, casts of diseases, habitat diorama, and extinct monsters rebuilt in bricks and mortar'. The book is a wonderful brew of stories and analysis and I recommend it highly.

I had been hoping in an unformed artisty way that when I outlined my project to Nick he might spontaneously suggest a brilliant way in which we could collaborate, but he seemed a bit baffled by my non-sequential Impressionistic description of what I am doing. Actually I realised that I was as well; perhaps it's because in this long story of 'Real/Non-Real' I am doing an authentic 'response' to instruments and models. Rather than logically interpreting their stories and construction I am in a dream of admiring the neat stocky brass fittings of the microscopes, their sleek sharkskin casings and, as Ludmilla Jordanova puts it, teaching models of embryos with 'alluring flesh and sexually inviting postures'?

After twenty minutes of mutual bewilderment and general goodwill I left Nick with the hope that we might collaborate in some way in the future, and a box of six quails' eggs I found in my handbag.

Running Wild


Under a huge and luminous pearly sky a young girl strains at a taut rope, heaving a great white bag of some heavy matter across a snow-spattered field. A blur of some cheerful pink stuff on top of the bag is the only colour in the wintry waste. The rope is almost exactly parallel to the horizon, the girl pulls left towards the third section of the composition, while the converging lines churned by the plough meet at a leafless tree in the middle distance. In another picture a girl stands, face averted, framed by the whale-like inverted ribs of an opalescent polytunnel. Here and there discarded pots, tubes and very dead plants mess up the dominating foreground. The girl's remarkable ash-coloured hair and her pale clothes echo the pallor of the polythene in contrast to the scruffy disorder around her as she stands apparently sealed into a disused greenhouse.
Kearney's new series of develops themes and images explored in her 2009 series 'Fishing for Trout', in which girls on the cusp of puberty play in the landscape. Away alone in the wild, on the marsh, in a derelict industrial site, each girl looks as though she is caught up in a deep state of solitary dreaming, possibly talking out loud to invisible people, self-sufficient in her preoccupation. She will have a prop - stilts, a barrow, a dead seal - and odd clothes (is that a squirrel costume?) but she will mainly be engaged in being on her own in her imagination.
The Project Space in Norwich Castle Museum has been painted a deep stormcloud grey, and sits within the collection of Norwich Castle among Norfolk landscape painters such as Cotman and Munnings, placing Norfolk-born Kearney in a historic context. Some visual echoes occur between the paintings and Kearney's photographs - a child shepherd on a heath, a ruined industrial agricultural landscape, great waters and big skies. Kearney stresses that she is an artist who uses photography, not a photographer.
The adult viewer, prompted by modern life to be anxious, at the same time remembers their own free-range childhoods, playing out in the wild all day long and only back home at dusk, muddy but happy. There are hints of threat - the dereliction of the sites, made by adults then abandoned; the compositional device of lines that pin the child by strong horizontals and diagonals like a butterfly in the centre stage, the bleak almost monotone palate, so unjolly. Many of these games look like imposed fairy-tale tasks - hauling heavy objects, sitting high up like Rapunzel in a concrete wall or on a straw mound near a strange bit of military hardware.The girls are almost dwarfed by the great brooding skies which withhold rain, while practically no living plants give a hint of life to the land. They are playing in a silvery half-place of imminent rain, makeshift defences and infinite waters.
The wistful loneliness of the locations and the weepy palette suggest that one's memories of childhood landscapes as being long yellow beaches, dancing blue waves are not the places where fruitful dreaming actually happens. These 'real' liminal locations that no-one else occupies provide landscapes that make you dream, where the action is your own, where nothing is provided except a backdrop.

Republic of the Moon review


The wildest blasts of icy wind from the Thames drive me spluttering through the OXO tower where the gusts made a theatrical howling through the glass doors, and into the pleasantly crumbling brick interior of the Bargehouse. I was short of time, so I'm speeding through the dim and resonant interior with you, past the basement with Liliane Lijn's ethereal 'Moonmeme', Agnes Meyer-Brandis's moon-geese follow her on an extendd lunar flight training session, Leonid Tishkov's 'Private Moon' photos, recording his glowing moon's resting places.

Best for poetry is Katie Paterson's 'Earth-Moon-Earth' and 'Second Moon'. Familiar but stuttering phrases of Beethoven drift down the stairs of the Bargehouse. In a dim upper room an unmanned piano steps woodenly through the Moonlight Sonata, reproducing the dreamy tune with an unwavering tempo. The melody flows along then suddenly stops, stutters, reappears in the upper register, starts in mid-flow. Paterson had translated the Moonlight Sonata into Morse code, beamed it up at the moon and it was beamed back and transcribed into notes. The transmitted musical message was interrupted by craters and canyons on the lunar surface, so what you hear is partial, intermittent, you are embarrassed for the piano.

I love this richly prismatic idea - imagine the increasingly deaf withdrawn composer in the faltering candlelight reaching for each note; centuries later his inkblots turn to dots and bars, get beamed millions of miles from earth, land on the silvery moon, turn around and come back, dodging past the Moon mountains. Then the painstaking transcription into a mathematical language, the voyage of the invisible beams of notes, the lack of the composer's emotions in the playing, the making neutral of passion, only for a different kind of longing to be expressed almost despite itself.

And the rest of the exhibition was lovely but I'm off to my studio now so - just go and see it for yourself.

Agnes Meyer-Brand, Leonid Tishkov, Katie Paterson, Liliane Lijn, WE COLONISED THE MOON, Hagen Betzwiesser, Sue Corke, Joanna Griffin, Tomas Saraceno

Bargehouse?Oxo Tower Wharf?South Bank?London SE1 9PH?UK
10/01/2014 – 02/02/2014 ?11am-6pm daily, late opening 6.30-8.30pm Thursday 9 January and 6.30-10pm Thursday 16 January

Review of Lee Granjean's 'Weights and Measures' exhibition


Lee Grandjean: Weights and Measures
9/11/213 - 30/11/2013
Nicolson gallery and the Theatre in the Woods, Gresham School, Holt, Norfolk

It's dark. Rain beats down on us as we approach a large thicket of black trees, silhouetted from inside by the brilliant white light of arc lamps. Framed by an arch of branches a tall glistening white figure stands sentinel, marking the entrance to Gresham's outdoor theatre Below you on the raked steps of the semicircular auditorium scattered figures stand around on the terraces, each object in its pool of inky shadow, where for three weeks this autumn sculptor Lee Greandjean installed a new set of 35 sculptures.

This anthropomorphic tribe of objects, part human, part discarded industrial plant, form a body of work entitled Weights and Measures. This workmanlike yet lyrical title speaks of what sculpture is, physical matter that is also abstract. His large objects have sticks for limbs, box heads, lumpen feet and spindly legs. Their aesthetic is rough post-industrial - pipes, tanks, braces, burly, awkward. The colours too are industrial-looking - dust, mud, cement, with splashes of uncomfortable pink and blue and his use of gloss paint highlights the roughness of their texture. I had first seen this new group of sculptures in Grandjean's studio, where they stood close together like visitors at the beginning of a party. Now, they were spread around the auditorium in dramatic declamatory style, as though each had something very particular to convey.

Their sheer quantity, the coherence of their appearance, their family likeness, gives Grandjean the opportunity to concentrate on form and size, design permutations, and the use of one main material (scrim, coated by coarse concrete sludge) allows him to work through a lot of ideas. Many of the objects such as 'Swan-necked Woman' have inviting handle shapes that dare you to lift them; a while their jokey quality tells you you might be surprised at the result: they might put your back out, or maybe you could swing them up like kittens. Are they for storage, such as 'Dirty Sticky Pink' or 'Sweat'? Are they the remains of some abandoned experiment?

The small objects act like commas or beads between the larger objects, alternately linking and separating the larger objects within the tableau. These also act like a base numeral from which to judge the 'size' of the others - without the little ones, you might read the big ones as small versions of even larger objects. There is also an impression of moving objects suddenly stilled, effected by the many legs, trucks and dangling limb-like protrusions, and an absurdity and pathos that recalls Guston.

Grandjean's assured touch igives a strong personality to the work, and the application of the surface of the works reminds me of the way a farmer controls an animal - patting, smoothing, slapping. There is a masculinity to the objects, but also a disarmingly childlike goofiness that marks them out as the product of a powerful imagination. and a well-practised hand.

Neuroscientists in Newcastle


I've done enough talks to feel confident that, being the world authority on Me and My Work, as long as I have a logically ordered and explicative mass of images I can launch into My Talk without my knees knocking. It wasn't till I was standing in front of my audience in the Neuroscience Institute at Newcastle University that I felt the audience probably had a collective IQ reaching into the thousands, and that my own was perhaps on a level with the mantises they study.

I had come to Newcastle to meet Jenny Reid, Reader in Vision Science at the Institute of Neuroscience. I wanted to discover more about her special thing, 3D vision in all its manifestations, to add a contemporary aspect to my piece-meal knowledge of optics. As Jenny described anamorphic projection and the possibility of projecting onto an actual, in-the-world space, I felt my brain contorting like a pretzel in an effort to comprehend.

Mantoids are favoured friends to Jenny and her colleagues because of their stereoscopic vision which is now known to be wider-spread in the animal world than used to be thought. One of her colleagues showed me a photo of his mantis wearing a minuscule pair of specs on its great spherical eyes, and the platform the mantis perches on when watching 3D telly, its head twirling as it follows the images.

My next move is a field trip to see 'Gravity'; to get in touch with Norwich art school's games department, and to make a preparatory 'landscape' to be rendered into 3D.

Review of Real/Non-Real


For one weekend only Stephanie has put together an exhibition of her own work made during a residency at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford.

The gallery space resembles a laboratory in its whiteness and has become an environment to be experienced and explored, populated by a series of sculptures in black and white. The viewer is immediately thrown off balance by the addition of large mirrors curving around corners, distorting the space and producing disquieting reflections of the sculptures and the viewers.

Douet's interest in optics and in both the mechanics and psychology of vision is clear There are references in the work to scientific instruments, but reinvented from unlikely materials- childrens wooden blocks, blackout card, lenses and old camera parts. Some of the most successful pieces are a series of small assemblages which hint at useful objects but are at the same time nonsensical and sinister. The inclusion of the occasional hand drawn eye in these beautifully made, whimsical sculptures lends them humanity but also a strangeness which defies description. Just like in the best portraits, the eyes seem to follow you around the room. These eyes turn out to be those of scientists who have influenced the project- Max Plank, Einstein, Schroedinger.

Another element of the work is how artists have used and often appropriated optical equipment for their own ends, through photography and tools such as the camera obscura. But the work is not purely about the science of this encounter. Douet says herself that her approach is ‘more reckless than scientific’ and that this exhibition has something of a testing ground about it. The residency context is a great opportunity for this sort of approach and has kept the feel of the show playful and improvisatory.

The effect is curious- the whole exhibition looks something like a scientific experiment, but one which might never have an end point and could easily continue ad infinitum. Douet sees this body of work as just this, an experimental beginning. She wants to continue her enquiry into both the science and art of optics and it is an exploration which is set to be extremely fruitful.

Residency at MAO


The two weeks I spent in the project space at MAO must count as the most cloistered and intense time I've spent since college. Getting in to the project space early each morning and having a good uninterrupted run at remembering, sketching, gazing vacantly into space, snipping, getting burnt on the glue gun threw up a good load of ideas both new and reworked.

I allowed my hands to get on with making things, letting the last few weeks of working in the Museum of the History of Science percolate into my production. Black became increasingly interesting as a substance. Using only black wiped away peripheral concerns and let me focus on its own qualities of receding and advancing at the same time, its historical appearance in Vermeer, Velasquez, Bacon, Caulfield.

I made some sculptures, I suppose you could call them, and photographed them so the shadows became as substantial as the objects. Still would be good to find a burlier material than paper to use. Black gets marked with each exhalation. - infuriating. I love its utter soft flatness but it needs handling with cloth gloves(which of course I didn't always do).

Packing up


Just getting packed up to start residency at Modern Art Oxford on Tuesday - even in the act of packing I get sidetracked by new combinations of objects - see photo. Just upturned the frilly papery thing I made the other day and it went sort of shaggy dog on me.
I love the way modular working produces results that are generated by the physics of the material and its 'behaviour'. Just make a form, make lots of it, and see how it stabiliuses itself.

Visit to WW Gallery


Yesterday in the throbbing sun I staggered down Hatton Garden nipping between pools of shade in front of shops glittering with diamonds and sapphires. Fancy shopping for gems in such heat, on a Saturday! Smiling maidens and beefy geezers hovered along the street, keeping you out and getting you in. The only ornament I was wearing was a lurid lemon yellow corsage from Top Shop, so I wasn't bothered by maidens or geezers.

I found WW Gallery without being tempted (at all!) by superfluous diamond purchases and met Debra in the welcome coolness. I wanted to find out how to make the most of my residency at MAO, and found her advice very practical and achievable. No, I'm not passing any on - pay her the money!
Thank you, Debra.

Update on Real/Non-Real


Having the Queen of Hungary Project Space empty next door is invaluable. I put the geometric solids (still love that phrase!) up in there and they looked a bit bleak, like abandoned giant Lego. My plan is to carry on with component parts and put them in as I make them.

However I've been feeling unusually stalled - normally this way of working generates lots of ideas, but I began to be fearful that the ideas had dried up. I'd read a snippet about Chuck Close always knowing what he was going to do when he started work at 9, and I know that it can be better to go in with some idea to fall back on.

So in the giant black eyelashes. Still a bit puerile, mixed in with older stuff from Offcutter. Thankfully that triggered other ideas and before long the chemistry between the objects had started to kick in and off I went,and I'm now looking forward to today with a fulsome heart.



I've spent the past week making plinthy type things that will form part of my 'vocabulary' of things to take to Oxford. These are based on the wooden bricks, wedges and cones I used to make models with, and will form part of the architecture of the installation.

I'm getting bored with jigsawing, sanding, filling and so had a first attempt at putting the work up to look at. Pleased with the feeling that the things suggest more ways of playing around and of making other things. Evident that the finish needs to be better, so wet&dry out again (ugh). Fingers now dessicated and permanently black under the nails.

Scientists' eyelashes and geometric solids


The studio is heavenly at the moment (as long as the Boy Scouts aren't around), ponies graze in the field, the trees are in full summer leaf. I'm making big geometric 'solids' that will be part of my assemblage kit, cutting the ply with greatest care so it doesn't fray, which however it always does, wiping filler with my finger along the length, sanding, fitting, tapping in the tiny panel pins then my favouriet part, knocking them home below the wood's surface with a blunt naul and hammer. I love the way they vanish into their neat little holes.
I'm also scaling up the 'eyelashes' of the scientists. This builds an old design I used for a Queen of Hungary invite years ago, a thick black circle with fringe of black lashes, and an eye inside. Still working on the eye drawing.

In the Laboratory


My workplace for the past fortnight has been a massive oak refectory table among the virines in the subterranean lab at MHS. Using any optical matter from around the museum that caught my eye - microscopes, mostly, astralabes which aren't really to the point but are loveley to look at, telescopes, cameras - daily I'd set up a micro studio of scalpel, sheaves of black card, mirror vinyl and sculptual oddments and see what I could come up with. Every so often a visitor would drift past and linger by my table.

Making things - I usually let my hands lead my brain, fiddling about with tools/materials till something dawned on me, and relying on the undertow of interest and observation in my subconscious to generate an object/way of working through my hands. I found I used old, old ideas of mine that had been roosting, waiting to become pertinent, and flashes that produced satisfyingly finishe pieces within minutes. Some days I got stuck, screwing up sheet after sheet.

Other times I could have gone on for hours, surprising myself with what I could put on my plnth at the end of the table at closing time.

Designing an invitation for Real/Non-Real


Making, editing and buggering up
I don't really want to get going on making work for Real/Non-Real before I start at the Museum - it feels like cheating, but I have to get out invitations for the events. Why does it take so long? Text - looks like it's all there. Then think of another thing. Justify then everything goes wonky. Re-align. Argh! something else I forgot - logo -it's gone huge and shunted previous text along like a big fat crow landing on a wire with little birds on it!

Starting my residency at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford


As a child I so loved the museum above Folkesone library. Shells, birds' eggs, an ancient skeleton from Caesar's Camp, shards of pitted pottery, utterly a place for dreams to swell and float. The Museum of the History of Science is likewise a place to - well, to make you muse. Vitrines with hand-tooled leather and brass telescopes, wooden polygons, astralabes, and I'm lucky enough to have a dirty great oak refectory table in the cellar on which to be working from mid-May.

Real/Non-Real Blog


A journal for Real/Non-Real - images, ideas, deep and shallow thoughts
I've just heard my Arts Council funding came through for Real/Non-Real - eek! and yippee! It has got to go from being a non-material plan to the start of a material presence; stocks of matter can now be bought - lots of sooty black paper, a myriad of mirror or whatever the collective noun is; glue and more glue.

Last week we went to Maastricht antique fair, and saw how even beuatiful objects are enhanced by immaculate presentation. Sharp whitish lights hung from the ceiling locking onto single pieces from bisecting angles, lifting them slightly away from the background and bestowing dimensions of light and shadow, depth, sparkle, texture.

I want to try this - a batch of 'scientific' instruments made glorious with exquisite lights.