Thursday, 29 April 2010

You're so slow, speed up, work faster!

I've always been a bit of a slow coach. I can remember my Mum commenting on it when she would walk me the mile to school and back when I about five years old. It wasn't that I didn't want to go, it's just that I travelled at my own speed, and fifty-odd years later I still do.

This proved to be a bit of a problem when I was doing exams as a 16 year old. I was never very confident at maths and I knew, during one exam, when I kept rechecking my answers, that if I'd only had another 15 minutes I could have got a higher grade. Still never mind, has always been my mantra.

These days I notice I walk slower than other people - no change there but I notice it more and more. They overtake me on the inside and power down the road. Me, I saunter along and enjoy watching the world go by and get there in the end - occasionally I'll speed up when I'm late for the bus but usually I'm content to wait for the next one. I also eat slower and drink slower than other people. A cup of tea can last all morning at work but that's often because I've forgotten it's there.

And not surprisingly I make art quite slowly - in fact dead slowly. Having worked for 30 years in publishing to strict deadlines I actually learned to speed up. It was a case of speed up or speed out but it took me years to learn the art of simultaneously thinking and doing. The endless 'have you done this?', 'have you done that?', 'it's needed now' used to make me anxious but not more productive. Finally I got the hang of it and when I was working in newspapers I became a bit hooked on flinging pages together, running on adrenalin all day and irritated by people who took their time.

But now I can see a real advantage to working slowly because creative endeavours can often take a very long time to come to fruition. For example this very day I have solved how to approach a portrait I have been struggling with for more time than I care to mention. I've already thrown one version of it on the scrap heap and I'm confident that the new approach I've settled on will result in a more satisfying solution. And let's face it: no-one else has a vested interest in whether I produce artwork or not so I might as well take my time and produce work I can be proud of even if it does take years.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

River Sounding

I began to shiver as the cold chill crept round my shoulders. I wondered about digging my jacket out of my bag and putting it back on. It had been lovely and warm lolling around on the terrace overlooking the Thames - warm enough to make you nod off and have a nap. Now we had walked downstairs to what looked like the route to some unknown dungeons.

Couple that with the general clanging of bells, the rushing sounds of water and clunks of gears changing every few seconds and I was ready to go back upstairs again to the safety of light and warmth. But we hadn't come to visit anyone in prison - we had come to experience Bill Fontana's River Sounding which is described as 'an immersive sound installation that creates an acoustic journey through little known subterranean spaces of Somerset House'.

Bill Fontana had spent several months amassing a collection of audio and video recordings from various parts of the Thames (which sounds to me like a great way to spend a lot of time outdoors and call it work) and then put an edited selection on display in the dark recesses underneath Somerset House. The result is an odd combination of meditative and eerie. In addition there are no gallery staff watching your every move which, in the confines of these small dark spaces, gave me a sense of freedom and liberation. It was certainly an interesting and different way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

If you click on the heading to this post it will take you to a short video at the Somerset House website.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Life got better after this

Back in the bad old days when Margaret Thatcher was still the chief banana in our government (circa 1990) I had a grumpy Hungarian employer. He was tall, 50ish and had a patrician air about him. He used to stroll around the offices like a lord inspecting his estates and spying on his serfs - he always made me cringe a bit. He left a depressing aura in his wake which spoke of money worries, downturn in business and staff problems.

And I was one of those staff problems. In all the time I worked for him (and I wonder why I stayed for so long) I never settled in, never found my place, always felt awkward and certainly didn't get anywhere near achieving my potential. Potential, what's that?

I'd made an enemy of one of the directors who in the hierarchy of the company was one layer higher than me and one step down from the boss. He spent six months trying to dislodge me from the company and even in my depressed state I could clearly observe his tactics but was powerless to out-manoeuvre him.

During this period the grumpy Hungarian would periodically call me into his office for yet another telling off. He spelled out to me the official warning process, verbal and written which was the preparation for dismissal and I would nod my head. Two weeks later I would be back in his office - him looking for an improvement in my work, me having none to offer. Each time my grumpy employer would intone: 'you are no good, you are always ill' and sigh.

Eventually he gave me the stark choice of being fired or resigning. I chose to resign because I thought that way I would retain some self respect but it was a sacking in all but name. At our final meeting in his office on my last morning he repeated yet again: 'you are no good, you are always ill' and then to my astonishment asked me to keep in touch with him. I remained silent not trusting myself to speak while I thought 'you must be fucking joking' so at least that showed I had a spark of life left in me.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

What's the point of sketch books?

Bust of Eve Fairfax by August Rodin (1902-3) Bronze: at the V&A. Killing time before meeting for a family lunch.

I notice that my last visit to the world of blog was on 4 October last year - that was two whole seasons ago! I won't go on about the weather but I do feel more lively now spring is here and the days are getting longer.

Just yesterday we went on a walk through the fenlands of Essex. For the exercise and for the views. My husband took his fancy camera and his fancy tripod. I took my sketch book and pencils - they didn't see the light of day until we got home and I took them out of my rucksack.

I often do this. Carry my book and pencils with me in the hope that I'll add to its contents and decrease the number of blank pages. I'm currently working my way through a tiny book that I received as a present and I've just noticed that the first date in it is 28 December 2002. It's very nearly too small for me to draw anything in it. Two years ago I took it on holiday with me to Lyon in France and our host's young son thought that looking through it was the highlight of our visit. I was astonished.

Not surprisingly it takes me for ever to fill one whole book. I usually have a few books on the go at once and I recently managed to complete a rather nice square book which took me three patient years from start to finish.

My friend Cathy got me thinking about why I work in sketch books. She asked me if I use my sketches as a basis for something bigger, more permanent. Oh no, I replied. I make them and leave them. Sometimes I'll look back at them, sometimes I don't but I am careful to avoid judging the quality of what I produce. I accept it as it is. It could be scruffy, turned out in a moment or laboured and delicate. It doesn't matter.

But as I've thought about it I realised that I like to sketch stuff as I am on the move because that is how I learn more about where I am and what is around me and that makes my life more interesting. I've included two drawings from the current book for your amusement.Waiting to see the dentist - you could describe this as displacement activity.