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35 Degrees of Impact: colouring outside the lines

June 11, 2016 by Rebecca Collins   Comments (0)

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I'm not sure I am qualified to write a review of the Wolverhampton School of Art Fine Art (BA) Degree Show as I was in it (albeit it as a not-yet-graduating student capacity) but I'm going to anyway. Or perhaps this is not so much a review but more of a 'You Must Go And See It' not-at-all-biaised plug because that is what I would think even if I hadn't been in it (of course, you do believe me, don't you?).

Last night was the Private View and the culmination of many stressful weeks. And it was the first chance that my family had had to go to the art building. They had heard a lot about it and they'd seen pictures of what to expect from the catalogue but they hadn't yet been there. They had a good time, they told me after I repeatedly asked them on the way home. They liked the fact it had seven floors (nine if you could the Lower Ground which of course you should do) and they enjoyed the nibbles in the Visual Communications (Annimation) room. But more importantly, they enjoyed the artwork. My six year old has been to many art exhibitions in his short life and is therefore an excellent art critic for his age. I asked him what he liked the best. His response was: 'I like the Far Art on the 7th Floor' which was the right answer as far as I am concerned as I am a Far Art student on the 7th Floor.

I think the phrase that best describes the exhibition for me came from one of the students who was interviewed about the exhibition earlier in the week for the University website. She said 'I wanted to colour outside the lines'. To me, there was a lot of colouring outside the lines. It is something I like to try to do too. Even though I have worked alongside these students for 10 months now I was still impressed to see the variety of creative output in the exhibition in their final pieces, and how far the boundaries of fine art had been pushed (yet while retaining, and very much earning, credibility).

I felt inspired and energised walking around, showing my three children and seeing their reactions, and I can't wait for next year to begin so I can work towards my final show.

I hope that over the next two weeks lots of people go to see the work. The exhibitions runs until the 23rd June. A lot of hard work and thought has gone into the pieces on display, everyone who is graduating deserves the attention. I wish them well in their future careers and I will miss them next year. I think we chose the right title for the show, for impact has most definitely been made.

Lost and Found

June 3, 2016 by Rebecca Collins   Comments (0)

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While in London last weekend, after visiting the National Gallery and stopping for lunch, I paid a visit to the Found exhibition, curated by Cornelia Parker at the Foundling Museum. I had heard about this exhibition on Radio 4 the week before and my ears had pricked up with interest as lost and found objects feature hugely in my art practice (at least they have of recent years). Currently, I am searching for the lost and abandoned balloons of Britain (and there were some abandoned balloons in this exhibition - read on).

The Foundling Museum itself is a fascinating place, started off as a place for foundling babies of the early 18th century. It was founded in 1739 by Thomas Coram to care for the abandoned children of London. Many of the mothers who left their children at the hospital would leave an object with which to identify themselves with and as a keepsake for their child. They simply couldn't give up the hope that they might be able to return and reclaim their child. These objects are on display in the museum and they are very poignant and also fascinating in their own right for providing a glimpse into the lives of these mostly impoverished 18th-century women.

The Found exhibition itself came about as Cornelia Parker was asked to respond to the museum's collection in some way as part of her role as Hogarth Fellow. She decided to ask artists from all sorts of practices (including music) to lend the museum a found object of theirs for display. The object could be an actual object they themselves had acquired, or an object they were given, or an art work in response to an object. Some of the objects chosen are intangible - such as sound pieces. Some of the submissions were video in response to an object. But most are just things.

What is it about the notion of the 'found' object that excites people's imagination so much? I think it is an innate desire to share a love of something, or a story about something, with others. We feel such joy at the ownership of our rare objects that we feel the need to share that feeling.

The notion of the found object is interesting because even before we acquire the object, it has gathered a history. I believe that objects are full of narrative. They absorb our stories and those stories stay within them, perhaps locked away, for ever. But there is some glimpse of that story we can feel through those objects, that is the 'trace' that Derrida talks about. Once you own an object, you are adding your own narrative to it. Along with that narrative goes emotion. We put emotion into objects and that is where the pull of things comes from. We also use objects as a proxy for our emotions. Perhaps there is something we are not ready to face head on, so we put that into the object. Those strong emotions stay with the object and move on as the object moves on to someone else.

When I see such objects I find it hard not to feel moved. This was certainly the case with the Foundling Hospital foundling objects left by the mothers. They almost screamed with longing and the pain of separation.

To me, the Found exhibition is about the human obsession with recognising something emotional in objects. We all have a part of ourselves that is lost through the things we have become detached from. Those little lost parts of ourselves of us are adopted by the new owners. Generally we connect the idea of emotion with living beings, however, there is a huge amount of emotion in the things around us.

There were many pieces in the exhibition that touched me. I won't go into too much detail here because I hope that anyone reading this will be intrigued enough to go and see the exhibition themselves. My personal highlights were contributions from Christian Marclay (for bottle tops substitute balloons), Guy Turk (bronze casting on a monumental scale), John Smith (my current favourite video artist - I loved his piece), Rachel Whiteread (another bronze casting), Bob and Roberta Smith (creating a story on a found object), Mark Wallinger (found sleeping people), David Shrigley (humour in the lost) and Graeme Miller (another obsessive street collector).

The exhibition is quirky and eclectic and is thought-provoking about the role things play in our lives.

Just before I finish, I need to get something off my chest. Cornelia Parker is a big fat copy cat! One of her 'found' objects was a collection of three balloons.

And afterward, I wondered out into the park in Russell Square and found this. I wonder who lost it?

 

Nature in all its nakedness: George Shaw 'My Back to Nature' exhibition

June 2, 2016 by Rebecca Collins   Comments (0)

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Last weekend I went to London, and what do most art students do in London? Go to an art gallery.

Ever since I first stumbled across George Shaw's work when at Shrewsbury College I became fascinated with staircases I've been a bit of a fan of his and I've sought out his paintings whenever I could (one in Coventry and another in Liverpool). So when I heard he was exhibiting at the National Gallery after a two-and-a-half year residency I knew that I had to go. This would be the first time I'd ever get to see more than one of his paintings in one room at one time.

The exhibition is called 'My Back to Nature' and it is in response to the collection at the National Gallery. George Shaw, known as a painter of gritty scenes from a modern estate, and the National Gallery, seem odd bedfellows.

The paintings and drawings of the exhibition are displayed together in one section in the centre of the museum. They are circled by centuries of great masters. And being the National Gallery (steeped in tradition and Britishness), the rooms are dark and foreboding, just like the subject matter: the woods.

Stepping into those rooms was like stepping into woodland in the middle of West London. The paintings themselves were beautiful and much larger than I expected (the previous two paintings by George Shaw I'd seen had been tiny in comparison so somehow I'd expected the same). The colours were vibrant and luminous.

On one level, George Shaw has created paintings of contemporary scenes of woodland on the edge of suburbia. They speak of our modern relationship to nature. We use it to hide in, to experiment, to relax, to be alone or to be together. The woodland scenes he has painted are beautiful but are punctured by signs of human activity - tarpaulin, cans, pornographic magazines.  As with many of George Shaw's previous work, human presence in these paintings is conspicuous in its absence.

However, there are many more levels to these paintings. They are utterly absorbing. Looking at them, I felt part of myself being absorbed into them. I could feel a sense of history in them, as if they weren't in fact showing contemporary scenes but scenes that have been played out for centuries. They were somehow able to suck energy from me. I found it hard to leave them.

The scenes, although very real and spontaneous, are full of symbolism: trees (memory, age, history, ghosts), blood (death, femininity , religion, sacrifice, horror), cloth (modesty, secret, religion), blue (a very strong colour in these paintings: innocence, water, purity, cleanliness), texture (imagery, abstract, sexuality, nakedness). These paintings are about much more than a look at the woods of today.

For inspiration for these paintings, George Shaw took himself back to his teenage self who used to come to London from his hometown of Coventry and spend time at the National Gallery (it was free) and walk amongst and sketch some of the great, immense artworks of Titan, Pollaiuolo and the like. Their works had a great impact on him and this comes out strongly in this collection. The My Back to Nature works link back to the symbolism and the voyerism of those other works. The younger George Shaw would admire these old paintings and wonder at the staging of them, the significance, the narrative and the meaning of the objects depicted in them.

I felt so many emotions looking at Shaw's paintings: the child exploring the woodlands and stumbling across some grubby pornographic magazines (yes, that really did happen to me and I remember running away in case the 'dirty old man' came back); the teenager hanging around the woodlands waiting for horror to happen, warmed by the taste of cheap cider; the adult annoyed by the spoilt natural beauty; and the artist creating the narrative behind the objects and the textures in the paintings.

I found it interesting that the only 'man-made' colours in the images are traditionally deeply symbolic of Catholicism: red, blue, flesh. Was this a conscious decision? The painting of George Shaw pissing up a tree has him in blue. The tarpaulin is blue. The tree is marked by brilliant red (blood, paint?), the magazines are flesh.

The number '3' appears a lot as well: 3 paintings, 3 trees, 3 cans, 3 points of the tarpulin.

There was also something auto-biographical about the works. At the entrance to the exhibition are a number of self-portrait life studies which show a raw nakedness of the artist that oddly connect to the tree paintings and that element of being with nature when surrounded by nature. It is almost as if he is saying: This is me. These paintings are about me. I am back to nature in my nakedness.

I was very moved by it all and I'm sure there are more levels to the paintings that I didn't get. I was absorbed into them. I want to go back.

 

'Making it out there' - my thoughts

May 26, 2016 by Rebecca Collins   Comments (0)

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When I started my foundation degree in contemporary art practice at Shrewsbuiry College back in 2012, I didn't anticipate how much common sense I'd learn as well as experience and development in my art practice. One of the main purposes of the course was to teach students how to survive out there in the Big Wide World as an artist. This was a fantanstic learning opportunity for me as previously I had no idea how to be an artist. I just liked to draw. Period. To pass the course, I had to exhibit outside the college; I had to liaise with galleries and curators; and I had to consider issues such as health and safety, cost, income, pricing and How To Survive out there. I now realise that the content of this course, run by Staffordshire University and taking place in a number of local colleges, is actually quite a rarity at the higher education level. Although it didn't go to full BA level, it gave me a really solid grounding for my time now spent finishing my BA in Fine Art at Wolverhampton. I learnt a huge amount about being an artist on that course which I have been able to apply at Wolverhampton for the end-of-year show.

Given that the modules directed towards working as an artist are not the norm on many more formal BA courses in Fine Art at universities, I believe that for anyone serious about a career in fine art an association with AA2A could be extremely useful. The AA2A guide 'Making it out there', provides much essential information for graduating students wishing to make a career in art. One point which sticks out for me from this guide is that life after graduating isn't an 'either / or' scenario. The graduating artist doesn't have to spend all their time egaged in art. They can work anywhere, they can do other things, and they can earn money in art and in other ways at the same time. It depends on the nature of the art practice. Life isn't black and white. Living in the grey is actually very rewarding.

As for my situation, I am currently freelance as a online publishing project manager and when I'm not doing that, I'm a part-time art student and blogger. I also do voluntary work at my sons' school and I'm a parent governor. I like to keep my feet in many camps. I don't make any money at all out of the art or the voluntary work. When I finish my art education I will continue to work freelance in publishing and, hopefully, spend time pursuing my art (and perhaps not expecting to earn much from it if any). But there are certain things that anyone wanting to make a career in art needs to know: building a creative career as a freelancer takes time, networking is essential, paperwork is essential, and low expectations (at least initially) are also essential.

If the new graduate needs a single source of useful information on how to get started, this guide provides that information in a concise and readible way. It also includes much-needed encouragement in the form of comments and advice from those that are in the freelance art world. It is an insecure life, so encouragement is vital.

My own advice: Never, ever give up and never say no!

Is that all I have to show?

May 20, 2016 by Rebecca Collins   Comments (0)

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I'm fast approaching the end of my first year as a final year student at the University of Wolverhampton. (Being part-time I am studying the final year over two years.) So now is a good time to reflect on what I've achieved this year. I started the year with a blank studio, and now I've just cleared away to end up the year with the same blank studio.

My art over the last 8 months, since I began the first semester with no idea what to do, has focused on one object: the abandoned balloon. That is how I work. I find something to be obsessed with and I obsess over it for a long period until I get to the point when I can't obsess any longer and I have to exhibit something. That is where I am today.

Since October when the first semester begain, I've found or been sent nearly 300 balloons in various stages of abandonment. This all started when I found an orange balloon on the pavement in Wolverhampton and thought 'that looks interesting'. Since then, I've drawn them, I've photographed them, I've written about them, I've logged them in a folder and in Excel, I've blogged about them, I've talked about them, I've even turned them into bronze objects. I have had a fantastic year with my balloons. They have served me well. I love them. I can't let them go, at least, not just yet. Soon, but not quite yet.

I will be exhibiting at the End of Year Degree Show next month and then after that at the Asylum Gallery in Wolverhampton. Then, I think, I will say goodbye to my balloons and move onto something new (who knows what at this point).

My final pieces will consist of just two elements: an audio piece and bronze castings. Part of me wonders how 8 months work can be condensed into just two very small things: one that isn't even tangible. But, in fact, this doesn't worry me. That is what art is. Art isn't quantity, art is thought as well as object. Art is about research, exploration, experimentation and, ultimately, provoking thought in others and myself.

When you visit an exhibition (and indeed a final degree show) you will see one or two pieces per artist or student. This might not look much for one year's work but it is. There is a lot of invisible stuffing that goes into each visible, tangible art object. That is what I love about being an art student. I just love the research and thinking. I can spend days just thinking: thinking on trains, in the car, at Zumba, in the shower, at 3am and even, sometimes, in my studio space. I spend far more time thinking than I do creating.

I have created something, two things. And I can't wait to show them to the world.

 

Elizabeth Price at the Ashmolean

April 24, 2016 by Rebecca Collins   Comments (0)

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After visiting the Andy Warhol exhibition at the Ashmolean I took a trip to the top of the building to watch Elizabeth Price's video piece about the collections at the Ashmolean and the Pitt-RIvers Museum which is the culmination of her time spent in Oxford. She had been commissioned to create a piece about some aspect of the museums' collections. The work was two years in the making.

As I dip my toe in video art I'm a bit of a fan of Elizabeth Price and much admired her Turner Prize piece about the fire at Woolworths called The Woolworths Choir of 1979. I love the style of her work in which she is seemingly able to match rhythm with images effortlessly. I know how much work actually goes into getting this effect.

This new piece did not disappoint. It is a 18-minute long video called A RESTORATION shown over two large screens in a darkened room. I found it utterly compeling and engaging. It shares with the Woolworths video that sense of a perfect matching of audio and visual and a beat which keeps the viewer watching. It is intellectual and thought-provoking. It is fast paced but not too much so. It builds up. It takes you with it. I felt it in my stomach. It has a narrative and narratives within that narrative. I won't give too much away: it is very much worth a visit.

I loved the mix of contemporary (almost science fiction) audio with imagesthat were reminiscent of Victorian obsessions with collecting and archiving. The visual text reminded me of the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy (the bit with the Babel Fish). The voice was synthasized but just had something about it that was odd but somehow completely appropriate.

The video has so many messages played on many levels as well, about collecting, colonization, posession, obsession, history, our relationship with objects and civilization. I haven't stopped thinking about it a week later.

I am currently working on a video for my The Museum of the Lost Balloon project and this has given me a lot of inspiration just when I needed it, when I was stuck in that all too familiar pit of artistic angst.

Anyd Warhol at the Ashmolean

April 24, 2016 by Rebecca Collins   Comments (0)

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Last weekend I found myself in Oxford and, while I was there I paid a visit to the Ashmolean (it would have been rude not to). The Ashmolean is currently running an exhibition of the art of Andy Warhol.

Until recently, I didn't feel particularly inspired by Pop Art as a movement generally and the art of Andy Warhol in particular. I admired the philosophy behind Pop Art but didn't feel the emotion of it.

However, a few months ago I came across a story about Andy Warhol that sparked my interest in him, as an artist and as a person. This was the story of Andy Warhol and 25 cats name(d) Sam which I came across completely by chance while googling idley on the Internet. I wrote a blog about this amazing story, and ever since then I've been on a quest to obtain the book he and his mother created about Sam and Sam, Sam and Sam etc. (I haven't been able to yet as it isn't very cheap.)

I appreciate anyone who is quirky. I love quirkiness. And this story showed me that Andy Warhol was quirky. I knew he was quirky but quirky with cats? In my mind, that is someone to admire. I love cats. Artists who love cats are like-minded souls.

Visiting this exhibition, which displays pieces from a private collection and contains an eccelectic mix of video, print, drawing and painting, made me realise that Andy Warhol was a true 'Renaissance' man. What I mean by that is that he was able to dip and delve in all sorts of areas and take advantage of moods and themes of the age. He was a man who loved to play (and he was quite shrewd in what he chose to play with too). He was an entrepeneur but also, and first and foremost, an artist. He was opportunistic and constantly alert (open, and willing) to new ventures. He could morph from artist to printmaker to video maker and film maker.

Art for him didn't just happen in the studio. It happened in undefined social spaces. He helped move art from the studio to the community. He was an observer of society and that is what I think I also have in common with him (besides cats). I would decscribe myself as an observer too. I wish I could have met him (perhaps in a lift somewhere).

The exhibition is well worth a visit. I found much to be inspired by (especially the weewee paintings) on display. The exhibition runs for another month so if anyone reading this finds themself in Oxford with a few hours to spare over the next few weeks, I recommend a trip to the Ashmolean.

Andy Warhol weewee paintings

Walking through the art in Aberystwyth

April 10, 2016 by Rebecca Collins   Comments (0)

Last week, during a short break on the Welsh coast, we paid a visit to the Aberystwyth Arts Centre. Every time we are close by I insist on a day there. It is a fabulous venue with book shop, cafe, cinema and art galleries. I can easily spend a few hours there. Last summer I was much influenced by an exhibition of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe to the extent that I devoured Just Kids by Patti Smith that summer.

This time we came across a one-off interactive sculpture by Jenny Hall called 'Hollow'. This sculpture consists of a raised platform with a mirrored floor and a huge cave-like construction made up of cuboid cardboard boxes attached together by magnets. The cave-like construction was created to mirror a copper mine and the purpose of using cardboard boxes is that they represent displaced objects or ideas. The aim is to explore the creative destruction that is caused by construction.

Boxes

On arrival in the gallery, we were advised that so long as we were shoe-less, we could walk on the mirrored platform and enter the centre of the sculpture. The only restriction was no climbing on the boxes. We were told that we could, however, play with the huge pile of boxes to the side of the mirrored platform. These boxes represent the 'ore' from the mine. So my three children and I threw our shoes off with relish and took this opportunity to explore an art work. We walked around, in, around and in and out of it. We loved it. The interesting effect for me was how vertiginous one of my children felt walking on the mirrored surface. As the large box-construction was reflected in the floor, to him it felt as if he was walking on a glass plane above a large drop of boxes on top of each other. He didn't like it and the only way he could move around confortably was on all fours.

Oooh don't fall

What I liked about this exhibition was that it only contained two pieces. We didn't feel saturated by art. We only had two things to look at and explore in a huge art gallery. So as a consequence, we spent almost an hour in there walking around, looking, thinking, and building. The interactive nature of the artwork meant that we felt much freer than we might otherwise feel in an art gallery. We were able to relax and explore. Also, the act of taking your shoes off enabled this further. It felt slightly rebelious at first but then it felt normal.

Interactive art

Art should be about the reaction of the viewer, and in this case, the participant. I wanted to ask whether the staff had noticed any patterns with the way that different genders reacted to the pile of boxes they could move around. My three boys built a building, an igloo and then a wall.

So if you find yourself in Aberystwyth - go to the Arts Centre. There is always something there to see.

I also like to look at what is called 'The Box' which shows a piece of video art, and it shows something different every day.

Wolverhampton is full of creative people

April 6, 2016 by Rebecca Collins   Comments (0)

One of Keith Gilbert's sculptures

Last weekend I managed to persuade two of my children to come with me to the I AM ____ Contemporary Art Fair at the Newhampton Arts Centre in Wolverhampton and we found much there to be inspired by. There was an eccelctic mix of art and artistic activity to view and participate in, from the doddles and scribbles of Emily Scarrott to the distorted human scupltures of Keith Gilbert (which my children particularly admired for how odd they made them feel).

My personal favourite was the art and, more so, the artist statement, of Jimmy Lannon which talked about how an artist should just do what comes naturally and not feel that they have to be influenced by or follow a style or movement. His passion for persuing his instinctive need, urge, or compulsion, to create was, ironically, very inspiring to me.

Although the art fair is now over, it is worth checking the Newhampton Arts Centre and the Asylum Gallery websites to find out more about the artists who have exhibited there (and who will be exhibiting in the future - including me!). There are so many creative people around, with lots to say.

An ongoing project we learnt about at the art fair which I will be keeping an eye on is the knitters and crocheters of Woolverhampton who are understaking an ambitious project to knit the whole of Wolverhampton. What a fabulous idea! I told them that they simply must include the Wolverhampton School of Art. I eagerly await the final result.

I AM_____ Contemporary Art Fair

April 1, 2016 by Rebecca Collins   Comments (0)

If you are looking for something to do this weekend then I would urge you to pay a visit to the I AM ___ Contemporary Art Fair that is taking place at the Newhampton Arts Centre, Dunkley Street, in Wolverhampton. Mental Spaces CIC in conjunction with the arts centre is presenting a three-day long art fair which will showcase a diverse and eclectic range of local artists' work. There will be all sorts of things to see including live performances, dance, installation, photography, film and sculpture. There will also be various workshops and other activities to take part in. I think it is well-worth a visit, especially if you are a local artist or art maker. It will provide the chance to mingle, get inspiration and enjoy many creative activities.

The theme of the Art Fair is an exploration of identity in the current ever-changing multi-cultural world where identity is a fluid concept. How can we be sure of our identity in such an uncertain world? How does identity change? What is the nature of our innermost identity?

The small part I am playing is to explore the narratives and emotional connection we have with objects through my ongoing balloon project. There will be balloons at the Art Fair and each one will be attached with a label which offers the owner of that balloon the chance to take part in my exploration. The questions I have been asking include: What happens to a balloon once it has been inflated and given to someone? Is that person just the temporary custodian of the balloon? How long will it live? If it does have a long life, what happens eventually? What emotional attachment is given that balloon? Will it be loved? As someone who actually fears balloons and would not want to possess one, this topic interests me. How do we feel once the balloon has been lost or once it has burst? How long does it remain in our consciousness? Can it have more than one owner? 

I look forward to logging the results of this experiment on my balloon blog and exploring them in my art: www.burstballoons.co.uk.

All the balloon bits