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The Tensions of a New Exhibition, Its Art, and its Artist

Updated: Sep 27, 2022

The tension is real

As I am completing pieces and finalizing the seemingly endless preparations for In My Element, my exhibition in Bath opening at 44AD in October, I am sensing an inherent tension in everything I am doing.

I have a million ideas for the exhibition floating through my head, and I need to decide which ones to put into action.

Before I can even begin to make those decisions though, I am pulled in other directions.

First, there is marketing for the exhibition. Then, there’s a Wild and Wonderful Workshop to teach (which I love!). Then there’s work for the charity exhibition in Nottingham, also beginning in October. (Can you believe I have two shows opening the same night?!!) And even when all that seems up to date, actual life has a funny way of needing my time too. Wearing many hats and having many projects supplies immediate tension.

As does the time remaining to prepare for this exhibition: it is almost October!

As tense as all of that is, this is not the sort of tension that is really interesting me.

Tension within my art

I find that the art I am creating always seeks to present a tension between reality and the abstraction of the Thing.

Take this piece I have been working on. It is a collage, depicting two boats in the water. I do not believe that that is completely clear to the viewer, what it is; and that is a good thing. While the work aims to be of something, to be figurative, it disguises itself as perhaps abstract, forcing the viewer to ask more questions or to look further. It works to engage the viewer; to encourage their own conclusions and layer their own responses.

It is this tension within my art, between reality and the abstract, that can spark a viewer’s interest.

What’s new?

When I work, paintings originate from observation, from an acutely discerning eye, and then I ask myself, “What here is important?” "What am I trying to say – or make people feel – or provoke?” “What is new?

My art represents a real thing, a real place, an actual moment even, but that is then brought to my own place, manipulated and reimaged in my view. The artwork makes the familiar unfamiliar, and asks the viewer to reacquaint themselves with it. It presents the viewer with a tension they must reconcile. Pieces from In My Element provide excellent examples.

I rarely work with an end in sight. Rather, there is a concept or a theme, and the process itself develops the end result. It is really about that process bringing me to a previously unknown place.

A discovery.

Creating with an end in sight

If I had an “end in sight” when creating art, then that would be it: a discovery, both for myself and the viewer.

My art is always working to find something new: a new way of communicating something; a new way to experience something; a new emotional reaction; a journey to a new place.

That discovery, the result of the process, is something that, as the artist, is uniquely my vision, an almost imagined reality, but one that always leaves the tail of its original behind.

How do the shapes work with each other? How do they communicate? The process I go through as an artist is one that works through those tensions. The more I consider my work as an artist, the more tensions I begin to see within my art: the shapes, the materials, the image.

Tension within the exhibit

In My Element: opening October 5th, it looms upon me in the most exhilarating ways. Indeed, as an artist it is both scary and terribly exciting to be preparing an exhibit such as the one I am creating for 44AD.

The experience will be immersive. The exhibit brings the sensory delight of water to the surface. It asks you to dive in.

Swimming itself can be an exciting experience, visceral and free. It can also be scary and unpredictable; unfriendly. The water can feel warm, cleansing, and safe, but the water can be completely dangerous. These opposites continually supply a tension throughout In My Element.

Safe and dangerous

Taking a breath; coming up for air. Swimming is like this, both relaxing and challenging.

This exhibition, In My Element, is like this for me as an artist: the theme of water I am deeply familiar with, yet this exhibit is as innovative as I can imagine it, attempting to push myself out of my comfort zone as an artist at every turn; to question and create.

I’ve made some massive paintings, over two meters wide, meant to immerse you. Other works are moments at a glance: small and delicate; a little trinket, a snifter. I have created a ‘shelf of curiosities,’ full of “A-ha!” moments. I’m sewing my own brochures. I’m using bubble wrap and twinkle lights. I have been editing film I will project in the gallery. Sound and music. Light.

This isn’t always the water I’m really used to. I’m wading where it does not exactly feel safe.

Expanding worlds

I think that is important. This is what In My Element is about: to push myself outside of my so-called “element” and expand that horizon as much as this collection and exhibition will allow me. To, in a way, redefine my element.

I continually remind myself of a meniscus: a thin layer that separates two worlds. Like the skin separating the shell from the yoke of an egg, a swimmer splashes through that meniscus separating water from air, straddling two worlds.

The painting above shows much of this. A red buoy floats in the water, bobbling up and down on the large waves of the sea. That buoy is a target for swimmers racing towards it: in and out of view as the waves rise and fall. Faces, in and out of the water; up and down; inhale, exhale.

The buoy above the water is heavy and focused. Swimmers intently focus upon it; it floats as a target, a goal, demarcating the path. The red buoy represents that fixed, planned world above the water.

Below the water is soft and transparent, refreshing and exhilarating. No boundaries; no directions telling which way to go. Private and contemplative. This always feels like home to me.

Leaving something unsaid

So, with the art collection in this exhibition, I am ‘in my element,’ but I am exploring it in such a way that the directions, the process of creation, is not known in advance – it is without direction; limitless in its possibilities – and I am purposefully swimming in every direction I see available.

Scary, and exciting.

Full of tension.

Still, there are so many ideas I have I have yet to sort through!

And what will I leave out?

There’s even a tension between what I say and what I leave unsaid…

Read more about the In My Element collection and exhibition in this recent issue of Bath Magazine (page 44-45). And in case you missed it, my summer exhibition, Colours of Life, was featured in the publication earlier this year as well: read it here.

Follow me on Instagram to stay up to date with latest news and clippings from the upcoming exhibitions in both Bath and Nottingham; and keep your eye here on my blog for sneak peaks and in-depth dives into my art, process, and upcoming exhibitions!

I cannot wait to see you in Bath October 5th at 44AD for In My Element.

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