Archives for category: Victoria Gallery and Museum

I was up in Liverpool this week to introduce my work to LJMU Fine Art students. I felt envy. They were so young and beautiful. They have so much time to spend on themselves. Workshops are crowded with kit. Supportive and enthusiastic technicians and lecturers. Then they started to ask me questions. Two in particular:

what is your driver?

how does one stop one’s drawing practice from being too tight?*

I’m paraphrasing there but OMG it took me right back to being at the Central in the 80’s and these are still things I struggle with.

I don’t have the answers but I am compelled to make. Making things gives me a deep satisfaction. I do it for the flow. I do it for that moment of wonder: ‘wow, I didn’t know I could do that!’. BUT that doesn’t mean everything I make is good. Far from it. You could fill a house with the mistakes I’ve made and indeed I have.

And it doesn’t mean I know what I’m doing. Pretty constantly I feel confusion. I worry that I’m committing valuable resources (time, energy, money) on an activity that is pointless and will produce something without meaning. (I am fortunate to have people around me who resist saying ‘is it worth it Emma?’ although they can see how vulnerable it makes me and how much it costs in every sense.)

If you turn that around though, i.e. ‘I know what I’m going to make, I know why I’m going to make it…’ where is the challenge in that? Where is the opportunity to learn something about ‘how to’ and yourself? Where is the dialogue between yourself and your work and how is it ever going to surprise you?

Being confused is a painful way of being but I’m used to it now. The harder you work the less likely you are to question why you’re doing it. (Note: by work I mean play. This too I find very hard to achieve being as it’s so close to working without apparent purpose.)

When I became a mother I thought I would feel like a mother. I felt a fake for the first seven year’s of Rachel’s life. The longer you are in a role the more likely you are to feel like you are the role.

I still want to produce better work than I currently do. That must be part of the driver thing.

POSTSCRIPT: regards the drawing practice question above* start by reading

Henry Moore On Being a Sculptor pub Tate, 2010
Lines of Enquiry: Thinking Through Drawing pub by Kettle’s Yard, Barry Phipps 2006

As you know this body of work and the related exhibition received Arts Council funding. To apply for the funding you have to fill in a form online. The form asks you to describe what you want to explore in terms of your practice and developing your practice. Here is my list for this project:

— do the two lines of inquiry work together here to create fresh meaning?

— does the work progress beyond observation to express the emotional content of a thing?

— has the artist succeeded in freeing herself from focusing on meaning early on, in favour of allowing it to emerge through play and process?

— which of the ideas in the exhibition would benefit from reshaping in another form?

— is the onlooker given enough space to become involved in the creation of the work’s meaning?

— has the artist been adequately disciplined in her choice of technique?

Almost at the last minute, I added a coat and hat for a curator to the exhibition. The coat had been hanging around waiting for its role. I didn’t see how it was going to accrue enough meaning to be included but it was itself part of my aunt Julia’s collection of clothes so it had meaning for me. Then over last weekend I made the hat from almost everything on the ‘nature table’ under our stairs, acrylic paint and adrenalin.

It’s over the top, dripping with bird and wasp nests found by my daughter, moths bred by Dad, a wild boar’s jaw found on holiday with Mum, beetles and a butterfly. Now shown with the coat, which is undone to reveal part of a double injection specimen and a printed interior it means something.

It reminds of a drawing or print of a flayed arm in a book I have: ‘The Quick and the Dead – Artists and Anatomy’. It’s beautiful. (Super book if you are interested in drawing and science btw.)hat for curatorcoat with double injection specimenjacket printed with staining longshot exhib diagonal towards horses head

This project has become an exhibition. For real. Opens on 16 October with a private view the night before. Semi-Permanent Collections is the title of the show. In a line down the middle of the small gallery space are three display cabinets, tall and narrow, made of glass. I’m currently working on the contents of the central cabinet – an homage to my grandmother Diana. What do you think? Any thoughts on labeling. Labeling will be the issue of the month for me.

Diana Bloomfield cabinet Diana Bloomfield cabinet also

The woodblocks are hers. There are 143 in total and my wonderful aunt Julia Bloomfield is looking after them at the moment but she has allowed me to print from them. The contents of the cabinet will relate closely to what’s on the walls.

I’ve been trying to finish this piece for well over a year  she knows it.

Often the first ideas I have are pretty bad and I have to know when to put a piece in the drawer to allow for ‘percolation’. (Is that a word? You know when something comes through slowly?)

This piece was born out of a mild irritation that there wasn’t more of a connect between the Heritage and Decorative Art Collections at the VG&M. Physically they are displayed on different floors, stored in different buildings and curated by different women. Because I experience the world so visually I saw visual connections: this plate is round with a frilly edge, that invertebrate is round with a frilly edge. I made a short series of objects as a result of my irritation and to connect the two. The first was a staircase: each rise and tread a microscope slide screen printed with an imagined specimen. The stairs intended to connect the two floors in the gallery and museum floors metaphorically.

Then I screen printed a series of china objects that had been in my grandparents’ house with my Gran’s garden plan – mostly the Latin names in her beautiful and wobbly pencil script. (I used an onglaze.)

sugar bowl

The objects refer to her garden, a collection of plants and herself as a gardener curating the collection. They are also highly decorative reminders of their home and a life lived that I want to reach for still.

Seeing images of two pots ‘back to back’ the (negative) space between struck me as filled with content neither overt or public – how like my grandparents’ marriage I thought.

Having made a photopolymer plate I toyed with speech bubbles, use of letterpress – all too literal – I put the print away for over a year. Then I played with it masking areas off until, looking at the ‘playback’ below, I saw very clearly the idea of a book, so I printed a version through a stencil on the Rochat press at Bath Artist Printmakers.

IMG_2422IMG_2423 teapot marriage

Look and you will see the stencil slipped in the bottom left hand corner to create a flag. Not sure whether to print again or no – the mistake is often the best bit. Anyways, what do you expect to find in a book? A story. So now this is a version of that marriage, other versions are available…

I don’t know why I call it that.  This image has a photopolymer plate as its starting point. (Exposed at Spike Island last year.) I had already made a print from the plate that took off in the direction of things that menace and slither. This one I thought was going to say something about labels and categories. The garden tags are plastic screen printed with my Gran’s garden plan in her writing. I wasn’t sure about how to incorporate them and the yellow really dominated. First I made a flower explosion shape but it was too much so I cut them through which created a pile of tags. flower explosion rejected

The pile made me think of garden bonfires and pyres so I glued them down and screen printed a drawn pile over the top to push the yellow backwards.

possible daisy top rhs

possible daisy top rhs

Drawing directly on it would have been risky because of plastic substrate. The daisy shape might reappear in the top right hand corner, I’m not sure yet.

My Gran and so many others in the family are very big into their gardens and plants. They use the Latin names.

showing the positive laid over the print

showing the positive laid over the print

owl and burn for wordpress blog
since I last blogged. Picture this: I was working in the underground bunker which houses the University’s collections of organic matter (wet and dry rooms) when my father was admitted to hospital. He was given only a short time to live. We rallied round for a couple of months and then he died, at home. A short while later there was an event celebrating his life, a life filled with art and architecture, music and natural history.

His death came less than a year after my grandmother’s, a wood engraver, designer and gardener.

I haven’t been back to the underground stores. I haven’t been able to face all the dead matter. Now when I consider those collections I think of things people haven’t managed to let go of. The University has its reasons, obviously, for hanging onto them. Multiple reasons probably.

I’m trying to process what’s happened to my dad (and my gran) and my family as a whole.  I drew him as he lay ill in bed. (He agreed to it but that was so unlike him that I now feel I stole something he wouldn’t have wanted to give had he been more ‘himself’.) I seized his shirts when they were offered. The shirts, the drawing, the writing, keeping the notes I made of meetings with the local nurses, touching and re-touching his stuff: it’s all my way of holding on to something that’s gone. I’m not going to pickle it – an idea – but I have been trying to re-create with it, a bit like in the Liverpool World Museum where the stuffed lion and zebra are poised mid-chase by the watering hole. That is a re-arranging of one reality (stuffed dead animals) to create a new one. The new one is false but looks like life. We can relate more easily to it as a result.

The work I’m making now is varied. With Lol at John Moores University, I’ve burned the drawings of my father into heavy papers, combining them with a drawing of a baby owl he would have loved. (Thank you Jay at The Owl Sanctuary, Shropshire.) I cannot bring myself to frame these even, although they would be safer framed. I find them too painful to look at.

Concurrently I’ve been re-making using one grandmother’s buttons and china left by the other. These things will take on new life recorded in photo-intaglio etchings. They will look like archive material because etching has that aesthetic somehow. Since the beginning of this project I have ‘felt’ the gap between the decorative and the ‘other’ collections at the Victoria. In my life as in the lives of my father and grandmother the decorative and the natural world have always been closely linked. I’m hoping these etchings will resonate in the overlap between the two areas of study.

Without finishing either the jacket piece or the garden labels piece (see last entry) I’m back making watercolours of the specimens in jars in the wet zoological store at the University. One thing stood out: necessary to have a moment of panic and a degree of wrestling with the image if it’s going to ‘bear fruit’ . 

 Here are a couple of takes on the ‘no label’ specimen of a couple of entries back. The one on the left is drawn with a glue gun. I’m doing more of these.

Also looked at the wonderful sailor’s knot of an octopus below – only 15cm high. Jacket and garden label pieces will just have to ferment until the way forward becomes clear.

This week: ask Leonie Robinson to identify this specimen; do glue drawings over vein type screen prints; wax and plaster models of ‘no label’.  If I put it down here then it has to happen doesn’t it?