Playing with fire

I’m just starting to read ‘David Mankin – remembering in paint’. It’s not only full of his wonderfully inspiring painting, but it has been written in collaboration with Kate Reeve-Edwards whose writing is exquisite.

At the start, she is in conversation with David and talks about what abstract paining offers the artist. Something in that narrative really resonated with me, in particular a description of what it feels like to paint expressively:

‘In itself, the drama of pushing a painting to the edge, and then losing it, makes the stakes high in every canvas.’ pg 25

This is something I hear many talk about when I listen to their videos or read their books.

And it struck me that for the most part, working in textiles doesn’t feel like that – at least not for me. It has a steady flow, re-workable, rhythmical, nurturing, less risky.

Where I am aware of working quickly in a ‘flow state’ it is most often when I’m using paint to colour or print with. Then comes the slower stitch in reaction to it.

I realise that in any in any creative process there is both fire and water – a balance – working and feeling differently at various points in the process. But we can recognise their presence in other ways, too; in what materials we choose, how we engage and in personality.

Incidentally, it helps me to guard against the expectation I feel from social media to somehow be ‘on fire’ most of the time… always having something new to post…art simply doesn’t happen like that. Unfortunately no-one told the powers that be who designed the algorithms.

My usual preference is to combine textiles and paint and recognising what different materials and processes bring to the table has brought some personal understanding.

Stitch feels comforting, safe, something to occupy my maker’s hands of an evening; abstract expressionism seems risky, fast, exciting, high stakes. I want both…and…

Abstract painters often have to let a canvas almost completely go to re-work back in and find gold. Kate Reeve-Edwards talks of this ‘dangerous change in direction’. I find this both utterly excruciating and exhilarating. I’ve only recently started to play with this way with paint, but already I have lost several things I quite liked. There again, after some very risky mark-making over something else, a pleasing resolution was found. (I am also smiling wryly at the irony of enjoying the ‘fire’ in the water in David’s paintings.)

Reflecting on what we gain from different processes and materials has been particularly helpful. It explains just one of the many reasons I enjoy making broadly. I don’t think I will ever be an artist of singular discipline. Quite apart from thinking about the materials that I’ve been discussing, personality is just as influential and I’m very at home doing lots of different things, art or otherwise.

With all the opportunities and accessible materials and learning we have these days, it seems that more artists are blurring boundaries. Qualifications often ask us to develop across disciplines because the learning from one is fertile ground for another. We may look back at our personal journey through various arts to the one we are settled in now, or we may develop a love of several, perhaps blurring and mixing what we do.

Never having had training, I sometimes feel a bit slow to the party and I recently came across this article which I found really useful. Probably because it defines things nice and easily in terms of food! 😀 I’m putting myself in the interdisciplinary description (although I keep changing my mind) and I think it is because I see myself constantly combining and synthesising, and it offers me both…and…

What kind of art do you make?

(As an aside, when I was quite little, I visited a family friend down the road, and she had a coal fire with a glass door. I was warned not to put my hands near it as it was extremely hot. I wanted to see how hot that was, so I placed my hand against the glass when no-one was looking. I spent the whole of the evening with my hand in a bowl of cold water. It took until adulthood to overcome my fear and be able to light our gas oven and fire with a match. You’ll be happy to know I’m ok now, I’m always burning the edges of work or melting things! 😁)

I don’t have much to show you, I’ve actually spent the last few weeks slowly, steadily stitching away for my Arts Council project so I was ready for a wee bit of living on the edge this weekend! Here are a couple of very small 4 x 4 inch squares from exploring an unusual colour palette for me: I’m much more yellow ochre than lemon yellow. If my itch persists, maybe one day there will be more to share, but that’s going to take time, I have a lot to learn. My next step is going to be making my piece about the stone wall when my art residency is complete in October, and back to more familiar colours.

Could it be interesting to ask ‘what do my current materials offer me?’ ‘Am I after a bit more fire, or the steady flow of water at this moment in time?’

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