Residency – prologue

I’m at Nature in Art, Gloucester as part of their artist in residence programme. For me, the experience has been about art in nature as the museum and grounds could not be more therapeutic and inspiring! But I very quickly found out what really makes the place: volunteers and regular visitors kept validating the great kindness and welcoming approach of staff I encountered personally – it truly marks the organisation.

In my previous post, I wrote about uncertainty but I didn’t go into detail about my frustration with a particular piece that’s been in my head for four years now (four years!!😱). I knew this week I wanted to take something that I felt comfortable making where the thinky bit had been reasonably resolved and I wanted it to be this piece. The public walk through the studio during the day to chat and engage with the artists so I didn’t want to be in the idea phase of things, I wanted to be in the doing part. So it was last chance for this work.

My sketchbooks are filled with notes and drawings and samples, none of which wanted to be born and I recognise that time had got me tied up in knots and over-thinking (moi?🤣). Here are but a few images of thoughts over the years, I have more that I may return to or include elements of. Some have definitely influenced what I’m doing now, and others have gone to the compost bin to fertilise new ground in time.

‘I am always trying that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it’.

Pablo Picasso

Casting back to about three weeks before, I had my latest bits covering the studio floor in a desperate attempt to have something that worked.

It didn’t.

I had reached the end, which felt incredibly disappointing but I knew time was almost up for this work and if it didn’t happen this week, it never would.

So I sat in my chair and had a bit of a worry about what I’d work on if it wasn’t The Song of The Stone Wall. I remember feeling I’d actually let it completely go. Having employed a ridiculous amount of problem-solving energy over the years I couldn’t wrestle any longer. I had given it my last rugby tackle and lost. But I knew that I had something I wanted to say, something that needed to be made, and that was the disappointment. Elizabeth Gilbert talks of being obedient to giving an idea an audience and that really resonates.

I’d tried.

So there I am, slumped in my chair, comfort-eating chocolate buttons and I thought I’d just look in my virtual folder of interesting bits and bobs and I noticed some simple human figures I had been curious about. I cut a rough one out hastily and combined the textures and layers of fabric-paper into a form that was suddenly interesting to me (yay and thrice yay!!) I understood in that moment:

◦ That combing smaller elements into larger ones is and always has been central to my practice so no wonder it felt good.

◦ Every response could be fresh and different as I assembled the individual papers and surfaces. This speaks deeply to my arty soul; lots of textures, layers, treatments, materials…synthesis. I could do quick painty bits and very slow laborious hand-stitched parts as I want. There is something exciting and creative to me about working this way, it’s like experiencing the fresh discovery of a gorgeous piece of wall or colours stone out on a walk as each section is made.

◦ I had always been trying to keep thoughts on how it would be organised as separated in terms of my response and Keller’s extraordinary poem but it could all just meld together in a much, much freer and enjoyable way.

◦ I haven’t entirely figured out why human forms but I can just let it happen knowing it will make sense in time.

I think you can sense my excitement of having found a thing that delights to the core. Something that is utterly you. When you get it, you know – it’s like finding a piece of treasure in murky water. Only when I completely let go of control and expectation for those few minutes could something come in and take its place. Allowing it to be ok not to know, to be uncertain, to sit in the feels is uncomfortably necessary sometimes – we so often need to get out of our own way. It took me while.

I had built this piece up like a wall in my head over time and I needed to knock some of it down so I could see through.

I’m finally, finally singing my own song of the stone wall and the catalyst was the residency deadline.

When people ask ‘how long did that piece take you to make?’ … well that would be four years and counting then…

A work of art is the trace of a magnificent struggle

Helen Frankenthaler

So now we are at the beginning.

11 thoughts on “Residency – prologue

  1. Hi Rachel

    I have just read your post on struggling with a piece, I know exactly what you mean.

    I have been struggling with an abstract of a cave I saw in Lanzarote, I like the colours and can’t get this out of my head. But no matter how much I practise in my sketchbook it just won’t come together.

    I think I am overthinking it. So I will leave for a while and try again. Quite often I can’t do something and overwork it and then all of a sudden I do it straight away.

    I have just been supposedly doing an abstract river and ended up painting it like I normally would , so again not what I wanted. I find it harder doing abstract than anything else that I have done.

    So it’s good for me to hear that other artists struggle too and it’s not all plain sailing.

    I enjoyed reading about your residency sounds wonderful. Have a great time .

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and process and of what went wrong and right.

    Karen Whitwam HAS

    1. Thank you. On my goodness, don’t get me started on painting things I don’t want to and find I’m doing them anyway- it’s it SO annoying?? Well good luck and I hope you find a way though, sure you will x

    1. Thank you. Yes, I felt it time to be honest actually. Sometimes creativity is a beggar and I hope it helps to share some of the ups and downs that are inevitable. Sometimes social media hides all that…

  2. I totally understand. I’ve had the same with artworks and with my novels (one of which took several years to resolve.)
    But your sketchbooks alone are wonderful works of art, and your reflections on the artistic process are profound and relatable.

  3. Rachael-I am so pleased for you and your realisations resonate with me so strongly. It is sp exciting when things click and have that energy. I look forward to the next post. In answer to your question-why people? I look no further than the first line of the poem-‘Come walk with me…’ -could this have something to do with it I wonder? BW Barbara

  4. A different line of the poem resonated with me: ‘I plunge and stumble over the fallen stones’ – is what happens when we are trying to bring creative ideas to fruition, but it’s good when we can pick ourselves up and finish a piece of work. thank you for another interesting post.

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