Archives for posts with tag: drawing

‘The People Must Eat!’

I was invited to host a lunch at Edge Hill Station as part of the Liverpool Biennial – the theme this year being: ‘The Unexpected Guest’. Edge Hill’s the oldest working passenger station in the world and the venue actually sits between the two platforms, which kind of makes it invisible as people are unable to see that it’s inhabited  – so it’s a great vantage point for voyeuristic people-watching as they sit unnoticed on the platform…For this event a special train arrived from Liverpool Lime St at 12.01 with the passengers being accompanied by a specially commissioned John Cooper Clark poem on a mobile ‘busking machine’ to get them in the mood for some creative consumption…

I was asked to create a menu for up to 20 guests at a pop-up venue, Cafe Valise, which made some connection with my work.

I decided to use the Independent Free State newspaper as the starting point for the meal.

Initially, I considered handing over ingredients telling guests to ‘Make Your Own Damn Lunch!” in the spirit of DIY, and in particular Bob and Roberta Smith with his ripost to ‘Make Your Own Damn Art!’ – but decided that would be ‘ungenerous’ so instead decided to prepare a big colourful ‘help yourself’ vegetarian finger-buffet. I dispensed with table-settings and presented the table loaded with plates of open sandwich deli-style food that I hoped communicated a sense of abundance and celebration..all the food came from Lidl – ‘The People’s Supermarket’, the napkins were printed with the IFS logo and the table covered in the IFS newspaper (handily under the glass tabletops) – so we were eating directly off it…

The joy of making food, for me, is always the presentation, the ‘creative’ experimentation with combinations of tastes and flavours, colours and textures, so this was a smorgasbord of painterly taste-sensation foods, people were then free to ‘create their own plate’, to experiment with their own food combinations, to ‘play’ a little – to enjoy the sensuous, tactile experience…

The guests were also invited to make a visual response on the back page of their newspaper of their ‘Independent Free State’, to photograph and email to me for this blog – watch this space.

What I’ve realised of course, is that, even though my initial motivation for this project was as a kind of ‘personal riposte’ to the corporate world I’d recently ‘exited’ – in fact I’ve succeeded, unintentionally/intentionally to create a recognisable brand of the Independent Free State…right down to the rubber-stamped paper serviettes and even the map-printed dress I wore to host the to appear here later. The entire 2 hour event was filmed – there was a lot of focussed discussion around making work on-site, the importance of drawing as core skill..the corporate world and the artist..the all pervasive nature of mass-media..self-promotion..etc etc Finally, I asked my guests to make an expression of their ‘Independent Free State’ on the back of their newspaper, photograph it and email here to appear on the blog…watch this space

The Independent Free State mobile billboard toured around London on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd July 2012. The following images are from Day 2: Westminster, Central London and selected iconic locations. The Olympic Stadium was also on my ‘hit list’ but we couldn’t get anywhere near it. Stopping on the roadside in Central London is a precarious business – however the Independent Free State and the photographer went unchallenged the entire day which was a surprise in this summer of high security.

I like how the context of The Independent Free State re-invents and re-presents itself in each location – whether it has two large cannon pointing at it outside the Imperial War Museum, peace flags waving in the background outside Westminster, three young women like classical statues lined up in front of it somehow echoing the female forms in the image, the reflected image in the previously ‘occupied’ territory of St Paul’s cathedral, a statue of Churchill looking down on it or the prestigious Lloyds, Shard and ‘Gherkin’ buildings looming up behind it…

On Exclusion Zones and Routes…

Just as I was planning my mobile billboard’s routes around London for 3 days in July, I came across this in The Guardian:

Writer Iain Sinclair has said he fears freedom of movement will be restricted in Westminster because of military-style tactics to be  used in the build-up to the Olympic Games this summer. The Ministry of Defence is reportedly considering deploying surface-to-air missiles in parts of London.

 “My impression of central London is that it’s becoming a gradual no-go zone, or a very difficult zone to manoeuvre your way through. There is no longer permission to move through. There are all these suspended permissions and barriers and the whole operation of security.

All of which makes my having gained permission for my billboard to enter the ‘exclusion zone’ of Westminster even more of a ‘privilege’. A double-sided artwork titled Independent Free State. OS maps of London and the Thames Gateway. ‘Human replicants’. What kind of strange equation is all that?

Sinclair added: “I was walking around the Olympic site two days ago with an American writer for Harper’s magazine, and he revealed at this point that he was formerly a US marine. “He said, ‘I recognise this landscape totally. It’s a military exclusion zone. It’s been treated in exactly the same way as we would operate in Baghdad’.

“It’s true – you’ve got these people who have dug in and are securing perimeter fences and are putting up barbed wire and checkpoints and overhead drones. We have now invaded ourselves.”

The Westminster exclusion zone means the billboard will only be able to visit all the central London sites on one day, I’ll have a photographer  onboard and hope to get some dramatic shots ‘in situ’ though it’s unpredictable where and for how long the billboard will be able to ‘stop and linger’ – particularly a few weeks before the Olympics.

My 3 routes look like this:

Sunday 1st July: All the main Galleries and cultural hubs outside of Westminster. Stopping along the way for ‘unsuspecting’ audiences on the street: include the V and A, Saatchi Gallery, South London Gallery, The Drawing Room, South bank Centre, Hayward Gallery, Tate Modern, Barbican, Cubbitt, Victoria Miro, White Cube, Whitechapel Gallery, Maureen Paley, Cell Project Space, Matt’s gallery, Wapping Project, Clifford Chance…

Monday 2nd July: Westminster – all the main tourist sites plus Battersea Power Station and other iconic city buildings including the Gherkin, The Shard, Canary Wharf and of course The Olympic Park. (If we can get anywhere near).

Tuesday 3rd July: The billboard will tour all around the perimeter of the Westminster ‘Exclusion Zone’ – parking up at the perimeters of Hyde Park and Regents Park and other high-visibility locations wherever possible.

The GPS tracking’s going to be really interesting documentation…

One of my favourite books of recent years has been ‘Wanderlust – A History of Walking’ by Rebecca Solnit. She has some fascinating things to say about women and public space:

‘A woman who has violated sexual convention can be said to be strolling, roaming, wandering, straying – all terms that imply that women’s travel is inevitably sexual or that their sexuality is transgressive when it travels.’

I’ve made a lot of solo trips – I’ve walked alone in the Himilaya and the Alps. I’ve travelled alone in Turkey, India, Nepal, Dominica and Guatemala. I’ve been alone in Mexico City, Istanbul, Delhi, New York, Rome, Reykavik and Barcelona…The key to feeling confident alone as a woman traveller is to have a sense of entitlement. That you have the right to be there. Because few women in few places in this world do have that right. To freedom. And space. And movement.

I’m with Solnit when she says: ‘Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind, and walking travels both terrains.’

The yearning to travel, the wanderlust, is a very particular freedom for a woman as it can never be for a man. Sylvia Plath said: ‘I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night.’ This is the spirit of endeavour, historically always denied to most women.

Most ‘On the Road’ type male odysseys are mapped by women who stay put, who remain immobile. And wait. I am not one of those. I have always wanted to be in the world and of the world. Whatever the risk.

To meander is to be unproductive. It is a luxury of sorts to travel aimlessly, at a slow pace, without the pressure of the shortest route from A to B. That is how these drawings came together really. By taking a meandering route. Where travel is more important than arrival. That is inherent in the creative act – and certainly in drawing.

I’m in an interim moment. Studio based artwork is made and scanned. Next, I’ll be working at ZenEssex design studio to create a layout for the billboard. The Independent Free State takes a pause for breath. It’s down to the other people I’ve enlisted in this project now to help make my vision a reality…

Stop Press: Westminster Council have now given permission for the billboard to enter their Exclusion Zone for one day, which is amazing, as a number of ‘public artworks’ have been denied this privilege. So I’m assuming they must like the visuals I sent. There are some conditions – the logos (Arts Council, National Lottery, Metal) must be discreet and there must be no other text apart from the title and no reference to any exhibition or event. That’s all fine by me. So now I’ll get my dramatic photographs of the billboard ‘in situ’ against a backdrop of central London’s iconic landmarks.

I have yet to direct the routes for the remaining 2 touring days. I’m considering: 1. a tour of all the main London galleries and gallery areas (outside of Westminster) and 2. All the main travel hubs of London. Both of these routes will yield really interesting GPS tracking documents which will fuel further work.

My 3rd and most complex route idea is to follow, as closely as is practically possible, one of the drawings I’ve mapped out – ie so the GPS tracking route will re-form the drawing itself. The female form will be realised though the route taken. This would take some working out and would be at the mercy of traffic and time to complete on the 8 hours hire per day. But it’s got to be worth a go…

‘The demand for freedom is universal and political, but also intensely personal, and one which can require courage to follow…for its path sweeps lonely to the summit, no map, no guide, no god at your heels…If you want to play safe, you should never have come up here, to the site of freedom…Modern, urban, work-oriented societies teach people that freedom is something you outgrow…Our innate freedom is dulled and dimmed, deadened and demeaned by detail and deadline and caution and clocks. But roaring underneath all this, still, freedom growls in the dusk. Freedom is because life is, and to be most alive is to be most free.’

Jay Griffiths from ‘Wild: An Elemental Journey’ 2007

So where did the title for this project ‘Independent Free State’ come from? Partly, it’s a personal narrative, I am now an autonomous artist, having taken ‘voluntary redundancy’ from the public sector a year ago. (ie ‘If you don’t jump off the cliff we’ll push you…so what’s it to be?’) Alongside a whole generation of creative people, I’m part of the recession-fallout with its crippling arts and education cuts. So, I’ve worked for the State for around 15 years and now I’m out on my own. It was the right moment for me. As a product of the early 80s Art School scene I was never going to be happy being complicit in the new regime of the aggressive business model that art education (all education) has become.

With this kind of freedom comes insecurity and precariousness but also excitement, renewed energy and curiosity, you have to be resourceful. Above all, you have to believe in yourself in order to keep getting out there and to make things happen. Freedom can go to your head. I may be out of the stifling bureaucracy and Health and Safety clampdown of the state sector (with its heavy handed infantilization of the thinking adult) but there are still rules, negotiations to be made, mediations to broker, when working in the public realm with public money…

I’m waiting to hear back from Westminster Council (re its ‘Exclusion Zone’ for the billboard) as to whether my artwork will be deemed to be an advertisement after all. The Advertising Regulations are certainly broad. I’m not sure what exactly the artwork will seen to be ‘advertising’: myself? The Arts Council? Art? As a former colleague pointed out recently when we were discussing the project, the mix of irony and truth of art appropriating the language of advertising then in turn being defined as advertising is pretty interesting here.

Westminster have sent me the regulations that define advertisements:

“any word, letter, model, sign, placard, board, notice, awning, blind, device or representation, whether illuminated or not, in the nature of, and employed wholly or partly for the purposes of, advertisement, announcement or direction, and (without prejudice to the previous provisions of this definition) includes any hoarding or similar structure used, or designed or adapted for use, and anything else principally used, or designed or adapted principally for use, for the display of advertisements”.

Apparently a number of public artworks have recently been defined as advertisements by these regulations, they’re that broad.

I’ve had to seek written confirmation from the Ordnance Survey people that I will not be breaking any copyright laws by using OS maps in the artwork. I was concerned, as were other people I spoke to, that to display this work in public would be a breach of copyright. I’ve been told that if I own the maps (I do) and they are not to be reproduced to be distributed as maps then it’s fine. Which is great news. Appropriation is so commonplace in contemporary practice – the use of other images and representations to make ones own – that copyright seems an antiquated notion. Everything’s ‘up for grabs’ in the age of the World Wide Web isn’t it…? Even our entire identities can so easily become someone else’s property.

I’ve been talking to other artists, writers, film makers and lecturers about this project. There’s been a lot of interest. There have been a few cautionary conversations around my use of the World map ie ‘contested’ areas and Islamic countries. That my super-imposing figures that could be interpreted as ‘naked’ on an Islamic State could certainly spark controversy. I’m not interested in courting controversy in this way – it would detract from the project. So I’ve pretty much decided to avoid depictions of these areas. When I showed a friend the map of the Westminster ‘Exclusion Zone’ he remarked that it reminded him of the ‘Ring of Steel’ that was de-marked around London during the IRA bombing campaigns. He also said that the billboard would seem to ‘legitimize’ anything I put on it particularly with the title being ‘Independent Free State’ it could easily be perceived as being sponsored by The State.

I’m considering the map images working as pure visuals without the title, the intrigue and ambiguity of these images are enough. ‘Independent Free State’ will still appear but as the title (brand?) alongside the Arts Council, National Lottery and Metal logos, who are my funding bodies. However, it will still appear ‘written large’ on the reverse side, a kind of ‘blueprint’ for ‘freeform’ human figures where the public will complete the drawing at Village Green arts festival.





I work in a communal studio space. I have my own ‘territory’ within this space but may spread out as necessary depending on what I’m working on.  It’s an unusual set-up which comes down to the economics of slicing up a large space to make it affordable but avoiding the ‘rabbit-hutch’ enclosures of many other studios. It’s an intense way to work. Cross-fertilization occurs. A black abstract mark on one wall re-appears in a graphite drawing of a disembodied dress that stares back across the divide. The studio is cluttered, stained and smeared with the detritus of 12 years of creative practice. It’s dirty and rich with the history of creative endeavour.  People have ‘spilled their guts’ here. It is a kind of psychic battleground. It is also emotive and intimate: all your ‘stuff’s up there on the wall for anyone to see. Your failures as well as your ‘breakthroughs’.

The work unfolds. I get my hands dirty. I breathe in noxious fumes of spray paint, adhesive, graphite powder…

After 2 weeks in the studio I’ve made a kind of break through: broken through my prescribed processes and something unexpected has happened. A kind of euphoria kicks in, a ‘revelry’ of the mind and spirit. You suddenly think you know exactly what you’re doing and why. It doesn’t last long, but while you’re in that zone it’s the best thing in the world, you’ve glimpsed a tiny universal truth all of your own. By the next day self-doubt returns but you’re on more solid ground from which to ‘take-off’. You’ve made progress

I’m working with Ordnance Survey maps now. They are exquisitely beautiful. The soft colour palette and contours are, for me, inherently female. They are on a human ‘walkable’ scale rather than the macro World Atlas maps I was previously working with. Now I have large scale ‘micro’ OS map images counterpoised with tiny ‘macro’ world map images.

The map and the female form have become one. They’ve synchronized and melded, each transforming the other. The figures have an exuberance in their ‘liberation’ from the map – just as a sculpture is ‘liberated’ from its stone. This seems a powerful statement: feminization of the map. Her territory. Occupied territory. It’s a strong image and I think I’ve found what I want to form the triptych on the billboard.

The map’s flesh tone urban sprawl become her. Defacement/reconfiguration. I’ve been morphing drawn images to incorporate the terrain of the map, seeking out existing lines of rivers, roads, railways and coast – ‘drawings’ that already exist. In so doing I’m imposing my own order on the world and creating new abstracted figures that have an immediacy and seem to spring out from the map with an energy. They’re striding across the face of the land and out of the enclosed confines of the map. I think of those ancient figures carved into physical landscapes. I’ve created whole new space and place with these map-figures. My creative vision starts spinning out – what if I could actually physically map these figures out on the land/cityscape? How would I go about doing that?

Justin Hopper, curator and writer sent me a great historical reference for map and female form – specifically Europe as Queen –

The maps are of: London and the Thames Estuary down to Southend-on-Sea. A ‘personal geography’ that incorporates where I’m based, where the project is launching from and the route it will travel up the river to London where it will tour. Beyond the personal narrative these locations have become intensely political. The Thames gateway is a hotly debated space with the impending new London ‘super-airport’ plans. Historically, it’s one of the busiest and most important waterways in the world. The East End of London is of course about to host the Olympic Games and has undergone radical transformation in the last 4 years.

The Olympic site has become a contentious one. Just the other evening I was being driven through London heading East back home to Southend when we noticed a massive glow in the sky which got brighter the further East we travelled. Suddenly we were upon the Olympic site which was drenched in the most powerful of flood lights as work continues round the clock to complete for next month. It was like Encounters of the Third Kind. Like a spaceship had landed in the grubby old East End. Shocking and exhilarating.



Studio based experiments exploring the Independent State of Mind and Selfin and of the physical and psychic worldfrom Saint to Dummy and all States in betweenwithin and without the Grid. A Blueprint for the Simulacrum or Human Prop.Is the Modern Crisis one of De-personalization? Do Dolls have Souls? (‘I-dol’?) Are they Improvisations of the Unconscious? Humanculus – of the Human Image. They were there at the beginning of the World – made of stone, dirt, animal. Primeval and Fundamental.



While on residency in Tortola in the Virgin Islands for 2 months earlier this year I initiated drawing workshops and a live drawing/painting event on a beach front stage next to a gallery studio/workshop. The drawing workshops really brought people together in what is still a divided community of wealthy ‘ex-pats’ and a poor local community. Tortola is  very small island, only 12 miles long and 4 miles wide, it’s a fascinating platform from which to look out at the world. Whatever you do there has an immediate impact on the place and its people. There is little mediation. There are therefore all kinds of ‘culture collisions’ as people come up so close to each other but also clearly evident divisions. Just as there are everywhere. One night, I was one of three artists making work in the very public space of a ‘Full Moon Party’ on the beach which drew an audience of around two hundred people. It was an incredible ‘buzz’ drawing live, for the artist it is both a vulnerable and powerful position to find yourself in: there’s nowhere to hide.

I have long been  interested in the viewer/participant’s relationship to drawing through my education work – leading drawing workshops and more recently the live drawing ‘events’ I have led as an artist. For example, ‘The Curve’ interactive drawing wall at The Southbank London, a live drawing installation on a chalk board sculpture designed by Jane Woollatt for Metal in July 2011. ’15 Artists 15 Days’ at Firstsite 2009 where I transformed an empty shop unit with drawn ‘interventions’ in the physical space and a live drawing performance ‘TEFLtastic’ in Whitechapel Library for Five Years which produced a visual narrative on a 25m long ‘scroll’ of my experiences teaching English in the Far East in the 1980s.

These all presented ‘free association’ for both artist and participant. I’d like to ‘test’ this out further in the public realm.  The performative drawing ‘event’ presents the drawing process as ‘spectacle’, drawing as shared experience with the audience’s direct contributions to the work.

Watching someone draw is always fascinating, it’s the hidden process behind the final work we rarely see. I often run life drawing workshops and observe people drawing, I never tire of watching a drawing evolve, a visual manifestation of thought and perception. When I sometimes make demonstrations in these workshops it’s always a ‘performance’, a hushed concentrated silent audience. And it’s always intimidating for the artist…

I am interested in developing my drawing practice into a ‘monumental’ scale. This is my ambition as a maker of image, to achieve maximum exposure, taking the work out to an unsuspecting audience.

A really exciting development – I’m in discussions with a billboard company – Outdoor Plus – about giving the Independent Free State a prime billboard site for the artwork during the summer. An amazing opportunity which really ups the ‘maximum exposure’ for this project.

I’ve had discussion over the phone with Westminster Council – they were very helpful about enabling this project to take place within Westminster. It apparently all comes down to whether the artwork could be described as an ‘advertisement’ by the Advertisement Regulations. Both parties are studying these regulations carefully. It will be interesting to see how the people I come into contact with perceive the ‘Independent Free State’ – ie how political this notion can become. Its ‘power’ is in its ambiguity after all.

I have started work in the studio – which now looks like the ‘bunker’ HQ of a covert military operation. I am reflecting on copyright issues right now as I am appropriating images and maps for the artwork. I tend to use old out of print books for inspiration for my imagery – my eclectic resources include books on ‘Beauty Culture’, anatomy, pre-Christian figurines, the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum, the history of dolls…these are all ‘simulacrum’ for the human figure. They literally ‘become’ the maps of the land masses they inhabit and so become ‘Independent Free States’ of their own. The maps are also from a number of sources, including an old Atlas from 1902, OS maps of the locality and East London, physical geological maps, road maps, satellite maps and the Tube Map.

Maps are of course political documents that chart territory and power and go out of date very quickly with the ever changing face of the world we live in. Most fascinating is the fragmentation of Russia and the German Empire, the Middle East, old atlases include maps of ‘Palestine in the time of Our Lord’ which seems as fantastical now as Tolkien’s map of ‘Wilderland’ in The Hobbit. I’m well aware that any map of Israel is going to be incendiary, in whatever form I choose to use it, even as a ‘veiled’ or obscured fragment which is how these maps will be seen. There’s a great book called ‘You Are Here’ which explores artists use of the map – they are such rich and vibrant visuals, seething with curiosity and intrigue. Irresistible to the artist.

I used to hate geography at school – how can a subject so close to my heart be made so dull? Since those days I have travelled half the planet – mostly solo trips, so my use of maps here could be seen as a personal narrative. I also have a mixed cultural heritage – my mother is German, my father’s father was Belgian. Both my grandfathers were ‘Lost Presumed Dead’ (one officially, the other ‘unofficially’) – one on the Russian Front fighting with the German army, the other in Brazil working in the diamond industry from Antwerp. These are both mysterious stories waiting to be told and integral parts of my compulsion to travel and seek – some kind of genetic imprint that feeds my urge to cross borders and boundaries and find my own ‘Independent Free State’. My son has four grandparents of different nationality: German, English, Spanish, Italian and a French father. He could be a mascot for the European Union.