Monthly Archives: February 2014

NSP

Entry for the National Sculpture Prize has now closed so here is my proposal…

I wanted to create a sculpture that was of Global significance but that was also specific to Devon and linked into my previous work – Boundaries, the Human Condition and Cloning.

About a month ago, I had a little flash of inspiration. Honey.

I did some research and here is a brief summary of the things that I found out mixed with some things that I already knew:

I’d seen news reports about bees pretty regularly because they are in Global decline but during my research, some things really stood out: scientists in Australia have been attaching little radio tags to honey bees to study pollination patterns; then there is the “Keep Britain Buzzing” campaign; and even Häagen-Dazs® have a page on their website about the plight of the honey

Whilst I knew of the cultural tradition of Devon honey and mead, I was really surprised when I found out that honey bees were so important to the people of Devon that there is folklore about honey bees – people used to even tap the hive and tell the bees of important family events such as: “master is dead”.

We introduced honey bees to the whole world and they are thought to be responsible for 80% of insect pollination.  I knew that the decline in bee numbers could have a significant impact on food supplies for all of us but I had no idea that humans were responsible for spreading them around the world.

Then I looked at reproduction and did you know that the Queen honey bee chooses the sex of her offspring?  She lays the her eggs and if she wants them to be female, she fertilizes them with stored sperm and if she wants them to be male, she leaves them unfertilized.  The males only inherit HER genes so they are, basically, clones.

My little moment of inspiration was bang on.  My sculpture had to be about the decline of the honey bee, to bring the observer into the hive so that they would feel the loss as something tangible long before starvation becomes an issue.

So it was time to work out what the sculpture was going to actually look like.  It had to be the hive, empty.

The sculpture had to be a hexagonal cellular structure.  I love the clean geometry and it fits in with a previous sculpture that I made.  I had considered a sculpture based on the structure of a honey bee’s wing which would indeed be beautiful but I dismissed it with only a tiny bit of exploration because of my fascination with the hexagonal structure of a honeycomb, I can get lost in the pattern.  I worked through a few sketches and tried – unsuccessfully) to make a couple of maquettes.

A study of a real honeycomb

Honeycomb Study

A sketch of what I wanted it to look like internally

Desired Effect

The first maquette made from dyed sugar glass with chicken wire embedded in it

20140209-Maquette 1

The second, made from cardboard & tissue paper covered in tinted PVA

20140209-Maquette 2

That last maquette was based on an idea by my tutor for one of the faces that I did for my Diploma so thank you ❤

I knew from the start that I wanted to make the sculpture from glass and I contacted a great glass artist for some advice as to how to get the honeycomb effect because I remembered both intentional and accidental hexagons in her work.  I toyed with the idea of a bigger sculpture made from different transparent materials that would stand up to being outdoors but I much prefer glass and I’ve chosen the accidental kind of honeycomb because I really like the effect ( as seen below).

Accidental Honeycomb

The name was easier than I was expecting.  I only name my work when I have to unless the name just comes to me.  The working title of the project was “The Hive” but in the end, I decided on “Swarm”.  The lack of bees in the sculpture will be made all the more poignant because of the name.

I wasn’t entirely sure of how the sculpture should be presented but I finally decided that it would look best mounted on a plinth.  It needs to look like it is on display in a museum, as if the bees are gone and we are looking at something that has become extinct.  I made the final sketch using modelling wire to do a rubbing for the texture and mounted everything onto black card and then white mounting board.  Part of the reason for mounting it was to make it look lovely but practically. it would also prevent it from being damaged in the mailbag and sent it via recorded delivery on 10 Feb.  I’ll find out whether or not I’ve made the shortlist in March!

20140109-Final Design

I am so privileged!

I’ve had a lot of really inspiring people in my life.  Teachers, friends, mentors, bosses, family members and of course, my lovely husband.  They have all been a part of the sum that has made me who I am today and for that, I am grateful.

In both the visual and performing arts, many of those teachers have also been my friends and I would like to honour them by being the best that I can be.

When I was about 23 years old, I managed to find the money to attend two terms of adult education and re-discovered my love of pottery under the guidance of a fabulous ceramicist named William Oakins and produced some really exciting work.  Sadly, an attempt to do the same locally a few years ago was doomed to failure as I had been forgotten about by the college admin staff!

At around about the same time, a wonderful artist called Maureen Howard took me under her wing and made me a part of her family and tried to get me to create art again.  I wasn’t really in the right place at the time but I did get back into knitting thanks to her.

There was a long gap then although my friends encouraged and supported me when I eventually started to paint and then a couple of years ago, I joined a local theatre group.  There I have had the pleasure of sharing a stage with and learning from some wonderfully talented people such as Cheryl, Hazel, Glynne, Dave, Vic, Chanelle and others who give me advice, make helpful suggestions, offer constructive criticism and just generally support one another – including me.  One of the things that I love about the group is that it is so welcoming and even when I first joined, I was treated as part of the family.

More recently, I began working with Annie Thomas whose work I adore.  Sadly, we don’t work together anymore but we have remained friends and I purchased a couple of pieces last year and they have pride of place in their rooms.  Anne gently points out when I’m being a total idiot and has been a great source of strength and support in the last couple of years.

The turbulent journey through the Level 3 Foundation Diploma in Art, Design & Media has been under the care of the wonderful Hazel Terry who has helped me to grow and become an artist.  She has been supportive, critical and informative as appropriate and helped me to understand my own creative process and develop my technical skills, knowledge and confidence.

My latest teacher in the visual arts (more specifically, textiles) is my Panto mummy who has also been a great teacher in the performing arts.  Under her guidance, I made a lovely raggy quilt for an imminent new arrival on the Earth (and I don’t mean Aliens!):

20140206-Raggy Quilt for Baby Buckingham

I realize that it will be a long time before I am as adept as she at something as simple as a raggy quilt but what an absolute joy it was to spend the time learning from her.

Saatchi Online

I’m still in shock.

I registered on Saatchi Online a few weeks ago but couldn’t muster up the courage to actually upload any photographs of my work for sale.  Tonight, I made a start.  I’ve finished for the night as it is way past my bedtime but I need to gather my energy, I’m buzzing!

Pricing was the biggest challenge, and not for the first time either.  Last time I sold some of my work was to help me to raise some of the money that I needed to move 250 miles and I asked the opinions of my friends.  This time was easier in a way.  I looked at a sample of the works for sale on Saatchi online and several, that to me were utter dross, would have cost me several months’ wages so whilst mine are quite low priced in comparison, they are much higher than I would have valued them (material costs + time).

I blame it all on the stripey onesie that Mr PinQ bought me for my birthday.

The Creative Process

I expect that everybody’s creative process is different.

Mine takes a scientific approach – not particularly surprising given that I am as much a scientist as I am an artist!  Let’s face it, that’s nothing new, Leonardo Da Vinci was as much a scientist and engineer as he was an artist and whilst I’m no Da Vinci, I’m in great company.

When I did a graphic design piece, I was lucky enough to have a live project with a real client, My Tai Chi Instructor.  We talked about what she wanted from a poster and off I went and started to do some research.  I looked at a little graphic design work around Tai Chi and some old Chinese ink paintings of bamboo but the majority of the research was about Tai Chi itself and that was the main driver behind the final product.  This is the painting before the text was added:

20130730-Bamboo

When I designed the sets for this year’s pantomime, I had some great visual ideas but very early in rehearsals, I discovered that the backstage crew was somewhat limited and then I was told that props had to be fireproof so I revised my design ideas and worked within those limitations and we put on a great show.

I’ve worked in laboratories where designers are remote entities that have no concept of the reality of production and product limitations, I have no patience for that type of thing.  The scientist/engineer in me looks for realistic solutions, the business woman looks to be within budget limitations, the mother only cares about the welfare of anyone involved, whilst the artist focuses on aesthetics.

In my final Diploma project, I had decided to go with sculpture and gave it the working title of:  “The Human Condition” and when I started my research I looked at the two paintings of that name by Rene Magritte:

The Human Condition 1933 The_Human_Condition_1935

To me, these paintings really capture the inevitability of isolation and the loneliness of death that philosophers talk of; but then, when you look into Magritte’s young life, you realize why.  When you have experienced such pain and sorrow, it is easy to find yourself taking this route with your art – whether that be music, sculpture, poetry writing… whatever.  Despite that, I didn’t want to follow that path because for me, the human condition is: What separates us from the animals?  Again, for me, science is possibly the number one answer and in all fairness, I did not do an art history course.

That said, I found myself particularly drawn to the work of many Polish artists – again, no great surprise considering that I am of Polish heritage.  The old Polish artists such as Magdalena Abakanowicz:

Magdalena Abakanowicz

and Zladislaw Beksinski

zdzislaw beksinski

evoked the same feelings as singing hymns at Polish Mass, they are strong and powerful and yet full of the years of being downtrodden, of the shifting borders and the sorrow and pain that brought.  Even my Irish husband grasped that in Polish Church.

In contrast, the hope, vitality, vivacity and rebirth of Poland that I feel growing every time I visit her can be seen in the works of young, contemporary Polish artists like Olga Ziemska,

Olga Ziemska stillness-in-motion-olga-ziemska

Jan Kallwejt

Jan Kallwejt

and Malgosia Stepnik.

Malgosia Stepnik

I also found Marti Moreno:

Marti Moreno

Who makes the most amazing sculptures like this one made from nuts (the sort that you use with bolts, not the edible kind!).  I find his use of unconventional and really quite ugly but very strong materials to make such delicate and beautiful sculpture fascinating and hoped to somehow capture a little of that in my work.

In addition to the artistic context, I also looked at philosophy, the media and science and as the project began to develop into cloning, popular culture – such as: A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, The Boys from Brazil by Ira Levin and Orphan Black – touching on the ethical element and it was these studies that most strongly influenced my creative process.

The two main things that came out of the artistic studies for me were that I didn’t want to illustrate the sorrow and, most importantly, that I wanted my work to emulate that of those Polish artists.  I wanted my work to be strong and powerful like the old Polish artists whilst capturing the vivacity and life of the new.

Perhaps my scientifically based method of getting there is a little unconventional for an artist but get there I did.  I achieved everything that I had intended to in my work and I’m jolly proud of that – even if I am a little amazed at the quality and quantity of it!