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In The Studio

I thought it time to talk a bit about my life in my little apartment/studio, here in Bremen. My previous posts have largely been about my adventures out and about; discovering art and architecture, markets and people. But, realistically, most of my time has been spent at my table in the confines of my apartment.

Life on my own

I have lived and been with a significant other for almost 9 years now. Before that I was with my parents and siblings. My average day: If not at home with my partner, I am with students, teaching; if I am not teaching I am in the studio, which, on occasion, I would be alone in, if Dane is not in the studio too (we share the space); but, even when I was there on my own I always had an “annoying” friend or two coming to chat and check what I was doing, the joys of have a studio space in a building of other studios, offices and a coffee shop. What this experience, being on an artist residency, on my own, in a foreign country, made me realise very quickly is that I have cultivated a life where I am rarely truly alone. This simple change has been quite profound, in many unusual ways.

When I arrived here I had to do things, for the first time, alone. Things like flying and catching public transport where totally overwhelmingly terrifying, because it was the unknown; I am one of those people who like to do things with others the first and maybe the second time and only then will I be confident to do it alone. But, getting chucked in the deep end has been really good for me. Perhaps surprising to some, and not to others, I am generally a very anxious person. You could start rattling off directions I completely shut down and spend the entire time convincing myself I will never remember what is being said, instead of just listening. I would usually end up spending 30min-1hour google mapping it, taking screenshots and plugging it into my GPS; one incorrect turn and I am on the phone to Dane freaking out because I AM DRIVING THE WRONG WAY! I like to be in control. Here, I have gone from spending about 2 hours planning my routes before I head out the door, to 5 min planning and then allowing myself to wonder off the path, because I know I will figure it out. I mean this both figuratively and literally. I have, simply, learnt to relax a little.

Another rather unusual revelation I have had and noticed, while being on my own is: Walking! Walking at one’s own natural pace. When you walk with others, especially if you are like me, average or slightly below average in height you find yourself chasing the person you are walking with, or vice versa, I would imagine, for a tall person with long strides. But, walking alone and allowing yourself to get into your own rhythm makes the walk and the experience around you so much more enjoyable. It must be therapeutic, or something, I am sure there is a scientific explanation. It seems totally stupid, I know, up until now I thought that I was walking at my own pace, but apparently not. It could also have something to do with the fact that I am in no rush to get anywhere at any particular time. I, like most people, do not remember the last time I didn't needed to be somewhere or do something, even on days off or weekends I am usually doing house work, prepping for classes or in the studio. Constantly moving from one task to the next. Having no specific outcome requirements from this residency (other then my own personal ones) has given me the rarest gift, space to breath, space to walk at my own pace.

The down side to being alone is the silence. For the most part I unconsciously fill the void of silence with work (artmaking), music or a series or movie, but, every now and then I stop a moment and…silence. It’s a totally different silence. I have been out in the bush with no cars rushing past and no hordes of people but, there are crickets, other animals and the rustling or even breathing of the person I was there with. Here there is a tiny murmur of cars far away and a small rumble from the heater that’s on, but, other than that there is nothing. Absolute silence. It is neither enjoyable nor unpleasant... well at least not yet. I am sure if I do a little soul searching I will find, It probably has little to do with lack of noises that I am use to, and more to do with being aware of being totally alone. I can however imagine more of it will bring a whole new understanding to “deafening silence”, because already it can be all consuming.

But, to be honest, can one truly be alone in this day and age. I have a very shallow/broken conversation every lunch with the granny that I sit with and a bit of conversation with some people I have met at exhibition openings, which seems to fulfill my natural desire for ‘physical’ contact with other people. And when that fails there is technology, Skype, FaceTime, Facebook messages, Whatsapp video call. Bringing my friends and family across the world into my new temporary home, which has been extremely helpful in so many ways. For one, I don’t feel homesick (well at least not yet), I am not missing anyone or thing yet (okay…maybe a good Durban curry would be sooooooo good right about now, or a hot human water bottle in my bed in this freezing country). This is really just because I get to talk to them so often, I am certain if I couldn’t it would be a totally different story. The other reason is for my artmaking process. I am a talker. Some artists are thinkers; they sit and ponder over concepts and ideas internally, maybe read something, jot down some notes. Some artists are doers (well I think all artist are doers in a sense, but for the sake of explaining idea generation…), these artists like to work through idea generation, through doing, often using intuition, and allowing the materials dictate the outcome and the idea. I am a talker, I like to sit with a sketchbook in front of me and a person next to me (or nearby) and talk to them, talk through ideas, and do quick sketches and mind maps as things arise from the conversation. Not just any conversation, very directed conversation. Talking to myself just doesn’t cut it. This is why I am the luckiest human in the world; who not only has a partner who shares the same interests as I do, being an artist himself, but completely understands my process and is my go to person to work through ideas (to his dismay, he has said when he is rich one day the first things he will get is a personal chef and a personal assistant for me, to do nothing else but sit in my studio and talk through ideas with me). So, while I have been here I have brewed myself a cup of tea (I am a true South African I came equipped with my 5 roses in tow) got my sketchbook and video chat ready; It is like nothing has changed.

But, what being alone has allowed is complete uninterrupted focus. I wake up and sit at my desk and work, sometimes with music on, sometimes with something on to watch (nothing too gripping) while I work. I go to lunch and come back to my table and work some more, mostly until 2/ 3 in the morning. Just because I am so engrossed in what I am doing. It is just wonderful.

My process

So, I have basically explained my idea generation process, the topics that get discussed and tossed around are usually influenced by some sort of context; my surroundings, something that happened, something I read or following on from a previous artwork. I then have a bank full of very, very rough sketches, rough both conceptually and physically; when people ask to see my sketch book I usually cringe and refuse. My childhood stick man comes out when I am jotting down ideas.

I often have a series of artworks developed at different stages in my sketchbook. Sometimes it is a sketch of a whole artwork start to finish, other times I just really want to make an object and don’t really know how to fit it in conceptually. Sometimes I have one sculptural work drawn out in 6 or seven different ways with a different element or object added or subtracted until I feel like I am on the right track.

My first work I started on was a little pigs head (this is the work I will focus on in this post). Here is an example of not really having a plan. A month or 2 back I made a work titled ‘Veiled Revelry’, which used a mask that I had made to resemble a pig. Because of this I decided to do a little sketch of a pig in my sketch book, that evening I video chatted Dane and explained I wanted to start conceptualizing work in a similar vein to that of my previous work and he said “do you know what will be cool (If I had a rand for the amount of artworks that have been made because of these words)… “If you make a sculptural pigs head”, I laughed at him and told him how hard/ impossible that would be… I then of course, a little later, got very excited about the potentiality of it. So I woke up the next morning and got started, with no real plan or conceptual direction. The fun of being the only paper artist that I have met, definitely in Durban, is that I have never been taught anything about the medium. There aren’t workshops like, how to model with clay or how to paint with oils. Nothing. Which means that every work I make I have no bank of tools and knowledge about this particular medium other than my learnt experience. Which means… make it up. This is both extremely rewarding and extremely frustration. The frustration usually happens in the beginning stages, when I am shooting in the dark. The reward, as with most artworks, happens near the end when all the pain and suffering starts to resemble something similar to what I had in my head.

The Pig Head

Once I knew I was going to make a pig’s head I found a bunch of reference photos of pigs heads (usually, if I can, I like to go and find the object I want to make and take my own reference photos… but I am fresh out of pigs heads here so the internet had to do). Once I have my images, of different pigs from different angles, I do a series of very quick sketches, this helps me understand the three dimensionality of it. If I can get my hands on an actual object I want to sculpt or a toy version of it I will usually skip the sketching step step. I then decided on the size and cut out a flat, silhouetted, side profile of the head (minus the ears. I started to add some breadth to it by cutting out shapes that would give me its front profile (there is a lot of measuring and maths in these steps, to try get the object proportionately accurate, or as close to it). I used strips of paper, slowly connecting surfaces of the framework until a three-dimensional pig emerged before finally adding details like the eyes, ears, snout, and wrinkles on its nose, to give it some character. Sounds simple, but took me about 3-4 days to figure him out. Outcome: a funny little smiley pigs head. To explain my choice of aesthetic and finishing of this work (and many of my artworks): I could keep working on him and sand him down and try and smooth out the sculpture to resemble something similar to clay but, I have this innate affiliation with my medium and to hide what it is seems a total injustice… for me the beauty is in the medium; seeing the strips of paper and making the processes visible to the viewer makes the work that much more magical to me. That’s probably why I very rarely work with anything other than crisp, white paper.

For the rest of this work I decided to make some scaffolding. I had no real plan here, even though I did a number of sketches trying to resolve the work, nothing seemed quite right. Except the pairing of the pig’s head with the scaffolding. I made one piece of scaffolding and placed it near the head, and then another and another. I have now have a total of 5 bits of scaffolding. To explain the choice of imagery: honestly, at this point it seems instinctual, I can’t seem to shake elements of construction and building. I did an entire body of work using imagery of construction sites and objects found in and around construction, which worked as a metaphor for transience. My concept has most definitely moved on from there but the imagery keeps creeping into almost everything I make. I like the objects, like scaffolding, for its aesthetics. There are always interesting lines, and layers, hard edges, and it seems to lend itself well to my medium. But, it is also, conceptually, very forgiving and malleable; referencing change and transience, power, growth, man, life, death, deconstruction…and so on. Or if we don’t read into it too much…both my brothers are in construction perhaps it’s just in the genes.

I had my mind set on the placement of the scaffolding and the pigs head. I have been happy with it for 2 weeks now, except, I did feel it was still missing something, another element perhaps. I did, however, about 10 minutes ago, re-position it and changed the whole dynamic of the work, and I think I am happier with it. But, he will stay sitting on the table, nearby, so that I can keep staring at him in case inspiration strikes and the sculpture morphs once more.

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