Material experiments, exhibitions and open studios

Hello to Winter and the festive season!

I am now in my second (and final) year of my MA Fine Art course at Bath Spa Uni.  It has been a great opportunity to reflect on previous work, find new ways of working and research.  I am still expanding and refining ideas, while continuing the thread of using reclaimed materials. This aspect relates partly to the issue of waste and energy – utilising and recycling.  It belongs to a wider subject of our relationship with matter, nature, and ourselves.  In the series ‘Wonders of Life’ Brian Cox explains that energy is eternal, transforming from one thing to another. There is a connection between everything that has ever lived, and an impact, as in the Chaos theory, or Butterfly Effect.  I see Vitalism as energy in all things, although in Science it is the vital force peculiar to only living organisms.

A mass of frass (insect excretions) appeared around tiny entry points in a piece of found wood (above) in which I had inserted glass tendrils as growths. The frass resemble decaying matter on a holdfast I studied. I find them intriguing, referencing life’s recycling, organic matter as bodily forms. These phenomena have been starting points to further investigations. They led to microscopic studies of frass. Microscopic hidden structures vital to our being reflecting the magnitude of life. These images could easily be rock formations – even meteors.

I have since experimented with annealing and beating copper over molds I carved in wood, based on frass forms. My copper project – exploring the materiality of copper and what happens to it under different conditions – included an experiment with copper electrolysis. The alchemic process is fascinating, I have learnt a little more chemistry and made copper hydroxide as a pigment. Two scrap pieces of copper were connected to a low voltage battery charger, with opposite charges. The electricity splits the ions in salty water. A complex chemical process ensues, involving copper hydroxide, chlorine and hydrogen bubbles. The effects of disintegration and patination are wonderful. The harnessing of elemental energy could become an artwork.

I recently visited the exhibition ‘Italian Influences, British Responses’ at Estorick, London. It was interesting to see current artworks alongside the anti-consumerist 60’s group Arte Povera, who broke with tradition believing art should be inclusive.  In their resolution to fuse life and art, nature and culture, they used everyday materials, often incongruous juxtapositions of mundane manufactured with organic. Their work was about energy and the elements. The exhibition included a piece by Mona Hatoum.  She uses everyday objects arranged to signify displacement and confinement.  In her work domesticity becomes ‘menacing’ (Van Assche).  In a Youtube film she explains her intuitive response to materials. She incorporates body parts eg nails, skin, hair, creating modest hair balls, or hair grids. Through these bodily excretions she transforms materials and meaning.

I also saw Damian Ortega at White Cube Gallery and watched him online. He playfully takes apart and re-assembles components, dealing with fragmentation of objects, time, materiality.  It is a philosophical discourse involving material and message.   I like his encyclopaedic geodes made from old maps, which he layers as shells, suggesting geological time, and his visual essays, which question truth, mass media’s effect on our perceptions and judgements. ‘Learning Scheme’ indexes small thumbnail clay pieces according to their similarities. Some forms are similar in different groups/lines. Like convergent evolution, they seem to morph, some are organic, others more mechanical.  Since then I have been working in clay a little.

Last week we opened our MA studios to the public.  I created an installation for it inspired by the organic forms I have been studying, using found and reclaimed materials, some transformed by me. It was a great gathering and the deadline helped me focus on one thing for a while.

On a more commercial note, to make ends meet, I have just updated my Etsy page: Do have a look – there are some possible gifts for Christmas!

Have a lovely one!



Another artist recently said of my work:  “Rather fun organogenesis going on”.   I wish I’d coined that term myself – what a great new word.  Thanks ReTech for that (maker of inventive reclaimed sculptural lamps with a difference – have a look).

It suggests notions of taking things back to their basic elements, reconstructing primal life forms, vitalism, rebirth (an essential part of life’s cycle), idealism as a more primitive, spiritual concept.  The wonders of what’s going on amidst all our ‘sound and fury’.  Micro in tandem with macro.  A simple ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ message.  Let’s appreciate and care for the real things in life more (and do less blogging!)  Construct not destruct.  Mend the world and return to a new beginning – a Utopia.  That would be nice.

So many of us are caught and wrapped up in modern life’s pressures.  I’m happy to be doing what I feel is my calling, but I do wonder where time goes, how to balance a hectic workload with quality time enjoying life’s greats – and earn a good crust.  Fast and furious… I guess we are just ants keeping busy.

I’ve installed more exhibitions this year than ever before and it’s only half way through.  Last week I set up some of my work in Bishops Palace Gardens, Wells for their Summer Show.  (Exhibiting with Ian Marlow, Jo Jones and Cathy Judge).  The venue is one of my top favourites in Somerset.  Adjacent to Wells Cathedral you enter via a drawbridge.  Huge earthy red ruins are surrounded by a moat, waterfalls, stunning views from well pools to the Cathedral and a rose garden with scents from Eden.  My cocoons are now hanging from the ‘Tree of Heaven’.  Going back to Organogenesis – it seems appropriate.  The Exhibition runs from 1st July – mid September, open 10-5.  Normal admission charges apply.

Just need a little more sun for the summer please…


The Cocoon concept is gaining ground in my head.  I plan to fill an entire room (and more..) with varying nest, insect and cocoon forms.  Watch this space…!  In preparation, I’ve been gathering visual information from the Cocoon at the Natural History Museum and BRLSI (Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institution) –  which houses a surprisingly rich collection of  insects, nests, corals and fossils etc..  I’ve also started a short course at Dove Studios exploring aluminium etching techniques, to expand my means of expression!  It takes me back to art college days (another life..) where I loved the etching process, particularly for mark-making.

I’ve  been looking at some of the ideas I had in those days.  They’re not dissimilar to my current thoughts, despite the time lapse.  As a student, I once wrote a theses entitled ‘Vitalism’.   I tried to substantiate my theory that, within certain artworks there lies a ‘vital’ quality, life imparted to inert matter, an energy force within.  It seemed uncharted territory, yet I found that several artists whom I admire had this ‘vitalist’ concept within their work:  Mondrian, Arp, Moore, Hesse, Klee, Sutherland, Redon, Giacometti – to name a few.   There is a potent force, a sense of organic development, growth, mutability, dynamism, creationism of another type.  I want to explore that ‘vitalist’ principle again, having always had the compulsion to make pieces that seem to have an inner life.

I was kindly lent a book by a visitor to my Somerset Art Weeks show, who observed my interest in Anthills.  “The Soul of the White Ant” by Eugene Marais has since fanned the flames of my earlier ideas and blown my mind!  We all create, from ants to humans (ants made arches aeons before man).  But way more fascinating is that magic ‘sense’ with which a collective mass of insects communicates and works together, building night and day living, breathing sanctuaries (with fungus gardens and 65′ deep water wells) that rise so furiously and massively – evading destruction.  Termitaries themselves are living organisms.  But with no queen/creator, they disintegrate immediately.  She is their heart and brain – the force that links all the ants together.  Of course there is that far greater force called God, but that’s a bigger story!

I’d like to create work with an essence of that vital force.  I’m not interested in the dead (although a part of life), the minimalist, stark, straight lines, gimmicks.  I want layers, depth, textures, colours, intensity, life.  Moving on from ants, I’m also in awe of human communities like the Dharavi slums in Mumbai, where people young and old work together in harmony to form a hive of buzzing, thriving, creative endeavour.  There’s hardly any crime!  Wish we could follow their example.

P.S.  Update:  I’ve just been to see Avatar, which I thought was wonderful!  Its thrust echoes the sentiments of vitalism ‘…a network of energy lines flowing through all things’.  Loved those fantasy creatures and plants!