Maggie Smith the Quiet Rebel

Maggie Smith is a Surface Alumni whose current work Botanical Alchemy is a development of her "fine art background, a love of home and place, and passion for the natural world". We discussed environmental art, the science of being a hippy and the impact sustainability has had on Maggie's life.

You said your current work is inspired by your Fine Arts background, can you tell me more about this?

I did two degrees, my first degree was in Social Sciences  but I always carried on doing life drawings and making things and I always wanted to do something more creative so I went back to university as a mature student after I’d worked for a while. I went to Loughborough to do Fine Art, I concentrated on printmaking, when I graduated I actually was making films because at Loughborough it was really experimental. As long as in the first year you followed the prescribed route, after that you were set free. So I did a lot of film making, a lot of photography and I still do that. I ended up teaching and I just really loved teaching textiles… I’d made my own clothes when I was younger and made stuff. My mum taught me on an old fashioned sewing machine she’d given me. There was a chance of getting a redundancy package and completely on a whim, overnight, I thought instead of daydreaming about going back to a creative life, I’d just do it.

Did you find that scary or did you not have time to find that scary?

It should have been scary but it was just really exciting. It was almost like going back 20 years when I’ve got all these opportunities. I’ve gone off down South and visited various hippy groups and people who are involved in eco printing, natural dyeing. I met a really nice woman called babs who is part of Botanical Ink, they work at festivals and where they live is this lovely old, kind of tumble down farm, outside of bath. And there I got really good grounding in foraging, how to use plants to dye silk and that was the first time I thought, actually, I’m going to take this further. I’m not just going to explore using the natural world in my prints, I’m going to seriously consider going whole hog. So, I did buy quite a lot of silk from organic silk makers down South and then I just got addicted more and more to finding ways in which to not use anything that was part of the commercial world so I use silk that’s organic. And it’s so beautiful to work with. I decided I would not go and buy anything that’s not sustainable or I use second hand or pre-used, recycled things and it’s working really well.

Have you grown up with a love of nature?

When I first came to Nottingham, my first student bedsit I had window boxes so I’ve always grown things. I’ve never ever lived anywhere where I haven’t grown things. But now I do it in a much more organic way, I suppose, I try to look at what grows naturally and I’m not bothered about forcing nature to go against itself, I go with it more. So yeah, it has completely changed the way I see the world and it’s made me realise I can live with less. The more I live with less, the further I go. It goes hand in hand really, it’s the whole practice of life.

Do you hope your work will inspire people to look into a more sustainable lifestyle?

I was more concerned with how you could remove that ‘hippy’ image of it being a bit messy, and a bit tatty and I thought, well, the fabrics are so beautiful when you’ve made them that these fabrics almost need this space to kind of, show off a little bit. So that’s why my prints are really minimal and my stitches are really minimal because I want the fabrics to be the really important part of the work. Up to now I’ve been less bothered about directly influencing people. I’ve sort of got this idea that if you very quietly do it, if people look at the work and they like it and then they discover that actually, it’s recycled, it’s dyed with stuff from the garden, or onion skins from the kitchen... That actually you can have something that is aesthetically really beautiful, and can be quite contemporary looking but behind it all, is a really hippy concept. I like the idea of surprising people. I think that’s really important is that it works visually.

What drew you to Social Sciences?

I wanted university life more than I ever thought about why I was really going quite honestly. It was not at all a mature decision, (laughs) I was 18 and wanted to leave home.

I don’t regret the way round I did it though because where I’ve studied social sciences, I’ve got a really good context for fine arts. I’m quite interested in what’s happening behind the work that you see. So for example, I’m quite interested in how younger people, people who are now going to university are much more global, I suppose, in how they see the world. That’s why it was lovely go to visit these communal places in the South and I found these people in their twenties and thirties leading really alternative lives really quietly and just getting on with it and thinking up new ways they could earn a living without damaging anything, without damaging the planet and it’s just really lovely. 

I imagine, especially with a sustainable approach, it must be quite time consuming?

It really, really is. It’s not at all rushed. Something else I’m quite conscious of with these pieces, because I made these pieces for [Surface Dwellers], all those pillars I make are subtle. They don’t have any synthetic quality to them, so they all work brilliantly together, they can all be placed together but if they’re going to be in a show or a gallery where you have acrylic, harder colours or kind of street art designs, they would really look quite pale. So I chose colours I knew would be quite strong, so even though they’re quite gentle and the palate is quite gentle, I think they’re really strong colours. They’re the colours that can stand up to the sunlight. I wanted the fabrics to really shine and sing and that’s something that I did learn going up and down the country meeting people who were hand dying; how to work with fabrics where you’re not using really harsh methods so I don’t use really harsh temperatures. I watch everything with a thermometer. If you notice with the silk pieces, they have a really metallic shine to them, and that’s the original lustre of the silk, as soon as you get them too hot, you lose that so it is an incredibly slow process.  

I think that comes back to what you said, that people have this very hippy image of it but it’s also very scientific

It’s very scientific. To get that consistency of colour, you can’t get exactly the same shade each time, and that’s the exciting bit, but there’s so many bits I can control. You know, the evenness, I can dye fabric very, very evenly. I can keep the qualities of the fabric intact, even down to the screenprinting process, I use organic screen wash. As much as possible, anything used in the process is environmentally friendly. I used water based ink so when they’re flushed away, they’re not going to harm anything.

You’re still in contact with Surface since leaving, what makes you stay involved?

What I really like about Surface, is that you have all these volunteers that sort of squirrel away behind the surface that you don’t really see. You don’t realise the vastness of it until there’s a show on. It’s really lovely. It’s really nice. And also, there’s an energy from having quite a lot of young people around. People who have just graduated or who are still studying whatever they’re doing and I also like the fact it’s not just artists who get involved. It’s all sorts of people with all sorts of backgrounds that come together. 

Do you use social media much to promote?

I do! I have an instagram account and when I took [art] on full time, I got rid of all the pictures of my dog (laugh) and focused on just my artwork. I keep my website going, but I’m not really very good at self promoting and that’s something i have to push myself to do. I tend to work quietly.

           I’ve also got a blog on my website. I did a creative writing course at WEA, with Dave Woods. I’ve always loved reading and I’ve always admired people who were good with words and on that course… It made me realise that actually, I could write. He was really good at giving you self belief.  He used really simple techniques to get people writing which worked really well. It was excellent.

What interested you in creative writing?

When I was really little, I used to make these newspapers, I’d sew them together on this old sewing machine I had. I could only make one at a time. I’d sell them and then take them back and pass them on to someone else. It was all in my family. I have always loved words and language and they really do go, you know, if you think about the context of film, and anything really, language is so important. Spoken language, unspoken language, it just goes hand in hand.

I wouldn’t have even entertained doing a blog on my website if all those years ago I hadn’t taken a creative writing course. I’d got them in separate boxes, I’d probably have thought someone else would have to do the writing for me but actually, the words I use are related to the work I do. They’re not separate. They’re part of the same thing. 

Do you still do things like to make your own clothes?

I sort of adapt things. I’m not scared to get something and adapt it. Last weekend, we went to a car boot and got masses of clothes. I’ll always be scavenging. I think now, I’m less bothered about having stuff. I’m quite happy if people give me things or i find it in a car boot or a second hand shop but it doesn’t have any significance for me. I’m less bothered.

Do you think you’ve just become more practical?

Definitely. I’ve also been quite a hermit for a year so it’s quite nice when i go out now i think oh, I can get dressed up. It’s quite nice to wear something sparkly! I’ve got in the habit of being scruffy because I go to a studio, or i’m walking the dog or gardening and I’ve just had a year where i haven’t really gone out that much.

Is there a reason or just how it happened?

It’s just how it happened. It’s such a huge life change, giving up being part of the system. I felt like a really quiet rebel. I don’t earn money in the conventional way, I forage, I constantly think of how to recycle things or how to make things with very little money. I’ve just been doing my own path but now I do feel I’m ready to go to other people’s shows again and go out more and connect with people




Written by Lucinda Martin at Surface Gallery

Beneath the Surface: Edith Perry

Edith Perry’s instillation If I had Healing Powers, I’d Still Have a Broken Heart, part of her ongoing Sad Superheroes Series, can currently be seen at the Surface Dwellers: Old and New until 27th August. Edith’s background comes from studying Set Design at Wimbledon College of Art and time in London working on various productions. She uses this background to create installations that tell the stories of “average people turned into grotesque beings”. We met for a pint to discuss her work, potential, not taking art too seriously and an Orwellian theme park.

In your description of Sad Superheroes you described it as watching blockbuster films and thinking ‘I couldn’t be bothered with that’

I was just hungover and I was like… I’d be so tired, why are they bothering? I think a lot of people talk about what they want to do. I think it’s more about potential and what your potential could be. In terms of Sad Superheroes, it’s this idea of like super hero movies and the reality is you’re watching it in your pants. It’s the opposite to your life. I think it’s more about having a power and applying it to real life.

When did you come to surface?

I volunteered first; in February last year and then I got a studio space in October. I did a bit of everything. I did the bar a lot, three Roaring Megs and you’re made for the night. I set up an exhibition for the University of Nottingham and I did tech work. Tech work was my favourite.

What made you move from volunteer to studio artist?

It became available and I thought, I could use a space. (laughs) We had a volunteer and studio artist show together... I made that entire thing on my parent’s kitchen table and I thought I’m in the way here, you know what, I’ll go get a studio.

Do you get to see the other artists much?

I think the most I’ve seen them was the night before this exhibition and everyone was in there until 2am. We had a meeting a week before and the only thing I had ready was the cat face. I was doing that cat face for a good few months before because I didn’t know if it would work. I was like can it even be made? Luckily, it did work.

Do you use social media much to promote your work?

I have a website. A lot of the work I do isn’t made for social media in a way… It’s moving or optical illusions. In that way, I think it’s more important to see it. You can take a picture but you’re not going to get the movement. I enjoy doing the optical illusions so I’ll stick with it. I do illustrations too, they’re just creepy.

Do you ever work in colour?

Only if I have to design a birthday card for someone’s grandma. This is the third Sad Superheroes I’ve done, I’ve got a list of about 10 to do so before that’s finished, I doubt it. When I came up with [sad superheroes] I wrote down things like ‘if I was a shape-shifter, I still couldn’t pull’. It came from that, like ‘if I could fly, I still wouldn’t know where to go.’ And it just came from this, if I could fly, what would I actually do? It was just about making... It’s usually an animal morphed into a human and going from there really and setting up situations.

What’s the goal for your art?

Make the coolest thing I can as soon as I can.

The thing my tutors used to say to me is ‘you need to rein it in’ and I’d be like, no, I don’t. So the plan for this work was have the gecko and have the cat and that was the plan. And then it went to, I’ll put the dog in and I’ll make wallpaper and I’ll also put this flip book in and

also… I just see each thing and get bigger.

It fits with your work, if it’s about what you actually would do with your potential and here you are, pushing to reach yours

(laughs) A lot of the time as well I’ll be like dad, because he’s quite technical, is this possible? And he’ll say nah and I’ll be like I bet it is. I’d rather do something I don’t know is gonna work then is definitely going to work.

Did you find it difficult to move from theatre, which is collaborative, to your own work?

I think my attitude the whole time was like, not focused on me, but… It did need to feel like my work. I would design sets without photoshop. Photoshop looks great but it’s not what I want, I want people to be in it. Something people can walk through

I feel like you should design roller coasters.

I did once! I turned 1984 into an abandoned theme park. My tutor didn’t like it though. I did it based on this theme park in Germany that’s been abandoned… My idea was 1984 sucked all the fun out of living, so it’s an abandoned theme park, there’s no fun, no innocence. Just this is your life, do it. So Winston’s house was a shed and you have to ride the roller coaster to get to where you live.

What do you want people to talk from your work?

Not to take it too seriously. I’d like them to find it a bit funny and a bit creepy but I’d like them to laugh at it like I don’t really know why I’m laughing.

Written by Lucinda Martin at Surface Gallery


Street Art Festival 2016: Artist Interview 2#

Nigel Folds

Nigel trained in Art in the 1970's at Ripon Teacher Training College under two inspiring tutors; the painter Peter Sarginson, and ceramicist Victor Priem. His studio is in Bridlington, on the Yorkshire coast. He has have been working full time as an artist since moving here in 2008. In 2010 he set up Prospect Studios, an artist's co-operative sharing studio spaces in unused commercial premises. It was an exciting and productive time for them all, however they have since gone our separate ways. For most of Nigel's working life he has been an art teacher, and a part-time artist, he now he enjoys devoting all of this time to his love of painting. 

Nigel Folds work above from the Street Art Festival Exhibition. Each piece sold separately. 

Nigel Folds work above from the Street Art Festival Exhibition. Each piece sold separately. 

Vicky: Please tell us what best describes your work & what you do?

Nigel: I am interested in making images that are visually striking but which don’t give up all their secrets at once. The response that would most please me would be if someone were to look at my work and think “That looks fantastic – but what is it?” That’s when the interesting part happens, when someone is engaging with an image and trying to find out what it is about, what it means.
Everyone will have their own answers to those questions which may not be the same as mine – but that’s ok. That’s what makes the work live and keep on living.
My work often looks quite abstract, because of the emphasis I put on the relationship between colours, shapes, textures etc. But for myself, I don’t make much of the differences between categories like “Abstract” or “Representational”. The images in some of my most abstract looking work are often derived in a roundabout way from things observed in the “real” world.
I usually work in groups or series of paintings exploring variations of an initial idea or starting point.

Vicky: Have you always been an artist?

Nigel: Well everyone starts drawing at a very early age, so I suppose like everyone else I have been a kind of artist since before I could talk.
I quite liked art at school, but I think the best work of art I did then was a very detailed observational drawing of a beetle which I did in a Biology lesson, so I thought it was Science not art.
I first started to think of myself as an artist when I was studying art at teacher training college. Our tutor, a potter and ceramic sculptor called Victor Priem, was inspirational. He engaged with us as if we were fellow artists even though we were just students. He always took our ideas seriously and worked with us to develop them, so that by the end of the course we thought of ourselves not as teachers who did a bit of art, but as artists who were also teachers.

Vicky: What tool could you not live without?

Nigel: Being a painter the obvious answer is “a paintbrush”. But I can do most things a paintbrush can do using my fingers. However, you can’t hang the paintings up without ... a hammer!

Vicky: What piece of work have you produced that has been the most challenging?

Nigel: I can’t think of any specific examples, but painting can be quite physically demanding and that can be challenging, but I guess that’s like any job – you get tired, you get headaches, stiff shoulders, bad backs – it’s just life.
Another challenge can be avoiding distractions. The world is so full of fascinating subjects for artworks, that it needs a lot of discipline to stick with one idea, when a hundred other ideas are banging on the studio door demanding to be let in.

Vicky: Please tell us what “Street Art” means to you?

Nigel: In general I guess “Street Art” conjures up the idea of graffiti artists. But the work I put in for this show is very much my own individual interpretation of the phrase. I have been fascinated by the “Sign Language” used by road menders – symbols and words spray painted onto pavements and roads in preparation for repairs and roadworks. It’s often quite enigmatic, like a secret language that you can’t quite understand unless you are “in the know”. So I walked around the streets taking photographs of these symbols and have used these to produce a still ongoing series of paintings.

Vicky: What inspires you?

Nigel: Prehistoric carvings, street signs, the sea, maps, the earth from space, the human face, squares & circles, colour, trees...

Vicky: Is there a particular artist or style that has influenced you?

Nigel:I think every artist you see moves you in one direction or another. Here’s a list of some that spring to mind at the moment. Rembrandt, Bonnard, Matisse’s cut-outs, Lucian Freud, David Hockney, Paul Klee, Van Gogh, Howard Hodgkin, Alan Davie, Giotto ...

Vicky: What do you enjoy most about being an artist?

Nigel: It’s like creating another world – just magic

Vicky: What advice would you give to other creatives?

Nigel: Keep busy – the world needs you.

You can keep updated with more of Nigel's work following the links below:




Street Art Festival 2016: Artist Interview 1#

Mr the Beef aka Andy Hulland

(Above from the left. Stay Lucky, top right Big Al and bottom right Octosurf)

(Above from the left. Stay Lucky, top right Big Al and bottom right Octosurf)

Andy is based in Derby, UK, he has a passion for creating characters using inspiration from his observations around him, commenting he never goes anywhere without his sketch pad and pencil. He work does not only extend to drawings with ink and paint he's an Illustrator, using computer techniques too making him a man of many talents.  He has exhibited world wide from Nottingham, Birmingham, Manchester and London to Berlin and Hong Kong.

Vicky: Please tell us what best describes your work and what you do Andy?

Andy: Primarily, I'm an illustrator and lowbrow artist. Drawing, painting and printing are my main methods, and I generally focus on characters and lettering but I'll go wherever the mood takes me.

Vicky: Have you always been an artist?

Andy: All kids draw up until a certain age, and some of us just carry on. So, I suppose, yes is the answer!

Vicky: What tool could you not live without?

Andy: My Pentel mechanical pencil! I take it everywhere I go (along with at least one sketchbook in my back pocket), I hate the idea of missing out on something. Ideas and inspiration come from all around, people in the street, overheard conversations, colours on a hand painted sign; as long as I've got my pencil and sketchbook, I'm good to go!

Vicky: What piece of work have you produced that was the most challenging?

Andy:The most challenging work is usually the things that I do for clients. I've been a Photoshop man for years so any time I have to use Adobe Illustrator is pretty frustrating! In terms of paintings, planning out large murals with my collective is always a challenge, but great fun at the same time.

Vicky: Please tell us what 'Street Art' means to you?

Andy: I suppose on a basic level I see 'Street Art' as the public/acceptable/commercial face of graffiti. It has been interesting to see, over the last 10-15 years or so, the rise and continued popularity of street art, (and with it graffiti). Thanks in no small part to people like Banksy. I think there's been an increase in appreciation for all forms of lowbrow and outsider art along with it too, so it's got to be a good thing.

Vicky: What inspires you?

Andy: It's hard to answer this one! I get a lot of inspiration when I'm out and about; people, overheard conversations, colour, old signs, peeling paint, brutalist architecture, music/lyrics, the shape a shadow makes on a wall. I wish I had a better way with words, each individual person is inspired by a combination of different things; where does it come from? Fascinating!

Vicky: Is there an artisti or particular style that has influenced you?

Andy: I think influence, a bit like inspiration, comes from all around us. The artists that have inspired me must have influenced me on some level too. 20th century greats like Paul Klee and Jackson Pollock and more contemporary artists like Yoshitomo Nara, Barry McGee, Gary Taxali and Jon Burgerman have been huge influences. I don't think you can always see it in the work, but it's there. Oh, and Ren and Stimpy!

Vicky: What do you enjoy most about being an artist?

Andy: I think creating art, or anything for that matter, is good for the soul.

Vicky: And finally, what advice would you give to other creatives?

Andy: My advice is always the same, just keep making and doing stuff! Experiment, try new things, but keep doing it.

You can see more of Mr the Beef's work on the links below.





International Postcard Show 2016: Artist Interview #2


Steff lee is a British freelance creative, based in Leicestershire. Her many talents include Illustration, Animation, Web and UI design. She graduated from Norwich University College of Arts, with a BA Hons in Graphic Design with Animation. Steff has worked on projects worldwide, including making engaging educational animations for Ted-Ed and promotional videos for Horse and Bamboo theatre. Experiences, colours and patterns are just some of the things that inspired Steff’s entries to the International postcard show.   Each of the postcard designs have a focus on the female figure. 
‘Most of my illustrative work focuses on the female form and these pieces were some of my favourites I created over the last few years’. 

(Above from left to right: Pink Ribbons; Digital drawing. Beijing Flower; Pencil, ink and watercolour. Head of Roses; Ink drawing. Autumn Whirlwind; Digital drawing. Firework; Digital drawing.)

(Above from left to right: Pink Ribbons; Digital drawing. Beijing Flower; Pencil, ink and watercolour. Head of Roses; Ink drawing. Autumn Whirlwind; Digital drawing. Firework; Digital drawing.)

Steff's postcards are still for sale so if you like what you see you can get down to our Gallery and buy them now! More of these prints are available to buy on some wonderful merchandise at

JJ: What made you become a freelancer?

Steff: I never consciously make the decision to become a freelancer.  After uni I naturally fell into self employment, there were a lot of exciting projects out there and I just got stuck in. I had a full time job for a few years which was great but I never gave up the freelance gigs on the side.  Back in 2013 I took some time out to go travelling and when I returned to the UK I decided it was time to go full time freelance.  The freelance lifestyle suits me, I love the flexibility of working for myself and the variety of projects I get to work on. Recently I collaborated on an illustration project called ‘The Freelance Life Project’ which highlights all the highs & lows of freelancing.

JJ: You are quite diverse in terms of your creative skills, do you have a particular favourite discipline?

Steff: I love to draw.  The majority of my working hours are spent working on animations and my favourite part of the process is designing all the characters and elements for each piece.

JJ: Who or what  inspires you to be creative?

Steff: Pretty much everything around me can be a source of inspiration.  I try to photograph all the inspiring things I see and use these images as references later on.  It can be something as simple as the colours of the sunset or a well designed poster.My fellow artists friends are a constant source of inspiration.  Seeing their creations makes me want to create too.  This is one of the reasons I love Instagram.  My feed is full of a mixture of my friends artwork and other brilliant artists around the world.    

JJ: What has been your most challenging piece of work yet and why?

Steff: The animated short ‘BB’s World’.  I was working full time at the time and hadn't had the experience of managing a project that big and with so many team members before. It was a steep learning curve but I gained so much from that experience.  

JJ: Are there any creative skills, which you do not already have, that you wish to learn in the future?

Steff: There are so many new skills I’d love to learn that I’ve started making a list and I’m attempting to tick a few off each year.  This year I'm aiming to brush up on my After Effects skills and (the one I’m most excited about) learning how to use spray paint. I'd love to create some big bright pieces of art.

JJ:  A lot of your work is produced digitally. Digital art is bigger than ever before, how do you think it will influence art and design in the future?

Steff: Digital art has made art a lot more accessible to people all over the world.  With beautiful high quality digital paintings shared online people no longer have to go to galleries to discover new artists.  Inspiration can be found everywhere and people sharing their techniques online means it’s easier than ever to learn to create new art.  I definitely think it’s encouraging a generation of new artists who perhaps wouldn’t have chosen to go into a creative field if digital art and the internet didn’t exist.

JJ: Do you ever get artists block? If so, how do you overcome it?

Steff: Yes.  My best cure is to just draw whatever, no matter how rubbish it is, like fill pages with scribbles and sleep on it.  I used to get stressed out over artist block but I found it just made it worse.  Better to embrace, scribble it out and wait for it to move on.

JJ: What advice would you give to aspiring artists who hope to get into the same field of industry as yourself?

Steff: Practice! Create, make, draw and share. I believe this is the same with any industry but the more hours you put in the more you'll get out. Some other tips:

  • Put yourself and your work out there for others to see.  Publishing your work will also let you see how you have developed as an artist over time.  It’s great when you’re reflecting on old work.

  • Be critical of your work. There are always ways to improve and don't feel disheartened if others criticise something you’ve made.  Listen to every bit of feedback, it's the best way you can improve.

  • Find others like you - Surrounding yourself with creative people provides an endless amount of inspiration, advice and fun.  It’s always great to meet others with a common interest. 

You can see more of Steff's work on the links below.

International Postcard Show 2016: Artist Interview #1


Sharon is a British artist based in Presteigne, on the England-Wales boarder.
Her work is often inspired by her degree in Geography, masters degree in Archeology and her interests in domestic life, space and communication. Sharon uses a range of mediums within her work including textiles, print, drawing, collage, digital imaging, photography, performance and sound.

The work Sharon submitted for the Postcard Show was a selection of three digital paintings from a series of work based on old, found photographs of women at leisure.

‘I work in very close detail with these images to the point of them feeling abstract. I also like to observe the posing of the photographs and what this might reveal about the relationships between the women in the photographs. I rarely work with figurative images so this is quite a departure. Rather than produce work which hints at the themes of family, the domestic and communication as I have been over the past few years, I felt it was time for a change in approach.’

All three postcards were sold at the International Postcard Show.  Congratulations!

(Above: Photograph of Sharon Hall-Shipp's postcards in the International Postcard Show, Surface Gallery) 

(Above: Photograph of Sharon Hall-Shipp's postcards in the International Postcard Show, Surface Gallery) 

JJ: When did you become a full-time artist? 

Sharon: I became a full-time artist in 2008 after many years of part-time involvement.

JJ: You've explored a range of mediums in your artwork. How do you choose which medium you are going to work with?

Sharon: The most important part of the work is the idea. Then follows a long period of thinking about which media and techniques would be best to present that idea, and then experimentation. Sometimes, though, the ideas really crystallise by just going with something I have found or have to hand. Even if nothing comes out of that, the process helps me to think. Often there are unexpected insights through the making, which will then lead me to another way of resolving the idea. 

JJ: Do you have a studio? If so can you tell us about it? 

Sharon: My studio is at home. I have a large room with a worktable for computer and graphics tablet and a separate space for working with other media. Loads of shelves with reference books and art magazines, box files for found photos and objects, space to sit and think, and lots of stuff everywhere!

JJ: Who or what inspired you to be the artist you are today?

Sharon: Architecture, graphic design and typography, especially from the 1930s to the 1960s were the things that caught my eye first, and fine art, which includes components of these, is always compelling. I am most inspired by conceptual and multimedia artists such as Susan Hiller, Fiona Banner and Martin Creed, land artists such as Hamish Fulton, and photographers such as Jörg Sasse and Candida Hofer.

JJ: Are there any creative skills you do not already have, that you wish to learn in the future?

Sharon: Animation and screen-printing and I'd love to be able to master Illustrator!

JJ: A lot of your work has been produced using textiles, drawing, printing and collage.  What are your views on digital art processes and do you think there is still a future for traditional art techniques art such as print, painting and drawing?

Sharon: I've been working with digital photography and digital drawing/painting for many years, longer in fact than with textiles, printing, collage and 3D. Photography and working with photographs will always be important to me. I don't draw a distinction between painting and drawing with paint/ink etc., and digital work. I like the process of making "real" things and of materiality. Sometimes I use this making more as a form of meditation rather than seeking to produce anything, or having an end result. I explore ways to combine all the techniques and processes I am interested in, if it suits the ideas I am working with. There's room for all approaches to art, and all methods of making it.

JJ: Do you ever get artists block? If so, how do you over come it?

Sharon: I don't get block as such, more feelings of dissatisfaction, or that I may be stuck in a rut; if that happens I keep working but on something different. I have learnt that keeping my hands busy doing something creative usually calms me and frees my mind to roam. One way that always seems to work is to use a found object as a basis for fresh thinking and research. I also like to discuss with other artists and to collaborate. Based where I am means a lot of this is done over social media.  

JJ: What advice would you give to aspiring artists who hope to make a career out of their art?

Sharon: There will be a way to do it, but there usually is some compromise. In the past I have had a variety of part-time jobs alongside, some of which have worked well - that is have not been too tiring or boring or intrusive to the extent you don't feel like making art in your free time - but some have been very counter-productive. We (my husband is also an artist) have elected to lead a very frugal life in order to have the maximum amount of time to make work. However, this can mean we haven't always got the resources to send in submissions, to travel to shows, update or buy new equipment etc. There's usually quite a creative challenge to overcome these problems! I think you can be a full-time artist in your head and practice, even if you do have to do other work on the side to get by. 

To see more of Sharon's work visit

New Contemporaries

I travel between repurposed spaces, palimpsests of productivity. Backlit and Thoresby Street are ex-factories, Primary an old school, all now reforged into artist-led galleries. And after several years of operations, they have been blessed with the job of hosting this year’s New Contemporaries.

In the first room of the first gallery, Primary, I am drawn to the paint in the work of James William Collins. It is colourful and textured, with simple cloud-like forms covering the canvas. The strokes are confident, at least in Ffion. Join Hands by comparison seems somewhat lacking and sparse, but maybe this is deliberate. Presence and absence. Ffion is bold and reminiscent of Guston, at a midpoint between his abstract and figurative works. Join Hands however, seems a little hurried but also like its a broken down version of Ffion’s motif as if the artist is operating within a glitch.  Whatever I like about other forms of art, I am still pulled viscerally towards painting, and Collins gives me much that I love.

Across the room, Maestro by Kevin Bond presents a corroded remnant of a car, a grease-flecked owner's manual, a faded and dirty print of a holiday snap.  A line on a page could be a tracing of a journey. But what was £7.46? And finally in the ensemble, a paint splodge or oil patch. They are all bits of the car, but not the car. An object created like a story in fragments. This is archaeology. It keeps me interested and engaged for a while. It holds me and prompts me to thought and investigation. I think of British engineering and the lost manufacturing sector; dads tinkering on Sunday mornings and day trips to Wales, sticking to vinyl seats and eating sandwiches by the beach. I feel embraced by the Maestro - a good teacher.

Elsewhere in the room, Umbrella Relief by Sophie Giller is playful. I like the squashed forms made into one block, the altered familiar. The title makes me think of the feeling when it rains and one has remembered one’s brolly, the sense of smugness at other people getting wet. But beyond that, I’m lost, left a little flat like the umbrellas.

Aaron Wells video piece is frustrating, but made me laugh. He states the obvious again and again as each scene changes like an exaggeratedly dumb TV documentary. ‘This is a woman in a room. She is not here. She is not here. She is not here. This is a man in a room’. Etcetera, etcetera. But the joke wears thin pretty quickly. I am provoked, which is good, but to what. My only desire is to leave.

My discomfort leads me to look at my surroundings, and I become intrigued by the building I am in. The decaying former school somehow feels more accommodating, more friendly now it has lost it’s original purpose. Where the scream of educational activity was once overwhelming, the silence of an art show allows the walls to speak for themselves. Autumn leaves in the playground sit alongside faded hopscotch squares. No children laugh or scream here now and the school seems to breathe and rest.

I am drawn outside by the huge camouflage inflatable Column by Andrei Costache tethered in the yard. Its attempt to hide itself is defeated by its size and the inappropriateness of its disruptive pattern . The surroundings refuse to cooperate, pitting their reds against the green.

Back indoors, Conor Rogers makes intricate, exquisite paintings, miniatures on such ordinary grounds; a cigarette packet, beer mat, and condom wrapper. Things of the pub. Beer, fags and sex, the English working-class dream. And the scenes depicted, a bull-terrier grinning under the gate, a discarded four-pack ring, litter round a park bench and vandalised bin, give us working-class Britain too. This is poverty, and poor materials. This is the rich beauty of the margins and the lost.

I have always been more interested in the broad strokes of life - why are we here, what does it mean, how does it work and other stupid questions. But more recently I have become fascinated by the small details like those depicted in Rogers’s paintings. I collect several on my way back into the city. A man brushing his hand against railings as he walks, the way a large man delicately holds the fried chicken as he eats. I do this not to look for any meaning, but just to notice and perhaps record them for their own sake.

I want to take my time and look at the details here, to watch the visitors in the galleries, to notice the buildings I am in, but I feel rushed to get around all the work before 9pm when the afterparty starts. And I already feel like I have reached saturation point. I can only take so much art. TV is like crisps. You can keep eating, nibbling away absent-mindedly for hours. But art is like chocolate, a burst of flavour and a sugar rush. Or like steak, dense and nourishing. Either way, you can’t keep eating for long without feeling sick.

Oliver McConnie’s gorgeous and scratchy hand-coloured etchings are a meal in themselves. Crazy demons, exploding heads and giant spewing devils among a broken landscape, show the whole world turned upside down. McConnie’s work wants to tell me a story, one that makes no regular sense, but the unfolding itself is comforting. I am sat by the fire as an old man drips tales from his lips. The hoarse croak, the texture of the words all hold me. I feel like a child finding an illustrated bible in a time before the ubiquity of images. I feel wonder. These works are medieval, grotesque, reminiscent of Grosz and Beckmann, chapbooks and marginalia, but delicate too. Intimate even. These I want to come back to. This is a meal to savour.

A lot of the work is very clever. It speaks to the right audience. Those who know. It makes me feel like I should be better at reading it and that I’m missing a piece when I don’t understand. I skipped the crucial class, or am from the wrong one. Other work is just intrinsically beautiful and requires nothing from me. It just gives. Lydia Brockless’ work is like this. Her simple, mesh structures look like metal, some industrial or construction material, but are made from wool, stiffened somehow and coloured. These forms invite touch, but disappointingly I don’t think I should. The analogues of these forms would be uninviting and cold, but these are not. Though the material lies, I am attracted. These are affectionate works.

More working-class spaces appear through the windows of Backlit, a former factory itself. The backs of terraced houses greet me through the glass, their tiny yards containing just enough air to breathe for a moment while you escape the pressure inside. An abandoned square of coloured letters echoes the playground patterns at Primary, and this one too has lost its children. Maybe they are all inside eating their tea.

I gravitate back to the mesh, like we can just hang out together without the need for words. I look, moving my eyes over the curves and loops, the gently graduated colour, and no harsh gaze is returned, only warmth and acceptance. I could sit inside one of these if I were small enough, safe in the soft cage. They could be named mothers. I feel special like no one else gets it in the same way. How could  they? This is our moment.

Over at Thoresby Street I am met by a text that I cannot read, not easily. It shifts and changes slightly so the line I am reading jumps. I can’t quite spot what alters. Is it a word that disappears, changing the configuration, or does the spacing change? My eyes are drawn to the movement, but getting there too late I miss what has shifted. I am left flickering between flickers, stuck in a textual stutter. Scott Mason has created a self-revising text with all the versions shuffling like a rebus. I get into moments like this myself, changing words and paragraph order until I can’t see what’s best. Maybe this is the way to go. Have it all.

Shower Thought by Jin Han Lee gives me pause. It is paint and I feel safe. It reminds me of the work of Gillian Ayres, big, bold and sketchy, but not unconsidered, the strokes quick and confident. But I can’t sit intimately with it as there is too much noise in the room. A video piece and chatter intrude, and this is the problem with these group shows. Every piece is set up in competition with the next. Some loudly clamour for attention while the more delicate ones risk getting lost. Lee’s work doesn’t shout, but it is self-assured. I notice it like the quiet person at a party.

I feel better climbing the stairs to the attic. Silent and cool, I find some rest here from the hubbub of downstairs, rooms full of clinking glasses and talk. This building stands tall, six flights counted as I rise, and separated from all around it, physically and by age. Flats and new technology centres dwarf it, but it holds its own. It is a relic of a former mode of production, an archaeological shard.

If this building is a body, then the attic is the brain and I am in the world of thought and dream. Abri de Swardt’s oneiric offering, I’ll Never Wear Sunglasses Again, is hypnotic, though the language is impenetrable at times. Maybe that is why it lulls me. A conversation takes place between three artists, Paul Thek, Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Derek Jarman, and this feels like one of the latter’s films. All three characters died of AIDS, and I watch the film again to see if the dialogue makes reference to this, but I am still baffled. There is talk of death and reanimation, and the appearance of an ostrich character could point to denial, but no clear message comes forth. Fragments intrude on the screen and work well to keep me alert and aware of the medium. This is something more lyrical than any protest piece of the 80s and it encourages me to not look for simple meanings.

Returning to the ground floor, I stand with Tomomi Koseki’s big clothes. I should like them. I like things made big, that make us feel like a child again. But despite the personal nature of the piece, this feels like an advert or a stunt. I respect what she tries to do with The Body Time Machine. The photo at the side showing the toddler Tomomi is touching, her face full of apprehension as she is shown the world by her parents. I too want to recapture that feeling of being cared for, of feeling safe with some nurturing power, but the body, the warmth that provides the security, is missing. And these empty clothes have no comforting scent. Here smells only of fresh paint.

Sitting in the courtyard out back, finally full to the brim with looking,  I want this space to be an artwork. Everything exists in halflight. I stare at the diagonal slats of the fence and through the geometry, I catch glimpses of bodies moving beyond. A low hum underlies the mix of artworld chatter and traffic noise. The revs and beeps are somewhere else, the murmuring visitors are somewhere else. I am somewhere else. Only the fence is here. I feel bereft as the lost object I sought, that special glittering thing that I hoped to find, fails to appear. I want to return to the warm mesh at Backlit. I want to feel the soft/hard structure around me, to feel safely packaged in the still factory. Above me, BioCity looms, silently full of secret knowledge.

EM15: Interview with Alison McCulloch

Tell me about your practice and how it has developed?

My practice as an artist is photography and process based. Whether it be appropriated imagery or imagery captured by myself, my practice involves exploring, through process, what happens when imagery representing time, place or person becomes mixed up and fragmented creating new realities and perhaps narratives.

My work has developed significantly whilst working as a resident at Surface Gallery over what is a relatively short and focused period of time. I have incorporated a greater range of imagery into my work, particularly that of place. The photographs that I have taken of Sneinton, whilst a resident here, has enriched the work visually and otherwise.

The experience of running a workshop related to my work and involving image, object and word has opened up other opportunities and possibilities for me to explore. The simultaneous keeping of a personal diary during the residency period, has been an important development incorporating life, work and art reflections to the  overall experience and the work too. The diary has almost become a work in itself.

You talk about your work being process based. Locations are interesting because of the changes that occur and how we experience them. The traces we can see in an environment of that change and how we react to altering landscapes. How do you think an audience can get a sense of the process that your work goes through? How can they sense the thinking and development that is as important as the ‘final’ work itself?

The audience is always an important consideration when creating my work. The artist may know what they want to say or convey but unless the viewer can engage and relate to the work then it is a pointless indulgence.

As my work is about the perception of another person with dementia, the insights that I convey into that possible experience are diverse and interesting. Dementia in society is a serious and increasingly prevalent issue that many people experience in some form in their lives. My role as an artist in this context has to be considered and sensitive.

I feel that the processes used in the creation of my images somewhat parallel cerebral processes of the decline and disintegration that can occur in reality over time. The resultant image has gone through many stages and processes in its journey to the altered pseudo-reality that is on display.

A ‘good’ image should reveal elements and clues for the viewer to sense the thinking and development that lie behind the work and the artist too. I have become part of that experience and understanding through the empathy of personal and professional involvement with dementia.

The elements within my work that I see as revealing that sense of the process are the evidence of disintegration, fragmentation and distress within the image. The layering and hybridity is of vital importance to the work with different elements of time, place or person evident but creating a new and credible pseudo-reality. The differences in clarity, focus and tonality between these elements is also a consideration as are the quality of the edges which are best as organic and fragmented. The overall form of the image itself can say subtle things too if it is, for example, cruciform. The evidence of traces or stains of process are also important to that sense for the audience.

There has to be gaps and spaces for the viewer within the work for them to bring something to it. They are detectives who can analyse and interrogate the work.

You seem to have really engaged with the local environment whilst part of the residency. Can you talk a little more about the parallels between identity in terms of a person and location? You’ve dealt with the mutability and fragility of memory and identity, but these things are enmeshed with a notion of place. Do you think ‘who we are’ is a product of ‘where we are’?

On mutability, P B. Shelley wrote that ‘we are as clouds that veil the midnight moon…’ Clouds and the moon have no actual identity and are mutable but part of every place although we do not always see them as we take them as a given. The same is true for place or location which is where we may ‘choose’ to be. Place is a context like a stage, with props to use, where we as people can act our part whether it be authentic or not.

Person and place are intertwined and define us as an entity in terms of our identity. The facets that make up our individual identity are protean and diverse but place inevitably becomes part of the equation, whether for good or bad.

The place where we chose to live, the environment, community, road, house and baggage we surround ourselves with, all define our identity.  How we relate to that setting also defines our identity as people whether we like it or not. The relating bit is key to the ‘who’ being a product of ‘where’ we are. It is through the relating to place through the roles we ‘assume’ that create this parallel between place and person.

Place is the keyhole and person is the key to unlock those opportunities that place provides. The trouble is that keyholes are different and not all keys fit. The question is, do you change the key or the keyhole if things do not fit? Similarities, differences, stereotypes and prejudice come into play. Some places afford greater anonymity.

Big Brother is an interesting concept with people taken out of place and thrown together into an artificial context or setting. Their identity changes and we see them differently. How people behave and interact in this artificial construct is interesting and who is the real person anyway?

Gypsies have an identity in terms of person as a group but not of place and furthermore we see that person as a stereotypical construct relative to the societal norms such that they lose their actual identity of person.

The refugee crisis is a point in case of this person and place relationship. David Cameron referred to ‘these people’ as ‘swarms’ inferring that having been displaced, their identity as a person had gone. As John Bradford stated, ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ is as relevant today as it was in the mid-sixteenth century.

Finally there is the problem that both person and place are mutable so the situation is very fluid and drowning is always possible.


EM15: Billy Hawes

Walking around its difficult not to notice the equipment waiting to be used. Not paintbrushes or pallet knives but an array of saws and hammers litter the floor. A camping stove and power drill sit alongside glass jars and household kitchen appliances. These are the unconventional tools of today’s artist.

The space has been a meeting point. A starting point. A place to create something new. And a place to develop something we made earlier.

But there is only a few days left now. The mad scramble to the finish line begins. Our 4 weeks are nearly up.

During that time photographs have been fragmented and food has been shared. Machines have been constructed and objects have been created. Frames have been broken and paintings have been anything but painted. Imagined histories have been retold.

Nature has even been made by man.

And so we must begin the inevitable tidy up. The clearing of the space as we migrate to a new home. We must now construct the exhibition of the unconventional. But how does one curate an unconventional exhibition?

EM15: Question Time

A Facebook Conversation

Mik Underwood

Yesterday at 12:58 · Nottingham

Today's question: There were seven Liberal Arts identified in the 12th century. Grammar, rhetoric, logic/dialectic, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy/astrology. To which does your work belong?

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EM15: Notes From A Group Critique

Yelena Popova is an artist based at Primary who did an MA in Painting at the RCA. She sees painting as a wider subject and is making video shorts as a curatorial proposition about the transfer or record of her thoughts when painting in abstraction. She asks questions about what painting can do politically and what it is all about. It has reference to Greenburg’s formalism as a language but she feels that we cannot speak this language in today’s context. It is not about what you are saying but how. The modernists broke the narrative down. She is looking for her own way of doing things with painting. It is difficult to make an image without references but there has to be 1% of freshness. She has her own way of working.

We talked individually in a circle as a group about our work.

Sian described her work as being about the materiality, processes and technical aspects of painting but taking reference from colour field and action painting of the past. She uses oil paints  thinned with white spirit, working on a slick surface; she exploits elements of chance and viscosity to produce her images which lie on the spectrum between abstraction and representation. She finds that not all her work is ‘successful’ and that out of 30 paintings, she would only show 5.

Yelena asked about the destiny for Sian’s work or the intended audience. The contemporary versus the commercial markets and the aesthetics of the work. Sian also has an interest in the graphic and design forums which have possibilities for her work but would like to see her work in a private or public collection.

In terms of destinations for the work Craig talked of his work relating to perhaps a theatre setting or community hall type of venue.

Mike feels that his work has no commercial value but would like his work to move into outdoor spaces and as public art.

Ben has similar destinations to Mike and he thinks that so long as the work is seen it could be even situated on the streets. For the interaction with a kinetic sculpture, he believes that the viewer must be present.

We proceeded from this discussion to go and look at everyone’s work individually for discussion and critical reflection.

Alison presented her work in relation to the work previously done for the degree. She is now mixing the context of place with her imagery and is using photographs she has taken in Sneinton.

Yelena felt that the images themselves were strong but she felt that they would work well as an artist’s book or as a video digital display. Alison has considered this and has had a vision of the work being displayed on a monitor with images flashing through at different speeds and rhythms but on the ground in a reflective container and under moving water. Her mother has dementia and she visualises her mum as being like running water flowing relentlessly down a plug hole and that Alison imagines that she is trying to stem the flow with her bare hands unsuccessfully. She also imagines that her mother is like a spider who has gone through the plug hole and is gripping to its under-surface looking up to the light. What is it with spiders and mothers?

The group and Mike talked about projection of the images and that the water installation could be done with mirrored Perspex to make such a container to look into. Alison had had reservations about attempting this previously due to the technical challenges.

Yelena described that personal triggers such as these were powerful tools enabling something extra to be channelled into the work. She felt that the realms of mental health would be a destination and that this was Proust type territory. She said that it would be good to connect with a previous artist in residence at Surface EM14- Christine due to her background in mental health and art.

Ben’s work was looked at and seen as playful, inventive and parodying DIY. The kinetic installation is humorous with the notion of factory production and consumption. Ben has also been looking at the costumes or work wear with a white one piece work overall hung on the wall. Yelena talked about drawing the costumes, building a set and documenting the project nicely. She emphasised the importance of defining the audience as being crucial and the possibility of designing something for perhaps a children’s playground.

Craig’s work is about performance in relation to the ideal utopian world of the fiction in Trumpton. Craig has taken reference from this ideal utopian community of figures that have no mouths and cannot talk, whose words and actions are under the control of the narrator. Yelena talked about asking questions as to why this work was being produced and contextualising it to the 1970’s when it was produced. What was happening now and then? Craig showed us an impressive drawn and detailed timeline that he had created through research into the world of Trumpton with all the interesting events on the timeline in Trumpton which had been taken into the future. This is an amazing work of art in its own right which could be displayed with actual drawings incorporated of the Trumpton events and world.

Mike’s work is the synthetic version of the natural world with 3D projection which he produced working alongside a PhD researcher and expensive equipment whilst at NTU. He is currently working to create a fake environment with soil on a light box and synthetic wind created with wind chimes and a fan. His work encompasses digital landscapes and he has created a 3D scan of a tree at NTU. There is the element of push/pull within Mike’s work, deconstructing and simulating nature in a fake way.

Yelena said that the creation of designs or proposals for a public space by the use of SketchUp or 3D printing would be a strong direction to consider.

Sian talked about the various aspects of her work – the contrasting techniques, exploiting viscosity, transparency or opacity and the element of chance involved. There is less control with larger works and Sian has enjoyed working in this way on to glass. The empty spaces are important in the work and Sian has tried the use of varnishes and juxtaposing matt and gloss effects. Her choice of colours as being personal through the experience of working with them and the way they behave. Indigo cracks up. Yelena wanted to explore more about the colour schemes and whether they were something personal, comfortable or spiritual even.

The context and triggers for the work are the thrill and excitement of the endless array of techniques and possibilities that come with this way of working.

Yelena and Sian had real commonality and connection talking about how they manipulated the paint. Sian uses pipettes to drop in the colours and Yelena talked about the use of different brushes to create different marks, new marks and scribbles.

How long can you continue doing what you are currently doing and not get bored of it, if ever? Perhaps in a year’s time with painting you could change to a different brush or even a nail and then set off again, it’s endless! It is good to find a tool and your unique way of using it, Yelena, observed.

Contextually, Yelena described an artist called Christopher Cook to look at. On further research, he is a British painter known for works since 1998 in graphite powder and resin which have been almost exclusively monochromatic. They are painted and drawn in graphite powder suspended in resin and oil, onto coated papers, aluminium sheet or linen. The surfaces of what he terms ‘graphites’ are extremely thin, and involve much reworking but almost no layering.

The images have considerable range in terms of subject matter. Formal connections to Daguerreotype, Photorealism, lithography and Surrealism have been noted in reviews. In some works, especially those arising from an Arts Council residency at Eden Project, there is a strongly microscopic component, emphasised by the intricacy of the graphite surfaces and sometimes likened to Baroque architecture.

Yelena talked about a door in for the audience for Sian’s work and the Whitechapel book on the abstract as a reference. Subjects beyond the surface itself to connect to.

Yelena talked to Sian about where she could go with her painting in terms of an MA in painting, the RCA as a good destination for painting or into the world of design, contemporary print and textiles. Work can easily be transferred onto silk. NTU and Loughborough are good destinations for textiles.

Billy presented his folded up frames intended to stick out from and float from the wall, fixed with mirror plates and painted black referencing painting and canvases. Sculptural forms referencing painting and the relationship between 2D and 3D. Yelena questioned the use of mirror plates rather than directly screwing them invisibly to the wall and that they were more frames than canvas stretchers. Billy’s work in the degree show had been on a larger scale and more architectural as he likes the way that you can bodily engage with the work.

Yelena suggested a proposal for a public sculpture or gallery and Billy wondered about the use of wood in this context.

On the references for Billy’s work, there were Sol Lewit and minimalism evident to Yelena. Billy takes reference from Modernism and the Brazilian artist Helio Oiticica. Yelena said that the reference to modernism was fine but that the work had to connect to our current society and culture in same way to create a connection, meaning and interest for today’s audience. The work has to be positioned in this culture essentially. To do this required a personal, energetic and individual vision of something to reference.

A reference to contemporary architecture and design would be interesting to consider. There are all these smart flat packed houses popping up and there is Grayson Perry’s fantasy, dream house to look at. A proposal for this would be progressive.

Proposals are clearly important for every artist and they recurred during the critique as a theme. The proposals themselves had to be quality proposals that would take time to produce and consider.

We all gained a great deal from this critique session with Yelena and learned a lot that will help us to move on as artists beyond this residency experience. The key points or themes that recurred during the session were the following considerations. A door in for the viewer, the consideration of the destiny or intended destination for the work which included the obvious gallery context, but Yelena opened our eyes as to the other less obvious and sometimes more commercial interfaces.  The initial triggers that led to us creating the work, personal or otherwise and the references we had or sought. The work and references had to connect or to relate to the here and now, in today’s culture and society, was seen as essential and key to its ultimate success.

Notes by Alison McCulloch

EM15: East Midlands Graduate Project

Interview with Hannah and Craig

M:  Have you started making yet?

C: I’ve made a few new heads. I want to get a few ready before I start doing the process on them. If I get them all together, then it doesn’t take long when I start adding the papier maché and painting them. Like a production line. And I’ve been drawing things up to see what the final thing is going to look like.

M: How has it been, moving in?

C: It’s been nice to get back in somewhere again. Leaving uni and not having a space to work in. Even when you’re not working, you can be sitting around and think, I can do something now.

H: I’ve not had this sort of brain-space for a while and I’ve just done five pages in my notebook already.I want to just go. It’s been up there, waiting. And now I’m doing a little test. So I’m getting stuck in.

M: Have you worked with fabric/material before?

H: Yes. Briefly at the end of my degree show I was using felt. Now I’m thinking about other soft materials that can be used. They sort of mould and morph. I can give them a structure but they are still always going to change. I’m experimenting. I’m thinking of filling them with lentils. I’m vegetarian, so I’ve got loads of them.

C: You could use chickpeas.

H: Aren’t they a bit squishy?

C: No, the dried ones, not the ones in a tin.

H: Haha! Did you know that the liquid in tinned chickpeas can be whipped to make vegan meringues. Just add sugar …

H: I feel at home here. It feels good.

EM15: East Midlands Graduate Project

3rd August - The First Day

I am sat in Mary’s Kitchen, waiting for my lunch. It is the perfect environment. There are no distractions of beauty. No easy, well-designed surroundings to lull us into lethargy. This is a functional, working person’s café, and its character allows us to function. Here we can write, think, create. All the necessaries are taken care of with nothing decorative to get in the way.

There are some nice cafés in town. Hip places to eat hip food and to be seen there being hip. Mary’s however is a place to duck out of the social traffic, to be alone with one’s thoughts and some good, hearty food. Here we can sit alongside bus drivers and roofers, and their readiness to work, their very presence in uniform and hi-vis, drives us to work. Or at least, think about it.

The first batch of artists have begun to move in, bringing in boxes and bags brimming with artistic paraphernalia. There are four here so far, half of the contingent. A hammock is being installed and there is talk of sleeping in the gallery. A good sign of engagement perhaps? Alison is taking notes, surrounded by books and ink pots. She looks up as I look at her, then we both gaze back at our pages and scribble away. She seems to be documenting me as much as I her.

Ben seems to have a clear idea of what he wants to do. He is amassing a collection of ironmongery and machines. A socket set lies open and ready to be used, a translucent oversuit hangs on the wall. Mike lays in his hammock, laptop open. His digital output allows him a more relaxed working posture. An impromptu desk made from tool-filled boxes sits in the corner with Billy, crouching over his cutting mat.

It is interesting to note the different working practices of artists. Obviously some of the methods are dictated by the medium, such as Mike’s. But there are ways of approaching one’s method that come down to an individual choice. Alison works with prints, and soon she will put examples of her work on the walls. But for now she sits, busy taking notes, not an image in sight. Her approach seems careful and considered.

The Project Space is still being prepared. Jez and Holly shuttle items down the stairs, clearing the room of its previous role. The artists prepare, making their notes, equipping their stations, bedding themselves in for the month of production. And I too ready myself to document and capture this process as it unfolds.