Category Archives: Suggested Reading

When Context Takes the Game

Not wishing to be coy by attempting to interview myself, which seemed an impossibility to me, I asked my friend, colleague and art historian, Becky Huff Hunter, to interview me for This ‘Me’ of Mine. I have great respect for Becky’s insightful writing. She has made a career writing for art magazines like Art Papers, Sculpture and Artforum. She, in fact, is the person who encouraged me to write and so it comes back around.

Trans, (c)2011 Jane Boyer

Trans, (c)2011 Jane Boyer

BHH: What prompted you to explore questions of the self and context in your own work? Was it initially a practice-led or reading-led project, a response to personal circumstances, or something else?

JB: It was a mix of those things really.  Naturally, I am attracted to certain issues because of personal experience so the things I find interesting to read and which are meaningful for me are related to the things I’ve experienced and they are the things I feel compelled to explore.  When I first settled on the topic of self and context I had spent a significant amount of time studying late modernism but I was also grappling with post-modernist ideology and it just became evident to me there was a step missing between the two views of self – self which is interior and private and self which is exposed and public.  I thought the middle ground between those views would be a valuable thing to explore further, looking at the relationship between context and self and the dichotomy of our own inner and outer personas and how we manoeuver amongst those influences.

Also, my personal experience has been one of having to cope with or manoeuvre through circumstances and situations, often circumstances and situations that were imposed on me by others; my childhood was a constant coping with painful impositions.  As an adult, I have not always been able to pursue things as I would like because of limitations in my circumstances. I have had to find alternative ways to make things happen in order to achieve the things I wanted to achieve for myself.  I’ve also had to continually measure my own understanding of who I am as an individual with how others see me or against what was expected of me.  So the topic of self in relation to context is also a very personal one for me.

Enigma Texture 1, (c)2013 Jane Boyer

Enigma Texture 1, (c)2013 Jane Boyer

BHH: Could you give a little more detail on one or two of the artists or writers that exemplify these two poles of thought around the interior and exterior self?

JB: Well the first one that pops to mind is Gilles Deleuze and his book The Fold.  This work is the philosophical basis for the project.  In The Fold, Deleuze describes the world as filled with elements. He says individuals are a ‘concrescence’ of elements; something other than a connection or a conjunction, a ‘prehension’. He defines this ‘prehension’ as individual unity. He explains that everything carries what came before and what comes after, and so by degrees unites the world. The ‘vector’ (his word) of unification moves from the world to the perceiving subject (us) and so there is an oscillation between the public and the private; a constant unification of public and private which means we participate in our own becoming, to paraphrase Deleuze.[1]

Samuel Beckett’s Malloy, the protagonist, Jacques Moran, falls into madness through a change in context; the thin veil of socialization falls away when he leaves his normal surroundings and lives without structure, social contact, rules, social formalities. Moran is presented as an individual with specific idiosyncrasies, e.g. belligerent personality, bullying behaviour, a compulsive orderliness etc. These idiosyncrasies turn to madness with the loss of a social order and structure. He loses himself in time, he loses his sense of right and wrong, he loses personal restraint, and he feels the loss of his sense of self with the change of his context.  With this change of context, Moran loses his public self, the self which knows and adheres to the rules of proper conduct and falling into madness his inner self, a self of paranoia, surfaces. There is also the possibility that Moran is Malloy, his pre and post self as one unified whole which carries the residue of two or possibly many. This is related to Deluze’s concept of ‘prehension’ above.

We're no longer seeing, but reading, (c)2011 Jane Boyer

We’re no longer seeing, but reading, (c)2011 Jane Boyer

Frank Stella’s Die Fahne Hoch! (Flags on High!) – this painting inverts perception of what is ground and what is foreground. The unprimed canvas stripes which are actually the ground, appear to be in the foreground, as if they sit on top of a black ground. Likewise, the painted black stripes seem to be the ground when in fact they sit on top of the unprimed canvas. The title was also the official marching song of the Nazis which when considered in the context of This ‘Me’ of Mine, brings a sociological/psychological question of personal identity and group identity. Does the self define the group or the group define the self? I discovered recently there is a visual connection in one of the works in This ‘Me’ of Mine which is directly related to Nazis indoctrination and to this question, something I wasn’t aware of when I chose the work.

Avatar 3, (c)2013 Jane Boyer

Avatar 3, (c)2013 Jane Boyer

BHH: You’ve written that Aly Helyer’s work Strange Fruit was the starting point for conceptualizing This ‘Me’ of Mine. Did you see links between her practice and your own? How did your thoughts on the exhibition spread outwards from her piece?

JB: Initially, I was attracted aesthetically to her pieces.  I was smitten by the beauty of their abstraction, the simplicity of their form, the starkness of black and white, the complexity of the tension they presented – I wished I had made them. And as Aly continued with her presentation for the exhibition Extra-ordinary, where I originally saw these works, speaking about the personal difficulties she experienced when she made these works, there just was a profound yet vulnerable attachment to the images, which I saw as Aly’s presence in the work. This is something I personally relate to, yes. My work comes from my life experience, there’s no way for me to stop that, it’s not something I control, so I think I felt a connection to Aly’s work because of that. I think her pieces became a sort of anchor-point in that I wanted to bring in other work which shared that sense of vulnerability but in more tangible realistic terms. I wanted to balance the utter abstractness of her work with work which could be easily identifiable. I think without realizing it at the time, Aly’s work represented the unspeakable emotion, that deep seeded stuff none of us want to express, of the show premise and I instinctively felt I needed to counterbalance that. David Riley’s piece Bar EP Blues is another piece which I see as an expression of raw emotion but it is the kind of visible emotion we experience; if you like, it’s the emotion we can see pass over people’s faces. So while his piece is also abstract, it is easily readable as a more visible emotion. Right there is a contrast between emotion as an inner experience and as an outer presence.

Poof! (c)2010 Jane Boyer

Poof!, (c)2010 Jane Boyer

BHH: The title of your own work included in This Me of Mine is Poof! Its title and form allude to fleeting experience, a magician’s disappearing act. But the graphite clings defiantly to the gesso, as if it’s frozen in the act of disappearing. Its dark, scaly surface looks petrified or fossilized, but it also reminds me of the way a photograph indexically preserves long-gone experience. In your description of ‘Situated Self’, your online portfolio series which contains Poof!, you observe that “we each of us exist in time and perceive of our existence in the world.” Do you identify with my impression of Poof!? What, for you, is Poof’s relationship to time?

JB: Yes, I do identify with your impression, in so far as I realize it is the way most viewers see the work, and in many ways that is fine with me, I’m delighted people are amused by its humour.  However, there is a deeper meaning to Poof! which deals with existence, life and death, witness and the residue left in the aftermath.  The notions you mention of petrification and fossilization are applicable to things beyond natural science, this happens with emotions too.  This is at the heart of the meaning of Poof! The suggested dimensionality of space, the space evacuated by something once there, as in the magician’s act, also acts as a reference to dimensionality of meaning in two vantage points; there is the thing/person disappeared and the thing/person left behind to witness the disappearance.  The thing/person disappeared is gone in an instant, time and existence is extinguished. The thing/person which witnessed the disappearance is left with a residue of shock, a moment seared and scorched in memory and the rest of time is measured by this split second of disappearance; as you suggest an “indexical preservation of long-gone experience”. Time is the ultimate context. For me, the relationship to time in Poof! quite simply is the expression of the fragility of existence; it could end at any moment.  It is the moment when context takes the game.

[1] Deleuze, Gilles, The Fold, Athlone Press 1993, reprinted by Continuum Publishing 2001-10, p.88, “Everything prehends it antecedents and concomitants, and by degrees, prehends the world…[t]he vector of prehension moves from the world to the subject, from the prehended datum to the prehending one…thus the data of a prehension are public elements, while the subject [the prehending one] is the intimate or private element that expresses immediacy, individuality and novelty…[e]ach new prehension…is at once public and private, potential and real, participating in the becoming of another event and the subject of its own becoming.”

We have developed a fantastic library of Suggested Reading by the artists in This ‘Me’ of Mine. Follow the links here or visit the BOOKSHOP to see all the books suggested so far. We hope you will see something inspiring for your own interests. If a book is unavailable, try the link to Abe Books.

Jane’s suggested reading:

The Death and Return of the Author by Sean Burke

The Fold by Giles Deleuze

Art Since 1900 by Hal Foster,Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, & David Joselit

Perpetual Inventory by Rosalind Krauss

Painting edited by Terry Myers

The Art of Richard Diebenkorn by Jane Livingston

Cy Twombly Cycles & Seasons edited by Nicholas Serota

September: Gerhard Richter by Robert Storr

Culture in the Age of Three Worlds by Michael Denning

Tractatus Locico Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein

Difference and Repetition by Gilles Deleuze

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare by William Shakespeare

Three Novels by Samuel Beckett

The Wasteland, Prufrock & Other Poems by T.S. Eliot

Tagged , ,

Joining A Conversation Well Underway

Untitled 2008, (c) Darren Nixon

Untitled 2008, (c)2008 Darren Nixon

Darren’s work fascinates me. The unresolved quality in the narrative of his work presents the powerful reality of not knowing. The individuals in Darren’s paintings often seem to not know where they are, which naturally makes us ask, ‘what’s going on?’ There is enough information for us to make sense of the scene, but not enough to give us an understanding of the narrative. We have recognition but not understanding and this in turn nullifies the recognition. I’ve rarely come across this kind of sensation when looking at art. Darren told me a tale about one of his paintings of two figures engulfed at midriff in a stream of flowing golden blob. When one viewer became insistent on knowing what the figures were doing, Darren’s reply was, “they’re not really there.” He told me it was a comment borne out of a bit of frustration at someone who just refused to accept the fact that the painting wouldn’t tell him everything he wanted to know about it.

Brilliant, and exactly the point.

Jane Boyer: In your artist statement you say, “I paint despite (or perhaps because of) my conviction that it doesn’t make sense to paint.’” That’s a compelling statement; can you explain what you mean?

Yellow Coat, (c)2013 Darren Nixon

Yellow Coat, (c)2013 Darren Nixon

Darren Nixon: Although painting is currently enjoying a small renaissance, you still feel, as painter the need to defend your decision to paint. When I think about why I paint, it strikes me that many of the reasons why don’t seem to make sense in the world of contemporary art; they are the very reasons why I love doing so. The weight of history which comes attached to painting – the fact that each painting has to come to terms with just being a painting following all the other paintings which have come before – just adds to its richness for me. As someone who is interested in the layers of meaning which come attached to any image, I love the fact that any time I start a painting it feels like joining a conversation which is already well under way.

JB: “The faces which have recently found their way into my work are generally background figures in newspaper images, people who seem somehow disconnected and remote from the events unfolding in the photograph as a whole. I love the idea that they are looking at or thinking about something wholly unconnected from the scene which has caused their appearance in today’s paper.” This statement from your recent artist statement suggests an even further disconnected engagement with the ‘conversation’; in that you’re interested in figures that are disengaged from their context. As voyeur/painter for these scenes, what is in that off-kilter placement of attention that intrigues you?

Untitled 1001, (c)2013 Darren Nixon

Untitled 1001, (c)2013 Darren Nixon

DN: There are several reasons, I think, that these faces interest me: Firstly I just like imagining what is going through that person’s head. When I was younger I remember it completely blowing my mind when I first realised that every person I walked past in the street every day was as much of a person as me, with at least as many thoughts in their heads as I had. I suppose this is just an extension of that kind of thinking – I love the thought that each person in every photo in every newspaper has just as much interesting stuff going on in their lives as the individual who is the focus of the story. The impossibility of knowing what is going on in that person’s head at that moment also reminds me of the difficulty of meaningfully conveying any complex idea using any kind of imagery.

JB: These notions of diverted attention also suggest we’re only outwardly engaged, but underneath it all we are being impelled by a sense of fascination. Do you think this leads to isolation or an enriched reality?

Young Prince, (c)2013 Darren Nixon

Young Prince, (c)2013 Darren Nixon

DN: One of the reasons I source mainly from newspaper, television and internet imagery is because the way we interact with these media shapes so many of our opinions about the world around us. Most of what I know about the world has been drawn in a fairly disjointed and fragmentary fashion from this huge, seemingly ever present sea of information. The sheer amount of available knowledge is so overwhelming that I end up feeling always frustrated that I know nothing about anything. Not knowing what I should be spending my time getting to know, I end up with a constant sense of only ever partially understanding even the most important current and historical events. I am impelled by a great fascination but end up mostly confused about which direction to allow my fascination to lead me in the time I have.

Although partial understanding can be frustrating and isolating, it does carry its own qualities. As events become jumbled and confused in our minds a kind of magical haze is thrown over everything. We start to create our own narratives, filling in the gaps between what we pick up from various sources with any number of unreliable memories and opinions. In a sense this is what I invite the viewer to do when they look at my paintings. The background figures I mentioned earlier, who seem disconnected from the scene of the photo in which they appear are a reminder of that ever present sense that there is always something just as interesting and ready to steal your attention just off camera from what you are focusing on. My work sometimes becomes a celebration of the joy of not knowing and the possibilities not knowing can offer you.

Untitled 30511, (c)2011 Darren Nixon

Untitled 30511, (c)2011 Darren Nixon

JB: Tell us about your painting, Untitled – 300511. The removal of the children from their class surroundings highlights their insecurities, nervousness and vulnerability. There seems to be no comfort by being part of the group.

DN: Untitled – 300511 originally came from my love of Marlene Dumas’ painting The Teacher (sub a) and my own curiosity to see if I could pull off a painting of a large group in the same manner. Like most of the paintings I am happiest with, much of what makes this piece work comes from trying to react to a combination of happy accidents and frustrating obstacles. The ghostly figures were originally intended to be the first layer in a much deeper more vibrant final composition, closer to the Dumas piece, but I found something I didn’t want to lose in the first layer by adding further layers.

Newspaper D, (c)2013 Darren Nixon

Newspaper D, (c)2013 Darren Nixon

JB: Do you think the fragmentary and disjointed nature of our information sources is having an effect on our identity and how we perceive ourselves in relation to it?

DN: I don’t really feel like I have any definitive answers to a lot of the questions I think about whilst painting. Whilst these are questions which obviously intrigue me, I am more interested in the idea that people who look at my paintings think about some of these questions in their own terms. In a way I am more interested in my work staying at the questions stage and looking at the possibilities which are opened when you start to ask questions. The idea of finding answers and reaching conclusions isn’t one which interests me so much.

We have developed a fantastic library of Suggested Reading by the artists in This ‘Me’ of Mine. Follow the links here or visit the BOOKSHOP to see all the books suggested so far. We hope you will see something inspiring for your own interests. If a book is unavailable, try the link to Abe Books.

Darren’s suggested reading:

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
The Castle by franz kafka
The Garden Party and Other Stories by Kathryn Mansfield
Labyrinths and the short story Blue Tigers by Jorge Luis Borges
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Cathedral by Raymond Carver
The Collected Stories by Ernest Hemingway
Photography a Critical Introduction edited by Liz Wells
Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Frank Sinatra Has a Cold: and Other Essays by Gay Talese

Jane’s suggestions:

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
Ulysses by James Joyce

Tagged ,

Blue Mythologies

Blue Mythologies by Carol MavorCarol Mavor’s latest book, Blue Mythologies: Reflections on a Colour, has just been released. This series of explorations of the colour blue presents readings which are at once sociological, literary, historical and visual, taking the reader from the blue of a new-born baby’s eyes to the films of Jarman and Kieslowski.

It also features Iris’ Stocking, by Annabel Dover.

Find out more and purchase the book through our bookshop.

Annabel’s work will be in another book soon; our own This ‘Me’ of Mine: Self, Time & Context in the Digital Age is in production. Mavor’s beautiful fairytale, Like Weeds, written for Annabel will be included in the book. Here’s a short excerpt:

At an early age, Annabel began composing her own nomenclature for the colour blue. Her tiny, densely nature-rich, taxonomically inscribed world was a blue marble writ large: like the earth itself. Annabel’s village was famed for its kindly Giant. He was nearly seven feet tall and weighed over twenty-three stone. He was strong. He was gentle. Children loved him. When he walked down the street, you could hear the children in peals of giggles chiming in with his roaring, big laugh. The Giant would carry boys and girls, three to a shoulder, begging them to kick him harder so that he could feel it. Little ones, who were too excited about the newness of their first steps, preferred not to be carried. They followed along at a brisk trot wearing baby-blue baby reins, complete with tinkling bells.

The Girl-Naturalist had once worn these reins and had sat on his shoulders.

Watch for more news coming soon…


A Perfect Wrapper

Transition Gallery LogoCathy Lomax runs Transition Gallery, a Hackney Gallery 10+ years in establishment, and she is the publisher of Garageland and Arty magazines in addition to being a full time artist. She is fully immersed in the contemporary art world in London. These many strands are as much a part of her practice as painting and indeed, much of her personal and artistic sensibility is visible in each of these endeavours. This shift to multiple practices is common in contemporary culture now, but the source and intensity of personal experience, observation and perception is no closer to exposure.

Sixteen Most Beautiful Men (8 left profiles), 2012 Cathy Lomax

Sixteen Most Beautiful Men (8 left profiles), (c)2012 Cathy Lomax

Jane Boyer: Your work often deals with pop idols (Sixteen Most Beautiful Men, Dead Filmstars) and iconic film imagery (Film Diary, The Count of Monte Cristo). Curiously though, it’s not pop culture which is your subject, but the fascination, escapism, hero-worship and fan-love we’ve all experienced. What fascinates you about our psychological propensity to fascination and ‘longing for something unobtainable’?

Elizabeth, (c)2011 Cathy Lomax

Elizabeth, (c)2011 Cathy Lomax

Cathy Lomax: I think that pop culture in general is just a wrapper for supplying the things that the market demands – i.e. what we want. These things do not change much; they are excitement, desire, escapism etc. So with this in mind I let my self lead the direction of my work by following what it is that I am drawn to. I do not like to think that I am in any kind of elevated position in my commentary on my subjects; I am in and amongst the subject matter. Looking deeper into what it is I am interested and fascinated by, it is apparent it is something that I do not actually want but rather that it is something I can think about and live out in my head – probably because this is the safest way to do it. This is what led me to the Film Diary as film for most people is the most intense way to experience other lives and worlds.

JB: Tell us more about your piece, Glass Menagerie. Tennessee William’s play, The Glass Menagerie, which is the inspiration for your piece, looks at many of these issues of longing, fragility and nostalgia, but also issues of control, desire and a fervent denial of reality. What were you exploring in your work?

Glass Menagerie, (c)2011 Cathy Lomax

Glass Menagerie, (c)2011 Cathy Lomax

CL: It is quite a hard piece to talk about as it has a very fragmentary meaning. I am a big fan of Tennessee Williams’ work generally and always take the chance to see his plays when they are being performed. Val Xavier in Tennessee William’s ‘Orpheus Descending’ says ‘No body ever gets to know no body! We’re all of us sentenced to solitary confinement inside our own skins for life!’ – which just seems to contain so much truth. My Glass Menagerie piece is full of personal references and connections which mean nothing to anyone else but hopefully make the work into something that has a certain poignancy. It is formed from a collection of glass animals which I sourced from eBay. These animals are doppelgängers of a set one of my relatives had and I remember admiring them as a child but not being able to touch them.

JB: In your interview with Ayla Lepine, curator for Past in Present at the Courtauld Institute last year, you and she discuss the problem with nostalgia as ‘an alienation from the present’. You say,“I prefer the idea of sensucht, a German term that is more associated with a unique feeling you might get about people, places or events that can be almost impossible to communicate to anyone else – like how a favourite song makes you feel.”  Is it the uniqueness of the feeling or the fact that it is incommunicable which appeals to you?

the Way He Liked Me to Look, (C)2011 Cathy Lomax

the Way He Liked Me to Look, (C)2011 Cathy Lomax

CL: It is the feeling of Sensucht itself that I am attracted to (as everyone probably is). It is about finding something or someone that you feel something special for – it could be described as a-butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling. Often if you communicate this the specialness disappears, this makes trying to produce art about it very difficult as it is such a personal, delicate concept. So I make work about things that I feel something for and don’t enforce my feelings about them or pin things down too precisely. I am hoping to leave an openness – I do not want to force my feelings or interpretation about the imagery. I aim to imbibe the work with a contemplative quality.

JB: In your Arty 21 article, Dark, there is a quote by C.S. Lewis from his essay, The Weight of Glory, “I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you – the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence… the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something which has never actually appeared in our experience”. Do you think this Sensucht feeling is under siege by the phenomenon of social media communications with the public sharing aspect of it? It seems to me the secret feeling of Senucht is related to another time and to discrete ways of communication – a time when we still whispered. Might it become extinct with new ways of communicating?

Muslin, (c)2008 Cathy Lomax

Muslin, (c)2008 Cathy Lomax

CL: I think it is the case that social media challenges the specialness of Sensucht if only by speeding up the time it takes to find out every bit of info and every little nuance about a person, song, film , event etc. However it does also enhance the specialness in some ways by creating communities of like-minded people who run blogs or write fan fiction. I realise that this changes the Sensucht connection a little as the special connection becomes a shared secret but it can still be a secret from the outside world.

We have developed a fantastic library of Suggested Reading by the artists in This ‘Me’ of Mine. Follow the links here or visit the Bookshop to see all the books suggested so far. We hope you will see something inspiring for your own interests. If a book is unavailable, try the link to Abe Books.

Cathy’s suggested reading:

England is Mine by Michael Bracewell
Stars by Richard Dyer
Blonde by Carol Joyce Oates
Mystery Train by Greil Marcus
From the Beast to the Blonde by Marina Warner
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Austerlitz by WG Sebald
Cries Unheard by Gitta Sereny
Last Train to Memphis by Peter Guralinick
The Women we Wanted to Look Like by Brigid Keenan
The Drawings of Holbein in the Collection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle by KT Parker, Phaidon Press, 1945
The Andy Warhol Diaries edited by Pat Hackett
Visual and Other Pleasures by Laura Mulvey

Cathy also has a suggested film list:

Letter From an Unknown Woman (Max Ophuls, 1948)
The Pirate (Vincente Minnelli, 1948)
The Misfits (John Huston, 1961)
Twilight (Catherine Hardwicke, 2008)
The Fugitive Kind (Sidney Lumet, 1960)
King Creole (Michael Curtiz, 1958)
Witchfinder General (Michael Reeves, 1968)
American Gigolo (Paul Schrader, 1980)
Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (Todd Haynes, 1988)
A Royal Affair (Nikolaj Arcel, 2012)
Fishtank (Andrea Arnold, 2009)
Gone to Earth (Powell & Pressburger, 1950)
L’Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934)
Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, 2011)
Stromboli (Roberto Rossellini, 1950)

Tagged , ,

What Are You Prepared to Give in Exchange?

I Don't Suppose I'll Ever Go There, by Kate Murdoch

I Don’t Suppose I’ll Ever Go There, ©2011 Kate Murdoch

Kate’s work is a delicate balance of position, association, meaning and value – not necessarily in that order or with the usual expectations.  That is the beauty of Kate’s work; she presents slights which are out-of-joint and off-kilter familiarity which causes profound questioning of assumptions.  What you think you know is not what you knew and as a result memory slides sideways.

Jane Boyer: Tell us about the significance of memory for you and what role it plays in your artwork.

Kate Murdoch: At the heart of my work is an unravelling of memories; the desire to make sense of and preserve certain aspects of the past are a driving force behind it. I work mostly with found objects and the raw material for my artwork comes primarily from the vast collection I’ve accumulated over the years; both from my own life and from those of others. I use this vast mass of memorabilia to tease out and present my memories of childhood and family relationships, conscious of the distorted effect that time can have on real, authentic memory. I’m fascinated by what the objects we surround ourselves with say about us; steeped in social and political history they are a part of our identity, providing us with a sense of self and revealing our connections to the wider world.

JB: In your artist statement you say your practice is ‘a process of selection

Birdcage by Kate Murdoch

Birdcage, ©2009 Kate Murdoch

where you place familiar objects in an unfamiliar environment in order to challenge the viewer’s response’.  What about your own response, what is challenged for you when you reinterpret an object and change the context and significance?  Do you surprise yourself?

KM:  I think my piece Birdcage demonstrates how the placing of familiar objects in an unfamiliar environment can challenge both my own and an audience’s response to it. Though the initial placing of the brass bells within a cage was something I remember doing quite subconsciously, I was surprised retrospectively by the impact of doing so. The ‘ladies’ in the home of my Scottish aunt appealed to me very much as a child. They exuded an air of decency and femininity.  Their crinoline dresses and neat, sash-tied bonnets called to mind rather beautiful, Scarlett O’Hara kind of heroines – pretty and privileged. But there was a darker side as we know and placing these female figurines in a cage, albeit unconsciously, speaks volumes I think about the hidden aspects of these women’s lives – the repression, domination and dependency.

JB: In your blog Keeping it Going on a-n Artists Talking, you speak about value, both the perceived value of an object which you have made available for your audience to take (Going for Gold) or the associated value to exchange with something of similar value (10 x 10). It could be said the value we associate with an object is in relation to the depth of emotion we experience in any given situation.  Do you feel this to be true and what have you observed about this relationship through the interactive aspect of your work?

10 x 10 by Kate Murdoch

10 x 10, ©2008 – 2012 Kate Murdoch

KM: I’m not sure there’s a definitive answer to this question but in terms of my observations of how the majority of people have interacted with 10×10 so far, then yes, I would say it is true. The emotional attachment we make to any given object can determine its worth in emotional terms as opposed to its monetary value. The very act of bartering adds an emotional reality to the process of exchange that currency somehow lacks. ‘What is an object worth to you?’ is one of the main questions posed by 10×10. ‘How much do you want it and what are you prepared to give in exchange?’

I can give you many good examples of the varying degrees of value and worth; they are contained in the stories people leave behind when they give their objects up for exchange. The woman who gave up a genuine diamond bracelet at the launch of 10×10 for instance demonstrates a really good example of value and worth. On the face of it, the value of a real diamond was high; from her story however, it was clear that the bracelet, in spite of its monetary worth, had become of little personal value to her.

An exchange made by an international student at Lewisham College has an equally poignant ring to it. He exchanged a small candle stub for a larger, unused candle. Living on a very tight budget in order to afford college fees, this student told me that he was doing his best to avoid having to pay for electricity. It was a practical exchange, then on one level – a used-up candle for one with many burning hours – but in terms of value in this case, the new candle represented a kind of life-saver for him.

“The very act of bartering adds an emotional reality to the process of exchange that currency somehow lacks.”

Kate Murdoch

It's The Little Things by Kate Murdoch

It’s The Little Things, ©2010 Kate Murdoch, detail view

JB: Tell us about your piece It’s The Little Things.  You raise an interesting point in what you ‘think is worth preserving’, tell us about some of the things you’ve chosen to preserve in this piece and why.

KM: The things I chose for this particular piece were largely an emotional response to the clearance of my Nana’s home in which she had lived for some 70 years. The items I salvaged were reminders of the many times I’d spent with my Nana as a child and the close relationship we had. I was trying to hold onto her history as well as my own through preserving them. The pastry cutters, the icing nozzles, the embroidery cottons, thimbles, darning mushroom and tape measure are all reminders of the many domestic skills my Nana taught me. The fun side of my relationship with her is reflected in the lipstick, powder and perfume which she sometimes let me play with at her dressing table. The ancient pocket Bible and the red poppy speak of the history of a woman who lived through two world wars and would engage me with her stories about the war as she taught me the rules of a waste-not-want-not life.

JB: We’ve spoken about the personal exchange and value inherent in your work; there is a sense of nostalgia for personal communication and connections underlying your work.  What are your thoughts on digital communications and the ‘faceless’ interactions which are commonplace for us now?  In a way, written communication has been reinvigorated through digital communications, but have we lost the personal connection or have we strengthened those connections?

Gentlemen by Kate Murdoch

Gentlemen, ©2009 Kate Murdoch

KM: That’s a very big question. But does it necessarily have to be face to face? Does ‘faceless’ communication lose any true sense of feeling connected with other people? I’ve certainly had a lot of face to face conversations where I’ve felt very unconnected with the person I’m speaking with – you just don’t connect with everybody – it’s a fact of life! I’ve had e-mail and twitter conversations, on the other hand where communication has been surprisingly personal and intimate when discussing certain matters.

I find forums like twitter and facebook working well for me because of my partial deafness; I find writing a more direct and clear way of communicating as it leaves less room for misinterpretation. I’m in close contact via email and twitter with a few people – mainly artists – who I’ve never actually met face to face. A lot of formality is broken down in the way people communicate via digital communications such as twitter and facebook which to my mind cuts to the chase and gets down very quickly to the core of good, open and honest communication. I know it has its critics, but I actually think you can learn a great deal about a person by the way they communicate on social media and I gravitate towards those who I believe share my own fundamental life values.

I’ve asked the artists to share a list of books they find informative for their practice. Follow the links here or visit the Bookshop to see all the books suggested so far. We hope you will see something inspiring for your own interests. Your book purchase made through This ‘Me’ of Mine will help raise funds for the project.

Kate’s suggested reading:

Evocative Objects: Things We Think with edited by Sherry Turkle
Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris by Leanne Shapton
Interpreting Objects and Collections  edited by Susan M. Pearce
Contemporary Art and Memory by Joan Gibbons
The Memory Box by Margaret Forster
Noah’s Compass by Anne Tyler
The Whale’s Song by Dyan Sheldon
The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat by Oliver Sacks
The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

Jane’s Additions:

Color Photographs by Marie Cosindas
Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry

If you enjoyed this interview, please follow This ‘Me’ of Mine by clicking the ‘follow’ button below.  You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook, those links are also below.  Pop in and see the great work our partners are doing too! Click on the logos below to go to their sites.

Tagged , , , ,

More Than We Seem

Borrowing Hayley Harrison’s new blog title for this post, I’d like to share some of the blogs of the This ‘Me’ of Mine artists. Many of these blogs are active exhibition spaces or working ‘sketchbooks’, some in the real sense like Hayley’s blog and some in the sense of a virtual space to work on ideas. Some of these blogs are journals recording life as an artist – all of them are fascinating documentation of the creative process.

Hayley Harrison

Sketchbook entry No. 55 by Hayley Harrison

sketchbook entry No. 55 by Hayley Harrison

‘More than we seem’ is a sketchbook diary of journeys and encounters.

Something’s Happening a log journal of self realisation as an artist.

David Riley

322, annetta © revad david riley at coded images concepts

322, annetta © revad david riley at coded images concepts

coded images: annetta a virtual exhibition in 26 parts of work built from cartridge paper, masking tape and electrical insulating tape.

coded images: a 1 pixel cursive alphabet an alternate installation of David’s 1 pixel cursive alphabet.

coded images: C I R C U A R E themes an exploration of phonetic symbology in the form of circles and squares.

F O R M A T  a blog dedicated to exploring the facilities and limits of an a-n Artists Talking blog.

Sandra Crisp

Filmstrip- Global sunshades (c)Sandra Crisp

Filmstrip- Global sunshades (c)Sandra Crisp

Work in Progress a virtual work space/studio log.

EXTRA! a visual journal of things that take Sandra’s attention.

Edd Pearman

Palace (c)2011 Edd Pearman

Palace (c)2011 Edd Pearman

Edd Pearman a news journal of Edd’s career activity.

Kate Murdoch

No No No (c)2011 Kate Murdoch

No No No (c)2011 Kate Murdoch

Keeping It Going a personal journal of life as an artist.

Cathy Lomax

Basil Rathbone & Tyrone Power in 'The Mark of Zorro' film still, source: Through a Glass Darkly

Basil Rathbone & Tyrone Power in ‘The Mark of Zorro’ film still, source: Through a Glass Darkly

Cathy Lomax: Art Review and Comment is a long standing blog about Cathy’s interest in movies, pop culture, Karen Klimnick and so much more.  It is a look at what fascinates.

Through a Glass Darkly “A stream of image consciousness from artist Cathy Lomax”

David Minton

Tracey's Thrush (c)2012 David Minton

Tracey’s Thrush (c)2012 David Minton

‘It’ a Hiding to Nothing a third person narrative of self, a first person discussion with an alter ego named ‘It’.

Annabel Dover

Brick vault, part of Annabel's new living situation at Burrell Road

Brick vault, part of Annabel’s new living situation at Burrell Road

Market Project Annabel is member, co-founder and contributor to the Market Project blog.  Market Project is an artist led initiative formed to research and share information on career and economic development for artists, with a focus on ways forward in an ever increasing atmosphere of artistic arrested development.

Anthony Boswell

'Construction' (c)2012 Anthony Boswell

‘Construction’ (c)2012 Anthony Boswell

‘Et in Arcadia Ego’ – Beyond Painting a self-reflective blog on life as an artist.

Reside Blog: Anthony Boswell  is part of The Reside Residency.  Anthony is documenting work in progress while being artist in residence in his own home; hallmark of the residency programme.

Jane Boyer

Rebecca Projects banner

..and of course my blogs

Rebecca Projects an informational blog on art writing and artist career development.

Blending Primaries a personal blog looking at the challenges and rewards of being an artist, writer and curator, and often how each of those practices informs the others.

Tagged , , , ,

Straight from the Nerves

Untitled nude (c)2011 Shireen Qureshi

Untitled Nude, (c)2011 Shireen Qureshi, oil and charcoal on canvas

Shireen Qureshi was a studio member of Cor Blimey Arts in 2011 and it was on one of my working trips to Core Gallery when I first met Shireen.  I remember the moment so vividly, I was passing her studio and the door happened to be open; as I glanced in I was stopped in my tracks.  Sitting alone and unnoticed, as if set aside purposefully, was her untitled and unfinished nude painting.  It pulled me in emotionally and literally as I stepped into her studio, that is when I met Shireen.  We talked briefly about her work then I went on about my day, but I couldn’t get Shireen’s painting out of my mind.  Feeling a little unsure in that moment of how it would fit in overall with the exhibition, I trusted my gut instinct and invited Shireen to show the work with This ‘Me’ of Mine, asking her if she would leave the painting exactly as it was and not finish it.  She was a little nervous about my request but gave it some serious consideration and finally agreed – I’m delighted she did.

Jane Boyer: Your Untitled Nude has a very definite feeling of movement and struggle, the figure is almost writhing, but the hand is quite firmly placed and supports or propels the body’s turning.  Can you tell us more about this painting and why the hand is black?  It’s the thing that attracted me to this work.

Blue Lamp (c)2011 Shireen Qureshi

Blue Lamp, (c)2011 Shireen Qureshi, oil on canvas

Shireen Qureshi:This painting was painted very instinctively – straight from the nerves, and for me, was left at quite an early and exciting stage of its development. Within my mind this painting developed specifically from the simple action of a body turning over in bed, or getting out of bed. I wanted the body to be engulfed in a dark space. The heavy sense of contrast in this work is the result of this struggle, to create a kind of dark in which the body remains illuminated, but I like the way the attempt to achieve this has resulted in a body which has almost been doused in a liquid darkness which encircles it. I am also happy with the way certain borders and parts of the body are lost. The hand is black because I was trying to force it downwards into the darkness, and also pin the body to the canvas so that it was no longer floating in space but supported within a suggested reality. I like the way Francis Bacon used things like syringes or arrows in his work to pin his bodies down – I often try to use similar devices as I like to secure my more free flowing bodies to something. It’s like a full stop, locking the body-prisoner in place.

Fall (c)2010 Shireen Qureshi

Fall, (c)2010 Shireen Qureshi, oil on canvas

JB: You share other things with Bacon, the domestic settings, the violence, the bodily functions and the ‘body-prisoner’ as you put it; the self subjected to context in other words.  It could be argued the self in Bacon’s work exists between annihilation and the struggle in the moments just before annihilation, an idea suggested by his work with crucifixions, his screams and his interest in paintings of abattoirs, butchers and meat.[1]   How do you view this struggle and the annihilation of the self?

SQ: Bacon has been a huge influence on me and I think that this struggle is an interesting moment to paint because it captures a person perhaps at a moment when they are most present in the form of an instinctive, uncontrollable self. This moment of high drama gives passage to an altered state of being, and as Bacon stated ‘I’m just trying to make images as accurately off my nervous system as I can.’[2]  What could be more real than the presence of a body in the face of its destruction, it is in these moments that a person becomes aware, in a visceral sense, of what they are made up of – organs, blood, skin and bone.

Hand in Hair (c)2010 Shireen Qureshi

Hand in Hair, (c)2010 Shireen Qureshi, oil on canvas

JB: Deleuze suggests we are an event; meaning that out of a chaos in which conditions have come together to form a ‘one’ or have passed through ‘a screen’ which allows something rather than nothing to happen.[3]  There is a sense of ‘event’ in your tableaus and the figures are that ‘event’, as if we are witnessing the coalescing of a self, how do you see this?  Do you feel the passage of time is relevant to the self?

SQ: It is interesting that you suggest that we are witnessing the coalescing of a self in my work because in my mind I am more interested in breaking down the body, of rupturing boundaries. I often initiate a painting by making it look real and then trying to break it down, by overlapping bodies or breaking apart skin and bone, I suppose in that sense the aim for me is towards chaos rather than from it. But I think that this is a very interesting idea, especially the sense of an ‘event’ you describe in my work, forcing my viewers into the role of witness.

Lying Body (c)2010 Shireen Qureshi

Lying Body, (c)2010 Shireen Qureshi, oil on canvas

I think that if the paintings have created any sense of inescapable drama pinning both my figures and viewers in place, then this is an achievement in itself.

From my point of view, the passage of time is interesting because it is within a space of time that metamorphosis and transformation can occur. I would like to create a sense of movement, an undulation within each of my paintings as if they were bubbles of captured space and time. I think that time is inescapably relevant to the self because it is within time that a self is built or deconstructed, subjected to the violence of existence, and within which the self moves, inevitably, towards death.


Read Struggle in the Moment of Difference on Art Pie.

[1] ‘Francis Bacon (1910-1992) Interview with David Sylvester’, Art in Theory 1900-2000, ed. Charles Harrison & Paul Wood, p. 635-9.

“I’ve always been very moved by pictures about slaughterhouses and meat, and to me they belong very much to the whole thing of the Crucifixion.  There’ve been extraordinary photographs which have been done of animals just being taken up before they were slaughtered; and the smell of death.  We don’t know, of course, but it appears by these photographs that they’re so aware of what is going to happen to them, they do everything to attempt to escape.”

[2] Interviews with Francis Bacon, David Sylvester, London, Thames & Hudson p.82

[3] The Fold, Giles Delueze, 1st ed Athlone Press, 1993, reprinted Continuum Publishing, 2006, p.86

In an effort to raise funds for This ‘Me’ of Mine, I’ve asked the artists to share a list of books they find informative for their practice. Follow the links here or visit the BOOKSHOP to see all the books suggested so far. We hope you will see something inspiring for your own interests.

If you enjoyed this interview, be sure to participate in our This ‘Me’ of Mine Companion Book head-count, see the footer section at the bottom of the page for the sign-up form and more information.

Shireen’s Reading List:

Interviews with Francis Bacon by David Sylvester

The Eyes Mind: Bridget Riley: Collected Writings 1965-1999 by Bridget Riley and Robert Kudielka

Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes

Blue of Noon by Georges Bataille

In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki

Francesca Woodman by Chris Townsend

The Logic of Sensation by Gilles Deleuze  (note: this can be found under Aly Helyer’s suggested reading in the Bookshop)

Jane’s Additions:

The Stranger by Albert Camus

Strangers to Ourselves by Julia Kristeva

Deleuze: The Clamour of Being by Alain Badiou

If you enjoy what you see here, follow the progress of the project by clicking the ‘follow’ button at the bottom of the page and share content you really like using the ‘share this’ buttons below each article.

We would love to talk with you, feel free to leave us a comment too.

If you would like to support the project contact me at


Tagged , , , , , , ,

A Barely Responsive Exterior

I first saw Melanie’s work last year in the 2011 Marmite Prize exhibition at the Nunnery in Bow.  I was struck by the delicacy, fragility and the overwhelming presence in her painting Woman with Cardigan.  It was this sense of presence which confirmed for me it should be in This ‘Me’ of Mine.   How could such an overwhelming presence be perceived from a view of someone’s back rather than the face, where it would be expected, and what did this suggest for these issues of self and identity?  Were the curious mixture of pattern and texture in her clothing personal choices or were these visible clues to circumstances imposed upon this woman’s life?  These were compelling questions and the basis for my choice of Mel’s work.

Not Dead Yet (c)2012 Melanie Titmuss

Not Dead Yet (c)2010 Melanie Titmuss oil on canvas

Jane Boyer: Your subjects are often elderly, you are a young adult; what are you exploring in the topic of ageing and the elderly?

MT: People are often drawn to images that depict the appealing side of old age. I have been looking at these romantic versions as well as the social and moral [issues], particularly the care of the elderly, the sacrifice involved. Sitting in an old people’s home as a young adolescent really stuck with me. I found the banality of it really shocking. The quality of life is so diminished and yet the confirmation of life lived, so explicit, and in some cases, so contained, unreachable. What was most striking was the isolation of each person in the room. They are agonizingly remote from each other, from their visitors. There is great pathos in the discrepancy between the outward and inner life.

In response to the issues of abuse, invisibility and poverty surrounding ageing, I painted Not Dead Yet, a vivid and joyful scene of an elderly couple dancing. There is an element of fading away, a nostalgic nod to a bygone age, living with memories – the old man is featureless and she shimmers somehow, almost stepping off the corner of the painting but the overall effect is life affirming. There is warmth and laughter and tenderness.

JB: There is a delicacy and a fragility to your painting technique, is this at all related to your subject of ageing? Did you have a sense of the boundary between your projections and perceptions of her [Woman with Cardigan] and the reality in the experience of her presence?

Woman with Cardigan (c)2010 Melanie Titmuss

Woman with Cardigan (c)2010 Melanie Titmuss oil on canvas

MT: Woman with Cardigan was painted from a sketch from life so it has this quality more so. Having to ‘fill in the gaps’, I found that I projected qualities onto her. A friend described her as ‘kind of not here, elsewhere’ but her actual presence was overwhelming. When I’d completed the sketch in her presence, I realised I’d captured something else: a frail, ethereal version of a tall, robust woman who was animated and resolved to stand for her entire conversation with somebody seated. Picking up on certain visual signs, I immediately endowed her with old age; exaggerating her ‘old lady’ characteristics to create the archetypal one, stooped and weighed down by this enormous cardigan. A mind’s picture will conjure a visceral impression, based on the physical sensation of a person nearby – the potential for interaction. To engage with another person is a process of searching and illuminating and this was the case without knowing her face, or her knowing mine.

JB: Your paintings are quite psychologically intense, not in their struggle but in their quietude.  They capture a sense of living a life and the effects of that living, the compromises, the pain, the joy.  When you connect with these individuals in that moment of observation, what passes through your mind?

MT: How people carry their lives around with them. I don’t wonder particularly what the experiences are that have bought them to this moment, just what is visible and what is not, how the body responds to the ravages of ones life’s events. How fragile and unforgiving it is. How a face at rest is open to interpretation. I want to portray them just as they appear, not to project suffering or any emotion onto them. I have painted sleeping teenagers, women talking on their mobile phones, someone stealing a microwave – I am looking across the entire spectrum of possibilities, encounters and circumstances. The pain and joy in all of it.

Bupleigh Mansions (c)2012 Melanie Titmuss

Bupleigh Mansions (c)2012 Melanie Titmuss oil on canvas

JB:  “Within a constant flow of people, anonymity and custom create a definite one of interior and exterior. So even though I observe and paint individuals, it’s the collective that I’m interested in.”  That is a really interesting statement on the source of the interior and exterior self, can you explain that further?  What is in the ‘collective’ that interests you?

MT: The connection to place, each other and ourselves; the sensations and movement that are specifically bound to transient space form an experience that is both internal and shared. I am talking mostly about non-space – i.e. mall space, suburban space, corporate space, generic or interchangeable space – the space of postmodernity. They are communal areas that stimulate a unique level of perception and consciousness, and the habitual presence of strangers can inspire a sense of participation, reassurance and continuity.  It is deceptive and the energy of it, quite seductive, ‘dwelling in the throng, in the ebb and flow, the bustle, the fleeting and the infinite.’ Though for many, these journeys take place within one’s ordinary sphere of existence, they are far from mundane.  Merging into the crowd, with all those arriving and departing, ‘you are delivered from all depth – a brilliant mobile superficial neutrality, a challenge to meaning and profundity, a challenge to nature and culture.’[1]

Man waiting for tram (c)2011 Melanie Titmuss

Man waiting for a tram (c)2011 Melanie Titmuss oil on canvas

JB: Do we see the toll taken by socialization in your paintings?

MT: All of the individuals I’ve selected to paint could only be in a metropolis. Fully contained, there is no interaction and therefore no projection at all – no awareness, no anticipation (on their part). Because of this, no decision or distinction is made regarding what to put forward, or reveal.  All that is visible is a barely responsive exterior.  The sheer volume and flow of people in the city can contribute to a sense of ‘conscious-less’, and is usually an opportunity to switch off.  This indifference, characteristic to the figures in my paintings, suggests the social is almost taken away.  You wonder what is revealed in this state of consciousness, just mindless projections on to others perhaps.


[1] Jean Baudrillard. America, Verso Books, 1989, p.124

In an effort to raise funds for This ‘Me’ of Mine, I’ve asked the artists to share a list of books they find informative for their practice. Follow the links here or visit the Bookshop to see all the books suggested so far. We hope you will see something inspiring for your own interests.

If you enjoyed this interview, be sure to participate in our This ‘Me’ of Mine Companion Book head-count, see the footer section at the bottom of the page for the sign-up form and more information.

Melanie’s Reading List:

On Photography by Susan Sontag

Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity by Marc Augé

The Future of Nostalgia by Svetlana Boym

The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies by Roland Barthes

Mythologies by Roland Barthes

London: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd

The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton

The Tourist Gaze by John Urry

The Letters of Van Gogh by Ronald de Leeuw & Arnold J. Pomerans

America by Jean Baudrillard

Jane’s Additions:

The Life and Death of Images by Diarmuid Costello and Dominic Willsdon

Wim Wenders: Places, Strange and Quiet by Wim Wenders

Matisse in Morocco by Jack Cowart

Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes

If you enjoy what you see here, follow the progress of the project by clicking the ‘follow’ button at the bottom of the page and share content you really like using the ‘share this’ buttons below each article.

Leave us a comment too, we would love to talk with you.

If you would like to support the project contact me at


Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I Am a Black Box

David Riley is an artist’s artist – he works with raw ideas and even when these concepts have attained a ‘result’, as David calls them, they are still wide open for interpretation, further development and wide ranging tangential possibilities.  His work could be seen as a springboard to so many other ideas in so many possible media.  I continue to be amazed by his output and the sheer magnitude of his inspiration pool.

David also is a keen blogger and has written several blogs on a-n Artists Talking.  Two of his blogs have been chosen as ‘Choice Blog’, the most recent by Linda Stupart.  FORMAT is an artwork and a unique blog, as Stupart points out in her article; it is uniquely David Riley.    It uses the a-n blogging platform to explore the “facilities and limits within the context of an a-n blog,” as David writes in his intro.  He explains, “this should not, in any way, be taken as criticism. The intent is to explore the limit of the facilities offered by an a-n blog (implied and actual) as a form of visual enquiry”.

Stupart says, “Riley’s collapsing of form and content then is notable within the collective blog imaginary, which often fails to be critical of its own formal structure in a way that other types of practice could never get away with.  Through an explication of limitation FORMAT also reminds us of the incredible potential of blogs as medium, as well as making visible the otherwise invisible restrictions of the institutionalized blog – a very big, fairly convoluted white cube, but a container nonetheless.”

See what I mean – a springboard wide open for possibilities.

Jane Boyer: The statement on each of your blogs reads, “I am a black box, an abstract device evolved to hide the complexities within. Given the appropriate stimulus, I can be triggered to display a transient pop-up model of my inner self and disclose a little of what would otherwise remain secret.” 

Beyond the stated reason ‘to hide the complexities within’, why do you present yourself as an object and your inner self as a ‘transient pop-up model’?

David Riley: I don’t intend to ‘present myself as an object’; a black box is a system metaphor so I use it to present myself as a system, a complex system that no one can fully understand (not even me).

The ‘pop-up model’ idea was planted by Richard Taylor when he interviewed me for an a-n Degrees Unedited Blogger Profile back in 2010. The idea meshed quite naturally with my experience as an engineer, where I often analysed systems that were new to me by treating them as a black box in order to understand their true function.  At art college we were encouraged to self-analyse our output and I found myself not fully understanding how I travelled from initial concept to final outcome. So, now I find it useful to think of myself as a black box where every new line of enquiry has the potential to reveal more of my inner (often hidden) self and my motivations for doing what I do.

679-607-700 (c)2012 David Riley

679-607-700 (c)2012 David Riley, post-it note and ink

JB: Your blog REMNANTS could be seen as a companion piece to FORMAT in its use of the blogging platform limitations.  Your introduction statement is a philosophical one and reminds me of Deleuze’s observation “Underneath all reason lies delirium, and drift.”[1]  You state:

“Everything is T R A N S I E N T.

Although the tools here at a-n (and in general on the world wide web) try very hard to make everything permanent, this is not the natural order.  Any impression of permanence is illusionary. The nature of the universe is for everything to return to the universe for reuse.  I have removed (from this blog) everything the a-n system allows me to delete. I could hide the rest by unpublishing it, but this does not release the storage space for reuse.

So here we have a new outcome based on everything that has gone before: the R E M N A N T S.”

Can you comment on that existential triumvirate – memory, transience and reason, in relation to your enquiries and do you feel they are as present in your work as for someone who is working in more traditional media?

DR: If memory is knowledge and experience; if transience is the coming and going of a new influence or a loss of knowledge through lack of use; and if reason is the use of knowledge and experience to filter the infinite possibility into a manageable focus; then yes these factors are most definitely present in my work.

JB: You have two works in This ‘Me’ of Mine, twitter user names: coded (follow the link on David’s page to see the virtual version of twitter names) and bar EP blues (kinetatic), tell us what is behind the further coding of what is often already a code name in the twitter piece.

DR: I chose to translate the twitter user name into a different form, a form that would retain the full meaning but hide it in plain sight. As I wanted to use twitter, this had to be in a form that would still fit within the limitation of a tweet. If you can read my code then you can read the name, the meaning hasn’t changed. But even this is little more than a side-effect. My concept was to take the names and present them in what is to me a visually interesting way while at the same time engaging new people who might interact with me and stimulate new paths of exploration.

stringing code triptych (c)2012 David Riley

stringing code triptych (c)2012 David Riley, wood, steel angle brackets, screws, steel hooks, bungee cord and nylon bungee hooks, editable wall mountable sculpture/ re-mountable installation; 144cm x 144cm x 4cm

JB: I admire the ease with which you move between codes and systems.  Your latest enquiries, stringing words, involve stringing bungee cords which represent the alphabet, short phrases and now names.  You mentioned earlier that you see text as code and so all language is code to you, does this affect your notions of communication and how you relate to others?

DR: My life has been riddled with codes, as a systems engineer I see them everywhere; consequently I am very comfortable with codes. On reflection, using codes may be a strategy, being an artist is relatively new and I prefer to keep an aspect of the process familiar while I explore other aspects for the first time. Changing one variable at a time is a familiar strategy for experimentation, working with the familiarity of codes allows me to handle the unfamiliarity of materials and reactions to my work. It helps me focus on the new connections I make with people and ideas through sharing my output.  I am always absorbing new things and this feedback can influence and encourage something new further down the line. It is rare for this process to change my own perspective on the work, but it does happen on occasion, when it does this can lead to a new line of enquiry or a variation on an old one.

Maybe there will come a time when I move on and explore a different aspect, one that takes a step away from code into a less familiar territory. Although experience suggests codes will always be there somewhere.

In an effort to raise funds for This ‘Me’ of Mine, I’ve asked the artists to share a list of books they find informative for their practice.  Follow the links here or visit the Bookshop to see all the books suggested so far.  We hope you will see something inspiring for your own interests.

David’s Reading List:
The Janus Aspect: Artists in the Twenty-first Century by John Tusa

The Infinite Line: Re-making Art After Modernism by Briony Fer

Lines: A Brief History by Tim Ingold

Cryptography (Very Short Introductions) by Fred C. Piper and Sean Murphy

You’ll Never Know: Drawing and Random Interference by Henry Krokatsis, Jeni Walwin and James Flint

The Cloudspotter’s Guide: The Science, History, and Culture of Clouds by Gavin Pretor-Pinney

UML Distilled: A Brief Guide to the Standard Object Modeling Language by Martin Fowler and Kendall Scott

Use Your Head: How to Unleash the Power of Your Mind by Tony Buzan

Jane’s Additions:

The Ghost in the Machine by Arthur Koestler

Phenomenology of Perception by Maurice Merleau-Ponty

If you enjoy what you see here, follow the progress of the project by clicking the ‘follow’ button at the bottom of the page and share content you really like using the ‘share this’ buttons below each article.

Leave us a comment too, we would love to talk with you.

If you would like to support the project contact me at


[1] L’île déserte et autres textes (2002). Trans. Desert Islands and Other Texts 1953-1974 (2003). p. 262.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Anchors of Observation

Strange Fruit (c)2007 Aly Helyer

Strange Fruit (c)2007 Aly Helyer, ink on paper, 67 x 101 cm

I first worked with Aly Helyer in April 2011.  She was one of three winners of the 2010 Core Gallery Open; the other winning artists were Tom Butler and Marion Michell.  The prize was an exhibition of their work called Extra-Ordianary, and extraordinary it was.  I co-curated this exhibition with Rosalind Davis.  During the artists/curator dialogue each artist made a PowerPoint presentation discussing their backgrounds; that was when I saw Aly’s Strange Fruit – I melted where I stood.

The simplicity of process, pouring and puddling ink, combined with a personal trust in the power of artistic creation gives these works a complex psychological tension.  Aly made a series of these images during a time of personal difficulty.  They carry the innocence of child’s play and exude human turmoil.  They are delicate, fragile and vulnerable but with a captivating presence and force.

I knew immediately I wanted to exhibit this work.  I asked Aly at the end of the dialogue session if she would like to exhibit them in a show I was putting together and she said yes with no further hesitation.  Elation!  Now I had to put a show together.  I didn’t know what it would be about or who the other artists would be, all I knew was I had Aly and I was thrilled.

Hot Lady (c)2010 Aly Helyer

Hot Lady (c)2010 Aly Helyer, oil on linen, 56 x 42 cm

Jane Boyer: Are you working with specific ideas of individuals in mind when you locate the ‘eye’ or ‘mouth’ and develop the portrait from there or is it purely fictional?

Aly Helyer: No I wouldn’t say specific individuals, although when a painting is finished something about it can remind me of someone I know or once knew. Mostly though they feel very familiar as if I’ve known them all my life, but this is the first time I’ve truly seen or recognised them.

JB: How does memory function in this approach for you?

AH: Everything is filtered through memory whether directly observed or not, nothing is objective, we all see and remember things differently, but I am also interested in an older shared memory, a universal memory. A friend took me to see the Tito Bustillo cave a few years back and it was incredible how these drawings and paintings from thousands of years ago had the power to trigger something deep in my own memory, there was an amazing connection, a familiarity there.

 “It was the first time everything I was making was made on the floor, it was very much process based another first for me, just pouring inks and watercolours and letting them find their place…I wanted to surprise myself, searching for something I hadn’t seen before, emptying my head of all the crap, all the people, even myself as far as this is possible. Gradually something resembling heads started to appear, lots of them and it was as if they were having conversations with each other. This was my journey back to painting.”

Happy Family with Sheep (c)2007 Aly Helyer

Happy Family with Sheep (c)2007 Aly Helyer, watercolour and ink on paper, 31 x 23 cm

JB: How did this experience, which we see examples of in Strange Fruit and Happy Family with Sheep, affect your work overall?

AH: It was a very difficult period of my life; the studio slowly became a safe place for me to have some fun, to start experimenting and it was the first time in my life I hadn’t worked from observation. It was a very liberating time for me, this way of working and the openness it allows is still very much with me now.

I see Happy Family with Sheep as a kind of ending, closing a chapter of my life; it came out of obliterating an early piece of work, but it also contains the seeds of some of the processes that you see in later works. Strange Fruit was really the catalyst, the first work I made without any anchors.

JB: Your method, if we can call it that, has moved from outward observation to inward intuition to letting the painting develop on its own terms.  Is this significant for you?  Does this relate at all to how you see your own position in the world?

AH: Initially it was very important to move away from outward observation, it came out of necessity for me, and I had to close myself off from the real world for a while although outward observation is creeping back into the work acting as little anchors.

I think it was [Philip] Guston who said something about searching for the technique, and the technique becoming inseparable from the object, an interlocking of image and paint, so yes the methods or techniques that I use are incredibly important as they allow me to get closer to this way of working, sort of trapping the image that I arrive at. The act of making paintings is a way of me trying to figure out my place in the world and how I relate to it.


­­­­­­­Aly’s suggested reading:

James Elkins – What Painting Is

Herschel B. Chip – Theories of Modern Art

Giles Deleuze – Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation

Jane’s suggestions:

David Sylvester – Francis Bacon The Human Body

Rudolf Arnheim – Art and Visual Perception

Samuel Beckett – Three Novels

T.S. Eliot – The Wasteland, Prufrock and Other Poems


Mistress (c)2011 Aly Helyer

Mistress (c)2012 Aly Helyer, oil on linen on board, 77 x 62 cm

Aly was invited to be part of The Perfect Nude, curated by Phillip Allen and Dan Coombs who asked over 100 artists to make paintings of the nude in hope the show will create a rich network of images that will establish a context for representation of the body in contemporary painting.  This exhibition, opened at Wimbledon Space in January and travels to Phoenix Gallery in Exeter later this month:

Thursday 29th March – Saturday 12th May 2012

Open Monday to Saturday 10am – 6pm (closed Bank Holidays)

Phoenix Gallery | Exeter Phoenix | Bradninch Place | Exeter EX4 3LS

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: