Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Progress report for MAFA UKZN July 2015

I want to apologize in advance for the dreadful formatting in this post. I am a bit of a techno idiot and have spent hours trying to line everything up and get the font right but despite my best efforts Blogger doesn't like me today.

Progress Report

I decided to do a masters in fine art after meeting Ian Calder from UKZN at my exhibition ‘Body Vessel Archetype’ at artSPACE Durban in 2012.

This exhibition consisted of paintings and ceramic vessels and tried to reflect my interest in the relationship between body and psyche, body and soul. The vessel symbolising the body. The body as the physical Vessel for the soul in this Lifetime. The Soul, it could be argued, being at the core of the Psyche. The journey of the body/vessel/psyche through life and the slow revealing of the true Self, the Soul, through Life’s challenges. The connection between the physical, mental, psychological, emotional and the spiritual.  Furthermore the connection between us as Individuals and the Collective.  (The concept of us all being linked not just to other humans but to the rest of the Animal Kingdom and Nature as a whole.)

Here is a quote I found and used at the exhibition. It seemed to sum up so much of what I was wanting to say.

"Each of us starts out a watertight vessel. And these things happen - these people leave us, or don't love us, or don't get us, or we don't get them, and we lose and fail and hurt one another. And the vessel starts to crack open in places . . . Once the vessel cracks open, the end becomes inevitable . . . But there is all this time between when the cracks start to open up and when we finally fall apart. And it is only in that time that we can see one another, because we see out of ourselves through our cracks and into others through theirs."- John Green- Paper Towns

I decided to take these ideas further during my time as a masters student, the first year culminating in an exhibition entitled Personal Myth, Collective Dream. Below is the artist statement for the exhibition:

Personal Myth, Collective Dream (2014)

Joseph Campbell talks of personal myths as dreams and collective dreams as myths.

Each of us has a personal myth that shows itself to us through our dreams. It further reveals itself through the patterns in our lives, choices we make, stories we are drawn to and images we work with. Our myth impacts our everyday lives and influences who we are and how we behave.

When we become aware of our mythology, both on a personal and a collective level, through a journey into the psyche we gain the opportunity of facing and changing our story. Each part of the journey brings us a step closer to Individuation which, in Jungian terms, is a transforming process where the personal and collective unconscious are integrated into consciousness.

One of the ways this journey is being explored is through my artwork.

The theme of the forest in my oil paintings represents that journey into the psyche, an unknown environment in which the adventure takes place. In order to capture the atmosphere of the forests I have focused on mark making and tone using ‘Grisaille’ (grey scale) allowing forms to emerge from the tones and the marks.

Hermes, in ancient Greece, was the mythological messenger of the gods and god of transition and boundaries. He features in my work as a guide on my journey into the myth in the form of winged shoes and feet.

 My childhood love of Pollock’s Miniature Theatres inspired my three dimensional theatres and two dimensional etchings. Each construction embodies one of the ‘rooms in my mythological house’. In analytical psychology the house represents the psyche. The sets; story, decor, characters and images symbolize aspects of my psyche that I am endeavouring to become aware of, accept and befriend. There is also something metaphorical about ‘The Theatre of Life’ and acting out the scenes.

Think of all the legends, myths and faerie stories where one finds a house in the forest and the guide that, in various forms, helps the protagonist to find a way out. These narratives link us all past and present- all part of the Collective memory.

This journey is ongoing.

This exhibition felt like a natural half way point for my masters. From experience and knowledge of my tendencies, it was important to give myself that self imposed deadline as I can easily spend my time endlessly trying new things and a focus like this reigns me in and forces me to focus.

Below outlines the creative journey leading up to this exhibition and describes the process that followed and continues now, with the aim of completing my masters at the end of this year.


I started off by taking the images, ideas and techniques in my sketch book and translating them into a 3D prototype cardboard house. I then started reproducing what I had done in cardboard into porcelain.

I liked the results however I was now concerned with the fact that this mythical house that I was exploring with Estelle Hudson using active imagination and using as inspiration had many rooms. Not just one. I therefore needed to find a way of creating a ceramic house with many rooms. I had decided on porcelain rather than other clays because of the fine work the material lends itself to and the translucent quality of the clay. As beautiful unglazed as glazed, with a depth to it rather like when one looks at skin and gets a sense of its depth and translucency. And after all in looking into the psyche I am looking metaphorically speaking beneath the skin. 

I was inspired at this stage by images of stacked rooms/flats and started building my own stacked house out of cardboard boxes. Although I liked some of the combinations of images I wasn’t very impressed with the piece in general. It looked rather like a kindergarten project.

In the meantime I started experimenting with different surface applications on porcelain samples to get layered image effects. This is a theme that repeats itself often in my work, layering images. Life is complex and there are always many hidden layers to people, emotions, motives, concepts, philosophies, conversations, dreams, myths, and so on. Sometimes something shows through from beneath.

I was happy with these samples and confident that I could get a combination of layered textures, patterns, images and colour all working together but the issue needing to be resolved was the form; How to build a house full of rooms in porcelain. I moved into making some open rooms with three walls and a black and white tiled floor; A recurrent feature in my dreams. I liked these rooms to a point but the walls were very prone to warping and the pieces didn’t feel complete. I also liked the idea of how these would look stacked but it all seemed rather precarious.

I then came up with the idea of making miniature theatres. As a child I used to make miniature Pollock Theatres and they really fired my imagination.

For the exhibition I decided to work on some wooden prototypes. Getting the concepts and imagery right at this stage and then using them to inspire the art work on the porcelain theatres.

I have made three porcelain theatres so far but again they are very prone to warping and cracking. I have yet to draw all the images on with oxides and glaze them but in general they are attractive pieces and look complete form wise.


The next step will be to perfect the theatres. For this I will probably have to make the walls, the front, the base and the scene changes etc separately by cutting out slabs of the right size and shape, adding onto each the oxide images, glazes and textures and joining them together after firing. Working on these individual slabs will make it easier to perfect the artwork on each piece before assembling the final theatre. As they currently are the erected walls make it hard to get the imagery as I want it and therefore the art making in and on the theatres is not up to standard.

As well as the theatres, I have been making porcelain winged shoes. 

The winged shoes as mentioned before allude to the role Hermes plays in this particular journey.

In ancient Greek mythology, he moved freely between the realms of mortals and gods, of the consciousness and the unconscious and is therefore a good guide to have when exploring ones' dreams. He features in my work in the form of winged shoes and feet. And in keeping with the theme of the theatre, the shoes are themselves theatrical.

Inspiration: Lee Kavaljian. Grayson Perry and the Victoria and Albert museum ceramic galleries. Kiki Smith has also been a great inspiration with her mixed media. Kiki ‘is a leading figure among artists addressing the human condition, the body, and the realms of spirituality and nature in work spanning mediums from sculpture and printmaking to installation and textiles.’

Throughout my ceramics, as with my paintings, you will also be able to see my love of textiles and pattern.


My painting has taken up most of my creative energy recently with some real highs and lows. Doing representational paintings doesn't pose the biggest challenge for me but moving away from 'reproducing the subject matter' towards a painting that relies on aspects that are not so much seen but felt and intuited is a far harder task for me. I am no longer aiming to produce purely representational work. One of the challenges here is to know what to do and when to stop. Looking to myself for the answers rather than to the reference. Not something I find easy.

The forest paintings that I did for my last exhibition were tonal paintings, with colour coming through from underneath instead of on top, with a great emphasis on mark making and a degree of layering in the form of silk screen printing on to the canvas before painting allowing the silk screened theatre image to come through in areas. This was an exercise in tone for me spurred on by Ian after he'd seen a rather dodgy painting of a colourful fig tree I had done and brought in to show him. He had pointed to an area of the painting I had worked on the least, in fact barely at all, and declared that this was his favourite bit of the painting. He then suggested I tried some purely tonal painting...

The forests represented the journey into the unknown, into the psyche and as such weren’t supposed to be pretty pictures. They were supposed to be pensive and just a little uncomfortable. Well executed but with a strong emphasis on creating the right atmosphere. On the surface they were representational but with far more to them. In the forest one finds the mythical house.

The next series of paintings are going to be very different. I am moving out of the forest into the house. 

Each painting is going to be an interior with figures and other elements that have the same layered, dream like quality as the photograph collages I produced for the last exhibition. Each painting could therefore not only be seen as a part of a room in my mythological house but also, tying in the theme of the theatre, a scene in a play.

Also until now I have been too focused on trying to work out the meaning of the images and setting which rather held me back as I was not allowing the images in the painting process to come up spontaneously and was therefore rather stuck in the theory and battling to move into the practical.

Trui Rooseveld Van Der Ven, a local Durban artist was very inspirational. She just painted her dreams, just allowing the images to emerge and not focusing, before or during the painting process, on why and what. So I’m letting go of the theory at this stage and just painting and allowing the images to emerge. Trusting that like in a dream, when painting, the psyche knows what images to use.  Later I will sit with Estelle and discuss any meaning. There was also an element of playfulness in Trui’s work which spoke to me as I can be very serious and pedantic about my work.

Other artists that I find particularly inspirational at the moment are, amongst others, Tiffen Python and Sol Halabi

The elements of a painting that I am aiming to achieve include:

A very conscious focus on each mark that I make. If a mark or combination of marks can be beautiful then I want to create beautiful marks with a good balance; large, small, soft, sharp, short, long, thick, thin, wide, tapered etc. Ones that say what I want them to say without being too obvious. Ones that look spontaneous. Not too laboured. I suppose this comes with practice.

Having said this, I also want to give chance a role. So as well as the very conscious marks I also want to have areas of the painting that happen by chance. When I work with paper I spend hours creating interesting surfaces, textures, patterns and images combined on different types of paper. I rip the papers up into pieces then randomly pick pieces from different piles and place them together. This allows for chance to play a role and if I’m lucky I get beautiful and unexpected elements playing together that I could never have consciously come up with myself. When I worked with canvas off the frame for my exhibition ‘Adornment in Borderland’ I applied the same principle.

I would apply layers of colour, sand the canvas down exposing colours underneath. I would stitch and rip and create piles of beautiful pieces of coloured, textured and patterned canvas that I would then stitch together before painting something on top.(As mentioned above, I am a great lover of textiles, pattern and layering. Matisse is one of my favourites although I apply my use of textiles and pattern to my work in a very different way and can only ever dream of being able to use colour the way he did).

As mentioned earlier, layering is a theme that repeats itself often in my work. Life is complex and there are always many hidden layers to people, emotions, motives, concepts, philosophies, conversations, dreams, myths, and so on. Sometimes something shows through from beneath. To play around with different ways of adding layers of images onto a painting which will probably result in going too far in some cases and ruining the painting. Which has happened. But I suppose we learn the most from our mistakes and knowing when to stop.

To risk going too far. Here is a painting strongly influenced by Sol Halabi. A self portrait in a forest. There were elements I liked but I just could not get it to gel together. Probably among the reasons is that I was using a classical approach for the figure against a highly colourful, patterned background. I pushed it too far trying to get the elements to work together and ended up painting over it. Learned a lot though.

An understanding of colour which includes a use of it that is at one time subtle and yet deep, rich and unexpected.  To make the most of different types of paint e.g. opaque and translucent and techniques such as glazing and scumbling to bring out the most in the paints/colours. Something yet to be fully explored is that I love colour and playing with it but am still unsure whether my tendency to use a more subtle palette is erring on the side of caution out of uncertainty or whether my palette is naturally more muted. 

A balance of quiet and busy areas. A challenge for me to allow quieter areas. I panic and want to fill them with something.

Applying basic classical compositional rules to the painting without being too obvious but also playing with throwing the composition out a little with, again, something unexpected.

When adding the more representational aspects to the paintings to continue with the specific kind of light that I like in my work which is more dramatic and chiaroscuro like if you will.

To create a dream like environment and feeling in my paintings using the elements I have talked about above that evokes a sense of something beyond and has the viewer wondering. Below are sections of some works in progress.

Into this environment to add images, figures and objects that have come up in the active imagination work I have been doing with Estelle. It is also important for the painting to speak to others and to allow for the viewer’s own interpretation and perhaps projection. 

I am currently painting figures classically starting with grisaille, then adding layers of scumbling and glazing to get the same layers of colour in one area that skin seems to have. Below are some sections of works in progress.

I may well not stick to the classical approach as I also enjoy the looser mark making colourful approach to portrait painting and painting in general but feel that my future work would benefit from some time focusing on form through grisaille and exploring the use of many thin layers of colour.

So this is a summary of where I am currently and gives some ideas and direction for the coming months. I’m sure I haven’t covered everything. As mentioned earlier the aim is to complete my masters at the end of the year and take my ideas further once it is completed. 

For this post masters phase I would like to move away from my personal psyche, my personal mythical house and journey and towards the collective psyche.