i. Last week, instead of going into uni, I travelled to Cardiff to meet artist and curator Liam O’Connor (also known by his pseudonym Casper White). I had enjoyed Liam’s work at the National Portrait Gallery earlier in the year and, following a crit at the end of last term, Dan Howard-Birt put me touch with him. Liam’s proposal for his 2017 BP Portrait Travel Award was to go clubbing in Europe, and photograph, paint and draw people ‘being in the moment’. I think there are a lot of similarities between his work and my current project about the pub. In a recent interview in CCQ Magazine Liam explains:
‘The feelings that exist in a night club, or a rock club are pretty timeless, in that they could’ve existed in the ’50s, ’40s, ’20s, and before that. I was looking at art collections, when I was in Germany, and they have pub scenes from the 1900s, and there are people with masks on, and there’s... frivolity. The artists aren’t painting them to say, ‘we’ve got bars’, but because ‘this is what’s happening’. And that’s where things happen; it’s where people meet – lovers, partners... prostitutes; it’s where people get together, split up; it’s where real moments happen. Later, the work became about these minor sensations, minor moments.’
Liam was generous with his time: we visited the National Museum Cardiff, G39 and his studio; and we spent the whole day talking about our work, Cardiff’s art scene and contemporary portraiture. He gave me lots of professional advice and said I should stay in touch. It was brilliant to be back in Cardiff (where I completed my BA) and Liam is a good contact to have made. An encouraging day.
ii. Whilst at the National Museum Cardiff we visited the Artes Mundi 8. The Artes Mundi frequently slips into worthiness with international artists asked to make work responding to ‘the urgent issues of our time’. However, it can also be inspiring, exciting and surprising: in my final year at Cardiff, Theaster Gates won the award for a huge installation comprised of symbolic, religious-looking sculptures and then went on to split the prize money with the other shortlisted artists. This year I particularly enjoyed Anna Boghiguian’s A Meteor Fell from the Sky, a monumental installation about the steel industry and the communities affected by it. It was an enormous and playful show comprised of drawings, text, sculpture and Ken Kiff-like painted cut-outs. I’m nervous about the idea of attempting anything too ambitious with the presentation of my work - I really worry it will look contrived - however it was exciting to see such an impressive and ambitious display.
iii. At the Artes Mundi, Liam and I discussed whether or not art always needs to be socially-engaged or political. I don’t think it does but, when making work about people and contemporary life, it’s almost unavoidable. An article was recently published by the Guardian about the rate of pubs closing. Celebrating the pub and its community feels relevant and necessary. I keep being asked (in crits and tutorials) what I want the viewer to think or feel in the presence of my work, and themes of gentrification, loneliness and community have been mentioned. I welcome the discourse but don’t my work to deliver an explicit ‘message’ for fear of appearing didactic or condescending.
iv. I genuinely haven’t been sure about how well I’ve been doing on the course and have been anxious and stressed throughout. However I have newfound confidence having received my written feedback for Unit One this week:
‘Your confidence in the validity of your path is now strong enough for you to progress with energy and ambition. You have gathered a strong contextual underpinning to your practice an should now feel confident to make the most of Unit two without the anxiety of questioning your work’s relevance. You are highly engaged in your professional development and motivated in the pursuit of your work.’