4. Practice and perfection – how not to feed the inner critic

It is good to have friends.  Especially those friends who are understanding about creative impulses, the desire to express in words something that can only be seen and felt and whose houses have large windows that they don’t mind you slapping a load of poster paint all over them and will even provide cups of hot peppermint tea.  True friendship indeed. So it was that I turned up at a friends house, poster paints and dog in tow to create some noise.  Having previously been a watercolour, pencil and Sharpie woman I was excited to use a new medium. After washing down all the windows we (my friend, her daughter and myself) began to create.  I started off by outlining one of my favourite quotations by Audre Lorde ( https://collectiveliberation.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Lorde_The_Masters_Tools.pdf).

“The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”

The harsh but strong truth that lies behind the saying and the essay it came from is reminiscent of other caribbean proverbs  that I use on a daily basis to inform my waking life.   ‘Alligator lay egg, but ‘I’m not fowl’ is a particular favourite of mine and is a cautionary tale for  those who prefer to believe only what they are told rather than finding out for themselves. On the theme of alligators is another saying I like – ‘Alligator shouldn’t call hog long mout’ a saying that can apply to us all at some point in our lives.

With no plan in mind other than to see what poster paint can do on glass I sketched in words and figures. Problem number one appeared, the outline done in water based pen was too weak.  Repeatedly going over the work didn’t cause greater strength in line – it just caused smudging and a blurring I did not want.  Second problem became clear on opening  the poster paints –  there was no brown.  White, yes, green, blue, yellow, red and black but no brown.  Not brave enough to start mixing primary colours together I shrugged my shoulders and began to paint.  Brushes ranged from sponges to my own collection of watercolour paintbrushes.

Hands became mixing boards

 

Swirls were particularly good fun but also created movement and a sense of fun into the story

 

Texture was made using short sharp brush or sponge strokes and colours were put on top of each other creating lines that represented borders within the figure.

My trademark of stories within stories began to show some of the limitations of using poster paint.  The positives were the ability to create movement and texture in a way not easily recreated in Sharpie but the whole was too disjointed, the important inner narrative was lost and although fun to do the colouring was all wrong.

I didn’t want ethereal.  I didn’t want to recreate a lifeless stained glass where the viewer already knows the story and thus comes to the reading with their perceptions, judgments and preconditioning intact.  My drawn figures embody their pain, they or the landscapes reveal their suffering and mix this with the richness that comes form loving, hoping, and caring despite what we have been given.  My work is grounded in reality even if it does hide sometimes behind a layer of imaginative landscaping.

 

Leaf work became clunky and lifeless

 

It was going to be hard to transpose the key elements of the Leeds landscape into poster paint.
The lines were not as crisp as they should have been and detailed work would become lost with the background behind the window.
And when viewed from a distance the impact of the colours was lost.

 

Thus, poster paint had to go.  Remembering that

‘ebry day a fishing day but no every day fe ketch fish

(reward does not necessarily follow the amount of work you put into something) it was time for a rethink.  This was not a time to panic, after all, the painting session had been lots of fun and we had learnt about the weakness and strengths of poster paint on windows (something I would like to return too).  Not all was lost.  But this is when the inner critic began to growl.  Whispering its toxic thoughts it sought a reaction of panic, of belittling, of the desire for perfection.

It is at times like this that I really do believe that we have a choice.  A choice over how we decide to react to a situation.  So whilst I felt the cry to abandon all hope, to declare my self stupid and a failure, I choose instead to reflect on what I had achieved for myself and for my friends.  Her windows had been cleaned – free of charge – two generations had bonded over a shared project that had emancipation as its goal, we had listened to each other and tried new things in a supported way.

These were things to be celebrate.

Yes, I also had to rethink what I was going to do, but I was going to do it in a way that understands that  failure can be a good thing, something not to be afraid or ashamed about, after all,

it is never wise to hang you clothes all pan one nail!’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. The best laid plans – imagination verses practicalities

A very kind and tolerant friend allowed me to practice on her windows with poster paint.

 

My original idea  was to fill up a large window in an unoccupied shop in Leeds city centre.  

Having knocked around in Leeds for over 40 years I hate seeing empty shops.  They become a hole in the high streets, filling up with the detritus of indifferent passers-by  and  corners overflow with old or soiled newspapers, empty cans, the odd street hardened pigeon, and in one case, a mans shoe with no laces, all items quietly creating mini mountains in the doorways.

As time passes by the windows become opaque, smeared with grime and dirt and all semblance of what was becomes a dirty shell.  But more than this, empty shops become a fragmented mirror, reflecting the despair, despondency and emptiness that lies at the heart of our go-getting, got to achieve at all costs, ever so modern capitalist society (in my humble opinion).  As a lover of graffiti and quirky tags I asked if I could use an empty shop window to create a huge message board with quotations from black British music, poetry, narratives, and Caribbean proverbs.  I would display a range of curvaceous figures wrapped in skin ranging from blue black to my own weak latte.  Afro, corn rows, goddess braids, weaves, shaved heads and natural hair would adorn the heads of the women and out of their mouths would flow facts and stories about black living, past and present. After all, black people have lived in Britain since the Roman occupation and the main protagonist of Christianity – Jesus – was neither white nor English (sorry folks, no pale skin, blonde hair or blue eyes on the Son of God.  Jesus was a black man and he was Dread).

This was the plan and I could see it in my minds eye.  The unloved windows would be washed before use (mental list: washing up liquid, bottle of water, bucket and sponge), all dried down with old towels (check airing cupboard, ask around friends and see if they have any rags spare) and then I would have my list of Caribbean proverbs and stories, influential black and mixed heritage poets and writers, Jackie Kay, Bernardine Evaristo, Jean Binta Breeze,  Patience Agababi,  Merle Collins, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins,  Kelly Brown Douglas, Karen Baker Fletcher, Dorothea Smartt, E R Braithwaite, John Agard, David Dabydeen, Paul Gilroy, Anthony Reddie, Robert Beckford, David Olusoga to name a few, and believe me, the list could carry on for pages.

I will create a small, but significant space, full of colours and contrast using poster paint, I enthused to the Love Arts person.  A space where black and mixed heritage peoples could walk by and say “that’s part of me”  and “I am included in a canon of songs and words that speak aloud about my issues, my problems, my weights that hang low around my neck and it is here in Leeds, in art, through word and in deed and I am valued and legitimised.

My shop front would not be fitted into a convenient corner of a library, university, school or  museum and would be more than a collection of objects brought out each year for Black History Month with the leftovers of someone’s spit as they dusted it off with a part-used tissue in preparation for the weeks celebration of things that need to be included so boxes can be ticked and privilege and righteousness restored.  Instead, I rejoiced into the telephone, it will be a celebration of the spirit that makes a way out of no way (https://nmaahc.si.edu/making-way-out-no-way) .  For when you continually crush a people you also crush the soul,  that part that craves to be whole and connected with the deity of your choice and to each other as a living construct through love.   When you live in a racist society, believe me, you learn how to make a way around, through, above and below the  indifference, arrogance and othering that goes on.

Armed with my overflowing notebook holding between the pages those quotations that are not etched in my heart, I would set out, on my tod, into Leeds town centre with cleaning materials in one hand and a box of cheap poster paint from Wilko’s and some old paintbrushes in the other.

I was prepared to clean up Leeds town centre and make it a place where blackness is visible, celebrated and safe.

What went wrong? Well, it turns out it is just not that simple.  Empty shops are a magnet for rats and other vermin. They can be used by homeless people either as places to rest or as toilets so I might need more than a bucket of water and washing up liquid.  The shops might not be structurally sound, I  couldn’t be left alone in the shop  to paint without someone there for insurance reasons.  Landlords can  be tricky … the list went on and my ideas began to crumble. As a woman who prides herself on thinking most things through to at least three points ahead I just hadn’t thought of the practicalities of inhabiting an empty shop to make art.  Also, the co-ordinator patiently explained, there is the issue of getting the art work off the surfaces, as landlords might not appreciate political art work prominently and permanently etched on their windows.

I was told that there are a couple of shops who willingly hand over their shop window for the duration of the exhibition but, and this was heavily emphasised, it can’t be permanent ink and I have to be aware of where the shop is situated.  So no Sharpies (one of my main art tools) and no vaginas or breasts if the window was going to be in a family friendly place.  Used to compromising (you soon learn as a black child in a white-led environment that when a black person doesn’t compromise you are quickly labelled as ungrateful, angry, ignorant, violent, and a threat to society) I quickly did a re-think. The poster paint could stay (easy to wash off, cheap and readily available) and I would just work in one of the friendly shops that Love Arts already has links with.

So having put in a proposal of what I wanted to do (draw lots and lots of black and mixed heritage female forms interspersed with black and African American narratives, phrases, stories and proverbs); why I thought it needed to be done (to create spaces for dialogue and education surrounding black British achievements and raise some of the issues facing mixed heritage identities in Leeds); and how I intended doing it (erm, give me a window and I will  bring the poster paint and off we go) I sat back and forgot about it for a couple of weeks.

Now I am a very visual person and I am aware that this blog post has  all been text based.  The reason for this, in case you like me have never written a blog before, is it takes so long to do especially when you worry that the words might be the wrong ones, the phrasing might be too convoluted, and of course, what if someone hates all this and shatters my carefully constructed barricade.   In order to speed the process along I am not going to censure myself as much and just get the words down so hopefully future posts will become more frequent and I will have more time to put in pictures of things that worked and things that went wrong – and I have a lot of both.

In the next post I will reveal the journey I went on with poster paint and how it looked like it would work – really it did, and show you how and why it didn’t with examples.  I will start talking about the proverbs I am going to include in the final piece and what they mean and why I have included them .  But for now this is enough and I am going to publish this without spending two hours proofreading and instead,  I am going to use the time to walk the dog.  If you have any questions or requests around the quotations or issues I have mentioned then please feel free to get in touch.  In the meantime – take care.

 

 

 

 

1. In the beginning …

To receive an email addressed to ‘the Artist’ is a moment of awe, of wonder and also of sheer terror. The always present voice of doubt and indecision whispers ‘but you can’t be an artist – you just draw a bit when you are bored, waiting for appointments, annoyed, happy, sad, and of course, confused. That’s not what artists do. Artists create, they explode onto the scene with accompanying thrills and fanfare’.

Of course, this is not true but since when has truth ever mattered to the confusion that is my brain. So here I am. A dyslexic Arts and Minds Supported Artists and you, dear reader, are my audience. So please excuse any spelling mistakes or curious turns of phrasing. My mind is a chaotic jumble of thoughts, experiences, holes, and an insatiable curiosity to find out how this damn world ticks.

Hopefully my musings will highlight both practical and philosophical issues.  I will look at how I create my work and the ideas and thoughts behind the symbols used and the way symbols can be twisted, fractured and rediscovered as well as how one goes from a good idea written in a proposal to creating a piece of art that will be made  and exhibited in Leeds Museum.

I will explain how the idea was to originally use poster paints (an art medium I have never used)  which proved sadly incapable of revealing  light, colour and pattern in my work to decisions surrounding which type of Sharpie is good for permanently marking acrylic, to where exactly does one get a sodding great piece of cheap clear plastic and then how to sweet talk the bus driver into letting you onto a Metro bus without breaking the bus, the perspex or your fellow passengers.

A journey to Scrap, a Creative Reuse Art Project Ltd in Farsley (http://www.scrapstuff.co.uk) provided a rich array of acrylic, perspex and sticky back plastic for a reasonable amount.

I will explore and share my inspirations and fascinations as the work progresses and will reveal how Henry Moore’s Reclining Woman, who lies languid and silent outside Leeds art gallery, became a particular issue for me and how this once loved icon is re-read and re-imagined,  from my black mixed heritage feminist understanding,  to reclaim her as a Black Power feminist icon for Leeds.

It takes both nerve and thick skin to precariously balance on the edge of Henry Moore’s Reclining Woman to take a photograph at this angle especially when accompanied by helpful and not so helpful comments from strangers. Henry Moore – ‘Reclining Woman’ 1981

My new exploration of images using embroidery, a new phase for me, will also be posted as well as the more familiar and known images using pen and ink.  The embroidery out of a love of contrariness and things you can’t quite control as needle and thread, in my hands at least, refuse to conform to the ways of pen and paper leads to the expression of new emotions and thoughts.

As for the philosophical?  Well, the philosophical aspect happens any and every time we give in to our curiosity and ask ‘why?’ and I shall be doing that a lot.

So here’s to the beginning …

 

A doodle in embroidery was limited to two colours as that is all I had left in the box. That I do them as I go along is very much like my art work, having no use for a rubber I incorporate the mistakes into the whole, reflecting the strong belief I have that perfection is not something to be strived for in creativity.