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Friday, August 06, 2010

Breaking Out...

of your comfort zone is not an easy thing to do. We don't appreciate just how cocooned we are inside it, until we are forced to challenge ourselves, or create the circumstances for a challenge to come about. That's what happened to me, yesterday. I went for a second look at an exhibition, Salthouse 10 : Landmarks, with my friend Jill Arnold. I thought I knew exactly what I was going to do there; I was going to look at a piece I missed seeing the last time I was there, and I was going to sit with a particular painting that had interested me. As it turned out, I only did one of these things. I did see the piece I missed, properly, an interesting artist's book on a beatiful stand, but on the walk round to the painting, I stopped to take a second look at a mixed media piece, 'Matter Over Mind' by Eric Smee. (Sadly, I don't have an image of it, and I can't find it on the web, so I can't show you what I'm talking about...sorry). On my first visit, I had made the mistake of dismissing it as just another piece of modern mixed media... clever, but not terribly interesting. Oh, boy, was I wrong. Yesterday, I stood and looked closely at the image for about fifteen minutes, and then spent perhaps another half an hour sitting at a distance from it, thinking and writing about it.

In that time, I realised a number of things. Firstly, that Eric was doing in one medium what I do in another; creating layer upon layer of meaning. The artist's statement for the piece reads 'I interview my subjects at length. I try to understand what makes each of them into the person they are today, then re-create an essence of their life slightly offset to preserve their anonimity. I rebuild photographs, drawings and paintings into an outline of what I am trying to say, then add details and variations to show emotional ramifications, often hiding much of the original image, until I feel the viewer will be able to relate to the emotional state of my subject'.

Secondly, that this was the 'way in' to a self portrait for me. I've been tiptoeing round that idea since I turned fifty, and much earlier. I made a self portrait of myself at forty, a watercolour painting, but that didn't seem to be the way to go now... I needed to find a way to structure the many elements that seem to make up me at fifty. Or anyone, at any age, come to think of it. Eric's description of his process has formed the starting point for mine, and I realise that a single image isn't going to do it, for me. I think it's more likely that the self portrait is really a need to explain my life up to now to myself (if nobody else). It's a process that I've already begun to some extent, making books about my childhood, which I tend to refer to as 'the childhood from hell'. That work needs to be continued, with lots of images, and possibly lots of writing to go with them... You can perhaps see that this idea is developing even as I type here; it's very exciting.

Thirdly, the image reminded me very much of a piece I made about ten or so years ago. One of the 'Texture Of Memory' series, it was a large quilt, made of layer upon layer of different fabrics, all of them dark, most of them transparent. Many of the layers could either be removed completely or thrown up and away from the main body of the piece; the idea was that you could 'peel' away layers of memory, to see what was underneath. I've never felt that that particular piece was effective; I think looking at 'Matter Over Mind' has shown me why that is. It was, quite simply, too dark. Matter Over Mind has the kind of feel I wanted for the piece, in part, I think, because there is a strong light area in it. I do have a lot of dark memories, but there are a few light ones in there, too. The piece would have been much stronger if I had allowed some of those to appear.

Why am I telling you this? Well, because I suspect that the things that we dismiss as 'unimportant' or 'not our kind of thing', are in fact gems that we should be contemplating for as long as is necessary. We talk about 'blind prejudice'; certainly, the first time I saw this piece, I was blind to its story, and to its relevance for myself. I don't like the idea of blinding myself to things... so the next time I start to dismiss something out of hand, I think I'll try sitting with it for a while, and see what lessons it has for me. Thanks, Eric. And now, I've got a lot of work to do...

PS You can catch a glimpse of Eric's work here, and an image of another piece, and a little about the artist, here. Go take a look, the work is amazing. See what it shows you...


Tinker Pixie said...

What a great post full of wise thoughts! I wish I can write something like this :(

Katie Russell said...

I am the oldest of Eric's 4 children and my most vivid childhood memories all involve his photography - helping in the dark room, dodging the hanging negatives or moving stacks of pictures in order to give us enough space to sit down.

It is only since his retirement that he has started to achieve recognition for his work and, more importantly, he has started to believe in himself.

I have always been in awe of my dad's ability to see through the obvious and present the world in such a thought provoking way.

He is loved and respected by everyone that knows him and if you are ever in North Norfolk you should look him up, he has so much to say.

ZudaGay said...

Very interesting post, Marion! In our Sunday School class we have been discussing labels that we put on people and that often they are so very wrong or just reveal a tiny part of the person. We all do it...we see a blind man and think "there is a blind man not a man who happens to be blind." Our assignment for next Sunday is to find ways to see people without labeling them or putting them in a box or category. To look deeper without letting what we may have heard, or may have even seen, influence our thoughts and attitudes about someone. It always amazes me that when I am working on something that the lesson I am trying to learn is built upon in many different ways. This really touched me and I will probably read it again to look deeper into it. Thank you...looking forward to more of your insights!