Lockdown Art, part 3 – by Sian Matthews

Following on from Charlotte and Corrina, and a couple of months into lockdown I’m here to share the artworks I see every day in my own home. Like many people right now I am missing visiting galleries and museums. As much as I am enjoying seeing everyone share their work via social media and think it is brilliant that galleries are making their collections available online (including our own online show!), there is nothing like experiencing great art in person (and lets not forget the social aspect of gallery visits!).

I am definitely very fortunate to own and be able to display art in my home and the extra time I have found myself with as of late has meant that I have been able to appreciate it more than I would have under “normal” circumstances. A large amount of the art I own also means something to me on a personal level, most of it created by friends or linked to past experiences and memories, it has helped me feel connected to the world beyond my own four walls in these trying times.

Main gallery wall.

First up are two of the four portraits created of myself at our second ‘Intersect portraiture project’ on IWD 2019. These were drawn as the practice round by our artists before guest sitters arrived, to get acquainted with the process and with each other. The other two drawings from this sitting are safely tucked away in storage, not just for space reasons but also because its probably a little narcissistic to have a whole wall full of images of myself above my bed, right?

Next up is a print by artist and illustrator Steven Rhodes which is actually a birthday card from a friend which I framed on account of it looking a little like me and my cat Phoebe.

Two of the artworks I own were made by friends while at University and were destined for the skip after being exhibited at Free Range in 2016 due to a lack of storage opportunities. Obviously I felt awful that my friends were having to bin the work they had poured all their efforts into the last few months and which had earned them their degrees so I saved what I could. This ended up being ‘Red painting on wood’ by Kinga Pilarska and 1 of the hundreds of random Gnome heads created by and scattered around by Robin Gosselin-Monasevic.

Another artwork hanging on my wall and created by a friend is this print by Jess Nash, who you can read more about in my previous blog “An Interview with Jess Nash

Anyone who knows me, knows that I have a ‘thing’ for print making, especially etchings, woodblocks, lino, and cyanotype. I always appreciate the processes of making the art work, sometimes more than the final outcome and the piece itself! which is why printing in all it’s forms, watching artists carve and mark blocks, as well as exploring these processes myself in my own work appeals to me. So, you could imagine my excitement when I discovered printmaker and tattoo artist Lacey Law on Instagram. Her work is often much more figurative than I would usually be drawn in by, most of her woodblock prints are tattoo flash in a different medium to the typical drawings on paper but I adore them.

Back in 2018 I was lucky enough to receive an edition print of ‘Comfort’ for my birthday from my partner and it has held pride of place on my wall ever since. I have been watching her carefully on Instagram throughout lockdown, (watching her carve blocks is oddly satisfying) and have been dying to get my hands on one of her smaller prints she has been making on paper scraps, but her work sells out in minuets and I have just not been quick enough…. Yet!

Do you know of the Stoned Fox meme? Chances are you have seen it somewhere even if you don’t know what it is first-hand, this taxidermy fox is a viral hit and has literally travelled the world. His creator Adele Morse is an artist working in London who specialises in sculpture and taxidermy. Since the original fox went viral Adele has made many more anthropomorphic critters including a raccoon, a hedgehog, some rats, many more foxes and a little goat named Billy, who also recently became a viral sensation in Morocco for being the spawn of Satan/witchcraft/a summoned demon of some sort (You couldn’t make it up!).

Last year Adele tried to get her original fox back from some people who had broken him and generally treated him quite badly, the catch was that to get her own artwork back she was going to have to buy him back. To raise the funds for this a friend of Adele’s set up a GoFundMe to bring the fox home! For a small donation you would be sent a print of the fox and the knowledge that you helped an artist regain some control of her own work.

At one of the 2018 TOAF fairs two illustration students turned their stall into a participatory project, inviting visitors to have their animal portrait drawn. I still have my cat portrait framed on the wall.

Because of recent development work in the town, last year a group of artists and designers in Harlow found themselves having to say goodbye to their studios at Gatehouse Arts. The decision was made by Abbie and Harry at SnootieStudios to put on one last goodbye show in their gallery in which they celebrated the work created in the studios as well as works by artists who have had a past connection to the studios and gallery or who just live and work in Harlow. Having grown up in the town and previously working on an exhibition in the gallery with a group of friends back in 2015 I was able to submit and exhibit my own etchings in the exhibition along side many others.

For the Private view Abbie and Harry made their own home brew beer in the bathrooms of the studios and bottled it in vintage (unused) medicine bottles and printed up their own labels, naming their creation ‘good booze’.

I’ve known Abbie and Harry for many years and this eccentric idea and design is so typically them, I had to keep a bottle! It now sits proudly in my kitchen with Audrey, my Venus fly trap… because why not?

And lastly, for this blog anyway, sat on my bookshelf is a memento from the first exhibition I was involved in with Sweet ‘Art. I created these 3D representations of the Femfest posters by casting a real Femfresh bottle in plaster and then painting. Originally created as special press invitations we also had a few on display at the exhibition itself, do any of you remember them?

There are other artworks scattered around the house, including some of my own work so maybe if this lockdown carries on much longer I’ll do a Lockdown Art part 3.5 and show off a few more examples but for now, I hope you’ve enjoyed snooping around my collection!

An Interview with Suzie Pindar, by Charlotte Elliston

Hopefully you’ve been enjoying our lockdown blog so far. This is the second in our series of our artist interviews and ‘studio visits’ via video conferencing software (check out Sian’s interview with Justine Winter for the first).

A few weeks ago I got to meet artist Suzie Pindar, who also creates under the name The Naked Artist, to talk about her artistic practice and current work. As Suzie’s home doubles up as her studio, she had plenty of material to show me and discuss. We begin by talking about some of the pieces I had seen in the online exhibition #43 Artists . I particularly enjoy her collage pieces. As a keen reader of mysteries, I find I am presented with a puzzle where I have to piece together the story from fragments. I am eager in this interview to find out whether the stories I am reading are the ones Suzie is trying to tell.

A piece by Suzie Pindar currently showing in #43 Artists

All 4 pieces in the online exhibition, and much of her work in general uses the written word, and language seems integral to her practice. Her method for creating these collaged pieces is to select an old, used book and highlight the words and passages which have a personal resonance. The books are chosen for their material, aesthetic and intellectual properties; although the words they contain are important, drawing Suzie to select the book, a bibliophile would also recognise the attention she pays to smell, colours and the texture of the paper. Once the highlighting is finished, the pieces are carefully torn from the book (another reason that the correct texture of paper is vital). Suzie then separates them into different bowls, which she picks from to create the collages. She said of the process “My thoughts become trapped in the leaves until they can be made into art” which is a very poetic thought and makes me think of my bookshelf as a cacophony of trapped thoughts, waiting to be heard.

As well as the 2d collages, she creates what she calls ‘art heads’, 3d representations of the human head built from the collaged word strips. These heads are made “as if talking to someone”. They are often created for a specific person, created from words Suzie relates to them; in effect they are a portrait of, and dialogue between both the recipient and the artist herself. Some of these include a dark humour, for example the piece ‘Dead Head’ is so named because the head fell off the neck.

Bookcover, 2018, Suzie Pindar

Suzie has been using text in her work since 2009. One of her early pieces involved cutting words and letters from magazines and using these to completely cover her body. She has also created a collaged bed frame, with echoes of Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed’.

Like Tracy Emin, Suzie Pindar’s work is generated from internally. She looks towards herself in order to create work, and she says that her work is not created with an audience or viewer in mind but only “for myself”. She also says that often her making is “triggered by memories”, the feeling that there is an emotional state which needs to be expressed creatively. Her work feels organic, free-flowing, raw and often painful to look at, possibly due to this direct emotional creative process.

Time, 2005, Suzie Pindar

Another key strand in her work is her self-portraiture. She tells me that she sees her body as a canvas in her art; as an extension of the self. She uses her body to express herself when she feels unable to get her feelings down on paper. She sometimes then digitally manipulates the resulting images, using her instinct to create the final desired image. The self-portraits also deal with Suzie’s interest and fear of the aging process. She is interested in the physical changes ageing brings, but is also finding this scary as she has reached her 40’s. This fear is something artists have been examining in their practice forever, but can be seen as even more apposite from a female artist due to the pressures enforced on women by society and the media to remain looking young. This concern for the importance of self-image can also be seen in her dislike of social media, which she feels negatively impacts on mental health due to its reliance on surface and obsession with perfection.

Recovery, 2020, Suzie Pindar

Suzie’s nom-de-plume, The Naked Artist, represents an emotional nakedness and artistic vulnerability. The theme of mental health is recurring in much of her work. A trauma at a young age, along with family illness, leading to a severe depression is what spurred Suzie on to begin creating art. She found that creativity gave her release from her depression. Since then she has had other spells of mental illness and has always found that making and creating was helpful to her healing process. One of her aims is to “do one thing that scares you every day”, as if your life and mental health can be rebuilt after a breakdown, then anything is possible. She says that she wants her work and practice as an artist to offer hope to others that depression can be overcome.

I did, 2017, Suzie Pindar

Suzie has recently had her work published in What is Art, A5 Art, and Average Art magazines, has exhibited in Femmedaemonium exhibition, and currently has work in (Far From The) Turmoil exhibition online.

You can also see some examples of her work online https://www.thenakedartist.co.uk/ and follow her on twitter @suziepindar and Instagram @suziepindar

A belated Frieze week review by Sian Matthews

Well over a month after the big event I still have a lot I want to say and discuss, good and bad, about all things Frieze 2019.

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This year’s fair had a focus on the climate crisis and demonstrated this by including artworks such as Patrick Goddard’s ‘Blue Sky Thinking’ which uses hundreds of dead parakeets to ram the message home.

However, I haven’t seen much in the way of the fair itself addressing its carbon footprint, the only steps it seems to have taken this year is to switch to using biofuel.

One of the interactive projects this year was by the organisation Arto LIFEWTR who thought it was a brilliant idea to use PLASTIC bottles to display artworks by emerging artists and hand them out to visitors, along with pins by artist John Booth in exchange for posting about them on social media. I feel like I must have missed something on this because it just seems too tone deaf to be a real thing? I literally saw these bottles discarded everywhere all week.

Including at TOAF and Tate modern.

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I can’t understand why a fair with a focus on the climate crisis included an interactive installation which was centred around plastic bottles, something which as a society we should be using less of. Also, as I am writing this I am sat with a stack of handouts, newspapers, maps, all the paper that gets thrown at you while visiting the fair.

For a fair talking about climate change and carbon footprints there was a huge amount of waste. Something to think about.

Moving on to something more positive, One of the live artworks which I particularly enjoyed was an interactive artwork in which the participant becomes part of the piece after being asked to hold a feather duster perfectly still and to concentrate on not moving the feathers. Of course, this is impossible as the more you try the harder it gets. The feathers pick up the participants heartbeat and breathing so that you physically cannot hold it still. After the frustration subsides and you concentrate more on the movement of the feathers in time with your own heart beat it becomes quite relaxing, almost meditative.

 

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Woven: a curated set of stands at the far end of the fair focused on artists who work with fabrics, sewing, embroidery and other textile mediums was, I thought, one of the most thought provoking parts of the fair, and was pleased to see a less mainstream medium being celebrated. Included were Chitra Ganesh, Monika Correa and Cian Dayrit as well as many others. Working with themes and ideas such as Gender, Power, myth and reality, and historical narratives.

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Included in Woven was artist Angela Su who I completely adored and who’s work investigates perception and imagery of the body through metamorphosis and transformation. The works on display were almost like scientific drawings, delicate and beautiful, yet so real they were a little uncomfortable to look at. Looking closer at these drawings you realise they are incredibly intricate embroidery and honestly, I could have starred at them all day.

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Last year I mentioned that I was concerned that the representation of women at the fair was more of a fashion statement and less about real change. Although I stand by my concern, I was pleased to see that a lot of galleries embraced diversity this year, this was mainly the smaller galleries and stands but it was there, nonetheless. I noticed a lot of attention being given to artists from African nations which was fantastic to see, and I appreciated the introduction to some new an exciting artists.

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I also attended The Other Art Fair for the private view and at the risk of upsetting some people, I don’t have much to say about it. I always enjoy going, catching up with artists and friends but recently I feel like it is getting repetitive. I’m not saying it’s a bad fair, I would just like to see something new.

Finally, I visited the new Hyundai Commission at Tate modern which this year features ‘Fons Americanus’, a 13 meter tall fountain by artist Kara Walker. Inspired by the Victoria memorial outside Buckingham palace but exploring ideas and themes resulting from the transatlantic slave trade. I have long been a fan of Kara Walker and to see her work in the setting of the turbine hall was something quite special. Its open until April so I recommend a visit!

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The problem with Frieze Week ’18 by Sian Matthews

 

That title is a little misleading because I did actually have a really great time at Frieze London. It has been over a month now since the fair and I have had plenty of time to contemplate it all, although there is one thing that has been playing on my mind that I would like to discuss. But let’s start on a good note! This year was my first time attending the art fair itself, although I have explored the sculpture park in previous years, and thanks to Sweet ‘Art I had a press pass!

This year Frieze week had a huge focus on women in the arts. Frieze itself commissioned some large-scale artworks, installations and performances such as Tatiana Trouvé’s ‘The Shaman’ (pictured below) a 1.2 tonne bronze tree and water pump. It was one of the first things I saw as I went into the fair and it definitely commanded the attention it was receiving.

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At the other end of the fair there was a curated section of stands showcasing the work of 9 female artists who had used their work as a form of political activism in the 80s and 90s called ‘Social Work’ I quite enjoyed Social Work as it was diverse on all levels, including race, age, backgrounds and even mediums and subject matter. The section included artists such as Nancy Spero, Helen Chadwick, Berni Searle and Ipek Duben; artists who use the female experience and themes of sexuality, gender, alienation and identity to challenge both aesthetic and political conventions. It worked really well and was an insightful look into the practice of some very influential artists. I was also lucky enough to wander past just as Sonia Boyce was giving an interview about her work! (I won’t lie, I felt a little starstruck!) It was fascinating to listen in and hear what she had to say about the motives and messages behind her work and what she thought of Social Work itself.

The stand I connected with most in Social Work was the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery who were showcasing the work of Mary Kelly. ‘Interim Part 1: Corpus’ is the culmination of 3 years of documentation by Kelly of conversations she had with women of her generation and displays their words in first-person text panels alongside screen printed images of fashion ads and medical photography of ‘hysterical women’. It feels personal and almost candid in its delivery, you get the feeling you’re reading something like a diary entry, something you shouldn’t be reading, and I appreciated the fact I was being told something so intimate.

The one thing that really disappointed me about Social Work is that it was hyped up quite a lot beforehand, but then felt like it was squished into a corner at the actual event. I would have preferred it to have had a more prominent spot in the fair.

Another nice touch to the fair this year was a fund-raising event hosted by Tracey Emin in the form of a postcard auction, with the proceeds going to women’s charities. Although unfortunately I didn’t manage to catch any of it!

Elsewhere in the city, galleries such as White Cube, Victoria Miro, the Parasol Unit and even the RA celebrated women by opening exhibitions and installations of works by artists such as Yayoi Kusama (who I love but sadly missed out on tickets for!), Cornelia Parker brought her PsychoBarn installation to the courtyard of the RA, Heidi Bucher and her beautifully haunting latex skinnings, and Doris Salcedo (pictured below) at White Cube. Women really did take over London for Frieze week!

 

On the Friday night I attended The Other Art Fair which also had a whole section dedicated to female artists. They had their own building across the road from Victoria House which was designed to be a statement called ‘not 30%’ to draw attention to the fact women typically get only 30% representation in art fairs. I thought it was a great idea (although I wasn’t sure about segregating them in another building away from the main event), and there was a diverse selection of work, from painting and sculpture to taxidermy and even tattooing. I so badly wanted to get a tattoo by artist Emily Malice but I missed her by a couple of hours as Friday night was the only time she wasn’t there! (maybe next time!)

Whilst we were there we also met two recent graduates who had turned their stall into a fun and inviting participatory project.  As Illustrators, they were drawing visitors to the art fair as any animal of their choosing for a small donation, so obviously we had to take part! See us below as a cat, a leopard and a jellyfish!

 

Overall I think The Other Art Fair may have been more enjoyable on a social level. More interactive, more inviting, it was more appealing to a wider spectrum of people. Dare I say more inclusive?

All of this sounds great doesn’t it? Women finally getting the recognition they so badly deserve. So going back to my clickbait title, where is the problem?

What has been playing on my mind is the idea that all of this new attention from large institutions, galleries and companies is just a form of box ticking, it felt like they were just ticking women off their inclusion list. I am not really sure of the exact thing that made me feel like this, maybe it’s the fact that both art fairs felt the need to over-publicise their inclusion of women and make a song and dance about it as if for attention; to be seen to be doing the right thing instead of recognising the issues faced by female artists, educating themselves and making the necessary changes. Obviously, I’m not saying we shouldn’t shout about the needs and rights of women in this industry, its massively important to talk about it! There was just something about Frieze week that made me feel like the motives behind it were off.  As you all must know by now, 2018 marks 100 years since the first women in the UK won the right to vote. This means that women’s rights are very much the theme of the year. It means that right now equality and women’s rights seem to be a bit of a fashion statement unfortunately and these companies need to be seen to be doing the right thing or they face huge backlash.

While I think its amazing what happened at this year’s Frieze week, and I certainly do not want to belittle the success of the artists featured. I can’t shake the feeling that we should all be a little wary of the motives and the intentions behind this sudden push for women. I am worried that next year this will all go away and no real progress will have been made. I hope I am wrong.

I have taken a photo of an article written in the free art news paper given out at the Frieze art fair itself which I feel sums up my feelings well and highlighted certain points for you. I feel it quite clearly explains why the focus of this years Frieze week only felt skin deep.

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Let me know what you think, am I just being pessimistic? Did you visit Frieze or any of the other events going on that week and what was your experience? I’d really like to know.

A Women’s day Experience by Sian Matthews

I had a bad experience for International women’s day and it helps prove how far we still need to go.

A friend and I decided to spend IWD at a few galleries in London which were holding exhibitions and tours about women artists, the female gaze and the influential women who helped shape certain institutions. I hadn’t seen my friend for a while, I was looking forward to celebrating women and art with her.

The day started strong with a coffee and a catch up before moving on to the newly opened Richard Saltoun gallery in Mayfair. The first exhibition held at this new gallery space, ‘Women Look at Women’ explored themes such as feminine identity, censorship, gender stereotypes, sex and relationships through the work of thirteen international artists. The exhibition included beautiful but honest black and white photography by artists like Renate Bertlmann, Francesca Woodman and Annegret Soltau, as well as sculptural works by Helen Chadwick.

It was great to experience an exhibition, curated by a woman, working with female artists, feminine themes and the female gaze. You know, other then when Sweet ‘Art does it. For the most part I was impressed by it. The exhibition felt refreshing; it was clean and well thought out, and most importantly for the viewer, it was insightful and thought provoking. Of course, any exhibition has space for improvement, to learn and ensure you do things better the next time. ‘Women Look at Women’ could have been more inclusive. It could have included a wider, more diverse group of works, but it did what it was meant to do well enough for me.

After such a great start you will understand my disappointment and, honestly, outrage at our next visit.  This year for International Women’s Day, the Royal Academy intended to celebrate with ‘Feminine Futures’, a series of events and tours from the 1st – 10th of March.

We got to the RA at noon for the IWD tour, which was billed as an event that will “explore the lives of some of the important women in the history of the RA”. What we were greeted with however was anything but!

Before I explain why I was so disappointed, I should point out that this tour was one of six or seven delivered over ten days. The tour is presented by a different guide each day and therefore is different every time. For all I know the rest of the tours were spot on.

To start, the male guide took us into a small corridor next to a staircase which was decorated with photographs of the current eighty academicians. He pointed out Tracey Emin and Cornelia Parker and briefly spoke about them (they were the only female artists mentioned for the whole tour). He then spent the next 5 minutes talking about several of the men on the wall.  He made no effort to mention any other female academicians, he didn’t even mention Sonya Boyce, the first woman of colour to be made a Royal Academician, as recently as 2016.

Moving on he spoke about two paintings depicting some of the life drawing classes at the RA many years ago. These paintings showed female models being drawn by male artists and were themselves by men, although I cannot remember who. While standing in front of these paintings we were told that at this point in the RA’s history, women were banned from attending life drawing classes because it was thought that it objectified them. The guide also informed us that all female life models were from local brothels as it was inappropriate for women other than prostitutes to model nude. But according to him, all of that was ok… because they were paid a little more than their male counterparts.

Throughout the rest of the tour the guide spoke about not only the building it currently occupies, Burlington house, but also when it occupied the top floors of Somerset House and the National Gallery. He spoke about the architects, the owners of buildings and artists who have worked within the RA: all men, including Constable and even Churchill. It would have been far more interesting to tell us the little-known fact that’s among the 34 founding members of the RA there were two women! Mary Moser and Angelica Kaufmann.

A few times other members of the group asked about the role of women at the RA, which was met with the guide asking if any of us were artists and what our practice consists of. Both myself and my friend answered, explaining that we are installation artists with an interest in the work of the YBA’s. So we were already familiar with Tracey Emin who’s work he promptly explained to us as if we had no idea who she was. ‘My bed’ he said was a “product of her realisation of the mess around her” not exactly what I would call an in depth, insightful or accurate description.

'My Bed' by Tracey Emin

Right at the end of the tour, after someone asked about them, he briefly mentioned the suffragettes, how they had “slashed a couple of paintings in protest” basically referring to them as trouble makers who had ruined a precious painting. There is a lot of information to be found about this incident at the 1914 RA Summer Exhibition on their own website, surely a tour guide at the RA should be able to talk freely and in a respectful manner about this event?

Reading back through this it probably sounds like I am making this up. But I can promise I am not. You expect to come away from a tour of influential women at the RA feeling proud of what these women achieved in an industry that wasn’t always accepting, I expected to hear about how the women before me helped to pave the way for myself to be an artist and work in the arts today and instead I was told about how women had been mistreated by the RA until after WWII. I left feeling deflated, like we had gone backwards for an hour and honestly, I was angry.

Another point I feel I should add here is that on the 8th of March, International Women’s Day, the same day I was trying to celebrate with a friend. An exhibition opened at Tate Modern, all about famous “ladies man” Picasso.

After all of this I had just one question on my mind. How did such a small gallery in Mayfair, and countless other small organisations manage to get their shows and messages so right when the big institutions with all their money and resources get it so wrong? Do they not care? Do they not listen? It seems ridiculous to me and it highlights just how far we all still must go in not only getting, but understanding and respecting equality.