Showing- A few Unexpected things, tinged with fear...

                             My opinions are my own but I’m likely to disagree with myself

It’s been nearly a year since I wrote here, obviously a lot has happened and some of it not so obviously.

In the last year I have had 3 linking solo exhibitions, not having had a solo show for 12 years, I had a lot of different ideas about how to exhibit but felt ridiculously scared about it all.

N.B There is just about to follow 11 x ?’s

I don’t think its a fear of rejection but a fear of exposure (Is that about the same thing?)- Will I be found out for not making art with integrity? - was I only Playing?- is playing enough in itself?

I’ve been making stuff in a very personal zone, in my head and in my own physical space.

I call myself an Artist, but do I believe in such titles? labels?

 Why turn the paintings to the wall if you know someone is going to visit the studio? What is that that puts the fear up one?

Why be timid at showing your work ? When I spend my time convincing people, of all ages that its utter crap to say “I can’t draw” I feel intimidated by exposing myself too. Why slag off your own performance or a compliment as soon as it’s made? 

Yet, making the work validates a day, gives a substantial meaning to being on this planet- or a substantial meaning to the fact that there isn’t any meaning.

Actually I do like some of my drawings - the paintings I’m less sure about. Drawing for me doesn’t carry the same self doubt- painting does- because I do less? because it’s harder? because the kind of drawings I make are of the moment? and either have it or don’t, then I just move onto the next- I don’t have to take responsibility for my drawings? I don’t have to battle with them where as I do with paintings- drawing comes easily- is that a bad thing? Does easy mean not taking risks? exploring possibilities?

 WE all know we are a mixture- of confidence and timidity. I have a belief in my drawing and sometimes my painting but its always shadowed by elements of massive self doubt. 

“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”  Sylvia Plath

“You don’t decide to be an artist,” Carmen Herrera has said, “art gets inside of you. It’s like falling in love.”


Emma's drawing of me after one of our conversations, which I love (I'm not usually keen on seeing pictures of myself- surprise surprise)

Emma's drawing of me after one of our conversations, which I love (I'm not usually keen on seeing pictures of myself- surprise surprise)

 I had special support from a dear writer friend Emma Adams, (of course she’s a lot of other things as well as a writer) who completely understood my nerves, + a lot of email conversations + a couple of pub ones too. Later, Emma passed me on a quote that a parkour rider ( do you call them riders?)  had posted that day on twitter ‘Everything you ever wanted is on the other side of fear” by George Addair.  Emma said Everything that seems worth having (other than moussaka!) seems to involve a scary journey to get it!  Why I don’t know, but I think its true.”

Self-doubt is always present for artists because we have the job and the privilege of defining problems and then asking ourselves whether we have solved them.” Susan Hiller. 

 The 3rd exhibition was in a huge beautiful space at the Dye house gallery in Bradford Art School. It was all paintings, some, alot of them, had never been seen by anybody, even my partner. I had imagined he’d seen them….

My son plays classical music on the piano, he said recently that he’s not at all keen at performing it to an audience- he’s doing it for himself. There was a recent exhibition in London by the artist Ron Delavigne who in his lifetime of 93 years he had never displayed his work. Is it wrong to make something just for yourself? and what happens if other people get to experience it- does it change the work? does it change the maker? 

Like I said before, a lot happened obviously, here are 3 things that happened not obviously

  1. The title of the work was “When I get back…”   I used bits of her clothing, a yellow dressing gown I’d never liked, only to discover much much later after the painting was finished that the japanese- like patterns looked like irises as in my painting! I used one of her pockets that originally had a scrunched up tissue in , to hold the note (Or at least a photocopy of the note) that I had found amongst her stuff and I had ended up using as the theme for the whole exhibition 


This painting came from an idea, way before my Mum died and as far as I was concerned at the time, wasn’t anything to do with her mortality as far as I consciously was aware- she was very much alive, but I abandoned it- felt I was tempting fate by painting it???!!! I started again on it after she died unexpectedly, it was for me, it was cathartic, it didn’t matter that it would hold cliches, as I didn’t intend to show it to anybody, no body else would see it and I really enjoyed making it- not like any other painting I had made. I really got pleasure from trying to change the blossoming white Irises into beautifully decaying dying blooms. I certainly didn’t expect it to become the Centre piece for the Exhibition, the Title and the theme that could link all the work together- “So it goes” as Kurt Vonnegurt said. I was no longer scared of showing it. It belonged somewhere else as well.

2. Aleppo

On my studio wall was a drawing that in contradiction to what I’ve said above (about drawing) I did battle with. After a visit to Aleppo in 2008 I made a drawing of something I’d caught sight of in the Souk- it was humorousor so I thought then - Next, Syria exploded, imploded + I couldn't show the drawing, I’d made it as a joke, not an obvious one but one that made me smile at the time and for a little time after- 2 large German tourists visiting the souk in Aleppo, identical twins in their 50’s dressed identically wondering around the underground souk that had been there since the 14th century. But then I was ashamed of it- it no longer seemed relevant, or it was disrespectful to what was going on, people were dying, fleeing, lives in disarray. I had it on the wall in my studio, but slightly hidden (although it is a very large drawing) + then I thought I’d never be able to show this drawing- Instead I changed it- very consciously, - I wondered if it would appear crass but then I thought I don’t have to show anybody- it could be for me- A need to get it out. I changed the patterns on the womans blouses (that word blouse is an odd one isnt it?but seems approprite to these 2), some people might not notice or understand what the patterns were but that didn’t matter did it? after all I wasn't going to show it.

I put it in the show

3. Seal, Shrouds, Spring,

I don’t usually create work only from a photo, because for me they have a tendency to produce something without breath, a flatness of being- in the process of translating a 2D image to a 2D image they don’t seem to gain life on the way.

I don’t usually work from subjects and images that I haven’t directly experienced (although I guess its up for discussion that we experience images)

I have hardly ever used bleach to paint with and 

I’ve never taken a painting of mine to meet a dying stranger

A difficult image to work with- so emotive without me doing anything to it- what can I add or give? Fear that put my fear into perspective or completely wiped it off.   

A difficult image to work with- so emotive without me doing anything to it- what can I add or give? Fear that put my fear into perspective or completely wiped it off.


I was kind of embarrassed to say it was beautiful, obviously gut wrenchingly tragic but beautiful- why? wrapped up bodies, children amongst them, babies, in neatly tied whitesheets , lying side by side. Dare I say in my schema, or obsessions I take pleasure in setting things out in rows,visually admiring stripes - what an utterly trivial thought to cross my mind when facing a horrendous image of destruction, humans killing fellow humans.        

So getting used to the idea that I needed to get it out I used bleach and ink, charcoal and paint and produced 3 pictures that I called “People”,“Spring” + “Wrapped up”.


"Spring" The drownings were and are happening daily and at the time of making the picture above it was only after I had made thisthat I realised I may have chosen the colour and medium relating to the watery tragedies.

"Spring" The drownings were and are happening daily and at the time of making the picture above it was only after I had made thisthat I realised I may have chosen the colour and medium relating to the watery tragedies.

A friend of mine works in a hospice and after visiting the exhibition, she took back photos of my work to show a patient who had asked her where she was going that evening. He had previously said to her“I’m not going anywhere and I want to learn something new”

The next day at the exhibition a phone call came through to the office inquiring after the painting of the Seals. “ Seals? seals? oh you may mean the Shrouds?”

"Wrapped up"

"Wrapped up"

What happened next? What happened was an extraordinarily beautiful experience and I hope , I think, it was a good experience for him too. I made an arrangement to visit him with the picture, it was far more nerve wracking then having an exhibition- supposing he hadn’t realised they weren’t seals? and he was just about to find out that as a dying man he was going to look at images of death? what responsibility do I carry as the “Artist”? I felt I had needed courage enough to show people I know my work but to take a specific painting, that a stranger had only seen on a photograph (that may improve its look?) to his bedside - phewweee. I didn’t walk straight in with it, we shook hands and we started to chat, gently.  I knew nothing about this man apart from his first name, Rizwan, and that he hadn’t got long to live. We didn’t seem to need introductions or descriptions or labels, I was so nervous but he made me instantly feel at ease. I didn’t find out anything about him except that I heard he wasn’t involved in the arts. I felt I, in my nerves, had to prime him that the painting might not live up to expectations (That stupid self doubt dominating). I walked back to the car + walked back into his room with it, it’s quite big and seemed to take up a massive amount of room. The bed was parked across the middle of the room and it was difficult to do anything other than put it virtually on his lap.




“Exquisite” he softly spoke. 

I melted on the spot.

We then went on to chat, we didn’t talk about seals, we talked about people, layers, textures, we talked about Picasso and how Rizwan had always been ashamed to have loved Salvador Dali and felt guilty due to Dali’s politics - I’ve never liked Dali’s work but that didn’t matter and we talked about Picasso some more and how I loved the videos of Picasso painting on glass and Rizwan thought this image would work well painted on glass- I thought so too and then Rizwan suggested gently we turn it on it’s side. “ That works better doesnt it?” I was delighted because I felt it did too.  And he said, “those 3 woman on the right look like they are waiting”.

I’d been told that in the previous days he had had moments of hallucinations brought on by the drugs he’d been put on and I could say he was affected by them looking at my paintings but my experience of our small encounter Rizwan was very lucid, powerful, beautiful, and we had a conversation that I have felt so privileged to be part of, Rizwan died 3 days later, I took the painting back to the exhibition and hung it up the way it should always have been. 

Thankyou Rizwan.

Not seeing what's in front of me- at the same time as how drawing makes me see. ( full of contradictions of course )

I've been wanting to write a little blog for a while, maybe about the great time I had drawing at Bradford Festival or Threadfest, Bradford Literature Festival or 154 rehearsals but it just didn't emerge and then this blog just popped out. It must have been simmering somewhere behind the scenes without me noticing.. Drawing may help me see and understand but often makes me question too.

Last night I couldn't sleep- the winds were in from Africa, or my usual early morning insomniac musings were aroused. 

4.30am I moved downstairs to the front room where it's darker ( am usually in the attic with the massive un-curtained velux windows opening onto the sky. In my strange awakeness the Gas board came to mind. The Gas board have been digging on our street for at least the last month, not just digging I guess but drilling, sawing and JCB clunking but that's the bit I hear. They start early and I often think about how difficult it must be for the man across the road that works nights somewhere, supposedly returning home to sleep and having to re-invent the noise of a lullaby ( for some reason at this moment  'Under Milk wood ' pays a visit to my brain.) What about those on Ramadan, where 20 hours of daylight make any amount of sleep precious too? It suddenly occurred to me that my "seeing" of men in holes with huge coils of yellow pipes, hard hats and high viz has only been based on noise, or the inconvenience of car parking or asking for off cuts for children to play with at St Edmunds Nursery where I work one day a week. I have enjoyed some banter. I had delighted in introducing the Gas men to Kyle, the resident transvestite mannequin who greets you in our hallway as you open the front door. 

The significance of all this is that I haven't seen what usually activates my interest and gets me reaching for my sketchbook or phone in order to 'trap" those moments by drawing.  



The subject matter of my paintings is often people at work, either down holes , whether on  "A road called Straight" in Damascus or a roundabout in Shipley or up a lamppost in Undercliffe, painting traffic lights in the city centre or mending a roof in Hull.  Even so, it's not only that I use  drawing in order to have notes I can possibly use for a painting later on , or just for existential reasons of trying to make some sense of the world but it does help me see. After all, if I hadn't drawn that man hole cover I'd never have noticed all those different man hole covers I have now seen!


I love , or thought I did, men down holes - what happened ? Why had I not seen the images, why hadn't they caught my attention? I , like many , constantly draw with my eyes, as I wander around, walking, driving, cycling- it may be a contributory factor to why I enjoy walking - on the constant lookout for " visual stories" or pleasing snippets to capture and take home- an avid collector ( some may say obsessive). Now at 4.30 am it pops into my head that I haven't seen anything on my street and now the act of noticing becomes self- conscious- if I draw now is that detrimental to the making of art with integrity? Some may say just bloody get on and do it but at times I find I write questions.


I'll get to it tomorrow

Oh no, wait- it's Sunday, that means no drilling, no big noise. No wake up calls

I'll get to it on Monday.  

Its no longer dark but I may have opened my eyes a bit more. A long time ago I spent 3 months staying in the South American rain forest , where my brother was living at the time. He said that when " foreigners " first arrived the locals said that they arrived with their eyes completely shut. After maybe a few months in the forest one eye may start to open but they still may only see a sea of green, a mass of trees , cacophonies of sound. If the foreigners were lucky and they worked hard ( or maybe relaxed!) then after a considerable amount of time one eye may completely open and they may start to see the most poisonous creature around - a centimetre big frog - one touch means death . Or start to see the hummingbirds nest hanging in front of you.  It can take years of looking to see.

on the other hand preconceptions can also stop you seeing

" If you know before you look, you can't see for knowing" Terry Frost  

I'll either look at the gas men in holes on Monday, I'll definitely see them differently but I may just carry on with the drawings of the shrouded bodies that seemed to have absorbed me recently.......