I am listening to Moving Pictures an occasional dip into radio art documentaries I take when I’m preparing to write. I find people talking about other artists’ works brings me gently to a frame of mind where I can write because I do find writing difficult. ‘A flower picture’ by Rachel Ruysch is in the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington and the accompanying discussion about her eye for detail demonstrated by her painting strikes an echo in my mind about my own work. The smallest detail of my surroundings fascinates me – whether looking down the lens of a microscope at soil or up to the stars with a telescope. It’s the same with listening, feeling or thinking. Sometimes I feel it’s not possible to think more deeply and then find after a while that my understanding has moved on by a fraction and then make art work which I could not have before. The works themselves are circular and iterative, no one else would notice any difference except me. The questions are constant and still shout at me . . . however many new things I find there are still more . . .and more . . . and I understand that this searching will continue for the rest of my life and that the new things are not new. It is the way I see them which changes.
Listen to the radio programme.
To go back to January 2017, to look at the beginning of this research project into the River Ericht here in Blairgowrie is like looking at the parts from a jigsaw . . . each piece a fragment of thought, a new person, a landscape (familiar then unfamiliar), a tree, a plant, a rock, a building, a story, water, air and interlinked in a way I cannot find. I think I will start here, at the end where I don’t know what I have, in January 2018 and go back to the beginning in January 2017. I began with thinking about water, its flow and changing nature and I end with think about air, its flow and its changing nature.
These three pencil drawings, the first this year, are thought drawings considering turbulence and how we move through space and time. They are not scientific drawings, they are personal reflections. This weekend I will take them down to Edinburgh and hopefully sell them in the SSA/VAS Open 2018
And now it is the end of March. So much is happening, so many new people to meet and to talk about the Ericht with, so much to learn about. Learning is an ongoing process for people, we have to learn to live, we have to learn to communicate and create, to make, to think and imagine how things can change or how to keep them the same (impossible). We learn whatever we do, we learn when we meet different people, we learn that they see a different world from our own, this includes the wide world around us as well as what is under our own nose. Not everyone appreciates wildness, wilderness, many cannot see beyond the undergrowth and what lives there, for some a tree is an obstruction and not a home for living things, not everyone appreciates maintained landscapes, many cannot see the green space around only what forms of life are missing.
I’m learning all this anew, not everyone sees the Ericht the way I do, as a refuge, a safe haven full of beauty. Because of this range of opinions I will say what I have learned from the people I speak to, but in this Creative Scotland funded role of Artist-in-Residence-in-My-Home-Blairgowrie I will maintain an objective distance. I will show what I see, I will not express personal opinions.
Meetings attended this month have included BRAN and then the Riverside Venture Group which is a sub group within Blairgowrie Community Council then one to one meetings with Jessie Shaw of One Voice and The Ericht Trust where I collected a Tascam sound recorder to borrow and record sounds along the river as well as interviews. I have volunteered to become their new interviewer for Blairgowrie Hour on Heartland FM so we’ll see how that pans out, Lesley McDonald from Cargill’s Bistro has a list of people she wants me to interview. I walked along the Ericht towards Kitty Swanson’s bridge with Hazel Harris and we spoke about how paths were vulnerable to landowners and farmers as well as the area’s history. Upcoming conversations include Melanie Thomson who will speak to me about the history of the mills along the Ericht’s banks and Louise Copeland who lives at the confluence of the Lornty Burn with the Ericht.
And Spring is coming . . .
On drawing and talking ( Ways into Drawing One)
The six people (guinea pigs?) who have come along to this first block and taken part include a teacher, an alternative health therapist/self-catering provider, a practising artist, a photographer and a scientist. I began the block by working through ways of mark making each week and finished with each person framing one of their artworks. Create at Nest has been a good venue, small and friendly, and because it is a new venture everything is still developing and growing.
I have been feeling my way back into teaching and without the presence of an academic institution behind me I am free to work at the pace I choose, a pace which takes account of other individuals’ perceptions and experiences rather than fitting some perceptions into a pre-existing template and ignoring others. There is a different and more gentle feel about my independently organising and presenting my own drawing workshops in this space.
Because responsibility for these classes starts and stops with me, I am able to adjust what I do and the methods I use, responding to each person who takes part and according to my experience of my own practice and its creative context. My objective is to demonstrate how powerfully drawing can influence our quality of life and for people to enjoy and express themselves.
I draw to demonstrate to the group what I mean while I talk about drawing. The speed of talking means that naturally people do not listen to everything I say and are sometimes reluctant to ask what I mean. If I draw while I talk everything slows down and people feel more able to interrupt, to express an opinion and to question. It makes me think more closely about what I am doing, it reminds me of what I have done, it sends me off on a tangent, it shows me where else I can go, what else I can explore . . . drawing is a limitless and easily accessible resource for everyone.
The classes begin again in January. Information below and on my website www.aileenmstackhouse.uk
Art Times Four
Autumn drawing and other actions
Images above are from ‘Scratch Notes. . Volume 1’ miniature boxed installation shown at Perthshire Creates exhibition at Perth Museum and Art Gallery in October.
For me October overstayed its welcome and when time becomes like this my perception of the world hangs within a state of suspension where everything turns, rotates and orbits and the sun hangs too in the metalled gold or silver sky.
I have been looking at designers. Even now, almost 20 years after getting my degree in Fine Art Sculpture, I believe that dividing art into categories such as fine art and design is not helpful. For me anyone who thinks and imagines ways of doing things differently and then creates from their ideas is an artist – divisions are specious and a waste of time. For humans in this world to work together and share ideas should be the aim.
Bruce Mau, a Canadian designer (http://www.manifestoproject.it/bruce-mau) believes in creativity’s power to change our lives. I borrowed a book from the library called Glimmer by Warren Berger which discusses Bruce Mau’s and other designers’ influence on the everyday – how design is not about producing objects/gadgets of design – design is about processes of improving our experience of living in the world. The book’s mantra is ‘ask stupid questions’ ask questions that don’t accept the way things are, ask why, ask what, ask who, where, when, how, whether, what about??? Too many of us don’t ask we simply behave. Stupid questions trigger fresh thinking. Another way to say this is ‘there is no such thing as a stupid question’.
Whatever we make, however we create, wherever we draw, sculpt, craft, part of all that exploratory process is getting lost (getting lost means we see/find/feel stuff we wouldn’t otherwise experience), and we make what we may consider to be mistakes (mistakes have a function), part of that process is to question our habits of making/doing and to DO DIFFERENTLY!
Which brings me to my new drawing class in Blairgowrie ‘Ways into Drawing’. I had forgotten how much I love to talk about drawing, to show others different ways to draw, to encourage experimentation. Not in a huge way, my aim is to encourage people who want to draw to play and relax, to have conversations, eat biscuits and drink tea and coffee . . .what is truly lovely is this is not about marks, passing exams, ticking boxes . . .it is simply about the process of mark making among like-minded people who are becoming friends. We’re just over half way through the block and I’m enjoying it enough to run another two groups that begin in January 2017. ‘Ways into Drawing One’ will repeat this current class and ‘Ways into Drawing Two’ will build and expand on ‘One’. I will use Create at Nest in Blairgowrie again as a venue, it’s small enough not to intimidate new people and it’s friendly. Bookings can be made via my website. Examples of the groups drawing can be seen below.
Finally . . . I have finished the wax sculpture commissioned privately for a Dandie Dimont and it will soon be cast in bronze. I am excited; the dog was interesting to model because he is small with short legs, a long muscular body and a curly coat. Dandie Dimont’s are a rare British breed, they do not cast their hair and so are good companions for people who are sensitive to dog hair. They were bred to be used for hunting badgers and their feet are amazing, when the dog is lying down they look dainty and small. When the dog stands up the foot spreads and look rather like a spade with claws stuck at the end. His body is concertina like – sometimes short and chunky – sometimes long and snake like. Their jaws have a bite which is fierce because they dislocate to get a grip on their prey. OUCH!
There’s so much more that happened but I’ve already written rather a lot so hey ho . . . so here’s a list Perthshire Creates exhibition at Perth Museum and Art Gallery, Scottish Woodworking Show 2016 at Brodies Timber in Inver by Dunkeld, Dr Isabella Moore CBE Director of Comtec talking to Women’s Enterprise at Cargills Bistro, The Care and Well-being Co-op event in Pitlochry where I held a Drawing for Well-being taster session, went to workshop about Sharing your creative practice held by Voluntary Arts Scoltand at the Botanic Cottage in Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden and presented by Gill Thomas and going to Growbiz Perthshire’s event about the mentoring process at Fishers Hotel in Pitlochry.
This week I will be concentrating on MAKING art.
“How does a project mature? It is obviously a most mysterious, imperceptible process. It carries on independently of ourselves, in the subconscious, crystallizing on the walls of the soul. It is the form of the soul that makes it unique, indeed only the soul decides the hidden ‘gestation period’ of that image which cannot be perceived by the conscious gaze”
These words perfectly describes how I try to make art. . .
‘ nuff said. . .
Taking part in Perthshire Open Studios 2016 was a new experience for me, it emphasised that my previous experience of exhibiting – where ideas take precedence over selling art – was not helpful in this particular context. For eight days I answered questions from all kinds of people, some artists and some not, and by answering their questions I continued to learn a different way of saying what is necessary and leaving out what is not. Because it is true that many artists talk too much and use unhelpful, opaque and inaccessible language when talking about their art. See what I did there?
When I speak about art there is a conflict, it is very easy to say too much and overcomplicate things for the listener/observer, and they will walk away if they feel they don’t understand. I understand this. The naïve part of me rebels and feels that many other professions such as builders, engineers, mechanics, doctors, shop keepers, hardly ever have to explain in detail the stages of what they have done or why, it is enough that they have done it. They can fix what does not work or what is missing and VOILA! It is fixed – it works! (Or maybe not – but that is revealed at a later point in time if they have to explain why something has gone wrong). People generally consider all off these professions to be necessary and do not question why they need shelter, transport networks, cars, their own bodies or food, water and warmth.
Other professions such as teachers, nurses, social workers and, yes, artists, are constantly asked to explain what they do before they do it, while they are doing it and why – and are often told how they should do what they are trained to do by people who are not trained. I am not saying that people should not have an opinion BUT naïve me continues to be irritated by, for example, a neurosurgeon who notices how much a square slice of human brain under the microscope bears a resemblance to Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square 1913 then speaks about it at an international conference on design, exhibits it and thus is accepted as a serious artist. Perhaps that is fair enough and yes, actually it is fair enough because, as Joseph Beuys said in 1972 at Documenta 5 “Everybody is an artist”  and I truly believe this. What bugs me though is this – if I walked into a hospital theatre where a neurosurgeon was performing an intricate operation and asked if I could have a go because I was a doctor of philosophy I know what the reaction would be.
And I certainly do not get paid as much for my art as a neurosurgeon does for their operating ability, even though my art includes science and their science requires artistic imagination which is a pre-requisite of ALL professions, and even though my formal art education lasted 10 years (not including school). Art is still undervalued in our society and culture unless it is a commercial commodity (for a good example of increasing support for artists’ intrinsic value for everyone’s lives see https://www.a-n.co.uk/news/creative-scotland-arts-strategy-makes-commitment-to-fair-pay-for-artists). Art in retail outlets such as IKEA is more affordable and can be changed as often as furniture and interior decoration, and what artist hasn’t ever been asked if they can create something that ‘goes’ with a room in someone’s home? Does the consumer want something they never tire of looking at or something so disposable that they can throw it away with a clear conscience? (hopefully in the recycling bin)
That’s enough pontificating. I was asked interesting questions and some people were interested in what lies behind and within an artwork and how it emerges from the imagination. I listened to the other artists in the group and appreciated what they were saying, they had more experience than I of this particular environment. I did sell some work and I have a commission – I found that there is an enjoyable commercial element to my work which will hopefully begin to supply my bread and butter. What’s more it is art that means something to me since it reflects our love for others who are important to us.
 in Tarkovsky,A & Giovanni Chiaramonte; (2006); Instant light Tarkovsky Polaroids
 Basic biography see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kazimir_Malevich
 Basic explanation see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_sculpture
Making art is a complex interplay of thought and action, of inaction and thought, of unthinking action, and of physical inaction combined with thinking. To learn not to worry about this interplay takes practice, for some artists it takes a long time ( myself ) and for some artists it takes no time at all to be able to put such things in perspective. It is sixteen years since I graduated and the prospect of placing my work in the sights of other eyes still has the power to unnerve me, however there are more important things to consider. To continue being curious and asking why? What for? What is? Where can? To continue listening, seeing, feeling, touching, being – to continue making.
The five images of painting and sculpture above are ©Aileenmstackhouse2016
on show during Perthshire Open Studios 2016 September 3 – 11. Venue 20 Spittalfield Hall Orange Route includes; artists Cornelia Weinmann, Mary Meldrum Brown, Graham Findlay, ceramicist Jenny Charles and makers Eileen Clason and David Downie which means that there will be a wide variety of art for sale.
The sensation of time passing changes completely when I am physically involved in making art; sculpture; drawing; painting and any other form of creativity. I choose the word sensation rather than the word perception – I choose it since I exist within time and perception seems less descriptive of existing within time than sensation. To explain this statement and further confuse anyone who reads this – firstly –
Thinking about making art is as much making art as making art is
Thinking about making art is as much making art as making art is
Thinking about making art is as much making art as making art is
Thinking about making art is as much making art as making art is
I firmly believe this – it is not possible for me to physically make art all the time
Because – I stop being able to see what I have done
I stop being able to choose what to do next
I cannot find where to go next
I become lost
This is not a reason to stop thinking about making nor a reason to stop making
Reason tells me that even when I think I am lost I am still making.
Time which marks spaces between art making has no meaning in the place where art is made. This internal arena itself has no time, the place where art making takes place, its precise location is unknown and yet it is always present although sometimes inaccessible and always imprecise. Art making possesses an elastic quality in its propensity to stretch then contract experience – snapping back with rapid accelerations in the speed of decision making regarding the work – such speed makes it difficult to track where an idea springs from.
All this has re- emerged while I have been sorting what to put in SEVEN, our group exhibition in Spittalfield Village Hall (Venue 20) for Perthshire Open Studios 2016 from 3-11 September. Participating in exhibiting art brings associated tasks separate from making the thing itself. Talking with other artists, organising events, sharing ideas, collaboration and publicity (Social media, Radio and Press), printing and documentation, alongside the more mundane carrying, cleaning, driving, cleaning, measuring, cleaning, drilling, cleaning, hammering, cleaning, suspension, cleaning, polishing. . .is it ready yet???
See you at POS 2016 Spittalfield. . .
(Off at a tangent . . .’Notwithstanding’ what a wonderful word. I don’t think I have ever used it before; in fact I am sure I haven’t. I chose this word because I did not want to write despite or in spite of – neither of those mean what I mean. I think it is because they include ‘spite’ which causes tension in my head. Then choosing the distance of sixty miles is because I can get there and back in a day.)
I go to St. Andrews frequently and have done since I was young yet I do not remember ever visiting St Andrews Museum in Kinburn Park so when I see that ‘The Glasgow Boys – A Spirit of Rebellion’ is one of their exhibitions I decide to have a look at both the building and the art. Museums are among my favourite places to go, along with art galleries, gardens and the seaside so today is potentially thought overload. Kinburn Castle houses the museum and is a squat chunky Victorian mansion built in 1855 and surrounded by attractive gardens.
The Glasgow Boys are a group of artists from over a hundred years ago who I am conscious of but have never really examined and there are particular paintings I remember having seen in other galleries (the McManus in Dundee). From this perspective in time it takes a deliberate effort to consider the fact that these painters were considered radical, using techniques and methods which were unfamiliar to many and providing an alternative to the Edinburgh art world. Some of these paintings are so familiar to me that I do not really see them, this is interesting for me as an artist, my gaze slips over and glides away, I find myself thinking about other subjects, or watching the reflection in the picture glass of other gallery goers moving briskly from work to another. With a shrug I remind myself to look properly, to give due attention to this evidence of humanity’s continuing urge to create. I look at them but I do not truly recognise how different they were from other art at the time, for example; works by Edward Hornel (who sometimes worked with another Glasgow boy, George Henry) remind me of biscuit box lids or illustrations in the children’s books I read in my childhood. There is a sickly sweet quality in his pictures of young girls which is not present in his other works (see his collaborative works made with George Henry such as ‘Old man’1881 ). There are other paintings which I do like and have not seen before and again I register that I remember the work of art and not the name of the artist. This painting is beautiful and for the nth time I ask myself, why do some paintings resonate and others just slide by? There are so many factors which affect our visual aesthetic that there is no point in asking really – it just comes down to like/ not like.
In the afternoon I went on to St Andrews Botanic Garden to look at the tropical butterflies housed in a small and extremely hot glass house. At the door I was advised to shed my coat and bag because of the heat and after ten minutes I was dripping wet – my camera stopped working and I simply sat down and watched the butterflies. I could have sat there all afternoon – the butterflies were truly beautiful, some brilliantly coloured and so many patterns on their wings and on their bodies. Visitors are advised to take care of where they tread as the butterflies will rest on the path, and to check themselves as they leave because the butterflies will alight on our bodies and drink our perspiration. The very friendly volunteer told me about the butterflies being delivered in pupae form from a butterfly farm, hatched and then set free for our delight – butterflies don’t live for very long and after being told this I found myself questioning why I was initially happy to be there. In the end I felt that a butterfly probably doesn’t realise it’s living in a glorified shed rather than a jungle (although I can never actually know this) and it was a chance for children to see animals in reality rather than through the medium of an illuminated flatscreen. But that’s another conversation entirely.
Other news this month, the summer solstice on the 20th June is the best time of the year for someone like me who in the winter regularly experiences ‘achluophobia, nyctophobia (from Greek νυξ, “night”), scotophobia (from σκότος – “darkness”), or lygophobia (from λυγή – “twilight”). I joined in the Symphonic Ecology Project : World Wide Soundscape by recording the sound of where I was at noon for two minutes. The recording is noisy because it’s next to a weir on the Lornty Burn in Blairgowrie where the water flow is controlled by a hydro electric turbine. Projects asking for contributions from many different people from all walks of life always pique my interest, it reminds me of how tiny I am in the scheme of the world and restores an essential perspective.
A proposal for one of my artworks ( as yet incomplete) was accepted by Perthshire Creates for their exhibition beginning in September at Perth Museum and Art Gallery, it has to be finished by 19th of September and delivered to the door on the 20th. After I’ve finished this blog I will be cracking on with that, it’s called Scratch Notes – volume ? and is a portable sewing box which unfolds into four small boxes and one larger. I sent a drawing to explain how it was to be displayed and a friend said they didn’t understand the drawing. . .which is ok . . I don’t mind.
I delivered my wax figures to Roddy Mathieson Master Caster of the Mobile Foundry for casting in bronze – they are going to be my part of the group exhibition Seven in Spittalfield Hall (Venue 20, Orange Route, Perthshire Open Studios 2016) he hopes to get them done in July then I will be riffling away at them and maybe applying some different finishes depending on how they look.
Last but not least it was confirmed that I will be running a drawing class for Blairgowrie and Rattray Adult Education called Ways into Drawing starting in the autumn at the new creative venue in Blairgowrie – Nest managed by Rachel Bower and Tracie Dick.
Places I have been before and I am going to again – Glen Beanie 31 July 2016
Last year I went to Glen Beanie to draw with a group of artists from Perthshire Visual Arts Forum led by George Logan it was an exceptional day even though we were all soaked by the end. This year we are going again to discuss various ideas and concepts. . .it’s going to be good.
I met my artist friend Kay Hood outside the Fair Maid’s House in Perth, we were going to see the two artworks she had been commissioned to paint. Kay had been asked to make the work by Mike Robinson, CEO of The Royal Scottish Geographical Society because she lives in the house in Blairgowrie where James Croll stayed in the nineteenth century ( see Jo Woolf for background as to why he is so important). The exhibition and education spaces at the Fair Maid’s House are designed by Studioarc and work extremely well considering the house’s size, Studioarc have redesigned the garden now renamed The Croll Garden. It’s remarkably compact and still waits for the appropriate plants which have been chosen in consultation with the Botanics in Edinburgh. The central sculptural work is based on the Earth’s orbit and visitors are encouraged to move a small metal planet around the Sun while reading the texts etched into the surrounding stone panels on the ground. The tactile interaction of the physical movement between the observer’s hands, eyes and body echoes the complexity and magnitude of the Earth’s own relationships with the solar system and beyond.
What makes James Croll and his like such singular people is that they worked out so much about our existence without access to the tools of learning we have now. Could I do that? No.
Excuse the extremely short sentences.
I am thinking in snatches and glimpses.
I am catching my breath in gasps.
My breath is catching at the air.
I am attempting to push against repeating patterns (again!)
Early morning walking brings clarity of thought.
Never mind the weather.
Maybe because the body is moving.
Away, through and towards.
Rather than being stationary or moving within and around a circumscribed space.
Such as home, workspace, shop, garden, car.
Maybe this walking action allows self to escape from
Snags, hooks, holes and obstacles.
Since last week the dog walking time does not last long enough for my thinking.
The dog herself would walk for as long as I would let her.
That is not fair because she is not yet two years old and her joints are still malleable.
And in fact it would be too long for my body since it does not have the stamina it had BC.
At the beginning of this week I walked to the trees at the top of the hill on the other side of the Lornty Burn.
I saw a new horizon ahead of me to the North and the River Ericht Gorge below me towards the East.
again I have been reading and not making
“ If Path was a book, it was about not knowing, about being lost, and about darkness, the darkness of the deep interior,
a book you read with your feet. But it was wordless and so had the penurious privilege of visual art, of being able to invoke many meanings without being pinned down to the specificities of words. Too, it was the thing itself, not the representation of the thing. It was darkness, a convoluted route, a throbbing sound, faint zones of light, perceptual confusion. It was a space only revealed over time through motion.”
I am enjoying working through her writings and her words strike true although I sometimes find myself wishing she would give more. More what? Explanation? That’s precisely when I can become annoyed as a visual artist, when I am asked to explain further, to explain why.
If I knew the words, the answer, I would not be making the art.
Yayoi Kusama lives voluntarily in a psychiatric institution in Japan, is this to give her space to make her art? Her work is beautiful and in parts and details reminds me of many other artists ( e.g. Louise Bourgeoise, Alan Davie ).
Although I complain about having not enough space/time for creativity I would not want to experience being limited and shut away.
I prefer walking to make space.