Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Working on New Work

Amazing how a deadline focuses the mind! I am a terrible procrastinator and it takes me a long time to get started – which ideas and techniques to use for the series - are the ideas ‘fit for purpose’ – what is the purpose? Etc. etc.
So, when I find myself just over 2 weeks away from an exhibition with no work – it is time to get my proverbial finger out.
A deadline both gets adrenaline running to concentrate efforts on the goal, but often the pieces you had in your head are not those which start coming out from the end of my fingers. Arrggh. This is why ‘endgaming’ is such a bad thing. In this case I had fooled myself into thinking that a cerebral trial run would be ok. It turns out that though the colours and textures I was putting together have potential, they are not right for the pieces I want to create right now. This is not an uncommon dilemma and part of the making process is to consider what is it about the pieces you feel fits your needs for this piece, what doesn’t, and why or why not. Some ideas and trials are to be put on a back burner, parked for future examination, others are ready to take forwards. Time to step backwards, reassess and with a bit of luck, move forward.

I try to develop and create work in a fairly free, open and mutable way, at least for some periods during the journey to completion. This might be called improvising, but I am wary of the stereotype associated with saying that I work though ‘improvisation’. It tends to suggest that I simply throw random ideas, fabrics, stitching into the air and see what happens. Improvisation is sometimes thought of as ‘winging it’, implying lack of skill and judgement – it is not – it is bringing the skills learned in your life to bear on the subject, but not letting those same skills hem you in. Ideally it results in conscious, open choices being made and the resulting pieces having a deeper connection to the ideas I start with.
Stephen Nachmanovitch in ‘Free Play: Power of Improvisation in Life and the Arts’ writes in much more detail and with much more coherence than I do, look him up of you think that you would like to try out some of these ideas.
I also find that some of the writings of Joseph Albers are from the same hymn sheet and worth remembering, such as:
‘I have always spoken against just falling onto your knees for so-called accidents, I mean a result you are not responsible for.’

One of the methods I use to work towards the aim of making consciously free work is to start with a ‘checklist’ consisting of headings and ideas which give me a focus on the piece or pieces and a way to refer back to my original cogitations about the meaning and important aspects of the works as I move forward. I emphasise that this is not ‘endgaming’ (deciding what I will create before beginning the journey), but developing a deeper connection to the reason for making the pieces, especially the important features or key characteristics.

For this series my initial thoughts were along these lines:

A continuation of ideas developed in terms of the connection we have to drawings of human figures. Linking right back to a piece I made after losing a friend when I was 15 years old, she was killed in a motorbike accident. The piece I painted then depicted figures stacked and curled around each other, legs, arms and hair linking together as the figures were head down and curled up in grief. As we move through life we learn to adjust to an increasing ‘list’ of such experiences, some minor, some major. But they are always there. Hopefully for most of us these experiences are balanced or outweighed with positive events and experiences, but there are times for some people when it seems that difficulties are the only reality.
I have also worked in previous series’ delving into the feelings and internal landscape present when I am in the process of making work. These pieces have divided the ‘canvas’ into spaces which link, add pressure or flow and release to depict the continually shifting mindscape of creativity and the reality of other influences intruding or helping.
Some of the headings to consider:
Quiet, internally driven work. Looking at shapes, layers and forms rather than colours and immediate impact.
The feeling of being withdrawn and in a space for creativity can be akin to the solitude of depression. Keeping this link is important.
Not important, but must not detract from the layering of lines.
2 weeks to complete!!
Need to be posted/carried in a suitcase – so in this instance they will need to be developed as flat, soft hangings. This could be developed/changed for future work.
Wall based panels – visual function only.
Not important.
Steel cloth and chiffons and stitch seem to bring the balance of texture from trials.
Patchwork techniques seems to sum up the filing of experiences and their development into the background of who we are. Machine stitch, needle felting, some hand stitch if time, could be added later?

I find that writing these notes about the thoughts helps to crystallise them and identifies my starting points. It is easier after this to start the quiet contemplation, the virtual ‘holding’ of the germs of the ideas, hushing my mind to allow the options and considerations to resolve themselves towards a focussing of possibilities. These notes are certainly not immutable and fixed, each aspect can be altered, choices made about increasing or decreasing the importance of the aspects, it is a pinboard to refer back to.

Once these thoughts are rounded up and ready to use, it is the getting started which can be the next hard step. It is often this development and cogitation stage which is the lengthiest part of the development process. Perhaps this is necessary, perhaps it is simply procrastination. In this case, imminent deadlines, fear of presenting an exhibition which was so minimal that was actually non-existent, aided the ‘stepping over the parapet’ phase and I worked solidly for the time I had.

Here’s a very apt quote from blogger and artist Arlee Bar which also sums up the dilemma of getting started, and reminds me that I am not unusual:

This is slow going in one sense. I left the wing pattern and fabric draped over the frame i want to use (but might not) overnight--my brain needs to process the direction and instructions first before i bite in with scissors and needles. Every time i finish something now, it seems a greater distance to the next one. I know these things are in there, in my heart, mind, gut, wherever that inspiration and dedication comes from, but digging it out gets harder and harder, though lord knows i feel empty and bereft without *something* going in my hands. Sometimes i wish i could just take a picture of the inside of my head and put that immediately on the fabric and in the stitching, but alas....it doesn't work that way, does it? It's almost as if there is a starter shot i'm waiting for, anticipating but never hearing or hearing a second late. I know i will jump in when the sound stops, but in the meantime it's quite frustrating! It's like that first step will mislead me, a commitment to the wrong future.
But digressing and chatting doesn't make it go forward either, so best get on with it. Just have to find the scissors.

The pieces grew fast once I had started, backgrounds worked in patched stainless steel, needle felted areas softening and obscuring some of this, then figure drawings stitched across the pieces. The figures are then partially obscured with blocks and areas of stitched lines derived from patterns developed from the negative spaces between the drawings. The pieces developed until the figures are mostly enclosed and contained by the patterns, becoming only partially visible. When we are withdrawn into ourselves, the physical body may actually become curled into a safe foetal position, or at least the feeling of turning away from the external to achieve clarity and connection with the internal. The patterns swirl and layer in forms which could be protective or could be oppressive, patterns derived from the body itself. Around each figure, just a hint of colour stitched, a spark, a reminder, an aura. 

To see all of the pieces and the final statement for the series, flick to the art works: negative spaces collection page.

They were displayed at Art Van Go in July/August, and are currently winging their way back to New Zealand to be a part of my next exhibition, to be held at NorthArt from 8th to 19th September 2014. 
Fingers crossed that the customs don’t get silly again – at least I am ready for that this time and have some idea of how to overcome that!


Maggi said...

A fascinating post Alysn. It was really interesting to gain an insight into the way that you work. I do hope that the pieces in transit arrive safely.

Erica said...

Alysyn, it fascinates me how you go about creating your art. Thank you for sharing it. I recently borrowed your book from the library to review it for AEG's newsletter and was inspired to make my own version of the pods, (heavily influenced by yours). I am thrilled with them...then tackled the 'device' case - again delighted with the result but did stick closely to your instructions with that one. I talked with some school girls this morning to promote embroidery and took both with me. They loved them. I suggested they watch out for your exhibitions. Thank you for letting us into your creative talents.

Alysn Midgelow-Marsden said...

Hi Maggi and Erica, Pieces arrived today - so a sigh of relief from me. Thanks both for your comments.

nzflutterby said...

Fascinating indeed. And something fo rme to try seeing that I don't have any idea where I'm headed when I start. I'll seek out the other authors you mentinoned too.
I'm really enjoying your classes too. They are terrific in that we use bits of what we have learnt from the earlier classes and other places.
Good luck with the exhibition. I'm goin galong today.