#8 Autumn in the Neighbourhood
Autumn has arrived in a crackle of fireworks. Suddenly, we are kicking through leaves and wearing poppies on our coats. I think of childhood nature walks: collecting conkers and sticks but not the red-spotted fly agarics, they are poisonous, splashing through mud, coming home tired for tea and rock buns. All well with the world.
Just think, mums and dads and other relatives out in nature with young children at this time of year, they may be reminiscing about these experiences in 50 years.
Autumn is making me feel nostalgic but it is impossible to feel too sad when the trees are shimmering with orange and gold, more beautiful than any firework.
#7 Seeing Differently at Moorfields Hospital
Today, I went to Moorfields Hospital. I hadn’t been for an eye test since before the pandemic. I got the journey time all wrong and arrived an hour before my appointment which left me lots of time for reflection, along with a cappuccino at one of my favourite café’s – The Shoreditch Grind.
Last time I was here, I was an isolated semi-invalid. Now, although I still live with the chronic pain and depression of fibromyalgia, I am not so oppressed by it. I am an artist whose work is currently appearing in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and will soon also be on display in the Mall Galleries as part of the ING Discerning Eye, 2021.
While how we see ourselves is vitally important, so, too, is how we see others. The mind defines the way we process the signals that go from our eyes to our brains. It’s difficult to retrain ourselves to let go of ingrained beliefs. Of course, it’s blindingly obvious that this should be so. And yet how often do we pause and really think about it as applied to ourselves – rather than other people.
So how do we confront prejudice? Often, challenges can come across as crass and so prove counter-productive. Mindfulness is helping me to reframe how I see myself, how I see the world, and how I respond to other people. But it’s not a quick fix. All I can conclude is that we must continue to try both to comprehend and to challenge. Not so much “walk a mile in another man’s moccasins” as put on their spectacles now and again.
#6 Stars and Snubs at the Affordable Art
Recently I took my courage in both hands and asked a successful artist I follow on Instagram for his advice. I didn’t really expect a response but was delighted when he gave me a considered and detailed reply. One of his suggestions was to go to fairs and check out possible galleries. No time like the present, I thought, and set off for the Affordable Art Fair which is currently running in Battersea Park.
I got a shiver of excitement as I approached the pavilion among the trees. Battersea Park was part of the Festival of Britain so it seemed a particularly apt venue for an art fair. I remember being taken to the Park as a young child, and marvelling at vestigial pirates leering at me from between the branches overhead.
Inside the pavilion, the roof was studded with stars, creating a magical space in which the exhibitors could display their art. It was airy and well laid out: not overwhelmingly large but with much to see. When I went it wasn’t crowded, which in these days of Covid is surely a plus.
From studying the list of 100 galleries exhibiting, I had identified a few to take a look at. Having exhibited at both trade and art fairs, I appreciate how tiring they can be. My own experience made me sensitive to the fact that somebody distracting you when your stand is busy is about as welcome as a baby vomiting on your shoe. I resolved to only approach stands where there were no “punters” around. But at one of the first, a man told me curtly, “Not the time! Not the place!” Then, perhaps because I hadn’t instantly dematerialised, he added, “No one will talk to you here. They are busy working.”
I was shocked. It’s been a while since anyone spoke to me so rudely. I wondered whether he would have used such a dismissive tone if I had been a man, or a luxuriously-dressed young woman.
Fortunately for me his prediction proved false. Elsewhere I found people friendly and helpful. And I saw some gorgeous and engaging artwork.
Reflecting on my morning at the Affordable Art Fair, I am struck by the disproportionate weight I give to the one unpleasant aspect of the visit. Sadly, that’s typical of people who live with chronic pain – we become used to society seeing us and treating us in a negative way. And if we become accustomed, it still hurts. While in the past the incident would have bothered me for several days, recent events have given me a new perspective. I can brush aside the unkind remarks of a mean-spirited individual. I can refuse to be put down by his put-down. Instead I will follow up on the galleries who did take a moment to chat about my journey and who gave me a contact card. It probably won’t lead to anything, but who knows …
#5 I Believe in Magic
More pictures and details about the Royal Academy adventure, here
When I read that the theme of this year’s Royal Academy Summer Exhibition was to be Reclaiming Magic I was instantly hooked. I started painting a few years ago as a means of pain management. The result on my life has been transformative. Magic indeed, I thought. Perhaps I should apply.
I carried on reading the article and discovered that the show was to be curated by a celebrated artist called Yinka Shonibare. It was no surprise that I wasn’t familiar with his work because I am nothing if not ignorant when it comes to the contemporary art scene. I don’t say this proudly, simply that I have a lot of catching up to do after decades of taking the attitude ‘I know what I like’.
I read about his life and work, and his vision that the Summer Exhibition should include marginalised arts and artists, that it should be a celebration of the wonder of making art. Shonibare’s concept spoke directly to my heart.
I reviewed my paintings – or paint babies as I call them affectionately – and found a couple which I felt might fit the theme. One of them was a representation of how I felt going on my regular morning walk during the second corona lockdown in winter 2020. It was a colourful, trees with a small dark figure in the middle. I completed the web form and uploaded my picture, and forgot about the whole thing. I mean, what were the chances? There were 15,000 submissions, I later discovered, of which 1383 made it to the final exhibition.
An email arrived from the Royal Academy saying that I had been shortlisted. I danced about the house shrieking with delight. If you think this is hyperbole, I can assure you that it isn’t! But more magic was to follow. I was contacted by a researcher for a BBC2 documentary about the Summer Exhibition. They were looking for hopefuls to follow as part of the programme. Cutting a long story short I was chosen to participate.
I was very nervous about a film crew coming to my house. But the team were lovely and soon put me at ease so I was able to tell my story without feeling overly anxious. And much to my surprise I actually enjoyed talking to them about my painting.
There was more filming when I went to the Royal Academy of Arts to hand in my picture to be considered by the judges. I was so apprehensive on the day of the final decision that I could barely drink a cup of tea at breakfast. I kept telling myself that either way it had been a fantastic experience and not to get to worked up about it. When the email came through with the results I was shaking.
Fantastically it was a YES! They had accepted my little leaping girl and she was going to be on the wall of the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly! When I discovered that my picture was in the big room curated personally by Yinka Shonibare I was lost for words.
A week or so later I joined other artists for a preview and party. Me? Juli the doodle monger, the girl who’d been told not to do art at school because she had to get a proper job.
My journey from isolated fibromyalgia sufferer, defined by poor health, to artist, is magical but it is also true. I hope my story will give encouragement to anyone who is in the situation that I was in three years ago.
#4 A Visit to The Royal Academy Of Arts
Today, I took my painting, 'Where I Live: Corona Panic in Sutherland Grove' to the Royal Academy of Arts in Burlington House, on Piccadilly. The painting will be looked at in person rather than from a digital picture by the selection committee for the Summer Exhibition.
It gives me the shivers just thinking about the possibility that my little leaping girl might hang on the walls where I have seen so many amazing shows.
My first memory of the Royal Academy is visiting an exhibition of Chinese Jade in the 1970s. I was 12 years old. I was fortunate that my parents made time to take me and my younger sister to visit galleries and museums when we were young, despite the fact that our little brother was what they called in those days "disturbed" and therefore couldn't be taken into such institutions because he would scream the place down.
My childhood experience of growing up in a house with pictures always around me, and being encouraged to paint and draw and do lots of crafts, left me with an appetite for the visual arts. So, whenever I could, in an easy-going leisurely sort of way, I would see an exhibition or visit an artist's home. I never thought very much about this beyond the pleasure of the visit and how it informed my general view of the world. I never imagine for one moment that I would create work myself. And I still don't know quite how that has happened.
But back to the Royal Academy! I remember with particular delight the exhibition of Matisse and his materials in 2005. Matisse is one of my favourite painters and in 2016 I visited the superb Painting the Garden exhibition, subtitled Monet to Matisse. I kept the catalogue to show to my mum who was a passionate gardener, and I was sorry that she was too weak and ill (although we didn't know it at the time) to attempt an exhibition in London.
Another of my favourite memories of the Royal Academy is Bronzes in 2012. I think I visited it twice because I have always loved sculpture, from making sand people with seaweed bikinis on the beach to falling in love with Donatello's David, seen in Florence on my first visit to Italy in my early 20s.
I can’t properly put into words what it would mean to me to be accepted for the Summer Exhibition. I’ll let you know if it happens but for now I must wait until 4th September when the decision is announced.
#3:Starstruck at the Hockney exhibition
The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020
So here I am at the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, and experiencing a thrill of pure delight.
Three years ago, when I first started using my iPad to make art, people said, “oh, like David Hockney.” I was so ignorant, so not part of the cognoscenti, that I didn’t even know that David Hockney was creating work with an iPad. Of course, I immediately sought out his pictures online and was enchanted. I planned a trip to Saltaire. Then Covid happened.
So, when I heard that there was to be a new exhibition at the Royal Academy, I booked my ticket straightaway. I was expecting to be wowed. But, this is so much more compelling than I could have imagined. The pictures, which are a regular size, and simply framed, burst with colour and joy. All around me are trees, bare, in bud and heavy with blossom. Fields. Clouds. Flowers. Rain! Here, I find the subjects which I love best, both as a viewer and a painter. Bright uncompromising colours and simplicity of line and form create work which is at once utterly recognisable as real and at the same time hyper-real.
To see these glorious pictures at a large scale and collected together is overwhelming. From a distance they look smooth, but up close I can see the painter’s marks. I find a rawness, a simple confidence that is wonderful. Nature is not tidy – particularly trees! The catalogue, which of course I had to buy, points out that Hockney is a master of drawing.
Perhaps because I discovered the technique for myself rather than hearing about it as being a respectable thing to do, I feel a kinship with this beautiful work. Of course, David Hockney is infinitely better at it than me, but staring at the clouds in different colours, I feel a resonance with my own attempts.
Often people sneer at iPad art, dismissing it as the preserve of superheroes and gooey-eyed manga characters. Surely this inspiring collection will put an end to all that.
Thank you, David Hockney! Thank you, Royal Academy!
An example of my iPad work
#2:Sussex Art Fair, 2021
With fellow exhibitor Adele Riley – check out her lovely work
#1: A Bit about Me
This is based on an interview with Fraser Renton of Sussex Art Fairs
Where did it all begin?
Three years ago, I began painting to escape the disabling pain and misery of a condition called fibromyalgia. What started as a hobby quickly became an obsession. Shortly after I had started, I went on a pain management course at my local hospital, St George's in South London. They encouraged me to have confidence in my art. It is no exaggeration to say that course changed my life.
When I started to sell my work, I jotted down a mission for myself: “in a world where there is so much anger and sadness, I try to seek out beauty in everyday things. I share what I’ve captured with the aim of making people smile… And to promote a conversation about pain, truth, and beauty.”
Do you have any formal training?
I have no formal training and identify as an outsider artist. I credit my father, an émigré designer, and his father, a celebrated Hungarian watercolourist, as my teachers. Although I never knew my Hungarian grandfather, he was present throughout my growing up through his many paintings.
From who or where do you draw inspiration for your work?
My subject is the beauty of nature as I find it in my everyday life in suburban London and rural Suffolk. I am preoccupied by the relationship between material structure, such as the neurotransmitters in our bodies, and emotional states. There are a few recurring motifs in my painting. First, the path, which represents my journey from being marginalised to being an artist selling my own work. Second, the boundaries between water and land. These interest me because they are neither one thing nor another. The chronic pain sufferer often looks well while feeling terrible so is neither one thing nor another. Third, the tenacity of trees. I am fascinated by trees in all their varied forms from majestic cedars that stand beside tower blocks that they predate, the relic of a previous land-use to the scraggly buddleia bushes that sprout beside railways and from roofs.
How would you describe your artistic style?
I would describe my artistic style as neoexpressionist. Or maybe naïve. I'm not very good at classifications. I think there's an innocence to it, and also a joy which resonates with people.
What techniques do you used to create art?
I love experimenting with different media and techniques, combining new and traditional methods. I started painting by doodling on my iPad. I often interleave photography and digital art in a way that enables me to explore the relationship between the physical world and emotions, for example, I found a piece of fabric from the 1970s while clearing out my mother's house after her death. The colours were so evocative of spring flowers that I used it as the background to a picture of daffodils.
I like to play around with different styles and ideas rather than feeling constrained to paint consistently in a particular style. This can be a bit confusing, I guess, when you see a stylised almost abstract digital artwork beside an acrylic landscape on canvas. The unifying principle is my particular quirky take on the world.
Which projects are you really excited about for 2021?
In terms of my plans for 2021, the most important event in my calendar is the Sussex Art Fair in July. I am thinking about how to curate the pictures I bring to the exhibition in order to create a consistent and meaningful experience for visitors.
I have just set up my own website and I’m really excited to find out where it will take me. It feels like a big step towards being a ‘serious’ artist. One of my challenges is to be serious about my work without taking myself too seriously, and to honour my original mission – to make people happy through art.