After last year I burned right out. I hit rock bottom. I was tired beyond belief and now I can see that I was, whilst actually putting my all into the Master’s degree, just going through the motions in my painting. I gave all I had to give, and that wasn’t much on the amount of sleep I was living on. Caring for a baby and studying is no joke.
That was last year, it’s in the past. Over the summer a shift occurred. Spending it, as I do, in an ancient village in the heart of rural Catalonia. El Ponent (The West) was the setting for my voyage into myself. The raw, dusty, dirty, industrial farming community that is deeply, earthily, heart breakingly beautiful and terrible. I spent a month building up to living there. I couldn’t sleep at night as the tension built; the anticipation of this place and its people gnawed at me.
But it’s necessary to go there; it’s the only place we can go to get away from the suffocating heat of the summer. The village is on higher ground and breezes from the sea (Garbinades) cool it in the evening.
It’s a place where I must live with my partner’s parents and grandmother. Where everything I do is monitored and commented on. My views about raising my children were unimportant there as the village takes over. This caused me considerable anxiety to say the least. It made me use my imagination a lot though. My daughter and I would walk the stone streets and make up stories about each house, each cat or beetle we saw as we went. We walked the same streets everyday for two months I think, and always managed to see something new or surprising.
We fought quite a lot. We made up. I started writing poems to combat the anxiety and the guilt. I felt so guilty about all my imperfections and especially my rages.
All of this is the context to my art making and the shifts that occur in my way of thinking about it. I started to try and unpack my frustration about my practice. Where had my enthusiasm gone? Why was my work flat somehow? It seemed obvious that tiredness must be the reason, but I also felt that I had strayed too far from myself. I wanted to please; I needed to please my teachers. I wanted their approval, but now I’ve realized that this was a product of my tiredness too. Now I’m starting to feel stronger I know that I have a power inside me, and unimaginable creative force that is mine to wield. I must stop denying it and allowing others to convince me that they know best. I felt undermined by a lot of comments made by men last year. I now believe their underestimation of me led me to under value myself. I must remember this and stay strong.
Over the two months I read three novels and some art books which gave me some new perspectives. Conversations with the artist Robert Irwin helped me to realize a few important things; don’t try to come up with answers, try to come up with questions because this will move you forward. This led me to realize that the formal aspects of my work needed more attention and to be given more importance. Materiality, scale, shape, colour are all formal elements that I have a lot of questions about, so they have become the focus for my investigations this year. Thinking about materiality has brought me back to my work from the first year when I began making paintings with plasticine and painted cardboard. I didn’t know how to take that work forward at the time but I think I’m ready now.
Another book I read was The Gift by Lewis Hyde. It made me think about identity and how my art is not related to my identity which just now happens to be 34 year old mother of two, or weird pissed off English lady. In my art I am a timeless version of myself that transcends these temporary stages in my life.
So, by the end of the summer I felt broken and then somehow remade, not like new but ready to fight again at least.
P.S. I did paint a bit, but now it feels like a hundred years ago and nothing to do with me.