Living in a Material World

A person wearing glasses holds an old black and white photograph of a young blond girl in both hands. On the table behind there are many more old black and white photographs, clearly all taken on an old camera with real film in the days before digital photography.
Memories, photo credit Michal Jarmoluk on Pixabay

I do hope that your festive season was, indeed, a festive time spent in good company with loved ones, and that you have managed, somehow, to rise above the material commercialism that modern Christmas has become.

We did, somehow or other. It wasn't as minimal as some that I have heard of, but it was certainly less excessive than in the past. I even managed to find time to think about something other than presents and dinners - namely, on what it means to be 'an artist' in the world today.

I had been asked to explain my art practice in the contemporary context - not something that I'd given much thought to before. Art is what I do, and I live in the contemporary world, so I had just taken it for granted that I was working within the here and now.

A white haired woman wearing glasses is bending over an artwork that she is working on. The artwork is a large drawing of hat appears to be a hollowed-out tree. On the table behind the artist you can see some of the materials she has been using - a pot of ink, a box of watercolours.
At work on one of my Tree Series works recently.

Now I needed to think about it in order to explain myself in an application for an art residency. It was a challenge. I looked at other artists’ statements and felt wholly inadequate. They all seemed so clever, and so articulate about what they were doing. Altogether rather daunting….my own offering seems very humble in comparison. And yet I think it is wholly appropriate in our modern world, though I had never before thought about it in this way.

We are living in an age in which the life we lead is separating us ever more from our physicality. It’s as simple a thing as the different experiences that we have when we handle actual photos as opposed to flicking through a digital album on the phone, or reading on a kindle as opposed to holding and smelling the pages of a real book.

People walk through our cities with their heads bent and their eyes fixed on the screens of their phones, oblivious to the sights and sounds, the smells and colours and textures, the feel of the breeze on their cheeks…..or even the other bodies in the trains or on the pavements.

Potatoes are bought washed and bagged up in plastic. Are people even aware, any longer, that they grow in the dark, crumbly soil that is home to wriggling pink worms? Or that the meat they buy was once the leg that moved a living, breathing cow that might have nuzzled them with a soft wet nose?

A big grey cow lying in a lush field of green grass where yellow buttercups abound. The cow's ears are beige and furry, its nose soft and wet looking.
Living, breathing cow, photo credit to Elsemargriet on Pixabay

My art is rooted in the physical world.

A pair of strong black hands cup a handful of rich black soil in which a plant is growing. Two fresh, new leaves glow green with new life.
My art is rooted in the physical world, photo credit Pexels on Pixabay

My choice of subject - the natural world - is the most obvious evidence of that, but oftentimes a body of work is inspired by a particular material - driftwood for a time, acetate strips during a different phase, textiles at another stage, found earth pigments during another phase. During my Stone Lithography Fellowship it was working on the stones that resonated with me, as opposed to the metal plates. There was just something about their massiveness, and the warmer feel of the surface that touched my soul and inspired the quality of the marks that I made on them.

An almost square image showing an abstract landscape in reds and yellow ochre colours. The image has a broken outline, created by the chipped and damaged edges of the stone that it was created on in the stone lithography process. There are many different qualities of mark in th image. Very fine strokes in the upper right suggest wind, while the more solid red elements and darker red blotches are suggestive of a tree and fallen leaves.
Field Play, one of my stone lithographs showing the many different types of mark I was able to create on the stone. I was particularly fond of working on this stone because of the beautiful flaws in its shape, with the bits broken off and giving it its uniqueness and charm.

On every level, my work is about reconnecting to our material world and our physicality. It is about taking time to look, to really see and fully appreciate what is in front of me. In so doing I also enter a place of meditative mindfulness and child-like wonder that links me back to an innocent, spiritual place that is timeless and weightless.

A vertiacl. rectangular image showing a series of vertical, rectangular shapes suggesting a set of upright books. The image features some interesting grainy textures as well as velvety black elements that have been made using charcoal. Other colours include greys, pink, umber and variations of grey-green.
Books - created using earth pigments, chalk pastels and charcoal.

So, if you open yourself up to it and allow it to be, each of my pieces is both a sensuous and an ethereal experience. It is the texture of the paper or the paint, and the imagined sensations (visual and auditory) of a piece of charcoal walking across the page. It is the lush way this blue sits alongside that green or red or yellow, and the way those two chalk pastel colours have smudged together. Can you imagine letting your finger rub over the soft paper and letting them do that?

These are activities that we did in wonder as children, when we took the time to let ourselves wonder, and this is what I am inviting people to do when they look at my work.

It’s a far cry from the fast-paced, hard-wired, technical chill of life as it is rapidly becoming. We lose sight of our sensuous nature at our peril. When everything about us is spinning faster and faster, when people are falling apart because they can no longer cope with the pace, taking time to slow down has never been more important. This is what art can offer you.

Coincidentally, I also recently came across a TED talk that addresses these same concerns: (

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