Blue Monkey Network member and artist, Judy Martin, visited the Shared Space residency at the beginning of the second week and wrote this article in response to her visit.
Shared Space visit 15/7/2014
Some years ago I interviewed a traditional watercolourist who, during the course of our conversation and as he was painting. remarked “The painting [the work on paper] is a by-product of doing it.” It was unexpected to hear this from an artist who had a very specific goal in mind and a highly practised technique, but it is a rather brilliantly succinct summing up of the way all of us engage with our work, whether or not consciously.
Shared Space creates the time and space for doing. Simply described, Shared Space is six artists working together in three purpose-built studios (college premises) for ten days (two working weeks). Walking into the studios takes me back in time – it looks right, smells right, feels right as a place where people spend their time making art. There are sounds associated with making. Tall ceilings, big squarish spaces, lots of light, studio paraphernalia and odd pieces of unexplained sculpture. I haven’t experienced this in decades and I am already deeply envious of these six people.
Judith Alder, Angela Smith, Felicity Truscott, Pat Thornton and Clare Shoosmith kindly agreed to take a break and enable me to talk to them all together (Sharon Haward was unable to be there that day). I asked about what prompted them to apply for the project. The opportunity to commit to dedicated time in a much larger space than usually available was the obvious common ground. Clare referred to being around other artists, Pat described it as a validation of what she does as an artist, bringing professionalism to her practice. Angela said she had authorised herself to do it and spoke of it as also a public commitment. They all appreciated being able to step into a full working day, ongoing, and as Felicity said. “stay in that part of your brain the whole time.”
Felicity typically works in a very small space and appeared to have spread out the most, working through the different rooms and on a large scale, incorporating gesture and movement – including rollerblading – into her drawing processes. During the first week Pat had moved from small scale work to large compositions, partly inspired by this activity around her; Angela and Clare seemed to be occupying more private spaces, despite the lack of physical boundaries, but were able to be aware of and participate in the other activity in the studio. Judith was the only one working in 3D, and had commandeered one of the studios for her sculpture, though of course the others both entered and on occasion worked in the same space.
None had visualised an end product as such. Judith said that she had expected her project would reach a conclusion, but in doing the work “things have come up” and there was potential to go in different directions. Felicity described “a big step in the unfolding”. They discussed that the idea of exhibiting as a group could have been one proposed end stage, but Angela pointed out that she would have approached the work differently if that had been the goal. At the time when I spoke to the artists, on their seventh day of working in the shared space, none had a planned shape for the open day that would signify the end of the project. All had a lot of work evidencing a lot of activity, and huge enthusiasm for what might happen in the next few days.
After a while I could literally feel their desire to get back to work, so the artists returned to their own arenas and I prepared to talk to them individually. From our group conversation, I briefly wondered at the significance of all six of them being women. Lack of time, space and encouragement to really push the work in a domestic environment was an underlying theme, the various demands of family and daily life. Within the studios they not only had more freedom, there was support and encouragement for helping each other get through a bad day. They had come to own the space and established ways of working together and separately at the same time. Angela explained it as feeling like both a job and holiday, Judith was keen to add that it was a challenging as well as a great and rewarding experience.
One other aspect of the project was discussed by us in the group. I had been following the Shared Space blog, and was a bit surprised to see how much of the first week’s work was represented in drawing. I suppose I presumed that had I taken that opportunity, I would have immediately gone large, with something quite experimental. But here the drawing process was a tool in locating the artists within the space, easing in through a comfort zone to something more confident and risky (Felicity’s words). Particularly for Pat and Angela, figure work relating to activity in the shared space was part of their proposal, and I saw in Pat’s drawings that this had been part of Sharon’s exploration too. And it was apparent that after the initial drawing stage, things had moved quite fast in terms of trying different approaches, materials, scale, and stepping beyond the comfort zone.
Each artist was generous with time and information, allowing me to interrupt them individually to talk about their work in more detail. In planning to write this piece, I thought I might comment on that more fully, but their own observations and photos are on the blog, and we will all see more on Saturday. And I’m running out of space. So let me mention Felicity’s sweepings and skatings on huge sheets of paper, using ash, charcoal and pigment; Pat’s very fascinating sketchbook, which in itself was a sort of shared space diary, and her blown-up compositions finding new, edgy views in charcoal and paint; Clare’s narrative and visual layering of photos, prints and found objects, partly revealing and partly disguising her thought processes; Angela’s movement through familiar and less familiar processes, and her ‘storyboard’ of trial compositions developing by the day; and Judith growing her big stone in a shaded studio, gradually finding the ways to give it form and substance. From what I know of Sharon’s work it is usually both site specific and event specific, so it will be very interesting to see how it moves around, links with and crosses the work of the other artists.
Congratulations to Judith for making Shared Space happen, and to all the artists for participating so wholeheartedly and sharing their experience with us. Blue Monkey members visiting on Saturday may be impressed and inspired, as I have been, and we can hope this sort of opportunity becomes a regular part of our communication as artists.