Now showing at the Glynn Vivian Swansea

I wasn’t always an artist* although in my soul I always felt like I was meant to be an artist. I didn’t have any direction or any goals as to how I could possibly escape a 70hr working week and make any of this happen. When I finally found a way to change direction in 2005 and start on my arts journey I had three goals:
1. To exhibit somewhere, anywhere!
2. To have my own solo show.
3. To exhibit at the Glynn Vivian Gallery in Swansea.

The first goal I achieved before I’d even started on any arts course and whilst I was still a maths teacher. I entered a photograph back in 2007 for a competition called Postcards in the Park. As a runner up I exhibited at Mile End Pavilion in London. At exactly the same time the world Lomography conference was happening in London and I was also exhibiting right in the middle of Trafalgar Square. I felt like I’d won the lottery. Is this how it was going to be for the rest of my art career? Cucumber sandwiches and champagne with Joanna Lumley? Well, no. I got lucky I suppose and the long years of slog then set in with little exhibitions all over the UK and eventually the world.

The second goal I achieved shortly after graduating from Photography in the Arts in 2010. My first solo show was at elysium gallery here in Swansea in 2011. Called Self [other] it showed eight large collage pieces that I’d spent the best part of a year working on. Some of these pieces sold whilst other smaller pieces I created as a spin off from this went on to show in New York. So far so good. I’ve had a few solo shows since. I’m not planning another solo show for a while since it takes such an immense amount of work to put together a collection worthy of the space.

The third goal has been very illusive. I’ve been in group shows across the world. Next year I’m showing in Australia. This year it’s been Serbia, USA, and various places across the UK. Since 2007 I’ve hit nearly every continent but still, getting a show closer to home hasn’t been a forthcoming opportunity. The Glynn Vivian Open Exhibition used to be here every year but the gallery closed for such a long time to have a refit I never thought I’d have the opportunity to show here. Even before it closed I felt a little intimidated. I hadn’t yet found my artistic voice and wasn’t sure that I’d want to face the rejection of not being selected. Even this year I hesitated before entering. I’d convinced myself that I wasn’t good enough, which is ridiculous given that in 2014 I was good enough to show my work at New York Fashion Week. I think the real reason is that I wasn’t sure I wanted to set myself up for the failure of not realising my third and final goal. So imagine my surprise when I got in.

It’s been 12 years since I set myself my three goals. I’ve been to places that I never imagined and achieved far more than I ever expected. So what goals should I set myself now? Where could I go from here? I don’t know. I do know that I made the right choices in getting to where I am today. It’s not been easy but I’m a far happier person now I’m here. The future is a wonderful place to be in. I can’t wait to see what the next 12 years will have in store for me.

The Glynn Vivian will be showing my work until the start of January. Open daily (not Mondays).

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*I used to teach high school maths.

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Marzen, Wisconsin, and why strangers are just friends you have yet to meet…

I’m really pleased to announce that my next exhibition will be at Marzen Gallery in Madison Wisconsin until 5th January. I’ll be showing as part of Layers: A Multi-Artist Exhibition which features the work of Elsie Berget, Mary Bero, Rhea Ewing, Dennis Nechvatal, Paula Schuette Kraemer, and myself. I feel really privileged to be finally showing in Marzen and to be amongst such talented artists. The opening reception is this Friday as part of the Atwood-Winnebago Winterfest. You can read more over on the gallery website by clicking HERE.

What’s really exciting for me is not just that I’m part of this event, but how this exhibition even came about. It’s a long tale which started back in 2013 when I travelled to New York for my sister’s wedding. It’s the furthest I’ve ever travelled on my own so I was very careful to make sure my accommodation was as welcoming as I could find. So I stayed at the awesome 3B Bed and Breakfast in downtown Brooklyn and where I found myself sharing breakfast with an eclectic bunch of travellers and artists from across the globe.

The running joke since then is that I’ve seen Michelle more in her pyjamas than I have in any regular clothes. Her and husband Jim were living their own story which involved Bette Midler, Coney Island Mermaid Parade and a whole heap of other adventures during their travels to New York from Wisconsin. [You can read Michelle’s story HERE] We got talking and kept in touch and through the next few years exchanged conversations, photographs, and common interests via the wonderful thing that is the internet. One of the strongest connections we discovered is that we have a common belief that destiny is something you create for yourself. Motivation and movement doesn’t happen through the power of memes; you have to make it happen. You can try and you can fail and that’s ok, but you have to be prepared to try. And so, even through we have different life stories and are thousands of miles apart, each day we set our own goals and we try.

Fast forward a few years and I’m looking for new places and opportunities to show my work in the Americas. The art I exhibited as part of my New York Collection travelled to New York Fashion Week in 2014, over to Colombia, and then out and about on the West side of the world*. All the while Michelle managed to miss seeing my art anywhere near her home. In 2016 she even planned to take a 400 mile round trip to see one of my sketchbooks showing at The New Bohemian Gallery in Brainerd Minnesota but snow stopped her from getting close. She continued to follow my art adventures and I continued to follow her disappointment at being unable to see my art. I figured there was only one solution; if I couldn’t get Michelle to my art I had to get my art to Michelle. Simple really when you think about it. Just send a bundle to her on permanent loan. It’s bound to be bringing her more pleasure to have it on the walls of her home than it is for me to just have it in storage in a cupboard somewhere gathering dust.

Michelle couldn’t believe her luck. Here is someone she only met for a day or so in 2013 taking a chance and sending her a bundle of pictures. I mean, when does that ever happen? You meet an artist and that’s usually it. If you see their stuff in a gallery and if you want it in your house you have to give them money. Who would trust you with their art and send you seven pieces in the post and ask you just to enjoy them? Well I would and I did. I figured it’s pragmatism over pride, common sense over covetousness. To me, they’re beautiful pieces of paper and glue expressing some ideas I had in 2014. They are worth more to my soul than they are to my wallet and I would be happy knowing that they’re enriching the souls and the lives of other people across the other side of the planet.

With this ethos in mind Michelle has done all the hard work in finding a gallery to show my artworks. It’s taken a while, what with real life taking precedent, and that’s more than ok because real life should always have precedent over my little pieces of paper. There was never a time limit on her sharing these pieces or any conditions, contracts, or obligations on how and when my pictures should be shared. All I ask is that they are enjoyed and that they are shared. Art should be seen rather than a scene. Art should be something accessible and obtainable.

So what’s next? Neither of us knows, or dare to dream. We’ll continue to motivate and inspire each other and see what life deals us and where it leads. With all the dark and horrible things that the news tells us are happening in the world, it’s important that we all do our best to counter this in some small way. This world is a wonderful place full of chance encounters. If we’ve both learned anything over the last few years it’s that strangers in a Bed and Breakfast in Brooklyn are just friends you haven’t met yet.

Thanks to Michelle and Jim for all your support. Thanks to Margaret for curating my work. You can see Layers: Multi Artist Exhibition at Marzen, 2345 Atwood Avenue, Madison WI 53704  until January 5th.

 

*Before you get excited Mr Taxman, I’m a nothing so as yet nobody wants my stuff. I’d love to sell in Sothebys for millions but I still have both my ears and have failed to grow a twiddly mad moustache of any kind. I’m always at the point of giving up on any of this stuff because I’d make more money working in McDonalds.

Meanwhile, in St Pancras

Last week saw the opening of my second consecutive exhibition in London. Sewing Circle Rethread features 23 artists who feature needlework and craft in their artmaking. The exhibition is at the Conference Centre in St Pancras Hospital and curated by Elaine Harper-Gay and Peter Herbert. The exhibition space is quite unique since it is part of the working hospital. Exhibitions are often themed in a Health Care Conference Centre setting since most footfall is from healthcare professionals and other medical staff.

It’s always exciting to be displaying in strange and unusual gallery settings. It is important to me that my art is inclusive rather than exclusive and that it has ‘chance’ viewers from all walks of life. Artists themselves do not, and should not, exist in a bubble and any chance for cross-disciplinary talks to engage others in the Arts has always been key to my practice.

Sewing Circle Rethread is showing The Conference Centre, St Pancras Hospital, 4 St Pancras Way, NW1 0PE London, UK. Opening times are Monday to Friday 9-5pm. Show runs until 12th January. I’m hoping to make the journey across to London soon to see the show in-situ. Meanwhile a load of photographs from the opening night are available on Facebook by clicking HERE. If you find yourself in the area go see! You won’t be disappointed!

Swansong

A few months ago I spent the day in a pub cellar listening to Swansong by Mudlark continuously for seven hours. Just let that sink in for a moment…

…seven hours…

Yep.

That’s a long time.

Let’s face it, for any sane person, listening to your favourite track over and over for such a long period of time would break you. Even if you were completely in love with a particular band, seven hours would probably be enough. You’d give that music a break for a while until you fall in love with it all over again. This hasn’t happened for me with Swansong.

It’s an occupational hazard when you’re shooting music videos then you’re inevitably going to be listening to something for a good long while. There’s not just the shoot, but the hours of editing that inevitably follow. It can either be a pleasure or a torment depending on whether you connect with the music. I refuse for it to be a torment.

The beauty of the music videos I make, as part of Stone Letter Media with Ben Honebone, is that we only want to work with projects that we connect with. We sometimes seek out bands that we know we have a vision for, because we know that what we can create will match up perfectly with the philosophy of the band. We’re big fans of Mudlark to the point where we made their video for Frankenstein’s Ruth first then only asked them if they wanted the video afterwards! Mudlark’s music is something dark and wonderful. They weave sounds together in such a haunting way it’s both unnerving and familiar at the same time. There’s a kind of symbiosis between these guys that just tells you they’ve known each other forever. There’s an uncanny beauty about their music which I just can’t quite put into words. I’m always left with the feeling that Mary Shelley would be writing Mudlark’s biography with help from Pink Floyd. It’s this feeling that we wanted to capture when we made the video; a sublime yet comforting darkness.

But I digress…

Tonight they’re holding a launch for their new single Come Clean/Swansong at Fuel Rock Club in Cardiff. I’m gutted that I can’t be there because these guys deserve the time, the support, and the accolade for their music. Doors open from 6:30pm.If you can’t be there at least check out the video. You can find more of Mudlark over on SoundCloud.

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Anti-confidence and the Art of Losing

When I deliver my workshops I’m always mentioning that I’m not a very confident person. It’s difficult for people to understand how this can be true because I’m the one delivering the workshop to help others feel more confident! I find it easy to bring out the best in other people because it draws attention away from myself. I can find the strength in others because I can see the positives in the current situation they’re in without seeing all their life history dragging them down. I can help other people feel good, but making myself feel good and promoting my own strengths is something I find very difficult to do.

How can I explain this better?

I remember something my Gran and my Mum used to do. Gran hated washing the dishes but she would come over to our house and wash dishes for Mum whilst she was out. Washing your own dishes is a chore and a bother which seems to never end, but washing dishes for other people does them a favour which they appreciate. Mum would return the favour by doing dishes at Gran’s house. Each had conned themselves into turning tedium into novelty just by swapping homes. By being pragmatic and generous to each other, household chores became pleasant surprises to be bestowed upon each other.

We all get by a little better with help from our friends.

Sometimes though you have to dig deep and go solo in putting yourself out there. Why do I find it so hard to promote my artwork, to go to exhibition openings, to send emails out to organisations to promote workshops? Well, it’s because I’m putting what small confidence I have in myself on the line and tempting rejection. Procrastination and doubt can be crippling in convincing myself that I’m setting myself up for a fall.

So what do I have to lose? If I’ve already convinced myself that I’m going to fail and there is no point in doing something then surely I have lost already. So if I’ve lost already then I have absolutely nothing to lose? Hey… hang on… Let’s just think about that for a second… I HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE!!!! Genius!

I am not confident, I am anti-confident. I am rallying against my own lack of self-belief and doing it anyway. I can ask friends for help because I’m not scared of the reaction they might give. I’m angry at myself and rebelling against my own negativity.  Tell me I’m wasting my time and that you don’t like what I do. I don’t care. I have nothing to lose.

So here’s a video promoting me. I made it over the weekend and with a little help from my friends it will positively put me out there. I’m not looking for ‘likes’ or counting the number of views. I’ve done it. I’ve broken my own self-imposed cycle of negativity and am running with this as fast and as far as I can.

What’s the worst that can happen?

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The Sewing Circle Rethread

I’m really pleased to announce that I’m involved in another London exhibition at St Pancras Hospital. The Sewing Circle Rethread is curated by Elaine Harper-Gay and Peter Herbert of The Arts Project, Camden and features 23 artists who use needlework in their art.

This is a really interesting exhibition for me in so many ways. Needlework for me has always just been something that you do. It’s been in my family for so long, so many generations, that it never occurred to me that this is something that isn’t necessarily mainstream. It’s only over time that I’ve realised that the way I was brought up and the crafts I learned along the way just weren’t available to other people. I learned to weave when I was 10 and I handmade rugs at 11. I’ve knitted and sewed pretty much anything and everything. It hasn’t formed the main body of my artistic practice because it never occurred to me until recently that it could.

For The Sewing Circle Rethread, I am showing a piece called We are all a Work in Progress. This is a full size paper torso based on my own form and created from hundreds of darkroom prints from my old sketchbooks. Cyanotypes and salt prints tumble over photograms and sketch notes to examine the ideas of us being formed of our combined histories and memories. I’ve always believed that it isn’t your experiences that define you but how you stitch together the memories after. We are always reworking and redefining ourselves, creating new stitches to hold our minds and bodies together.

The Sewing Circle Rethread will open on 10th November and is open for viewing 9am-5pm Monday to Friday until  12th January at the Conference Centre Gallery, St Pancras Hospital, London. Film maker Anna Bowman will be making a short film about this exhibition. I’ve already been interviewed by Anna as part of The Art of Caring at St Pancras. You can see that by clicking HERE.

 

The Art of Caring

Recently I took part in an exhibition called The Art of Caring which was held at St Pancras Hospital in London. The art I created, with Graham Parker, for this show was linked to revisiting memories and the healing process we go through as part of facing a major (potentially terminal) illness. It looked at creating a sense of something new from the ashes of the old as well as how we can look forward together in the art of caring.

But don’t read any more of this. What you actually want is to visit the exhibition, digitally, in video form, and hear all about the exhibition itself from the artists and organisers themselves. Graham and I went up to London St Pancras Hospital and were interviewed for our part in the show. Skip to around 8 mins 45 if you want to see us in action.

Enjoy!

Melanie Ezra and Graham Parker 'New Forms 7' (detail)

‘New Forms’ Melanie Ezra and Graham Parker