Archive for the 'artist development' Category

Time (by Olga Norris)

Specifically, time in the visual arts.  At a concert, watching a film or other performance, or reading a book, I enjoy the unfolding, the development, the altering of perspective and increase in understanding – all of which continue beyond the end in a work of worth.  What about art on the wall?  Paintings can be big enough to encompass the whole wall, and can take time to complete the looking, but generally the fixed image has to contain something else to hold and impart time. 

 While at a jazz concert listening to a piece with a distinct journey, holding back and revealing, teasing and revealing, I thought how difficult it is for a maker of fixed images to convey such a journey to the observer.  I started thinking about it seriously after that, and managed to answer a question which I’d casually asked myself many years ago. 


 Why is it when visiting a new place, particularly a foreign place, that so many of us are drawn to decay?  It is not just the old ways of building that attract us, because reconstructions are not seen to be quite as alluring as decay.  What is it about the poor parts of a city that make them so much more attractive than the prosperous well-tended parts?  What makes them so artistically inspiring

 Is it time?  The passage of time is writ clearly upon the face of the building in its decay.  Do we need to see the marks of time to feel a kind of comfort?  Which thought brought me to looking at the marks made by thread on cloth.  In a very direct way this can be seen in the work of Matthew Harris, and anyone who is inspired by the urban archaeology of peeling posters. 

stitched textile by Matthew Harris


 The question of time also brought me to thinking about ‘the frozen moment’: the photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson being the ultimate example of this for me.  One of his genius abilities in my mind is that although he always seems to be there to capture the astonishing instant, he also does not detract  from or paralyse the action.  In that still we are given a glimpse into a continuum. 

 I realise that this is what I want from fixed images: that they should engage with both the concept of time and with my time.  I take as the ultimate example the magical image of Yves Klein’s Leap into the Void.  Having grasped the attention it immediately provokes the imagination to supply the continuum, it questions, it arouses curiosity, and is timeless.  I love it, and find that it leaps often from the void –or out of the blue – into my mind in conjunction with many different topics. 

 In my own work I suppose I try to capture an ambiguity or enigma which can change with viewings over time.  Although my own emotions are encompassed, I hope that they have been distilled and abstracted (aha! – see my last post here) enough to be more universal.  I aspire to the foothills of Edward Hopper in providing a work which is not-quite-completely-knowable, but which attracts and satisfies timeless curiosity.  It will take me some time to get there, but I hope to continue having fun on the way!

Why figurative? (by Olga Norris)

Victor Pasmore Spiral Development: The Snowstorm (1950-51), Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London

 I am constantly being tugged by abstracts which I find inspirational, and which keep asking me why not make abstract work?  Why always figurative?

I admire so much in the Japanese textile canon, so many pieces of which I have been lucky enough to see in one of Linda Millar’s curated exhibitions such as the current Cultex show.   I look at works by artists such as Carol FarrowJan Garside, Jean Lyons Butler,  and so many others in textiles, painting, sculpture, etc., and even ask myself whether I should be trying to work to an abstract imperative.  I have even felt that perhaps being a creator of abstract work marks one out as being more intellectually ‘valid’ as a contemporary artist.

Such are the self-doubting thoughts which flit about from time to time in my brain.  Now, after ten years of developing my textile work, I don’t beat myself up for not trying to think in abstracts.  However, I do still enjoy reading articles such as that of painter and art writer Julian Bell in the Guardian newspaper this morning.

My own answer to why figurative is that that’s how I express myself.  It might change in the future, but that would have to come about naturally, as part of my expressive need.  As I have found over these ten years, every time I try to contrive a result it ends up a mess.  That’s not to say that I simply emote.  I try to be rigorous and critical with what I do produce; but just as I accept that I’m working in textiles rather than stone, paint, or clay, I’m also dealing with the figure rather than being abstract.  Perhaps one day I shall find that I can move between the two, like Carole Waller


Meantime, I do rather enjoy relaxing with my figures and no longer beating myself up for perhaps not being ‘cutting edge’ enough!

I’d be interested to read whether anyone else had/has similar questions about their work.

Fit for purpose (by Olga Norris)

I recently visited an exhibition of the work of art editor and graphic designer David Hillman.  He is a man whose work I have long admired – and indeed did not know that he was the one behind all the different manifestations.  From the days of the iconic Nova magazine, the glory days of the Sunday Times newspaper, the surreal Benson and Hedges cigarette advertisements, all the designs for Pentagram , … these are images which brought feelings of wonder, excitement, a need to see and know more.  This was the kind of design that I dreamed of aspiring to in my publishing work.

In each case the image was more than the sum of its parts, and was definitively fit for purpose: it drew the appropriate attention to the product, not to the designer of the image – except from fellow professionals.  Good product design similarly excites me, as does brilliant architectural design.  In each case the end result should be at the very least fit for purpose, and also hold some individual integrity beyond the sum of its parts.

 Design is done to a brief which provides boundaries and requirements, as well as the discipline of a necessary respect for the materials and techniques involved.  I have always believed that the more one knows, but the less one indulges oneself the better prepared becomes the vital tool of the brain’s back burner.

 Although art and design are different disciplines, they should overlap, just as they should both overlap with craft.  The more frequently exercised debate is the one between craft and art; but the one not often enough heard is that between design and art, most especially the question of fitness for purpose.

Of course this fitness for purpose in art this is not so clearly defined as in product design, architecture, even graphic design and craft.  And it goes without saying that I am not in the least talking about any practical purpose.  The artist themselves and time are the important judges of what that purpose is; but the informed observer – whether a practising artist or not – should keep seeking to make critical judgments of their own – even if those judgments are later refined or even revised in the light of further enlightenment.  And by critical I do not mean only negative judgements or observations.

 I do believe that there should be a fitness for purpose in one’s art, and that this should constantly be under consideration.  This design thinking, once second nature, along with mastery of appropriate craft and its twin, appreciation of materials, facilitates those special tools of the artist – imagination and the back burner – in making good art: something more than the sum of its parts.

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