I start most things, with an unrealistic optimism, I think many artists do. So when I embarked on a masters of visual arts by research, I thought if I’m going to have another solo exhibition I may as well write about it and get a masters degree at the same time. Actually not that easy :-/ I should mention here that writing does not come naturally to me and one of my motivations for studying was to improve my writing skills as they are needed more and more for a serious art career.
In the age of specialisation it seems artists are expected to be the opposite. When I was a young emerging artist in the late 80’s and early 90’s I was looked after by a gallery and all I had to do was make work. (People who were in Perth at that time will remember Brigitte and Artplace.) Those days are over; the modern, contemporary artist has to do and be everything. Now I have my own website – which I built, I teach, I do demonstrations and residencies, I am active on social media and I am expected to be able to write about my art.
I have probably had to spend more time writing and researching than someone else who was more proficient, it takes longer for any new skill. Those of you who know my work will not be surprised that topic is to do with the symbolism of Alice in Wonderland and contextualising that through the life of the author Lewis Carroll and Victorian society – I haven’t thought up the question yet. I have almost finished my literature review, my supervisor and other staff at ECU have been extraordinarily good at whipping me into shape and I am seeing my formal writing skills improve before my eyes! I am more amazed than they are.
So what about the making? – everything I read is feeding into ideas, lots of ideas – too many. I am writing them down ready for when I have done enough writing to start what I feel is the proper work, but don’t tell my lecturers that 🙂
You can see my artwork here, email me if you are interested in an unframed print. http://shanajames.com/gallery/
For those of you who are unfamiliar with my Alice in Wonderland based work here me being interviewed from a couple of years ago on ABC radio.
This painting’s title is a quote from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. People who know my work will know that my last two exhibitions were inspired by the story. I am now studying my Masters of Visual Art by research and I’m getting more and more into Alice.
This is oil on canvas and nearly a metre and a half wide. The making of it has been a saga. I started it shortly after we moved into our current house 9 years ago. I now had a larger studio and was able to make larger paintings. At that time it was just a tree in the landscape, with the red chair. No figures, no ladder, and no cat. The tree was inspired by a tree in a local park in Spearwood, which I took some photos of and drew directly onto the canvas. I wasn’t particularly happy with it so I put it in the corner and ignored it for about 8 years 🙂
Over the last Christmas break, I don’t know why, but I pulled it out and started painting on it. I think I felt like painting didn’t have new canvas and this one was as good as any. I added the floating figure and the ladder. After patterning the floating girls dress, influenced by the linocuts I had made, I just started to add more pattern.
Again I left it not really happy, I hung it up in my art room to think about it. A few months passed, then my friend Ros Nolen saw it (also an artist). She liked it, I was really not happy with it, and we talked about what changes it would benefit from. So newly inspired (thanks, Ros) I went back to it and made more changes. I got it to a place where I was feeling pretty good about it, so I entered it into the Busselton Art Prize.
This work has really come directly from my subconscious. It evolved. I didn’t plan it to be this way. It does have meaning though. The ladder not quite connecting to the tree, the cat, the doorway in the distance, the floating girl holding flowers, the blue area that belongs to the rest but is slightly separated by the colour change. These all have meanings;. to be interpreted as you choose. These archetypal symbols are not hard to interpret, trust your instincts. The title is a clue.
I am happy to announce that this painting was shortlisted for the Busselton Art Award which opens Friday 21st September and will be on display until 29th of October at Art Geo Gallery, 7 Queens Street Busselton. Yes it is for sale! So if you are in Busselton drop in and have a look.
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Last Thursday, it was my pleasure to open the student exhibition at Penrhos College, where I had been artist in residence earlier in the year.
I thought I would publish the body of my speech because many people outside of the arts are not aware of the benefits of studying art, even if you do not choose to be an artist. This was about studying art at high school, but you can start your journey into art at any stage of life. So here it is…
I loved art at school, and I studied Visual Art at Curtin University straight after leaving Penrhos. I have been an artist all my life, but not everybody who does art at school will make it their career.
So why study art? If you are not going to be an artist, why study it?
When you learn art, you learn more than how to make a drawing, a painting, a print or a sculpture.
You learn how to plan, organise and execute your idea. You learn how to follow through and finish what you started. You learn to do things out of your comfort zone.
You learn how to evaluate, you learn how to deal with problems as they arise, and you learn how to fail!
This is really important.
You cannot be creative unless you are prepared to fail. After you have failed; you learn how to deconstruct what happened and make the necessary changes. You learn how to be resilient, and that failure is just part of creativity. You gain confidence after turning failure around, making changes or even starting again, not giving up, doing it differently.
Art teaches all these lessons, life skills, which you will take into any career.
But don’t do art for these reasons. Take art because you love it, you love the feeling of being in flow, when it’s all coming together, when you lose track of time. When there is just you, the paper and the pencil and all the world has ceased to exist.
This is the real benefit.
And whatever career you do either in the arts or outside of the arts you can go to that place of making, and find peace in this crazy world. You can take that peacefulness, that
became part of you while you were making, out with you – into the world and to everything you do. Whatever you choose.
Last blog I wrote about the excellent food on our linocut workshop, this time I’m going to tell you about the beautiful gardens.
We all know being in a beautiful garden is good for the soul. It changes you somehow. At the Arma museum and resort where our linocut workshop is held, the gardens are absolutely extodinary inspiration is everywhere. There is a river that runs through the property and several water gardens. So almost wherever you go you can hear the sound of running water, this really had a positive affect on me when I was there, it has such a calming influence. And to sit and draw this beauty, which you are surrounded by, really calms your mind and takes you out of yourself. The venue is an important aspect of the workshop, the gardens contribute to the shift in consiousness created by making in this environment. So you can come back feeling rejuvinated and inspired.
A friend once said to me, “I’ve never had a bad meal in Ubud,” and I would have to agree. Ubud is a foodies paradise.
This is the first of a few blogs I am going to write about my linocut workshop in Ubud about the extra details of the workshop that make it such an all encompassing special event.
The Balinese are great cooks, I don’t know if its because they make everything from scratch, or because the produce is so
fresh, but the food is consistently very good wherever you go.
The workshop includes breakfast every day, lunch on workshop days (5 lunches) and the welcome dinner for people to get to know each other on the first night. The Arma resort where we stay and run the workshop has 2 restaurants and a cafe. These are
open, picturesque, beautiful Bali architecture. The Head chef Ibu Pusaka is an outstanding and experienced chef of international quality, as comfortable creating an authentic tirimasu as she is making traditional Balinese favourites.
After the classes finish at 4pm your time is your own, so you can choose wherever you like to have dinner. The town is a two minute shuttlebus from the hotel, and there is plenty of shopping there too. Fine dining can be had in Ubud for under $30 Australian Dollars right down to a tiny warung (family owned restaurant) with more humble surroundings, but with food that is still outstanding for $5 Australian. Most places you will find are somewhere in between, but suffice to say I haven’t had a bad meal in Ubud in the 4 times Ive been there. Many restaurants have western style meals as well, beautifully cooked fish and vegetarian options are available. Its a foodies paradise.
The Between the Sheets Artists’ Book exhibition at Australain Galleries in Melbourne has now concluded. I feel priviliaged to have been part of this outstanding show.
The opening was attended by 100+, and I am reliably informedthere was a constant stream of people viewing the work. The floor talk given by Janis Nedela co owner of Gallery East and an artist and exhibiter in the show was well attended and the exhibition gained many plaudits for the quality of the work and the excellence of its installation and rightly so.
My perception is that book arts are gaining in popularity, I have found that when I talk about artists’ books I am less likely to be met with a blank stare than I was in the past. I am glad because I will be continuing to make them, there is something very physical and tangible about a book as compare to an artwork on the wall. Dont get me wrong I love 2D work as well, but books have a very different quality; sculptural and tacktile.
Thanks to David and Janis from Gallery East for their interest in Artists Books and Australian Galleries for taking it on. I only wish I could have gone to Melbourne with my work.
If you would like to see more of Previous books I have made please see this You Tube Video.
I first made this Artists book a few years ago, it is currently on Display at the Artspace Collective Exhibition Beyond the Guilded Cage, and I have just printed a second copy for Monash Universities Rare Book Collection. It is editioned to 3, and is very time consuming to print and make.
This book is made up of 5 linocut images and 5 pages of text. Each page is A3 in size, so it is quite large when spread out and I discovered, quite difficult to photograph, . The text reads:-
Maybe keep a bird… Always keep your word…
Always keep your word… Maybe keep a bird…
Try to keep a bird… Try to keep your word…
Never keep a bird…
I looked at reproducing the text on a computer or even with stamps in the end I decides the hand carved text had a rustic imperfection which worked well with the meaning of the work.
Each piece of text has a linocut image to go with it. The text is adapted from a Japanese pop song I heard on a radio national program about robotics. When I heard the line “Maybe keep a bird, always keep your word…” It intrigued me and I wrote it down in my sketch book. After the linocuts were made I googled the song by Yoko Kanno and discovered I had not remebered the words accurately, the words had morphed in my head over time.
The line of text seemed to slot in with ideas I had been thinking about, and I started planning this book.
It was only after I started this artwork and was researching images of peacocks I discovered that they could fly. And it was just the perfect last page of the book presenting itself to me.
More about the symbology…
The book is a symbolic narrative and here are some of my personal associations with the symbolism I have chosen for the images.
I chose a peacock for the bird because of the connotations of beauty and pride. I have a strong memory of the first time I saw a real peacock as a young child at the zoo, you could get up really close to it, I remember looking deeply into the bight blue feathers of the body. I couldn’t believe a bird this beautiful could be real. There is a kind of historical connection with keeping a bird for its beauty. The first English colonials to arrive in India must have felt the same way I did about this beautiful bird.
I have always found the idea of keeping birds for their beauty problematic. The bird is an archetypal symbol of freedom but keeping it necessitates a cage. By caging a bird you have taken away its ability to fly, the essence of what it is, for selfish reasons. Often humans do things which they later regret, when I was about 13 I wanted a sulphur crested cockatoo as a pet, something I wouldn’t dream of doing now, luckily my mother wouldn’t let me have one.
Similarly we try to “keep your word” but don’t always. Here I was particularly interested in catch 22 type situations where to keep your word solves one problem but creates others. Most of us try to do the right thing based on our experience but none of us manages it 100% of the time. Just as English colonists of the 19th century saw nothing wrong with their actions to humans and animals alike, it is looking back with the benefit of hindsite that we see the mistakes. Interestingly, I later discovered that the song I took the words from was called “Be Human” and in the end that is what my artists book is about – being human.
For this work I chose a Victorian looking cage for the historical significance, the idea of collecting specimens of beauty. In my artwork the bird has a human eye. This is partly to indicate that the artwork is metaphorical, it is not real and I don’t expect people to take it literally. Secondly it puts the bird and the woman on an equal footing. It makes the bird seem more human. In the image where the bird and the woman look at each other eye to eye, one wonders if perhaps the peacock is not the more intelligent of the two.
Please feel free to comment or ask me any questions about this work, Now in the Monash University Collection (well it will be shortly I posted it to them today.)
Cages have been a reoccurring theme in my work for sometime so I readily accepted the invitation to exhibit in this show Beyond the Gilded Cage at the Artspace Collective until the 25th of August. See their website for opening times https://theartspacecollective.com/exhibitions/
Humans love to cage things not just birds or animals but themselves, constricting and limiting themselves sometimes out of fear, sometimes doubt in their own abilities. I have tried to illuminate this visually. Perhaps it can open the door so that some people can see more of their own potential, as I have recently done myself,by making this work.
“Some birds are not meant to be caged, that’s all. Their feathers are too bright, their songs too sweet and wild. So you let them go, or when you open the cage to feed them they somehow fly out past you. And the part of you that knows it was wrong to imprison them in the first place rejoices, but still, the place where you live is that much more drab and empty for their departure”. Steven King the Shawshank Redemption
I am very happy to be part of this exhibition which has now travelled to Melbourne. This is a great show, which challenges the notion of what a book is. Artists’ books have always done this and while my previous books have been a lot more bookish, I decided to think outside of the square – literally with this work. (See previous books here http://shanajames.com/artists-books/I recently had two of my books purchased by Monash University.)
My work is titled “Ourself Behind Ourself Concealed” the title is taken from a line in an Emily Dickerson poem.
If you are in Melbourne have a look at the show there is some beautiful work. The Between the Sheets Exhibition will be on at Australian Galleries, 35 Derby Street Collingwood until 2nd July 2017. Here is a link to their website http://australiangalleries.com.au/exhibitions/