Some images I took today on Elie Beach…Again considering the theme of Liminality…life on the edge…the in-between..the threshold between sea and shore.
A recent painting I completed following my ideas from the previous post. Using the tide and also a sea monster as a metaphor for being dragged down into the depths of the sea, and also having my creativity strangled or constricted on occasions! Oil on canvas 50cm square.
Recently I’ve been contemplating liminality in relation to the balance between my practice and my work as a creative lecturer. This is a theme that will be explored during an artists’ retreat that I will be attending in North Uist in September with 9 other artists. We are all invited to make art on this theme, using the tide as a metaphor.
My initial thoughts were of being dragged down to the depths of the sea, not just by the strong tidal current, but perhaps by some kind of menacing sea creature, which was strangling me with its tentacles and pulling me down. This is a metaphor in itself for the (sometimes) oppressive nature of the workplace, which can make you feel as if you are sinking, drowning, or even deliberately being kept under water. Often I feel as if my creativity is being strangled, that I’m not encouraged to realise my full potential, which can be very disheartening. But I’ll leave it at that for now…onwards and upwards.
For me, liminality is trying to balance on the edge of work and creativity, and also trying to stay afloat. In my profession as a creative lecturer, I feel it is essential that I keep up with my artistic practice in order to keep integrity and currency in my role. I aim to inspire and motive my students, so it is important to impart my knowledge and be able to share and discuss my own creative experiences with them. I too am a learner, and can learn much from them too.
Liminality is also the unknown, the uncertain…something that I always feel in my workplace. As if I’m hanging in the balance, with no guarantee of safety or security. Like a limpet on a rock, clinging on to the safety of its surface until the tide moves in and attempts to dislodge it.
Driftwood is another image that comes to mind. I hear the words from Driiftwood by Travis playing over in my head:
You’re driftwood floating underwater
Breaking into pieces pieces pieces
Just driftwood hollow and of no use
Waterfalls will find you bind you grind you
And you really didn’t think it would happen
But it really is the end of the line
So I’m sorry that you turned to driftwood
But you’ve been drifting for a long long time
Am I Driftwood? Floating aimlessly with no direction? Hopefully not!
It’s not all negative, however. Working with young (and old) creative students is vey inspiring and gives me such an enthusiasm and excitement when I see them realise their ideas. Each creative brief I set them has me thinking about how I would tackle it myself, and I find my mind racing with all sorts of possibilities. This definitely helps to keep my ideas fresh, and gives me great satisfaction when I see their results. So, (on the whole) my lecturing role inspires my practice, and my practice feeds into my teaching.
After getting the bug for painting abstracts, I wanted to make this piece less like something resembling a surface pattern, as I feel the last couple of pieces I’ve created seem to have that degree of “busy-ness”. I’ve purposefully left some white space around the main image here, and began this one by using inks on the canvas to build the image up in a more subtle way. I began with the thought of a shark (after listening to Feargal Sharkey!), and the blue area to the left of the painting was meant to represent a shark’s head. with its mouth opening. I did keep it as a loose representation, as I don’t want this piece to become too illustrative. Blind-sighted b y the shark, I failed to read the image from the right as another hybrid creature, and now see that it looks not dissimilar to a hen or perhaps a turkey. I’ve named it “Sharkenstein” Oil and water-based ink on canvas 50x50cm.
I have always held a fascination for sea creatures. I suppose its the fact that they are some of the most weird and wonderful aspects of nature on our planet. There are so many unknowns…creatures being discovered that we were never aware of, and so many more out there that we may never know. The depths of the ocean conceal so many mysteries, another example which I liken to the notion of the Romantic Sublime- the awe and force of nature, its beauty and its danger…
This piece started out almost as an abstract map, and the colour palette that I was using made me think of the sea; rich blues and greens, exotic pinks and corals and golden sands. The shapes that emerged were organic, and there were hints of cuttlefish, octopus and ray, albeit in very abstract forms. Semi translucent layers of paint were added to give the impression of seaweed floating and to create some depth within the piece.
Some of the more jagged, broken shapes represent debris, a sight all too familiar as a consequence of human stupidity and disregard for our oceans.
I’ve found lockdown very hard, and it has definitely stifled my creativity. Possibly the poor weather has had something to do with it too, and the fact that my studio is freezing in the winter months. I’ve just not felt that creative unfortunately, which is a shame given that we all have so much time on our hands…
Finally I made it back into my studio, and after having a good clear out of junk I was back at my desk with all my paints at hand. I’ve been listening to a lot of Roxy Music lately, and i started out by making a sort of abstract “map”, which is always my starting point for abstraction. I was thinking about “Avalon” which was a mythical island form Arthurian legend. What started out as a map soon became very organic, with orchid, seed pods and leaf-like forms becoming intertwined within the composition. The colours also became very feminine- not what I had in mind for “Avalon”, but abstraction can’t always be planned, it just tends to evolve as my mood takes it.
I’m quite pleased with the result, I could see it as a pattern to be printed on a silk kimono, as with many of my abstracts it has qualities of a surface pattern.
When artist and curator Lada Wilson invited me to exhibit in 201 telephone box gallery, I felt very honoured and excited at the opportunity. What a curious and unique little venue, which has been re-purposed as a result of changes in the way that we now communicate. Lada took over the disused telephone box in 2018, in the small, picturesque village of Strathkinness, near St Andrews. She won over the community with her idea to re-purpose the phone box into a gallery which would exhibit a rolling exhibition programme of a diverse range of contemporary art.
My initial thoughts surrounding the venue, and the fact that it was formerly a functioning telephone box led me to ideas of communication. Who would I most like to call if I was given the opportunity to do so? even if I was given the phone numbers of the numerous celebrities or famous people that I admire, there were many that would not be available to talk –no longer in the land of the living. This is why I arrived at the name Incommunicado.
Then it dawned on me that although I may not be able to communicate with them, they are still able to communicate with me through one of the most powerful mediums that exists – music. For most of us, music is a quick way to induce nostalgia and this has become the subject of extensive research. In a recent experiment in the Netherlands, researchers at Tilburg University found that listening to songs from their past made people feel not only nostalgic but also warmer physically.
As an exhibition piece, I decided to make the phone box into a shrine to those whose music helped to shape my adolescent years in the 80s but whose lives have sadly been taken. When a celebrity passes away, our Social media news feeds always tend to be bombarded with people reacting to the tragic news. There will be always be some who jump on the grieving bandwagon; rushing to report it first, whilst feigning interest an interest or loss that the person has passed away. Then there those who are truly shocked by the tragedy, or deeply saddened over the loss. But, for every few genuine outpourings of grief, there will be a few negative comments from those who are sick of people jumping on the RIP bandwagon.
I can see their point… How many of us did actually know George Michael, Donna Summer or Whitney Houston? But it is unfair to generalize by accusing everyone who does this of making a stranger’s death all about themselves – because it goes much deeper than that for some of us. For dedicated fans, these celebrities have been a big part of our lives. We’ve seen them on TV or if we’re lucky- in concert, we’ve sung along to their music, we’ve read their biographies – and, as a result, they – in a way – have become an integral part of our personal lives. After all, don’t many of us turn to certain films, songs, or TV shows when we’re feeling low? I know that when I’m having a bad day, I love nothing more than pouring myself a drink and tuning in to Absolute 80s where I’m guaranteed to hear music which will take me to my happy place. People grow up with certain figures in their lives, and that shock when they pass can be a frightening thing, and remember that losing someone who’s been a consistent factor in your life is a stark reminder of your own mortality.
Found Object Assemblage
For the main exhibition piece, I decided I wanted to make a sculpture which incorporated found objects, as objects themselves can often trigger feelings of nostalgia. Some of us keep a collection of objects which are dear or meaningful to us in an effort to remember and relive the past. We may use keepsakes to stimulate memory, especially to trigger fond memories. In the act of collecting nostalgia, a magical relationship develops between collector and object, which places sentiment above monetary value. In her book ‘Evocative Objects’ which reflects on our association and relationships with material objects, Sherry Turkle argues that objects serve a purpose beyond that of their original use, by way of the emotional relationships we form with them. They act as tools which help us to shape our identity and facilitate a connection between people, places culture and time.
As the daughter of 2 avid collectors, an interest in objects is part of my genetic make-up. Since an early age, I was encouraged to hunt for unusual objects at jumble sales, car boot sales and in charity shops. For the past twenty years I have continued this quest to scavenge for objects which remind me of my youth. It’s no surprise that treasure hunting has become part of my practice, and that my studio bears testament to this.
I visualised this piece (below) before creating it, and am happy to admit that the final result is not far from my original idea, give or take a sprinkling of glitter.
(Photo courtesy of Alan Richardson)
My treasure hunting proved successful as the turntable was sourced from a local car boot sale, the vintage mannequin legs and hand from a scrap store, and the mirror from a broken ornament.
The placing of the mirror on the turntable is designed to emulate the appearance of a sundial, which casts its wistful shadow of time over the analogue music player. The perspex was added to give a bold 80s geometric aesthetic using a contrast of pastel pinks and blues with black and white.
The plaque was a careful consideration in homage to musicians from the 80s who have contributed to the nostalgia of my adolescence. I decided to give them their birth names for two reasons; somehow I considered this to be perhaps more respectful towards them, as I had not known them personally. Secondly, I felt it might provoke enough curiosity for the viewer which would cause them to google the names to find out who they were better known as and also to find out a bit about their lives.
If, like me, the thought of all these musicians who are no longer with us makes you sad or tearful, consider the positive tweet by a guy called Dean Podesta around the time of David Bowie’s death; ” remember the world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie, Freddie Mercury and George Michael.”
The exhibition opening was a pleasant gathering of artists and community, where the work was introduced in situ, before I gave a talk about in the local community centre. It was well received and the audience seemed genuinely engaged with the theme, asking some really pertinent and interesting questions. The exhibition is scheduled to run until the 28th April so if you’re in the vicinity, please feel free to take a look.
Its all thanks to Clare Ollif, my sister in law, that I got the best seats in the house at the SSE Hydro for this amazing gig. To meet Boy George, my childhood idol and pin up had always been on my bucket list. My last attempt to try to meet him was to write to Jim’ll Fix It, but thank God my letter didn’t get answered as the consequences of that could have been horrendous!
My mum was going into hospital for a minor operation, and I needed to take her in on the same day that they tickets were on presale. Thanks to my wonderful sister in law who went online for me with all of my details, passwords etc, she managed to purchase 2 VIP tickets for middle front row for myself and Emilia, so the next few months were wracked with anticipation.
Why is it that usually when you plan for something or really want it too badly, it never happens? Well in this case, thankfully it did happen, although we did have a couple of near misses along the way! I was owed a days overtime back off work, so I took the Thursday off, and Emilia and I travelled down on the train to Glasgow.
Two minor hitches were that she had a really sore tummy, possibly due to wearing some tight jeans, so we had to buy her some really loose track pants and some paracetamol to try and settle things. Then, when we arrived at the hotel, I stumbled and fell out of the taxi! How embarrassing, and I was actually crying with pain and shock. I could have broken my hip or twisted my ankle, but thankfully I survived. The Holiday Inn was described as being 5 mins from Theatreland by car…well I can tell you it certainly was not! Especially in rush hour. More like 15, which made a hefty taxi bill whenever we needed one.
The goody bag contents plus a scarf that I bought at the gig, and the set list which one of the roadies handed to me after the gig
After getting dressed up in our glad rags, we headed to the Hydro by underground from Central station. On the tube we spotted fans everywhere mainly from what they were wearing and their age range. Once in the Hydro, we were asked to form an orderly queue for VIP, and were given goody bags which consisted of a tote bag, a signed programme, a set of badges and a cardboard mask of Boy George on a stick. We were so chuffed at this, it was a great start to the evening to get all these souvenirs each. We had taken a couple of 7 inch Karma Chameleon singles with us to get signed, and to our dismay, found that one of them was no longer in Emilia’s small handbag. It had either dropped out whilst in the queue, or someone had pocketed it. We had our suspicions who this might be, but could not prove anything.
We then stood for the majority of Belinda Carlisle’s act in a queue to meet the band. I wan’t overly bothered, as I’ve seen Belinda a few times at Rewind. When we finally got through to see the band, I was overwhelmed with nerves and anticipation. How would we get our photos taken? Would they sign the single for us? Would we get individual or group photos? The photographer turned out to be a really nice assistant, who took my phone and took a photo firstly of me and the band and secondly of myself and Emilia with the band.
Boy George is formidable! He is huge! Really tall, with a really big head. His make up was incredible. He said “Give me a hug my darling, lovely to meet you…” and I got a hug and a kiss on each cheek from him . WOW! The rest of the band were gorgeous too. Jon Moss was not on this tour, but I had the pleasure of getting a hug and kiss from Bassist Mikey Craig and Guitarist Roy Hay – such handsome chaps! Then Emilia walked up for her photo. “Oh look at you, you’re so cute, I love your style,” said George, and I have to say that was a huge compliment coming from him. She was dressed up to the nines, with her Stella McCartney military style jacket on, ripped jeans, gold glitter ankle boots and a genuine Philip Treacey hat. She had written him a letter and included a brooch that we had made him, and she also offered him her hat.
“Oh no, you keep it my darling, my head is far too big and I’ve got loads of hats anyway. It looks great on you.”
The assistant asked if I wanted to be in the photo with Emilia, and I stood in between him and Roy Hay again, while George put his hands on Emilia’s shoulders. It was a great experience, and i still can’t believe I met them.
The rest of the night was amazing. We sat in the middle of the front row listening to hits both old and new. My favourites were Time (Clock of the Heart) and Miss Me Blind. Seeing Time performed was a real treat and watching Roy and Mikey playing all those guitar snippets in the introduction was amazing.
Another real highlight of the evening was Roy Hay’s memorable guitar solo in Miss me Blind. It’s one of those guitar solos I always sing in my head, so to see him perform it live was such a special experience for me.
The backing singers were excellent too, as were the other musicians. My only regret is that my filming of the event was a bit shaky, as I wanted to dance all of the time, and also I think I must have placed my hand over the speaker as the sound is pretty dull in some of my recordings. I did take some amazing photos however, even with my old iphone 6 plus.
Gorgeous George… his voice has definitely stood the test of time
George’s voice was smooth as silk and he gave a truly flawless performance. He is a seasoned professional and his integrity shone throughout the show. I hope to see him again one day, but if it never happens again at least I have the memories of this amazing gig and meeting one of the best bands on the planet.
After a while of not posting, I feel ready again to let the world know what I’ve been working on. Since completing my MA in Fine Art, my work has taken a slight change of direction. My primary interest and focus throughout my MA had been on the natural world, and the way that I perceive it – through both its fragility and beauty, to its darker (and even on occasions terrifying) aspects. The Romantic notion of the Sublime was a big influence on my studies, and I was fascinated by the ways that viewing apparatus such as the Claude Glass and Claude Mirrors were used to create a certain view of nature that was deemed to be appealing. I, myself, became fascinated with ways to view nature through different lenses; the camera, the mirror, using a microscope and also through scientific equipment such as petri dishes full of site specific bacteria.
After completing the 3 years of study, I decided I needed a break from this theme, and I couldn’t even bring myself to venture back into Birnam Wood, the location that I visited at least 5 times a week over my period of study. I turned my studio into a bit of a retreat, filling it with memorabilia from the 1980s, and objects that made me feel happy. I bought a record player, and brought out a lot of my old vinyl which started to really inspire my work.
Along with the music from the 80s, another influence has been the graphic illustrations of Patrick Nagel, which portray strong, fashionable and glamorous women in a simplified almost Art deco style. Nagel designed the album cover of Rio by Duran Duran. Inspired by the shapes and curves and flat colours in his work, I began to create some abstract pieces using the computer, which I then translated to paint on canvas. I started off small scale, and happy with the results, I decided to tackle something bigger.
I wanted to revisit my interest in nature, so I decided to combine the abstract 80s inspired design with organic forms to create a kind of abstract, junglesque environment. I added in pixel -like shapes which represent our digital dependancy and the tensions and divisions it creates between humans and the natural world. I named the piece “Land of Confusion”, a nod to the 80s hit by Genesis, but also because I feel we are living in a land of confusion in many aspects.
The completed piece will be exhibited from the 23rd March at Scottish Natural Heritage, Battleby House, Perthshire, as part of the PLATFORM 2018 festival.
“Land of Confusion” Oil and Acrylic on Canvas 100cm x100cm
Marc Almond is continuing with his prolific career with the launch of his latest album “Shadows and Reflections”. In recent interviews, Marc mentions his love of torch songs, and this collection certainly confirms that, with a mixture of hits from the 60s, from the well known to the more obscure, plus a couple of his own thrown in for good measure.
These songs really suit his voice, and are best played on vinyl to capture the mood of the era. Having bought the album, I waited to desperately purchase tickets for his gig at the Usher Hall, but unfortunately could not get as near the front as I had wished for.
I booked into the Travelodge on Princes Street, and hastily got ready, before making my way to the Usher Hall. Shaun and Yvonne were both going to be there, but I hadn’t made any definite plans to meet up with them. I was there early, and got speaking to a lovely couple who had travelled all the way from Chester-le-Street to see him. I sat with them at the bar and had a few drinks, then finally I got a message from Shaun who had arrived. He had managed to get a seat a bit closer than I had, but told me that Yvonne had got a seat right up at the front. I sat down and the Overture began, which was not unlike the score to a glamorous 60s movie.
Marc came on stage, looking very smart in a charcoal grey suit and cuban heeled boots, and started to get things going with “Shadows and Reflections”. Following this was Billy Fury’s “I’m Lost Without You” and The Young Rascals’ “How Can I Be Sure?” More of the hits followed, “Blue on Blue”, “Not for Me,” but the audience remained seated and very quiet. A couple of people came in late, and he muttered a few sarcastic comments their way, obviously annoyed at the disruption they had caused. I tentatively filmed him singing a couple of songs, as although I was about 7 rows back, I worried that he might be annoyed or distracted if he saw me. I really wanted to get up and dance, or stand up and sway at the very least but it felt like it was never going to happen.
“Embers” was beautiful. The red and orange projections warmed the the stage and I felt that this was his best performance of the evening as it felt like he was truly singing from the heart.
“Child Star” was another joy to behold, and brought tears to my eyes and a shiver down my spine.
Finally, when that memorable trumpet intro to “Torch” sounded out, another of Marc’s superfans, Gail, who was clad in a Cindy Ecstasy style blue sequinned dress got up to dance. Immediately everyone followed suit, and after “Torch”, Marc invited everyone to get out of their seats and dance everywhere. A crowd of people headed towards the stage, and I decided to do the same, where I met up with Shaun who had already made it to the front row. He asked me if I wanted to try to get a selfie with Marc and I eagerly nodded. He said we’d need to leave half way though the last song, so I agreed. We danced to “Jackie“, “Hand over my heart“, and “Find me Somebody“, before slipping outside half way through “Say Hello…” I had even got so close to Marc that I handed him my fur hat but he just smiled and looked a bit puzzled before giving it back to me! I should have known better as his partner is a vegan!
Shaun and I slipped out of the Usher Hall and went round to the left hand side door, towards the back of the building. We could see a large van there waiting to load his equipment in. Looking into the side door, we saw Langy (Mark Langthorne) his handsome partner and manager talking to some of the crew. Next thing, we saw Marc heading towards the door wrapped in a grey blanket, and absolutely shivering.
“Marc, can we get a quick selfie please,” asked Shaun, who is a bit of a celebrity selfie expert himself.
Marc agreed and I got the selfie that I had been dreaming of.Marc then ran off into the distance, and we couldn’t see where he went as a bus had blocked our view, but we were pretty certain he hd gone into a posh Sheraton hotel across the road.
We met up with Yvonne, and Gabi, and then headed across to the Sheraton hotel for cocktails in the hope that we might see him, but to no avail. It was a great night, we sat and gossiped about fans, music and Marc, and had excellent cocktails in the lounge. Yet another great night all in the name of Marc Almond.