What the Curators Said

Firstly, thank you so much to everyone who came to my one-night exhibition and supported my new work, bought originals and prints - I was really touched by the support and it's given me encouragement to keep on track making work in the style I developed during the Fieldwork project.

I was feeling a bit brave and booked a place on the annual Visual Artists Ireland get-together, down in Tullamore last week.  The main draw for me was the opportunity to book 3 speed-curating sessions with some top curators from galleries and museums of Ireland and further afield. Plus a slightly longer clinic session. 

I didn't imagine for a minute I'd fit any of their internationally-renowned projects they have going on, with my 2 paintings in a barely-realised style, but I hoped they could give me some insight whether my work is the kind of thing they like, and help me to understand what they are looking for when they consider new work for their institutions/projects.

I shot some decent photos of the new work, wrote an elevator pitch to try and articulate what it is and how I make it, and put my thick skin on.

The day was enlightening, to say the least!

The first curator was really enthusiastic about the work in general and suggested that the best way to get noticed is to make your own events, get in group shows, try and generate as much PR as you can, hire a photographer - things I've all done very recently so I was pleased at that.

The second was a curator from The Crawford Gallery in Cork and I think I confused her!  Initially not that keen, then exploring all the drawing marks zoomed in, realising the scale of the actual painting... in the end she said it was really quite beautiful and exciting and that she thought I should really have a lot of fun developing new work along these lines.  Also that it was "a bit weird... in a good way".  I was really chuffed with that, I thought at least it might be memorable.  And again, not shit haha.

I then had my slightly longer clinic and we discussed how I make the work and where it's come from, and this was the person who said "I think you might be a drawer".  She absolutely loved my sketchbooks (I had those handy to whip out), and encouraged me to spend longer with a sketch, exploring it a bit more in studio paintings before moving on, whether that's different versions, or zoning in on an area of minutiae and really wringing all the development I can out of it.

She touched a bit of a nerve, asking if I did residencies (where you go and live and work somewhere else with the focus on creating new work/ways of working and connections), and I agreed that although that was the obvious next thing for me to do, and I'd absolutely love to do it, there is no way I can do that with a 2 year old in tow right now.  The majority of residencies are a minimum of 2 weeks or a month, all the way up to a year, and it's only starting to become fashionable for childcare to be a consideration in those opportunities - with sky high competition for those slots. I keep an eye on it though.

She also then recommended an online drawing school, which artists have found amazing and found success after attendance, and I am quite keen on that idea although it's expensive and their intake is closed for the year... something to think about for a slightly longer term.

Her comments about being a drawer have been ringing about my head all week.  I always thought I wasn't great at drawing, but I think (as is the problem with self taught artists, we are often hung up on our last formal tuition which is often high school) that actually I just couldn't be bothered to draw super detailed things and that's been something I've leaned in to in the past year, going with the wild scribbles and different marks and colours.

I do feel like my work is more connected to me when I'm mark-making rather than laying down layers of paint.  The drawing marks, whether with a paintbrush or pastel/pencil, are a sort of ECG of what's going on in my head, passed directly down my arm and directing the shapes and lines.  It lends better to bigger work, which is a challenge in itself and I've just ordered a big roll of heavy paper so I can make and store large work more easily.

I think there's a complete contrast between the in-place sketching, (where I sit in the landscape, focusing and designing and capturing, and everything that I've brought from outside that area is completely shut off), and the intuitive marks I make in the studio, which come about because I don't have all the answers in the sketches so I'm forced to sit and contemplate and there is a lot of room for thinking about whatever pops in to my head.

Anyway.  That's the one I probably got most food for thought from.

The final speed curating appointment was a frighteningly cool Italian lady and she asked if she may be brutal, to which I quite enthusiastically agreed, as everyone had been really nice!!  But then she also said she thought the work was good.  But I don't have a fully articulated story behind the art that would be interesting to her/an audience.  In short, "I understand why you make it, but what do I get out of it?".

Which I thought was totally fine.  I do have stories but often it's really quite personal or I don't think it's relevant to the outcome, or they're not necessarily connected painting to painting, so that's something that I'm starting to think about now.

So what was the point of all that?

I'm a bit annoyed at how happy and validated I felt that they all really liked my art!  You're not supposed to care what other people think and I did think I've done the development and the resulting work has legs... but it was really great to have some feedback from established professionals agreeing.

I always have to be realistic - this is my profession and as such... it needs to make money.  I have a family and bills like everyone else so there's no need to mindlessly chase things you could do that might make you big-league some day, just because people already there said so.  It's perfectly fine to make nice commercial art and want to sell it.  But i do think the path I've been on aligns well with a lot of the advice I got, so I do think there are things I can adjust now, and in the medium term anyway.

And the storytelling, I'll keep that in mind!  I'd be interested to know if you like that in someone's art.. a motivation, a response to something... or do you just want a nice picture that looks like a place?  Let me know in the comments!

In the meantime I'm feeling a bit bold.  I've approached a gallery, I've got another stockist keen on taking new work, a couple of you have bought recent pieces, so I'm going to keep on trucking.


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