Rachel Kendall

On motherhood and artistic expression

Art a-go-go

It’s been a busy and culturally inspiring start to 2015 thanks to Andy Warhol at Tate Liverpool, Witches and Wicked Bodies at the British Museum and Terror and Wonder: the Gothic imagination at the British Library.

There was a time when every day would be cause to seek out an artistic treat, be it in the form of film, theatre production or exhibition. Sometimes there were gigs, but a growing discomfort in being close to strangers in dark places means it’s been a while since I entertained that notion. If I wasn’t seeing/reading/analysing art, I was making it myself. I’d go off with my camera and forage for that perfect piece of life to capture in two dimensions. I’d scribble poetry and fiction (always writing, taking snippets found in others’ conversations, observations of life on the outside), daub paper with paint, spend hours cutting and sticking to make collages, zines…

Having a child obviously means you do things differently. You can take a baby to some places but as they grow the possibilities for a ‘grown-up’ art thing diminish. You find yourself in the museum of Science and Industry, watching as the kids run riot through the ‘interactive’ section. You sit cross-legged at rhyme time, singing Dingle Dangle Scarecrow at the top of your voice along with the other parents while the kids invade the toy box, looking for more interesting things to do. You sit and watch while your daughter finger-paints, nervous and ready with the wipes for the moment the paint pot gets knocked over. Because it will. You compliment on colours kept within boundaries and ‘oh what a beautiful flower’. Oh, it’s not a flower? Ah, it’s mummy. Well done! And you proudly display the pictures, sculptures and ‘found objects’ around the house until it begins to look like a nursery and/or the seaside.

It’s all art. It’s all that creative stuff. It’s just that you’re supervising someone else, or colouring in alongside them. It is no less important just because it is private and will probably never see the inside of an art gallery. Having said that, my daughter did sell her first short story last week. The two page story she wrote about heroes and villains (it’s not a short story mummy, it’s 2 pages long) on the train on the way back from Liverpool was sold to a friend for 20p. Her first sale. Ker-ching.

There are some artists whose work could be of interest to children. The kids enjoyed Warhol’s bright cartoonish images at the recent exhibition, and some of Grayson Perry’s tapestries are big and bold and the messages go way over the head of a four foot child!

warhol

One thing the kids loved most at that exhibition was the room of Warhol films. With different films playing on each of the four walls, and a Velvet Underground soundtrack, it felt like one was actually inside Warhol’s head. People sat and soaked it up. Others scrutinised the space, the black and white images floating larger than life. The kids watched the moving pictures, touched the walls to let themselves become a part of the film, and shone the torches (provided as part of a pack to keep kids entertained) onto the walls to make their own changes to the medium.

But other exhibitions are a definite no no, such as Paper Cuts, the collection of beautiful and fragile dissections of paper exhibited over wall and floor space, or the recent British Library collection – Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination.

Terror and Wonder

This was a fantastic exhibition whose timeline ran from the first ‘Gothic’ novel, Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, to Martin Parr’s recent photographs of Whitby’s annual Gothic weekend. I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer volume of books, images, artwork and film excerpts intrinsically caught up in the genre, from Frankenstein to The Wicker Man to the recent spate of horror parodies (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies etc)

parr

Photograph by Martin Parr

I love to surround myself in art, and one day my daughter will be old enough to appreciate much more of it with me.

Who Are You Grayson Perry?

grayson-perry-wins-turner-prize-2003

When Grayson Perry won the Turner Prize in 2003 for his Grecian-like pot, dressed as his alter-ego Claire, he was only half jesting when he said, “It’s about time a transvestite potter won the Turner Prize!”. His laissez-faire attitude to crossing the gender line (or should I say striding over the gender line, in huge yellow platform shoes) has brought him a lot of followers, both the lovers of art and those who live outside society’s norm.

Not exactly a shrinking violet, I was almost put off the man by the slack-jawed hyperbole surrounding him, his outfits, his wife and daughter and his man-as-art self-image. He’s like Lady Gaga, putting the ‘art’ in artpop and using his visual props (in this case, fashion statements) to drive his art statements home.

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That is what I thought, anyway, when I first came across Perry in a magazine I was reading while sitting in a doctor’s waiting room circa 2004. I remember being curious about this artist dressed as a life-sized doll, but not particularly interested in the artwork itself because pottery was not a medium that really excited me.

grayson_perry

It was only earlier this year, when Perry did a series for the BBC called ‘Who Are You?’, that I learned there’s a lot more to the artist than meets the eye. In three hour-long episodes he spoke to a number of people from varying backgrounds about what ‘identity’ meant to them. During the course of each episode he would talk to each person, or group, about their understanding of ‘identity’, whether that was as a ‘queer’ dad, a ‘larger’ lady or a member of the deaf culture. Whilst chatting with his subjects he would create a sketch for a final portrait to be hung in the National Portrait Gallery, nestled amongst the busts and relics of the heterosexual, white upper-class gentlemen.

During the course of the interviews Perry said being a portrait artist is like being both a therapist and a detective. You observe, analyse and draw out what you can about the subject’s personality, but you also find yourself searching for clues to those deeper parts of the psyche that perhaps the subject himself is unaware of. You then have to stitch those fragments together into a one-off piece of artwork that encompasses what was gleaned through verbal and non-verbal communication.

I loved the process from start to finish, the way Perry questioned his subjects, forced them to think about and analyse how they saw themselves and how he transferred that experience into art. The process of creation, that transmogrification from the real to the imagined has always fascinated me and I felt that the artist’s final pieces were spot on.

I am a man

‘I Am A Man’ depicts a Peter Pan-like character and was created for the wonderfully brave Jazz (later Alex), who was going through a female-to-male reassignment.

melanie georgina sarah

‘Melanie, Georgina and Sarah’, ‘larger ladies’ comfortable and sexy in their flesh.

‘The Memory Jar’, a very Perry-esque pot is a poignant sign of a lovely couple being tested to the very limits by the onset of Alzheimers. As Perry discovered, the loss of one’s memory of shared experiences can result in the fragmenting of the identity of loved ones. If you don’t remember our wedding day, or that wonderful picnic we had last year, then it might as well not have happened.

memory jar

 

For all the hype surrounding Perry, I have come to realise that it is just that – hype. Having an alter-ego or two, or being a loud and proud transvestite is such a way of life for him that it’s easy to forget he’s wearing false lashes and high heels. Because he is so at ease with what may seem at odds to some people’s sense of ‘normality’ it becomes as insignificant as, well, what you choose to wear that day, when the best of us know that outward appearance is for show and the real self is somewhere beneath the surface.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/grayson-perry-who-are-you

Witches and Wicked Bodies

This – Witches and Wicked Bodies, an exhibition of the portrayal of witches and witchcraft –

witches_624

is happening right now at the British Musuem, but only till mid-January 2015.

http://www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/witches_and_wicked_bodies.aspx

Trying desperately to figure out a way to get there!

Pucker up buttercup

I love lips. I love nature. I love weird. Christo Dagorov has combined all 3.

lips-05

lips-01

Check out more of his artwork at http://www.christodagorov.com/lips.php

Back to Blog

And so, on that 20th day of November 2014, it was decided that a new blog must be started and it shall be full of words and news and fiction and motherhood. Because I’ve been a writer for so many years, but a mother for only 5, and I’m still getting used to it!

Enough blather. Facebook is sucking the life, soul and very marrow out of me, so I’ve decided to go back to blogging. I had a blog with xanga for a good few years but didn’t have time when the stork made a call (I swear I’d only ordered a pizza). Now, five years on, I’m ready, willing and sort of able to get back on that saddle.

Analogies ahoy! Here be bilbo bloggins and his merry band of wordsies.