I Had A Hand In This

Art is community : Community is art

In the Autumn of 2018, Jo Slater, who owns The Sun pub in Carshalton, approached me after I donated an art work to a charity raffle in the pub, and kindly offered some space for us to make art. Art In The Sun duly began in January of this year. A weekly gathering of curious adventurers, an experiment in experimental art.

Each session features an idea, maybe a theme, an offer of new tools, materials, techniques – just enough structure, and no more. People get to work, talking, sharing ideas, experimenting. I’m on hand if needed, but the process is largely about discovery.

Some weeks a hush falls over the group as the concentration levels rise, some weeks there’s loads of chat and laughter. We’ve been fortunate to have ELTEL perform with us a few times, and we’ve tried numerous techniques out since we started. Mark making, printing, stencil cutting, masking and layering, brushless work, tile painting, collaborative and solo works. The group takes it all on – confident in the emerging process. Plenty of our work ends up in the bin, and that’s OK.

A while back I suggested the idea of an exhibition – a chance to show our work to a wider audience. I recall the idea being received a little hesitantly, so we left it to percolate. Time passes, experiments continue, the idea is remembered again, and here we are, it’s exhibition day.

I’m off to The Sun. My role today is that of curator, and general setter upper. I’m proud of this lovely group of people and everything they have achieved so far, and I hope that today, I do their work justice for them. I have much to do, so I’ll wish you well and leave you with a hint of what is yet to come.

‘I Had A Hand In This’. Mixed media co-created collage, on A1 foam board


What happens when you surround yourself with talented people working in an encouraging environment?

Something like this:

A few weeks ago I wrote a post titled Identity – an exercise in patience, about my work for a forthcoming exhibition. I continued the theme of identity as I worked, and as you can see, the art is now finished and it has been handed in to the curators.

I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of working alongside a group of talented people. Seeing other people produce really good work has motivated me to push myself and be more adventurous, and the fact that people in the group have been so encouraging has been really helpful.

My adventures with stencils and spray paint began a little over a year ago, when I made a few designs to celebrate Record Store Day.

Record Store Day 2018

These initial works are pretty naive, made using very simple cuts, and erratic spray work. Even so – I like them, they represent the beginning of what has become my vinyl junkie project, something I enjoy very much. Although I still consider myself a novice when it comes to stencil art, it’s good to be able to look back over a period of time and see how my practice is developing. Cataloguing and showing your work is a very important part of working practice for me.

I can’t wait to see all the work under one roof, it’ll be quite a show. I’ll share more information on that once arrangements are finalised. For now though, I simply want to acknowledge the power of working in a talented group where encouragement and cooperation is high, competition is not emphasised, and when requested, advice is freely offered.

In my consulting experience – organisations frequently express a desire to collaborate across teams and departments, yet the way things are structured – reward, appraisals, hierarchy etc – often mitigates against this. I realise this group of artists I’m currently with are only loosely connected, but I wonder what the world of learning and development can learn from us, and how we work with each other?

Is This It?

Lead with what you love now, as there may not be a tomorrow.

It’s November 2018. A big company wants to experiment with communities of practice and other community aspects of learning and development. A good friend and I have just been asked to help out on the project. Initial signs are positive. Lots of enthusiasm, some clear, seemingly manageable deadlines, and an openness to new ideas. We agree to initial requests for us to respond quickly, and develop and propose a cocreated consultative approach to the work. The quick turnaround is noted by the client, who, upon receiving the proposal on 27 November 2018, promises to ‘revert this morning with any questions.’ Since then – despite several gentle reminders from us, we’ve heard nothing. It also took 70 days to get paid for the initial work we did.

It’s November 2018. An associate and I have just been booked to cocreate some art work and visual minutes at a conference in March 2019. We subsequently exchange regular correspondence with the client about the event. On 30 January 2019, the client changes their mind, apologises for messing us around, and says they no longer want us to do the work. There is currently a reluctance to pay our cancellation fee.

Time and effort has been spent securing this work, planning, helping to deliver, and managing our part in it. The unceremonious way in which work sometimes unravels, is depressing. I wasted time at the start of February 2019 worrying about the effects of such evaporation, and wondering if there are ways to get these things back on track.

It’s 11 February 2019. I run an art class for a group of older people. It’s a satisfying challenge, we have fun together, talking and trying out new things.

It’s 12 February 2019. I sell some art, and I facilitate an evening art workshop in a local pub. The work is full of enthusiasm, experimentation, and joy.

It’s 13 February 2019. I’m at Martin Couzins’s Bar Camp, and I’m live painting. I’m meeting good people, stretching my creative muscles, making art, and more.

It’s 14 February 2019. I’m volunteering at a careers fair, talking to school kids about why art matters, about doing things differently, and what it feels like to run your own business. Unbeknownst to me at the time, news is reaching people of the death of our good friend Cate. I meet a friend for lunch, we share an excellent conversation and he buys some art from me.

It’s 15 February 2019. Fridays start with counselling, a fabulous unhurried opportunity to talk. I prepare this week’s free art drop, a tribute to Cate.

It’s 18 February 2019. I sell some art, and prepare some art for shipping to an exhibition in Germany. I have a commission enquiry to deal with.

It’s 19 February 2019. I meet with someone who runs an interesting community space. We talk about art, and how it makes us think and feel, and reach an in principle agreement to pilot some community art sessions.

I am reflecting on recent events, and it is dawning on me that in recent days I invested time and effort in work that brings joy to me and others. I also learned of Cate’s death, sudden and unexpected. These things ground us. Too often I chase the seductive enthusiasm for new ideas in corporate land, only to find that enthusiasm is rarely followed by action. Perhaps Cate is teaching me that I need to lead with the art now, as there may not be a tomorrow.

Is this it?


As If To Fly