As a young person I harnessed the unredeemed aspects of my personality — rage, vengeance, power, self-absorption, rampant ambition — to provide the energy to move beyond my lack of aptitude.
Nick Cave was/is one of my great loves. 16 year old me adored this magical, mythical beast of creativity. Fast forward a few decades and Nick Cave is one of the most eloquent, gentle and compassionate beings who I still adore. What I know now and didn’t know then was that Nick didn’t really lurch unbridled through an enchanted creative life but is in fact a hardworking, focused and consistent artist.
So that’s Nick, but what about me? Hardworking, check. Consistent, not too bad. Focused, hmm not so much. Getting more focused in my practice has always eluded me.
For months and months, maybe even over the past Covid year I’ve been on-off thinking in a very low-grade way about sculpture. Nothing deep or important, just that sort of mind-wandering stuff. Like a little thing tugging at my sleeve from time to time saying “I’m right HERE! Pay attention!” For a while I was unaware of it’s voice until eventually I heard it clearly.
I used to make sculpture – my degree is Fine Art/Sculpture and it’s how I worked for many years. Ffs, why did I stop? Was I bored? Frustrated? I know I was struggling to find a way to sell online around the time the internet changed and social media really took off. It’s no secret I really am pissed off by social media most of the time. I was also struggling to balance the intense nature of the work process with being a parent, I was suffering from exhibition burn out but I think really I stopped because I listened to my head, not my heart. Sometimes I rebel just for the sake of it, and self-sabotage is something I do a lot.
In the depths of this winter I dreamt one night I was wrists deep in gooey plaster, slapping it onto an armature. I think that was the point when I realised how loud the voice was and how much my heart was calling out in reply. I’d been away too long. Ten years. And during that time I’ve become almost a different person through experience, trauma and healing, I have so much new to say and sculpture is MY language. I had to heed the call.
The next day after my dream I went out to Mr Bricolage and bought a bag of plaster, some metal wire and a bucket. Honestly I was so glad I was wearing a facemask as I was beaming like a loon as I walked to the checkout.
Then, I really needed to focus. As I said, not really my strong game but as I’m oldish and wiserish I actually am a rebel who likes routine. However, I may be quite routine with my daily life, but I’m not so good with it work-wise. So for the next 6 weeks I deleted Instagram off my phone, set some boundaries around how I use my time and just got stuck in.
I started by finding and cleaning up all my old tools and long lost materials. I reconnected to the things I remembered, allowing knowledge to come back in an organic and unforced way, researching when I needed to fill in the gaps in my memory. Thank God for Google and YouTube – they weren’t much of a thing ten years ago. I worked in communion with my ideas, the materials, the process while disconnected from distraction and online hubbub.
During this time my days became bound up in a routine that looked like this:
- Once a week going to the lake to find driftwood at to serve as the starting point of the sculpture.
- Every morning light the fire in the studio, make some tea, put on some music and allow my hands, plaster and wood to form until my fingers were dry and wrinkled from the plaster and I would have to stop. Usually about 4pm.
- Go get some fresh air.
- Lather, rinse, repeat for 6 weeks.
That’s it. Nothing complicated. In that time I created 4 great sculptures and 3 garbage ones. I had not been this absorbed and happy in my work for so long, I can tell you. Harnessing my resilience, experience, pain, joy and rampant curiosity to provide the energy to move beyond my lack of aptitude ;)
Sculpture is something I was compelled to do from a young age. It took me over 20 years to answer that compulsion, and somehow I let it slide away from me for a decade. Now we’re back together, and deeply in love all over again.
After that initial 6 week period I put Instagram back on my phone and lo and behold my bad habits started to creep back up. But that’s a whole other post as I’m still figuring out my own system for creating a healthy balance between making work and sharing it online.
*This post is an edited version of a story included in a letter I sent to subscribers to ‘Notes From a Crooked Studio’. If you too would like to receive a letter from me, sign up below.