In October 2018, I moved my life to Valencia, Spain, in search of a more artistic life. It was one big experiment to see what could happen if I put most of my time into making art. I thought of my first year as a ‘self-taught foundation year‘ and even put on my own end of year show.
Now, another year on, with the world turned upside down by a pandemic, I’ve decided to relocate to Kent, in the UK, for the foreseeable future. (Not that the future is desperately foreseeable these days, but you get the gist!) It’s a decision I wasn’t expecting to make and it is with a heavy heart. Living in Valencia over the last two years has been a hugely significant period in my life. So I thought I would take a moment to reflect on what I’ve learnt from my time in Valencia and on becoming an artist, so far!
Sometimes my art writing verges into serious Delayed Art Commentary … actually I quite like that phrase, and also the notion, of having a little time to digest and process a show. But there’s definitely a sweet spot, the optimum amount of time for the work to muddle round my brain a bit, but also for my initial reactions not to be too distant, to be able to call them back, dig into them, turn them over and figure out a bit more what it all means.
The San Francisco Art Institute, SFAI, opened in 1871 and is one of the oldest schools dedicated to Contemporary Art in the United States. In March 2020, I was sad to read that the school was closing due to financial pressures exacerbated by COVID-19. Since then many supporters have emerged, citing its unique contribution to the arts and mustering the funds and motivation, for it to continue. So students will be able to complete degrees, public art courses and exhibitions can live another day. But why do I, a British artist and write care about this? How did I even come to know of SFAI?…
I planned to spend 1 month in the UK, arriving in early March 2020, to host an art project, The Body Room, in London. As the COVID-19 situation has unfolded, I stayed and it has been almost 5 months now. As I get ready to return to Valencia in a few days time, I thought I’d make a tally of all the new and unexpected ways I’ve engaged in art during the lockdown. In a rough chronological order, it goes like this .. read along and see how many you recognise too!
In early lockdown I enjoyed reading this slab of a book on art history. It starts with cave paintings which felt strangely pertinent as we all hunkered down for lockdown. Despite its 700 pages, its actually a pretty pacy whirl through art history. His language is clear and non-pretentious and the layout is impeccable. Full marks for usability – if he talks a bit a painting, he puts a full colour decent sized reproduction in! It’s a pretty ‘conventional’ and mainstream version of art history, and of course there’s barely a woman in it, and the artist is always a ‘he’. But what he does write about is insightful and useful.
Since mid-March 2020, I’ve been seeing a lot more of my own face than normal. Yes, you’ve guessed it, like many other people, I’ve found myself on a merry go-round of video calls as a result of Covid-19. I’ve used video chat to keep in touch with friends and family, to keep working on art projects across borders and most recently to complete an 8-week online art course. And it’s exhausting. I’m no fan of screen-time at the best of times – yes, I’m one of those strange refuseniks who still doesn’t use Netflix! But beyond the eye-strain and tense undertone of blue screen light, I realised there was something particularly emotionally exhausting about the new prevalence of videochat. And mostly that was my face …
Petrina Hicks, born in 1972 is an Australian photographer making work about the female image. She previously worked as a commercial photographer and in her work the visual language of advertising and the classical motifs collide.
Thinking about the term ‘public art’, the immediate connotations that spring to my mind are: (i) big things (ii) outdoors and (iii) as I’m a Brit, The Angel of the North by Antony Gormley. Thinking a bit further, I wonder about all the statues commemorating various men (mainly) and women (occasionally) standing in our towns and cities. Pondering a bit more, I recall some wonderful works I’ve seen dotted around Folkestone, Kent, the lasting legacy of their inspiring triennials.