Research and exhibitions

My three muses around which I have centred my research are Louise Bourgeois, Tracey Emin and Elka Kazmierczak. Researching the works, the process and inspiration behind these artists’ creations has led to many connections that I’ve followed up: significantly the work of the German Expressionists – in the case of Emin, Egon Schiele, with Kazmierczak – the German Expressionist woodcuts in particular. Then I’ve looked at the collaboration between Emin and Bourgeois.

It was inevitable in my research of Emin that I had to look at the work of Billy Childish. I have never liked the man or his work. He’s been part of my locality for most of my life and I have always found him, his art, his music, his poetry abhorrent. My local gallery has an exhibition of his work on so I forced myself to go and see whether I had changed my view and if not to see if I could nail down what it is that I hate about it.

Keep in mind that contiguous to this research has been my own research into trauma, its impact on the human body and brain and its emergence in my work and what it means for myself and my art. This has led me to research Bessel’s work in this field, leading me to follow up ideas born in Darwin and developed with Porges, making links with my previous research on the inner language of the mind and its representation in the work of Henri Michaux and his parallel Matta.

I am aware that my three influences share an autobiographical subject for their work. This speaks to me about human value and personal integrity. None of these artists could be described as sentimental or commonplace. Oftentimes I read of works of these types being labelled as ‘confessional’. I resent this term. It is derogatory and subtly demeaning. What has Emin to confess? A rape, childhood abuse – should this be seen as confession? Really? Asking for forgiveness?


I wonder if anyone who has been abused could accept this term. Confessional is another way of supressing the responsibility we are challenged with as audience to these works. Confession leads one to consider the artist as ‘owning up to some wrong doing in order to be reconciled with the rest of the community’. It is an alienating term.


Not confessional. Brutal, bare naked truth, intimate, seeking address and notice.

I have found the recent exercises trite in the face of the subject matter that is emerging in my work. The exercises are commonplace, surface oriented and feel purely exterior – something that I now recognise in Billy Childish’s work – the very essence of artifice that repels me. Marketable skills and production. Technique, pattern – nothing that reflects anything of the artist to me (or in terms of my own exercises: nothing that allows me to reflect myself). At least though I can now put words to what I reject in Childish’s works and thereby what I hope to remove in my own.

I have been in my head and under my skin battling with various demons recently. I wrote in my journal earlier in the month that ‘art is the skin to life’s gristle.’ I wanted to put this into action today, drawing on the visual research I’ve been undertaking.

Looking at Emin’s monoprints, reading about her process and needing to get out of my head and back on the surface of my skin I decided to have a go at some monoprints too. I used the back-drawing technique using the end of a paintbrush so that I couldn’t see the trace but could only feel the mapping of my view. In utter frustration at my local adult education having axed life drawing from their course directory I decided to simplify matters. Emin’s signature style is ‘repeating painfully intimate details’ (pg 78 ‘The Art of Tracey Emin’ ed. Merck & Townsend, Thames and Hudson 2002), ‘one poncif is her depiction of the open legs…a charged element’ (pg 76) ‘stripped of her clothes and reduced from a figurative element to a semantic one’ (pg 75) which is where Emin and Kazmierczak meet. If it is here that my influences meet, then to feel what they are working with and to see if it can be a powerful element in my own hands I set to. I cannot bear to look at myself in photos or a mirror. I feel alien to my body as if I don’t quite inhabit it. How can I teach my daughters to treasure and value their own bodies if I am so separate from mine. How can I show that the wounds are more than surface, that they alter self-perspective and should never be something that require confession or seek penance. They are a truth of me. What can be more true than my own skin. What bears every imprint of every moment I have ever lived. My body. I refuse to be commonplace. I refuse to be sentimental. I refuse to be afraid.

Annette Kuhn: ‘Though perhaps for those of us who have learnt silence through shame, the hardest thing of all is to find a voice: not the voice of the monstrous singular ego but one that, summoning the resources of the place we come from, can speak with eloquence of, and for, that place.’ (A. Kuhn, ‘Family secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination, London: Verso, 1995)

This is my body, speaking through my hand. Prints of the imprinted.

I select these three prints below as the most successful of the print run, since they hold the most fluency and intimacy, yet retaining something of the influence of Emin translated through my own hand.

Something very strange and unanticipated emerges in this following print – but it is a something that needs investigating further. It seems to hold both the figurative and semantic, as well as narrative, something concealed yet self-exposed. Significantly, there seems to be something very menacing about the odd curved pincer that is central (goodness only knows how that came to be?!).


(See Bibliography page for texts)

4 thoughts on “Research and exhibitions

  1. I read your post with high interest. Too find common aspects in context and to understand better what one leads to something towards or away from. Your highly personal touch to it is so inspiring. Another aspect of body awareness that I feel appealing – though the context might be quite aggressive.


  2. Thank you for your comment Stefan. Body awareness takes on a much greater meaning doesn’t it when you create with it as both process and product. It’s been an interesting investigation that I feel happy to continue exploring.

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  3. Interesting connection between confession and forgiveness. I had not seen that as contained in the phrase confessional art. I am from a protestant background and confessions is not something liked to forgiveness (like I now see it can be – eg in a catholic context). I had seen confessional art more like something that you do when you are honest and open with someone not hiding anything away. Interesting new perspectives here.


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