After receiving my feedback for practice 1, I began to concentrate on my own personal experience of my gender and stereotyping and this changed the direction of my project.
I began to make work based on childhood memories and experiences throughout my life whilst searching for illustrators or designers who have tried to address gender issues with their work. As I struggled to find illustrators, I found my work resonated more with fine artists and authors who used personal experience, gender, feminism, childhood, the home/family, and naive aesthetics to create a network. I used a three-point mapping strategy to gain focus. As I worked through my memories and experience, I worked instinctively in a 2D aesthetic. The female body became prominent in my sketching and as I tried to understand my own feelings and instinct more, a blog post regarding a man’s expectation of femininity triggered me to work in 3D and I began to experiment with clay.
As a way of taking quick breaks from my practice, I have submitted some editorial pieces for an online creative newspaper and illustrated a music cover for a solo artist. During a housekeeping lecture there was a call out to join a collective called Other Grounds that are investigating ‘otherness’. I responded and met with the group during testing time.
Through questioning aspects of my upbringing and resurrecting my childhood memories I understand that my aversion to gender stereotyping through consumerism directly links to my own experience of feeling I did not fit within the expectations of my gender. For most of my life I have rebelled against it and also desperately tried to fit within it. I was aware of a difference and a hierarchy within my family unit from a very young age and began to question it. I felt my body almost betrayed me when it began to change at eight years old and it terrified me when I realised other people could see. I struggled between trying to be masculine and aggressive like my dad and as attractive and slim as my mother’s legend. I developed an eating disorder at the age of 13. I witness other children, such as my nephew, have these rigid expectations imposed on them and I am aware of the consequences. I want to promote acceptance with my work.
I began searching for artists and other creatives who have used personal experience and social commentary in regard to gender stereotypes to make their work. I found it difficult to find designers and illustrators whose work dug beneath the surface of the issue. I was unable to bounce from anything I found until I looked towards fine art and literary creatives. I noticed how the body reoccurred in my sketching and as I searched for artists who explored gender or feminism I found drawings by Louise Bourgeois that resonated with my own. Upon reading about Bourgeois, I discovered her work fundamentally concerns her experience, childhood, her family, and memories. I was also directed towards David Hockney’s early works when he explored his own feelings and sexuality as well as experimenting aesthetically. Out of the many 2D visual artists, I found myself returning to Bourgeois and Hockney.
My current aesthetic of digital collage is not appropriate for my project and I need to work on a more naive approach. Another branch to my research was to include illustrators and artists who work in a way that could be visually influential. Now that the work is about my experience, it has opened the subject matter to include navigating my gender and my body, as well as my experience of stereotyping. Using a sketchbook and drawing is completely different to how I work but I began producing intuitive images to get the experiences out and onto the paper.
To help express my own rejection of my femininity I searched online for similar experiences where I came across a blog post written by a man regarding feminism causing the death of femininity. I began to construct a clay army of women as a reaction to the blog and it’s comments, my experience, expectations surrounding femininity, and being reduced down to a body. Other Grounds plan to hold a small testing exhibition in October and a larger one in January. The Tittymamas will run alongside my practice and I will include the work in my Professional Platforms. I have not worked with clay before but feel it is the best method for communicating my feelings concerning the focus on the female body as a collective rather than seeing individual people. The ugliness and imperfection of the Tittymamas is imperative. They are not to be polished, all unique, and they will be painted in the soft, pastel colours that render young femininity as a way of mocking the soft stereotype. I realise that this will involve more work than if I made moulds for the bodies but it goes against the meaning behind the work. How many I make and how I will position them will depend on the venue of the January exhibition but the effect does rely on the mass.
I have been too anxious until now to experiment with different clays, firing, and glazes. I have never worked in ceramics and was unsure if I needed to take my work so far away from my usual practice, but it has been constantly on my mind that this is the route to pursue. I had already been shown the sculptures of Caren Garfen and Cathie Pilkington but felt I may be too late to step into a completely new territory and produce something of quality in time for the end of my MA. During a family holiday we visited Erwood Station Gallery, Powys, which features artists working in ceramics in an illustrative way. I found the folk-like ceramic figures by Suzanne Lanchberry and Jean Tolkovsky endearing making the hunch to experiment with clay more prominent. I could create scenes out of clay that would communicate my experiences in a more interesting way; interesting for the viewer and myself as I am connecting with clay more than my 2D images. In Hay-on-Wye I found a book on contemporary ceramics showcasing how clay is being used by illustrators, such as Laura Bird, to tell a narrative. There would be some significance in taking a memory and turning it into an artifact that’s purpose you expect to be decorative, to be put on show, yet the subject matter is not what you expect to be shown off or really discussed. I would like the viewer to be intrigued by the work before fully understanding the narrative. I have started to create scenes by returning to me intuitive images and using them to pinpoint what parts I want to make in clay. Although there is obviously a technical element to handbuilding there is something about not having a pencil or paintbrush that allows me to loosen up and allow the material to work with my idea for the image. I don’t want to control it the way I automatically do when I work 2d.
I plan to experiment further with different clays and will take my induction in glazing and mould making next term. If it were possible for me to pursue my MFA, I would, as it would give me more time to become experiment with ceramics. Even though I am concerned about the time scale, I do believe it will be more beneficial to me to take the leap and learn a skill whilst on my MA rather than experiment only with my 2D aesthetic when I could do that any time. It makes more sense to take advantage of having access to facilities and technical advice and build on this further once the MA is over.
After discussing my direction in my final tutorial, I would like to keep my intention open and allow room for development throughout practice three. There is the possibility of composing images for publishing, pieces designed for an exhibition space, or even using my work for workshops. I intend to stay situated within design and I believe there is room for my practice as an illustrator. My illustrations in clay can be displayed or photographed and made into 2D compositions. My work is suitable for editorial illustration as gender issues are being highlighted more and working with empathy lends itself to reportage. Publishing could also be feasible either for the context or visual language. ***I attended the Picture Hooks conference at MMU where Tiffany Leeson, of Egmont Publishing, spoke of how they were keen to work with creators of picture books promoting emotional intelligence. This is something I would be enthusiastic to engage with in the future.*** My work is feminist art, but could also be used for public arts, and community arts.
Although my work has taken a different direction to how I imagined in practice one, my initial research is relevant. I feel more confident in my position, my subject matter, and understand more about my own aversion to the push on stereotypes through gendered consumerism. Researching artists has helped me situate myself and I was surprised at how difficult it was to find illustrators who are addressing gender issues.
I will begin practice three by allowing the work to evolve and leave the outcome open until direction becomes clear either through feedback or natural progression.