At the beginning of 2015 I had to have some sort of plan as to what I would put together for my Open House exhibition.
Every year, as well as my own artwork on show, I invite guest artists to show their work in my house during the Brighton Festival.
I aslo create an installation in my shed which has a different theme each year which has been a real attraction for people; seeing what transformation has taken place. Past themes have been American Pioneers ( or the ‘Cowboy Shed’ ) and The Sea ( or ‘The Shipwreck Shed’ )
This year I chose the theme of nesting and worked on my theme in collaboration with West Elm.
To me nesting isn’t just about birds; it’s about creating your own very personal, cozy and safe place…a nest is the hub of creativity in all walks of life and is so much more than a lifestyle…it’s an integeral part of your life.
So I decided to combine the literal building of nests with more human nest building.
I always like to leave the installations open ended…I like to have a sort of idea and then let it organically develop with no controlled plan.
All I knew at the beginning of this project was that I would build nests and have butterflies in the rafters and create a comforatble yet workable space with some West Elm help.
When I knew that the West Elm pieces were on their way, I knew I needed some extra space so I started to clear the shed and move things to a tempory storage space…( where my son always enjoys walking down identical corridors in a Stanley Kubrick ‘Shining’ sort of way!
The larger pieces started to form the basis of things, and I was constantly drawn to the beautiful yellow lamp…the colour itself was captivating and I think it was this lamp which started me on the road to colour…
After these larger pieces were in the shed, one weekend I visited the ‘Magnificent Obsessions’ exhibition at the Barbican in London and was not only inspired but very reassured that my natural inclanation to collect seemed to have a place in a lot of artists studios. I’ve always been aware that I work in what other people would define as ‘mess’, but here were artists showing how they felt it necessary to be surrounded by their very personal collections…they seemed almost like nests.
A week after this exhibition visit, I met a severly autistic 10 year old boy who was constantly producing fantastic sets of abstract drawings; all seemed identical, but they were all in different colours. He arranged his felt tips in colours, his crayons, his drawings…there was something pure in what he was creating with colours and objects and something which really resonated with me; it was something I wanted to do and join in with!
I was really inspired by the instinctive way he was producing work and creating a coloured environment, and I quickly realised that that was what I wanted to create in the shed…my very personal nest which would be a place where I could arrange collections in the way that felt natural to me and also be a creative space where I would be surrounded by things that felt pleasent and safe to be surrounded by.
So I cleared even more things out of the shed as I wanted an almost blank canvas, which was actually quite a cathartic process and one which I really enjoyed discovering bits and pieces I’d forgotten about like old bits of wood, acorns and my grandparents old dual passport!
( and even some traces of woodworm in an old plank!!! )
One of my favorite pictures of my childhood I kept up…it is of my mum reading one of her children’s cookery books ( which she wrote in 1973 ) to me as a baby and my brother with his Teddy…it always makes me feel very loved and happy.
I also kept up my favorite picture of my son and I from when he was about 3; it was a hot day at the Tate Modern, long before mobile photography, and I sat down on the cold concrete floor in the Turbine Hall to cool down, and then suddenly Jules ran towards me from miles away, clutching his bear under his arm, and at the moment I put my arms out for him to leap at me, a photographer from above captured us…he took my e-mail address and sent me the image; I’ve only ever had it on flimsy printer paper!
Over the next few weeks I collected and arranged in the shed as much colour as I could find in the house…at long last I was able to freely organise not only books but my objects into colours…these became the collections, although the jam jars and paint brushes are a very integeral collection too.
There was a point when every time I thought I was getting somewhere, I found that what I had created just led me further into colour ‘clarification’!
I spent ages for example sorting out my ‘red and green area’, which then had to be seperated, and afterwards the shelf had to be changed…placing the position of red was tricky ( and important ), and then once that was in place it was more apparent where the other colours should be. It was the yellow area which was unmoving though…it started where it finished and simply grew and grew over the weeks.
As I had been working on the colours in the shed, I accidentally found that a brown corner was appearing. I kept thinking that I’d get round to sorting it out, but then I realised I should maybe just enocurage it! Brown is not a colour I feel naturally drawn to, which is strange as The Table itself is brown, although oddly I don’t think I ever think of The Table in terms of its colour.
I particularly struggle with brown and orange. Having synaethesia, which is a sort of merging of the senses, I have strong connections to colours and numbers…my current age is unfortunately brown and orange ( next year it will be brown and blue thankfully ). So I thought I should create a space of brown to sort of be able to look at it work out why it doesn’t do for my brain what duck egg blue does for example!
The white area is only small and not massively noticeable, although when you open the white cupboard there is a collection of clocks inside…ticking clocks always remind me of life itself and inside the cupboard they almost feel like a secret engine.
There is also a small grey area, which I thought had to be included as it’s just always there in life…that little grey area of overlapping…
However there is no pink…well there are about 3 or 4 pink books in context of a rainbow, but no pink area…this wasn’t intentional and I find it quite interesting why I didn’t feel pink was important here…there are 2 blue areas though, which reflects how important blue is to me.
And then of course there are quite a few rainbows…
THE CAR BOOT
Brighton has a fantastic car boot sale ( or flea market ) every Sunday, and I’m often down there rummaging for things that just appeal to me, but over the last few weeks I went shopping simply for colour…it didn’t matter what the object was; it was the colour which was important.
I do have a big thing for pencils and rulers though, so there’s always a lot of opening rusty tins, which one weekend found me some amazing old, ‘yellow’ wooden geometry compasses.
My big thing is mixing the old with the new and being able to arrange seemingly unimportant little nothings around me, loads of which come from my family and which I’ve never been able to throw away…I have to be surrounded by texture and colour with some softness and often the function of the object is less important than it’s shape or colour. However the benches and sofa in particular became such important parts of this shed which meant I could sit quietly on the sofa and just look; contemplating on the arrangements and looking at shapes.
Unwittingly my ‘nest’ had started to become a thinking, sitting space; a space where I was able to work things out using colour.
The colour arrangements are composed in quite a detailed way, but they are also there to be arranged and re-arranged in different combinations…I have created a living palette of colour for myself.
But the shed couldn’t be only colour, I wnated to find an outdoor quality which blended with an indoor. I love an ‘inside/outside’ space and could never work in a studio which didn’t have a door opening into the outside; a garden or fields. My first studio was in Brixton over 15 years ago and was in an amazing, tiny and secluded courtyard…it was a small oaisis in the middle of London which had stable doors which were constantly open. My second studio was a shepherd’s hut in the middle of the countryside with literally only fields surrounding me, and now my studio, my shed, opens onto my garden which is basically my living and breathing collage!
So, I wanted twigs and branches and I would make some nests…
…my first idea was to have them suspended upright from the rafters, but quickly realised that I wouldn’t have been able to get into the shed, let alone sit on the sofa if I had done this, so I started to make a rough lattice of twigs where I usually store my canvases. They started to give the space some sort of movement and life, which I then punctuated with nests that I made and butterflies suspended on wires.
I tried to add a soft breeze, but I found that the noise of the fan was just a bit too intrusive.
I did manage to suspend a branch with a nest in it in the brown corner though, but there is no lighting in the brown corner…it is almost a secret place!
Once I was happy with the general feel of everything I chose my soundtrack which is very simple but it also encourages looking and reflecting.
Sitting on the sofa you’ll hear spring birdsong dissolving into Judy Garland’s ‘Over the Rainbow’ ( the original from 1938 which also features birdsong )
I have so enjoyed creting this space; feeling free to be able to work with new items as well as old was a real joy and something that is very important to me.
I didn’t really know what was going to ‘happen’ in the shed, but I have created an installation which basically represents the inside of my head and is also a place where I could sit for hours in silence, and also paint.
This shed transformation has left me very happy and inspired…
You can also read the shed story here on the West Elm Blog and you can follow the transformation here on Instagram at Westelm and Westelmlondon