Student interview

Recently, Beth Pilling, a year 10 student at Hollins Technology College in Accrington,  Lancashire, England, asked me to answer a few questions for a school project. Thought I'd post my answers here on my trusty blog, just fer scuz.


1.When creating your work, what do you think of? What is your inspiration and how do you come about it?

My inspiration, I think, comes from being engaged with life, approaching life with an open mind and heart, and paying very close attention to the beauty in every little detail of the physical world.  The more you work, the more you see with an artist's eye, adoring the visual makeup of your surroundings. Making art is truly and simply the way to become an artist. The more you work, the more deeply you get into your work, the more you see with an artist's eye and feel with an artist's heart. The work has its own path, and it's the artist's job to show up, put in the hours, trust that the work will unfold, and constantly push up to and just beyond your own comfort zone. No one can tell you what to say, and no one can know what their work will say before they make it. The work tells you what you have to say. The work is in charge; you serve the work by working!

2. When i study your work i find it amazing at how different every piece is, does this just happen or is the aim of your work to involve a fresh look in each painting?

I don't plan my pieces; I work on impulse and there is a dynamic journey, very often a struggle, for each piece. I listen to the colors, balance, composition, juxtapositions of elements, etc., and let them guide me. I strive to feel confronted and satisfied by what is unfolding; I strive for dynamic tension between elements that click in a satisfying way. Everything else happens by accident.

3. Many artists create their work to make readers feel a certain emotion. Do you try to interrprate emotions in your work too? as sometimes the colours you use cause me to feel emotional.

It's much more unconscious or subconscious than striving to make anyone feel any certain way. All I'm doing is reaching into my guts and exploring what's in there. I'm trying to learn my own nature, and I think there's so much emotion in that process, that the work is very emotional.

4. Have you ever created a piece based on something you've seen or heard, or from an experience or anything?

Not really directly or consciously, but I think that my work on a really deep level always taps into home, the land where I grew up. I recognize that my trees, for example, are an exalted version of the olive trees that grew around my mom's house…but I didn't really realize this until I had painted them.

5. What made you decide on becoming an artist? Have you always been involved in art?

I've pretty much always been involved in art in some way, and wanted to be an artist since I was a little kid. Then, as an adult, I forgot that I wanted to be an artist, and tried to do other things, which all felt painful and wrong, until I remembered that I am an artist. Once I remembered, it was such a huge relief and such a reconnection with myself and my destiny, that I committed with all of myself to it. In a way, I actually surrendered to it…it was stronger than me, my impulse to express and connect. It's such a strong impulse that it's sort of brutally painful to try to repress it, and when you finally give in, though it's really hard work, there's an ease in it and a knowing and sense of stillness and peace. I think in a way though, I had to forget that I was an artist in order to remember…which gave the knowing more meaning. But I emphasize: that is my own experience. Yours is guaranteed to be different. Every artist has their own unique journey, no matter what, always. Forget all the stereotypes about artists suffering, etc. ; they're not true unless you buy into them.

6. Do you have any suggestions for when i try and create a piece with the help of your work?

 I would say that if my work inspires you, look at it and take it in with your whole body, not just your eyes. Look at it, breathe it in, and try to feel the emotions and that it evokes in you without thinking too much about images or structure. Tap into those emotions…those are your own, and they're there, wanting to be expressed. All my work did was make you aware of them, bring them up in you. Then, when you've made the emotions very real and present for yourself, get out a pencil or a crayon or something very casual and easy to work with and childlike, and start to doodle out your emotions on paper, promising yourself that you will not show the doodles to anyone…they're just doodles, like you'd make while you were talking on the phone or something. Then, keep your doodles and begin painting with those doodles as a beginning point. The reason: doodles are by nature a casual, spontaneous and authentic expression, from your deep unconscious. They belong to you. You're not trying to impress anyone with them. Start with your doodles, and expand them. Let them guide you. If you keep working, working, working…over the long term, and in a committed way, the doodles will lead you to your own artistic voice. You might also try looking around the house for doodles you've done in the past, before I gave you this advice, and begin from there…transfer them onto canvas, or into paint, or whatever medium you want to use. Expand them.

7. I love to paint more than anything, which can be difficult when focusing on pattern. That is why your work is so amazing to me, as there is a contrast of painting free hand and detail. Should i always look towards work like this or steer off in another direction sometimes?

Unfortunately, I can't tell you what you should or shouldn't do. The wonderful and sometimes scary thing about art is that there are endless possibilities. But I can tell you that making art, for me, is an exercise in working within certain structural limitations, and then pushing against and exploring those in life, we do actually need some discipline and some boundaries, or we get paralyzed. So, especially in the beginning of your artistic path, you might choose a limited color palette, maybe two or three colors and white and grey or black, or choose one or two themes that interest you, and just focus on those for a while. If you're confused about whether to be sketchy/painterly or tight, decide on one or the other in the beginning, and try to stay within that. If you decide to be tight, and then after a while you find it confining, then you know that there is something authentic in you that is trying to push its way through. That tension becomes something for you to grapple with...and grappling is good; it's what making art is about and the birthplace of authentic expression. Eventually, in this way, you'll push beyond your own self-imposed boundaries probably without even realizing it, and you'll be off to the races, compelled by your own engagement with and interest in what's coming through you and by your own curiosity. Art, for me, is all about exploration and learning. I approach everything as a study. It's a study of color, composition, texture, etc., but ultimately it's really a study of the nature of reality, and when you get really deep in, you begin to create your own reality, which reflects your own nature back to you in a continually evolving way.

8. Trying to gain many peoples attention from a single piece must be difficult as many people have different tastes in art, how do you try to include everything that my catch alsorts of peoples interest?

 You really have to put that out of your head from the get-go. No one's art will appeal to everyone, and if it does, I guarantee it will be mediocre and a little bit soulless (think of a Pottery Barn catalog, for example…appealing to the masses, but wholly lacking in imagination). I think of it this way: each painting has its own soul, path and destiny; it is destined to touch certain people, who have a kind of an energetic match with it. Not everyone resonates with my work…and my work isn't for everyone. There are certain souls out there, such as yourself, to whom the universe is speaking through the work. It's as if, in some mysterious way, art is medicine, and not everyone needs the same medicine. The only thing you can do as an artist is surrender to your own expression, to what comes through. Remind yourself that your nature is trying to express itself, and that your nature's expression helps to illuminate the natures of certain other souls who match it in some intangible way. And remember there are basically only five responses that people will have to your work: they will either love it, like it, be indifferent to it, dislike it, or hate it.  You are guaranteed that there will be people along the way who will feel all of those ways about your work. Sit with that, know it, get comfortable with it. If you know that those are the possible scenarios, you won't be surprised. And know that every last person will see the work differently, to an amazing degree, because art is a mirror; people look at it, and they see themselves.