An Artist Life of My Own


Last week I visited Beth Chatto’s garden in Essex. The garden is still unfurling from winter. The relative starkness allowed me to see the structure of things – abrupt protrusions of solitary flowers, endless variations of upward thrust followed by rapid or creeping submission to gravity. Last year’s gunnera was an abject crepey mass with scrunches of new green leaf. There were many varieties of hellebore and narcissi, fragile bells of the fritillaries and lovely grapey muscari. I realised (re-realised) what great delight I get in just looking at form and structure in the natural world and the endless variations and mutations in each species. My makings have so much of the leaf, petal, branch and pod in their appearance and yet I feel uncomfortable and a bit ashamed about their obvious organic-ness. It is something to do with associations with femininity, with immanence, with an absence of intellectual transformation. A friend likened a little hanging felt piece to a fushia and I felt myself recoiling. Why? They were my dad’s favourite flower, mine too as a little girl when they seemed utterly to belong to the world of fairies. Somehow shame has crept in.

The blog title is inspired by Marion Milner’s book A Life of One’s Own. I first encountered this nearly 20 years ago when I numbly walked into a library – wretched and bewildered as a long relationship went into meltdown. A book was never really going to help but this title leapt out at me like a lifeline (the hope I took from the words echoed by the promise in its green Virago spine). Milner wrote it under the pseudonym of Joanna Field in the 1930s. Her project was to note in her journal at the end of each day what it was that had made her happy. It’s an amazing book – close attention revealing totally unexpected things. My journey of learning to know what I like started at that period.

Over the years since leaving art college I have banished many of the old “shoulds” – I love textiles (craft – aaagh, even in spite of Grayson Perry), I trained as an art therapist, I read loads of books and words stimulate me as much as any visual art forms. But I find there are still some things that I feel awkward acknowledging.

So I want to take this year and pay close attention (without judgement), to all the things that inspire and make my making self. It is a year of having a studio – I may not be able to afford it next year and the Hackney Wick redevelopers are poised to replace the messy creative encampments and studio spaces with expensive dreary blandness. I am not quite sure where this project will lead – when you write a book you get to do the introduction at the end and I don’t know what the end will be. I like the idea that my project starts with a season in garden – from the nascence of early spring through seasons of abundance and decay. Words never seem quite adequate but this is my diary blog for a year, of cultural things and the natural world and my own makings and perhaps other things.

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