In September, sick of waiting to be ‘given’ a residency, and finding myself unexpectedly free of family responsibility for a week, I made my own artist’s retreat and residency in Aldeburgh, Suffolk. I exhibited and worked in the Courtyard Gallery and I had access to accommodation near the gallery. Here is my honest account.
There are many things I thought I would get from a week away in one of my favourite places by the sea- inspiration, space, thinking time, unfettered studio time, and connection with buyers and other artists.
There were other things I didn’t expect: a re-discovered love of beach combing and assembling the found ‘treasures’, a deep tiredness from prolonged time making, a sense of self doubt and the discovery that I can and will do a lot to distract myself from solitude.
I imagined myself to be good at solitude and that it would be good for me, but it turns out that it needs a bit of practice to get the hang of. I wasn’t expecting the doubts and mean self-talk that engulfed me over the first few days.
Slowly, I found my pace and rhythm, and so it became an intense learning curve about how I work and how I come to be inspired.
One main learning was that nothing can be forced to go faster than it will. Slow absorption of a place, it’s genius locii, it’s shapes and colours, was the order of the day. That was never going to result in instant ‘good’ artwork, but would rather enter into the mind and body, percolate and eventually (I hope) come out as art. Once I had rid myself of the ambition to make so much art in a week, I could get on with absorbing.
There is a certain pressure with residencies (and even retreats) to achieve something, and something tangible at that. But I had to let that idea go, as I said in one of my live videos on the beach- letting it wash away like the Suffolk coastline. Slowly becoming something else further down the line.
My morning walks were by far the best part of the week. Either bathed in big blue skies or, on one memorable morning, in an all permeating sea mist. Much like snow, it make the world anew, a pure crystalline ether making everything live only in the present.
So what did I come away with, on that long drive back to the West Country? In terms of images, I came back with many photographs- already inspiring me to make new work. The beach at Aldeburgh is a wonderful chaos of debris, colour, line and shape and I have enough ideas for a year.
I made three things I really like during the week, as well as lots of mono-prints on tissue paper, collages and the start of larger pieces. A great beach find- a wooden window shutter or cupboard door has been collaged onto and will be worked on further.
My discovery of assembling objects- and the treasure hunting that led to it, was a pure and simple way to re-affirm what I like aesthetically.
And last, but not least, the people I met and the connections made, particularly with the local artists who were so encouraging. Connections with people are so much more important and intense when you are alone.
In addition the connections that I made with people online were also encouraging. I made my first live videos for Instagram, and it seemed to give people a window into my world, whilst their comments connected me to the rest of the world (which sometimes seems very far away when you’re as far East as you can go before Scandinavia). This was something that I feel gratitude for and is not to be underestimated in the life of an artist when reaching out and trying something new.
So, back home, the images, feelings and thoughts are starting to surface again and I’m planning mono-prints on tissue paper, artists books and some cyanotype photographs. The cup has been filled.