Over this summer Rebecca Wilson, chief Curator of Saatchiart negotiated a commission for me. The process started with a selection of images to show to a client who was building a boutique cruise ship and was looking for original paintings and some printed pieces for the ship. I provided a series of images from my Bristol Presentiments 1770 series, most of which Rebecca had seen at The Other Art Fair Bristol.
And then I waited. Rebecca let me know when the pitch had been made, and that they loved my work, that was positive. And I was asked to quote for a very large painting 275x110cm and some prints of another, and speculatively for one other spot, even more positive, the works that were the basis for the commission had been selected. So I sent off a quote detailing that I usually did not do prints of painted works, but for this time only I would licence one piece for prints. And then I waited some more.
We were to be told in September. This would give me ust enough time to work in my usual way. I paint in oils in a rather traditional way hand mixing my own paints and they take along time to dry, especially with organic rather than mineral pigments . The piece selected for the large work of course used indigo, an organic pigment.
September passed. I started researching media that I could use that would speed up my drying processes. I even experimented a bit with acrylic. But truth be told acrylic just isn’t my best friend! So I made some experimental work with new additions to the oil, found out how they affected colour, texture, liquidity and of course drying times. I was in email contact with Rebecca, but although things were looking good there was no confirmation yet.
So I had found ways of speeding drying times using oils (it involves the addition of a variety of mineral based oil painting media in sufficient quantity to aid drying without impacting on colour or reducing flexibility too much).
Then I had to work out about getting the surface made. so I had already been in touch with the lovely people at artist surface to let them know about the project, and to get a quote from them for the surface in the first place. However they needed notice too. So I stayed in touch with them, dropping them an email from time to time to keep them in the loop, because once the confirmation was in, I would need them to be as speedy in making it as possible. ... And I was tempted to order the surface in advance, but this was going to be hundreds of pounds, not money I could spend speculatively...not until things were signed on the dotted line...not until the deposit was in...
In the mean time I had been adding to my Cobalt Collection over the summer , and I had noticed the incredible speed with which the cobalt based paints were drying, which set a spark but this was also one of the hottest summers ever, what if it was all because of the heat....
October came along and it was The Other Art Fair London, and so a chance to catch up with Rebecca Wilson again in person. She told me they had confirmed, but we were waiting on the deposit, so nearly there...great news. Just after the fair and before New York I got confirmation to go ahead, and happily by then I knew the new concoctions were working, they were dry and they looked good, and they still operated in ways that I wanted them to. I ordered the surface from Artists Surfaces, they were fantastic and got it too me in record time, and then it arrived....
I was beyond excited, I love working really big and it was huge, that summer I had had a studio built in the garden so that I could work really big again, and here it was the vast, perfectly smooth beautiful thing.....so big I had to get my husband to help me move it to the studio.... Then came the process of painting it, referring back to photos, but obviously not copying them, the new work is still a new work, the piece that the client chose an inspirational stepping off point, not something to replicate exactly. I used the same pigments but had to use the faster drying media, and in the process kept in touch with Rebecca, there was some forwards and backwards, working and reworking....
Then on a visit to the Pitt Rivers museum I found a map of the route of the Beagle, this boat was going to be sailing to the Galapagos too, I wanted to incorporate it
So I added it in another layer of the ochre, but was a bit too heavy, so I pulled it back, its still there but softly, in a little echo.
So here it is, in it’s final form after the go ahead from Rebecca it has been varnished, and wrapped and is waiting for the bespoke crate to arrive, that I’m having made by my lovely local Crouch End carpenters. Then it will be off to Saatchiart to sort out the framing before it arrives in Rotterdam to be installed in the ship. It’s been quite a journey, and it is off on it’s own journey now, carrying with it South American Indigo from the Andes, and European ochres to echo the perpetual journey forwards and backwards that it will make. And that really is something I find very satisfying, given that the starting point of the original piece used to inspire it were the imported pigments though Bristol docks in 1770: imported from Rotterdam, the Carribbean and The Americas.
So this Autumn I went full tilt at promoting my work and getting it out there. I made the possibly crazy decision to do 3 fairs in 2 coutries in 1 month. I started off with The Other Art Fair London. At this fantastic show I met a great range of professional contacts including Artist agents, I have a formal meeting with them next week, and the curator of an amazing museum project which is still in development (more about this next year). I also had the opportunity to net-work with some fabulous artists, and sold the largest work on my stand, my star piece which had so much love through the show I could have sold it several times over! Unusually for a fair I sold it through the fair director rather than face to face, so thank you Ryan for facilitating that.
The next fair I did was in Oxo Tower Wharf, and standing around in that South London setting in April had been the inspiration for the starting point of the Cobalt Collection. So as I stood in the cold in April, something was tickling the back of my mind about the South London Potters in Southwark (which I had arrived through) and Vauxhall which was near to where I would be leaving from. I had had this connection between the Thames and Cobalt floating in the back of my mind for ages. The colours of the Thames are reflected in the range of blues and greens and turquoises that can be found, the changeability and at the same time permanence of the river are similar to the chemical nature of cobalt, but there was something else, I was sure of it. So after the show I started to research into the history of the South London potters and this is what I found. They were originally a group of refugees from religious persecution in the low countries and France. They had been obliged to live outside the city, as only people born in the city could live in the city at the time, and they had brought with them the techniques for glazing pottery that included amongst other colours the prized cobalt blue of Deltware. They were the originators of blue and white pottery in England. Before that English pottery was brown or green. These potteries were also at the foundations of some of the most famous potteries for example Royal Doulton started out here.
So here I was this Autumn with the Cobalt Collection that had started as a germ of a thought the last time I did this same fair in this same place, with cobalt blue skies outside as well as in and a beautiful golden sunshine falling across my work. A week later I was in New York!
So to get to New York I had sent my work ahead to my gorgeous friend Rachel’s house, which while not in New York city is in New York state, I knew it had arrived safe and sound as she’d sent me the pictures, and despite two hiccoughs in customs leaving the UK and then entering the USA with the help of UPS they had arrived before I even set off.
The pieces I took to America were the ones which explored cobalts bigger story, the research I did into the collection at the British Museum. I had looked into the archives and found how cobalt pigmented objects had left in their physicality these traces of human interconnectedness since the iron age, how they had been traded in the form of glass, by Phoenicians across the meditteranean, how they had spread through the Islamic world into the Iberian peninsular and how even in the iron age cobalt blue glass had made its way to the shore of England. The work in the US referenced the names of places this evidence came from. traces of classical silk route trade and more. And one of the things tht really happens when you spend three weekends in close proximity explaining what you do to so many thousands of people, is that you get a bit clearer about why you do it yourself. Which in itself is a little gift to the artist.
Back at home in between all these fairs the commission that Rebecca Wilson of saatchiart and I had been talking about since Bristol came through. So in between this I was making a very large painting that will be gracing the wall of a boutique cruise ship that runs its route between the Galapagos and Europe carrying passengers in luxury. The making of the piece is probably for the next post, when I may even have photos of it in place. I have used Andean Indigo and European ochres to make it.