The “Ultimate” Question: “How can you know if you like or hate something if you have never tried it?”

The “Ultimate” Question: “How can you know if you like or hate something if you have never tried it?”

Goodness me I have finally realised that I am a really slow learner! However, I now have a Mantra that helps me. I call it “The RR81 Mantra”. It’s not complex and it goes like this:

“Why aren’t you doing it?”

That one simple enquiring bit of wisdom held in the heart of a young man, is in my mind the most powerful mantra of all. Whilst my Og stories encourage us to celebrate our uniqueness and remind us that if we feel out of our depth then just take a step back and be who you want to be, I still find Rhys Rubery’s powerful mantra is far more life changing. It does require us to dream a bit but if we don’t dream a little then we can’t move forward.

I have noticed that I spend so much of my life trying to maintain the status quo and just keep afloat but more and more I am finding myself turning towards challenges with a new perspective thanks to those simple wise words.

It is for this reason I did not simply press delete when the email arrived in my Inbox inviting artists to submit to The Art Below Summer Show in Mayfair. Instead I wondered why it had been sent. It had been forwarded to me by someone that obviously thought I had something to offer and whilst my default has always been to talk myself out of things I had begun to notice that a little voice often questioned me now. That little voice said “Why not? Why don’t you do it?” So I genuinely re-thought and began to read on and thought some more and realised that there was absolutely no reason why I couldn’t submit.

The theme of the London Summer Show this year was entitled: The digital age. The actual remit was very broad and the organisers of the Art Below submission stated that the theme could be interpreted however we wished. Thus, I began to think about what the subject meant and how a digital world had impacted on me, my life and the wider world. I talked to others about what they thought about the subject and before long I realised this was a massive, complex subject that affected everyone differently- yes even me with my prehistoric attitude to life and my disregard for technology and fascination with all things traditional!

When a subject seems too big I tend to try and break it down in to manageable chunks. I asked myself: How has the digital world impacted on me as an artist? I thought about the photographs and technology I had begun to access more and more in recent years to capture an image I may use to develop a painting. I considered how valuable these high tech tools were for allowing me and others to explore places deep within the sea and landscape that would otherwise never have been reached. Furthermore, the quality of the image through use of digital techniques allowed images to be enhanced and developed to create hugely imaginative, detailed and interesting perspectives.

I then thought about how relatively ignorant I am of technology. I use it for basic stuff but I would definitely be described as more old school in my ways. I then went further with that line of thinking and questioned why I didn’t get excited about technology. This opened up a huge number of discussions with myself my children, husband, friends and family. It triggered thoughts about how my children have grown up considering computers to be essential to life. Whereas, I can still remember having the option at University of handwriting my assignments as computers were not compulsory and certainly not essential. I was also a really slow learner when it came to understanding what this computerised world actually meant as a concept.

I shall disclose now, a story that my husband and I still dine out on with regards to my own ironic intelligence. I was studying for my PhD in the mid 1990’s and was perfectly happy with how my studies were going until one day I loaded my floppy disc in to the research centre computer in front of me and a weird mixture of symbols danced all over the screen. I called over a fellow post graduate and asked him what had happened to my results. He calmly stated that my disc had a virus. I looked at him and then looked at the box of other discs that all my research was held on and my face dropped. I truly and honestly said “Oh no! It has been in the box with the other discs they may all have caught it!” I remember Ian’s face try not to smile but rather look at me sweetly before patting my shoulder and explaining it wasn’t that sort of virus. So as you can see a digital world was never going to hit me head on but rather repeatedly have to drive in to me, reverse and drive in again until it found a way to exist with me visually.

Let’s face it I was one of those funny folk who enjoyed handwriting. I would watch how my writing changed some days depending on the assignment or purpose I was writing for. I can remember enjoying noticing how neat and tidy my writing would start and how untidy it became by page 4 of an assignment. I can remember my hands aching, something my eldest daughter recently reminded me of as she completed GCSE History and English exams on the same day with copious amounts of writing! Yet today many children and adults may never experience this. Perhaps this doesn’t matter anyway. I think that is the biggest question in many of these thoughts and considerations. Often when I have been reflecting on a digital age I have approached it with sceptical, almost negative eyes but let’s face it it isn’t all negative. In fact, does any of it have to be seen as negative?

I know from my own experience that anything I don’t understand usually leads to me starting from a more negative approach to my thinking. I can remember in the late 1990’s not wanting a mobile phone and holding off accepting one that had been offered to me at work. I remember thinking “I don’t need it it! Why would I? It will feel like I am in work all the time if I take it!” “It will make me accessible at all times!” “I don’t want people to be able to get hold of me sometimes!” It took several years before I accepted it may be helpful and this is possibly linked to when I had my first child. The idea that it made things easier and safer for me allowed my inner conflict to weaken towards acceptance of the inevitable. However, was I really safer with the phone? Hadn’t people been ok before they existed?

Thus, whilst my children have grown up assuming the mobile phone came out with them at birth I still made a point of them not actually owning one until they went to comprehensive school. So many horror stories about too much access to technology being harmful to our children added to this fear and almost a resentment towards it. However, rarely did I ever take the time to look at the technology for it’s positive contributions to my children’s lives. Luckily for me friends would ensure my children took full advantage of some of the clever computerised learning toys that developed and those technologies that could record beautiful moments in the children’s lives. Furthermore, I cannot ignore the ease in which we lived and how we look after ourselves which is undoubtedly made easier by these advances in technology. So it can’t all be bad. It was at this point I stopped giving it such a bad press and at least recognised how valuable it has the potential to be.

Unfortunately, I was once again met by another negative thought: Why does it feel that by making some things easier it makes other things harder? Most significantly, I am referring to how it has sped up my life. It really has intruded in to my personal space and has encouraged a visual overloading for my brain. Even little old me who has tried to keep it at bay feels beholden to it. Let’s face it I wouldn’t even use an electric, plastic, modern sewing machine until recently as I loved the beauty of my old, wooden Singer Sewing machine that I brought when I was 18 from a local market. But I have recently at times succumbed to putting ease and speed above the more personal experience of turning the sewing wheel by hand and the comforting, evocative sounds that remind me of my Gran repairing clothes at the farm when I was a child.

I suppose it all comes down to personal choice in the end doesn’t it? We all have choices and sometimes we make choices that mean we become reliable on our digital world and other times we can believe we are rejecting it only to realise that we can never really escape from it! Furthermore, I am left thinking it is wrong to think about all digitalisation in a purely negative terms since mobile phones and computers do open up my world up and it is probably just up to me to manage it and not allow it to rule my world. Like the human body needs keeping in check and like your cars and houses need maintenance I think we have to build in some self control and care.

Just because I can link up with folk all over the world and can see them when I talk if I so desire does that mean it is really necessary? Is it really enhancing my life if it means I never switch off? We now have to teach Mindfulness to society because we are either not comfortable with solitude or we can’t find peace in our minds as we are so stressed out with all the possibilities a digital world provides us access to.

I can remember the first time my husband and I used to skype to allow the children to see him when he was working in India. We both thought this would make the loss of their dad for a week bearable. However, our youngest daughter would not talk to her dad on skype because it wasn’t real and if dad wasn’t real then she wasn’t interested. If she could not get any sensory feedback from him then she didn’t want it! We were trying to overcompensate for a natural emotion that has great importance in our lives. Loss, whether for a day, a week, or a lifetime evokes feelings that helps us develop in our selves and the inevitability of loss means we all need to become familiar with it.

This last example highlights something else that may explain why despite my growing appreciation of a digital world it may never be able to emanate reality but simply create new realities or are they called artificial realities? Realities that we can choose to enjoy or dismiss as not “real enough”. It has taken the example of my daughter not believing in the digital dad in the same way as she could with the real life dad to perhaps clarify what is absent for me in a digital age And equally do we need to take more notice of our children’s reaction to a digital age?

Perhaps it’s not important to everyone but I know it’s the tactile, sensory parts of my world that help me make sense of it. If I can: see it; touch it; smell it; taste it; and hear it then I am fully engaged. I think that is the main goal of digitalisation: to replicate a real world digitally but make it better, smoother, prettier, more pleasing! Is that what’s known as an ironic endeavour? I’m not sure.

I kept hoping I would come to a conclusion but as I explored one thought it lead to another. I referred earlier to the stress I can feel in this digital age. Not only are there so many ways to get hold of each other but also I am constantly being introduced via social media to opportunities for work, leisure, friendship, artistic development etc. There’s nothing more stressful than feeling like you could have done more today or worse still you could have done it better. I didn’t like this realisation so I turned back to trying to find ways of interpreting a digital age more positively. So I turned to the Dog.

I was taking the dog for a walk and was thrilled when I saw my good friend David walking his dog. David knows everything there is to know about Art and being “Arty”. He just can’t help it. I asked him if I could have his opinion on this enormous subject because I was going to try and paint it and enter the Art Below Summer show.

Within seconds David was discussing with me the Geology that we were standing on at that very moment on the beach. He was commenting on my Geological studies from my Degree and my style of painting and favourite subject matters. He was connecting the advances in technology that allow us to know more about the land we stand on and the environment we live in. It sparked a memory of Iceland and the tectonic activity we witnessed whilst there as we stood on the land/rift that emerges as the two tectonic plates separate and thus create more of “Iceland”. In that split second my imagination had been ignited. I hugged him and galloped back to the studio and began my research. This was so exciting as it would bring a deeper understanding of Iceland and so I spent the next few days studying the rift.

The most hysterical thing was that when we were in Iceland and were visiting that very spot where the plates were pulling apart and I had regularly been recorded as saying “Hmm … considering it’s on the map as a sightseeing spot it’s not very impressive!” I think I had expected to witness the plates moving or something to be impressed! However, having suddenly found new meaning in this place I became obsessed with what was going on underneath the paths that we walked along. I started to appreciate that the purity of the water that we looked in to within each rift was a window on a world beneath us. I began to appreciate that not everything is visible to the eye but requires thought and a little bit of effort to reflect and give value to things that are not quite as obvious

I am as guilty as the next of assuming everything will present itself in easily accessible formats yet I know for a fact that those easily accessed sights are not the ones that you remember. More often it is the moments that demanded a little bit of you before you could truly come to see it for what it is.

I spent some time planning a drawing and then a painting of this specific area of Iceland where land was actively changing from within. I remember being so in to this moment that I sat in the Van waiting for my youngest daughter to finish guides and produced a really pleasing sketch of the plates.

This fascination carried on long enough to produce a further canvas encapsulating this moment alongside a new appreciation of the layers of interpretation that assist a painting’s development. Whilst it has rarely ever been enough to simply produce a piece without thought I knew now that I had changed somewhat and would never simply re-produce an image but rather search for meaning and reason in my work.

Based on this exposure you may think that I chose this piece to submit to the Art Below Summer Show! But alas No! I had emailed the Director, Ben Moore, and said that whilst I had hoped to submit an application I felt that it may not be my time this year as my Website was not quite ready and even my usual email address had locked me out and I was in the process of changing my Facebook and Instagram names to link with new website. Digitally, it made me look like I didn’t exist at that moment since no paintings had been posted properly yet. In fact, ‘The Digital Age’ was working against me! It was proving difficult to show him my work and meet the deadline and this was essential in the application. I thought that was it! The opportunity had passed but hey! Let’s face it I had learned a lot.

However, I had a return email followed by a call saying

“We have found examples of your work and your waves and we would like to invite you to submit a piece for the Summer Show. We think the show needs the ocean to put us in our place”

Woo hoo!!! They had found me! I was thrilled and once I had come down to earth I realised I had less than two weeks to produce a piece for the show. The canvas was supplied and was not huge (50cm x 60cm) so I had to think about the composition if I wanted to suggest some power and scale.

I sat and thought about what mattered here. I wanted to interpret an image that has occurred because of advances in technology and encapsulates the very thing that a digital world may be able to record in one sense but may never be able to truly emulate because let’s face it the sea is Magical. The energy and sensory explosion that comes from the sea is phenomenal in my mind. The only way to truly feel it is to be in it and be part of it and interacting with it. I go in the sea quite a lot to recharge the energy that is often running low in me and it ticks every box: it scares me, it makes me happy, it helps me if I feel sad by energising me and humbles me by putting things in perspective.

I then remembered someone’s work that I had admired for years. Will Bailey is a Professional surf photographer and has taken the most beautiful images all over the world from within the sea. I had chatted to him before about his work and mentioned working together to show off his photographs and my interpretations. Once I had made this connection I drove to meet him and he kindly lent me several of his photographs taken in Britain. The photograph I chose was taken in Scotland and he described how difficult it had been being so close to the cliff face whilst submerged with his camera. The image was beautiful and he had enhanced the rock face to ilustrate more of the colours that had not been captured so clearly. Will’s photographs naturally tend to have surfers in them and whilst I love watching surfers and being in the sea trying to “surf” when it comes to painting I rarely feel that I want to capture human beings in the picture. My focus has always been the patterns and energy of the water to the point that often I don’t notice the surfer. On this occasion I did think about putting the surfer in to show the way a surfer almost becomes one with nature as they catch and roll in with a wave but to be honest I ran out of time!

I surmised the process to the curator and attached the following outline explaining why I had chosen the image.

“If it were not for the advances in digital technology we would not be able to capture images like this. I have taken a photograph produced by Will Bailey, a professional surf photographer. Out of professional respect for both our professions I requested his permission to use one of his images. The overarching significance of this relationship between artist and photographer is huge. When photography gets as good as it has in recent years the artist has the dilemma of deciding what a painting can, should and needs to offer the viewer.

Photography has become so impressive at perfecting any flaws in nature and exaggerating elements that they believe enhances the image. This is not too dissimilar to what in the Artist profession is termed “artistic license”.

As an artist I often although by no means exclusively use the tools of photography to reach deeper inside an otherwise hidden environment. The image I have chosen is offering a window in to that truly awe inspiring interface where land and sea connect. Furthermore, the image captures the beauty, the science and magic that is “ocean” and “wave”.

I regularly enter the sea and on returning to my studio I try to recapture its energy and power. I spend endless hours watching its movement and its interaction and relationship with all it comes in to contact with. I watch as light exposes the colours and tricks the eyes.

However, whilst digital photography strives to airbrush it in to perfection I strive to maximise the number of our senses that are stimulated by an image. Most images play to the laziest sense of all – VISION. I seek to stimulate in the viewer as many as I can. I want the viewer to want to TOUCH the crumbling, fragile rocks. I want them to imagine the SMELL of the salty sea as it splashes out at them and FEEL the spray as it lands and HEAR it crash as it connects with itself or land.

Whilst a digital world is enormously exciting it has a tendency to numb our senses and I do my best to challenge it whilst respecting it as just one facet of a hugely complex world that we all want to experience.”

The rest is history! We travelled to London and met some amazingly interesting folk and saw some great Art. I left thinking “I actually quite like this!” However, now it seems a lifetime ago. I will just have to look forward to my next exciting adventure. Undecided

Therefore, in conclusion- This has been the story of how I came to show a piece of artwork in the London Art Below Summer Show 2018, Mayfair. It still thrills me to think about the whole process and the sense of pride in the network that has developed around me to allow me to get there. Because of that network, including everyone that has invested in me and my artwork over the years, I took on the responsibility of “raising my game” and overcoming the fears of rejection and even the potential humiliation that could come from such exposure. Thank you each and everyone of you for helping me grow. I have taken on the responsibility of adding value to the work that you have all invested in and I will endeavour to take on each new adventures as it presents.

Thank you kindly Folk!

Xxx Francine

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