Portraiture – 3 Billy’s

Did anyone else watch Billy Connolly: Portrait of a Lifetime on BBC on Saturday night?  I came across it by accident as I don’t tend to look at what’s on the telly – I’ve usually got my head buried in words, or at the moment, knitting squares for picnic blankets ready for Spon Spun Festival 2017.  At hearing the unmistakable voice of Billy Connolly I looked up at the screen and was wondering whether I would continue to watch when my husband told me what it was about – three artists that I admire were in it!  How about that?  John Byrne, Rachel Maclean and Jack Vettriano.  The knitting got thrust out of sight!

I thought it was great that three very different artists had been commissioned to create his portrait and it was interesting to see how each of them interacted with Billy (can I stop using his surname now?).  There was no mistaking the close connection between him and John Byrne and I have to confess to having a lump in my throat throughout much of the programme, but more so during the clips between two old friends.

I thought all three portraits were very well considered and each offer something unique. Vettriano’s reproduction of a film still is a representation of the strength and energy of Billy.  Whereby Maclean’s staged photography is a memento to Billy the stage comedian, cleverly brought together in typical Maclean style.  Of the three though I was most drawn to Byrne’s portrait which is Billy as himself, not performing.  It was interesting when Byrne’s commented “I can see your soul” and it is soul that jumps out of this particular portrait.

No wonder this amazing man was overcome when he saw the portraits for the first time and then again, supersized on the architecture of Glasgow.


Reviewing Art

I read a lot of art exhibition reviews and art reviews in art publications, the cultural sections of newspapers, exhibition catalogues, books and online within a variety of websites.  They differ greatly in style, from academic to chatty and the ones I personally prefer are somewhere in between although the very academic style does challenge me to broaden my knowledge, which is no bad thing.

As an art student we are encouraged to critically analyse our own and our peers’ work, as well as visit exhibitions and take as much from them as we can.  I enjoy writing, I even signed up for a distance learning course many years ago and it was whilst doing that I realised it was the research and analytical style writing that I enjoyed but with the freedom to also include descriptive narrative.  During my time as a Fine Art student I have found that there is a place for exactly that style of writing.

I approached Birmingham based artists Repeator during their residency with Office for Art Design & Technology and asked if I could volunteer and participate in their four day event in April and write a review.  This has been a magnificent opportunity for me in

learning more about the work of Cathy Wade and Laurence Price of Repeator and see behind the scenes of setting up for a public event outside of the traditional white walls of a gallery.  All the artists’ involved and my course leader have supported and encouraged me to strengthen my thinking and writing and remained patient with my numerous edits!

My reflective review on the Repeator:Transmission event can be read on the a_n artist information website:  https://www.a-n.co.uk/blogs/repeator-office-for-art-design-and-technology/post/52499969




The Artist Volunteer

I wasn’t sure whether to call this ‘The Artist Volunteer” or “Volunteering Within the Arts” because the world of art isn’t just about the artists, it embraces the audience to.  I chose the first though as it is more pertinent to my own experience.  What exactly is an artist volunteer?  Quite simply any artist, whether a student, emerging or returning artist, passionate about art and wanting to engage with their peers, learn from them, connect with them and in turn hopefully grow their own professional practice and networks.

I decided to volunteer at two events, Spon Spun Festival 17 and the inaugural Coventry Biennial.  Spon Spun Festival is an annual event in Coventry and this is its second year.  With events and workshops through July, August and September leading up to the


festival weekend which includes an Arts Trail, events and picnic.  It is a festival which is very community orientated, focusing on the Spon End area of Coventry.  As a volunteer I have already received training in Safeguarding and also in Event Management.  Next week I will attend a full day’s First Aid training.  Three more skills to add to my CV which will be beneficial in the future for work and commission opportunities in art festivals and for work/commissions within the learning and engagement sector.  Within my role as a volunteer I am also documenting all the events throughout the festival alongside Andy Nelson who is providing the photo documentation.  This will be beneficial to me as I want writing to be a key part of my professional practice and although this is writing in the form of documenting and not reviewing it will still give me valuable experience and can also be added to my CV.  For Andy it is a valuable opportunity to gain experience in documentary photography which he to can add to his CV.  As if all this wasn’t fantastic enough I will also be meeting with commissioned artists which will broaden my network further.

As a volunteer with the Coventry Biennial I have already benefited, as it was through the recruitment process with them that I got the opportunity to learn about and volunteer with Spon Spun Festival.  As an inaugural event it is also a rare opportunity to learn how an event of this size emerges from the idea stage through to a fully realised event and the


many components that go into launching a Biennial.  As a volunteer there is an opportunity to learn more about: preparation, installation and take down of art works; installation and set-up of AV equipment; invigilation of exhibitions – how do you talk about the art work to the public?; delivering workshops and engaging the local community and wider public.  All of these will enhance your knowledge and experience.

Add all of the above with the opportunity to work alongside fellow artists and who knows what future projects will present themselves from the conversations that will develop.

I shall continue to share my thoughts and experiences, not only to encourage other students, emerging artists but also so I have a written record to refer back to when writing my dissertation.

It would be great to hear the experiences of others who have trodden this path.  Was it a negative or a positive experience for you?  Did it help you progress your professional practice?  Or are you an established artist who has benefited from the help of volunteers? Comment below or if you prefer you can e-mail me at helennelsonart@gmail.com

Artist Collaboration

It has been a week of collaborations and artist collectives,  making exciting plans and meeting new people.  There has been no time for any actual making but then without all the other there would be less inspiration to help feed it.  The garden sculpture did get finished last weekend and Andy Nelson has added to, what is becoming our own sculpture garden with a unique bird table made from found computer motherboards.  You can see more of Andy’s work at https://www.instagram.com/nelsonandyart/ . The

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week began with a workshop for The Shared Collective, six of us got together to have some fun creating in response to our previous drift around Leamington Spa.  We wanted it to be a completely ‘free’ and intuitive exercise after a year of intense work preparing for exhibition and assessments.  We each brought in materials and took over two walls at the studio and had some fun talking about which parts of the drift had particularly stuck in our minds and why.  Our main subjects seemed to be: water, architecture and the orange muscle man outside one of the shops!  The benefit of being part of an artist collective is

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maintaining contact with fellow artists, we can learn so much from one another and share information and ideas for future projects.  As well as have a lot of fun!  There are exciting plans being implemented over the coming months and we are keen for these plans to engage the local community.  I can’t say too much about them yet as there are a few more hoops to jump through before we can start to action those ideas.

There are many artist collectives and collaborations and I am excited to be a part of two festivals, both implemented by artists and organised and run by artists.  The inaugural Coventry Biennial which runs from the 6th to the 22nd October, implemented by Ryan Hughes of Office for Art Design & Technology engages with artists both as exhibiting, participating, volunteering, curating, learning engagement … and more.  You can keep up-to-date with the Coventry Biennial via Twitter at https://twitter.com/Cov_Biennial .

The second is the Spon Spun Festival, it is the second year for this festival and the itinerary of workshops through July, August and September is fantastic.  Along with the festival weekend and the end of festival exhibition there is a lot going on.  You can read more about Spon Spun Festival here https://sponspun.wordpress.com/  I am thrilled to be providing the documenting alongside Andy Nelson who will be photographing all the events.  Spon Spun is also organised by creatives and fully engages with the local community.  If you’d like to keep up-to-date with what’s happening then click on the website link or follow them on twitter at https://twitter.com/SponSpun

My personal interest in being involved in these are my passion for working alongside other artists, engaging with communities and spreading the joy and value of the arts.  Not only that, but my family roots going back to at least the 1750’s were in Coventry, including Spon Street.  Spon Street has a very interesting history with buildings from Medieval times and is well worth a visit.  The Watchmakers Museum apparently has an abundance of local history and I shall be going there next week.  Also The Weavers House and The Herbert Museum if you are interested in finding out more about Coventry.

Artist collectives are growing ever more popular, what do you think?  Are you part of an artist collective or do you work on collaborative projects with other artists as part of your practice?  What do you think the benefits are of being part of an artist collective and collaborative working practices – or negatives?  Would you like to see more collaborative works represented in galleries or do you think they work better in the spaces they co-opt?  A great book about this subject is, “Co-Art: Creative Collaboration” by Ellen Mara De Wachter, – worth a read.

Radio Interview

I know it isn’t Monday but I want to share what I did this morning as it was a very new experience for me, and, well, I’m a teensy weensy bit excited about it!

I was invited to be interviewed on a local radio station and not being one to shy away from new experiences I was excited to be asked.  Olli and Si of Touch FM Radio were interviewing me about my experience of being a ‘mature student’, which was great as I listen to them most mornings as I’m travelling to the studio.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, not being up-to-date with modern radio.  In my mind I was imagining a 1980’s radio studio with big microphones, headphones and lots of equipment within a sealed room!  On top of that, after initially thinking it was live I then, for some reason, decided it wasn’t going to be live ….. it WAS live!
No sealed room, no headphones, no large microphones.  Just two lovely guys sat in the ‘pod’ at Warwickshire College with a smartphone and a really cute microphone sock thingymajig.  They made me feel really comfortable while we chatted off air.  Here is my recording of the broadcast as I can’t work out how to access it on the Touch FM website – I am having a technological brain freeze …..

Why an art blog?

When you are passionate about something it consumes you and art consumes me.  If I’m not making art I’m reading about it, going to exhibitions, talking about it, thinking about it.  I can’t imagine a world without art – or cats (my other obsession).


I have zero clue about blogging though and that is something I shall learn about as I go and by looking at other bloggers and bloggers who blog about blogging.  Isn’t it funny how when you repeat a word it takes on an identity of its own? BLOG, BLOGGERS, BLOGGING – BLOG BLOG BLOG, it makes me stop and think about how the word actually sounds and feels……..  I digress.  I found this blog really good https://cristianmihai.net/

I use art as a means to explore and express subjects that light a fire in my brain.  Human psychology fascinates me, why do people act how they do?  How does environment impact on the human psyche?  What is society?  What is community?  These are just a few of the thoughts that jumble around my brain on a daily basis.  I am amazed by technology but not blinded by it.  I am old enough to feel nostalgia for a time pre-internet.  A time when the pace was slower but also a time which had its own problems.  As we solve one problem so another takes its place – or should I say challenges?

So, I think this blog will be a mix of my thoughts, observations and how that influences my art practice.  It will also be an insider account of the final year of a Fine Art degree come September and my continuing professional art practice.  I am already thinking about my dissertation!

A few tips I have picked up about blogging are a) have a schedule b) ask questions  c) don’t waffle on for too long (hmmm, may have to work harder on that one).  Choosing a day of the week where I can safely say, ‘yep, that’s blog publishing day’ is a hard one as no two weeks are the same but for now I shall opt for a Monday, just once a week for now – maybe?

Do you have a passion for art?  I’m always up for conversations with fellow art lovers, whether you are an artist or just someone who likes looking at art.  Is there something currently happening within the art world that really ‘gets your goat’?  Let’s talk about it!


Art is ….

materials, is imagination, is thoughts, is conversations, is passion …

It’s about materials, imagination, passion. It’s about expression, a vehicle for the visual representation of the voice and the mind.  Well, for me these are the foundations of art.  Art has so many different representations and it can mean something different to the artist and to each spectator.

I really enjoy playing about with materials and I’ve always got a lot on my mind.  Combining both and reacting instinctively to the materials I have to hand can result in surprising results, rarely a finished project but part of a process that leads me on a journey of discovery and expression.

As part of (and co-founder) of an artists’ collective, The Shared Collective, I have been collecting materials that I would normally throw away.  Most of it is packaging material, plastic bags of air, cardboard, polystyrene.  All of this will become some of the materials that we will use next week when we recreate Leamington Spa as a collective.  The project began with a drift (walk) around a part of Leamington Spa which is set for regeneration as the new cultural quarter.  It is a rundown area at first viewing but there is no escaping the grand architecture and many clues to its history.  It is a part of the town rich in diversity and I am excited to see what amazing creation/s we form.  I shall be writing a full review on the project.

Over the last couple of days I have been reacquainting myself with plaster bandages and said ‘hello’ to my old friend Mandy Mannequin.  On my mind is the question of identity and technology.  Part way through day one I was joined by my other half, also an artist, and he suggested we worked collaboratively.  I confess it was a little difficult to agree as I’d already started the piece as a solitary endeavour – but what the heck – let’s give it a go!

As an artist Andy uses found and discarded objects, in particular computer parts.  Although his focus is more on the throw away society and mine is more focused on human behaviour, we both use technology within our practice as both material and medium.

As we were working with the plaster we talked about the relationship between humans and technology and how intrinsic technology is now within our lives.  We both wanted to represent a fusion of the biological and the technological – other than that there has been no ‘plan’.  We continue to have conversations as we follow the journey that the materials and our individual thoughts take us on.

It is too early to decide whether we are happy with how it is going, we have more work to do and a busy week ahead!  Here are some of the work in progress pictures –

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