The Secret Artist 2.1: Welcome The (Creative) Resistance

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“Creation is a disturbing force in society because it is a constructive one. It upsets the old order in the acts of building a new one. (…) And the work of creative spirits is what gives society a chance of directing its inevitable movement along constructive instead of destructive lines.”

The Nature of Creativity: Contemporary Psychological Perspectives

Robert J. Sternberg.

Dear Secret Artist,

Today a personal and broader perspective on the subject of resistance.

How was your transition into 2017? I hope smoother than mine!

I began this year in a tight knot of fear. I felt overwhelmed and defeated before I’d even started. An all-pervasive sense of impending doom engulfed me.

At first I fought back, “no, no, no I don’t want to feel this now, more than ever I need to be confident, not consumed with doubt and insecurity, this cannot be, this cannot happen. “

I have a lot riding on this year and I’m feeling a lot of pressure. So when I felt this dip in confidence I immediately panicked and felt like everything I’d worked for could slip away.

I got tough with myself. I pushed through my intimidating lists. I tried to ignore the suffocating pressure on my chest and the chilling feeling that I was sliding backwards.

As the first days of January unfolded I went numbly through the motions of picking up the reins of a life that, from this depleted state, felt alien. With my physiology on red alert for days on end I was exhausted, I was so resistant to feeling weak that I crippled myself.

‘What we resist persists.’

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I could not tolerate the feelings of powerlessness and thus I had given away my power. This realisation gave rise to a flood of anger and in that moment I snapped, I broke. Like a brittle little twig I floated away on a river of sadness, no longer caring where I was going, down, down the stream, following the current, along with all the feelings that were frightening me.

Into the dark.

Into the space of unknowing.

No longer stuck between my fearful self and my hopeful self, I could move, I could breathe, without holding on, I could feel.

I felt the untamed feelings through to their peak and at the pinnacle of intensity, a sudden release. I popped out the other side, awake, alert, spacious, I could survey my surroundings.

I was not lost and alone in the dark. I was in something more akin to an incubator, a self-created cocoon. Here it was clear, that all I was wrestling with was part of a natural cycle of growth and transformation.

Little by little, secrecy is evolving into openness, holding back is becoming expression and fear is morphing into joy.

If you’re experiencing  a drain of energy and feelings of anxiety,  ask yourself;

What am I resisting? Take a moment to be still and go deeper: what am I afraid is true about myself?  What don’t I want to feel? Then, open to this fear and allow what frightens you into your heart, to land fully, clearly, deeply and then just for a moment, release resistance and let it be true and then see what happens.

When we fight fear we become fear.  When we open to fear we find love.

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In the world around us the winds of change are blowing and those who resist the change will create the change they fear at an accelerated level. Slowly but surely the tide is turning, for as we try to lock down the world under our command we simultaneously unleash the forces that cannot be controlled.

We instinctively feel this year will be challenging, we are stepping into unknown territory. Individually and collectively we will be shaped by the mysteries that lie ahead.

Transformation is a process that encompasses both the new and the old. Whether it’s the dominant authoritarian order that seeks to preserve the status quo or part of the creative force that seeks new ways of being and new ways of living. Both will be challenged to recognise that we are not separate from what we fear, and that the harder we push against that which we seek to destroy the greater the resistance.

A more fluid approach to acceptance and understanding, both in our own personal lives and the world around us will help us develop the balance and strength to give birth to the new.

A creative approach to resistance might be exactly what we need to be free.

“and you push me into a state of emergency,

How beautiful, To be, State of Emergency,

It’s where I want To be”

Bjork

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From the 19th -21st I will be screening a short video: Material Girl as part of the London Creative Network showcase event at SPACE Studios.

This Material Girl film forms part of an ongoing dialogue, which includes photography and performance. Material Girl splits between the personal and the archetypal.

Material Girl is like a mask that covers the body with material but this mask reveals rather than conceals. Prompting questions such as “How do the forces we struggle with reveal ourselves?”

Material Girl has been a vehicle to explore feminine consciousness and the challenge to break free from oppressive patterns of thought and behaviour. She is an emerging entity, an unknown, evolving through conversation, bringing dialogue, creative resistance, joy and beauty.

To reflect the importance of dialogue and the way Material Girl allows a space for other women to connect to their creativity, during the showcase I’ll be recording a podcast of conversations about Material Girl with young women from the Dream Of Life London project and other artists.

“The transformation of the world occurs through Beauty”

James Hillman

Until the next,

Love and Best Wishes

Gemma

Gemma Kauffman’s practice encompasses a variety of strategies and media, which include painting, performance, installation and film. Theatrical and fantastical, her work is both compelling and dynamic. Kauffman is an advocate for the creative spirit of all people and has during the last 10 years pioneered transformative approaches to social engagement.

gemmmakauffman.com


Are you a Secret Artist? Do you believe in the creative process? Interested in learning more about the journey of this Secret Artist? Then please subscribe HERE!

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The Secret Artist 2.0: Drawing Attention

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What’s Drawing you? 

There are some great arguments for the value of everyday drawing, mainly that practice makes perfect. But if you don’t believe you can draw to start with you most likely won’t practice. Besides, it’s not drawing observationally that I’m concerned with today, nor is it doodling or doodle art per se, it’s drawing. Just not drawing like most people might think of when they hear the word drawing.

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For many years I’ve had no idea why I continued to put pen to paper, it’s just something that I’ve always done and can’t imagine not doing. The sheer volume and ubiquitousness of my drawings meant that I perhaps didn’t value them in the same way I do my painting, but there is no painting without drawing. I’ve become increasingly aware of their increasing value and today I’d like to reflect a little more on my experience of being with drawing for so many years.

So for a start I’m rarely drawing from observation (although when I do it’s a revelation and I love it – it’s just not my natural mode), I’m drawing to connect to an inner part of myself. I draw to find balance, I draw to find my centre, and like many people I draw to process and reflect. There is a grounding that occurs when I connect pen with paper, as if I can record an inner vibration and the lines glide to stillness.

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There has been a steady evolution of my drawing over the past 15 years from sketchy and hesitant to bold and fluid. They are similar in their shapes and forms, they are not quite a pattern as they don’t repeat, each one is unique, all though clearly related to one another.

I draw to relax, I draw to unwind, I draw to feel, I draw to get back in touch, I draw a direct line to an inner reality. I recognise the optimism inherent in a flourishing line and marvel that such a shape could come from a me, who at the time is identified with negativity and fear. The drawings are clearly anchored at a depth beyond the rolling clouds of emotion for they never flinch and shy, they are constant, they’ve never spoken a word that wasn’t a source of hope.

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Drawing has pulled me out of depression, lethargy, despair, anger, caution, worry, confusion, boredom and anxiety. Drawing has helped me to integrate the highs of joy and excitement.

I encourage you to draw, and if even hand writing feels unfamiliar I encourage you even more! There is nothing to draw, just put pen to paper and see what happens. Drawing brings the unexpected, and often a surprise gift of clarity. Which is why at the busiest most overwhelming part of the year, whilst imploding with stressful deadlines, I’ve decided to draw everyday of December, (until the 25th advent calendar style) and I’ll be posting each new drawing on my website and Instagram and will post each drawing to the first person to send me their address! I invite you to join me and to turn your attention to drawing for just a short time each day. A doodle, a drawing, a sketch, whatever feels best, just let the moment take you and I’d love to hear from you.

(For those of you who are hashtag savvy and are so inclined to share your work, you can post your drawings online with #thesecretartistblog and tag me in the photo if you like.)

Click here to see today’s drawing:

gemmakauffman.com/drawing-attention

instagram.com/gemmakauffmanartist

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December is guaranteed to bring every distraction and discombobulation it can muster to disrupt our focus and we’ll pay the price like we always do. Committing to daily drawing as a way to cut through the jingle and the jangle is, I think, a pretty radical act. So when the pace picks up and the drama get fizzy, when December starts spinning with all it’s glitzy allure we can always pick up a pen and draw our attention to somewhere else.

And I draw a line, to your heart today, to your heart from mine, one line to keep us safe.”

PJ Harvey

Until the next,

Love and Best Wishes

Gemma

Gemma Kauffman’s practice encompasses a variety of strategies and media, which include painting, performance, installation and film. Theatrical and fantastical, her work is both compelling and dynamic. Kauffman is an advocate for the creative spirit of all people and has during the last 10 years pioneered transformative approaches to social engagement.

gemmmakauffman.com


Are you a Secret Artist? Do you believe in the creative process? Interested in learning more about the journey of this Secret Artist? Then please subscribe HERE!

The Secret Artist #10: To Speak or Not to Speak

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To Speak or Not to Speak

So blog number ten and I’m going back to the beginning question from The Secret Artist numero uno: ‘How important is it to share?’ Well, ten chapters in and I’ve shared more than I ever have in my life. I’ve become more comfortable with writing, thanks to lots of very positive and constructive feedback. Plus the process of writing and sharing has become really valuable in many ways. It’s like my practice has been lifted out of the clutter and into some kind of clarity. I can understand more of what matters to me and why. I recently did some teaching at Turner Contemporary Margate and noticed how much easier I found talking about my work. I’m beginning to find my voice.

Preparing for And The Dark And The Dark exhibition I managed to throw in the idea of the artist talk like it was the most natural thing in the world, to see if I could bypass my nerves. It kind of worked. On the day I was super tired (and that always helps takes the edge off) and I was talking with one of my oldest friends and supported by many friends in the audience. It was a good opportunity to try and talk so I took it.

My motivation for posting this video is a desire to share more of the exhibition with those who couldn’t make it. I’ve barely shared any photos … getting a decent installation shot is a whole art form in it’s self (something to work on for next time). Also, it’s been a big event for me and one I will probably look back upon as the catalyst for many new twist and turns in my art career. So, here is a short film to mark the exhibition.

I know I’m not alone when I say talking in public racks my nerves. I still experience head-jam the same way I have since I can remember. I would dread being asked a question at school. Even though I knew the answer I’d know that once asked I probably wouldn’t be able to get the answer out clearly. The sentence might come out back to front or I’d focus on only one detail and forget the context but mainly the problem was so many thoughts would rush through my mind that it was as if my system would crash and I’d just go very red and try and smile my embarrassment away whilst repeating to myself internally over and over that I must avoid these situations at all cost! And so that’s basically what I’ve done for about twenty five years. I’ve always been in awe of people who can articulate clearly under pressure. Pressure being the operative word. In the absence of pressure, without a spotlight, I feel comfortable and I communicate pretty well but put me in the spotlight and it’s a different story. How did I manage to teach for so many years? The answer: With great difficulty.

I also say in the first blog, over ten weeks ago, that I wanted to get to grips with “actually saying something.” I wanted to find my voice. I wanted to know that my voice is my tool. As a participant on the NCM course last year, I had a profound coaching session with Patricia van den Akker. Patricia said to me that my biggest task was to get my head around the fact that I have something of value to say. I felt my stomach flip and was picturing something like a TED talk but we compromised at the end of the session with the agreement that “there are many ways to speak”. I don’t know if I’ll ever consider talking to be my best tool for expression but I want it to be an option and not something that frightens me. I want to get to the point where it doesn’t matter anymore. My energy can be directed into creating work and not worrying about sharing the work I’ve made. To assist me in my quest to share I have found the book Show your Work by Austin Kleon very useful. In the book Austin describes a test, a set of questions for whenever you’re undecided about whether to share or not. The ‘so what?’ test: Is this helpful? Is it entertaining? Is it something I’d be comfortable with my Boss or Mum seeing? (My mum is Boss and I think the answer is yes…?) It’s a very uncomplicated guide that inspires confidence in a no nonsense kind of way. I know I’m going to re-read it many times.

But even with the wisdom and support of the words of Austin I very nearly decided not to share this video because it was causing me so much stress. However I remembered this is exactly where I was about ten weeks ago, feeling sick as I hesitated to press the send key. But now it’s not so easy to let that fear dominate. I know that whatever I feel now can be changed with practice and by rerouting my neural pathways. To reset my mental programming I need to allow myself to be a beginner and remind myself that a beginner is learning and is someone who has the capacity to improve.

I’ve been reading and watching a lot of interviews of Grimes recently. She’s been high on my inspiration list for a while now. I think she is an amazing music producer and she writes, performs, produces and directs; it’s all her own work. She has masterminded an incredible world and created Grimes as a unique and powerful Brand. The kind that give Brands a good name. She says in one video interview that she avoids reading or watching any online media about herself, especially giving interviews, because she is regularly appalled by it. (I’m sorry but I can’t find the original link right now as it was viewed on one of my YouTube inspiration binges… but if I find it again I’ll update the blog to put the link in for you, so for the moment I’m just paraphrasing Grimes.) I appreciate her honesty. It connects me with the fact that she is under relentless pressure to articulate about her work and life and that she is also harshly, and in my opinion unnecessarily, critical of herself.

I’ll be honest. I wish I felt more confident about how the talk came out. I’m trying to accept that it was the best I could do at the time. And that’s okay. Today I’m different and tomorrow, and the next day, I’ll be different (and yet still the same). But I’ve got to decide how much energy I have to burn on worrying about this stuff. The kind of visions I’ve been having about how I want to be working by the end of 2016 don’t allow for this kind of hesitant, self critical and limited thinking. So it’s time to take some personal ownership. Here I am representing my work and myself for the exhibition. I can’t honestly say that sharing this video doesn’t stress me out. But I can definitely say that I’m tired of the smallness and the limitations and the holding back. So, like Grimes, I’ve got to decide what matters and this I know: I’ve got work to do.

See you next week,

Love and Best Wishes

Gemma

Gemma Kauffman’s practice encompasses a variety of strategies and media, which include painting, performance, installation and film. Theatrical and fantastical, her work is both compelling and dynamic. Kauffman is an advocate for the creative spirit of all people and has during the last 10 years pioneered transformative approaches to social engagement.

gemmmakauffman.com


Are you a Secret Artist? Do you believe in the creative process? Interested in learning more about the journey of this Secret Artist? Then please subscribe HERE!

The Secret Artist #9: The Visionary

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Visionary.

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And The Dark And The Dark was a three person exhibition of painting and sculpture, addressing themes of the visionary and the otherworldly.

I was in good company: Vanessa Mitter and Lana Locke.

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Vanessa and I met at her open studio in Hackney Wick and we discovered that our practice overlapped in many way; our love of fluro colours, performance and….The Dark. We both have a layered and intense way of working and several people at the show asked if we had worked in the same studio because we paint such similar marks and shapes.

Vanessa originally studied English before studying an MA in Fine Art and has many Literary references in her work. When we initially met at our respective studios we both saw a story emerging between her haunting figures and the mysterious other worldliness of the suggested landscapes in my paintings. We wanted a story to frame the exhibition, this is an extract from the press release written by Vanessa:

And The Dark

     And The Dark……

 There are the neons, those slapdash pinks that signal a lapsed adolescence, three women at a banquet and the nonchalant gaze of a dandy about town. In this world, there is no return. Only the moment exists.

Walking through the forest, I stumble over the gravestones of the nameless and the countless and all that crosses my mind is that one word ‘erasure’. Erasure. Erasure. There is no return.

(…)

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I’ve since been reflecting on the aspects of the exhibition I enjoyed the most; the bringing together of the work, curating the pieces, looking for the connections and arranging the work so that a spontaneous narrative could unfold. One of the thoughts I’ve had, that has felt like a major epiphany, is that perhaps paintings such as Adam and Eve and The Goddess are more akin to a stage prop than a painting in it’s traditional sense. Although I’m not quite sure what that means yet. They have so much presence in the gallery yet somehow attaching price tags and offering them for sale seemed to me almost kind of absurd. Not because they are not appreciated and valued. I wonder if these paintings have more of a future within the context of theatre and it feels exciting to consider what this potentially means. Someone said to me a while back “how do you get inside? I want to get inside…” That’s the feeling I get too. They are like a doorway, a darker Mary Poppins chalk on a paving slab, inviting you to step into their world. I think they enjoyed their time in the gallery but I think part of what they enjoyed was knowing they didn’t really belong.

That said there is no question that they played their part in And The Dark And The Dark. We received many compliments for the quality of the curation and definitely there was a unique and curious song about the And The Dark assemblage that’s quite difficult to describe and the photos don’t do it justice. I’ve decided to make a (v.short) film of the exhibition for next weeks blog. The installation, the private view, my talk with Lucy Steggals and then it will be time to lay And The Dark And the Dark to rest and begin a new chapter.

I have a hint what this new chapter might be. During one of the days I was in the gallery I began to see more and more layers in the paintings and to recognise so many of the shapes and symbols I have drawn thousands of times in my sketch books. I suddenly felt the profound absence of all these thousands of drawings and had that double take moment as if I’d left my bag on the bus, or shut the door with my key inside…. Where are the drawings?! I thought of Paul Klee and the exhibition that had hundreds of his sketchbooks and drawings on display, the sharing of the drawings opened an important portal into his mind and imagination and the evolution of his work. I made a promise to the hundreds of drawings squashed in sketchbooks like forgotten butterfly specimens, that they too are part of this and not to be forgotten!

So as I draw a line to follow, that may or may not take me to the ritual of performance and theatre. I’m aware that these two realisations about my future steps come from me wanting to somehow fill the gap, to bridge the distance, of the gallery space. The divide. I could write a lot more about my thoughts on the limitations of the gallery/exhibition space, because for me there is something just so inherently odd and unsatisfying about the exhibition format, but that is a blog for another day. Today I’m just noticing these nudges, these sign posts.

The future beckons with many plans but tempting as it is to abandon the here and now for the promise of  ‘bigger’, ‘better’, ‘new’ ideas. Today I remain anchored in the present and reflective of the past. Tomorrow I’m going to do what I always do – draw a line and see where it takes me. I might write to think but I draw to see.

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See you next week,

Love and Best Wishes

Gemma

Gemma Kauffman’s practice encompasses a variety of strategies and media, which include painting, performance, installation and film. Theatrical and fantastical, her work is both compelling and dynamic. Kauffman is an advocate for the creative spirit of all people and has during the last 10 years pioneered transformative approaches to social engagement.

gemmmakauffman.com


Are you a Secret Artist? Do you believe in the creative process? Interested in learning more about the journey of this Secret Artist? Then please subscribe HERE!          

The Secret Artist #8: Through This Chaos

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Time to process…

Dear Secret Artist,

Tuesday the exhibition came down after an incredibly intense and chaotic couple of weeks. There are many angles I could write today’s blog from. Honestly I can’t access any of them. I’m still too close to it all to have a clue what to say. Part of me feels pressure to deliver a triumphant tale of victory (whatever that means?!) I want to be able to tell you red dots sprang up like a case of measles in the gallery, I want to tell you I have orders for prints coming out of my ears and curators clamouring to work with me….

At the very least I want whatever I say to be positive, after so much effort and energy expended surely this all has a happy ending! Well this is it: I don’t know what kind of end/beginning I’m at! I’ve just been in it, without any time to pause, feel, think, rest, so I’m lost for what to write and noticing how much my exhaustion is colouring my psychology. I need more time to process.

Everything I’d been sharing and writing about on this blog up until a week ago was from a point of perspective. I understood what I was feeling. I’d had time to process and to reflect sometimes years in the case of my early paintings. Right now I feel like I can’t write confidently about the exhibition because in a way it doesn’t exist yet. It’s as if I’ve been on a high speed train and just stepped off onto the platform, a familiar yet somehow entirely different place. I’ve taken a trip through chaos.

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Through this (Chaos) 2015

I have photos I need to sort through, and some video, I have tons of notes, I kept a diary everyday of thoughts and ideas, but even scan reading these it’s like they are written in a different language. I am blessed with incredible support from so many friends and family that made the effort to come out in the rain and be with me. Every bit of feedback and every idea shared during the last two weeks was undoubtedly the gold from this experience. Thank you!

One thing for sure is this whole exhibition ride was nothing like what I expected but I can’t even tell you what I was expecting! I know what I was hoping but some how that doesn’t seem to be the same thing. It was what it was. It is what it is.

I could never have predicted nor imagined what actually happened these last two weeks. This is the madness of expectations yet it seems impossible not to have them. I’m now on the other side of this exhibition roller coaster of a mission. What happened?! Am I the same? Nope, I’ve been reformed in the flame of stress and pressure, excitement and new experience. It’s just too soon to tell what any of it means. Right now it’s true that this altered state also includes feeling depleted, drained and confused but that’s not the whole story: that bits just temporary. I peaked and now I’m crashing. I have a sense of excitement amongst this depletion, a sense of new beginnings.

This whole experience reminds me of the necessity to jump in and try things. We learn through experience, no amount of planning or strategising can prepare us for the impact of reality, this is why we hesitate. When we dive in, we swim, no matter what comes up we find a way through, we creative problem solve, we collaborate, we find a way forward. When we glide or flounder through the unknown we feel the edges of our being, the edges of who we are, and we go beyond, because we have no choice. Once we commit and dive in, we’re in it for wherever it takes us.

I’m probably not going to be that much closer to understanding what this was all about next week, or the week after. But drop by drop, realisation will begin, and shifts will occur. This I know, this I trust. I’m going to keep writing (to you). It might not be as formed, might not be as coherent… but there is definitely more to come!!

See you next week,

Love and Best wishes

Gemma

Gemma Kauffman’s practice encompasses a variety of strategies and media, which include painting, performance, installation and film. Theatrical and fantastical, her work is both compelling and dynamic. Kauffman is an advocate for the creative spirit of all people and has during the last 10 years pioneered transformative approaches to social engagement.

gemmmakauffman.com


Are you a Secret Artist? Do you believe in the creative process? Interested in learning more about the journey of this Secret Artist? Then please subscribe HERE!          

The Secret Artist #7: What Moves You?

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What moves you?

Dear Secret Artist,

This evening my exhibition opens. It felt incredible to see my paintings in the gallery space on fresh bright walls. It was like I was seeing my paintings for the first time. The presentation on the gallery wall, the space around the painting, created a whole new way of seeing. I felt emotional, it was like reconnecting with an old friend and suddenly seeing them in a different light. This is the power of beholding a painting in the flesh. We live in a time when the image is Queen, we are saturated in images, and they rain down on us from every angle; calling to us, often saying very little. In this haze of demanding images, it can be very refreshing to dialogue with a painting. Through an image we may receive information, but through a painting we have the potential to receive wisdom.

I believe in the power of art to transform. I have many experiences of walking into an exhibition as one person and then walking out as another. This is the mystery of art, the unfolding of an often very personal and private moment of understanding, of experience and of feeling. If we offer our attention to the work, the work will always respond and give unexpected gifts, in it’s own unique way. I can spend hours in front a painting. I have spent hours in front of a painting. It’s a curious alchemy, as the painting reveals its self more and more, with each breath.

This summer whilst travelling in Denmark I visited the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art not knowing what was the main exhibit. To my joy and amazement it was Peter Doig. Room after room of paintings, many meters wide: open gateways into lush deep vibrant mysterious lands. To behold a Peter Doig in the flesh is to embark on a journey. A portal to another dimension.

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Peter Doig, Milky Way (1989 to 90), oil on canvas

Paul Klee was another was another seminal experience that two years ago was like a fire in my mind. The exhibition went so deep into his process. I was moved by his unashamedly individual style, the plundering of his subconscious, the status he gave to signs and symbols, and to the development of his own visual language. His extensive writing informing his practice, immersed in a deep experiment of his personal experience. His sketchbooks were as much the art as the work on the walls. At this point the many sketchbooks of my own were in boxes, this feeling in my chest sent me back on a mission to re-discover myself through my sketchbooks and that journey has led me here.

What moves you?

What do you love? What do you hate? What are you jealous of? What frightens you? Any and all of these emotional responses are triggers, a guiding light, they are a message for you.

Here’s what I think and what I have experienced: if something moves you, then there is part of you that is called. I recently nearly exploded with excitement during a Pina Bausch performance: the fervent, luminous set design, surreal and fluid like a scene from a dream. It was like a jigsaw of my heart coming together: the atmosphere, the raw emotion of the performance, the humor, and the humanness, a 3D dimensional painting. It felt both exhilarating and terrifying, baffling and bewildering… why do I feel like this?

I’m not a dancer, or a set designer, but none the less some part of me is called into being, a part of me says ‘you can do this’, ‘you can be this’. My practice is inching towards performance, towards my fear, towards this emotional language.

I was 18 when I went to a Pierre Bonnard exhibition and I wrote about the exhibition for my university application. I had such a strong physical sensation of emotion as I witnessed his intense and sensitive use of colour. I felt the colours radiating off the bath tiles, I felt this rush through my whole body. I was full of tears and I felt like I was transforming into liquid, I exhaled. I thought everyone in the exhibition was experiencing the same feeling. Now I understand they probably weren’t. I didn’t fully understand that my body was trying to tell me something.

Now I know when I get that stirring in my belly or a hammering in my chest, that it is time to listen and not the time to ask how? Or why? This is like throwing water on the fire. Allow yourself the feeling, acknowledge the feeling, and don’t rip it away as the logical brain seeks to diminish with all the reasons why it can never be. As uncomfortable as that feeling may be, it is yours. A gift for you. I have thought a lot this week about how perhaps one of the hardest parts of life is to fully receive gifts. The gift of our potential.

What moves you?

Life. Life moves you. If Life beckons, don’t turn away. She is generous, forgiving and patient but she rushes by like a ghost.

See you next week,

Love and Best wishes,

Gemma

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And The Dark And The Dark 6th-16th November 2015 A-Side B-Side Gallery

Gemma Kauffman’s practice encompasses a variety of strategies and media, which include painting, performance, installation and film. Theatrical and fantastical, her work is both compelling and dynamic. Kauffman is an advocate for the creative spirit of all people and has during the last 10 years pioneered transformative approaches to social engagement.

gemmmakauffman.com


Are you a Secret Artist? Do you believe in the creative process? Interested in learning more about the journey of this Secret Artist? Then please subscribe HERE!          

The Secret Artist #6: Opposing Forces

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How do YOU find a balance?

Dear Secret Artist,

Do you sometimes feel pulled in different directions? Or question your true identity? I have for sometime been aware of opposing forces within me. One example is my extrovert tendencies vs my introvert nature, this was even more extreme during my twenties. I would sometimes experience from day to day feeling like a totally different person. I did not enjoy this flexibility in my character and most of the time I felt like I was having an identity crisis. Everyone else appeared to be solid in their character and sense of self. I felt neither this nor that. I felt inauthentic, fraudulent and flimsy. I longed to know what kind of person I was and to draw strength from being either one thing or another. Such is the confusion most of us feel before we cross the threshold of 30 and thankfully step into less fraught stages of growth and change. Today’s blog post is about how the restless duality within my seIf still continues, nothing has changed within me, only my perceptions have evolved and the opposing forces are now less a source of distress and more of a catalyst for my artistic practice.

There are many examples of opposing forces within me that I could choose to talk about: extrovert/introvert being one and my puzzling desire to be visible and invisible at the same time being another. Today I’m interested in discussing a perhaps more subtle contradiction that shapes the process of my painting.

It’s as if I’m split down the middle. One side of me is purely aesthetic, I have an eye for colour. You could say I have a colour obsession. The interplay between colours is an endless source of intrigue and mystery. There is a part of me that is completely satisfied with the puzzle of rearranging colour, texture, line and form into endless formations. This concern affiliates me with the Formalist Art Movement: without subject or representation, only the materiality of the paint and the compositional balance matters.

“The creative force and the expressiveness of painting reside materially in the color and texture of pigment, in the possibilities of form invention and organization, and in the flat plane on which these elements are brought to play (…)” ― Man Ray

abstract pinkartistquarter

Pink Abstract, Acrylic on Canvas 80x80cm

The other part of me is imaginative and loves story, metaphor, symbolism and characters, it can’t help but construct narratives. It reminds me that I was a writer before I was a visual artist. From as early as I can remember I have enjoyed creating images with words. Most of the content in my collection of sketchbooks from the past 15 years is written. I write in order to think.

The story teller in me seeks meaning and insists on creating connections. You may relate to my child self that would stare at a pattern on a curtain and watch it transform from the abstract into a face or an animal, this part of my brain says ‘there has to be more than this.’ But the aesthetics side of me does not want to be weighed down by story, tied to following linear connections. It protests that there is no meaning beyond colour, form and texture and it must be free to organise as it sees fit to achieve a compositional balance.

So, as I paint, these forces play out, constantly competing for dominant expression. Regardless of my intention to engage one side of myself or the other, they both come to the table, insisting that they are the authoritative mode.

In one moment a neutral mark may become a suggestion of a figure or a landscape and then my imagination kicks in, creating links between these snippets of representation. This momentum can also bring the obstacle of attachment, as it is harder to paint over a ‘something’ than a ‘nothing’ (neutral mark). Equally I find that a painting can’t be completed on the merit of it’s imaginative journey alone: the work must also achieve a compositional harmony of colour, texture and form. To achieve this whilst honouring the narrative elements is extremely challenging and can feel virtually impossible. Some paintings are epic, layer upon layer of intensive working, pushing through many stages until finally there is a pause and the restless sea is calm.

“In a sense my painting is a performative act.  I go inside the painting and when the balance occurs it is a shared moment of recognition between myself and the work.” ― Gemma Kauffman

The above is a quote from my About page on my website. These transitory moments of recognition and balance are what drive me to create. I need the process of making art to externalize and allow the different aspects of my self to play out. My art practice is the movement between the opposites.

These days I find that I no longer feel the need to be ‘this’ or ‘that’, or to adhere to a title such as writer, painter, performer, extrovert or introvert. This need to be labeled does not come from me, it comes from a world that needs things to be things. I believe we are in a constant flow and state of flux as we grow and evolve and that we are complex. Life is full of profound meaning and also simultaneously has no meaning at all, we are echoes of this fundamental contradiction. I believe people are processes not things and allowing ourselves to intuitively flow between our dual aspects is to claim our humanity, our oneness with duality.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

See you next week,

Love and Best wishes

Gemma

Gemma Kauffman’s practice encompasses a variety of strategies and media, which include painting, performance, installation and film. Theatrical and fantastical, her work is both compelling and dynamic. Kauffman is an advocate for the creative spirit of all people and has during the last 10 years pioneered transformative approaches to social engagement.

gemmmakauffman.com


Are you a Secret Artist? Do you believe in the creative process? Interested in learning more about the journey of this Secret Artist? Then please subscribe HERE!          

The Secret Artist #5 A Question of Value

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A Question of Value.

How do YOU measure your Self Worth?

My upcoming exhibition, And The Dark And The Dark, was the inspiration to begin this blog. In the first entry I declared, “Art exists in connection, not isolation”.  With confirmation of the exhibition, I made the decision to go “all in”, no more hiding, no more holding back.

exhibition publicity image

I’m noticing a very welcome increase in my confidence when I talk about my work. Yet I still detect some awkwardness when discussing the exhibition directly, I’ll often add something in at the end of a conversation like “What’s the point of having an exhibition any way?” As some kind of disclaimer, basically already apologizing for having an exhibition and for daring to ask you to come!

I have two weeks left to rectify this sad state of affairs. So what’s going on? Pressure. I think pressure comes from wanting approval and validation. I feel the pressure to demonstrate success. I want to sell my work.  A sale equals time to work in my studio. A sale brings opportunity; it will be easier for me to dive deeper into my new work. The equivalent of a green light or “pass go”. Therefor, understandably, it’s hard to remember that a sale does not equal my self worth or my value as an artist. So where do I find my value?

The more I promote the exhibition, and even as I write to you now, I feel a mounting sense of anxiety. My anxiety is that I’m creating expectation. My anxiety is that I won’t be able to ‘deliver’, that I will let people down, and that I will not be enough.

I have come far enough in my self learning to be somewhat objective about these feelings. I am aware this is not rational and definitely not new. This is a very old mental and emotional pattern. I am also aware that this is not about letting other people down, this is about me letting myself down. This is a battle I am having within myself.

I would guess most artists struggle with this when it comes to showing their work. We know our work has value for ourselves, but does our work have value for others?

To some artists a showing of their work may seem an unnecessary act of giving (their) power away to an other. However there is another point of view, as brought up by interesting point made in a comment posted on the blog last week relating to the work of Lewis Hyde:

“A work of art is not finished until it is shared. Like actually not complete. It needs the gaze of another to finish it”

Whatever an exhibition may or may not be, it is an offering, an offering to YOU.

As I prepare to offer my inner landscape to the outside world, and into current value systems over which I have zero control, I remember that the opportunity to worry about the unknowns of the exhibition process is an achievement in its self!

Not so very long ago the hope of having a body of art work ready to show anyone was virtually non existent. Back then I was more into self punishment than self application. I regularly felt lost and broken and would turn to film for escapism. These were the days of collecting DVD’s from Video Star and passing out to the blue glow of world cinema. But one night I found myself watching YouTube videos of people I found inspiring such as, Patti Smith, David Lynch, Kate Bush. I watched documentaries about artists, designers and filmmakers. Hungrily, I absorbed interviews, live performances, and any scrap I could find in quick succession one flowing into another; in a chain that didn’t break, a stream leading from one artist to another, the river did not run dry. Only after several days, with dry eyes, I pulled myself to shore to rest. I was tired but I had received nourishment: the dark abyss in my chest was now a glow. I had been set alight.

In the following days, I reflected upon the connecting force between all the artists I had encountered on my video marathon. They were all people connected with their art, their truth, and were being fully and unapologetically themselves. They all had the courage to say through their work “this is who I am.” This trail of inspiration suddenly felt like the only thing that mattered. I was reduced to one question: Do I dare to dream?

Joseph Campbell, in his book Pathways To Bliss, talks about finding your own way out of the dark woods as a metaphor for finding your calling: if the path is well trodden then it’s not your own and at some point we have to step off the beaten path with no ones footsteps to follow but our own.

underthetree

I’m not sure if the trail of inspiration led me in to or out of the woods that day, but I certainly experienced a vital re-orientation of my life path. To answer the question regarding value and self worth in today’s ever growing pressure to succeed and achieve, we risk succumbing to the delusion of a one size fits all definition of success. It is important to remember that only we know how far we have come and, as we find our way on our individual journeys, the most important step might be to remember where we started.

See you next week.

Love and best wishes,

Gemma


Gemma Kauffman’s practice encompasses a variety of strategies and media, which include painting, performance, installation and film. Theatrical and fantastical, her work is both compelling and dynamic. Kauffman is an advocate for the creative spirit of all people and has during the last 10 years pioneered transformative approaches to social engagement.

gemmmakauffman.com


Are you a Secret Artist? Do you believe in the creative process? Interested in learning more about the journey of this Secret Artist? Then please subscribe HERE!          

The Secret Artist #4: Putting Your Self in the Picture.

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How much of you goes into what you do?

One of the biggest struggles I have faced during my life as an artist is that making art is unavoidably revelatory. My introvert self wants to hide but in the creative process we see ourselves. We see ourselves as we are, not as we want to be. We are in the picture whether we like it or not.

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It can be scary to create because it can be scary to see yourself. The work is your mirror. When we share the work this mirror then becomes a window for our viewer. We open ourselves to be seen. However the process does not end there. For the window then becomes (we hope) a mirror once more, but this time for the audience as they locate themselves within the work.

“Painting is a physical thinking process to continue an inner dialogue”. – Amy Sillman

Perhaps part of the reason much of my painting is in the language of abstract expressionism is an attempt to hide and protect myself in someway from the judgment of my audience. But now, I have come to accept that painting is a revelatory process. How can it not be? Hours and hours of intimate memory and perception tangled together. On canvas I share my unconscious thoughts, wrapped around fragments of story, a moving sketchbook of my private emotion and imagination. No amount of coding and symbolism can change this.

I have found surrender through the realisation that Life itself is also inescapably revealing. Our every thought and action communicates information about ourselves. Including what we don’t say, this can unveil just as much about us than what we do say.

It’s not surprising we feel resistance to showing our true self. When we show our true self or give ourselves fully to any aspect of our lives: our working life, our creative life, our personal life, we in turn risk failure, judgment and rejection.

Often we don’t respond to the call to express our creativity because we know that when we do we will expose ourselves in some way. The creative process is a summons to our self. Often we fill our lives with other work and maybe find ourselves helping others as a way of avoiding facing our self and our creative desire. For 10 years I was an art teacher supporting young people to explore and develop their creativity and art skills before I found the braveness to bring myself to the table and put myself into the picture.

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“Creativity takes courage.” – Henri Matisse

Matisse was right; it takes courage because there is risk involved. To truly embark on the creative process is to exit our comfort zone. Outside of the comfort zone is a sense of danger and (self) exposure.

Writing The Secret Artist blog has brought a lot of my internal junk to the surface. I have felt exposed and vulnerable. No matter how much I have enjoyed writing each and every chapter, after pressing the send button I am more often than not consumed with a desperate urge to claw back my words. My worst-case scenario kicks into overdrive, delivering to my frightened brain scene after scene of imagined ridicule and humiliation. These fears reduce me to an emotional wreck; rational thought is nowhere to be found. But then, the first email will arrive thanking me for my recent blog entry, or complimenting me on the content. Slowly my head fog of worry clears, the clamp releases my chest, and I see it for what it is: the persuasive fabrication of my fear based mind.

This is why I committed to writing The Secret Artist. I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone. To get to grips with ‘actually saying something.’ I did it to share my self. I am putting my self out there.

I am terrified every week and every week I am growing.

I want to share with you one of the comments emailed to me this week:

“In short I am loving the fact we as the reader are getting know you, the artist, without you having to tell us you like long walks on the beach. It’s an unguarded view of you. Letting that mask drop and being (not literally obviously) warts and all on a creative tip.”

I was very happy to receive this feedback confirming I was succeeding in my goal to be open and giving of myself in a way that I haven’t managed to do before.

Thank you to everyone who has written to me these last 4 weeks. Every comment, every story, every suggestion propels me forward. This process has made a huge difference to my confidence and I can feel a sense of expansion as I take small steps to go beyond my self imposed limitations.

GK1

Eva, 2014

We all have masks and we all play roles but the creative place is a space to play and explore. The canvas is a great space to work things out. As a secret artist I waited a long time before I took the step. Give yourself to your work; write without censor, draw without expectations, sing without criticism, dance without shame, and allow your self expression. With each small risk we take, we make incremental steps towards the goal of experiencing our true creative potential. What a different world we would live in if we could all find the courage to allow our true self a chance to speak!

Thank you for helping me.

G.Kauffman Evadreams, 2014 50cmx30cm 2933x3678 Acrylic, Chalk and Ink on canavs

Eva Dreams, 2014

See you next week

Love and best wishes,

Gemma


Gemma Kauffman’s practice encompasses a variety of strategies and media, which include painting, performance, installation and film. Theatrical and fantastical, her work is both compelling and dynamic. Kauffman is an advocate for the creative spirit of all people and has during the last 10 years pioneered transformative approaches to social engagement.

gemmmakauffman.com


Are you a Secret Artist? Do you believe in the creative process? Interested in learning more about the journey of this Secret Artist? Then please subscribe HERE!          

The Secret Artist #3: The Lost Art of Letting Go

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Letting Go? Holding on?

Only one of the above is a story of Transformation.

This is the story of The Goddess.

The female figure was a surprise. When she first appeared I felt both intrigued and confused. Why was she here? What did she want? Finding this figure waiting for me on the canvas was unusual.


goddess sequence

The idea came to me that she was some sort of Guide. Perhaps my imagination was in overdrive. My approach to painting is to weave a world from suggestions of narrative, symbols and abstractions. I consider it to be an adventure of present moment awareness; action, marks and movement come before words, reflection and analysis. If she was a Guide, then my job was to listen. Right from the beginning there were conditions.

I was cautious from the offset, every mark felt loaded. If I went too far she might disappear. I already had something to lose. I did not feel free.

I was fearful of losing the image of this Guide, yet she continued to hold her own within the unfolding scene: teetering on the brink of being submerged, but still she remained. Each incarnation she was different, altered, bathed in her surroundings. It was as if she was the gold of the rushes, the fluorescents of the vines, the jewels in the sky and of the darkness. I was fascinated by her reincarnations and her fearless orchestration of the world around her.

Over time it became more and more difficult to maintain the presence of the female figure and to honour the momentum of the painting. I felt pulled in different directions, yet still I avoided painting over her. Even though this is exactly what she, as my Guide, was urging me to do and had been right from the beginning. It was me who was resisting, I was the one who was in the way. After many months I had become attached to her, but because of this attachment I was losing the flow of the painting.

One day I woke up and this time when I met the canvas I knew it was time to release her back into the ocean of consciousness from whence she came. Otherwise we were stuck and the painting wasn’t going anywhere.

The next session of painting was different. This time I gave myself fully to the process without hedging my bets, no longer leaving space for the figure to return as she had many times before. I surrendered to the marks and gestures that appeared before me. I was back in the flow.

Immediately a vibrant energy returned and the painting made huge strides forwards. It felt like I had stepped through a gateway. Much like in the hero’s journey. My final test was to demonstrate, without reservation, the learning I had received from the Guide. I chose to trust the process and in that moment all hesitation was gone.

goddess sequence

So often we live life as if we have something to lose, rather than something to gain. Nature is the embodiment of loss and renewal, yet still we separate ourselves; insisting upon our own rules, imposing our demands, attempting to bend reality to suit our picture of how we think life should be.

The tree does not hesitate to drop its leaves. The plant does not agonise over the wilting flower. There is a synchronistic, harmonious pattern to all of life in accordance with the Laws of Nature.

Ironically the painting that has taught me the most about surrender, loss and renewal is the painting that has the biggest hold on me. Perhaps because I know her secrets: the skins she has shed, those lost images beneath her surface, compressed into hidden layers.  But now… so do you!

I began this blog to explore sharing. With your help I am learning how to be more open about the creative process. Not all of my paintings were such a journey to create.  I consider Adam and Eve and The Goddess to be the parents of my painting family tree. From these two great teachers, my art practice was born. The principles I have learnt from these paintings I carry with me, into my practice and into my life. Through them I have come to understand that the experience of painting is mine, but the painting themselves are not. I am learning to let go.

ultimate Goddess

The Goddess is a mystery. She is an open mirror and a gateway, for all who behold her.

The Goddess will be featuring in an exhibition at A-side B-side Gallery, London. From the 6th -17th November 2015. Click below for details:

See you next week.

Love and best wishes,

Gemma


Gemma Kauffman’s practice encompasses a variety of strategies and media, which include painting, performance, installation and film. Theatrical and fantastical, her work is both compelling and dynamic. Kauffman is an advocate for the creative spirit of all people and has during the last 10 years pioneered transformative approaches to social engagement.

gemmmakauffman.com


Are you a Secret Artist? Do you believe in the creative process? Interested in learning more about the journey of this Secret Artist? Then please subscribe HERE!