I spent about five solid weeks in late 2020 writing two Arts Council applications, one on my own account and the other on behalf of OpenHand OpenSpace, Reading's main studio provider and its only contemporary art gallery. This post is about my personal application. The next post will be about the other one.
I was successful in applying for a Developing Your Creative Practice Grant. It felt like the right time for me to make a step change. Friends and regular readers will know that our daughter Alice died in 2019, aged 28, after nine years of serious illness with a brain tumour. The caring duties were traumatic particularly in the final months of Alice's life and took their toll on me and Liz. Our emotional energy and creativity were at a low ebb, with caring duties naturally taking precedence over everything else.
I carry that bereavement with me into a renewed commitment to my practice, which Alice always encouraged and inspired. I feel that now I have both the time and the commitment to pursue my art practice like never before. I want to revisit the socially-engaged core of my motivation for making art; to strengthen my network of connections with artists and art organisations whose work I admire; and to have focused research and development time to create new work.
I intend this year to build a stronger base from which to make well-considered, transformative work that reaches new audiences. Ultimately, by the end of 2021, I want to have built a body of new work that fully expresses what I want to share with the world; to have a stronger understanding of my own practice and artistic identity; to have strengthened my network of artists and galleries; and to have found opportunities to exhibit and create participative projects in new places for new audiences.
My application was based on a month-by-month activity plan to turn 2021 into a year of creative development, involving dedicated studio time, research trips, studio visits, and a short residency. But then shortly after getting the grant we went into another Covid19 lockdown, which has meant the research trips and studio visit elements of the plan have had to be pushed back towards the second half of the year.
|Watch the interview here: |
I started with a week-long Instagram takeover of the Chapel Arts Studios Instagram account. (I've been an associate artist there since 2014). This included an online interview, during which I wittered-on for forty minutes or so about my life experiences, painting, woodcut, walking, marching and birding.
At the same time, I relaunched my website, https://peterdriver.art designed by my friend the designer Matthew Luke.
So it has been a time to focus on studio practice. Studio time is always hard-won. I still teach two days a week at Winchester School of Art (all online at the moment), I'm secretary of OpenHand OpenSpace and leading on changing its legal form and applying for registered charity status, and I still want to be at home with Liz and helping our son renovate his new home, three miles down the road from us. So from a busy life I have managed to carve out more studio time and have been experimenting with new directions.
We discovered this wonderful 1970s vintage wallpaper on the kitchen wall of our son's new house, it was preserved behind the kitchen wall-cupboards. I was instantly transported back to my childhood in the houses of me and my friends on our council estate in Littleport. And childhood memories always include the birds I saw and heard. I was reminded of balmy summer days and the purring of Turtle Doves around the village, Spotted Flycatchers perched on the gravestones in the churchyard. Just two species that have declined dramatically in numbers since those days. The summer population of Turtle Doves has declined by over 90% in the UK since their purring filled my childhood summers. The Spotted Flycatcher population has plummeted to a similar degree over the same period.
These declines are linked to habitat loss, changes in farming practices, use of agro-chemicals and the massive reduction in the availability of food for these two species. We have ripped-up thousands of miles of hedgerow and paved our gardens or tidied away the plants that provide the seeds that Turtle Doves eat and that feed the aerial insects that the Flycatchers eat.
I have started painting again.
When Alice painted, she used colour as her subject matter. I feel that I want to do that too, as a commemorative act, to carry on Alice's work or to carry the bereavement with me into making new things, in the same way that we carry on her work of supporting Reading Refugee Support Group and LGBTQ+ causes.
These are stumbling steps in painting at this stage, hesitant and tentative. I feel like an imposter, and a dabbler, faced with the prolific and accomplished output of current painters I admire like Tim Stoner, Katie Pratt, Karolina Albricht or Tahmina Negmat.
But pushing down the familiar imposter syndrome, which seems to be endemic among council house kids, I carry on. It begins with mixing colour - maybe just two colours plus white and seeing how many distinct tones and hues they can make. This is an approach I learned from Daniel Preece at the Slade evening courses in painting I attended before I went to art school. Daniel is inspired by Euan Uglow and I have to admit some of that approach feeds into what I do.
Another thing that seems to stay with me is the desire to reuse and incorporate discarded byproducts of previous works. I have this box of painted canvas strips, which were still on the edges of some second-hand stretchers I bought. I plan to stick them to a board in strips and use them as a surface for a new painting about colour-play.
I will post updates about my progress over the coming months.