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Pushing boundaries and taking risks ....

This blog post is in response to the same title posed by an artist, Laura Pollak, in a social media group. At the time of reading I was working on a piece that had been problematic due to the composition only be partially forged in my mind as my process often, or perhaps it is more appropriate to say 'always', involves 'sketching' in my mind over a period of days to work out compositional elements, palette or even just the basic concept before pastel is finally put together. These 'mind sketches' I reflect should be physically documented within a small sketchbook as a matter of good practice but after several years of academic recording that infiltrated my artistic practice I am enjoying a period of not having to do so - it is refreshing and freeing but perhaps neglectful as those loose, expression-able sketches can often provide inspiration at later dates. However, the piece being worked on (below right) was problematic due to it being marrying two differing styles and narratives within my recent body of work - the eye/hand (below left) and a recent more traditional woodland soft pastel work (middle).

The woodland piece was only worked last week at the suggestion of my business partner/fiance to step out of my comfort zone and do something purely to relax rather than work based art but inevitably found its way onto the portfolio of this website due to the inclusion of a single fungal form. It has become representative of, and gives a differing perspective to, how we view the fungal kingdom but at its most simplistic within the wider natural environment whether singularly or in groups - do we even notice them or look for them? how many would perceive this piece as about the wider woodland or consider that in fact its focus is that one small fungal form?

Henceforth, I wanted to integrate both our human eyes, and the woodland ecosystems within a single artwork with the intention of using the same photograph I had taken many years ago as inspiration. My intention at the point of creation was to the position of the up-scaled eye behind the trees in order to ask the viewer how they literally see the woodlands and what is within them? will they notice the stream, the bridge or the small colony of fruiting bodies? I wanted to disrupt realism and go back to the contemporary context in which I primarily situate my work by taking the eye out of the body itself and immersing it within nature itself. There is a deliberate intent to position the eye within a post-Anthropocentric world as I seek to enable a small part of our body to interact with and become at one with the natural world as it looks towards the colony of fruiting bodies growing along the woodland stream banks. However, the eye appears disinterested to the point of even being half-asleep - I am subconsciously questioning the human reactions I see of so many who just walk by and do not notice the life that is around them? or is this in fact the arrogance of the Anthropocene and a wider dis-interest in the natural world that continues to pervade socio-culturally? or is the eye in fact relaxed and content within its environment? Critiquing the eye and its meaning does demonstrate a need to sketch differing eye expressions but I am aware that an adjustment of shading and values around the eyelid and white of the eye would create the downward glancing expression I originally sought - the eye pushes the boundaries of my techniques and skills but I question if I am taking a risk in the dialogue by leaving it as it is? does the eye itself create a questioning of my meaning for the piece? it feels disruptive creating a distraction from the softness of the scene - I, myself, feel uncomfortable with its presence, unsettled and unsure as to how to react or consider the work if I step back and see it not as the artist, the creator but as the audience. However, I had intended to incorporate the foliage seen in the middle image, and my originating photograph, enabling the eye to become camouflaged disrupting the realistic representation of the woodland scene but ...... at the point the photograph was taken I was wanting to stop but why? this was not pushing my boundaries in terms of technique but it felt as if by really pulling back and stopping at a much much earlier stage than I had anticipated I would be taking a bigger risk but what exactly is that risk? how do I, personally as an artist, define my own risk taking? is the risk simply about audience perception or perhaps more directly audience reaction to the work? is it about pushing the boundaries of my skill-sets and continue to trial new concepts and compositions whilst still wanting to situate myself within the Disrupted Realism movement? .... and if so why do I want to label myself as a DR artist? the simple answer to the last question is that within Disrupted Realism I felt as if I have found my home - it is a movement that deviates from the norms of reality and speaks to the neurodiverse artistic space in which I work or more fully: “Disrupted realism is a term that describes works of art made by artists who have deviated from the norms of realism. These deviations, which may involve one or more formal elements – such as line, form, and color – are made intentionally, often through improvisation, to serve expressive purposes. By “disrupting” and expanding the tradition of realism, artists may suggest time, memory, and individual experience or refer to digital, photographic, or cinematic sources. It is a subjective approach to painting that favors perception over seeing and embraces subjectivity.” – (Principal Gallery citing John Seed, 2019). Within my work I seek to use the human body, and more specifically facial anatomy or the hand, at this current time, to create dialogue around the fungal kingdom or its related ecosystem through intentionally creating intentionally often discombobulating work in order to ask the viewer to reconsider their perceptions including that of their own humanism and how we may become companion species to mushrooms rather than perhaps the other way around! However, it doesn't answer the question of what my risks are within my work? or does it? my work is like Marmite - not everyone is going to like it as art is subjective. However, the creation of work that incorporates brains, eyes, hands and fungi that intermingle and react to and with fungi creates or perhaps invites criticism, both favourably or not so favourably: I am almost taking it as a compliment when someone says a piece is gross as it has evoked a reaction - you may not want it on the wall, as indeed my own fiance has refused with certain pieces, but these less palatable pieces are being balanced by more subtle thought-provoking work. I am aware, as I have demonstrated above, that I can do the pretty woodland scenes which I can loose myself within meditatively but if I am honest they are not as fun to do - I am liking, no I am loving doing the more disrupted and unsettling works: they are gritty, they are pushing my boundaries in terms of my skill-sets increasing my knowledge and technique with each I do but yes they are taking a risk for two reasons: 1. the pieces often develop or evolve during their creation and 2. I don't know what the public perception will be - as I am working I am questioning whether I pull something back so it is more aesthetically and socially acceptable or do I push it to its limits to actively provoke reactions? the latter can be seen in the piece below... it is one of the pieces banned from being framed within home but it does reside, currently, on my noticeboard nonetheless. This work defines my definition of the concept of risk - a 'mind sketch' that evolved into a refined soft pastel work through several almost reincarnations during the making process: countless photographs were taken to check colour, tone, value, line and also definition - the photographs are a way of me being able to step back within my incredibly small studio space and see the work through the lens of the audience with all but the first and final image being kept. I knew the piece was going to test me in terms of my techniques and I was unsure, as to whether I could in fact draw what I had been developing within my mind over a period of 2 or even 3 weeks - notes were not jotted down and only passing conversations with my fiance took place. I wanted this piece to just 'become' .....

Risk taking therefore I define as an adventure into the unknown whether that is related to audience perception if the work is created, at the point of its conception, to be exhibited within a public arena whether online or physically, or whether that risk is simply in questioning whether a composition or concept will work in reality? I may physically sketch out and develop a concept but academic visual research/my artistic practice has demonstrated, on countless occasions, how during the final refinement of a piece of work it can, and often does, continue to evolve and change creating a risk in itself that it may deviate from its original focus: as a point of note I loosen curatorial control of the work only if I am not working to a specific brief or commission - the curation within the work lies within the decision making at each step of creation. It is strange however, to question the issue of risk as I am typing this in the week my MA Fine Art results are due and I am very much aware of the risk I took with the pieces submitted for assessment - they form part of the Portfolio of this website in combination with those seen in the Graduating Exhibition page which will shortly amalgamate together. Pollack's questioning of how other artists perceive and define risk and how we push our boundaries has therefore brought to the surface the nerves that are inevitable in the coming days ..... but her questions have also enabled me to unpack and consider how I define risk and how I push the boundaries within my artistic practice outside of academia (albeit for a period as yet unknown in length). As I start work on the next piece, one that has been formulated again through an evolutionary period of mind sketching, I intend to continue to actively question and interrogate these words and see how they may, or may not, change the course of the work? BIBLIOGRAPHY: Gallery, P. (2021) Introduction to Disrupted Realism. At: (Accessed 25/09/2023).

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