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On connections between old and new work

I've been using the above photo in the Community Memoir/Public Art project as an example of suitable working material. It shows my brother and me in about 1968 or 1969, taking a bath in the only available place in the somewhat primitive miners' home where we lived with our Mum and our Grandparents. The way it would be used in the current project is to write a series of short, one sentence phrases suggested by it, sort of like memory-captions. Patty and I would then select the one that worked best with the photo, and in relation to the photos and texts of the other participants (that is, we don't want all the memories to be the same).

But in the last few years I've used fragments from the same photo again and again, at different sizes and resolutions, in prints on paper and artists' books, as I have done with lots of other photos:

And in thinking about this process, I thought again of a life-size sculpture I made four years ago based on my memory of bathing in the tin bathtub:
Called 'Coal Boy', I made the figure by building up layers of air-drying clay over a steel tube skeleton, then sealing it and painting it with white acrylic paint. Instead of putting water in the tub, which would erode the sculpture, I filled it with lumps of coal. So it has the somewhat comical associations of our family bath nights, together with the relation to my grandfather, who was a miner all his working life, and in whose bathroom-less and loo-less house we were all living, cheek by jowl, for four years after my father was killed.

I've been meaning to make another one of these, or even a series. But meanwhile, as I said, I've gone back to that image in different ways, and I suppose it's another version of the process of chewing over an artistic idea such as haystacks, lily ponds, or black squares, returning to it, trying it out in different ways and different media, to see whether there's a way of restating the phrase in a way that makes better sense, or a new sense. There's always the nagging feeling that I've left something out, and that by trying to say it in a slightly different way there will be some new aspect that will surprise me.

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  1. These landscapes of water and reflections have become an obsession. It's quite beyond my powers at my age, and yet I want to succeed in expressing what I feel. (Claude Monet)

    The cypresses are always occupying my thoughts. (Vincent van Gogh)

    An artist is a creature driven by demons. He doesn't know why they chose him and is usually too busy to wonder why. (William Faulkner)

    You are not alone.


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