Artist Spotlight: Andy Farr

Warwickshire-based artist Andy Farr has been working with the Institute of Mental Health in Nottingham on a moving project which documents a number of individual’s experience of PTSD. The series of paintings created during this project will be on display at the Lanchester Gallery from 7th March – 5th April. We’ve interviewed Andy ahead of his solo show to find out more about him as an artist, and what inspired him to create this thought-provoking body of work.

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(Image by John Whitmore).

When did you first get into Art Andy?

Good question. Art was always my passion growing up, but then school talked me out of doing A-Level and my path went in other directions until just over 10 years ago. Both my sons are good artists and their passion drew me back in. About a year later I was seriously ill and while in hospital decided that if I survived that commuting down to London wasn’t how I saw my future. After six months recovery I handed my notice in and to be honest I wasn’t quite sure how the future would pan out. Fortunately, I met a wonderful artist called Caroline Hulse who ran painting courses. She must have seen something in my early daubs as she acted as my mentor over my first summer of my second life. Encouraging me to be more experimental and bold. At that point I assumed that I would at some point return to the world of marketing but ten years later I am very much a full-time artist.

 

Tell us how you came to work on the project for your forthcoming solo show “The Twisted Rose and Other Lives” which explores post-traumatic stress and the process of recovery.

The Twisted Rose project evolved out of the work I did for my MA. I used the MA as an opportunity to look back and try to make sense of events from my own childhood. My father was bipolar, and it is only recently that I’ve come to realise how profoundly his illness impacted my own being. I found that process to be cathartic and came to realise that the works resonated with others who had had direct experience of mental issues. The actual idea of working with people who have experienced PTSD came from Gary Winslip one of the lecturers at the IMH (Institute of Mental Health) in Nottingham. He connected the dots between an earlier project I’d done commemorating WW1 and my interest in mental health. One of the legacies of the War was many thousands left suffering from with what was then called “shell shock”, what we now term post-traumatic stress disorder. With the promise of exhibition space from the IMH, Coventry University and Lancashire County Council I was able to secure some Arts Council Funding.

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What process do you go through when you are creating a new piece of work?

For this project my process has had to change radically. Each painting has to be created in a way that respects the feelings and vulnerabilities of the subject. The start point has been a dialogue with the person whose experience I’m conveying. That discussion is focussed on how the emotions and feelings that their experience has evoked rather than the details of the traumatic event. That conversation might be over several months via email, or face to face, or both. From that dialogue ideas for metaphors or ways of expressing their story will start to emerge. From there my usual process of seeking images, colours, textures will start to take over. For several of the paintings the person has agreed to be photographed and the resultant image could be described as a “narrative portrait”. This final step of being present in a painting, and then being in public, is a significant one and so far proved to be cathartic for those involved. Unlike other paintings the degree of responsibility felt by me, the artist, to the person I’m painting is huge. I have never felt the same level of trepidation, as I have during this project, when sending or showing the first version of a painting to someone before. So far the responses have not just been positive but deeply moving as well.

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Have you been inspired by any other artists in the past?

I’m a fan of painters whose work has an underlying narrative. From Hopper through to Justin Mortimer and a number of Eastern European artists such as Daniel Pitin and Miriam Vlaming. I like their combination of figurative elements with more abstract mark making.

 

What’s next for you as an artist following your show at the Lanchester Gallery?

The Lanchester Exhibition will be followed by four more shows of this work, two in London, the first straight after Coventry in April, and then Newcastle in May/June and Lancaster in October/November. For the Lancaster show I’ll be working with more people to add additional works to the exhibition. The second London show will be broader encompassing some of my earlier work as well. If more opportunities arise then the work might pop up elsewhere as well! I’m also starting to do some work with psychotherapists to see if there is learning from my work that can be used more widely within therapy. Provisionally we have a cross disciplinary seminar planned for Coventry later in March. However, I am also looking forward to doing some less intense subject matter … I have some ideas but they won’t crystalise until I’ve finished working on the four new painting for the Coventry Exhibition.

Where can people go to find out more about you and your work?

To find out more about my work people can go to my website www.andyfarr.com which has a lot of background to my work. I also post work in progress on Instagram @andyfarrart

The Man Inside

The Collective//Pod welcome their new artist in residence

Flying the Skies, Breathing the Earth.

The Collective//Pod (The Pod’s arts collective) advocate the importance of creativity to mental health and wellbeing. They explore the way in which creativity challenges and infiltrates what we do and how we feel, on a conscious and subconscious level. The Collective//Pod work with artists who explore issues surrounding mental health, and their latest artist in residence is contemporary textile artist, Anthony Stevens.

His solo show “SAID THE BIRD”, will be on display at the Coventry Centre of Contemporary Art (CCCA), Fargo Village from 13th April 2018. We’ve interviewed Anthony to find out more about his work, and what we can expect from his exhibition.

Here’s what he has to say:

You describe yourself as a self-taught “Textile Artist” – how did you get into exploring textiles as a medium for your work?

Well, gravitating to textiles, sewing and embroidery was really quite a natural process. My mom used to be a very good dressmaker and would make a lot of clothes for my sister. Due to this there were a lot of fabrics around the house. I was quite fascinated by what my mom was doing and even more fascinated by the contents of her sewing box, so to keep me occupied she would make little cloth bags and draw designs on to them, she would then get me to embroider in the design with bits of wool etc. I had forgotten about these memories until in more recent years, I was going through a very difficult time emotionally and I ended up buying a large bag of cheap colourful fabric scraps with the idea of making t-shirt designs to keep me occupied, however, I found that the process of sifting and sorting, looking closely at each scrap for it’s value in the bigger picture was very similar to the process I was going through in my inner life. So from this initial bag of scraps I made a number of collages, most of which I gave away as presents.

So in a nutshell, textiles are embedded in my life.

What process do you go through when creating your artwork?

My creative process is directly connected to all the other areas of my life, particularly my Buddhist practice and my dreams. I find both of these things filter perhaps more subconscious areas of my life and provide a rich source of material. Generally, an idea, image or phrase will pop up during my chanting or through a dream accompanied by bit of a charged feeling that this is something worth working with. Depending on circumstance, I will either make a quick sketch or a little painting and pop it away for a later time, or get right into the textile stage, it depends on how urgent it feels. I will then go through my fabric scraps, selecting the pieces that appeal and start arranging them into a collage that I like the look of. I then back this onto calico with glue and pins and stitch it together. I then draw the design on top and start embroidering the image.

As this is quite a slow process, I often get the deeper personal meanings that the image represents to me and will also add the associations that come up to the image during the work. In some ways, working like this combined with my Buddhist practice becomes a sort of self-analysis, I get to understand myself a bit more. I also find that the texture of the fabric changes with all the handling it gets, it becomes softer but paradoxically stronger due to the layering and stitching. I like to think that this is what happens to people when given care and consideration, maybe also my inner life too?

It’s a good way to record passing moods which become very present during the making process. Anxiety, impatience and anger tend to show up as busyness, puckers and snags and easier emotions show up as relatively smooth surfaces and spaciousness. The background is just as important as the image. I will more often than not use stripes in my work, apart from being something that I find pleasing to look at, they represent to me the ongoing process of life and death, dreaming and waking, consciousness and unconsciousness. I also like small details, as this encourages people to look closer and perhaps for longer. Again, I like the idea that this skill could be transferred to our daily lives.

What themes does your work explore?

I guess personal reactions and feelings regarding social issues, past and present experiences. I am interested in the inner dynamics of life and how these things manifest in the outer world. Why are we the way we are and why do we do what we do? I am also interested in how the processes that happen to us in our lives as human beings are often reflected in the wider processes of the world and even the universe. The constant change, decline, and eventual dispersal and recycling of matter. It’s quite mind blowing and it all happens in our own bodies as well as ‘out there’ in the world.

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Who and what do you draw inspiration from?

Ooh, all manner of things. I love punk, it’s DIY mentality, the music, the taking ownership of your life, actually, it’s these things that I also really like about Buddhism. I am also inspired by all manner of people, especially people who are able to develop their ideals and live in a way that is true to themselves and their innate humanity. It gives me courage to come across people like this. I feel that encounters with people like this hit a visceral place in my gut.

From an art perspective, I am really inspired by one of my favourite artists, the painter, Rose Wiley, I love the fact that she has painted for years with little acknowledgment and not given up on what she loves. Her work to me is full of effort, skill and years of devotion and now it is bearing fruit. When I see her work, I feel glad to be alive. That is no small thing!

Tell us a little about what we can expect to see at your solo show at the CCCA

The title of the show is ‘SAID THE BIRD’. The embroideries on show will be a mixture of older pieces, newer pieces that I haven’t shown yet, and a few pieces I am making specifically for the exhibition. The bird motif shows up in my work a lot. It came from a series of three events several years ago. The first was a dream of a bird struggling to escape from a water fountain and fly away (it did). The day after this, one of my cats brought in a bird, which appeared dead, so I popped it outside in a plant pot. However, it was very cold and something in my gut told me to bring the bird back in. I did this and placed it’s, what I thought was lifeless body in a shoebox by the shrine in my studio. The next morning the bird was flying around my studio and I was able to open the window and let it fly away. The third event happened later that same week when a friend of mine who is a ceramicist, came over to have dinner and brought as a gift, a beautiful clay bird she had made. So, after so many cosmic prods, I thought it wise to start including the bird in my work. Since that time, the bird has come to represent objective wisdom, the ability to be able to take in the bigger picture, to get the birds eye view of whatever I am trying to put across in my work.

During the span of the exhibition, I will also be making a rag book from donated fabrics from the residents of Coventry. The book will have the same title as the show. This will take place during my residency at The Pod. There will also be music and dance at the private view on 13th April, so it will be a wonderful, beautiful collaborative event! I feel very excited and appreciative…cheers Coventry!

“SAID THE BIRD” at the CCCA, Fargo Village opening times will run as follows:

Private view: 13th April, 4:30-6:30pm

14th April – 20th May 2018:
Fridays/Saturdays 11am – 4pm
Sundays 11am – 2pm.
Viewing also by appointment: Telephone 024 7678 6680.
Contact:
POD.Enquiries@coventry.gov.uk

 We can’t wait to get along to see it!

The Birth of Dionysus

 

Scratch the Surface – Dialogue Festival Review

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Scratch the Surface – Dialogue was a mental health arts festival that ran from 30th Sept – 10th Oct, organised by The Pod and it’s arts collective; Collective//Pod

(A part of Coventry Council that supports people in their mental health recovery journey).

The aim of the festival was to celebrate the provocative and vanguard, and bought together a vast programme of cultural activists and arts organisations both local, national and international. The expertly delivered festival was sensitively executed and addressed many subject matters that can be seen as taboo, in an incredibly liberating way.

Prior to the event, we were lucky enough to get to know founder of the festival Christine Eade, an exceptionally inspirational woman, who has a host of awards under her belt, including; winner of ‘Woman of Achievement Award’ 2017, and Winner of UK Mental Health Best Practice Awards 2013, to name just a few.

We gained a sneak preview into what was in store and were blown away by the sheer scale of this impressive festival.

Curating Coventry were delighted to be invited by the Collective//Pod to participate in hosting the exhibition opening “An Audience with Wen Wu” at the CCCA, Fargo Village. Wen Wu presented a series of ‘Literary’ paintings – a series of five stunning realist-style paintings, which were on loan from the RifleMaker, London. We had the pleasure of interviewing her to delve into the themes she explores through her creative practice, and the extensive process she goes through as an artist before she arrives at her final paintings. Wen feels passionate about female spirituality and the empowerment that can be gained through tapping into creativity. In this series of paintings, the books were a metaphor for shelter, security and protection, yet also a regal symbol of the Chinese crown. It was an absolute delight to meet such an inspirational female artist.

The next event we attended was an evening at The Herbert Gallery with Sarah Chaney, research associate at the University College London Centre for the History of Psychological Disciplines, and Visual Artist Liz Atkin. Liz is a renown artist who campaigns to raise awareness of dermatillomania surprising common skin-picking disorder, thought to affect up to 1 in 25 of us. As part of her recovery, she creates “Compulsive Charcoal” drawings when travelling to work and back, to keep her hands busy. She gives these out to fellow passengers, explaining why she does it, breaking down the stigma attached to this condition. So far she has given away well over 15,000 free drawings. She now travels across the globe, speaking about what she does, and how the act of creating her art has become detrimental to her recovery.

On her bus-route to Coventry, Liz gave away dozens of her “Compulsive Charcoal” drawings, then when she arrived at The Herbert, she performed a live “Pouring Mountains” artwork – a drawing, painting installation which she now produces as a daily cathartic ritual, to ease her of her compulsion to pick at her skin. And what a beautiful piece of art this was – created in just 10 minutes, yet for Liz, she was so engrossed in the activity of creating this piece of art that it felt like she had been there for hours working on it.

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Following this performance, Sarah Chaney then delivered a really interesting talk on the history of self-harm in psychiatry. It was a real eye-opener to see how not even that long ago, so many mental health problems were simply brushed off as ‘hysteria”.

Liz was up next, discussing her creative practice, and went into more detail about how her art helped draw her out of a really difficult place, and has become the most vital role in her recovery. This was an incredibly powerful and moving talk. We had so much respect for Liz for openly expressing how it feels to be a sufferer of dermatillomania, and the journey that she has been on, and her road to recovery.

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After this we got to attend a private viewing on an exclusive collection of miniature flint sculptures, created by the artist Gwyneth Rowlands, on loan from the Bethlem Gallery. This fascinating collection was created during Gwyneth’s 50-year stay at the Netheren Hospital (a long-stay psychiatric hospital in Surrey). where she began to paint onto flint collected from local fields. The multifaceted nature of the stone became her canvas, in which she created intriguing faces and scenes of figures. The longer you look at each piece, the more you see – so interesting to view. This was an incredibly profound and thought-provoking evening.

The next event we attended was the opening night of the End//Begin – Dialogue exhibition, which presented the work of British contemporary artists Bobby Baker, Terence Wilde and Claire Margaret. This wonderfully curated exhibition took place at the City Arcadia Gallery, and exhibited a selection of the artists’ work, which again formed part of their recovery of mental illness. The exhibition also explored psychiatry as a discipline in itself.

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Bobby Baker’s work was a diary of her journey as a patient at a day centre, and portrayed her experiences of day hospitals, psychiatric wards, a number of drugs and treatment, and ‘crisis’ teams. Although harrowing, she delivers this with a certain tongue-in cheek humour documenting the highs and lows of her journey.

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Claire Margaret’s practice revolves around her own diagnosis of schizophrenia and how upon exploring the illness itself, through her artwork, she began to find a focus, which enabled her to help overcome it. She fearlessly accepted the condition for what it was, extensively researching it, and began to create drawings, which she used to help her communicate.

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Terrance Wilde again uses his art as a therapeutic practice “I draw as part of an on-going cathartic journey. Creativity sets me free from anxiety, trauma and obsession.” His work is a response to his current situation, and a beautiful collection of surreal black and white drawings gave you a snapshot into this liberating process he goes through as an artist. He currently works within the Occupational therapy department of The Royal Bethlem Hospital.

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The final event we attended was the private viewing of the UK’s first ever FilmZine – something to go down in history! “30seconds3minutes30filmDIAOLOGUE’. It featured submissions from across the world, as well as local talent, speaking of the art of ‘Dialogue’ and celebrating the vanguard. What an impressive showcase this was! A huge range of cutting-edge, innovative and often unconventional themes creatively explored, and cleverly directed by Baileyface Productions. We’re hoping an online version of this will become available to view, and would thoroughly recommend checking it out.

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There were so many other festival events which sadly we didn’t get the chance to attend, including; A collaboration with Room Art – “Incidental” – comprising of a live curation of music, art installation, video, theatre and dance resulting in an immersive experience across the arts. We were also gutted to miss artist Wolfgang Buttress’ ensemble BE which took place at Coventry Cathedral. This performance was a unique soundscape that featured the live-streamed sound of 50,000 bees from a hive within the Cathedral grounds, alongside a choir developed specifically for the evening. Those who I spoke to who did attend described it as “hypnotic”, “mesmerising” and “out of this world”. A real meditative performance that tapped into another level of consciousness. Also nationally renowned performance poet, John Hegley performed live at Fargo Village on 10th Oct for World Mental Health Day.

It was a delight to have something such as well-rounded, thought-provoking event happening in the city, so sensitively executed yet with such a celebratory nature. A quarter of the UK population are believed to experience mental health problems, so for many of us, the issues explored in this festival were very close to home. Yet this festival broke down the stigma of so many issues facing people today, and beautifully demonstrated the power of creativity on a journey of self-discovery, wellbeing and recovery. Well done to all who were involved in putting on such a vast, refreshing event, which will leave us talking for weeks to come. You’ve set the bar now! We can’t wait to see what the 2018 Scratch the Surface Festival will have in store.