Sunday, 22 February 2009

12 random things about my art

Pinhole photograph using Kodak Box Brownie camera, image copyright Margaret Sharrow, 2009

I wrote this article early in 2009 while still at the Aberystwyth School of Art, and in the last days of defining myself as two separate categories of artist, a photographer and a painter. I think of myself as an artist very differently now - and I haven't used Box Brownies in a while, though I probably will at some point in the future. 

1. I received my first 35mm camera as a gift from my father on my 12th birthday. It was a Pentax K-1000. I still use it, though not with the original 50mm lens.

2. I have a small collection of vintage cameras, including Kodak Box Brownies, that I use for my current work.

3. I first painted in oils around the age of 6. My father had an oil painting kit that he had obviously given up on. For my first efforts I used them like water colours.

4. My first gallery visits were at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, also around the age of 6. At that age, my favourite works were in the Pop Art room, particularly Lucas Samaras' Mirrored Room.

5. The best life drawing teacher I have ever had is Roy Marsden, FRSA. I have been attending his classes off and on for years.

6. I don't prefer photography to painting, or vice versa, although painting takes more energy. Also, I often realise retrospectively that what at first appeared to be photographic work was, in essence, actually painting (whether a negative was involved or not). This is because I work a lot with alternative processes, where light-sensitive chemicals are painted (by me) onto paper, often along with acrylic paints, oil pastels, etc.

7. The first art work I ever sold was a drawing of a neighbour's house, in charcoal. I think I was about fourteen at the time. I think she paid me ten dollars. Her name was Pearl.

8. My first solo exhibition was at Café Print, Lampeter, from October 2008 - Februrary 2009.

9. The nicest place I have ever painted is on the dunes at Ynyslas, near Aberystwyth.

10. The most unusual thing I have ever photographed is something that looks like a cross between a totem pole and a screw, which is actually part of the drive shaft of a passenger ferry, in Qaqortoq, Greenland.

11. I got into making videos because the creative writing class was already full and the same man was also offering a course in film and video production. It was like I'd always been meant to be making videos.

12. When I was seventeen I was on a photography course in high school and we had been assigned the theme 'garbage'. Hearing that I wanted to shoot 'something gritty', my father drove me to Niagara Falls, New York, not the falls but some of the chemical plants, where I photographed a series of dark drums visible through the chain fence enclosing the visitor's car park. Suddenly I spotted a man with a payloader who proceeded to block our car against the fence between two parked cars and said we couldn't take photos. I sat in the car while my father argued constitutional law and free speech with the man, which I realised was futile as he was wearing a trucker's cap that said 'Eat My S**t' (the man, not my father). Suddenly two police cars appeared and we were escorted to the onsite office. It was at this point that I discovered that police cars do not have handles on the inside rear doors. The onsite manager did not believe that I was a student, not a photojournalist accompanied by a reporter. I was wearing a black tweed wool coat with a black fedora and could not remember my photography teacher's husband's name to look up her phone number, as being a married woman she had no phone listing of her own. They rang my school, but it being Saturday, nobody was there. My school principal was a nun and I had no idea where she lived. Finally the weary police officer suggested that if I left the film with the company as requested, I could collect it next week once my identity was proved. As I handed over the film I realised I would never see it again, which indeed proved to be the case. On Monday my school principal and photography teacher were both outraged at the treatment they received from the company over the phone. I guess everyone was a little jumpy in Niagara Falls, after Love Canal. At the end of term I received a special photography award for courage. It didn't feel like it at the time. As we finally drove away, my father said he was really sorry about me losing the film. I pulled open the ashtray. There was the film, which during the constitutional rights argument I had with shaking fingers swapped for a fresh one.

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