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Split into two Artists

22 Feb

Narure Girl Nature Girl Watercolour and Ink on Paper 20″ x 16″   I feel I am split into two parts. I never used to split my artistic endeavours up like I do now and maybe it’s an unhelpful way of doing things. Maybe I need to unite both parts of myself and be at peace with what that means. I’ve always had the desire to just make stuff and be an artist but I’m not sure if I always put the two together until later, when I realised I could call it all art, or at least creating. I made paintings, songs, clothes, poems, rugs, buildings, gardens, children, food, furniture, rooms and furnishings, like many people do though some people would think it was stretching it a bit to call some of that art.  But all the time this question of what it means to be an artist is rattling around in my head. I do think it’s all art and its all life, but I am very attached to this idea of being an artist and I want to be a serious artist and somewhere along the line I must have decided that landscapes and the like, safe art, doesn’t constitute serious art which needs to challenge, shock or question. I am reading Grayson Perry’s “Playing the Gallery” at the moment, which talks about all this stuff better than me. I recommend it. In fact I have only recently decided, that paintings are not just a luxury item for privileged peoples walls and that all art is not just a middle class waste of time and that practical self sufficiency in the face of peak oil and climate chaos is the only sensible way to save us. I sometimes still do think the latter, but I was getting bitter and lonely feeling I was one of a few who felt like this and I do actually believe art has a place and a purpose in today’s society, maybe more so than ever…but this is all another story. I’ve always wanted to draw and paint the stuff I see around me and sometimes that’s fields and trees, plants and hills and sometimes it’s my body or my face in a mirror or other people around me. Sometimes I try to paint concepts, ideas or feelings. Well of course that’s all been done before, what hasn’t? But the latter, which tends to be figurative in content (or songs or poetry) seems to be the stuff, which has, to me, become the serious art. I’m probably stuck in some past art period and actually the earth and the beauty of nature is just as important to me, always has been, as the concept of me, the human body/condition and all the inner concerns I try to express and its all connected up. Why do I try to keep them all so separate? One of the obvious answers is that landscapes seem to sell and anything out with the beautiful and safe category doesn’t. Figures sometimes do but rarely mine (though that might be changing and of course there is always the issue of finding the right market, which I’ve never really tried to do). So now I’m Rachel Ashton the painter of bright contemporary landscapes and I’m Rachel Bride Ashton the producer of darker materials of various sorts. The light and the dark, the yin and the yang, the two sides to everything. Therefore I should be whole and accept my two sides, as part of the whole that is me, maybe, shouldn’t I? There are of course two art worlds too; the light, what I call the Commercial Art World (though they are both commercial I suppose) – beautiful things for beautifying our houses and bringing joy and pleasure into our lives (not to mention making investments for the future).  The world I have, mostly, been part of and the one which I can (for the most part) make a little money in. Then there is the other Serious or Contemporary Art World, which is maybe, not dark as such, but is more mysterious and elusive and difficult to describe. Grayson Perry calls it the “artworld mafia” and it certainly seems to be hard to enter (especially if you haven’t been to art college, as I haven’t).  I have made a couple of tentative, so far unsuccessful, forays into it – applications for an artist in residency programme and a bursary.  Funding seems to be what it’s all about. There may be a point at which both art worlds merge but I’m unclear on that. I’m much more interested in the ideas discussed in this Serious Art World than the “stick to what sells” Commercial Art World. Trying to come up with concepts that are original, is near impossible and maybe I don’t want to, every ones creative expression is unique in a small way.  Sometimes I think I don’t want to jump through any hoops to get funding and recognition and other times I feel desperate for recognition of my more serious artist side.  My Commercial Art endeavours; painting landscapes, producing prints and cards and marketing, provide the funds but it also takes up all my creative time and energy and I have so much more want to say and do now! There is also the confusion over whether portraits are, in my mind, serious art or not? I seem to have the kind of brain that’s always trying to categorise and label things, or is that just the effects of capitalism? Portraits can look very serious and sometimes it seems they are saying very interesting things, but are they any more serious than a painting of a bleak valley, or a derelict cottage being reabsorbed by nature or a song about the sub-conscious or a painting of a vagina or a woman bleeding into the soil, painted in menstrual blood? All things I have done and feel driven to do. Maybe I’d have got all of this out of my system by now if I hadn’t spent the last 18 years having my children and home-educating them in a rural backwater while trying to grow my own vegetables and living off grid and still trying to be an artist at the same time. If I had lived in an inner city hub, constantly exposed to the latest cutting edge art and mixing with the latest cutting edge artists then maybe I would be savvier. All my experiences, are now on my CV as artistic endeavours and I think I needed to get all those things out of my system first, really. I am glad though, that I have done what I have done and now that I’m ready to notice and be involved in the Serious Art World, from my rural backwater, which, I have only recently noticed is 9 miles from Deveron Arts headquarters and 15 miles from the Scottish Sculpture Workshop both hubs of cutting edge arts activity, so not that much of a backwater maybe really. So I think I have convinced myself to keep my two artist personnas separate for now.  Anyway it might be too late for me and as Grayson Perry says, maybe the art world as we know it will become absorbed by technology and the internet and the chance to be the kind of artist I want to be will have vanished. He also says it’s almost impossible to get into the “Art World Mafia” if you haven’t been to art school.  But I’ll cling to the word “almost” and keep trying anyway as one half of myself or maybe as my whole self.


The Red Emptying

10 Dec

The Red Emptying
The Red Emptying
Watercolors, ink and menstrual blood on paper
2′ x 1′ approx

24th November 2014
I stand, sit or squat and ooze the scarlet walls of my womb.

Iron rich, pungent smelling, I seep messily into paper, cotton plugs, pads or water.

Into whatever material or receptacle we are supposed to, discretely and hygienically excrete our female unpleasantness and pretend we’re not.

But by whatever circuitous route our excretions are transported from our bodies and weave their way smeared or diluted through the foul and misguided systems we call sanitary, they will at last, we suppose, in tiny molecules re-enter the earth.

That’s where we came from and that’s where we return.

We eat the fruit and creatures of the earth as we always have, however much we may have tampered with them.  Packaged them up in layers of plastic and placed them in buildings far from the soil, muck excrement, fur, shell and blood that once coated them.

We scrub, shave, pluck, manicure, bleach, cut up, reshape, flush out, spray, coat and bind our bodies, trying to pretend we are above all that animal excretion.  But for all that and even with the many layers we have put between us and the dirt, we still do as all the creatures of the earth do and pass that stuff right back through our bodies, as powerful smelling food for the soil.

Currently, the accepted method of dealing with what we call our “waste” is to flush it away in vast amounts of water.

There are too many of us and we all live on top of each other and we don’t like to see it or think about it or smell it.

But with this system, it is very difficult for our nutrient rich excretions to re-enter the earth in ways which are useful.

Instead we mix this good stuff with damaging chemicals.  They pollute.  Fertilizer in the wrong place.

But here I stand and my menstrual blood pours down into the soil and the thirsty roots drink it up.

Making The Red Beast

Making the Red Beast
Ink and menstrual blood on paper
2′ x 1′ approx

Now dabbling in my elemental fluids I trace a tendril like creature, an almost life, now scarlet, shiny, life-like but will fade and dry to brown, dead, shed, unneeded protection for an unmade life.


on a practical note, here is one link to a method of waste management that allows bodily substances to fertilize in places where they do good.

I have a Separation Compost Toilet (as they are also called).  The pee/blood goes on the compost heap or straight on the garden and the shit goes into wheelie bins, with dry soil or ash as the flush, it remains in these bins for a few months and is then emptied into purpose-built bays, where it’s left for 3 years or so, at this stage it looks and smells just like soil, it is then spread on Comfrey beds and the Comfrey can then be used as a garden fertiliser.  After seven years the soil can safely be moved anywhere.  This is an extra safe way of doing things and there other ways of dealing with it.  Further research can be done for anyone interested.  I live in a rural area.  How these methods could be used in a built up environment has not yet been worked out I think.

Self Portrait Thoughts

28 Nov


Acrylic and Oil on Plyboard
4′ x 2′

I am within a screen, looking out at myself looking in on myself.
In my ignorance I was shocked to discover the tablet I recently bought only had a one-way camera, meaning I can only photograph myself, easily. The whole “selfie” concept is in part what inspired this painting, though artists have been capturing themselves in this same way for centuries I feel unhealthily attached to my tablet since I bought it as a work tool and I think my portrait is an expression of that, of the way we are in a sense imprisoned by the technology we crave and create. I held it above my head to photograph myself then I painted the painting looking at myself on the screen for reference. Computer screens are difficult to see in sunlight, so we hide ourselves away in shaded rooms, our skin becoming pale and colourless. Maybe that’s why my skin is grey, ashen with the deprivation of the elements and the worry about the radiation and lit by the screen’s artificial light. My clothes however are acid and toxic in their chemical brightness. I wanted a clean private studio away from the detritus of children and animals, plants and mud, excrement and ash, the stuff of living. I have it now, and here I am sealed away in the sterile sealed vacuum of it, very much raised up above the primordial slime, engaged in the very modern act of self examination and introspection. But my thoughts always seem to stray back to the damage we as a people do to the earth and how we justify it in the name of art among other things. I am no exception. Every second we produce another gadget charged with the spurious task of improving our lives, but it may just be upping the chances of us getting cancer tenfold. Many people believe the continual manufacture of better and better machines will solve all the world’s problems, this I seriously doubt, but there is no stopping any of it. I am however torn between their siren-like, addictive wonders and the consequences, from the mining of the last of the rare earth metals to the children dying from inhaling toxic fumes as they melt the computers down for their valuable parts to the possibly irreversible poisoning of our environment. I am alive but maybe when I am attached to this dead thing I am only half alive, yet I can’t put it down. These were the thoughts going through my head as I painted myself and gazed down at the little black flat thing that contained me, trapped, flattened, looking up at myself through the glass screen.

I won a place in the first round of Sky Arts ‘Portrait Artist of the Year Competition 2014’ with this painting and travelled to Edinburgh in July where the filming took place at the Museum of Scotland. Painting under pressure of time, in the presence of cameras and under the gaze of the general public. Many of the artists, including myself had to retrain for the competition, because of the time constraints and spent the months before filming painting as many portraits as possible. I was one of seventy two competitors from around the country, selected from over 1500 entries, who competed against 11 others in the regional heat at Edinburgh where I had four hours to paint a celebrity, whose identity was only revealed on the day. Five other heats in various locations around the country narrowed the field down to six in the second round and three for the final which took place in London. The winner received a prestigious commission to paint a highly prominent public figure to hang permanently in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and £10000.

The whole experience was pretty adrenaline fuelled. I had a panicky moment in the middle where I almost lost it but pulled it together enough to get the painting under control and finished. I got to quite enjoy the performance aspect of painting with an audience and found it changed my technique slightly, I took risks I might not have taken in private, like pouring ink on to the canvas at quite an advanced stage, because it was more visually exciting.

The series “Portrait Artist of the Year 2014” started on Sky Arts on November 4th. The programme including me aired on the 18th November on Sky Arts 1.

daniella portrait

This is the portrait of actress Daniela Nardini that I painted in the 4 hours on the day.

It is around 16″ x 20″ and is Acrylic and Oil on linen.

From the Dark

8 Nov


From the Dark
Oil on Plyboard, 4′ x 2′

This is a song based on a dream which led to the painting between 2013 and 2014.

From the Dark

The playground of my childhood becomes a warzone
Familiar walks cemented into frightening arcs and loops
And there is darkness and the gathering
And then its gone in a deluge of murderess rain
And there’s the baby girl, the doll, the twin, the unloved one
and she falls, into my care.

I smashed her head with a porcelain plate
Chipped away till there was no more
No one must know, i have to cover up my tracks
But I’ll be tracked down
I’ll be found out
They’re coming as we speak
I’m going round in circles, staring at the spot
How can I get away when my body turns me in?

Sometimes he comes with an iron bar and means to knock me down
Sometimes he comes with a baseball bat
And he is senseless and relentless and almighty strong
Oh he is strong but so am I
Something’s trying to break through
And I’m not sure I want it to
I needed you, did you hear me?
I needed you, did you hear me?
I needed you, did you hear me?
I’m not ready to be needed.

I kept her in the fridge so long,
But she’s enchanted by,
Enchanted by the world which I show her.
And guilty, I’m so guilty,
I could easily misplace her, lose her, forget her
I needed you did you hear me?
Oh I needed you did you hear me?
I needed you did you hear me?
I’m not ready to be needed.


5 Nov


September 2014

The torturess state of desire often felt during ovulation seems to something not much talked about among women. Maybe because of hormonal methods of birth control interfering with natural hormones, many women don’t feel as I often do. The wild, reckless, violent all consuming power of it. I had it down merely as the drive to procreate but only recently have I realised that it can also be an incredible well of creative energy if it can be channelled that way. Sometimes the fantasies and urges become overwhelming, distracting and putting my body into a trembling skittish state which becomes all consuming and really I feel that nothing else but some sort of physical sexual release will do. I didn’t actually paint this picture during this phase but in the immediate aftermath, when my body had entered premenstrual territory. In the painting, however, I was trying to express that wild, thirsty, insatiable state.

I seem to be going through some sort of awakening. You could call it creative, sexual or spiritual. Some sort of detaching from the child I have been, maybe, all this time, because my children are becoming adults and I was in many ways still a child when I had them. I have been subsumed all this time in mothering my offspring and i have been partially submerged, awake but in another dimension. Throughout the last 17 years I have periodically partially surfaced releasing little creative explosions. But now, for the first time in my adult life, a bigger part of me is emerging out of mothering long enough to feel I am at the brink of something else. Something big and new, as big and new as mothering first was in it’s time.

I am entering new territory.

The painting was bought by a woman and it seemed to me that her reasons for buying it and what she said about the flux in her life has somehow merged with my own reasons for painting it and what the painting is about. Maybe the parallels in our lives regarding daughters becoming adults is why the painting spoke to her. Interesting how paintings can take on a life of their own that way.