Unformed but Forming

Alex Jacob Whitworth image of hills, made using pastels, with blues, whites and red tinges

Commissioned artist Alex Jacob Whitworth shares her process as she develops her artwork

… fragments of some conversations, burning images of our planet, and the pleasure of moving through the landscape whilst trying to carve a new way of living through the mist of COVID-19 … This was the background to thinking about how I might respond to the Artful Ways project.

The past 18 months had challenged my thinking and practice – I was one of those practitioners who couldn’t do anything at all, in that stretch of stopped time. I had a project to be going on with – “JourneyWoman”,  but nothing was stirring, no ideas, no desire, no painting.

I was not going to enter for the larger commission, but poetry sessions that I’d started back in August were taking an interesting turn. Often the poems come at night, or were realised from a quick glancing moment, something glimpsed, as I passed by.

Unconsciously, the recent poems seemed to be about creativity and connection, about place and humanity’s impact on the planet. Waking one morning, an idea came to me about trying to “make” one of the poems – how could what had been written, become visual? The next step was recognising that this was in fact, the essence of what the Artful Ways project was about, and spurred me on to make the submission.

It’s a real luxury to be able to have the opportunity to realise the ideas and to develop them further. I’ve been reading people’s answers to the three project questions, and reading what they’ve written about their walks, and looking for connections and commonalities, looking for ideas that strike a chord and for ideas that make me look afresh. 

I’m wanting to respond using visual connections, text-based thoughts, to consider the weight of words and have some fun with metaphor. There have been some interesting conversations with other creatives – What holds back Creativity? What “allows” it to flourish? What’s the impact of art?

The question of “voice” has become important (I spent most of Lockdown studying for a singing exam, discovering poetry – and no painting at all – feeling my visual voice was completely shut off) … whose voices are heard … being heard … raising our voices … what kind of voice might we use?

Questions raised further questions, as is the way. How have some values about creativity and imagination been cemented by experiences of the pandemic? Why did people take to the project with gusto? What is ‘Culture’ and why is it often capitalised? Where do our ideas come from? How does walking through places change how we think? How can we “creatives” help engender the change our planet so sorely needs?

It seems important to make sure there is some form of authenticity to the recording of responses, to ensure that people’s careful and considered answers are presented without doubling up on the map and its submissions. It also seems important for people’s voices to be “heard”, without cherry-picking, to find those discrete gems and to weave them into the narrative.

The piece(s) I make will be in the form of a sculptural and visual narrative – incorporating fragments of an imaginary place or person whilst containing hints and moments from people’s submissions; my responses to the project and the questions will form the framework.

Thinking has taken up the majority of the early weeks, reading, and wandering around junk shops looking for items that “speak”, whilst sketching and having conversations. Dialogue with others is intrinsic to my work, and more widely, I think, to the act of creativity – and I have missed it. Being able to have the courage of my convictions has been a luxury this commission has afforded and I’m enjoying getting my teeth into it.

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