Fearless John

Fearless John – the story behind a watercolour painting.

I was walking through a shopping centre in Ashford one day in the summer between terms at art school when something caught my eye.

There was something strange about the young man working at the mobile phone kiosk – I’d already walked by when my brain finally worked out that it was the handlebar moustache he sported.

 

Fearless John, watercolour painting by Lee Devonish, 2011 | handlebar moustache painting
Fearless John. Watercolour on paper, 2011.

 

A handlebar moustache painting was already on my mind…

I’d never seen anyone so young wearing a moustache like that, so carefully curled. It stood out to me because I’d been thinking about male facial hair a lot at the time, as part of a project on gender signifiers. (At the time, I was pretty oblivious to trends. I didn’t have a tv and I had no interest in fashion: both still true. I didn’t realise that soon, handlebar moustaches would be on everyone, even as jewellery and clothing prints on those who couldn’t grow them.)

After I got home, I started to regret not asking the stranger if I could paint his portrait.

 

It’s more than a bit strange, sure, but I decided to ask the next time I saw him, if there was ever a next time.

 

Of course, I did see him the very next time I went into town, but this time I was armed with my camera and business card to prove I wasn’t just a nutter. He was actually quite happy to be painted, which was a relief in that situation! I took my picture and scurried away as fast as I could.

 

 

Discovering my mystery model’s identity

After the term had started, one of my classmates saw my painting and recognised my subject as one of her friends and told me his name – John. I’d actually aged him up a bit. I now had a name (and a title) for my painting.

Still, he was very pleased with the result when I carried the painting down to the shopping centre to show him. That’s the last I saw of John.

 

The story behind this painting: Fearless John | watercolour handlebar moustache painting | portrait of a man

This artwork is available as a postcard here.

 


Exhibitions – Preston Comic Con

Can comic cons function as art exhibitions?

I’ll admit, a Comic Con really wasn’t on my list, but my it was at the top of my husband’s, so off we went.

 

There are often interesting original artists and writers at these shows (well, at both of the two Comic Cons I’ve been to in my life) so I was prepared to seek them out in the midst of the standard superhero fare.

 

Having said that, this event made me think about the popularity of fantasy and how adults dressing up as superheroes ties in to the concepts of performativity and masquerade… as well as examining the all-powerful effect of the film industry on individual indentities.

 

Cosplay turns to social commentary: Trumpool
Cosplay turns to social commentary.

 

Ultimately, you need to just go with the superhero flow and enjoy the costumes.

 

The graphic novel dream

I did get to buy a copy of Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes, which Mary and Bryan Talbot signed for me – yes, I did bend Mary Talbot’s ears somewhat about graphic novels as academic writing but I’m sure she may have recovered by now.

I’ve been interested in their work since coming across it whilst researching The Thought That Counts, and whilst it never managed to make it as a graphic novel due to time constraints, I still had a wee dream of writing my own academic graphic novel.

 

Dotter of her Father's Eyes, signed by Mary M Talbot and Bryan Talbot
Dotter of her Father’s Eyes, signed by Mary M Talbot and Bryan Talbot.

 

After picking up a copy of issue 1 of 3 Parts Mad, I realised that the dream was very much still alive… I also knew that I’d chosen the wrong essay for the treatment. There was another essay, shelved, which would be perfect for it.

Still, this will take a bit of time. Until then, I’ll keep an eye out for more good drawing/writing and start the storyboarding process in between my other projects.

Any heavy, heady art theories on cosplay? Do share!

Exhibitions - Preston Comic Con

Expat Or Immigrant

Expat or immigrant?

Both are the same, of course, and I am both at once… but which word do you choose, and for whom? Your dominant affiliation will answer – how you see yourself and your authority in the world, and the authority of your country of origin vs the country you go to.

However, the history of the words and their applications carries much more than a personal choice.

 

Racism embedded in language

Many people think, with good reason, that the term “expat” has become synonymous with white migrant workers, whilst “immigrant” has been reserved for people of colour who go overseas to work. There’s more at work than just race. There’s nationalism and wealth to consider when we think of expat or immigrant.

 

 

 

Expat or immigrant - art about migration and how we describe immigrants. Expat 1. Watercolour on paper by Lee Devonish, 2016
Expat 1. Watercolour on paper, 2016.

 

Hierarchies of words

The words don’t need to carry these meanings, but they’re reinforced by the way we repeatedly address the hierarchical relationships between rich and poor, coloniser and colonised, expat and immigrant.

 

What feels even more strange is the way that we migrants – immigrants or emigrants – refer to ourselves. As a Bajan abroad, I’ve always thought of myself as an immigrant. I learned to frame my self in relation to my new country, not my old one, even though I carried my old culture around with me and only ever saw my travels as a temporary measure at the start.

 

It’s the weight of culture that tells us that we are immigrants when we go to a bigger, richer country. Perhaps it’s time to start defining ourselves as emigrants or expats in our choice of language and letting that seep into our identities.

 

 

 

 

Expat vs immigrant. A work of art about the difference between words. Expat 2 - watercolour on paper by Lee Devonish, 2016.
Expat 2. Watercolour on paper, 2016.

Using art to talk about the expat vs immigrant relationship

Instead of using words to fight words, I’ve used another language to discuss this hierarchical relationship.

Fitting the medium to the message of immigration

Instead of treating these paintings with reverence, I’ve purposed them to be disseminated widely. They will only be available through print-on-demand platforms, and their imagery will be placed on somewhat incongruous surfaces for mass consumption.

 

Visit my dissemination experiment here: Expat 1 / Expat 2

 

Expat vs Immigrant Canvas Art
Canvas print available on Zippi
Expat or immigrant - who gets to decide which word to use? Both are the same, and I am both at once, but which do you choose to describe a migrant, and why?

Concept/Word/Image

Concept/Word/Image:

A few years ago, I wrote an essay entitled “The Thought That Counts”, on hierarchical dualisms within academic and non-academic modes of thought.

In it, I tried to address all manner of subjects including conceptualism, craft, feminism and graphic novels, linking these through similarities within oppositional pairings.

The sprawling project did earn me my Master’s degree but also helped me to address my own practice, in the way in which I became interested in binding thought, language and writing with the image.

Mixing it all together

Personally, I’ve come to re-think my previous work on the gendered gaze, or the male as recipient of the gendered gaze, and try to combine visual and textual elements to be read as equal signifiers… or ignored, at the viewer’s pleasure.

The visual representation of thought is a concrete device of the graphic novel that I want to transport to the realm of the single-frame ‘fine’ art piece.

 

Sketchbook doodle by Lee Devonish, 2015

Why watercolour?

I’ve chosen watercolour for this kind of work precisely for its unfashionable status and attachment to now-repugnant understandings of art and middle-class respectability. (Think twee cottages and greetings cards.) There’s also the matter of its legibility – it’s familiar and understandable, and downright gorgeous at times.

What’s next?

I don’t know.

As my work continues I hope for it to provoke some internal discussion over the remaining hierarchical structures surrounding concept, word and image – will it actually succeed? .


Burnout

Burnout.

Give me something I love, and I’ll find a way to make myself hate it.

I don’t mean people or even objects; I mean things I do. Let me get a whiff of being good at something, and I’ll want to be the best – or at least the best I can be.

The cycle.

The harder I work at getting better, the better I get, then the harder I work, and then… do I get even better? Actually, after a few cycles, that’s when I stop entirely, because I’ve burned myself out.

Then the separate cycle of despair over not being as good as I could be starts, and it takes me a while to work up enough momentum to fling myself out of that orbit into being obsessed with being good at something again.

There’s not a lot of time left for enjoying yourself in this pattern, is there?

I loved art before, when I was younger and the purpose of art was to make art, to be part of it and not just to see it. After I dropped out of art school at 20 to have an unsuccessful stab at happy housewifery, I felt as though I’d betrayed my real self, and that was the start of the trouble with art.

I couldn’t blame anyone but myself, because I’d stopped myself from getting better. I did try to push through on my own, but nothing connected until I enrolled in art school again, at 31.

This time, I was going to squeeze eleven years’ worth of practice into two years of education, and I was going to come out of the other side with my old life back.

 

Burnout

 

Reality.

Of course, that couldn’t happen. Private views, residencies, commissions – these are easy when you’re fresh out of college and don’t have to fit in the school run.

I tried to take on as much as I could, because the sky would fall down on my head if I didn’t hit the ground running. After all, getting a job with the word ‘art’ in the title would prove that I was worth something, right?

Suddenly, the happiness of finally getting that BA in Fine Art (with a lovely 1st class to add to the CV) bled into dread of not being able to get a job, and of having to face the dreaded JobCentre and the supercilious agents of employment scorn therein. Then, the happiness of finding a job! Of being asked to start a band! Of getting onto an MA course! Of moving to London!

 

Overwhelm strikes…

Such a lot of happiness all at once… of course, I had to keep my job, practise with the band in Kent, study for the MA and raise my son as a single parent and be the best I could be at all of them at the same time. But, the thing was, I missed making.

The MA was challenging and interesting, but the studios at Goldsmiths looked so much more appealing than the library. I started to wonder if I was the only one who thought that the theory wasn’t half as important as the art itself. I thought I was.

It was starting to look like a very expensive mistake, as if it was all for the sake of some more letters after my name to prove I was worth something.

The job was good, but was physically very tiring sometimes. It would only be there for another few months, and then I’d have to find another one – panic. The singing was incredible fun and the band had my name on it, which was all a dream come true, but it took me an hour and a half to drive to rehearsals each Saturday and then an hour and a half back home, and the same for gigs.

It took four months for me to crack, but I did crack. I got so physically run down that I became depressed. I had the flu for about a month,  lost my voice and barely recovered in time for our first gig.

 

Change

A few months later (this is the short version), I had the answer handed to me by my deus ex machina in the form of my future husband, who picked me up and dropped me in Lancashire and made me get on with life away from the things I loved that weren’t loving me back enough.

Three years on, the sky didn’t fall down because I’ve only had a few exhibitions. My son loves me as much now as he did when I didn’t have two degrees. I have a job with ‘art’ in the title and I can still find something to complain about. No-one who loves me cares that I’ve never been an artist in residence anywhere and I stopped caring as well.

What am I doing now? Two websites for two separate businesses, a half-started novel, a part-time job, and a full-time family. Sounds like I haven’t learned, right? Only this time, everything else has to come after what’s best for me and my family. If you’re panicking about what comes next in your art career, don’t. Seriously, don’t.

I’m happier now that I’ve stopped panicking and started living.

You can make something happen by simply making your own work for your own gratification and making your own opportunities. Panicking won’t help. It certainly won’t help you to enjoy your life.

Make your (art)work fit your life, and you’ll realise there’s nothing to prove – you’re already worth something.

 

 

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Do you get stuck in a cycle of creating overwhelm in your life? Here's my story of facing burnout and getting past it.

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