Artist’s Statement, January 2011

My practice consists of sculptures and installations. A recurring theme is an attention to detail in the everyday object, action or experience.
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Q&A: Stuart Mayes, Måg, issue three, 2011

You work with objects, often objects that have or have had a meaning in your or someone else’s life. What is your fascination with objects and their meaning?
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Artists Talking: Stuart Mayes, a-n, January 2011

Can we begin by talking about your decision to relocate and what the relationship might be between that and your practice?
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Schmatte Couture, online Art Rabbit review, September 2008

Schmatte Couture – a title of contradictions. ‘Schmatte’ is the Yiddish for ‘rag’, overly-worn, worthless, ‘couture’ is high fashion – aspirational, expensive and ideal.
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Love on the Rails, Jaerbladet, 29 August 2008

A chance meeting, forbidden love and lots of romance – how it is when trains meet at Brusand station.
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Forensic, a-n online review, March 2008

Dank is a sensation that steals into your nose. A starker backdrop than the glare of the whitest walls, it has the potential to drain artworks’ precious command on your attention. But it has an allure.
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Pilot 3, 2007

Stuart Mayes’ body of sculptural works has grown out of his long-term performance-art practice.
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Favourite Shirts, Attitude Magazine, September 2006

London-based conceptual artist Stuart Mayes makes good use of the stuff most of us take for granted.
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The performers looked frozen. So did the penguins … Dance review, The Observer Review, 25 March 2001

The days have long gone when a lecture by a newly-returned explorer was the most exciting events in London.
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Artist’s Statement, January 2011

My practice consists of sculptures and installations. A recurring theme is an attention to detail in the everyday object, action or experience. I usually work on series of sculptures and installations concurrently.

The works' raw materials are a mix of new and secondhand objects. These objects might be found in flea markets and charity shops, or simply bought in stores and on-line. I am drawn to anonymous objects, that is, objects without a known history. This kind of object not only stands for itself, it also stands for similar objects elsewhere. It is intended that these familiar anonymous objects encourage the viewer to reflect on their own experience of similar things.

Recent sculptural work features domestic crockery and baking tins. Previous pieces featured men’s shirts and handkerchiefs. Collections of objects are selected for their particular social and cultural significance as well as their visual appeal, for example it is important that the secondhand-shirts are business shirts. The materials are treated with processes that are more often associated with domestic craft than fine art.

The installations take familiar objects and shift how, or where, they function. Often simple technology or the participation/activation of the viewer is part of the work. The pieces combine personal research with responses to the particular location. The architecture and history of the site plays a significant role in developing the work. Some installations have a live element where the on-site production is part of the piece. Other pieces are designed to change or evolve over the period of installation, for example outdoor chalk drawings. Installations have been made for a decommissioned train station, a garden shed, a gallery window, and a former factory and warehouse.

My work addresses how mass produced mundane objects acquire personal significance. This might be through applying a labour intensive process such as patchwork and hand polishing, or alternatively through conceptual associations. The work is often made from materials with one or two colours from a palette of white, black, shades of blue and grey, silver and gold. I write detailed descriptions of the materials in each piece as this information forms part of the work. The titles indicate some of my intentions and I enjoy a vocabulary that can be read as both bawdy and academic.

Stuart Mayes

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Q&A: Stuart Mayes, Måg, issue three, 2011

You work with objects, often objects that have or have had a meaning in your or someone else’s life. What is your fascination with objects and their meaning?

For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated with the material world. I am intrigued by our relationship to objects, both the rare and sacred, and the commonplace and overlooked. I have a particular interest in everyday objects, things that get handled and used without much thought. This kind of object makes up a great deal of our material world. The familiarity of the objects I work with enables them to stand for similar objects elsewhere. I try to select objects that will have some resonance with other people. One object can mean different things to different people, so even when I choose generic objects I am aware that they might evoke a range of associations. The treatments I apply to these objects are often labour intensive and time-consuming, this gives me the opportunity to develop and refine my relationship with them. Learning about specific objects is an on-going process and extents beyond the studio. In addition to academic research it is always fascinating to hear the stories people tell when they see familiar objects in a new light. Discussion is an important aspect of the work and one of the reasons that I like to talk about the work in an exhibition. These discussions contribute to my understanding of how objects function. I am attracted to mutability of objects and their meanings as well as their persistence and resilience. Whatever I do to an object is an addition to what has gone before; cutting up a second-hand shirt for a patchwork does not erase that the fabric is from a garment that was worn by an unknown man. Objects accrue meaning through time, and by the time they have passed through my hands their meaning has shifted again. I work with objects that intrigue me, they might appeal to me visually, aesthetically or emotionally – the best objects are ones that do all of this.

Are there biographical elements to the objects or to your reason for choosing them?

There certainly have been (auto)biographical elements to certain objects and artworks. This is particularly evident in works I made during the period of my partner John’s illness and immediately following his death in late 2007. It is only now that I can see just how intense and personal that work is. The majority of this work is in storage at the moment – it is too personal and raw. Over the last couple of years I have returned to working with objects that have anonymous histories and to ideas that are more abstract. This has been a gradual and largely unconscious shift. I am sure there will be occasions when biographical elements to my choice of objects are more significant again but at the moment they are less so. My practice is a collaboration with objects so it is interesting to work out how the object(s) and I can create something new and at the same time both continue being ourselves. Working with objects that are unknown is more demanding and requires me to approach them as primarily physical materials, when it’s successful, more rewarding.

Glory (2009) is an installation made up of hand-polished anonymous second-hand aluminium cake-tins, made during a residency in Sweden. Tell us about this project and the subsequent works Untitled (ljus horisont), 2009 and Archipelago, (2009) and how they came about from start to completion.

All three pieces were produced during the residency at wip:sthlm in Stockholm. The residency provided me with a studio that was larger and lighter than the one had in London and in part the work reflects this. I had no preconceived ideas about what I would make, preferring to focus on experimentation and play. The studio’s large southwest facing window offered long uninterrupted views towards the countryside, perhaps it is not surprising that I made work that is concerned with light. The order I made these pieces is related to the changing light (and seasons) I experienced during the residency; Archipelago was first, then Glory and finally Untitled (ljus horisont).

Glory started with finding two of the cake-tins at a flea market (loppis). It is always interesting to find multiples of things and I was initially drawn to their physical forms. When I found them they were dusty and tarnished. Cleaning and subsequently hand polishing them drew attention to their sculptural form but also to the incidental imperfections on the surfaces –the dents and scratches they had acquired through use. The polishing also dramatically affected how light played on them. Over the residency I continued to collect and polish similar cake tins. This piece could be read as biographical – in so much as the process re-invigorated the cake-tins as the residency was re-invigorating me. I was literally making something into something new and at the same time acknowledging its history, polishing up myself as I polished up the tins! I spent a good deal of time working on the title, Glory came to me after days of polishing and many lists of words and phrases. It is a wonderful celebratory word, for me it hints at many things, in addition to the religious connotations there are references to gay slang (glory-holes) and science (gloriole).

Archipelago is a direct response to two landscapes, one interior and architectural and another out-door and natural. It came about through a combination of working in the residence studio and spending time in the Swedish archipelago. I was excited by the possibilities that such a large studio offered me and I wanted to take advantage of that. As my first piece of work made in the studio it was felt important that I did something that really utilised the scale of the space. The piece is an exercise in making something large from a collection of small components. The piece consists of 29 silver glitter coated anonymous second-hand dinner plates. There are 29 letters in the Swedish alphabet, and the last one is ö, which is also a word that means island. Like much of my work there are various ways of starting to discuss it.

Untitled (ljus horisont) was made as the summer became autumn and the period of dusk seemed to lengthen. Again flea market finds were the starting point. I made frequent trips to various loppis in Stockholm and also sought them out anywhere else I visited. I found three pairs of candlesticks on one visit. To me they are particularly Swedish candlesticks – they are handmade, wooden, neither too decorative nor too plain, and they are particularly Swedish tones of grey. I had no idea how (or if) they would appear in an artwork. In the last month of the residency I watched amazing sunsets from the studio window. Inspired by this Untitled (ljus horisont) attempts to create a line (or horizon) of light that gradually falls. This was achieved by trimming the bottoms of long candles to ensure that the unlit wicks are level regardless of the height differences between candlesticks. This piece is some kind of ‘live work’ and has duration, it is an artwork only when the candles are lit. The residency version is very much a work in progress and is something I will develop for both outdoor locations and a large gallery space.

You have recently spent a lot of time away from your home; London, and adopted Stockholm as your new home. How has this influenced you as an artist?

Being somewhere different has had a very positive affect on me and my practice. I have been visiting Stockholm for many years but it is only recently that I have been there as an artist – it therefore offers aspects that are both familiar and new. This combination has been good for me and has made the decision to base myself there relatively simple. I am very comfortable in Stockholm and this has had a significant influence on my practice. It has provided the opportunity to reconsider how, where and why I make art. I notice that I work much more intuitively in Stockholm than I did in London. The art scene feels more relaxed there than it does in London. It is all relative and I am not naïve enough to believe that everything is perfect and easy there, however I find things a lot more manageable than in London. I feel that I can be more involved in things and this gives me more confidence. This confidence enables me to be a better artist. I like a city where I can easily attend openings rather feeling as though I am never going to enough or exhausting myself trying. The practicalities of getting to and between the studio and galleries are far less stressful than they are in London. I now know that I prefer to be in a smaller city. Stockholm is perfect for me, it is large enough to be interesting and small enough to be friendly.

Establishing myself in Stockholm has allowed me to break old patterns (ways of thinking and habits of working) that are no longer relevant. I am still me but certainly not who I was. Being in a different place has accelerated the pace at which I have been able to work through things, it feels as though I am making up the time that was out of my control for many years. London is a fast tough city and it does not feel like the right place for me and the art that I make. So far I have found it beneficial to be in an environment that has a more modest pace and friendlier atmosphere.

As a NABROAD advisor, what do you believe is the most important value to an artist-led organisation?

Authenticity. It is a value that works both internally (i.e. for the organisation’s members) and externally (for partners). It is a very grounding value as it demands a commitment to honesty, respect, self-awareness, and integrity. And like other organisational values it provides a principle for monitoring and measuring aims and ambitions that can develop with the membership. Authenticity is a great strength in the professional world and can pave the way for many meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships. I believe that it is vital that a successful artist-led organisation remains authentic in the broadest possible terms.

How important is it to be working in your studio, compared to working whilst away during an artist residency?

At the moment I am between studios – I have moved out of my London studio and have not set up one in Stockholm yet. Not having a studio has made me realise how much I need one. The studio is a vital component to the production of work. I am quite traditional in my need for a studio; I prefer to work in the studio even when planning a site-specific installation. The studio is where I play and think, it is where I collect and edit, it is where I review and develop. I like the sense of permanency that a studio gives me – knowing that there is somewhere to return to. This sense of permanency has become more significant as I have matured and found my own working-pace and methodology. I enjoy being able to work on things over long periods of time and to have materials around me.

A residency is something different, it can provide a temporary break and a different focus or pace. Residencies are fantastic opportunities for an artist to broaden their knowledge of the (art) world and to gain new perspectives. The studio and residency are complementary. They offer different and equally important things. I want to develop a good balance between periods in the studio and periods away. It is a skill to know when each one is needed.

You write detailed descriptions of the materials you use in each work. Is the title and the descriptive text part of the work, or can it be seen as a work on its own?

They are definitely parts of the work. I accept that they could stand alone as conceptual artworks. I am interested in making work that is more than the sum of its parts. Most importantly I am interested in making art that operates visually and that gives you (the viewer) an encounter with something real. I want you to feel something when you see a piece – principally the experience should be visual. The title and descriptive texts are additional to this, they offer further information but they should never be able to take the place of the artwork itself. In this way I know that I am a sculptor and not a conceptual artist. The descriptive texts indicate that the actual objects are important rather than what they (the objects) are made from, for example “business shirts” rather than fabric, and “cake-tins” rather than metal. Referring directly to the objects locates them culturally and reveals the point at which I started working with them. Similarly I use the word “anonymous” to convey that I do not have a personal connection with the used and second-hand objects. My intention is that reading the text gives the viewer ways to think around the work.

As objects are reoccurring elements throughout your practise, how does the site – or the site-specific – play part in the reading of the object?

I am interested in contextual relationships and ways of understanding. I am very aware of the context in which an artwork is experienced. The site in which one encounters an object is always part of its reading. This has been more or less significant in the production and exhibition of different pieces. Previously I have perhaps tried to give people too much (information) to deal with. Calling a piece ‘site-specific’ asks the audience to think about the piece’s relations to its location in before considering everything else. At the moment I am questioning the relevance of using terms such as site-specific. Janus (2008) was an absolutely site-specific piece, I was invited to make a work for a very particular location and the location determined the piece – it would not and could not have been made elsewhere. Whereas Go-Go (2009) although made for a specific site could be shown elsewhere. I am increasingly confident to call what I produce “art” and am now interested in sites that encourage the viewer to read the object(s) as art. For many years (and partially due to my education) I resisted it and felt awkward using the word “art”. I now think that it is asking a lot of people to look at a non-traditional art object in a non-traditional art space and to think of it as art. The idea that people are expecting to see art (because they are in a gallery for example) is interesting to me. The site will always be part of the reading of an artwork – I don’t believe that there is a ‘neutral’ place. For me it is always a question of how much to allow the site to influence the reading of the work (or object). The stronger my art becomes the more it is able to hold its own and the better its relation to its site – wherever that might be. I have been very fortunate to have made work for sites that have significantly contributed to the development and exhibition of particular pieces.

Tell us about the work Brief Encounter (2008).

Brief Encounter is a piece inspired by a particular site in conjunction with personal experience. It was conceived for the Nordisk Konst Plattform in Brusand, Norway. The exhibition space is a former train station, the platform and train-line are still in use however tickets are now sold on the train and the station building (comprising ticket hall, waiting room, offices and station keeper’s accommodation) is now an artist couple’s home, studios and gallery. I visited the gallery while attending another artist’s project near-by. I was fascinated by the place and on my return to London I started working on ideas for an installation there. At the time I was embroidering men’s handkerchiefs and while doing this and remembering the station I began to think of the handkerchief in the David Lean’s film Brief Encounter. This was not long after John’s death and the phrase ‘brief encounter’ seemed to describe the limited duration of our relationship as well as reflecting the film’s motif of love suppressed by circumstance. Model trains were the ideal objects to work with. I made two circular tracks placed next to each other. A pale blue train runs around each track, occasionally, and only then for a fraction of a second, the trains are side by side. Placing the work in the station expands the personal resonance and encourages it to be seen as standing for all of our brief encounters. A pair of embroidered handkerchiefs was shown in the adjoining (former) office, and a larger series of embroidered handkerchiefs were exhibited in the (former) waiting room. It is a bittersweet and undeniably romantic work. A number of children came to the opening, they were fascinated by the trains and sat watching them waiting for the moment when they came together.

As an individual, you are an incredibly sincere and engaging person and you have established friendships in many parts of the world. You are a person whose name often pops up during conversations; someone has met you or someone is a friend of you, does your relationships inspire what you choose to work with?

Thank you! My practice is who I am, and I am naturally a collaborative person. The relationships I have with people (professional and personal) are part of how I work. It is great to have the opportunity to work with people who I know and like – it tends to produce more interesting work. The professional relationships I have influence how and where my work is shown rather than the materials or ideas in the work. Though it is not always easy (or necessary) to distinguish professional contacts from personal friends. Often friendships evolve with people I’ve met through exhibitions, teaching and other projects. I find that different people I meet often already know each other or are only separated by one degree. Perhaps like-minded people tend to find each other no matter where they are. When I find people I can work with I am inspired to do so though it may take a long time to develop into something tangible. I enjoy feeling that I belong to an extended artistic family.

Audhild Dahlstrøm

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Artists Talking: Stuart Mayes, a-n, January 2011

Email conversation between Andrew Bryant and Stuart Mayes, August 2010.

Your blog ‘Project Me’ focuses to an extent on your move from London to Stockholm. Can we begin by talking about your decision to relocate and what the relationship might be between that and your practice?

I believe that moving to Stockholm will enable my practice to develop and mature in a way that it could not in London (at least not with the resources I have available to me here in London). From the quality of studio that I can afford to the acceptance of older (unknown) artists, Stockholm offers a broader range of opportunities.

The decision to relocate crystallised during my residency at WIP:Sthlm (2009). This was an incredibly productive and instructive time. I found that I was working in a more intuitive way than I had for many years and this is certainly something I want to pursue. I got to know some artists, curators and galleries in Stockholm and was impressed with what I saw. I realised that I felt very comfortable there.

The scale of the city and the art-scene suits me; it is big enough to be interesting and small enough to be friendly. The residency gave me a framework to explore the possibility of not being in London. As I think I mentioned in my blog, I don’t think I have what it takes to be a London artist, I didn’t want to admit this before. I want to maintain a relationship with London but I want to do it from elsewhere.

Perhaps relocating also offers me the chance to ‘re-focus’ (rather than ‘re-invent’) myself. I want to shift my practice, and I feel that relocating provides a natural opportunity to do this. I’m very excited to see how it works out!

I am interested in teasing out this notion of working ‘intuitively’ and why we feel we aren’t permitted to do it. I come into contact with a lot of international artists and it does seem to be particularly taboo in the UK. Do you have any thoughts on why that might be?

I think that in the UK we’re not encouraged to acknowledge that we work intuitively. In London I often notice that when artists speak about what they’re doing they describe their activities as ‘projects’ or ‘research’ (sometimes even ‘research projects’!). These terms are mainly used by artists whose practice is academic or in some way publicly funded or supported, and because I aspired to be this kind of artist I adopted this language too. I let the language affect my practice.

In these situations artists have been required to be more and more accountable and the criteria used to measure ‘success’ has become more and more bureaucratic. Working intuitively does not sit well with accountability, or bureaucracy, so it gets written out - first by the institution and then by the artist. The guidelines and advice I received for residencies and funding opportunities often had very specific objectives and outcomes – rarely did these prioritise intuitive practices. Over time I learnt to write proposals that did not refer to, or give space for, working intuitively.

Both my degree and my Masters encouraged (required) me to think very deliberately about what I was making. Perhaps because of my tendency to do this anyway I allowed the thinking to take over. Maybe I didn’t trust myself, and I found that rather than developing a sense of confidence and trust in my practice, I developed ways of working that were supported by external structures (for example socio-cultural theory and politics).

It has been a long time since I allowed myself to make work because ‘it felt right’. I made it because it ‘explored’, ‘challenged’, ‘investigated’ ... ‘notions of male identity’ for example. My identity as an artist was so shaky that (with hindsight) I think I ended up making work that demonstrated my artist’s statement rather than the other way around.

I get the sense that in Sweden artists (like any other profession) are trusted to know what they are doing. Perhaps this sense of trust has rubbed off on me, or perhaps I was in a position to let myself feel it.

In Stockholm I believe that I have found an environment and culture that provides artists with both time and space to work intuitively, not least through the emphasis on supporting process as well as product.

Reflecting on your response I am wondering what we actually mean when we talk about an ‘intuitive’ way of working. I am very interested to hear how it shows itself in your process and in your work.

Maybe we don’t mean the same thing! For me it’s about working in a way that I don’t try to understand, or at least not while I’m doing it. Somewhere along the way I lost my ability to trust my intuition, I questioned everything before and during the making of an artwork. I remember having ideas and deciding not to follow them because I couldn’t think through the entire process. I can see now that I had become quite obsessed with rationalising every material and every process before I even engaged with them. This obsession kept tripping me up and making my life hard. It also made my art hard – my own version of intellectual rigour won over other sensibilities every time.

In the last couple of years I have rediscovered my ability to trust my judgements without necessarily understanding them. And this has led to a better balance between my critical and intuitive selves.

What is the opposite of intuitive? Is it conceptual, academic, deliberate, critical? Whatever it is, the relation between the two is a sliding scale and I had slid way too far to the non-intuitive end. That is why I am able to say that I am now working in a ‘more intuitive way’, rather than in an ‘intuitive way’.

This more intuitive way of working shows itself in processes that are more flexible. At a basic level it allows me to do what feels right rather than what I can rationalise in words or thoughts. In relation to the work itself I’m not sure how my more intuitive ways of working show themselves, perhaps they don’t show themselves at all. My hope is that if they do show themselves that they are not obvious. I simply want the work to have a wholeness that comes from both deliberate and intuitive processes. I hope that there is the sense that something is ‘going-on’, that you can’t quite put your finger on it but there is definitely stuff happening.

I keep coming back to and thinking around the word ‘confident’. Perhaps my more intuitive way of working enables me to make more confident work. It certainly enables me to have a lighter touch and to have more fun. And this I think is evident in my more recent work, for example Go-Go (2009) and Play (2010).

I am also thinking about the difference between ‘intuitive’ and ‘confident’ – something about having the confidence to leave yourself alone, at least in the making process. Please tell us more about these two pieces you mention, Go-Go (2009) and Play (2010).

I’m enjoying the confidence to let myself ‘be’. Somehow this being myself is good and productive. Returning to your original question about my move to Stockholm, I can say that I find it easier to let myself ‘be’ in Stockholm than I do in London.

That I could call a piece of work Go-Go still makes me smile – it’s such a frivolous title. The piece was made specifically for M2 Gallery who have a very particular exhibition space – a metre square window on a predominantly residential street in south London. The window is straight on to the street and you can walk right up to it, the space behind the window is half a cubic metre. The gallery is an integral part of the building which also includes the gallery directors’ own studio and architectural practice and as well as their private residence. I had the idea to make something that was sensitive to the site – in terms of both the physical location and some of the ambitions of the artist and architect who live there.

In my studio I made a full-scale model of the gallery and started playing with materials. I also kept a sketchbook and jotted down new ideas as they came to me. After a couple of months I made a quick drawing of what would become the final piece. Go-Go consists of two solar powered mirror balls and spot-lights that come on as the sun sets, and run until they have the exhausted their battery. The piece works on its own terms as a visual thing. There are also various ways of ‘reading’ it depending on how much you know about me and my past work. I resist verbalising or writing too much about it because speaking and writing requires an ordering of thoughts that I prefer to remain un-ordered (this is not the same as them being confused!).

When I do speak about Go-Go I find myself holding my hands as if I’m turning an invisible ball between them – this gesture is my way of suggesting that my process and the piece is spherical rather than linear. I really don’t want to start saying what the work is about, at least not until people have seen it, I want them to experience it first, then we can talk about it. The short text I wrote for the installation was playful and made references to the quite obvious sexual symbolism in the piece, I hope that I managed to make the double entendres function well.

Play is another fun word, and as a title it works in many different ways. The title for the installation came to me as I cycled home after proposing the work to MOCA London. I can’t think of another occasion when I went to a gallery with such a strong but vague idea for an exhibition. I intuitively knew that the piece was good and that it would work in that particular gallery, and that gave me the confidence to propose it with little more than two pictures of studio experiments. I also know the gallery director quite well as he had invited me to participate in a project of his two years earlier. The piece was made on site and it was a laborious process, taking over six days. I really enjoyed seeing the installation taking shape and the time it took allowed me to think about and around it.

Play is a wall of videotape that bisects the gallery. For MOCA the wall was three and a half metres high, four and a half metres wide and twenty centimetres thick. The videotape is used gay pornography. Working in the gallery (mostly on my own) allowed me to continue the creative process that had started over a year earlier in the studio. I started playing with videotape before I did the residency in Stockholm however it wasn’t until I had completed the residency and made a second extended visit to Stockholm that I felt that I could develop the idea into the complete piece. By the time I was installing it I was literally ‘thinking through the work’ – and I mean ‘work’ as both a noun and a verb.

I was really pleased with the responses Play received. Many people said that seeing it - that is actually being in the gallery with it - was so different from reading about it (in the press release for example). For me it is a successful piece because it is greater than the sum of its parts. It is more than the idea, more than the material – it is a thing in itself.

I really enjoyed making both these pieces and I’ve been surprised and delighted with the way they’ve turned out. They have both ‘done’ things that I wasn’t expecting, and in that way I feel as though they have been collaborations. I want to continue working in this way and am looking forward to establishing my studio in Stockholm.

First published on Artists Talking, January 2011,

Andrew Bryant

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Schmatte Couture, online Art Rabbit review, September 2008

Schmatte Couture – a title of contradictions. ‘Schmatte’ is the Yiddish for ‘rag’, overly-worn, worthless, ‘couture’ is high fashion – aspirational, expensive and ideal. Embracing these tensions Schmatte Couture is a group show of 16 international contemporary artists, presented by The Ben Uri Gallery, London Jewish Museum of Art, at The Rivington Gallery, EC2. Aptly, The Rivington Gallery begins to be transformed into a shop of mostly unwearable items and through this process questions arise regarding our relationship with clothing: what are the clothes we wear or don’t wear, and how do we build a wardrobe through our lives, literally clothing our experiences? And can this show begin to stitch together ‘schmatte’ and ‘couture’?

Schmatte Couture began as an artist group meeting on a monthly basis. Drawing together artists interested in clothing and textiles the aim was an exhibition that was as much the construction of an artist community as a display of works. Instead of artists solely presenting work and meeting each other on the private view, many of the artists contributed to the development of the show, its themes and ideas. In essence this is the work of a sewing circle, faced with the challenge of creating a patchwork quilt of artworks, personalities and histories, individually rich and yet different, with a shared goal. The decision was to find an off-site exhibition space, that fitted with the theme of the show, instead of it being held in The Ben Uri Gallery at St John’s Wood. Eventually The Rivington Gallery in the heart of the East End was found, suiting the show well since it is situated where Jewish tailors and seamstresses plied their trades in the recent past and is now near the cutting edge designers and shops of today.

For an artist clothing is a rich source of inspiration. What we wear carries with it our history and selves and our life journeys as illustrated in Sue Cohen’s Oh Gilda. Gilda’s life and experience spill out of her wardrobe with music and paints itself on her dress. Sue explains: ‘In Oh Gilda the everyday objects including Gilda’s clothes are beginning to absorb her life events. Stories become locked into the atmosphere - some are hidden away in wardrobes, absorbed by her houseplants, some even appear as the design on her curtain fabric.’

Clothing can express our fears and personalities and societies expectations as in Sue Goldschmidt’s ceramic piece, Under My Skin which is loosely autobiographical, and where clothing is harnessed as a metaphor for human experience. The artist describes: ‘Through imprints and traceries, the work employs contradictions, juxtaposition and correspondences. Under My Skin is a darker reflection on notions of Jewish heritage.’ Meital Covo’s dress and bracelet, Hers, have prints of hair all over. Meital explains the works are a conceptual art clothesline consisting of skirts, vests, bags and bracelets, onto which a realistic image of women's hair are printed. ‘The objects evoke a dual physical sensation, of both repulsion and attraction. They might look beautiful, but also might not be acceptable to look at. The work questions conventions in relation to consumerism and the female body.’

The process of making clothes, through sewing and patching can also be a metaphor for how our lives develop as in the work of Anita Ceballos Stitched and Patched. Anita tells how: ‘working within self-portrait, needlework becomes a metaphor for the development of the self: construction, de- construction and repair.’ The transforming of clothes is explored in Stuart Mayes Buddies where with deftness and skill the everyday can become special, and the elements of conformity around us can become organic and expressive. Stuart relates: ‘These roses fashioned from gentlemen’s neckties make reference to a colourful exuberance a city man might afford himself. The necktie is transformed from item of a man’s professional wardrobe into something live and organic, with a twist of the hand they slip from something businesslike into something sensuous and intimate.’

Transformation and subversion of clothing is also evident in Nigel Ellis’ painting Collar (Shade). The image has been subtley and delicately reversed - literally. The artist clarifies: ‘Collar belongs to a series of Shade paintings of hanging coats and jackets, where the tones and colours are reversed, like a photographic negative’. Stretching clothing towards a fantasy realm is undertaken by Luke Cooper. Luke’s Horse Dress is a remarkable sculpture/ costume built for performance, that examines the ethereal. Luke was inspired by Samuel Beckett’s play ‘Happy Days’, where a woman is buried up to her waist in a mountain/rubbish heap. Luke describes how he is fascinated by: ‘The absurdity of this literal installation, [how it] creates theatre – Where did she come from? How did she get there? How did I get here, into her world? Does she eat or sleep and have blood like we do or is it just an ethereal apparition?’

Yet even the mundane is worthy of investigation. Anneke Raber’s Chair is formed of a careful, brightly coloured series of images printed on aluminium illustrating how different people place their clothes on chairs. As a practising chiropodist Anneke had ample opportunity to see how her clients left their coats, bags and shoes at the start of an appointment. She transforms their carelessness into fine art and pervades it with significance and insight. And perhaps this is the linking thread that unifies the artists vision in such a mixed show as Schmatte Couture. Where ‘schmatte’ is a casual and nonchalant approach, ‘couture’ is a feeling precious towards something and treating it with wonder and delight. Whilst something may be a ‘schmatte’ in many people’s eyes, to the artists in this show it becomes something visionary, remarkable, original and revealing. And well you may remember this, returning home, exhausted, dumping all your clothes on the nearest surface.

Sarah Lightman

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Love on the Rails, Jaerbladet, 29 August 2008

Translated from the original Norwegian text

A chance meeting, forbidden love and lots of romance – how it is when trains meet at Brusand station.

Outside the window lies a failing local square. Inside the old ticket office at Brusand Station two baby-blue toy trains are chugging around on glistening silver rails. These are elements in the exhibition Brief Encounter which opens at Brusand Station on Sunday.

It’s about romance, about life’s romantic encounters, says London artist Stuart Mayes, who made the exhibition especially for Brusand.

A movie
In the British film drama “Brief Encounter” from 1945 a man and a woman meet by chance at a train station. They fall in love but both are married already. Moral dilemmas, forbidden love and passion unfolds before the couple go on their separate paths again. At Brusand the minature trains run continuously on their own circular tracks. At one point they almost touch each other before they separate again and continue on their own journeys. The installation refers not only to the film, for me, it also plays a role on a personal level. It is also about me, and my partner, who I lost last year, says Mayes. The trains represent two individuals on their own paths. The trains briefly meet each other, before they go on in their own ways.

A meeting
How an established artist from the metropolis of London went on to exhibit art specially designed Brusand took place as follows:
– In May I attended the opening of the art project “On the edge.” I was one of several artists who had contributed to the installation “Golden rain” at Eigerøy lighthouse. There I met Kjetil (Jan Kjetil Bjørheim who runs the gallery at the former Brusand train station with his partner Liz Croft). We kept in touch, and I gradually formed the idea of trains at Brusand for them. It is very nice here. I get a strong sense of the history inside the gallery. Everything is very different from London! said Mayes.
He works primarily with sculpture and installation. The works are often based on everyday items such as shirts, sheets and handkerchiefs. In addition Mayes often uses sewing and embroidery in his works. Embroidered handkerchiefs mounted on the walls are also showing at the train station this weekend.
– Handkerchiefs actually have a central role in the film “Brief Encounter”, so it was a very happy coincidence, says the artist.

A moment Glittering and shining blue-painted toy trains - what kind of experience will you provide for the exhibition public?
– I will create a sense of romance, of life’s random encounters and how they affect us. How to enjoy the moment for what it is, no matter how long it might last. Do not think about all the practicalities but give yourself permission to dream. The world needs a little more romance.

Nina Kalvatan Opsahl

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Forensic, a-n online review, March 2008

Dank is a sensation that steals into your nose. A starker backdrop than the glare of the whitest walls, it has the potential to drain artworks’ precious command on your attention. But it has an allure. How many old warehouses, windowless dirt-floored and generally creepy environments have I stepped into to indulge myself in some art? Advantages exist: if it’s a giant melting ice cube like Anya Gallaccio’s, then the damp and dinginess makes practical sense; if it’s a show exploring alienation and subjectivities like “strangers to ourselves”, then the inhospitable is the perfect mood enhancer. But you don’t usually want to stick around. 55 Leroy St is a space whose lower floors are dank. Over a hundred years old and with very little to show for it, the prospect looks bleak. Forensic is a show that brought selected artists together to respond to and occupy number 55.

Mo Lewis installed herself before anyone else, to include a deserted building in her cycle of photographed interiors. But after a few shots she put aside the camera. She discovered that at a certain time of day she was joined by an assembly of patches of pure sunlight that hit a corner of the space like a burning message. As cosmic rules will have it, the earth and sun shift into a position from November to March to direct beams that steal across the wall and disappear. The photographer left her instrument of light, to pick up a stick of compacted carbon to trace this phenomenon. The concept of forensic exploration led her to forgo her clean images fused with light, and run with smudgy tracings of the black stuff. Taking the matter of light literally into her own hands she made a scrawling connection between the dingy wall and our local star. It’s as if the marks span lifetimes.

Light and dark, inside, outside, the promise of an exclusive peek into the bowels of the building was set up by Stuart Mayes. Naming his work after Janus, the Roman two-faced figure that gazes into the future and the past, Mayes creates an axis, an imaginary shaft of vision running through no.55. The visitor mounts a step ladder to peer into the velvet dark of unlit space. No more no less, no tricks. A precarious seductive stillness. Then down to a peephole in the floor directly under. On your knees with your breath raising the floorboard dust-mites, vision itself is proved imaginary as it is blocked by the impenetrable concrete ceiling underneath. Dolores Sanchez Calvo, whose suitably dank industrial door opens onto solid wall reinforces the feeling that projection is futile. The bunker-strength of the building’s fabric confines artists’ visions to their quarters, but nevertheless they resist. Joao Ornelas breaks through partition walls with glee, and frames the damage. The rest is archive and scratchings.

Once ringing with the racket of light industry in the manufacture of undergarments, m pi villaseñor recalls this history with impossibly delicate porcelain casts of her friends’ donated knickers, pants. You duck to avoid shattering the clay surrogates that hang like a ghostly clothes-line, reminiscent of the terracotta soldiers and their bid for immortality. Dankness is fertile as Linda Duffy, artist and curator of the show found, when she performed a series of investigations, collecting evidence in the form of scrapings, labelling the jars, mapping the samplings, discarding nothing. On another wall, cotton thread and pins create a circular timeline radiating with clusters of facts that relate to the material worlds that emerged to make up a history of people and businesses.

Patterns emerge in an asymmetrical way as the web suggests how the fabric of an unadorned, essentially dull building in a monotonous backstreet of Southwark has been turned inside out by curiosity. To enter the show is to confront detailed detritus as the histories of the building are displayed. m pi villaseñor ‘s grid of used teabags commemorate its past as a tea store while the long scroll like photograph of Mandy Williams that hung like a length of wallpaper patterned with images of women’s hands and the goods they manufactured - clothes hangers, hooks and eyes - recalled another phase of no.55. Patches of wallpaper are scratched away to disclose the years of interior decorating changes while a row of random objects collected by Duffy, such as tea trays from Sydney, Australia, a wig, pairs of shoes, recall human occupation and past businesses like a shrine.

What does all this investigation reward us with? To make damp decrepitude friendly is a feat in itself. But before renovation gets underway to make no.55 emerge as a shiny new residential development, it is more than good and worthy to enjoy this brief moment of reclamation by artists with scalpels, hammers and pieces of charcoal. It is good to be reminded that sunlight will trace the same paths across the walls, as long as they stand with a window by their side.

Althea Greenan

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Pilot 3, 2007

Stuart Mayes’ body of sculptural works has grown out of his long-term performance-art practice. Often incorporating traditional, practical craftwork - such as sewing - Mayes’ sculptures explore notions of masculinity through a domestic vocabulary that relies on memories of old-fashioned suburban values. While the range of Mayes’ subjects takes in bawdiness, tragedy, and sentimentality, each is handled with a rigorously controlled aesthetic of terrifying restraint. Perhaps the true subject of Mayes’ work is precisely this maddening British quality: phlegmatic restraint in the face of necessary, turbulent emotions.

David Barrett

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Favourite Shirts, Attitude Magazine, September 2006

London-based conceptual artist Stuart Mayes makes good use of the stuff most of us take for granted. Working with articles traditionally made for men, he recreates the mundane and the commonplace into bespoke items of beauty. In previous London shows he has painstakingly restitched red and white shirts so that the patchwork appears like molecular blood cells in a wall piece entitled Exchange. Hot water bottles in Sensible Bedfellow turn mutant and elsewhere, urinal bottles becomes smothered in trashy blue glitter. Mayes creates a world in which masculinity and male etiquette become unpicked.

Why work with these objects?

I was originally doing a lot of performance. After a performance there’s usually debris but mine were about sealing things up in a very English, male way: by sewing a white shirt, with white thread, in a white room with white lights. People became interested in the finished objects and I realised that the pieces could have a life beyond me. So I started to work with installations using shirts. Most male clothing is unisex, whereas shirts, male handkerchiefs and ties are about masculinity. They are aspirational and about status and precision. In the business world men are allowed some colour in a shirt or tie. I twist the meaning of the object and try to do it in a celebratory way.

The shirts used in Climb and Exchange are the same size as the actual shirt. Is that deliberate?

I’m interested in things that already exist in the world. My works are familiar and not so abstract that they become alienating. I work to the size of a handkerchief or a pillowcase, so it’s comfortable but a the same time it’s not because I’ve done something to it.

Do you have a fetish for Englishmen and shirts?

No, it’s not erotic, more my fascination. I’m interested in systems and the way that men organise the world. The cells on the shirts are connective, for example, and I guess it’s like business meetings where men shake hands. There’s physical contact, but it’s momentary. You have these meetings and you touch the palms of your hands together, which is an intimate area. It’s odd in such a formal environment.

How long does each piece take?

Three to four months but I can’t work on them all the time. I get uptight about the grain and fabric - each forearm must match the real dimension. I tend to zone out but I have to be very specific and particular while I’m doing them because I have to cut each one out in paper, then fabric, then tack, sew, press and hem it. Each one is unique and autobiographical because I wore them. In a sense, they are beyond fashion.

And now you’re working with disposable urinal bottles ...

Yes, they are odd objects. I came into contact with them with hospital visits with my partner John who has motor neurone disease. These urinals are about male fragility, they are not celebrating masculinity. They are not for the physically fit man. Death and beauty interests me a lot because beauty is the only thing that makes death palatable. I’ve worked a lot with kids and the first things they do to make something beautiful is to cover it in glitter. Glitter is camp, throwaway and we always think of it as part of the stage show. I’m trying to transform them [urinal bottles] into beautiful things by getting people to look at them in a different way.

Caroline Smith

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The performers looked frozen. So did the penguins … Dance review, The Observer Review, 25 March 2001

The days have long gone when a lecture by a newly-returned explorer was the most exciting events in London. Yet the spirit of their old adventures still haunt the Royal Geographical Society headquarters in Kensington Gore: their gaunt faces gaze from black and white photographs, their maps and relics are on display. Nic Sandiland’s company, Ambler; added their own traces for Frozen Progress and installation/performance. The building is so theatrical that extra lights, projections and recorded voices in the rooms and corridors hardly seemed necessary. The core of the evening was a choreographed event in the wood-panelled lecture theatre. A parka-clad quartet set up camp with miniature tents, read from a journal, typed spaced out words on to a computer screen and negotiated a duet. They were watched by impassive model penguins and a small respectful audience.

We were all, presumably, making our own journeys of discovery. Mark Horrock’s subliminal soundscape conveyed a sense of isolation, the performers’ activities seemed convincingly meaningless in the face of nature’s indifference. The frantic rearrangement of silverware was evidently inspired by a caption in the map room, noting that the corpses of frozen sailors looking for the Northwest Passage were found complete with cutlery bearing their initials. The place-settings stubbornly endure, their phantom owners brought briefly to life.

Jann Parry

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