Thursday, December 13, 2012


Myself giving an artist's talk at a DAC,
Disability Arts Cymru launch event in May 2012

Someone asked me why I would want to label my art as disability art. I'm sure it all looks quite mysterious to the outside world. Well, to be honest, I'm still not sure how useful it is as the art has to be able to stand on its own regardless, and real practical support is hard to come by. However, it's something I had try out when I realized that there is such a community and tradition in the making. I was clearly no longer able to compete with able bodied artists, and it was not about trying to take an easy route as some people seem to think. Rethinking my approach was a pure necessity, and I gained a few things from this new way of thinking throughout 2012 . Here are some of my points;

Anyone who is disabled and creates art is a disabled artist. They can be deaf, dumb, blind, bound to a wheel chair with spinal injuries from an accident, suffer from chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, arthritis or any other disease that is more or less debilitating. I didn't know this until I discovered the supportive community for disabled artists and art here in Wales. Most people encounter some form of disability in their lives so there is no need to think of disabled people as very different from "the normal" human beings. Whether we like it or not illnesses are a fundamental part of our lives. Most people gain from a supportive and positive community even if it's only in a moral and emotional way.

Of course the definition of disability arts is controversial - but I won't go into that as it's all a bit complicated (you can read about various view points on the internet). Some of the disability art reflects peoples' disabilities, but usually it's not expected, or a condition even. Of course, some of my art does reflect these issues and it's seen as a positive thing by some people who help govern these communities. The disability arts in general is basically a community that supports the battle against inequality. Just as people have accessibility issues in the physical world - athletes being a case in point - artists with disabilities have accessibility issues in terms of how they are being treated and what kind of opportunities they have compared to able bodied people. Not least, as in my own case, a matter of not managing on the "normal world's" terms. I'm not sure the support is sufficient in my case though because I'm still considered "too articulate" and have "too great a body of work" behind me (in the Arts Council's rather devastating words since suddenly being good wasn't right). It's terrible politics in the end that govern who gets really useful support.

Outsider artists meet similar criteria, they get help to exhibit their work from charities such as Outside In because their disadvantaged position makes it too difficult for them to compete with "normal" and able bodied artists. In reality, these people tend more often than not to have serious mental issues and even a low mental age, and the art work is more often than not the kind of art that the art world doesn't recognise as valid art. I'm clearly on the fringe of this group of people, and I can see that it's the extremer end of the spectrum that gets most of the attention within this community.

The art world is ruthless, and this is something that has become even clearer to me while in Britain, and it's also something I have decided not to participate in any more. Part of my problem has been trying to push myself beyond my limits to compete with able bodied artists, and it simply wasn't working. I have been feeling burnt out and lacking in the joy of creating. As it was putting me under extreme pressure I decided to join these groups of marginal art. But - having tried it out I'm not sure it's right for me either. It's not so much being part of these groups per se, as being part of anything at all. Sometimes I feel more like an uber-outsider, someone who is always on the outside of everything, including that which is already on the fringes... perhaps it sounds a bit big headed but I simply don't know if I am able to be part of any community for real, so far I haven't found one that would meet with my needs in a really snug way. I continue to support the disability arts and fight prejudice, but other than that I don't know what lies ahead and how I'd like to define my art in the future.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Salmiak, ammonium chloride, has become a favourite export
and it.s missed by most Finns in exile
This is my personal list of foods I miss since relocating to the UK, and foods that foreigners wouldn't necessarily know to look for while in Finland. I hope it will be inspiring!

Unfortunately quite a lot of people heard and believed Jacques Chirac and Silvio Berlusconi when they claimed that Finnish food is rubbish (read more at the bottom). An Englishman actually insulted me at a private view by mentioning this. It really isn't rubbish. Finnish cooking uses good quality ingredients, and may seem simple, but is seductive exactly because it isn't fussy and over-complicated. 

"The special quality of Finnish food and foodstuffs derives from the good taste of the food, its vitality providing properties and its straightforward and honest methods of production./.../ Finnish food gets is flavours from the pure environment. The Finnish soil, waters and air are the cleanest in Europe, enhancing the taste of the ingredients. Our northern climate allows our farmers to use far less chemical pesticides than do their counterparts in other countries./.../ We are pioneers in the preparation of products that maintain health and well-being levels. Many of the food materials are health-promoting in their nature. Nutrition research in Finland is internationally recognized at a high level. This allows us to provide you with the food that increases levels of vitality.(Food from Finland)

I'm of course not a food writer per se, but after a couple of years in exile I have started to crave some Finnish food. Not surprising, of course. What is surprising is that there are so many foods to miss that don't have an equivalent in the U.K. My dear husband has adopted a lot of dishes, and whatever we can make, we make. Much as I love Britain I have been disappointed with its food culture (especially here in Wales - I'm sure London is fantastic!). Even imported fruits and vegetables seem to be better quality in Finland, which may be due to the scale of the import. So... This is my testimony of the excellency of Finnish food (as found in your ordinary supermarket). We are not meat eaters (apart from eating fish) so I won't go into foods using reindeer, moose and bear.

1. Bread
- Rye bread (sour dough) and other kinds of flour.
Well, rye bread made from sour dough is that product everyone misses, but what is lesser known is that there are other kinds of flour and a wealth of different kinds of products made of these. They are easily available in supermarkets. Rye is that flour Finns have used for so many different kinds of products, and I will mention each of them separately. In Scandinavia, they even make house paint out of it! We have a rich bread culture, and you often find that bread is sweet and sour. Martin has made malted "archipelago bread" a few times with reasonable success. There are, of course, many rye crackers, the most common is also commonly available in the supermarkets in the UK ("näkkileipä", fi). Try the dried rye bread from sourdough that has nettle ("nokkos-", fi)  in it, it's great!
This has the shape of traditional rye bread
This compnay, Linkosuo, has delicious rye based products.
Apart from that and wheat, we have oat and barley. You can find lots of crackers, pasta, biscuits and other products made from rye, or a mixtures of flours and seeds. There is also the classic rieska bread, which you really want to buy in Lapland. It's a soft flat bread (similar to what you find in Sweden) and should be made from barley flour in order to be truly authentic.

"Finnish cuisine is very similar to Swedish cuisine. The overarching difference is the preference for unsweetened foods. For example, while traditional Swedish rye bread includes plenty of syrup and spices, Finnish rye bread is unsweetened and even bitter." (Wikipedia)

You can get these flat rye rolls at the
air port
- Multi seed crackers
I used to be able to get Finn Crisp multi seed sour dough based crackers here in the U.K. but they have all but vanished! I have now only seen them in Waitrose. If you want a Swedish cracker, try the big round flat breads with butter and cheese.

Buy this from Amazon!
Vaasan Täyshyvät 5 täysjyväviljan -näkkileipä (200g)
Multi seed crackers are kinder to the sensitive stomach
than bread made from sourdough

1. Mämmi (Fi) or memma (Sw)
This peculiar black cold porridge is made from rye flour and malted flour simply called memma flour, and pomeranssi (Fi) (dried orange peel made into powder). I have carried memma flour and pomeranssi along with me and inspite of a very long and tedious process, have successfully made my own. We eat it at Easter. Malt is also used for an almost alcohol free beverage called kalja, traditionally had with lunch or dinner. At Easter, people also make Pasha, which is a quark based sweet food from Russia.

Preparing and eating memma
(photo copyright V-M Carpelan)
2. Sweet bakery products
- Buns
The Finns traditionally eat wheat buns in the early morning before going out to milk the cows. What is special about Finnish buns is the "clean" taste. In Finnish bakery products, you don't usually taste margarine the way you do in France. The consistency is not sticky like it is in British products. The buns are simply very airy and can be delicious when fresh and combined with cinnamon or (my favourite) quark with vanilla. In Finland, you can get vanilla sugar, which can be handy. You also get powdered cardamom which is a great addition to the dough.

Ginger bread
Well, Finnish ginger bread is delicious because it's rich in different kinds of spices. It's as simple as that. I like to add some pomerans into mine. You can get it in the shops all year round but it's really a Christmas food. Nowadays, the Swedish gingerbread "Annas pepparkakor" are available in the UK, and they among the nicer ones.

3. "Whipped porridge" and kiiseli
There are two kinds of whipped porridge. One is made from rye, and and the other from a product made from wheat, semolina or "manna" (Fi). Both are made with lingon berry juice and sugar. I have brought a bottle of pure lingon berry concentrate along with me and will try and make the former one of these days. "Kiiseli" is a form of compote. It can be smooth and made from berries, or have bits of dried fruit (prunes, apple rings, apricots and pear rings) in it. The fruit is simple boiled with sugar and thickened with potato or corn flour.

4. Sweets
There is a rich culture of sweets in Finland - in fact there's an incredible choice in the store. Apart from traditional Finnish sweets there are many sweets from all over the world such as Parisian pastilles, London drops, English All Sorts, wine gums and even halva.
- Liquorice
Liquorice ("laku-" or "lakritsi-") fi) is typical, and it has a soft taste. There are many kinds, my favourite being a bit like British Ponterfacts (my husband is still looking for real traditional ones for me to compare). British liquorice is usually bitter, it tastes of black treacle. Having been brought up on Finnish liqourice which is made from a syrup that is a bit thicker than golden syrup, I really don't enjoy what the British have done to the poor liquorice... I have, however, found Finnish Panda liquorice in the UK, and it's alright, though not necessarily my favourite.

This peculiarly Finnish sweet was originally bought at the pharmacy - it's ammonium chloride! It's in fact the same as smelling salt! We love it - a Finnish rock star even came up with the idea of mixing it with vodka, and this is a best selling souvenir!
Yes, the Finns eat and produce. This is due to some immigrant back in the 19th Century who decided to start up a Finnish halva factory. They now also make other sweets.
Wiener Nougat
Ok - I'm simply not a fan of chocolate (which we do have in Finland - diary products are of high quality and so is the chocolate). But this particular traditional sweet by Fazer is a kind of nougat with almonds, and not very sweet. I like it better than chocolate.

5. Cloudberry Jam
This expensive jam is made from an orange Arctic berry that you don't get in many other countries. It's traditionally eaten with something called "bread cheese" which is a thick chewy cheese, traditionally made from a cow's first milk.

6. Fish
- Grav lax
It's easy to make yourself. I recommend going on the Silja Line ferry to Stockholm and enjoying their well presented smorgasbord in order to find out about a range of fish based dishes!
- Pickled herring and anchovis
My mom won Martin over when she presented him with homemade pickled herring for Christmas. It just goes to say that the way we make it, well it's the best. You can buy assortments of pickled herring in the supermarket. If you wish to make your own, you buy fatty Icelandic herring from the supermarket. You can also use Baltic Herring for a different taste. Meanwhile, as we can't get the fish here in the U.K, we have to go and raid Ikea for some! In Ikea, you can also get Scandinavian style sprat or anchovis, which has a different taste to that in the UK. It's used with scrambled eggs on toast or in a potato gratin (oven casserole) ("Jansson's frestelse", Sw).
- Smoked Baltic Herring, "böckling (Sw)". Buy these at the market!
Fish cakes
The reason Finnish fish cakes (with salmon or char, by Apetit) are so good is that the taste is pure; they aren't full of potato as Norwegian ones, and they aren't breaded as the British ones. In the UK, a lot of food is covered in greasy batter. Fish and chips is great, but just not too often!

7. Vegetarian mock-meat
I'm a sucker for the Swedish Hälsans' vegetarian products, especially their hot dog - style/Frankfurter sausages. Last time I visited I found that they had come out with a new type of slightly spicy sausage, "Chorizo" style. It's divine! A simple creamy sauce with some soya sauce is all that is required, perhaps with rice.

8. Dairy products
- Generally speaking, there is a great range of diary products of all kinds, and they are nice and fresh tasting. There are many desserts and snacks. For cooking, you have a whole bunch of different fermented products ranging from cooking yoghurt, quark, creme fraihe, smetana (Russian style creme fraihe, especially nice with bortsch), and so on. Whenever it says "HYLA" or "vähälaktoosinen" it means that it's safe for people with lactose intolerance. For parties, this is what people usually use since so many people suffer from this ailment (around 20 % or more).
Valio kevytviili
Most foreigners find the jelly like "viili"
(as a snack or for breakfast in lieu of yoghurt) a bit odd. 

The creamy version, "kermaviili", is however a great alternative to sour cream, 
as it's similar but a bit less sour.
- Creamy cheese
This is a cheese which is a bit softer and fatter than Edam or Gouda, but equally "bland". We like it on bread with great Finnish butter... there' something very simple about that kind of sandwich (sure you get tired of the fact there aren't that many different cheeses to choose from but it's the same in the cheddar dominated Britain). Try the really cheap Co-op cream cheese from S-Market.
- Ice Cream
Oh how I miss Finnish vanilla ice cream! It's smooth, white and creamy... mmmm.... The best brand in my opinion is Ingman, and a basic package isn't expensive. 

There is a chain of ice cream stalls in the city, called "Spice Ice" by Ingman. My absolute favourite is vanilla flavoured soft ice with a rather dark chocolate topping (or dip, rather). Be aware that you can get lactose free ice cream (HYLA or "vähälaktoosinen" (Fi), "låg laktoshalt" (Sw))! You can also get a variety of tofu ice creams, but in my mind they have become less attractive due to added sweetness. 

9. Beverages
- Liquers
There are numerous liqueurs based on berries, for instance cloudberry, but my favourite liqueur is the Swedish "punsch" (punssi in Finnish). It's smooth and pleasant. If you don't mind sweet, you could fry banana, add it to ice cream, and pour some punsch over it. If you want something really interesting, you should try salmiak vodka! 

- malted drinks
I already mentioned the malt based kalja. Beers are generally not very bitter and may seem bland to the British, though the Finnish seem to like it. 
- stomach friendly coffee
The Finnish drink a lot of coffee, and strong (not quite what you get in the UK...). Not surprsingly, the company Paulig has invented a stomach friendly variety, which is very tasty. Drink it with muscovado sugar and double cream... mmm!
The label for stomach friendly coffee.
Pirkka (the own brand of K-supermarket) also makes one.
- tea
The Finnish drink a lot of tea, but not so often with milk. Therefore, scented teas are greatly appreciated. It's common to have a cup and a sandwich at 9 pm, a few hours after dinner. This is something that is easy to bring home as a gift. At Easter you can find Easter flavoured tea, and at Christmas various different types of tea with a Christmasy flavour!

"Tea Heaven" contains a selection of bagged scented teas by Nordqvist
Christmas teas ("joulu tee", fi) are common during the festive season

Find out more about the Finnish cuisine here.
Read about similarities between Finland and Greenland in The Telegraph.

The International point of view... (from Wikipedia)

In 2005, Finnish cuisine came under heavy fire from two leaders of countries renowned for their cuisine. The Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi claimed that "I've been to Finland and I had to endure the Finnish diet so I am in a position to make a comparison." Berlusconi started his anti-Finnish food campaign in 2001. He went on: "The Finns don't even know what Parma ham is."This followed the initial decision by the European Commission to establish theEuropean Food Safety Authority in Helsinki. On July 4, 2005 French PresidentJacques Chirac claimed that "After Finland, [Britain is] the country with the worst food." [5][6]

After Jacques Chirac's and Silvio Berlusconi's critiques, some international food reporters answered:

"Chirac and Berlusconi are wrong! Finnish cuisine is much more international than I expected. I have eaten very good food in wonderful restaurants, visited market places and enjoyed in good cafeterias. Cheese is very good in Finland. I also love Finnish cloudberry and smoked fish." (Ute Junker, Australian Financial Review Magazine, Sydney,Australia)

"Food in Finnish restaurants is extremely good. Especially I love Finnish salmon, mushroom soup and desserts. I have also got very good Finnish wines. The worldwide reputation of Finnish cuisine isn't very good – but it should be!" (Liliane Delwasse, Le Figaro, Paris, France)

"I have eaten only good food in Finland. Food in Finland is very fresh. Bread, berries, mushrooms and desserts are very delicious. Finnish berries (especially cloudberry), salmon, cheeses and reindeer should be available in London, too." (April Hutchinson, Abta Magazine, London, England).

Finnish pizza chain Kotipizza won the 2008 America’s Plate International pizza contest in New York, while Italy came in second. They named their award-winning smoked reindeer pizza Berlusconi as symbolic payback for the critique Finnish cuisine had received from the Italian prime minister earlier.[7]

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Liverpool 800:The Changing Face of Liverpool
54.6 x 81.3cm (21.5 x 32in)
Poster colour and gouache on mount board
Artist: Amrit & Rabindra K.D. Kaur Singh
I started out as a symbolist, back in 1991 when symbolic content poured out of me after a period of intense dream interpretation. I have explained why I feel that symbolism is a relevant method of artistic expression here in this blog article (as well as on my website). I realize, however, that there are several ways in which one can be a symbolist artist. One can do very deep and complex work with more or less original elements that constitute a whole that says more than the sum of its parts. There are more shallow levels of symbolism, though. For instance, there is a form of literal symbolism that isn't really symbolism in the deepest sense. It's a form of expression where various physical elements that represent easily determined value systems are juxtaposed to create a fairly realistic scene. The art of the Symbolist movement is often like that. It's a visual language that is very easy to read. The problem with it is that it's easy to read with your rational mind while much intuition isn't required. It means that the whole isn't that much greater than the sum of its parts. Some people also create art they call symbolic when it has a few symbolic elements thrown in, but there isn't really a coherent whole that would explain the presence of these elements. Sometimes, however, the symbolic elements do contribute to the overall feel, in a good way. So I would say there are no strict rules for this kind of art.

I have been thinking about symbolism in a languid sort of way, wandering where to go from here. I feel that my own artistic expression is dying away, and I have absolutely no idea what could take its place. If anything at all! Of course, in this process I also have doubts about symbolism and how relevant it is for me from now on. My symbolic language has changed over the years, from being very explicit to being less coherent, but more expressive. Whether it's a weakness or a strength, I don't really know.

There are two London based twin sisters of Indian descent who took up the dying form of traditional Indian miniature painting. They were scoffed at at first, and told their contemporary interpretation of this traditional technique (which on top of everything wasn't European!) was not art. They persisted nonetheless, and have since made it in the art world. There is an interview with them here

Partners In Crime:Deception and Lies, 2004
Poster, gouache, gold dust on mountboard
57 x 78cm (22.5 x 30.7in)
Rabindra KD Kaur Singh
This piece features George Bush and Tony Blair. The Singh twins explain the symbolism:

"/.../ symbols of deceit and crime and the poison of words are signified here by the aconite (monkshood) and convolvulus flower respectively. In addition, Bush stands on a hyena, symbol of the two-faced person and inconsistency, thus pointing to the hypocrisy of the USA’s stance in condemning the Iraqi Dictator whom they once openly supported. Outwardly presenting themselves (through their use of religious rhetoric) as forces of good out to free the world from “evil doers”, both politicians wear the trappings of the preacher. However, their outward appearance is contrasted by other details which suggest the real motifs behind their occupation of Iraq – namely, the desire to spread Imperialistic western ideals and to control Iraqi oil. Hence, an imprint of the Stars and Stripes can be seen across the geographic region on which they stand whilst oil flows from an Iraqi oil rig into a pipeline to the west – an operation which is overseen by a monkey and squirrel, both symbolising greed. At the same time the “thieving magpie” flies away with a string of pearls which denotes wealth./.../"

Dressed To Kill (from the SPOrTLIGHT series)
23 x 38 cm (9 x 15in)
Poster colour and gouache on mountboard
Artist: Amrit K.D. Kaur Singh
About "Dressed to Kill":

/.../ Sports celebrities and specific sports are presented in symbolic images that take a light hearted and sometimes satirical look at how commercialisation and the mass media have transformed sport into a tool for product promotion and increasingly blurred the boundaries between the world of sport, fashion, media and celebrity. The series, which formed an exhibition in 2002, reinterprets 18th and 19th Century Indian miniatures paintings - the aim being "to create a platform for introducing wider audiences to this traditional art form through a subject that would have mass appeal as part of popular culture". In a broader context 'SPOrTLIGHT' projects the artists' ongoing aims to assert the value of traditional and non European aesthetics as a legitimate form of expression within Contemporary art practice./.../

I think the sisters' pursuits are admirable - bringing Indian traditions to people's attention as well as executing such fine paintings. Please view more of their art and explanations here on their website. I do ask myself, however, whether the themes and the symbolism isn't a tad simplistic. I personally feel that the traditional style creates some constraints that leave very little room for the symbols to breathe. They are pre ordained to co-exist in a traditional space that to me, appears a little claustrophobic and stifling. For instance, I find the figures a bit nondescript, as they mostly exist in a flat traditional Indian space that attempts to look as realistic as possible (seen from the level of the onlooker's eyes, with their feet on the ground below, and so on).  

The sisters claim that one of their endeavours is to create art that isn't individualistic.  Well, to me that defies the value of using traditional methods in the first place. I don't see that traditions are valuable unless they are tweaked to fit a point in the collective evolution of consciousness, and the point I'm talking about here is infused with an increasing sense of individualism. There is nothing wrong with individualism, on the contrary. I also think it adds a dimension to art that we yearn for as a collective, because it's something that preoccupies us a lot right now. The evolution of indivdualism is part and parcel of the progression of life's different shapes and forms towards ever-increasing complexity. I admire the twins' efforts but also see some problems with the approach. Ironically, the very literal expression of the challenging collective themes about greed and the disintegration of the sacredness of love the sisters have been wanting to express is in itself an expression of a rather shallow, conventional and flat understanding of symbolic art and what symbols can express at their very best - in fact, it's an academic approach, it uses a formula. This is conventional and unenterprising the way modern people usually understand these potentially spiritual systems of meaning. You could use this kind of approach in as a form of satire, using self-irony, kitsch and clichés in order to make a point about the superficial ways of the world, but I'm not detecting this kind of approach in this art.

I also wonder, if the quest for "non-European aesthetics as a legitimate form of expression within Contemporary art practice" easily becomes an end in itself. The modern themes seem to me the only way in which this art can claim to be contemporary, and I wonder if it's a somewhat poor one. I'm not even sure the themes are telling us anything we didn't already know - to death.  Contemporary art at its very best comes in a breath of fresh air, a new point of view... that's what I'd like to see also connected to symbolism. To award this Indian derived art can also easily be an act of political correctness... 

I certainly prefer this art to most art out there... but I don't see it as quite as progressive as I'd like to see it as.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Exhibition poster
I am biased of course - I married a very talented artist and obviously have every intention of supporting his endeavours in finding and developing his unique artistic expression. We're both middle aged and so don't have the advantages of youth, however we hope (and believe) that this is compensated by maturity of vision. 

Martin Herbert, my husband, has been working on a drawing project with the help of an Arts Council grant for the past six months, and is now showing what he's created to date at the Radnorshire Museum and Gallery in Llandrindod Wells until January the 12th. You can follow his progress here on his blog Artedstates. After a short and well deserved break he will continue to work on the project and will present the sum total of his work at MOMA Wales (Machynlleth) in April - May 2013.

Project Synthesis is an exploration of the relationship between digital 'new media' and traditional painting and drawing. Martin has taken organic and mechanical constructions made with 3D fractal modelling software and made them into large-scale drawings done with the most traditional of materials, sepia ink and clay pencils, indistinguishable from those used by Renaissance artists like Leonardo Da Vinci. He also takes public domain texts from the internet and uses them as the basis for new illustrated books done with the same attention to traditional craftsmanship. Lastly, there is a video installation with a computer-generated soundtrack showing some of the digital work which inspired the drawings – making a true mix of the oldest and newest media available to the artist.

As the multi-talented "Renaissance" man Martin is, he also created a video with older digital work called "Unlikely realms" to go with the drawings. These digital explorations was the starting point for his application to the Arts Council.

The grant was meant to help further Martin's career and so he's been experimenting in order to perfect his technique and visual expression. Some of the work in the current exhibition are images he wanted to do independently but most of them are illustrations for the lovely symbolic book The Crock of Gold by James Stephens. Incidentally, I was the one who introduced him to it, quite an odd thing really since it's an Irish tale - a fairy tale for adults. I read it when I was 18 and loved the spiritual message. This year also happens to be the centenary of the book. 

"The Heart is the Fountain of Wisdom" : 90 cm x 70 cm:
Ink, pencil, gouache & transfer print on handmade Khadi paper.

Copyright © 2012 by Martin Herbert

Martin says: This project has two distinct strands with one theme in common – they both concern the reconciliation between digital 'new media' and traditional drawing and painting techniques.  My goal is to explore ways in which computers and the internet can be used to source material which inspires illustrations and innovative new work to be carried out using traditional materials and techniques.
The first strand concerns the production of new organisms, machines and organic constructs using 3D computer modelling technology, which I then use as inspiration for new drawings done using the earthiest and most organic of materials – sepia ink, clay pencils, earth pigments etc.

The second strand involves sourcing written material from the internet - I am using these texts as the basis for new illustrated editions of neglected or beloved books which have now passed into the public domain through expiry of copyright and are now available to anyone who cares to download them from web archives.  The illustrated editions will then be uploaded back to the internet, completing the cycle.  The first book to receive this treatment is Irish author James Stephen's 'fairy tale for grown ups', The Crock of Gold. The illustrations are a work in progress, leading up to publication of a new illustrated edition in 2013.

Find Martin on Facebook!

Photographs from the private view:

Last minute preparations.
Will Adams is the director of Radnorshire Museum and Gallery.

Most of these drawings are illustrations for The Crock of Gold.
Martin made the wonderful frames himself.
Martin is talking to artist Sue Purcell 
The hungry artist strikes again... myself gobbling some nibbles.
I was in the middle of a terrible cold which paused itself for the private view
and then restarted as soon as we were back home.
If all goes well, I might be able to have an exhibition here myself, in 2014.

"Design for a Flying Machine to Escape the Bank Manager": 70 x 50 cm :
Ink, chalk, gouache & transfer printing on handmade paper : Copyright © 2012 by Martin Herbert
View from the window at Radnorshire Museum; Llandrindod Wells is a historic spa town
with a lot of beautiful Victorian hotels.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Vivi-Mari Carpelan: "Important English Furniture", collage 1993

My previous article on outsider art has made me think a little about art criticism. If you start out with the assumption that an exhibition is going to comprise a specific group within society, then you have presumably set some specific premises for the process of selecting and judging the art work that these people are presenting. 

I think Outside In is doing a great job in attempting to disregard an artist's background. Basically, if an artist feels they belong with this group, then they are welcome. I guess one can assume that only disadvantaged people would want to take this opportunity. I've had to discard my hopeless attempts at fitting in in the normal world and admit that I could really use a support group that is designed for people who cannot function like "normal" people. This decision wasn't that easy to make.

At least in theory, an artist's history isn't important to the Outside In team - some of the outsider artists have been educated within the arts and therefore do not fit in with the old definition of outsider artists as being self-taught. It's just a new and progressive way of looking at this type of art and it's certainly moving in the right direction. Many of us have complicated and difficult lives that prevent us from being fully functioning artists with the aim of becoming acknowledged professionals. I may have had some training in art colleges, and that seems to count when I present my work to the general art world. We all know how artist's today seem to get onto the career wagon just from having had a successful degree show. Those of us who aren't such young promising artists with the luxury of having such a show, are often disregarded. Even for a normally functioning artist it can be incredibly difficult to get anywhere if they are over 30. 

Of course, if I have to deal with people within the normal art world, I make an effort to appear as professional as possible or at least secretly hope that my CV will be impressive enough and that I managed to use the right buzz words. Yet the truth of the matter is that I'm not very good at communicating my intentions in a way that would fit in with the contemporary art scene (this is especially hard without compromising my true self), and I don't have all that fancy stuff on my CV that seem to matter so much these days, for instance awards and commissions. My actual training in fine arts is also minimal and I basically taught myself how to express myself artistically rather than commercially. I don't suppose anyone at Outside In really cares what background I have, as I'm sure they care only about my present life circumstances. Yet I can't help but wonder whether there is some kind of agenda at the back of the minds of the judges to award art work that doesn't appear to be backed up by formal training.

Vivi-Mari Carpelan: "Xclusion",
handmade collage with artist's photograph,
copyright 2012
The question around exclusion versus inclusion within the art world is not simple. How do you create a new paradigm for art criticism? Outsider art is a reactionary movement that attempts to reject typical value systems within the art world, but how far can you go in being reactionary without losing touch with society at large? How is such art to be judged if it's not judged in accordance with a general consensus within the art world? All this raises the question whether this kind of art can be judged and written about in the same way as any other art. 

I think there are ways in which experts can judge a piece of art in a fair manner, although they may not all agree. In other words, there is an objective stance which is independent of the art market or art world today but also of any knowledge about the artist. Being able to have an acute eye for good art but also disregard any knowledge of the artist's life, reputation and former achievements isn't easy, but it can be done. 

I do believe that art work has to be able to stand on its own regardless what predicament  artists finds themselves in. I have often wished that my art would be judged with the understanding that I have limitations and that this comes across as imperfection in my work. But this is never going to happen and shouldn't happen either. I can only hope that the imperfections are only obvious to myself. I can only hope that my message is strong enough to make people think highly of what I do. I obviously don't want to be a pity case! I do however think that it's great that my art is being seen by people who intentionally look for meaning and value that is based in a concern for the equality of all artistic people. On the one hand, you are being supported in the difficult task of getting your art out there. On the other, your art is being seen as potentially supportive of humanistic values and judged on the basis of the human message your art sends out (either by contents or through its pure expressiveness - or both). While this process of inclusion may not always be 100% successful, I do think it's revolutionary and will hopefully become more and more influential. Won't people eventually get tired of conceptual art without a connection to true human sentiments and ethics?

I hope these attempts won't be jeopardized by the inclusion of the wrong kind of art work, i.e. work that is only therapeutic and not really artistic. I think there is a real danger in allowing immature work due to matters of equality to be displayed along side with highly proficient work, as the former can drag down the standard and how it's all being seen by other authorities in the arts. This revolution has to be a truly serious minded and not give any reason for ridicule from other serious institutions. I realize this may not be entirely possible in the world of today, as someone out there is bound to find a reason to disregard such noble efforts. But there are ways in which these things can progress more smoothly and one is for instance the inclusion of outsider art in a prestigious gallery such as Pallant House. The beautiful presentation of art work in this gallery raises the social profile of unusual work considerably. Another  thing is not getting stuck with being politically correct and pleasing members of society who are guilt ridden or driven by anger (i.e. strong negative affects as opposed to positive and more constructive ones). 

Instead of standing on the barricades shouting that everyone should be equal one must work towards a real and genuine interaction with opposing forces that builds up a sense of trust and benevolence. I'm not sure how it's supposed to work in practice, but I do know that you need to show that your efforts are serious minded and that your art has a clear message that would benefit society. You don't throw this message in people's faces but gentle offer it for people to ponder. The hardest thing is to get that sort of work in front of people. In today's climate, people don't want to know about complicated world views or deviant personalities, poverty, or any kind of illness. It's hardly surprising since life is hard and most of us get a fair share of suffering regardless. Therefore it's of the utmost importance that what you have to say somehow rings a bell for that potential audience. A sense of recognition and sympathy is what opens people up. It's all about connecting. Without connection there is hardly ever any form of compassion, and without compassion there is no social progress. That's just my humble opinion.

Vivi-Mari Carpelan: "Marilyn and Picasso", collage 1993
Read this interview with Bobby Baker, a performance artist who was one of the Judges at Outside In National; some years back she "went mad" and used drawing on her way to recovery - she's talking about the process of making art about mental illness and the question about being an outsider or an insider.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Not much else to say except that at least personally I feel I hit gold here in Finland - I have been indulging in secret Russian photographic operations and can say no more or I'll have to kill you... Here's part of the result and the rest can be seen in my Facebook album or on my website (more to come). I find this kind of work a welcome break from the collaging that is heavy with meaning. I call this series "Traces" because it's all about traces left by people, quite inadvertently for the most part.

Vivi-Mari Carpelan: "Emerging Numbers",. digital photograph, copyright 2012

Vivi-Mari Carpelan: "What Was Once Useful", digital photograph, copyright 2012

Vivi-Mari Carpelan: "Entity",. digital photograph, copyright 2012

Vivi-Mari Carpelan: "Missing Message",. digital photograph, copyright 2012

Vivi-Mari Carpelan: "Ssh...",. digital photograph, copyright 2012

Vivi-Mari Carpelan: "Lost Words",. digital photograph, copyright 2012 

Vivi-Mari Carpelan: "A Little Square Thingy",. digital photograph, copyright 2012 

Vivi-Mari Carpelan: "Lost T",. digital photograph, copyright 2012 

Vivi-Mari Carpelan: "Triangle 12",. digital photograph, copyright 2012 
Vivi-Mari Carpelan: "30 X",. digital photograph, copyright 2012 

Vivi-Mari Carpelan: "Speaking in Tongues",. digital photograph, copyright 2012