OCA student: Patricia Farrar
Significance of the Critical Essay on my Practice
If you are anything like me, the thought of the critical essay and an exhibition looms large on the horizon of the final months of SYP. Everything starts to get very serious and the expectation seems to be there that somehow you have morphed into this incredible being called ‘an artist’ with a ‘voice’!
An artist with a ‘voice’! When I began SYP these two concepts were far from being established. I had enjoyed the constant challenge to experiment and explore in the course so far and, although academic writing was not a problem for me, somehow I felt a tension when seeing it as a requirement in a very practical environment. But the requirement was there and so, as I thought more deeply about it, it occurred to me that with the two courses, Major Project and Contextual Studies being required to be studied simultaneously, this had to be a major clue in the process of my development as an artist.
And so it happened but in a major and completely unplanned way!
To ‘have a voice’ depends hugely on identity. You needed to know who you were and what you had to say. I went through several scenarios about identity but it wasn’t until a return trip to my homeland of Australia happened that I began to unpick layers of my identity. I came to realize that in that environment I could be me and this came as quite a shock! It made me ask questions like, “Who is this ‘me’?” “Do I know her?” “Then who is this other person who lives in England?” And more significantly the question, “Well can this ‘me’ only exist in Australia?” I realized that these are questions which come to every migrant. These issues came down to facing questions about place, identity, belonging, ‘otherness’, isolation and memory.
Memory about Australia was the most sensitive one and in a way difficult to rationalize. And memory seemed to be at its loudest in the area of sound. In my painting I spent many weeks working through the effect of sound in the form of people talking, words being used and most importantly the sounds of birds. It was through painting memory through sounds that I really had to search for ideas and ways of abstracting feelings rather than images.
But all the while this struggle was happening I knew I didn’t want to paint ‘Australia’. That wasn’t what it was about. It was about learning to be totally comfortable with ‘otherness’. Being comfortable with being a migrant doesn’t come easily and I now realize that it has taken me the greater proportion of my time in England to arrive at this. Needing to find my voice as an artist was driving this realisation and it has given me the freedom and confidence to be myself.
At the same time as these changes were happening in my painting for major project, the discussion with my tutor concerning the topic for the critical essay was reaching a critical point because of the time element. It was suggested that I needed to confront the ‘Australianness’ in my work by initially writing a soliloquy between the two voices, Britishness and Australianness. This was an inspired suggestion and so I began a forensic analysis of the influences, feeling, memories, processes inherent in the work in order to understand who I was and to find my voice as an artist. Although this first piece of writing was not considered suitable as an academic submission , it was an essential foundation for the final critical essay. The final essay took the question, “Is my art practice a question of country?” and investigated the subject from a much wider perspective than my own. The comments from the tutor confirmed the rightness of this change in direction. “You are certainly on the right tracks now and the essay reads in a more universal tone rather than a heavy reliance on the soliloquy. There are questions and unpacking of wider themes of the identity of a migrant with a focus on HOW your practice confronts and investigates this. You maintain a personal and poetic reflection of your work whilst delving into other theories to expand your reasoning. It feels like this essay has been cathartic for you to investigate your practice, especially in what your voice is, what voice means to you and how you have found your voice practically. It also states your current practice and how the essay has formed a framework for future work.”
The most important point I want to make, however, is the effect which this cathartic experience had on my practice. I found that my painting was undergoing a change. I began to work with greater confidence, unhesitatingly using the strong colours which I associate with my homeland. I discovered an excitement in paint and a greater understanding of the process which was personal to me . Words had always had special meaning for me and many times poetry formed the basis of the creative process. I didn’t question this any more and it seemed that the process into the painting flowed with such unquestioning ease. I had found my voice! I had found me!
I am heartbroken to have to share the news that OCA student and artist Patricia Farrar passed away at the weekend.
Every single drawing and painting student (and many beyond) has some connection with Patricia as her work illustrates our course units as exemplars of practice. Many of you know her very well indeed as a generous peer and a friend.
Emma Drye, OCA Programme Leader for Painting and Drawing. Read Emma’s post on Patricia here.