With a solo show coming up soon I’ve been asked to fill in a questionnaire to help the gallery with their efforts to promote me on social media. One of the questions was ‘What’s the best advice you have ever been given?’
Great question, but a tough one to answer. In the end I went for a flip answer: ‘Don’t bleed on the artwork’ which wasn’t so much offered as a piece of advice as hurled as an imperative in a graphic design practice I used to visit. Valid if, like me, you are surrounded by razor sharp tools and spend your days digging out bits of wood. In fairness I tend to get more paper cuts than anything else these days. I did manage to nick myself on a piece of toast the other day, quite how I’m not sure, but rose to the double challenge of no blood or cherry jam on the artwork.
To come clean, the one piece of advice that changed my life was given when I was dithering about whether I wanted to print at all. After leaving a career in the photo industry I was in the extraordinary position of having friends urging me to take and use their Albion press. I had the room and the time to do it and yet I refused. Trouble was that I hadn’t printed in sixteen years and I was two years into recovering from a savage fight with depression. It was far too easy to say I was still too ill, couldn’t concentrate, not good enough anymore, I hadn’t even been drawing since I left art school, etc etc. Oh, so easy to give up.
I was reciting this litany to a much older friend who listed patiently and then said ‘Stop making excuses and get on with it. It’s fine if you fail, but hopeless if you never try’*. Not what I wanted to hear at all: she was supposed to tell me how brave I was and how she understood. I’d like to say I was transformed into the artist I am today on the very spot as a result, but actually her words just niggled away to the point that I belatedly agreed to accept the Albion and rather grudgingly started printing.
The rest, as they say, is history. But I have never forgotten that, without her unappealing words, I would never have tried. Tough love indeed, but for me, the best advice I have ever had…
*I need to say that she said this at a time when I was a long way into recovering from depression. I would never, ever, recommend saying anything like this to someone ill with depression. Giving any advice in those circumstances is a mistake in my opinion; a hug and just being there is far more valuable.