Outside In volunteer Linda Davies catches up with 2009 Award Winner Kwei Eden about her experiences with Outside In and what she is up to currently.
Has Outside In been helpful to you?
Oh, extremely. I heard about it through Creative Response. After having my first joint exhibition at Creative Response, an art worker was looking for submissions for the 2009 Outside In Open Art Competition as they encourage you to continue exhibiting your work. Colossal was an attempt to work on a larger scale. I submitted this and it was selected from 850 works to be exhibited in the 2009 Outside In exhibition at Pallant House Gallery.
Was that the piece that you won the Award for through Outside In?
Yes that’s right. Despite the photo of Colossal being appalling they wanted it! They do take me a long time to do actually and as I’ve been in recovery from my mental health issues it’s taken me longer and longer. Now I feel like my mind has progressed and they are getting more detailed and kind of refined. Generally I work in A2 and actually try to go bigger. Last year I had the opportunity to exhibit at the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham and I put 46 pieces of A2 works together. I ended up calling it Evolution because it demonstrated the most transitional stages of all my pencil drawings. They look like they’re paintings but they’re not. It included a lot of my earlier work – and as you looked from left to right, the pieces began connecting together, like the development of my mind, over time becoming more complex and intricate.
They do look like paintings.
Yes it’s a compliment in a way because I am not sure that I could get that detail in a painting. I don’t think about it, I just do it. The latest one I’m doing is a blending of different colours. I’m getting the colour to fade in and out. I start with yellow and end up with red, so yellow to orange to red, orange to yellow to orange to red, also in the way I approach the expansion of this work, beginning with one A2 sheet adding colour to the other sheets as it grows rather than joining the colours together by going up, down or across which is what I did with the first of the joined A2 Works. When initially considering my solo exhibition at Pallant House and after joining 30 works together at my first joint exhibition at Creative Response with individual works, I thought about connecting the colours of each A2 works together. I was curious about the bottom of one piece as it felt a bit ‘cave like.’ I wondered about creating a mirror image on another page. I began extending it down and across from that point by spreading long lines across multiple pages. I ended up doing a nine piece work which was called The Whole as it was made of many parts.
I have developed the way I format and extend the colour. In the following work I used the same materials to create Pathways Unearthed. I decided to approach it like a tarot reading, connecting the colours and pages together like the Celtic Spread as I was doing a lot of that at the time. Outside In and the exhibition have been really influential in facilitating me to develop my work in refining and resolving pieces. It has given me confidence which I don’t think I would have achieved alone. Creative Response gave me the confidence to exhibit and submit work and Outside In initiated the expansion of exhibiting work on a larger scale. When Colossal was selected I couldn’t believe it. So, yes, that was really exciting and I went to the presentation ceremony. I felt so depressed that day… and then I was one of the winners and I was like “Oh my God.” It was amazing. I couldn’t believe it. I was in disbelief. “Is this real?” I thought, and then I was asked to do a local radio interview. I felt like a celebrity!
You didn’t frame the piece you had in the exhibition at Pallant House Gallery. Do you ever frame your work?
I find it very expensive to frame, so I avoid it if I can. It would be quite challenging to frame nine pieces of A2. I would love to use light protected glass and have work sandwiched in between two sheets of glass. That would be my dream, but it would be extremely costly. Art materials are expensive, but they are cheaper now than they used to be. If you want quality materials you have to pay for them.
Do you ever draw out your work in a small way before you do it big?
No, I just go for it. I don’t do a sketch or anything. I’ve got a bit of a phobia about drawing, which is really funny when my work is talked about as a drawing. I’m going to have to challenge that part of myself at University next year. I just don’t do it because I get frustrated that something doesn’t look exactly right in the first instance. I did life drawing as part of my access course and found it extremely frustrating. Anything which asks me to replicate what I see … forget it. It feels pointless. I can’t do it and I hate doing things that I can’t do well.
Do you find now that you’re doing a degree it’s changed the way you’re looking at things? Are you still doing work as a way of sorting out your mind or are you thinking of other things?
Yes, I feel more pressurized to perform and also I think it’s the whole process of ‘making it as an artist’, which is something that I feel I’m supposed to be aiming for. It’s opening me up to a wider, scarier world of reality. Outside In is a bubble of loveliness and you’re in it, believed in and encouraged to feel more valued about your work. I was asked if I’d take part in ‘Share Art’ last year. I had the opportunity to talk for 10 minutes about my journey through art which included a Power Point presentation. It was so well received and I felt validated. I don’t think I could encounter that anywhere else. I didn’t realise that I would actually find it quite easy to talk about my experiences.
Do you think that the degree course has made you feel more confident?
I think Outside In makes me feel more confident. With the degree I’m being challenged a lot and I find that a difficult thing to contend with. I do feel a bit like a rabbit in the headlights, but at the same time I’m doing things and the motivation of getting graded helps me think, “Oh, I’m doing alright there.” I’m learning so many skills and have done things I’d never have contemplated doing. I think Outside In makes me feel really good about myself and what I’ve achieved, but I think it’s quite a safe place. With the degree and University, it’s a structured environment and you have a sense of purpose which is something I find facilitates my recovery. The degree is not so much of a confidence giver but it’s part of the real world that I need to begin immersing myself in. I love Outside In and when I’m talking about my work and I’m asked to do things like this I absolutely love it. It helps me; it facilitates my confidence.
Do you feel you can get in touch with Outside In whenever you feel like it?
Yes, it’s always going to be there and I want to contribute to it. There is always something art related and I would like to collaborate; whether I’m helping them or they are helping me.
How about your band? When you played with your band at the exhibition, how many others played too?
I play the bass guitar and sing. There were three of us. We are called Eden Blacklist. Creative Response spawned a lot of my creative activity and helped me reconnect with other skills I already had. The band came about through the music group there. I had played in a band with a previous partner. Learning the six string guitar was something I picked up as a teenager but found it very frustrating. The bass guitar is much more my cup of tea. I took to it really well and built on that skill.
What is next in terms of what you’re doing in the near future apart from finishing your essay? Then what next when you’ve finished your degree? Have you thought about that?
I did the Step Up training at Pallant House Gallery and then given the opportunity to run an art related workshop and really enjoyed it. And I just thought, ”This is my niche”. I think I’ve found what I’d like to do. There was a really vulnerable adult at the workshop who had to be reminded of things very regularly. When I started to talk about what we were going to do in the workshop he just talked over the top of me, as loudly as me, so you couldn’t hear what I was saying. I said, ”What do I do here? Carry on?” and they said, “Yes.” It turned out there were about four subjects I was talking about which were buzz subjects for this person and he would react. So I just battled through the intro. It was challenging but I have a loud voice anyway. Then the introduction was finished and he started to make work and I sat with him for quite a long time and I found connecting with him was the highlight of the whole experience.
Did you find that when you sat there that he had been taking in the things you’d been saying to him?
Yes, because actually the work that he did – he had someone working alongside him who said that what he did was some of the best work he’d ever done. I just thought about how much we connected. It got me thinking about art related workshops, not necessarily for vulnerable people. I’d like to work with kids. I find them very rewarding and quite easy to connect with. I love connecting with them and facilitating self-belief as I have really struggled with that in my life and I think it’s crucial for children to be believed in, feel respected, valued and appreciated: mainly to be heard and to understand why they might do things.
And maybe you’d like to be doing practical things rather than writing an essay? What is your topic?
My topic is Identity. I chose it because it’s relevant to me and I’m writing about Anish Kapoor and Anthony Gormley. Gormley’s quite well documented but Kapoor doesn’t seem to be. I probably find Kapoor more interesting. I’ve chosen one of his early works – Adam – and it has been hard to find information on it. I just felt drawn to it so I’ve stuck with it. For Gormley I chose another early work; Bed, that was made of bread. I was drawn to the food connection.
Does that give you inspiration for your own work?
It probably will in a way. It definitely opens my mind. What I have discovered about academia and my relationship with it is it helps me see the world in a whole new perspective. I feel like I am able to perceive the world on new, diverse levels; especially in discourse with fellow artists. I find when discussing ideas with others, I can investigate ideas on a whole new vista. I’m beginning to think it’s setting me up for a much richer life – to actually push myself to complete tasks and meet deadlines which actually do sometimes seem a bit pointless but facilitate me learning more about myself and developing an argument. It never occurred to me that I would begin to enjoy the process of academic writing. It feels like I am constantly finding out how I learn and develop skills. I got a lot of confidence from feeling it was more of my personal influence that went into the content of my latest essay. I felt it was my best piece of writing to date. Although being graded a B for it, I knew I couldn’t have completed a better piece of writing. I am looking forward to continuing the development of my writing technique.
Do you think that would help you too if you were working with children or other people?
I’m getting more insight because I’m researching other artists and as a result gaining further understanding about other art processes and what artists are challenging and discussing – what subject matter drives their work. I think it will help to open my mind further.
How would you like to develop your work in the next five years?
I’ve actually got this vision that I’d love to suspend from a gallery wall. Creating something with multiple works of my A2 coloured pencil pieces. Something in the region of 100 works, but in my head I’ve got this vision of having the newest of my works; probably about 30 sheets stuck together in an oblong shape and then extending it by connecting the colours together of older works and expand outwards to create a huge oblong of colour. That’s one of my long term aims; I’d like to do that.
Image: Kwei Eden, Colossal