If Sandy Brown were to write an art book – which she might do one day – “it would have four pages,” she says. “The first page would be, gather some materials; the second page would say ‘forget everything you have ever seen in art or done in art, and come into the here and now with an empty mind’. The third would be ‘do it’; and the fourth page would say ‘accept it’.”
It’s that last page that is the trickiest.
“A lot of people stumble on accepting what they’ve done when they’ve let go,” she says, “because often they find they’ve got some other idea of how they think it’s supposed to be.
“It’s about having an open mind and accepting what’s come.”
Sandy’s favourite pieces of her own work are when she’s let go and accepted what is happening – when she’s “been in that state of being open in the moment – absolutely in the moment and just responding and going from what’s happening now. It’s like music improvisation,” she says.
That’s no mean feat with deadlines looming. Her exhibition Swisherama (“I’ve always struggled with titles for paintings for ceramics – and then I thought, I make up the images, why don’t I just make up the words as well.”) is marking the White Moose Gallery’s fifth anniversary, and she’s got a massive solo show in Germany that’s she preparing for.
“There are all sorts of things that can get in the way. Wanting to be successful, especially working for an exhibition deadline… But I have to think if it doesn’t work, if I don’t like it, I’ll just do another one. If I genuinely give myself permission to fail, then it works. But it has be to genuine.”
The large-scale paintings – 250cm x 210cm – which largely make up her Swisherama show are an ideal size once she is working.
“It’s large enough so that when I’m standing in front of it, I can be totally immersed in it – I can’t see the edges,” says Sandy.
Sandy started working in ceramics in Mashiko, Japan.
“The pottery that I worked in was very inventive and expressive and playful in the way they would continue to use one glaze on top of another and the way they would just apply them freely. They’d have a big soup ladle full of one glaze and they’d have a big dish in the other hand and they would throw the glaze through the air and catch it on the dish. And I just loved that freedom.”
Gradually Sandy’s work become more painterly and that work expanded from ceramics to paintings.
One of the attractions of the White Moose show was the focus on Sandy’s paintings.
“I’ve been known for my ceramics and so when Stella Levy, who’s one of the partners in White Moose, suggested showing just the paintings, I thought that would be good.”
The idea developed to include some of Sandy’s ceramics.
“We’re going to include a modern banquet which is a table full of ceramics,” says Sandy. “A chef is going to prepare some food and people are going to be invited to participate in a meal as an art event.”
The difference between ceramics and painting lies in the glazes.
“The main difference of painting with glazes on ceramics is they’re not the colours that they’re going to be at the time of painting. For example, on a platter, the green glaze and the blue glaze both look grey before they are fired.
“It works best if I don’t plan in advance what I’m going to do and just come to it in the moment and do it there and then without thinking, without planning. That’s what I do with the paintings as well.”
The way she describes her work has a musical quality.
“I love piano jazz,” she says. “One of my favourite musicians is Keith Jarrett, a piano player who says that he doesn’t rehearse for his concerts. He just starts playing and then goes on till he stops.”
It’s a sentiment that sits easily with Sandy.
“You bring all your knowledge and all your experience to bear,” she says. “Everything that we are and have known and have experienced comes into play in that moment.
“And often between times, when I’m not being creative, when I’m not working on ceramics, or painting or sculpture or anything, I’m observing my work. I live with it in my house and my studio and my garage is full of it, so I’m digesting what I’ve done. All of that is food and information for the next one.
“It’s not a conscious process, but it is going on all the time.”
Swisherama | Sandy Brown, White Moose Gallery, Barnstaple
March 24-May 19 | Tuesdays – Fridays 10am-5pm;