Pattern Spotting : Looking Back to Look Forward

Facebook recently flashed up one of those ‘remember this’ photos. I rarely pay attention to this Facebook feature, but this particular post was of a photograph of some art I had made in 2015, titled Signals Part Three. The art sold to friends in the USA, and the photo which Facebook nudged into my view, depicted the finished, framed, displayed pieces.

I really enjoyed making these art works. At the time I was experimenting with new forms of paint, and the colours in these works were all made from just three tubes of paint. The sense of geometry in these works, periodically played with in order to create some gentle disturbance, was and is part of my artistic experimentation.

The main thing I took from this Facebook reminder, is that our work is an evolving thing. I often feel reluctance to take part in and share something new, when in fact, what I am usually doing is tweaking and refining. A process, a design, an idea. I don’t like to dwell in the past for too long, and a brief look back often helps us look forward. If you were to flick back through your work a couple of years or so – what patterns might you find? More to follow…

 

Best Seat In The House


Mum knitted this little bear for me when I was a kid. It fits in the palm of my hand and it’s worn the Tranmere Rovers crest for as long as I can remember. Today, Sunday May 14th 2017, the bear (it has no name) sits on a purple chair in front of the TV, waiting for the Non-League playoff final to start. Tranmere Rovers v Forest Green Rovers. Best seat in the house?

I’m writing this on a train to Wembley Stadium to watch the match. The bear is one of very few physical connections I have with our Mum. It’s staying at home, too small, too easy for me to lose. I first saw Tranmere play in 1974 when my Dad and I visited Selhurst Park to watch Crystal Palace. Tranmere were the away team, and they lost 2-1. The naïveté of youth prevailed, and though I returned to Selhurst Park a number of times, I pinned my allegiance to Tranmere, and much like the badge was pinned to the bear, the allegiance stayed put.

The occasional away game sufficed for a long while, and after I learned to drive, the 500 mile round trip to see a home game began to feature in my life. As I trundled up and down motorways, I cursed my younger self for choosing a team based so far from home. And I kept going.

Things shifted up a gear when we enjoyed a few seasons of success in cup competitions. This, coupled with the emergence of internet chat rooms, meant I began to know some of my fellow supporters better. I encountered lots of good humour and kindness, as I travelled to more games, home and away, people would offer a place to stay. This generosity helped break up many a long journey, and meant we got to know each other better too. The kindness of strangers became the kindness of friends.

Over the years Dad and I returned to Selhurst Park together whenever Tranmere and Crystal Palace played. We took it in turns to sit with each other’s supporters so that we could be together. I have fond memories of these games, lots of laughs with the occasional bit of watchable sport thrown in.

I held a Tranmere Rovers season ticket for a while. It used to get used by friends when I couldn’t make the long journey to the ground. I was at Tranmere when the Football Supporters Trust was founded, and served on the board for a few of the early years. I once rode my bike 306 miles from home to the ground (the journey took five days) to raise money for the club and British Heart Foundation.

Fatherhood came along, and this great privilege took me away from football, though before it did, I recall Carole being kind enough to endure an awful home game while pregnant so I could tell our kid there first football match was at Tranmere. Sorry Carole!

I’ve not seen the team play in a long time, and I feel a little awkward turning up for a big occasion after such a long absence. But hey, whether we win or lose, I get to see some lovely people and watch an important match. Did I mention I’ve got a front row ticket? Best Seat In The House.

Update Monday 15th May 2017 : We lost, and were well beaten. 3-1. It’s the hope that kills you, etcetera 🙂  It was great catching up with old friends. For that, and for the chance to be at the game, I’m grateful.

The Art of Innovation : Side Projects

I’m working on a culture of innovation project with some associates. As part of this work, I’ve been thinking a lot about my free art project, and how much it now impacts and influences other elements of my work and life. I recently met with Robert Ordever from OC Tanner and together we enjoyed an interesting conversation about the space where work meets…the real you?

I began the free art project as a curiosity. A key part of my initial motivation was to experience letting go of my work, and the idea of a weekly schedule for giving the work away forced me into a mindset of production, and of needing to adopt the mantra, ‘It’s good enough, move on.’ Anyone who takes a pride in their work may recognise the tension in getting something right, and not necessarily perfect. I’ll come back to that later on.

Robert and I talked about the idea of doing a side project for the sake of curiosity, with no obvious end in mind. We questioned, to what extent would you be ‘allowed’ to do something like this at work? The free art project took a while to develop in any sense of gaining feedback and response. Robert wondered, ‘If you were running an experiment at work, at what point would you have quit?’ It’s a great question – I don’t have an answer and we need to recognise that if we want our colleagues to problem solve, and come up with new, alternative ways of working – figuring out how to create time and space for this, matters.

Although the free art project is ongoing, each week represents a new challenge, a new piece of work to be created. The way I cope with this demand ebbs and flows. Sometimes the ideas are plentiful and I find myself making more than one piece. In turn I may leave more than one art work for people to find that week, and sometimes I hold things back. I now know there will be weeks when I get stuck, and am simply too busy with other stuff – and at those times, having a reserve bank of art to draw from is really useful. I am more resourceful as a result of my side project.

Robert and I got talking about a struggle to move away from what works, towards something which may be better. In a work sense, we often drift into patterns of behaviour which once set, are hard to break from. We might convince ourself there’s no other way to do x, or I’ve tried other ways before and they didn’t work. Running a regular, yet fluid experiment alongside my other work helps to shake up my thinking. I believe it makes me more open to the possibilities. I have become a more responsive opportunist as a result of my side project.

We drifted into talking about ‘Who am I completing the work for?’ Robert suggested usually, an employee is doing something to satisfy their manager. Although I occasionally feel a little pressure in the free art project to deliver on time, I’m not bound by anything beyond my own drive to make and share. If I were to skip a week, no one’s there to mark my appraisal down. As a result, I have become more relaxed, and better at delivering good work.

The free art project operates with minimal rules. I make art, leave it somewhere, and it gets found, or not, as the case may be. I share the location of the art using photos on various social media channels, and though I sign the work, my contact details are hardly ever present. Only once or twice have I left a method of contact on art drops in more distant places, Australia for example. Sometimes I get feedback – and often I don’t. Sometimes I like the feedback I receive, other times less so. But that’s part of the point of learning through art – it is subjective, which releases me, at least partly, from the need for (positive?) feedback. What would happen if your colleagues felt able to develop and work on something in a similarly freestyle fashion? I have become more resilient as a result of my side project.

In closing I want to come back to this idea about getting hung up on our work not being good enough, this need to satisfy our inner perfectionist. Robert offered me a quote from one of the founders of the business he works for. The quote reads, ‘We seek to touch the fringes of perfection.’ The idea behind this is that we don’t know what ‘perfect’ is, and like art, it is largely subjective. But hey – that needn’t stop us reaching for it, even if only to brush against the edges. This reminds me of a recent abstract piece I made, called Edge of Glory.

Edge of Glory

How do you think your colleagues might respond if invited to seek to touch the fringes of perfection through a side project?

We explore side projects and much more in The Art of Innovation. The next live sessions take place in London on June 8th and 9th, and in Berlin on July 4th and 5th. Click the links for more information, too book your place, and learn about our pay it forward ticketing experiment. Hope to see you soon.