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Norfolk based Artist, working and exhibiting Internationally 

Kirsty O'leary-Leeson; Artist

I am an emerging artist who graduated from Norwich University College of the Arts June 2011, with a first class degree in Fine Art. I have been a finalist in the International Saatchi Drawing Showdown, have exhibited across the Uk and also appeared in the BBC 2 Programme 'Show Me the Monet'. Visual Art Trader wrote of my work: "The senses of emotional uncertainty, of time evaporating and of forgotten memories in Kirsty's drawings are made all the more powerful by the beautiful and precise execution of the images."

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Expressive Drawing Workshops

My favourite workshop to run is one based around drawing; people think of drawing as picking up a soft pencil and doing a lot of careful shading on a bit of cartridge paper but drawing should be approached in the same way as painting, with a plethora of different media and techniques.  Below is the spiel I give at the start of a workshop.

Picasso is reputed to have said that he spent 80 years learning to draw like a child – many artists try to re-discover naïve expression, but painting often seems more open to experimentation than drawing.

Students often decide drawing is not for them, once they have recognised that the world they are attempting to draw looks a bit like a photograph, their rational brain tends to value more, a drawing whose likeness to what they see is photograhphic.

Education is structured to develop a rational a-b-c sequence of logic and reason.  You are encouraged to look for the ‘right’ answer.   But artists who like to use the right hemisphere of their brain use a layer of thinking that is less clear-cut, more playful and dreamy, able to tolerate information that is faint, fleeting, ephemeral or ambiguous an 'open’ place of mind.  They are interested in the question as much as in the answer.  “The wrong answer is the right answer in search of a different question.  Collect wrong answers as part of the the process.  Ask different questions.”  Bruce Mau.

Art is a free-thinking shapeless subject where anything can happen. It has no fixed boundaries and there are no 'right’ answers – only interesting questions.

I run creative drawing workshops that are aimed at being open-minded and flexible.  At freeing the mind from the interfering and correcting influence of the left hemisphere.

Every drawing has something to offer, and no drawing or way of drawing will provide a permanent solution to what drawing is or should be.

Learning to see:

“A photograph is static because it has stopped time – a drawing is static, but it encompasses time.” John Berger

“To draw is to look, examining the structure of appearances, a drawing of a tree shows not a tree but a tree being looked at” John Berger

Drawing can be a journey where you take a more lateral route, head off in the general direction, but you don’t know quite where you’re going.

Our perceived world is a marriage of what we know and what we see. When we draw we must learn to use 'what we know’ selectively. Draw what you see not what you know.  Look at the object more than your pencil, look at objects as if they are new and unfamiliar.

For example: Blind drawing

Eye and hand should be working at the same speed, most drawings require a look draw look draw approach, if the gap between the drawing and looking is too big information is lost or changed. We are taking this idea to the extreme with your pencil being an extension of your eye.

The drawing will be an almost continuous line – draw  until you have completed a circuit of looking at your object, work slowly, your eye will not trust your hand but do not look, take your pen off but only for very little gaps.

Posted 285 weeks ago

Excerpts from my dissertation 'Mother Dearest' An examination of the representation of Motherhood in contemporary art from the perspective of the artist as mother

Within the visual arts Motherhood fights being accepted as a relevant and intellectual subject; the fact that the outcome of maternity is children is problematic as the subject of children has ever been fraught with the risk of sentimentalism, and the work being marginalized. Since the commodification of childhood in the nineteenth century it has been feminised, and as Romanticism waned so the subject was considered intellectually marginal and was left behind by artists and art historians (Higonnet, 1998, 39). With the advent of Modernism women were more than ever associated with domesticity and childhood became a subject for women. As Griselda Pollock (1980, 5) has noted, one of the reasons Mary Cassat’s work has been so less visible than that of her impressionist peers is partly because of her oeuvre.

Modernism’s patriarchal viewpoint became the norm and the female viewpoint was confirmed as that of the ‘other’ and subsidiary, and today the male perception is still accepted as the universal vision (Snyder-Ott, 1995, 70). Motherhood has been placed within the domestic sphere which also contains the subsidiary subjects of both women and children. When looking at art by mothers about motherhood does the politics of difference mobilise against their work because it focuses on the otherness of the artist as woman and mother, to the exclusion of any serious discussion of their practice?

Maternal subjectivity has historically been seen as the antithesis for creative production, the western mythology of the artist has been idealized and modelled on the Romantic movements powerful definition of the artist as a male outcast, sacrificing everything, creating only out of a profound passion (Apostolos-Cappadonna, 1995, 2), and although today motherhood is not necessarily seen as requiring all of a woman’s attention, do we fear that we may compromise our status as serious artists if we bring attention to the fact that a huge amount of commitment, energy, and emotion is poured into something other than our art, proof of non-professionalism?

The feminist writer E. Kaplan (1992, 39) argues the fact that the position of ‘mother’ has been subordinated and fetishized, and that it is important for it not to be the all consuming entirety of the woman, that a woman should be constituted as ’mother’ only when directly interacting with her child. I agree with the feminist viewpoint that maternity should not be an essentialized quality, yet I think it is impossible to simplify it down to the extent she may wish, for this denies it it’s existence as a life-changing often all-consuming experience, both physically and emotionally. Even when you are not with your child you are forever a parent. At this point I should mention that of course motherhood can on some levels be equated to parenthood, the effects also being profound on a father; however for the purpose of this essay I shall be concentrating on female artists, how they make work regarding maternity, and how being a mother can effect the work they make on the subject. As Kaplan points out, (1992, 197) ‘fatherhood is chosen, motherhood is demanded’.

One cannot examine maternity without taking into account feminism, however when we consider feminism there is the sense of a devalualisation of motherhood; Kristeva has been critical that feminism never managed to prolong a satisfactory discourse on motherhood, and that it has always taken an ambivalent standpoint on the subject (McAfee, 2004). Kristeva embraces the fact that a woman does not have to be the same as a man, and looks for a way to reconcile women’s desire to have both children and careers, ‘if maternity is to be guilt-free, this journey needs to be undertaken without masochism and without annihilating one’s affective, intellectual, and professional personality, either. In this way, maternity becomes a true creative act,’ (Kristeva, 1995, quoted in McAfee, 2004, 101).

Of course within both society and the art world women have begun to close the gender gap, however after the birth of her daughter Dumas has been famously quoted ‘I’m not one of the boys any more’ (Dumas, 1998, 64); biologically becoming a mother forever separates you, the gender gap may be gradually closing but motherhood defiantly puts her foot in the door.

Posted 332 weeks ago

Excerpts from my dissertation 'Mother Dearest'

As an artist and a mother I have often been made to feel that the two defining roles in my life should be kept professionally separate; that motherhood is not a relevant or intellectual subject within society in general, and so not suitable for consideration as a subject in contemporary art.  In this essay I will explore how motherhood can be  expressed within contemporary art in a meaningful and erudite way.  I also hope to gain a better understanding of my own creative identity, and how motherhood forms part of the context of my own practice

INTRODUCTIONThe Marginalisation of Motherhood

I have approached the discussion in this essay on motherhood and its representations within contemporary art, from the position of an artist who is also a mother; in doing so I have had to confront the question ‘what keeps those of us who are mothers ourselves from making the complexity, the challenge, and joy of our experience the full subject of our work?’ (McDermot,1995,196). When I have produced work which relates to my children I have often felt the need to defend or apologise for my subject matter. Why has maternity proven to be such a problematic subject, considering everybody has a biological mother and approximately two billion women are mothers? The term “motherhood”, when discussed within a theoretical context, is commonly placed among taboo subjects such as racism, religion and sexuality. Whilst women have introduced their bodies and biographies into their work there is still a lack of representations, and a serious and sustained discourse of maternity within contemporary art. As Robinson suggests, ‘The morality and politics of motherhood are still under-articulated, whether verbally or visually’(1990, 7).

Within our western cultural psyche the mother has developed three complex roles identified as that of the socially constructed, institutional role; the unconscious mother articulated through psychoanalysis; and the fictional mother promoted through fictional visual and literary culture (Kaplan,1992).  

Posted 332 weeks ago
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Posted 339 weeks ago

Hello! I'm a second year textiles student from norwich university of the arts (I noticed you graduated from there!) I saw your work up in the norwich forum and I just love the image and the composition, and also how you've said that most of it is shadows and shapes from a small part of the subject itself! I just wanted to ask, where do you go out and find floral inspiration ?? It was lovely to see your work!

Hi Rachel,

Thanks for your lovely comments, I live in a really rural location, pretty much the middle of nowhere, so I’m just surrounded by fields, flowers and trees.  The shadows are of the buddleia bushes in my garden.

I  love shadows, a presence and absence all at the same time.

Hope you’re having fun at NUA and best of luck with your studies.


Posted 347 weeks ago
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