Makarelle

Interview with Louise Craigie

artist and faculty head of art and innovation

As well as being a working Artist, Louise is Faculty Head of Art and Innovation at a secondary school in Essex.

Alongside her teaching role, she has also been Vice Chair of the art group known as A.S.A.T ( Association of Suffolk Art Teachers) for 10yrs. Within this role she supports teachers to combine experiences and practices of teaching art at both Primary and Secondary level which they take back to their classroom practice. The A.S.A.T. also facilitate exhibiting students work, provide student workshops and arrange Art workshops for their members. They also arrange exhibitions at least once a year in which they gather current works from Artists in education to celebrate that teachers still can ‘do’. Exhibitions have taken place in venues such as Snape, Aldeburgh, Beccles and the Waterfront Gallery.

Since 2017 the A.S.A.T. have built a relationship with the University of Suffolk and have worked together to secure regular high profile exhibitions.

In 2022, as well as hoping to be involved in some of the ‘Art for Cure’ intiatives (a local organisation which raises funds for cancer charities), Louise also has two solo shows planned:


‘The Craft House’ 

Woodbridge 

15/6/22 through to the 21/06/22


‘The Paper House’

Church Street Framlingham 

4th - 6th November 2022

Makarelle: When we started Makarelle it was with the intention of bringing the work of developing writers and artists to a wider public. Many of our contributors are at the beginning of their artistic careers and we know how important it is to feel that what you’re doing is valued. I know from speaking to you that you feel very much the same way. Is that why you decided to go into teaching?

 

Louise Craigie: Teaching for me was quite an organic, relatively unplanned journey. It emerged from the need to find a career post university. I was working in a school as Artist in Residence and was offered the opportunity to do the GTTP scheme in the same school. There was no doubt that teaching would combine both my creative energy as well as my ‘frustrated performer’ side. I recalled at the time three or four teachers from my own past who were undeniably instrumental key figures in my journey. I knew there was value in being a good teacher and had always felt this was a career I might pursue. My grandfather had been a professor of English, so maybe it is in the blood.


During all of my teaching career to date I have always continued practising and doing my own artwork and I am aware that this practice is something solely for me. However, I am so aware of how it still drives and supports my passion for teaching and sharing what I know and love. I feel it gives me an authenticity which resonates with the students I teach. Now, twenty years on in my teaching career I appreciate the skill in teaching young people more than ever. Being able to open students to new ideas, build confidence, simplify the complex and be part of facilitating opportunity is something I am proud of and I know there is such value in it. Do I get told that every day from the students? No. In the main it can feel like a relatively thankless job. However, I know it and I feel it through certain moments and they can often be when you least expect it: moments when as an artist, teacher and person I feel seen, valued and appreciated. Feeling the genuine gratitude and seeing the inspiration in them that maybe you helped spark; to feel in some way you have helped, made a difference, nurtured and supported another person is essentially amazing and can never be taken away.

Makarelle: On your website you talk about how you’re inspired by the landscape around you and the Suffolk countryside is famous for having inspired artists such as Constable. Your style of art is very different to his though. What is it about the area that is so inspiring and why does it lend itself so well to different forms of capturing it?

 

Louise Craigie: The Suffolk countryside has inspired some very well-known artists such as  Constable and Gainsborough. Whilst my own work is very different to that of Constable, some of his sketches and preparatory studies do echo and reflect the same energy, movement and mark making that I look to achieve in some of my own landscapes.

Constable was quoted to have said, ‘Still I should paint my own places best; painting is for me but another word for feeling’

I took a moment to think about this and fundamentally feel a similar way. It’s not that i can’t or don’t paint elsewhere, because I do. However, what pulls me to paint predominantly Suffolk is the connection I have with it. It’s constant familiarity. It’s the place I see so frequently in my conscious and subconscious, entwined with memories and current moments. No days, nor hours are the same and therefore by essence a new moment in the same space to capture is always there. Often I find I respond more authentically when I feel a connection to a place. This can be because it is a constant or simply because it was so captivating or just because I had a great time there.

Constable also once said, ‘We see nothing until we truly understand it’ and talked about ‘capturing the essence of the landscape’

I wonder whether the deeper understanding and connection that I have with areas of Suffolk and its borders allows me to deepen and challenge the way I want to capture it. It is an ongoing conversation. By revisiting similar spaces or compositions I am encouraged and reassured to go beyond just seeing the space and capture more the essence of what it means to me. This involves abstraction, deconstruction, rearrangement and pushing past the first response and bring more of myself to the landscape. Capturing what I know best brings about a greater voice within the narrative of the landscape I see.

Makarelle: Everyone has heard the old (and very wrong!) adage ‘those who can’t, teach’. However, along with many others, you still ‘do’. Can you tell us more about the exhibitions you’ve been involved in, particularly those which are focused on art created by teachers.

 

Louise Craigie: ‘Those who can’t, teach…….’

 

This phrase at first makes me feel infuriated and then I shrug it off. It works on the assumption that teaching is not a discipline within its own right and if people don’t realise that and appreciate that, it is their issue, not mine. I know what good teaching skills are and I know that I can do it. Do I know I can do art? Well, that is a harder question to answer. What I do know is that my passion and love for art certainly supports good quality teaching and also, as Picasso once said, it ‘is for me and something no one can take away’

 

That rings very true for me. My art is something I try to get lost in and enjoy, not use as a measure to judge if I am good enough or not. Otherwise, I find that the feelings this brings don’t really serve me well. My work over the last twenty years has been created in the main, without necessarily having an end goal in mind. This is important and I will paint and create no matter what, because it is something for me: it is a part of who I am.


However, there is no doubt that it is gratifying when I exhibit. In the last few years, I have done this numerous times throughout the Suffolk area and it is humbling when people invest in my work. At first I exhibited regularly with A.S.A.T alongside other art teachers. These exhibitions had the strap line ‘Teachers can do!’ It was wonderful to promote and go against the misconception that ‘those that can’t, teach’. It was a truly interactive platform that allowed us to share art practices as well as educational concepts of teaching and learning.

Unfortunately, in the last 8 years it has proved harder to recruit new exhibitors, mainly because new teachers into the profession just don’t have the time to do their own work. The profession has changed a lot and is harder and more time consuming than when I began. So instead, I have used that platform and foundation to build upon and explore more independent avenues and opportunities. This includes developing my own website, solo exhibitions, smaller collaborations with other Suffolk artists and selling internationally. I hope to explore having one or two galleries in the future to support and sell my work.

Makarelle: All forms of artistic expression are often influenced by the mood of their creator at the time of creation. Do you think this influence is obvious to the outside observer? If so, do you think it matters if they ‘experience’ the landscape in the same way you did?

 

Louise Craigie: I have talked about the connection with Suffolk and its ‘scapes that I have and how the connection between the ‘scape and me impacts upon my response to it. The mood and atmosphere of that ‘scape can be something I respond to immediately and I try to capture the feeling I sense in that moment. However, sometimes the ‘scape provides for me the composition in which I then explore mood and feelings in a different way, once I’m back in the studio. This can include notions of deconstruction, colour exploration, abstraction and the expanding of my own boundaries and moving beyond the obvious. Creative expression is of course influenced hugely by its creator and it will undoubtedly reflect how they feel, how they see themselves, how they view their surroundings and the connections the artist makes. Is this always obvious to me at the time? I don’t know. Does the viewer always see, view and feel the same as myself, the artist? Again, I don’t know. What I do believe is that Art is an emotional expression of human personality; it is cognitive, subjective, thought and emotion provoking but it is the Artist and the viewer together that truly makes a piece of art. The artist to communicate and the spectator to receive. That relationship, that experience and that unspoken moment is what makes the expression of the art form tangible and real. To me personally, it doesn’t matter if what I feel isn’t felt in the same way by the viewer. By nature we are hard wired to make certain connections with art works whether it is understanding the subject matter, comprehending the composition, identification of meaning, seeing patterns or symmetry, a narrative which allows us to connect to an

emotion, a relationship with the colours, an appreciation of technical ability. The viewer looks to one or more of these responses to allow them to make sense of what they see. I think it is important that the viewer interacts with my work without interference or guidance and they have their own personal connection. Therefore as an artist I cannot hope to address all of those things for every single viewer. It would be an impossible task. I create work that communicates to me and if anyone makes the same connection then wonderful, but if they connect with it in their own way then in some ways, that’s actually even better!

Makarelle: Why do you think art is so divisive? Not just in terms of taste, but it’s often seen as quite an elitist activity, when in reality, it shouldn’t be. What do you think causes the perception that art is somehow for the intelligentsia? Is there a way to redress this?

 

Louise Craigie: Art is by nature very divisive and this is fundamentally because it is subjective. It has the power to evoke shifts, emotions and change. It has the ability to create discord, isolation, discontent and a whole barrage of negative emotions. It also has the power to potentially do the opposite, which is to unite and generate positive messages. These reactions to art can come from a vast audience or just from me on my own in my studio! A journey of emotions from one to the other is often experienced whilst creating each piece. It is a real inner battle of a journey and chasing approval is so destructive to my own artistic voice. Although it is hard not to get pulled into the void of ‘why doesn’t my work sell’, ‘why don’t I have loads of likes or followers’, ultimately it contradicts the purpose of the art in the first place and I try really hard to remain authentic to myself. I have always wanted my work to be seen by all and as much as I want the prestigious gallery interest, I also want it to be seen and still be taken just as seriously in a variety of places and settings.


Art has often been seen as elitist. Many people feel intimidated by it, feeling a pressure to understand it, worried they don’t have the intellect to grasp it. I know I do! By historical conditioning and circumstance Art has been connected with the wealthy and intellectual classes, but this by default does not make art itself elitist, it has just unfortunately got caught up in this sphere. Making art accessible

to all with free gallery spaces that are interactive and where the viewer is encouraged to connect with the work in their own way is definitely helping to overcome this. I also think trying to encourage people to connect with their own selves, their own sense of identity will give them the confidence to indulge in a much more affordable creative world around them. A confidence that does not rely upon or need the validation of a perfectly curated exhibition, prestigious gallery or how many thousand followers someone has, but instead to trust their own instinctive sense of self. To trust the experience of their emotional connection with an artwork, dropping the boundaries of worrying what others will think and in turn buying into that feeling for their home that they can then feel every single day afterwards.

Makarelle: With creative writing, we’re often told to just sit down and start writing and see what emerges. When you’re painting or drawing, do you set out with a specific style or image in mind, or do you sometimes do the same and just sit down and see what flows from the pencil or paintbrush?

 

Louise Craigie: In most cases when I create a piece of work it comes from exploring ideas and sketches that I do in my sketchbook. It combines the influences of what I see and understand in the works of others, whether it be the well-known great artists I love or local talented creatives. Sometimes I feel as though I have so many ideas I want to explore and so many possibilities from my sketchbook that I almost don’t know where to start. I often feel a pressure that I put on myself to make sure I execute the right idea and a new canvas or surface can feel overwhelming – not to mention the expense of each new piece. It makes me feel that I can’t afford to waste the new surface, wasting my time on creating something that might not work, that might not deliver what I was striving for. This can sometimes mean I work with constraints and too many expectations on myself. My gut instinct will often guide me what direction to take, it will naturally come to the surface and once I am in that moment the actual creation and birth of a new piece is the best feeling. The energy, the freedom to give yourself over to that one moment, to be lost in creation is what it is all about for me. Is the outcome always what I was striving for? No, but it often takes on its own form. I know where it started from and I believe in its starting point but it is important to allow spontaneity to play its part, to almost not care at all and to see what happens. This can be difficult to do but is so liberating and often brings about something you didn’t even know you wanted to do, see, explore, but it was what was needed.

 

Makarelle: Thank you so much for sharing this insight into the creative process behind your work and good luck with everything you have planned for 2022!


All image rights on this page remain with Louise Craigie.