Am I Sue McDougall or Zagrouch?

Like most of the people who write blogs on WordPress I check every now and then about who is actually reading it and how they got here. The other day I was looking at the search engine referrals and saw that someone somewhere had done a search on “Sue McDougall artist”. Now I am not the least big-headed person I know but I didn’t feel at all sure it was me they had been looking for . It sounded suspiciously like someone looking for an artist who already  had an agent, had exhibitions in proper galleries and generally made some kind of living at it, rather than someone who hopes that will all happen in the future.

Obviously I have done Google searches on my name in the past, so I already knew about the Sue McDougall who is a horticulturist, the one who writes Scottish cookery books, and the one who works for IBM. I also knew there was another Sue McDougall in Australia because she asked me to be my friend on Facebook – hello Sue. There was even the Sue McDougall who may, or may not, have had an affair with Bill Clinton in the 1990s, was caught up in the Whitewater scandal and ended up in prison for a bit. I have always felt sorry for her, though the Bill Clinton affair bit might have been fun.  But I didn’t know about another artist Sue McDougall.  If there was going to be confusion should I call myself something else?  Up to now it hasn’t really been important; over the years I have done quite a bit of work one way and another but I have never been a great one for signing stuff.

But next month as part of Coastal Currents Nick Hill is organising an exhibition in St Leonards; two works of mine are to be included.  The smaller one Shrinking Horizons is about a time when I was sailing off Rye; without warning the fog came in and the horizon was suddenly about 50 yards away. It was a strange experience and made me think about the way that opportunities can shrink.

Shrinking Horizons
Oil on linen, collage
40cm x 40cm

You cannot really see it in the photographs but the whitish swirly lines are not paint but collaged paper that has been torn from a set of instructions where the writing is too small to read. That also seems a metaphor for the way that life works. The other painting is called Solent Saturday. In the Solent the large cargo ships can come up unexpectedly fast. The skipper of the boat I was on was ticked off by the coast guard for being in the shipping lane though we were in no real danger but another yacht was nearly mown down. It showed how disaster can just come out of a clear blue sky or, in this case, a less than clear blue sea. Thinking of names for the paintings was not a problem  but before the week is out I have to finalise a name for myself.

Solent Saturday
Oil on Linen
90cm x 90cm

I therefore searched for “Sue McDougall artist” and sure enough Google found another one – a lady who had been a member of the Contemporary Art Society of Victoria in Australia. But there were only three entries about her that I could see and as she had what was billed as the Final Retrospective in 2005, so there didn’t seem much likelihood that we would be confused. So it looks as though Sue McDougall would do.

But it did get me thinking about whether it was a good idea to be McDougall.  For starters, the name really belongs to my husband; I am not Scottish. When I was a journalist I used to write under the my maiden name Glascock. I changed when I had a children’s book published and my three  wanted the name on the cover to be the same as their own. These days the  positions are reversed: my daughter Sophia is the writer  I like to be associated with her,

Now McDougall as a name is fine and dandy but coupled with Sue I feel it sounds solid rather than whizzy – ideal for Scottish cookery books – less good for contemporary art.  It is also the name of a person who is clearly a woman.  Of course it shouldn’t matter but if you look at the list of 100 top contemporary artists by auction results, only a  handful are women: women do not figure at all in the top ten.

It is easy if you are a woman to see the low representation of women in the major galleries of the world as the fault of men. Certainly with men dominating not only the senior executive positions, and being the main investors it is true  that they wield the economic power in art as in other fields. But it is not just alpha males wanting to buy alpha male art; it is all of us.  Suppose you want a contemporary painting. You go on to one of the on-line galleries. They provide a list of the artists they represent but because their website is rubbish they do not provide thumbnails; so do you click on :

  • Luke Hendy
  • Zagrouch
  •  Janet Bradshaw
  • Sally Buffin
  •  Titali
  • ST Danielson

All these names are made up and so far as Google tells me do not belong to any existing artist – my apologies if one of them belongs to you. If like my daughter you are a feminist you will possibly click on Janet Bradshaw which I feel has a similarly solid sound;  if you are almost anybody else Zagrouch has it hands down. So why not become Zagrouch? Nobody would think Zagrouch would do pictures of fruit or  roses or whatever it is that people think female artists paint. If I were Zagrouch it might even affect my style: it would become brighter, bolder, more vibrant,  stronger more imaginative and generally better.

The reason not to of course is that it would be rather silly. So sadly I won’t do it. I think I am stuck with McDougall; Glascock is more distinctive but I haven’t used it for a while now.  The truth is I am used to being McDougall;  the trick must be to remember to paint like Zagrouch.

The Art  Show will be open  8  – 22 September at Southwater Community Centre, 2 Stainsby Street, St Leonards TN37 6LA (Opposite St Leonards Warrior Square Train Station) There will be work from 17 upcoming Sussex artists including Nick Hill, Jules, Naomi Holdbrook, Katy Oxborrow, Celeste Barker, David Wright, Kat Pavan and Alan Russell. They are  exhibiting in various media including painting, printmaking, textiles and photography. Some work will be on sale – at affordable prices.

Almost failing to be a work of art

“Ok” I said “I will come – provided it isn’t raining.” Even as I said it, I thought it was rather a mean-spirited reaction. I had already had to recognise that I am something of a fair weather sailor, not relishing going out in force 7 winds or when it is cold or rainy, or come to that when the waves are quite big – or fog; I don’t like fog either. It turns out I am also fair weather artist.  The invitation was from Sharon Haward, one of the tutors at Hastings College, to wear black,  come along at 10.30 on Saturday and stand motionless for an hour in a field in the Romney Marshes and in so doing become a work of art.

I was not entirely convinced I would enjoy the standing; I had enough of that in the days when I used to commute and sometimes couldn’t get a seat till High Brooms.  That was only  40 minute. But I had seen photographs of previous events that Sharon had organised and they looked interesting, particularly the Critical Mess which was a response to the Gormley Exhibition in Bexhill in 2010.

Photograph by Roz Cram

Add to all that was the fact I had never been a work of art before,  then Jules, who also is also on the Fine Art Contemporary Practice course at Hastings said she was up for it, and so it was that with the sun shining, so no excuses on that score, we set off at 9.30 on a journey that according to Google Directions should only take half an hour which gave us half an hour to get lost. Should be plenty we thought.

Now artists are generally  not known for there organisational skills or indeed their punctuality. It would have been better perhaps if either of us had checked the map a little more carefully – though Jules had at least thought to print off a map. Looked simple we both thought – along a road, look for the sign to the cafe and then turn left – or was it right? We were to meet  in a field with a church. No problems. Except that we started talking and the countryside was wonderful and there were lots of sheep and we suddenly realised we were in the wrong place.

Never mind, an unnecessary detour to Appledore was pleasant and we saw the Royal Military Canal, so we retraced our route and were back at Rye again. ‘We would only be about ten minutes late’, we thought ‘should be fine – seminars at college always started about ten minutes late’. So we drove up and down the A259 looking for a sign to a cafe. There was one but no obvious turning to either the right or to the left I then remembered the  Tomtom.

” I can’t believe you have a Tomtom” Jules said sounding only slightly exasperated.  I tried to explain that that was because Tom and I didn’t generally get on that well. Not only did we usually disagree about the route but then he would retaliate by saying in a plonking voice, “you have reached your destination,” when quite clearly I hadn’t. Nonetheless we turned him on; predictably he counseled a uturn and took us back to the café we had seen earlier. Still no sign of a turning to right or to left. We asked in very nice farm shop for directions and amazingly somebody knew and explained that the cafe sign near the shop had only been up a week and we should go back three miles down the road. So we turned the protesting Tom off and found, 100 yards from where we had given up, another cafe sign, this time with a turning to the left. After only one more wrong turning and 40 minutes late we found them. There across the fields was the church and standing motionless in a row without us were nine figures in black.

They looked stunning – part  of the landscape and almost as if they had been there centuries. “We can’t sneak up and stand at the end,” Jules said and so we watched them. Then finally they relaxed; it was time for a break and we were able to join the row. Two other people turned up so we weren’t even the last. It underlined the problem that Sharon has when working with people. If you are a painter or a sculptor, the paint or the stone or the clay may not always turn out as you would like but at least it doesn’t moan that the weather is too bad to take part or turn up 45 minutes late.

But late or not, we had got there in the end and  standing in the row felt extraordinary.  It was hard not to sway with the wind. It was nothing like standing on the 17.59 from Charing Cross. It was warm; it was engrossing; I noticed things I would not normally think about; my arms at my side, the feeling of the blood in my finger tips, the sound of the wind, thistle down, a small bird swooping, buttercups, the rushes. Keeping my head in one place, my peripheral vision became more important. I was aware of Jules standing next to me, also slightly swaying, of another bird, of vapour trails in the sky.

Sharon  is a co-founder of Runway which she describes as artists without studios who work together in site-specific ways in order to bring people together to contemplate the environment and create a sense of communal activity and to question the relationships between people, places, architecture and history. Afterwards I asked her what she felt the point of today had been. “Different projects have different points,” she said. “This was called ‘No time to stop and stare’  and was about taking the time to notice things.” I reflected that it had certainly worked for me; my mother would approve; the poem by W.H. Davies had been a favourite of hers.

Photographs of the event will be shown at the School Creative Centre during their open studios in October 2012.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.