In 2009 in support of my initial M.A. proposal I wrote this statement….
Nothing much changed..:-)
Shaun Belcher November 2009
I am a somewhat unusual case to be writing about my ‘fine art’ practice. I began life ‘post-Hornsey College of Art’ in 1981 having successfully gained a place on the Royal College M.A. in Painting but sadly was not so successful in terms of funding. I continued as a painter and printmaker until a move to Edinburgh in 1993. There I became a published poet. A return to Oxford in 1996 then saw a period of fine art mixed with song-writing.
In conventional terms this kind of genre-hopping is frowned upon as not being quite serious enough. Thankfully I have enough USA based models to not worry too much about that e.g. Musician and Architect and Fine Artist Terry Allen to name but one influence. However whatever my ‘practice’ entailed throughout this period one thing remained constant. My commitment and seriousness about what I was depicting in whatever medium.
Throughout my ‘art-working’ life some things have remained stubbornly, one might even say obsessively’ constant. Be it in digital images as recently or in drawing or poetry and song I have remained constant in delineating a clearly ‘map-able’ terrain. This terrain extends about 5 to 20 miles in radius of my hometown of Didcot in Oxfordshire, England. Always the poor relation of the illustrious centre of learning that resides but a stones throw away.
There runs a hard core of intention throughout which draws on politics, ecological thinking and that obsessive returning to notions of ‘place’ and ‘landscape’. I regard my work as being a mapping of constant themes which recur sometimes years later. The River Thames is one theme the Berkshire Downs another. Local folk tales and oral literature mined from local libraries another. A recent song ‘Hanging Puppet’ drew on one such ‘tale. In fact one could describe it as artistic ‘Anglocana’ to differentiate it from Americana. I have written well over 2000 songs over the years..Mostly these are recorded in lo-fi versions and only really coming to life when in the hands of other more talented musicians (see the Moon Over the Downs CD 2003). Poetry has appeared in various magazines and in the Scottish anthology The Ice Horses (1996). I currently have at least 4 unpublished complete books of poetry on the shelf. One could describe my work as multi-disciplinary with a strong streak of green politics colouring the waters beneath.
I have drawn on some clear influences in writing and art. Seamus Heaney’s concept of a personal ‘Hedge School’ going back to John Clare is one thread. My forebear’s personal involvement in Agricultural Unions is another (see Skeleton at the Plough poems). I also am influenced by a ‘working class’ sense of writing picked up from Carver and Gallagher and other dirty realists. In song almost any Americana act would suffice. I am not American but I have strong American influences going back to Thoreau and Walden lake. To try and build an alternative ‘English’ approach I have increasingly been drawn back to the English Civil War when the notions of science and arts were more fluid and interchangeable. I have recently purchased a reproduction of Robert Plot’s Oxford a marvellous Natural History of Oxfordshire from 1677. In it one finds specimens such as ‘Stones that look like Horses’…wonderful….
It is this kind of merging of scientific natural history and folk-lore terminology that I now most interested in. Both in poetry (see Downland Ballads) and artworks (see TRACK..2009)
So how does theory inform my practice? Well I see no distinction between the various arts. I am widely read in poetry and song and that informs my practice whatever I do. At times I have also used cartooning as an ‘art criticism’ vehicle as well as penning many art review pieces. I regard both theory and practice as being essential parts of art education and indeed my own life-long learning. One would not exist without the other.
One needs time to absorb and think not just create. I return again and again to my greatest teachers. People I did not know but who showed by example. Sorley Maclean and Norman McCaig both fine Scottish poets and the female war artist Ray Howard Jones whom I had pleasure of meeting…a friend of the artist David Jones. Wonderful inspirational people…