In January 2023 I started a conversations project during my residency at Applecart Arts. I sit down and have a conversation of approximately one hour with someone I am interested to have a conversation with. Whilst there might be particular things I am interested in, I don’t have questions planned in advance and what happens is organic. Whilst we talk, I paint. What I share here is the painted/drawn outcome of the conversation. Afterwards, I write up my reflections which come from the conversation. Then, they go into my gallery of conversations, which you have found yourself in here…
Hazel Simmons is an artist who runs free/donation weekly art sessions for adults at Applecart Arts. Before Christmas, I joined the session where we made things out of air dry clay (I made lots of stars and a little plaque which says “jdwoof, slowwww dowwwwwwn”. It sits on my digital desk). She also does other community-based work, including in a local school library, helping figure out creative ways to get the kids more interested in books and ways to encourage them to look after the books and return them.
She told me about her work in the libraries and the different things she is doing, and would like to do, to make the library an enjoyable place for as many kids as possible. She described how children and some staff seem to seek it as a safe, quiet place. It made me think of the art block at my school and how that felt relatively safe, especially in the later, harder secondary school years.
We talked about the library and how she is working to meet varying sensory needs. This includes more visually appealing displays so the children can have their eye caught rather than just seeing the spine of the book on a shelf of many spines. She also described having a tent for those who might need some quieter space away from others, but can still be close to other students/their class. She’s also planning on making book nooks (tiny worlds made out of clay which would go in the book shelves) and an infinity mirror which she said can be particularly appealing to children on the autism spectrum. I love the sound of all of this.
She shared how she thinks this is important for adults and children alike, and those who identify as being neurodiverse or neurotypical. I told her about how I can get really agitated around certain sounds and how I wonder if it’s misophonia. She shared about a kind of earplug that she has used in the past which has a hole in it to help direct the sound into your ears and make it easier to listen when there are many sounds going on.
I asked Hazel about how she got started with running the art sessions at Applecart, which she organises, markets and funds herself, as well as receiving donations from some participants and people in her network that offer materials. She told me that she had really unclear intentions when she got started nearly a year ago, but that she wanted to share something that she felt she had once needed herself. It’s a place where people can talk about their lives, experiences, challenges and receive friendly ears from around a big table, all doing some kind of making/creative expression. It made me think about what I’ve been learning about during the Body-Informed Leadership programme I am currently taking part in, and how co-regulating spaces are so rare in our western culture. In these classes participants can try out various artistic mediums such as painting, drawing, collage and clay to be able to find a form of expression that best suits them.
I enjoyed showing Hazel the painting when we were wrapping up our conversation. With other conversations that moment has sometimes felt quite uncomfortable. I imagine they think I’m looking for praise that it’s a good painting. I talked about this with Hazel and she suggested people find it a bit anxiety-provoking to see a reflection of themselves, presented to them on paper.
She said she found it really interesting that there were circles and other shapes in the painting as she is particularly fascinated right now by sacred geometry. She showed me some examples that occur in nature. She also showed me some Celtic symbols which she could see similarities with in what I’d painted. We marvelled at the possibility that I’d somehow picked up on that from talking to Hazel, without her mentioning that interest of hers. We wondered whether other people I’ve had these conversations with, would also see things significant to them, when they looked at the paintings.
I loved hearing her talk about the work in the library, the art sessions and her love of sacred geometry. I have realised through these conversations how much I can enjoy other people’s fascinations and interests. Or rather, their enjoyment of them. I like seeing the excitement and energy and the joy of the differences between me and other people as well as the similarities. There is a kind of not-understanding that this person finds something so fascinating that I don’t which I can get a sense of awe from. I also get this feeling of everything in the universe being cared about by someone, somewhere.
Another observation she made of the painting was that it was like when people put things like chia seeds near speakers and play sounds and the patterns which form. She said the painting was like that output from the conversation; patterns which formed as a result of our interaction.