My motivation to do a PhD came out of problems and questions within my practice that I felt would be best developed through being placed under a certain amount of pressure, in an environment where the work is open to challenge. I’d been teaching fine art for about 13 years, everything from foundation through to BA and MA, and that commitment can really come between you and your practice. My ability to think through the work was becoming stilted, and I had questions that needed more space and time to develop; so it felt like the right time to focus hard on what I realised were longstanding and persistent concerns within the practice.
I’d done my MA at an institution where I’d been exposed to a very particular relation of art practice to theoretical material, which, while valid, didn’t feel like it embraced the whole picture. The experience left me quite suspicious of undertaking practical research within an academic institution. Looking around at various PhD programmes, I found that many of them smelled strongly of the academicism I wanted to avoid. The Painting department at the RCA came across as being very different in character: the conversation seemed a lot broader. The programme appeared to embrace the muck and confusion of grubbing about in the studio, of dealing with opaque matter and equally opaque ideas and intuitions, in a way that seemed lacking elsewhere.
Now that I’m here, I feel I made the right choice. I had my eye on a particular supervisor – Ian Kiaer, who runs the research programme in Painting – from the start of my application process, and I’ve been lucky enough to be working with him as my primary supervisor. I went outside the institution for my secondary supervisor, and have started to work with the Paris-based American novelist Dennis Cooper in this capacity. The level of support and diversity of conversation I get between the two of them is fantastic. In the past two years, the questions I outlined in my original proposal have opened up and developed in some pretty surprising ways, and my practice, which had become quite cramped and known, has diversified in ways I couldn’t have foreseen.
When I initially applied, I received a bursary to help with fees, and self-funded my way through the first year. The following year there were a small number of AHRC grants available, and I was lucky enough to get full funding for the next three years, which will carry me through to the end of my PhD.
For me it’s also really important that the RCA provides studio space; I get a lot out of being embedded in the department, surrounded by other artists across the research and MA programmes. The level of commitment and ambition in the work going on around you throws down a really useful gauntlet. That’s the kind of engagement I was ultimately looking for – an intense involvement with a community of artists talking to other artists about what’s at stake in making that commitment to being an artist, both inside and, more importantly, outside the academic environment.
"The Painting department at the RCA came across as being very different in character: the conversation seemed a lot broader. The programme appeared to embrace the muck and confusion of grubbing about in the studio, of dealing with opaque matter and equally opaque ideas and intuitions, in a way that seemed lacking elsewhere."