Kezia Davies talks to art critic Anna McNay and artist Veronique Maria about their forthcoming Conversation: ‘Love and the Arts’
Wondrous life….. Magnolia on Magnolia by Veronique Maria
31 May (6.30 – 7.30pm)
Conversation: ‘Love and the Arts’
Bazalgette Room – The House of St Barnabas
Art critic Anna McNay, in conversation with artist Veronique Maria, regarding an artist’s search for communion through intimacy and creativity.
FREE – Reserve place by emailing: art@
Anna – how did you get involved with the Winter Pride Art Awards?
I’ve been involved with the Winter Pride Art Awards for a number of years. I used to be Arts Editor for DIVA magazine and I reviewed the Awards and exhibition in that role in both 2014 and 2016. In 2015, I wrote a feature on them for State magazine, where I was Deputy Editor from 2013-2017. This also included a profile of Winter Pride Art Awards Director Simon Tarrant. In 2016, I profiled Winter Pride founder Rebecca Paisis for DIVA and also sat on the judging panel for the Awards. This in conversation event came about because I had been speaking to Veronique about her work and her wish to present it and give a talk and I connected her to Simon, as he is such a super events organiser and arts promoter, and he then invited us to be part of this year’s programme.
Anna – why do you think it’s important to draw attention to the lived experiences of members of the LGBTQIA+ community through art?
I think it’s important for everybody to have a role model, or, even more simply, to see themselves mirrored in the reflections of society put out there on the television, in films, in literature, in the media and in art. One thing that is heard frequently among the LGBTQIA+ community is the lack of this identification when growing up and trying to develop one’s own identity. We grasp at anything we can that seems to make us feel less alone, less abnormal. The one gay character in a soap opera, the tragic lesbian heroine in a novel, two women portrayed as lovers in a turn-of-the-century painting. These things validate our sense of self and are key to growing up ‘ok’. It is therefore so important to add to this small stock of imagery and create and promote art that draws attention to the lived experience of the LGBTQIA+ community – first and foremost for its members, but also for the wider world, to normalise and share our message and identity and experience, both positive and negative.
Veronique – how did you get involved with the Winter Pride Art Awards?
I got involved with the Winter Pride Art Awards thanks to Anna McNay who kindly introduced me to Simon Tarrant. At the time of our first conversations I was developing a project for lesbians around ageing and creativity. I was applying to Arts Council England for funding to deliver talks, provide artists mentoring and lead creativity workshops for lesbians over 50. Part of my proposed project was for me to give a talks about my life as an artist specifically within the context of my being a lesbian. This is something I haven’t ever done before. In the talks I wanted to present an overview of my entire art practice since the 1970s whilst explicitly exploring how sexuality and sexual preferences might affect one’s work as an artist. Anna was brilliant at suggesting who I might contact for doing such talks and she kindly introduced me to several people, and then Simon Tarrant generously offered us the opportunity to be in conversation together at the House of St Barnabas as part of the 2018 Winter Pride Art Programme.
Veronique – could you tell us a bit about what your talk will encompass and how it will relate to some of the themes covered in the exhibition?
We’ve a few weeks to go before the talk so I’m still selecting images, or rather de-selecting them. I’ve got a lot to get through and looking back through the decades since 1972 when I was 13, with this talk in mind, lots of thoughts, ideas and memories have arisen. Selecting and de-selecting of images for this purpose has become quite a process!
I want the talk to be a spontaneous discussion between Anna and me on the night as we respond to the images and approach the general theme of the talk which is to explore an artist’s search for communion through intimacy (with self, ‘other’) and creativity.
Veronique – how do you think this sense of intimacy and creativity that you talk about connects art to broader LGBTQIA+ themes and issues?
As well as being a self-employed artist, I work as an artists’ mentor and I lead workshops where I help people access and develop their creativity. In my coaching capacity I often find myself encouraging people to take greater risks in their art practice (if they have one) and in their creativity and their lives generally. I invite them to step further into themselves, become more at home with themselves, become more familiar and intimate with themselves and aim to live with more free creativity, authenticity and congruency. As we look holistically at all aspects of their lives (uncovering blocks, fears, resistances etc,) in order to free up their creative selves, we often find that exploring and deepening their relationship with their sexuality greatly supports their developmental process towards the changes and growth they are seeking.
I believe there are strong associations between one’s sexuality and one’s creativity. It seems to me that when we’re freely connected to our sexuality all other aspects of our lives, including our creativity, can blossom. The other side of that is that when our sexuality is denied (whether it be internally by ourselves or externally by society) then the creative spark is at risk of dying or being severely compromised too. That’s certainly what happened to me. Luckily my creativity never gave up on me completely. I don’t think the creative spark ever gives up on us because it’s our life force but when I tried to deny my sexuality, as a result of my first lover’s internalised homophobia, I tried to dampen down my creativity and cut out my creative centre too. Obviously each person is different, and coming from a different life experience around self expression and creativity but I think it’s helpful to hear other people’s stories, perspectives and experiences. It is my hope that by telling my own personal story around these themes I might be able to help support and inspire others to take new and more confident steps towards their own creative self.
It seems to me the when we are connected to our creativity we connect more deeply to ourselves and the more that relationship is enriched the more our other relationships improve too. Role models play such an important part in this. When I was first attempting to come out as a lesbian in my early teens there were no role models for me whatsoever. My lover at the time (we were lovers for four years when we were aged 13-16 years) told me we needed to keep our connection a secret. She said it was a straight world and that no one else would understand our relationship. She suggested ‘this thing between us’ (as she called it), was most probably ‘just an experimental stage’ and that it would pass, and anyway would have to end when we left school. This broke my heart. To be perfectly honest I actually hadn’t noticed it was a straight world at that point. I knew I was different from the other girls at school who were all so preoccupied with boys but nevertheless I had a very clear life plan ahead of me. I knew I was gay and an artist and I could see my life with those things in the centre, clearly before me. On top of that I was deeply in love and wanted to shout my joy from the roof tops. When my lover positioned herself differently from me, closeted and ashamed, I felt incredibly alone in the world. I wanted to be loyal to her and keep her secret safe for her but at the same time I want to be loyal to myself too and be fully out. Without her on board with me I felt as if I might be the only lesbian in the world. David Bowie was my only gay creative role model out there.
I know that things are very different now these days but I still personally know of several people in their fifties, sixties and seventies who are isolated and closeted and completely afraid to come out. I don’t want it to be this way and so I think it’s my responsibility to stand up and be counted and do what I can to make a difference.
So my conversation with Anna will start when I was 13 and in love with a girl at my boarding school and then travel through the decades, following the stories of my lovers and the associated art I’ve made at various times through my teens, twenties, and so on up to the present day. I am about to turn 60 now. I am a proud and adoring mother and grandmother of two baby girls. When I look back at my life and ask myself what’s to all been about I realise there are a lot of things I haven’t yet done. Mostly things that I had planned to do but refrained from doing due to my ongoing loyalty to my first lover. I am wanting to address those things now – before I die.
In my art practice I’ve explored numerous genres over the years. These have included live-art/performance, sculpture, film, drawing, wood turning, ceramics, earth work, painting, writing….. Sometimes these have been influenced by my living circumstances, and sometimes by the state of my emotional landscape, my deepest desires and my heart.
I think the theme of intimacy and creativity and the search for communion affects us all. And I believe with a passion that art (whether we make it ourselves or perceive the art that others have created) can potentially provide us with unique and special ways to connect with ourselves, others and the world we are a part of. Art offers us opportunities to look at the world with new eyes and from fresh perspectives. It invites us to reach into ourselves, be challenged, explore things that perhaps our normal daily lives don’t offer. And most importantly it offers us a chance to take our conversations (with ourselves and others) to places that ultimately might open us to more intimacy.
It seems to me that we’re all searching for intimacy and meaningful connections of some sort or another and we are all exploring where we fit in the world. We all search for communion in different ways. Sometimes the search is very conscious and deliberate, sometimes it’s less conscious, but I do think it’s there for us all at some level or other. Personally I’ve found it comforting and helpful to know how others have navigated and are navigating these waters.
I think it’s vitally important to be affirmed in life and even better still to be affirmed by the people who really know first hand how it feels to be something ‘other than straight’. When we can hear personal lived experiences of members of the LGBTQIA+ community through stories and art for example, we get an opportunity to find a mirror, an affirmation and some sort of support that says to us it’s ok to be as we are. I certainly needed, and still need, to see and hear that it’s just fine to be in love with a person of my own gender, to shout my joy from the roof tops and to express these feelings creatively. In my teens I longed to find such a positive affirming role model who’d demonstrate to me that it was perfectly fine to be me, to be a girl into girls, and in love with one and with art.
No matter how much we progress and change we also carry the histories of those who have passed before us. Those histories affect us in our present and we then contribute to the next generation with our stories…. Change happens because of the past and then we pay that forward. I hope that something of what I do and say now can in some small way make some kind of a difference to what goes on now and happens in the future.