So I’ve been interviewed 4 times in 2 months, and two of the interviewers were reluctant to accept Singing Bird as my action name. As an agoraphobic, this is an avatar that helps me be somewhere that sets off panic attacks, so their attitude lands very badly. One accepted it but his editor called it my pseudonym, my false name, and this annoyed me excessively until I thought about what I’d said during my interview with Kristina, that this is my ‘true’ name, expressing a part of me that has struggled for a long time to come out. And as the editor has no idea about that…no blame…
Interview by Kristina Lewis-Shipley for her forthcoming book on Street Artists and their handles:
KLS: Please ignore ‘SprayCan’ throughout the message, (hahaha) Ok, so the two questions are really simple:
Why did you first pick up a SprayCan? Where does your Street Name/ Pseudonym come from?
SBA: I feel the tiniest bit intimidated, but I’ll just pull my big girl panties up and speak loud
The two questions you put are 30 years apart in my life, and why I feel like my life is finally making sense – a big wound has started to graft
I first made a piece of guerilla paint and fibre art in 1983, but it was a street action for peace. I was used to making peace flags for the barbed wire fences at the MoD missile sites or the Trident base at Faslane, but when I suggested doing it in Newcastle upon Tyne, the other activists were really snobby about it. They didn’t want to be accused of vandalism Luckily my best friend and my boyfriend were supportive, because on the day I was down with a stomach virus, and they had to execute the designs. I’d made pieces to hang in a tree and a piece to write on the walls and pavements in chalks, and after they’d done those, they added some of their own, which made me sooo happy
Why did I want to do it?
I dreamt it.
A lot of my art comes to me that way, now that I am an artist, but at the time I was a bit lost, my parents had refused to let me do art at A Level, they were abusive in many ways, including physical and sexual, but looking back the biggest damage was withholding my way to be in the world. How is that possible, that a parent refuses to buy their child even super cheap felt tips? And pours scorn on everything that might encourage her?
So I grew up very bent out of shape and this was my first experience of genuinely needing to make MY mark in the world, and my new people, the activists did not like it, but I did it, and when I was up again, I added to what the others had done for me – it had been made for Valentine’s Day, so it couldn’t wait…it was a message of love to the precious earth and to her humans to stop the trashing…
I loved it and one of the ‘real’ artists I knew (he could draw!) decided it WAS effective after he heard about it and we should do some street art/ performance art and we did…
But it was interesting to see how flyposting was political and ok, and heartfelt messages and pictures chalked on walls, bedizeners hanging from trees…not so much…
My street name has been Singing Bird Artist SBA for five years, since my husband died and I could no longer paint, so since 2008/9. (er, long relentless optimist story, broken collarbone and ribs trying to save him, permanent damage, learning Machine Embroidery as a new skill to keep sane through staying creative…)
City and Guilds courses are REALLY tough, super structured and meticulous, I was an “interesting” student but I found myself needing to express my wild side/politics and myself more freely, more directly…
So I started with hanging freeform fibre art in bus shelters etc and public crafting/freeform crochet and leaving bedizeners/happy makers in public spaces My husband was an artist/poet and we would do this together before, we made environmental art in the woods too, so art for people to find has been important to me for a long time.
SBA was definitely a response to him dying and me having to work without his support – I have agoraphobia and can’t be out alone after dark, or in isolated places. Then I mixed in with Nottingham yarn’bombers’ for some joint blitzes. I prefer yarn ‘tagging’, cos I’m a pacifist, but I understand the excitement of saying yarnbombing, and also the backing off from the guys within graf (def NOT all, waving at you, lovely Popx!) who are hostile to using tagging for yarn/fibre work.
I have had fibromyalgia for over 4 years now (following the neck injury) and use a rollator, so can’t action very often, but am blurring the lines where I can, I have 2 fibre art installation pieces in a gallery in London in February and they want me to make a ‘live’ piece for the private view. What they don’t know is that with the help of the friend I’ll be staying with I will yarntag across London while I’m there – coming to a railing near you, people [Due to the injuries following installation, I couldn't actually do this, but made it into art for the Anti-ATOS/WCA protest on February 19th and Robin Hood's Rally against Budget Cuts on March 19th 2014]
I chose to use my yarntag name as my ‘fine’ artist name (big thanks to Banksy for showing the way) so I can link the two sides, legal, illegal. It also frees me to work a different way – the art world is full of puffed up entitlement at one end and genuine heartfelt making at the other. I have struggled with writing those pompous post-modernist windy statements, and then last spring I cut through it all and declared I would only use Singingbird Artist/SBA for ALL my art/social justice/permaculture activism. It comes from a Chinese proverb “If you keep a green tree in your heart, maybe the singing bird will come.” To me it means that if we are true to our deepest calling to make our mark in the world for what is needed (to cut through the mindless consumption junky culture capitalism demands, at the cost of the earth and all her peoples) then we each become a singing bird for those around us who need to hear that things can be different, change is possible, every *small* act counts.
Since I got my ‘right’ name, amazingly, loads of doors are opening for me, so your question about the name strikes home!
As Singingbird Artist, I make what I like, as fast as I can
Which is not very fast, grrr, I have permanent damage to the deep tissue in my hands, but all the joy that pours out into the work and the world makes me really happy. I even like it when people steal the work to take home, if it speaks to someone that much, great, I’ll make another, keep spreading the song
re photo, I need to be anonymous – the Dept of Worry and Persecution will stop my disability benefits at this prioritisation of my energy to art not hoovering so I like to use this one as a thumbnail- the rollator makes the point that physically disabled people can still make art/actions
Well, back to making! I have been working on the brown – blue water waste piece, some tricky freeform knitting, but first there are some garden photos to edit