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studiOH podcast from artist Michael Statham

This is season 1 episode 1 of the studiOH! podcast. ‘The beginning of something’

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show notes:

Hello, and welcome to the the first episode of the studioH! podcast. I’m calling this season one, episode one because it makes it sound like I have a plan and that I actually know what I’m doing. Wether I do or not remains to be seen.

This first season will be six episodes, each about 15 minutes long and released every two weeks. I’m also planning to put out the occasional ‘special’ episode between seasons. Possibly about the tech side of an artists business, a bit of web design, some social media advice, that sort of thing or I might just record an episode to keep listeners updated with news from the studio. 

I’m hoping these special episodes will also help me to concentrate on maintaining this project.

Because I have quite a short attention span, you see. I’m really easily distracted, by almost anything. Case in point, I should be painting right now but instead I’m recording this. 

And while I’m recording this I’m also thinking about feeding the cats, working out when I can have that second packet of crisps and trying to figure out how I can get out of my dentist appointment next Friday. 

My head is constantly full of to-do lists, ideas and plans, and lots of other things that I should be able to ignore but which keep tapping at the back of my head to remind me that they are still there.

So If I veer off on a tangent, that’ll probably be why.

The idea behind this podcast is that I’ll use it as a way to document my day to day studio life, the hurdles that I encounter as I try to become a full time artist, things that just bug the heck out of me or even as a way to exercise art related some demons. 

I’ll also try to share tips as I stumble across them and nuggets of wisdom that I find along the way. 

Initially I’ll try to keep to a single topic each episode. Although, as I’ve said, my attention span is need some work so tangents are guaranteed to happen.

I also have a tendency to babble and also to contradict myself. 

Often, within minutes of me making a comment or giving an opinion, I will change my mind and say the exact opposite. 

I can also be a bit incoherent and vague while I’m trying to make a decision on something. 

Don’t be alarmed if I suddenly stop taking and all you hear is bird song, I am still here (and you may actually hear bird song from time to time as my studio from where I’m recording this is at the bottom of my garden) 

Note to self, should probably record in doors. 

< pause> link music

After all that preamble, and if you are still listening, let me fill you in on who I am.

As I said at the top of the podcast, my name is Michael Statham. 

That’s spelt STATHAM. There is no R after the first T which is something that almost everyone adds to my name when addressing me. 

So, that’s Statham not Stratham… or any other derivative there of. How hard could it be. 

Quite hard, apparently. I once received a letter addressed to Mick Spade and another one to Michael St.Atham.

But despite evidence to the contrary, I’m not a 1940’s New York detective or have I ever been canonised. My Doctor did once write me a prescription with the name Jason Statham on it. He was mildly embarrassed when I pointed out his mistake. I don’t go there any more. If he can’t get my name right how accurate would his diagnosis be.

Most folks call me Mick, apart from one of my sisters who insist on calling me Mike, but these days I kind of like Michael. It makes me sound grown up. And at my age being grown up is something that I should have slid into a long time ago.

I’ve always been a creative person. I think the need to make things is part into my DNA and is something that I couldn’t put a stop to no matter how hard I tried, so why bother. 

I’ve had no formal art training. University wasn’t even a consideration in my family. In fact my school was incredibly inept at spotting, not necessarily artistic talent, more temperament I’d say. If you weren’t in the top 1% of performers at either maths or science then your destiny was to take up a ‘trade’. After all, you couldn’t be an artist. How silly was that Idea. 

So during my school years my main goal was to remain incognito and to stay well below the radar. This was more out of necessity than desire. I was part of the small sub set of geek kids at the school. We weren’t gifted in anyway for sports. That gene was missing from our genetic make up. 

So in order to save ourselves from daily ridicule and occasional beatings from the Jocks, we each had to develop a talent of our own as a defence mechanism. 

I became the artistic one with a quirky sense of humour. 

I would draw caricatures of the other kids that edged slightly towards satire. Humour is always the best defence. I was also what can only be described as short and weedy. I don’t think I grew above 5 feet until I left school at 16 and a half. 

On our last day of school our headmaster gathered the whole year into the gym to give us ‘the speech’. It wasn’t much of a speech, but, to be honest, an over the hill secondary school headmaster was never going to give Baz Lurman a run for his money. 

To this day the only thing I can remember this one thing. As he stood at the front of the gym he said “when people tell you that your school days are the best days of your life” then he paused and looked small and downtrodden before finishing his sentence with “don’t believe them.”

And with that, school was over. 

This was the height of the Thatcher years and jobs were scarce. My parents were constantly bewildered that I couldn’t find employment. 

I needed to get into some sort of trade they constantly told me but despite protesting otherwise, no one ever entertained the notion that I could be good at something a bit more creative and so I was somehow steered into a government training course to become an electrician.

After all, my brother was an electrical fitter at the local power station. If it was good enough for him apparently it was good enough for me too.

So, because this was the 80’s and jobs were harder to come by than rocking horse droppings. With no other option on the table I took the course.

There was a dozen of us starting on that first day. I never really felt the part despite the dark blue one piece overalls and the shiny new tool box. There was a lot of bullying from many of the established tradesmen towards young people entering those sorts of professions. They seem to take it as a challenge to break the spirits of the new trainees. So from day one it was pretty much hell on earth.

Despite all that I did find the practical side a bit of a doddle. I guess this tapped into my creative streak but the theory; that was another matter entirely. I’ve never been one for retaining info for something that I just have no interest in. And listening to dry lectures about three phase motors or how to strip Mineral Insulated Copper Cored Cable fit perfectly into that category. 

The idea was that during the two years of the course, one of the local electrical companies would take the dozen of us on as apprentices. The problem was that no-one informed the course runners that THIS WAS THE 80’S AND NO-ONE WAS TAKING APPRENTICES! There were no jobs, full stop.

So after just over a year, the course folded and I was ‘on the dole’ as we said back then. 

I remember having to sign on at the local DHSS (that’s department of Health and Social Security for those too young to remember). Fortunately I lived in the same street as the signing on office, literally 20 yards away. Every cloud has a silver lining I guess. 

That lasted for three years. During which time, apart from unsuccessfully looking for a job, I drew. A lot.

I’d always drawn, ever since I’d been small. And I was also a bit of a comic book geek so I copied constantly from those. My initial knowledge of anatomy, albeit the exaggerated, pumped up superhero variety was formed by reading those. There were exceptions to that rule though.  Go lookup Barry Windsor Smith or JJ Muth or Kent Williams for stunning examples of comic book fine art. 

After a while I had the fanciful notion that I might be able to draw comics for a living. But I wasn’t much of a storyteller so that idea stalled almost straight away. 

Then, one day in the local paper I saw that W H Smith had decided to open a branch in town so I applied and to everybody’s surprise, I was successful.

I don’t know if this is connected to my love of comics or their format but once part of the Smiths family I fell in love with magazines, specifically their designs and layout. I’m not talking Woman’s Weekly or Angling Times. This was a time in the 80’s when magazines like Arena and ID and The Face were experimenting with graphic design and avant guard layouts.

As luck would have it, after about a year of counting BIC pen refills and trying to avoid selling tippex to anyone who looked under 16, an opening came up on the news department and I was in like a rat up a drain pipe. 

It was perfect. I was the only one on that department, which suited my artistic, loner temperament and I got to read all the new editions on publication day. It wasn’t long before I was reading Creative Review and Grafik two great magazines dedicated to graphic design. These magazines were an eye opening revelation for me. People actually got paid to be ‘creative’ in this way. Amazing.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that I worked tirelessly to make it as a designer. Well, that’s what I thought I’d do to. But the spectre of trying to get into a university to study graphic design, or design of any kind, to be honest, was still way off my radar. I was both financially excluded and educationally challenged by the lack of qualifying grades. So I stayed where I was and dreamed of what might have been.

After about 6 years I moved to another branch of WH Smith where I promptly got on the wrong side of the branch manager and my second stint in Hell began. Over the next few years stuff happened and my life took a path of changes and challenges, but I found a way out when an opportunity arose in a department of the Civil Service back in my home town. I won’t say where as I am still bound by the official secrets act. No, it wasn’t as glamorous a job as that makes it sound. In fact there was no glamour what so ever attached to it and the job was only supposed to last me a year. It was just a way out of Smiths. It would also give me breathing space while I sorted my act out.

It’s funny how time passes when you get comfortable with something. The pay was pretty bad, and remained so until the day I left, despite what outsiders assume of the Civil Service. If you were at the bottom of the heap, and were content to stay there, you were not about to get rich anytime soon. The other perks were pretty good though. Flexy time was always there to be abused and they were giving away annual leave like it was about to go out of fashion. 

During these years the age of personal computers dawned and I saw how they opened up new creative avenues. I eventually learned photoshop and how to code web sites. I even did a little ‘off the books’ design work for friends, relatives and some charitable organisations. I loved doing that stuff.

Jump forwards 28 years and I finally got the chance to leave on my own terms. It wasn’t a tough decision. The Civil Service made it worth while, at least in the short term, and this gave me a buffer to pursue my dream of a creative life of some sort.

During the years in the Civil Service I still harboured a desire to walk that creative path. Or at least to meander down it from time to time. I followed design trends like my friends and colleagues followed football or cars, which are two things that I personally know very little about. 

I also dipped my toe into trying to master various artistic practices. My most successful attempt and most rewarding experience was with screenprinting. I think that was because it allowed me to combine my love of design with an artistic edge. In fact, for this years Royal Academy submission for the Summer Exhibition I dusted off my printing hat and submitted a Risograph print rather than my usual painted entry. 

It didn’t make it through the first round though this time, so probably wasn’t a good idea after all.

All of that was a year ago, give or take. And over these past few months I have combined a house renovation with renewing my acquaintance with painting. Landscapes are usually my thing although I do seem to have an illicit affair with abstracts too. But I have a tough time with making abstracts. I think my head is sometimes in too ordered a space to pull them off successfully. In my mind I have to know what I’m trying to paint and the randomness of abstraction is sometimes too difficult to accomplish. Having said that, my landscapes do have an abstract quality to them, so what do I know?

It’s been so long that I’d forgotten how much I love using oil paint. It’s such a sumptuous medium, so tactile and mutable. And since starting to paint again I think I’m beginning to find my groove. 

I’m also wrestling with acrylics. As much as I love oil paints there are hazards to consider when using them so I’m trying to switch, but finding it somewhat difficult as the acrylics just don’t want to behave themselves and we have fallen out many times recently. 

I try to paint probably three days out of the week, but more if I can and if my other commitments allow. It’s a bit like a musician practicing their scales. I might not come out with a finished piece but at least I’ve gone some way to getting the notes in the right order. Recently I’ve found the confidence to enter competitions and make submissions for open exhibitions. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not. 

I’m growing to love it, this artists life and I now feel happy, well happier than I’d felt in the preceding 30 plus years of day jobs. Which is saying something. At some point I will need to go back to a day job, I think, just be able to make ends meet, but I’ll delay that moment for as long as possible. 

And who knows, if I manage to pull this off, if I can make a living by making art, then it will have been all worth it. If it doesn’t work out, it will have still been worth it. Probably.

I have great support in the form of my amazing wife, who, in the scheme of things, I could not do any of this without. She’s just so… incredible and gives me a boost when my confidence is low or a kick in the backside when needed.

So, in a nut shell, that’s me and I invite you all to follow my trials and tribulations of making ‘it’, what ever ‘it’ is, via this podcast.

I hope you’ll decide to stick around, and if you do the studiOH! Podcast can be found on which ever podcast app you use. Perhaps you could leave a review, if you’re that way inclined but try not to be too harsh. This is my first time after all.

So, thanks very much for listening and indulging me in this project.

You can subscribe to the podcast for free on all major podcast platforms. Please let your friends know about the show, it might just be something that they’d like to hear too, so feel free to pass it on. And don’t forget to rate and review on apple podcasts as this will also help others to find the show.

You can find me on the web at mickstatham.com, on instagram and facebook at MichaelStathamArt and on twitter at mikestathamart.

The music for this podcast is called Walking Back by Aaron Sprinkle with incidental music called Golden Years by Shimmer. Both are licensed from Soundstripe.com

I’m Michael Statham and you’ve been listening to The studiOH! Podcast

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All images and content copyright michael statham 2019. Other images are copyright of their respective owners.