Nicky Deeley and Graham Naylor first met at Submit to Love Studios – home to a group of artists who have survived brain injuries. Staff had seen Nicky’s work and invited her to come and visit the studio; what was intended as a short tour turned into a three-hour stay as Nicky joined Graham and a group of others in painting a series of six-foot abstract piece. 'It was a fizzy kaleidoscope of creativity,' Nicky muses, 'It felt like home and had me hooked from the start'.
The Collaboration Process
It appeared collaborating came naturally to the pair; so working together on a piece for Artist and the Machine, was an exciting prospect. The pair approached the project very organically. The first few studio sessions were just about each seeing the other at work; testing out different ways of integrating their individual practices. It was also about building trust in each other; feeling comfortable and safe enough to explore themes and ideas that may be exposing and difficult. Flexibility was key here, to ensure the project was a true partnership that both had ownership of. One of the first exercises saw Nicky drawing the top of a plant before turning it around and Graham drawing the roots from the other side of the table.
It was about identifying what kind of links we shared that were funny and interesting... one thing we shared was a dark humour. We both liked things that were quite dark and psychedelic. The environment came up a lot too. So we took those connections and started from there; it set the tone for the whole piece. Nicky Deeley
For Graham the most difficult part was trying to work out how or what part he was going play in the piece. When the script started to evolve, that’s when it started to get more interesting.
Technology also became central to the development of the piece. Due to the effects of Graham’s injury, text and email are key communication tools for him and therefore both artists primarily communicated ideas and images over WhatsApp in a conversation totalling more than 500 messages (and counting). These messages charted the evolution of the project, and over the course of six weeks, Graham and Nicky made and collected scores of images, film clips, and commissioned works from other artists in the studio. Graham also employed the use of technology in the creation of his artwork; as an ex-image retoucher he used a range of programs like Abode Photoshop that served this project well. He was also able to draw images directly onto his iPad using a stylus, which allows more flexibility than holding a pen due to his action myoclonus, which makes his muscles jerk.
The concept of a film was agreed early – it provided a contained space to communicate lots of big ideas, whilst also telling a powerful story where images of plants and animals sit alongside cells and galaxies. This is narrated by a piece of life writing from Graham exploring his childhood, his accident and life now.
I remember Malham Cove. It was like a giant had left a huge footprint in the limestone and then a waterfall began running right through the middle of that footprint.
Blue Planet Black Hole
The result is a personal and intimate story of someone’s experience of being a human in the world. A beautiful world. An imperfect world. Asking big questions like 'why am I here?' whilst acknowledging life’s tiny details. It’s a project that flips backwards and forwards in time, whilst also rooting very firmly in the present.
Of his creative partner, Graham is full of praise; 'Working with Nicky has been brilliant! Her approach is infectious, and she’s obviously super talented. She’s got ideas coming out of her ears… and a wicked sense of humour also.'
It’s a sentiment Nicky echoes - 'It’s been hard at times. I’ve found it very moving and affecting. It’s also changed my practice quite drastically; in a positive way. There are a lot of different ways to be an artist in the world. I’d love for there to be a better bridge between the different artistic communities. Curators should be seeing the work that goes on in this studio. The art world needs to be warmer and more open; it would really benefit from this work.'
The Blue Planet Black Hole workshop that forms part of Artist and the Machine delves into what it means to be human through three interlinking works. This workshops is developed by Headway East London - a charity supporting people affected by brain injury, in collaboration with artists Nicky Deeley and Graham Naylor.