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Colin Hambrook on adopting an 'artist name' / 1 February 2011

Supporting artists to develop their artistic lives is what drives me to keep [Disability Arts Online] DAO going. It's not something I always get right... and an issue has arisen recently with an artist I am working with, that I thought I'd ask for some advice on.

Identity is key and we don't always want our artist identities to be linked with our day-to-day identities for a variety of reasons. I adopted Mole as my artists' name early on in my career as a visual artist/ poet. Thinking back now it didn't serve me well, although it felt right at the time.

I had a strong emotional connection with the name. It was a nickname my mother gave me as a child and was consistent with the work I began making when I was at art college in the late 1980s and early 90s. Amongst other things the series of poem paintings I created then was about mental health issues in childhood. Some of it is in the NDACA collection at Holton Lee, Dorset.

Mole reflected my proclivity for hiding. Naturally, it wasn't successful or I would be a more prolific exhibiting artist now. [I haven't exhibited much as an artist in the last ten years - apart from in occasional local galleries.] The name went with the territory of not particularly wanting to be known. When I think back now it reflected a lot of the shame and guilt that goes with the territory of being known as someone with a mental health condition.

But I have carried on surviving, much to my great astonishment... and still make work, although the name Mole has all but disappeared except as a signature on quite a few older works. As this issue arose with the artist I'm working with, it got me to thinking about my own choices and wondering how best to advise someone on whether or not adopting an artist' name is a good idea.

There are lots of famous examples of artists changing their names - slightly as in the case of Andy Warhol... or completely as with Banksy, Tracy Emin, Billy Childish - to name a few.

There are lots of reasons why people choose different identities as artists. And I wondered if any of the disability community had ideas on how to go about thinking about choosing something that reflects who you are as an artist?


Aidan Moesby

8 February 2011

The significance of 'Mole' is not lost me. I read a lot of James Hillman in the past and I am adopting his perspective here. Sometimes we unconciously practice for later life in our youth - the famous spanish bullfighter (whose name escapes me) was a weak child always tugging on his mums apron skirts - practicing the bull fighters cape - he (Hillman) writes mazing stuff on this and other things.

We adopt something we can identify with and project on to and through to re-present our seleves in a more acceptable(to us)form to the world. We pick up that mantle and become it. I use or am using Text Artist, but have used Inkyblacklomo, Moroseby, Henry Fool(after Hal Hartley film). They all served a function at the time. Now haveing just got a website i was left wondering about its url. I finally opted for my name thinking it's time i took ownership, had the faith in myself. Integrate myself the person and myself the creative. However i am still left wondering how do i fit in the mental health thing into the whole package as it is discrete yet part of me. And I know i have lost work through being 'mad and out' or however you want to phrase it.

So names - they are important - as labels - they help to define us to the world and oursleves. The thing is they have to work for you, empower you, enable you or you may as well wear your name round your neck like an oversized albatross.

Colin Hambrook

8 February 2011

That's a very interesting observation. Being 'mole' is still a big part of my identity. It has helped me contain and cope with the bit of me that is subject to psychosis - it gives me permission to not believe myself when stress brings psychotic thoughts on.

It's interesting how engaging with the web has been a natural progression for the 'mole' in me. The web is an underground experience largely you interact in isolation. And like being underground you never know quite what you are going to bump up against. At the same time as revealing yourself - you can keep a certain amount of anonymity in how you present yourself.

You're right Aidan - about having identities for time-periods of your life. Text Artist is very descriptive. It sounds purposeful and focussed. I'd be interested to know more about how the name fits how you present your work?

Richard Johnson

7 March 2011

Colin, many thanks for mentioning Holton Lee. I had never heard of it before, spent about 30 minutes on the website, and I am stunned.

There seems to be so much I have missed.

Bushy Kelly

26 July 2011

I believe the question of identity on a personal and artistic lives is fundamental to our sense of well-being. As a young child my nickname given by my parents stuck and became my chosen name rather than my birth name of Hilda. I realise as an adult whose sixtieth birthday looms large in March that using the name Bushy (I couldn't pronounce Babushka) became a crucial part of my 'sick' identity and also unique as part of my artistic identity. Having been medicalised all my life somehow appointments in hospitals all over the country protected me when my birth names were still used. The problem for me now lies in the fact that because my surname is the good old Irish name of Kelly dating back generations in my family, strangers and bureaucrats assume that is my first name is my last name. Ah well it's better than being labelled by my medical condition and leads to curiosity about my background, history and yes you could say chosen identity.