Saturday, 12 December 2009

Kapoor and Auerbach in London

Anish Kapoor at Royal Academy

Anish Kapoor, As if to Celebrate I Discovered a Mountain Blooming with Red Flowers, 1981 (Royal Academy, 2009)

I went to to see the Anish Kapoor exhibition at the Royal Academy last week. I was not as impressed as I had hoped. The reviews had been ecstatic, but the reality was a very crowded exhibition, more spectacle than anything.

The high point for visitors was the cannon that fired red waxy substance at the gallery wall. It made a very loud noise! Two galleries were used for a kind of train coated in red wax that imperceptibly moved through on a base.

Other rooms contained Kapoor's characteristic distorted mirror pieces and large wall-based trompe d'oeil work.
Another room was completely full of cement excrescences of all kinds, mostly like massive piles of grey turds. I thought I was going to like this but it was overwhelming.

Anish Kapoor, Shooting into the Corner, Royal Academy, 2008/9 (above top)
Anish Kapoor, Greyman Cries, Shaman Dies, Billowing Smoke, Beauty Evoked (detail), Royal Academy, 2008/9 (above)

However, the first room was the best for me. Simple spiky and sculptural shapes in bright primary coloured pigments. Fabulous.

I saw the movie
, Bright Star, about the poet John Keats and his relationship with Fanny Brawne. I found it a beautiful gentle film which evoked the slow pace of life 200 years ago.

Frank Auerbach at Courtauld Institute
London Building Sites 1952-62

FRANK AUERBACH Study for Shell Building Site: from the Festival Hall, 1958-60 pencil on paper

FRANK AUERBACH Shell Building Site: from the Thames, 1959, oil on board

These paintings meant a great deal to me. I can just remember post-war London. In the words of Auerbach, "London after the war was a marvellous landscape with precipices and mountains and crags.. ful of drama .... it was pitted with bomb sites and the bomb sites gradually turned into building sites .. there was a sense of survivors scurrying among a ruined city".

I am also fascinated, like Auerbach, by building sites, and by the "contrast between apparent chaos of excavated earth and piles of rubble and the beginning of architectural order at its most dramatic".

In an interview with John Tusa
Auerbach talks about the early influence of David Bomberg, who taught students to look for the "spirit in the mass" and to constantly experiment until they found the essence of the subject. Auerbach works and reworks his paintings, working slowly and scraping back the paint constantly to reveal the image until he is satisfied
. His work is characterized by very thick paint. He says this is incidental to his search for the deepest meaning of the subject.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

"Taking Time" exhibition in Birmingham

Taking Time:Craft and the Slow Revolution
(Waterhall, Birmingham, then touring) is an interesting project. The curation and planning is very transparent, as described on website and blog

Neil Brownsword, "Salvage Series"(detail), 2005
Ceramic and industrial archaeology (Crafts March/April 2008).

For me this exhibition is about makers exploring everyday objects and their place in our psyche. Neil Broadsword casts remnants of the lost Stoke pottery culture in porcelain, Amy Houghton explores our relationship with historical textiles and other objects and David Gates how everyday furniture shapes our space and assumptions, to give a few examples.

Amy Houghton, "One centimetre is a little less than half-an-inch." Stop frame animation of Dovecote Tapestry weaving records.
(Photo by Amy Houghton). (Exhibition catalogue)

Associated with this is the idea of "place". Ken Eastman and Dawn Youll investigate how a place is created, quoting this passage:

"When a place is found it is found somewhere on the frontier between nature and art. It is like a hollow in the sand within which the frontier has been wiped out. The place of the painting begins in this hollow. Begins with a practice, withsomething being done by the hands, and the hands then seeking the approval of the eye, until the whole body is involved in the hollow. Then there's a chance of it becoming a place. A slim chance." John Berger, (2001), The Shape of a Pocket, Bloomsbury, p. 29.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009


Trip to Birmingham

I have been to Birmingham for the weekend . Birmingham was in its Christmas dress, complete with Frankfurt market in New Street.

The many impressive Victorian buildings in Birmingham have mostly been refurbished. Everywhere there are traces of the past in old warehouses and factories, now changed in use to offices, bars, clubs or workshops. It is an energetic city, as it always must have been.

Life in Slovakia

In my hostel in the Jewellery Quarter I talked to a Slovakian woman who travels all over England looking after people with spinal injuries. She has no base here but lives where she works, and then when she can, she returns to Slovakia to see her Hungarian husband in Budapest, and her mother in Slovakia. She sends money to her mother all the time to help, particularly now that Slovakia has the euro and prices have gone up.

The Main Event

Pat Parelli and the young horse

My reason for the trip was to act as one of volunteer team in the Pat Parelli natural horsemanship event at the National Exhibition Centre. There were about 50 volunteers, plus a professional team from USA and UK and Europe. It was hard work! Ouch. I had to get up at 5 am on Saturday in order to get the 6.10 train from New street for arrival NEC 6.30 am.

However we got to see most of the events. I was so impressed by Parelli working with a young racehorse, no tearaway but with a quiet mind of his own, which was creating problems for his trainer and ultimately for his own future. Pat showed how the horse was pushing into everything. In Pat's words, he was using his nose and his shoulders to get his way, but was not moving his feet. Pat got him to think down to his feet and transformed this horse. So simple, but so effective.

All of us team were pretty tired by the Sunday evening, but also satisfied that we had supported this approach to horses as best we could. I met lots of old friends and made some new ones, too.It was very energizing to work in a group of people under quite a bit of pressure.

Still on the equestrian theme, last night I saw "Horse Boy", a moving film about an autistic boy in the United States who was only able to relate to horses. His parents took him to Mongolia in the hope that the shamanistic culture and the deep understanding of animals and nature would help him.

Back to work

Now it is time to focus on my work again. Did I say that my prints were accepted for the Edinburgh exhibition? I am glad to have had this weekend break in such a different world. It helps to clear the head.

An exhibition

I saw an interesting exhibition at The Waterhall, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Taking time: Craft and the Slow Revolution "considers how contemporary craft making practices embrace similar values and philosophies to those supported by the Slow Movement "

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

City life

Today I have been to Glasgow to return library books. One of them was an excellent account of contemporary print making (The Contemporary Print from pre-pop to postmodernism by Susan Tallman (Thames and Hudson, 2996)), and I renewed the loan. I also spotted a book about structuralism and post structuralism and decided to see if my understanding of these subjects had progressed since my degree!

I enjoyed being in Glasgow. The GSA library was displaying some great new titles, and I got freshly inspired about ideas and possibilities. Also noted the contemporary architecture lectures open to public on Friday afternoons. Sometimes I seem to spend all my time travelling between the cities.

I am definitely not complaining.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Reflections, actual and metaphorical

Reflections on work
I finally got to put the finishing touches to my wallhangings.I tidied them up and they began to look quite strong and effective.

Wall hangings - dye on wool

These pieces are part of on-going project to do with assymetrical buildings. The original inspiration is some photos I took when my new radiators were installed in 2003! There was something about the 3D triangular shape of the protective wrapping, the pressed card and the red colour that triggered associations with sculptural form, alternative architecture and a collapsed and threatened situation.

Photograph of radiator wrapping

I keep returning to this original idea, reinterpreting it in different media. I have been working on the litho stone in crayon, doing drawings from the photos and from my imagination, and then I extended the idea to working with dye on heavy watercolour paper.

Details of lithographs

I based the larger wall pieces (using dye on fine wool) on
these watercolours. In the process I linked to recent ideas I have had about the ancient world, and in particular the port of Ostia, near to Rome. I suppose I am a romantic, but I get very moved by the melancholy of lost vitality in cities and other places. I believe that intense activity leaves its traces somehow, even they are invisible.
Dye on paper

Reflections on play
Balquidder glen

Since completing the textile work, I have been away for a week. I went on a group retreat in the Scottish Highlands. It was a pleasure for me to meet new people and hear about their experiences. I depend upon the media quite a bit to keep up with the world, but it is no substitute for the real thing! Particularly an interesting group such as this. So if any of you in the group get as far as this blog, well, you know who you are, and thanks for your company. PS It is interesting how much I enjoy pasting up photos of "nature" on this blog.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

"Standing back

Yesterday I took two framed prints into Edinburgh and left them for submission to the Christmas exhibition. Maybe one will be selected, maybe not, but it was a great thing to do. I wrote an up to date biography and statement to accompany the images. I had time to resume work on a litho stone - adding tone to a line drawing.

I was glad to get home and rest a bit after a long period of work.

Wool scarves in process

This week I completed an order for the woollen scarves and today I sent it off. Today another order came in. I am going to be busy again. I still have the wall hangings to complete.

To celebrate the end of a long period of work I today renewed a lapsed subscription to The List magazine, so that I know better what is going on in the cities.

Today I was in Edinburgh again. I bought a new box of watercolours from the Greyfriars Art Shop in Dundas Street. It is always interesting walking down that street because of the all the galleries there. I hankered after a new i-Pod Shuffle in HMV, Princes Street. Mine got damaged several weeks ago when a water bottle in my bag leaked. But I resisted the temptation.

This weekend I am going for a retreat in nearby centre in the mountains. I hope to get time to do some drawing and painting - hence purchase of new paints - as well as improve my tai chi skills. It feels odd to be taking time out at this time of the year, but that is just how it worked out.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Where else I work

Arriving in the city
- a different planet

This week I have been working hard to make five wall hangings for a gallery in Northern England. Now it is nearly completed - just have to sew and finish them. I have been working on another order too. Quite a few woollen scarves for a gallery in the West Midlands.

I found time to go into the city to visit the print workshop and collect some prints. I have selected a couple of these for submission to the Christmas exhibition. I am a novice printmaker, so do not necessarily expect to be selected!

The print workshop - lithography press

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Where I work

The road to work

My workshop is the loft space in an old barn. It is surrounded by farmland for miles, and every day I see hares, many wild birds, and sometimes deer and foxes - as well as domestic animals such as horses and cattle. I enjoy the isolation and peace of this place, and watching the cultivation of the land as each season passes.

View from the workshop barn

My neighbour in the barn is a a yurt maker, and he uses completely traditional methods of construction.

A yurt frame constructed indoors

Saturday, 24 October 2009

My first blog

This is my first blog. I have for many years worked as a craftsperson
in textiles, trading successfully on a small scale, and employing
two or three people. I paint with dye directly onto cloth such as silk,
velvet and wool. The fabric is made into ties, scarves and clothing.

The way I was
Dye on silk 1993

I was keen to develop my work to a higher level, as I saw it, and in 1997 I returned to full-time study, while retaining my business, to take an Honours degree in painting. I completed this in 2001 and my Masters in contemporary art theory in 2004.

I am now more knowledgeable about twentieth century art. I realise that the elusive quality I felt that I lacked was the ability to connect ideas and practice. It has taken me some time to understand this, because I have always worked in a very visceral and spontaneous way, in contradiction to conscious or rational thought.

Textiles also carry a strong message of sensuality, intimacy and use. In order to work more with ideas I prefer to use print, drawing or paint on paper or other support. These media for me have a stronger link to the mind, are more neutral and can be used with greater precision. I hope that writing this blog will help me to clarify what kind of artist I am, and to move forward.

Lithograph 2009

Today I was at the print workshop. I am working on a series of lithographs about imaginary deserted and derelict buildings.

I was excited to see the beautiful calendar the print workshop has produced for 2010. The quality of work is stunning.

I also visited the Scottish Gallery, and saw an impressive exhibition of watercolours and monoprints on paper.

22nd October, 2009
Work in progress - dye on wool

I spent time in my studio working on wallhangings for a forthcoming exhibition. I want to relate the pieces to what I am doing in the printmaking, but in brighter colours!

23rd October, 2009

I made a small watercolour with a broad brush in a new and freer style. I am interested in the colours rather than feeling the need to reproduce too closely what I see. It is only recently that I can find the same freedom with paint as I have always experienced with the medium of dye.

Watercolour - view from studio window