Head north, turn east along the M65, come off at Barrowford, keep going through the houses until they run out and - wow! First Lancashire and then Yorkshire were at their stunning best today, snow dusted over the higher areas and lingering in the shadow of walls, the sun gilding everything, tree silhouettes still starkly wintery, a skyline hill painted in smoky midnight blue and sandy gold (no, really. It was incredible).
I decided that today was a good day to visit our Hot Bed Press exhibition at the Lime gallery, just south of Settle (trying to avoid missing it altogether through procrastination). When the sun peeped coyly through a light veil of cloud, it seemed a good enough omen, and off I set. It was utterly glorious, with sweeping hillsides, fields crowded with sheep and crows, the Ribble (?I think) full to the very brim and snaking peacefully across the scenery, distant snow-covered peaks. I don't quite know how I survive drives through drop-dead gorgeous scenery, I seem to spend so much time looking everywhere and trying to soak it all up, but some part must still concentrate on the road and oncoming traffic.
I like the gallery - it's small but bright and well lit and I thought the exhibition looked good there. However, I didn't linger; I was keen to see if I could make it up to the Ribblehead Viaduct before turning homewards. I've never been, and Settle is so close by that it seemed foolish not to take the opportunity. I'm glad I did - it all just went on being glorious, and the viaduct, well I suppose it looked rather like its pictures but it was as dramatic as I could have hoped.
So it was pretty much dusk as I cut back across country to Gisburn (road closed, and I was trying to avoid the massively long diversion I'd followed on the way up) but that was alright. It's just driving through the pitchy black without street lights that I try to avoid (too much urban living - I've lost the knack). Closer to home, Pendle - as snow-clad as anything further north - loomed even more from this direction, first glowing white against the darkening sky and then taking a chance to be all misty and moody in a sudden blizzardy squall (briefly looking hauntingly like a Norman Ackroyd etching). l If only I didn't have things that need doing, I'd repeat the whole trip tomorrow.
One of the things I really like about Bath's Victoria Art Gallery is - from my point of view at least (which means where I park) - its absolute accessibility. I pass its front door, so that it would almost be a sin not to go in. If all the exhibitions I mean to go to or hope to return to were as handy as that, I'd never ever miss one.
This latest visit offered up Roger Mayne's photograph exhibition, which I wandered round and quite enjoyed and to which, I suppose, I didn't really give very much attention. Nothing personal.
That was the main exhibition. In the small room was an exhibition of paintings by Katie Sims. Apparently she's quite the up and coming star. Her pieces derive from - or apparently, according to some sources, subvert - original art from earlier centuries. So I looked up subvert, because I found I was uncomfortable with the 'knowingness' of that word. It's very active, isn't it, surely a deliberate act to denigrate the original works. Chambers dictionary says that to subvert is 'to overthrow, overturn, ruin (eg principles, a political system, etc); to pervert or corrupt (a person)', which made me feel that my uneasiness was warranted. Why exactly would you choose to describe her work that way? How does it add anything to her work?
Be that as it may, I suppose it's only words and maybe other people would feel it's quite reasonable. Sims paints her own version of these works in a style that feels quite Turner-esque (is that an irony of sorts?), with a more limited palette than the originals and frequently with the introduction of 'modern' geometrical elements which sit awkwardly (in a good way) with the rest of the painting. Much of her work I really liked, if sometimes quite reluctantly. The reluctance came very simply down to an uncertainty as to whether it was more than just attractive - once there is a claim of subversion, surely some kind of underlying motive should become evident. Still, I don't think it is Sims herself who makes this claim, and whatever, I certainly like the choice of colour ranges, I admit freely that I mostly prefer her paintings to the historical equivalents and I like the idea of taking an original artistic piece and doing something different with it, deriving work from it, responding to it. Anyway, here is a selection of the pairings - it would have been great to have the work hung in pairs, each Sims piece with its ancient sibling - both might have gained from the juxtaposition - but maybe that wasn't feasible for the gallery.
On the left, Calais Fishermen by Clarkson Frederick Stanfield, and on the right Silver Waters Wide
Anxiety Head of a Girl, by Jean-Baptiste Greuze, and Featherweight
Pump Room and Abbey Church, a drawing by William Noble Hardwick, and Pump and Circumstance
Left, Hendrick Danckerts' View of Windsor Castle with Cattle and Bathers. Right, Danckerts Raven.
Cowes, Isle of Wight, View from the Sea, Frederick Calvert, and Fading Crest
Paolo Uccello's The Battle of San Romano and Sims' Fleeting Romano.
There were plenty more, and I liked the exhibition enough to go twice (well, I was passing...). The final picture here, Fleeting Romano, was my favourite - it had a vision- or dream-like quality to it, and a feeling of more depth. Entirely coincidentally (and its pairing wasn't made obvious at the exhibition; I've discovered it since - perhaps those that were cited were in Bath's collection?) it's the original work that I like least. Perhaps one thing about Sims subverting those earlier works is that I have actually made the effort to search them out, and I surely wouldn't have otherwise.
Edinburgh looked great. I know those who prefer Glasgow say that Edinburgh just isn't vibrant enough, that it's staid and self-satisfied, but while I like to think that I don't go in for self-satisfied very often, I'm definitely more staid than vibrant (sigh). And anyway, anywhere is what you make of it. So Edinburgh looked great. We were up for the rugby AND OUR TEAM WON!
But we were up for longer than that, so we did other things too. Like visit art galleries, including the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and its annexe, Dean Gallery, across the road. 'From Death to Death and other small tales' was on at the main gallery, and I'm ashamed to say that I didn't give it the attention it deserved. I could mention much walking already, and an ankle carping bitterly about the (no longer new!) shoe but the honest truth is that I didn't properly engage. I've mentioned this before, my tendency upon (many an) occasion to zip around going 'like that, don't like that, can't see the point of that' and leave. I did exactly that this time. There were things I got, other things that I suspect I would never make enough effort to get, but either way, it deserved more attention. Luckily there's still plenty of time, and I shall go back and do it properly before that time runs out. No really, it will happen.
The annexe was more what I had in mind on this particular visit - less demanding of my concerted interaction, I suppose. We were taken with this piece of work in the grounds:
There was a suggestion that it might be a useful indicator before the match, later, at Murrayfield, but it wasn't because (as I might already have mentioned) OUR TEAM WON.
Lots of Paolozzi, from the sculpture outside:
to the fantastic, and fantastically massive, construction in the coffee shop:
to the complete studio contents in a gallery:
where I was delighted to see a model of Star Trek Next Generation's Geordi La Forge and some kind of Star Wars Return of the Jedi construction toy (I think) among a million million other things. I could happily have spent the day just looking at that accumulation of everything ever.
But there were plenty of things I could have spent the day looking at. Toddlers and small children rushing about in the National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street for instance, with a few hours reserved for the millennium clock (I need a better look at that).
Or, from the window of where we were staying, tiny people walking their tiny dogs on the park area across the road. Mesmerising.
Then, as we set off for home, the world softly changed. There was already a certain amount of snow and ice (we were in Scotland. It's February) but a gentle, powdery, persistent snow was sleeting down, coating everywhere cold with just enough of an icing sugar dusting to change the world to delicate black and white while still allowing the bones of the land to show through. It's not exactly a busy area, crossing the country south from Edinburgh, and we saw barely a soul - it felt very dreamlike.
We're on to collagraphs in the complete printmaker (the course is inevitably a bit of a whistlestop tour; it's up to us to put the practice in, as and when, or simply if it appeals as a method) and we spent today preparing plates. This particular method of collagraph initially involves scoring into and/or removing the top layers of mountboard to build up a design - obviously we can add texture in various ways, but it's early days and I want to get to grips with one thing at a time.
For once, I had some idea what I was going to do and was prepared to put in the fiddly hours removing intricate little bits of paper, then more because it wasn't deep enough, then cussing because all the little leftover bits of top surface wanted to fall off. I allowed any number of branches on trees to remain uncut, because of the miniscule confetti it would leave behind clinging (or rather not clinging) to the surface. We then coated the plates several times with shellac dissolved (dissolved? Is that right? That's what I'm assuming for now) in meths. I thought I had got used to the appalling stink of meths, but it turns out I haven't - I hate it.
The annoying possibility is that all those same little bits will desert the plate as soon as I ink it up. I have probably ignored all of the helpful advice we were given as to how to produce a viable plate, but once I'd decided my design and seen that it would look good, I couldn't bear to change it. And I do like it - I'm going to feel pleased now because it's liable to be short-lived. So bearing in mind that everything might go horribly wrong next week, here's the plate as it is at the moment.
Meanwhile I should prepare another plate, with fewer corners that catch, and that way maybe I'll get a viable print out of next week. I can't remember what french polish smells like, but it can't be worse, so I could use that instead for the second plate.
Ok, so I've seen 3 exhibitions in Bolton recently. First up was the Bolton Art Circle show - broadly I was underwhelmed. A handful I liked well enough and only one would I have taken home - I've no idea who painted it, or what it was called, but it was rough painting, wild moorland and light breaking through a cloudy windswept sky. Loved it. It wasn't that the winners weren't well executed, I'm sure they were, it was just that they didn't do it for me.
Some days later I went to the latest exhibition at The Gallery at St Georges House, Harmony of the Land - 5 Horwich artists dealing with landscape in various ways. It's not a gallery I feel comfortable with, I admit. It isn't really the right sort of space to appreciate art. Having said that, I quite liked most of the pics (though I never got a look at the floral ones on the wall - they were behind a sofa and the sofa was occupied) and again I went away with one favourite. I'm not going to name the artist, in case I name the wrong one, but it was one of the men - executed in graphite, I think, and by chance it again dealt with light breaking through and illuminating part of some hilly scenery, though entirely different in feel to the painting from Bolton Art Circle.
The third of the shows was at neoartists' neo:gallery22, and was for me far and away the best of the three. Now I have to allow that it had a head start being print (I just like print), and that the gallery itself is a great space - plain white walls, well lit and masses of room. Other than that, though, early signs were not necessarily so promising.
The exhibition was Dark Shadows, the artist Ross Loveday and the prints on show drypoint and carborundum. I've seen his work before - one print in an exhibition at neo last year, and plenty more pop up from time to time while mooching around websites. And I quite liked it but thought a lot of it might all be a bit unformed and samey. Dark and unformed and samey. Well on the one hand, yes I suppose it sort of is, and on the other hand no it definitely isn't. Every print is broadly abstract-landscape, every print is drypoint and carborundum with pretty similar mark-making and nearly every print is dark landscape shades - dark blue, dark brown, dark grey. But they still managed to look and feel very different, and I absolutely loved some of them to bits. I'm at a drypoint and carborundum point myself, as part of the Complete Printmaker course I'm doing, and struggling mightily to make it do anything I want, or even to work out if there's anything I want it to do. But I came away totally enthused and ready to have another go - until such a point as it all dissolves once more into a sea of wishy-washiness and dissatisfaction. Hey, maybe it won't.
The pictures below (taken from the leaflet at the show) demonstrate something I already knew but is always worth remembering - that the resemblance of photos to the actual works of art is rather like the resemblance of the queen on a stamp to her standing in front of you (on tv, obv). There is very little resemblance at all. Drypoint and carborundum prints have texture and depth, and that just doesn't come through in flat reproductions. One of my favourite less-landscapey prints was Aureole, (on the right below, second image down) but I wouldn't give it a second or even a first glance in this reproduction.
Ok, next a petty frustration. I came away ready to enthuse, to say how the landscapes that leapt at you from these prints were flat and marshy, deltas, mind-numbingly lonely seascapes, places to drag at the soul (while I was there, another viewer said they reminded him of abandoned battlefields, and while I didn't see it that way, I knew exactly what he meant). Having just watched Jonathan Meades' programme about Essex, it was impossible to miss the similarities. And I noticed also that some of the artist's mark-making was very reminiscent of Hughie O'Donogue's mark-making (something I often don't like in O'Donoghue's work, incidentally - I can never see the point, though doubtless there is one). Then I read Ross Loveday's leaflet - and he said all of it. Marshes, Essex, Hughie O'Donoghue, mark-making, the lot. Therefore I have nothing to say.
And then a of moan sorts. Many of these prints use the same plates. I've no problem with that at all - a lot of work goes into plates, and it would be a shame not to make the most of them. But in some cases it feels just a little bit like a way of doing another edition of the same thing. Even in the pics above you can see that Washing of the Waters and Coastlines are eerily similar. At the show, Against the Tide I-IV were also from that plate (though they made a stunning set). There were other examples of this, too. I felt there were just too many echoes.
Finally a slightly grudging thankyou (it's only grudging because I wish I'd got there on my own). I've been trying to work out the bones of an artist's statement recently. It became a little more immediate when I had some prints selected for a show including work from Hot Bed Press at the Lime Gallery, Settle, and they wanted some blurb. I managed something quite happily, but I spent a fruitless half hour or more in the middle, trying to find the words to say that increasingly I was endeavouring to pin down what gives somewhere a particular sense of place. The descriptions of what I was trying to convey became longer and more convoluted, changed any number of times, became shorter and shorter and finally disappeared altogether because they wouldn't say what they were meant to. But Mr Loveday had no trouble at all. "I want to convey", he says, "an atmosphere - the essence of the place - and to capture the mood and light of a particular moment".
I might not be getting there with the essence thing yet, but that, I think, is what I wanted to say.
I make prints and book arts, though nowhere near as often as I'd like - no good reason, just an inability to get on with things. I occasionally go on about landscape (with which I am mildly obsessed) and various of its elements, and I like to pass comment on exhibitions I visit.