Yes, could be a bit busy for a while.
I'm delighted that I am going to have a table at Hebden Bridge Print Fair in September. Also a tad apprehensive - what have I let myself in for? Actually, I can answer that one - quite a lot of printmaking! Also quite a lot of cutting board, and wrapping prints, and thinking about available space, and wondering how to arrange things, and deciding what's in and what's out (or is that a bit optimistic?), and making lists of what I need, and, and, and.
Yes, could be a bit busy for a while.
So keen am I not to miss everything going that I have been to three events this week (the first two of them on the same day and in opposite directions, which was a bit over the top), all of which coincidentally touched on or totally embraced anxieties about the environment. The third was a brief talk by Susie Turner about her work with solar plates and the second was Richard Dawson and Jacqui Symons' Oldham exhibition Natural: History (a fable of progress, or 'Oh no, we've killed the last unicorn' which was amazing but I want to come back to it after I've made a second, longer visit. So for now I'll talk about the first.
I've realised that I need to sign up for emails to keep up with what's happening to a greater extent - if I read them, of course, which is partly why I previously haven't bothered very much. I get impatient and delete them in droves, unopened, though I'm trying to train myself not to do that. With increased connection in my mind I resubscribed to Warrington Museum and Art Gallery's one and the first thing that came up was a talk by Tracy Hill, connected to her exhibition there, Haecceity (the word described on google as being "that property or quality of a thing by virtue of which it is unique or describable as ‘this (one)’" - its thisness). As I drove west on the first sunny and warm day of the year - and I mean wall to wall sunshine and positively summery - I knew I should really be mowing (suddenly the grass is loooong!) or starting on the destruction of the rotting shed, but I am so glad I didn't give in to garden duties. I went because the pictures of work at the exhibition were like her prints that I had seen at WYPW at the end of last year, and I was keen to see more - and know more. The talk the artist gave rooted the work in her practice and gave it so much more depth than I could possibly have culled from the noticeboard. Her work could loosely be described as landscape art, but that on its own would tell you nothing about it - it derives from landscape (in this case Mosses, of the local geographical kind) and depicts landscape, but to recognise it immediately as landscape would take considerably more imagination than I have.
Gathering information from the board at the exhibition, her talk and her website I discovered that, more specifically, her practice is concerned with the historical legacy of post-industrial landscapes and ideas around place. She uses digital mapping technology to scan her chosen area of landscape, then manipulates the visual results. For Haecceity the results of this process were projected on to the black-painted walls and she produced her drawings (in limestone) starting from those projections. She is passionate about the Mosses, their slow destruction by drainage and their lack of consideration because they are - on initial glance - unattractive edgelands with little to recommend them. The works produced from this process - and her commitment to the landscapes behind them - are beautifully textural and airy, and inevitably I see them completely differently now that I know the back story. My only contact with this type of landscape has been a couple of brief visits to Red Moss near Bolton, as part of a son's geography project, and as we felt like borderline trespassers both times I didn't pay much attention except to a great flock of fieldfares and redwings making their way across the land, but now I'd like to find out more about this kind of terrain.
The artist has other works on show too - black on white instead of white on black, screenprinted, similar in style but made using conductive or capacitive ink. This means - in this case - that the viewer can press on the black areas of the print and trigger a recording from the Mosses. Four prints, four recordings, capable of being played individually or together if you wander round pressing them all in turn. I was a little sceptical at first - a gimmicky thing, I assumed - but it added a real sense of place, grounded the whole thing, and I was a total convert. I was particularly hooked by the noise of a plane passing overhead, which more than anything else put me right in the middle of this flat, bleak, soggy place and... just left me there. Fascinating talk, great exhibition, worth a couple of hours of anybody's time. Brilliant.
Two exhibitions in a week - something of a record in recent times. The annual Bath Society of Artists open exhibition at the Victoria Art Gallery was a must, what with having a piece in the show (tucked very cosily in the furthest corner, but hey, not everyone can be centre stage), and was as enjoyable as ever. I need another visit with more time on my hands, but I thought I'd better make sure I went when I could in case, oh I don't know, cars or something. A favourite piece has to be Patrick McGrath's Hare on a Chair - an absolute delight, and 3D - but there are plenty more up there with it. Many favourite artists are in the exhibition year after year and begin to feel like (unknown) old friends. Anyway, here's a selection, with the artists named in the captions.
The second but last picture there is by Katherine Jones, who has had a year-long residency at Rabley Drawing Centre - not that far from Marlborough but nevertheless out in the wilds of Wiltshire, where the modern group of buildings snuggles down among the fields and is just about as peaceful a spot as you could ask for. I knew an exhibition of her work was due to finish before I could visit again, so I hared (and crawled) out there giving myself a whole 10 minutes before closing time (I managed to put myself behind some of the slowest people on the roads that day, I swear!). Um. Except that I hadn't checked whether the centre was open. And it wasn't. Not that I knew - in I waltzed and started looking round before I was alerted to the fact by a very generous lady who nevertheless gave me ample time to immerse myself in the work. At first I thought the work felt new and different, something of a dislocation from previous prints (of course I concentrated on the prints) but after a while I couldn't quite work out why I'd ever thought that, and the longer I was there the more it got under my skin. I wish I could go again, but don't I always? I'm just glad that I went and that I wasn't turned away.
A selection of not particularly illuminating photos - I was trying to avoid reflections as much as possible.
It trickles away, my time, so that the to-do list just gets longer and longer until things just fall off the end of it. Mind you, I'm sure everyone is the same to a greater or lesser extent, so why do I go on about it? Because it's so irritating and I know that a lot of it is down to indolence. Pull yourself together, I think. But by and large I don't.
Enough of this. To exhibitions instead. Actually they are a perfect example of things that fall off the list all the time, completely forgotten as often as not unless I am reminded of them once they've finished. But not all of them! I was very pleased with myself that I made it to the actual opening of Sandra Porter's show at the Museum in the Park in Stroud. Her work derives from bothans but you don't really need to know that - it's quite abstracted and I love it. While there were paintings and drawings too, I of course went for the prints - her are some lovely textural details below. Actually, getting to the opening was a mixed blessing in that space was, of course, pretty limited, but I'm sure I wouldn't have managed to get there at all otherwise so I'm happy enough.
I was disappointed to miss two other events, but so it goes. I got as far as the venue for the Jerwood Drawing Prize exhibition, The Edge at Bath Uni, but was stymied by lack of parking. Not an insurmountable problem if you have enough time, but I didn't - however, I've since discovered that it (or possibly part of it) will be showing at Trowbridge's Drawing Projects UK later on, so perhaps I'll manage to see it there. And the rescheduled Hepworth print fair fell victim to a lengthy (three weeks!) saga of two cars (please, don't ask). The print fair will have to wait until next year.
I know it's rather showy offy, but look at this collection of my collagraphs at the house of friends of ours. Am I embarrassed, and determined to brush the whole thing off as rather ridiculous? Obviously! Of course I am. Nevertheless, it's sort of exciting too, a little bit of a thrill. Inevitably I look at them and think, hmm, that isn't so good, that bit there, and really those colours, I'm not at all sure. And so on and so forth to the end of time. I'm not wrong either, but how often have I ever been completely pleased with my work? Put it this way, a second hand will definitely not be needed for counting on fingers. What I know I should do in this case is shut up and be pleased that out there, in the world, is a wall of my prints.
Back last summer, I entered a couple of prints for the inaugural Trowbridge Town Hall Arts Open, and was lucky enough to get them into the exhibition. Three winners were chosen - Ali Brown, Nick Andrew and Robin Shelton - and have had a joint exhibition at Trowbridge Arts - it's the old Town Hall, as you might guess, solidly Victorian and with (I think) a couple of rooms given over to exhibitions. In this particular exhibition most of the finished work was upstairs in the bigger room, while a few pieces of work and a lovely collection of sketchbooks were downstairs.
I have a weakness for works in progress and sketchbooks, regularly preferring them to the finished articles - sometimes they're rough and ready, or - ha! - sketchy, but just as often intricate and precise. I think quite frequently they have a liveliness that I don't necessarily feel once a work has been completed. Of course, it's not always true, but that's the reason I've come up with for my preference. I certainly enjoyed the sketchbooks on show here, particularly Robin Shelton's. There was a feeling of mood boards about the double spreads, packed to the gills with all sorts of ephemera - I hope that wouldn't be taken as an insult, I really like mood boards! Some of the drawings were obviously of jewellery pieces, so I wasn't too surprised to discover later that Shelton was a jewellery teacher - somewhat more so when I realised he now writes books. Some people seem to be able to turn their hand to everything.
Upstairs wasn't a disappointment, though. Ali Brown's ceramics, no longer trapped in a sketchbook, inevitably come into their own here, especially with the lighting lending them fascinating shadows, but anyway the three artists are so completely different, each from the others, and that provides a level of zip all on its own. Shelton's work remained completely to my taste - all the eclectic qualities of the sketchbooks remained in the finished works. I don't know whether there will be another Open this year - it must be a lot of work to organise - but I hope so; it's exciting to see a wide range of methods displayed together, and there are always some gems.
And where that six months went, I'm not quite sure.
Anyway, new year, another batch of good intentions. One is to be more active on here - surely I can at least manage to do that. I'm in a new studio - at Hot Bed Press, so with no excuse not to print more, what with the presses being in the same building, on the same floor and literally half a minute's amble away. It's roomy, bright (until they build the block of flats just across the road, but hey), still has some space in for the moment (not sure how long that'll last) and I love it to bits. So much so that I have trouble leaving it to reach those aformentioned presses, but I think I can train myself up on that one.
From which you can gather that I've not achieved terribly much recently. I did manage an edition for the annual 20:20 Print Exchange (and have only just added the print to my exchange page), there was an open studios event alongside the regular Hot Bed Press Under the Bed Sale, which was good fun, and I've been working away in slightly haphazard fashion at any number of collagraph plates, so not entirely nothing. Even so.
Oh, and a course with Sumi Perera at West Yorkshire Print Workshop. I didn't take away as much as I should have, in terms of expanded practice, due to a tendency not to move too far from my comfort zone, but everything was interesting and perhaps I've squirreled away more exciting intentions than I realise yet. We got to see plenty of her work, which as I might have mentioned before I find fascinating. Also the open print exhibition - some fantastic stuff, from which unaccountably I only have photos of one artist's work. And I did manage a few prints that I'm relatively happy with - the one above was one, an old piece overprinted with (inevitably) a collagraph.
A selection of work by Sumi Perera
My most recent source of excitement was taking a course with Sylvia Waltering to learn (I have a suspicion that it was relearn, but we'll glide lightly past that) how to make a clamshell box. Useful for putting prints or artist books in, but actually fun just for the boxes. I even went away and made another one (trying to fix the techniques in my head before they dribble away through that annoying hole somewhere at the back of my memory) and intend to keep up the practising, perhaps even experimenting a little on my own. I'm indulging my inner colour junky at the moment, but have every intention of trying for muted later on. Probably should come up with some kind of purpose for them.
Yes, time passes. It does that, I find, and nowadays fades off into the middle distance with increasing rapidity. For instance, some weeks ago I was going to talk about Fringe Arts Bath. Bit late now, so suffice to say that there were - as ever - some thought-provoking exhibitions on subjects including obsession, migration, walking the landscape, blue, as well as an open exhibition, and some excellent work everywhere I went. Here's a handful of images (hover over for information, where I've remembered to collect it) from, alas, not enough time spent at not enough of the scattered venues. And it was raining.
I was going to talk, too, about the sketchbook exhibition at Rabley Drawing Centre. No pics, alas, except of the decidedly rural location (I got myself pretty much lost, after, and had in the end to to retrace my steps or risk being stuck down some track with nowhere to turn, a truly horrendous distance to reverse, and the knowledge that I still had to drive halfway up the country preferably before nightfall). It was a fascinating show, with a million (oh alright, I think it might have been a hundred) very varied sketchbooks - and ur-sketchbooks. Very beautiful, some of them, but manifestly constructed for precisely that purpose. I recognised, though didn't always appreciate, the ones with gappy missed pages, other pages started with a few hopeful lines and then abandoned - those I knew were sketchbooks. It's partly why I don't bother much myself. I didn't have too much problem either with the ones full of stuck-in sketches - alright, so they had doubtless been curated, with scrappy scribbles not included unless they were terribly meaningful scrappy scribbles, but as someone who draws on such odd bits of paper as are hanging around I understand that the physical book form might never originally have existed. There were books crammed full of exquisite drawings, coloured in and, from my perspective, probably as good as or better than any finished work deriving from them - they mostly caused envy of the observational skills and drawing abilities. My problem was with the beautiful books, where sometimes you could see exactly how work had been cut up to make the pages. However lovely, I couldn't bring myself to think of them as sketchbooks. Still, it was good enough that I shall catch the show again - perhaps at Black Swan Arts in Frome - when it tours (tour venues and dates under sketchbook exhibition link above).
Those exhibitions were many weeks ago, now, and on my last trip exhibitions didn't play much part, except for Trowbridge's Town Hall Arts' inaugural Open Exhibition - with two recent works in it, I made the effort to get to the opening before driving north. Again, a selection of work below, mostly accompanied by artist names (I'll make sure I find the missing one on another visit and fill it in later). The top two are mine. I hope the show's a success for Town Hall Arts and grows year on year.
The yo-yo travel continues - I do my best to catch handy exhibitions and generally succeed, but I'm determined to ensure that printmaking happens too - it's too easy to let it slide, to claim (not without justification!) that really I should be ironing/mowing/getting a grip. In all honesty, it's not as if I did a load of that stuff before the increased to and fro, so why would I now?
Bath generously provides me with lots of exhibition-visiting opportunities - this week I made an effort and took in the Breugel show at the Holburne Museum, but I'm afraid it was far too crowded and (I knew this before I went) I don't try hard enough with most pre 20th century work. I peered over shoulders, appreciated the liveliness, then far too soon took myself off to see uber wood engraver Anne Desmet's work in the next room. Which I enjoyed far more - though the fact that I managed to be the only person in the room did play some part in my enjoyment. I remember having some good ideas as I went round, but I've forgotten them and might have to go back to be reminded - probably won't be revisiting the Breugels, though.
There are plenty more visiting opportunities outside of Bath, including, these days, Trowbridge. It has certainly been the case in the past that I haven't been able to make the most of Drawing Projects - its available days and mine never seemed to coincide. However, that seems to be becoming less true, and this last week I did go in to see Greyscale, a show of work by five Australian artists - I particularly liked the mark-making in pieces by Lisa Jones. In a hallway there are two massive portraits in charcoal, which have enormous presence. Nothing to do with the exhibition, they are by Anita Taylor - Drawing Projects is her and her partner's baby. It would, I imagine, be a lovely building in which to have a studio - lots of white, a certain quiet elegance, plenty of light. I love the lettering they use for signage, too - again, a certain elegance.
And I have been managing to print, too - first for Bristol Artists' Book Event (BABE) at the beginning of April, and more generally since. I'm a little disappointed in myself that I shan't be putting anything up for the Bath summer exhibition this year, but being in the city for the ritual queue just isn't going to fit this time round. Perhaps I might be better employed, now that I'm making more of an effort, in working through some complete print editions - that way I might be ready for future opportunities.
When I was at school, I wanted to be an author. I was going to be an author, and that the school careers teacher named it in a presentation (and without any notion of crushing dreams, I'm sure) as one of the only two careers he would advise pupils not to follow - I've completely forgotten the other one - was undeniably depressing, but not enough to put me off my Grand Plan. Even now I know there are little collections of yellowed paper tucked away, carrying the first few pages of early endeavours. They are, without exception, dreadful, and should all be binned, but to discard them would be to throw away the dream. I might have no expectation of settling down to write a book-sized work of fiction, but deep inside the desire remains.
Gradually the whole idea stepped back and further back into the shadows while life got on with happening. I constantly scribbled and doodled, but that was because it's how I see the world, through words and images. At a certain point printmaking became a thing, which answered a need in me I barely knew was there, and with book arts came an outlet for stories - again, I don't think I even realised that the need to create with words was still alive and kicking.
It's built much smaller these days, the writing thing. While - I admit it - a bigger story lives in the background, that one's rather like a comfort blanket. It's in my head more than on paper (yes, still paper) and it pleases me to toy with scenes and storylines and characters as a background activity, without in any way committing or ever intending to commit to more than that. Many of the stories that I play with for handmade books, on the other hand, are often so brief that 'story' is far too grand a word. Except that, increasingly, I see the world as built more of stories than of anything else. It's not an original idea by any means, and I accept that what I see as a story another person would call a slice of life. Just a thing. Nevertheless, I'm coming to realise that, one way or another, for me it's all about stories - some true to life, some not at all, most somewhere in between. The stories we tell others, the ones that make us look better or worse, weaker or stronger, even the ones that tell it the way we think we really are; the endless stories we tell ourselves to justify, deny, understand, reject; the stories we tell the world - not all stories are told with words, after all. Every stone circle, hedged field, garden, house, city, road - don't they all change the story of what the land is? Every law made, every war entered upon, do they not impose a new story on a people or a country? In return life imposes its own stories - brother, mother, unfortunate victim, lucky survivor. All stories. A simplistic way to look at things, perhaps, but not untrue.
Stories are not necessarily either good or bad in themselves, but I do find they are a way to cope with a world that can be chaotic, random, scary and the rest. If I can work on one small idea and bludgeon it into having some kind of shape and meaning for me, it might help to tidy away a thought that otherwise extends tendrils all over the place and causes my mind to resemble anything from candyfloss to christmas pudding. That already makes it worthwhile, in however small a way.
Prints tell stories to me too, though thus far very simple and almost accidental ones, but in books I can tentatively work through something more purposefully. Whether anyone else would notice is, to me, neither here nor there - some things are just personal. For now I'll keep on shaping them until I find better ways to move through the world.
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.