Here are (is? Group nouns, what are they good for?) a couple of overlapping sections of a plate inked up with leftover ink - I was bored with what I had been doing, didn't think there was enough ink out to do what I wanted, but felt there was still too much to ditch. Here was the plate, there was the ink and ... ta daa! Bright. The Wiltshire downs as (I suspect) they will never quite be seen.
A recycling plant in Salford went up in smoke this week - lots and lots and lots of smoke. Hot Bed Press was rather too close, meaning nightmare traffic and - when the wind was in just the wrong direction - a distinctly kippered atmosphere. I'm sure I heard someone today say that the fire might have to be 'managed' for weeks, but at least it's better than it was - and Manchester looks softer through smoke.
I went on playing with colour regardless.
It's been a while. I thought the last time I visited was when Andy Goldsworthy's show was on, but I've checked the date of that and it was more than 6 years ago - surely it can't have been that long.
I set off yesterday with the almost obligatory leaden sky overhead - though every now and then the sun would appear, shining brightly for a few seconds, almost as if from time to time it found a hole in the clouds, stuck its head through and waved frantically for attention, before being dragged away again and re-shrouded in layers of grey. Lancashire Grey - is it a recognised colour? Weather, eh, what would we talk about if it wasn't around?
Then cloud from the inside (yup, more weather talk). I rather like fog, the way it shrinks the world and puts a lid on top. I very quickly find myself feeling that fog is all there has been, all there is and all there will ever be, and was a little bemused when suddenly it all turned golden - till I realised we were under the cloud again, instead of in it, and the gold was the hillside coming into focus. Landscape colours are just so amazing, they knock me out. The gold of winter grass; the dark, dark, smoky purple of shadowed hills; the amazingly subtle layered blues of distance; the way that sun and atmosphere can make sky and hillside blend into each other until it's impossible to judge where one ends and the other starts, begging tense, moody stories to be told - I'm still digressing, I know. For the record, the rest of the day was pretty much all sun, which is the way I expect the split between Lancashire and Yorkshire to be.
I always contrive to be irritated by YSP - I don't like the website, which doesn't seem to say enough; there aren't enough signposts to make life easier when you're trying to get there; even the ticket machines for the car park don't seem as clearly labelled as they might be. Still, I accept that all of those might be my mindset and nothing more, and I do like the vast expanse of the place, where the most noticeable noise is birdsong of one sort or another (well, on this visit, birdsong and the wood chipper, but hey). I came this time to see, of all things, the Angie Lewin exhibition. I say of all things because her work isn't quite my bag. I feel like it should be, and I can even remember being charmed when I first came across it - seedheads definitely are my thing - but instead I end up feeling shruggish. I accept that they're beautifully executed but I'm disappointed that, as far as I'm concerned, they aren't quite where I want them to go, and they aren't going to get there either because they're completed. They're nothing like Cath Kidston's chintzy designs, but they give me that same feeling of something from which, I don't know, I want more. I just feel they could be more than they are.
But I thought there was the possibility that it was all in the reproduction, that if her prints were there in front of me it might make the difference. And the conclusion is... well, partly. A little. Mostly I would say that the copies of her work in mags and on cards are very faithful, also that yes, they are excellently printed, and I did pin down what I already knew, which was that her colours are rarely my colours. Quite a lot of white, too. I liked the wood engravings best (all colour, liked that), and especially those combined slightly quirkily with driftwood. I found that with Anne Desmet too - that the offbeat substrates added something. That's just me, I know. If I'm brutally honest, I liked a mug, a teatowel and a beautiful scarf with a very simple design best. And her sketches. Anyway, here's a very small selection from what was there. Apart from the agapanthus print, which went well, excuse the quality of the photos - I did my best.
So what else? Outside, of course. I haven't a map of the place, but I went round the beautiful semi-circular, brick walled area, lined with trained trees (loved the branchy shadows)
and underplanted with snowdrops. I do like snowdrops - so demure when it's chilly, but they turn all flirty in the sunshine and flip their skirts out. Popped into the Tom Price exhibition in the Bothy Gallery but people sculptures mostly aren't my thing (so of course I didn't pay enough attention). Though I liked the video - a man (the artist?) blinking in a stop motion animation. What I liked about it apart from the mesmerising quality was something that wasn't a part of it - every time I blinked, there was an extra 'stop' as a black rectangle overwrote the image behind my eyelids. It fitted into the narrative rather well.
I missed his 9 foot tall statue outside but have since caught up with it on a short video which also managed to point out how much sculpture I failed to see on this visit. I don't know about the artist's notion that the statue looking at his mobile phone suggested a connect to the rest of the world, though - to me it shouted instead about a disconnect from the world immediately around him.
And then I set out for the other side of the lake. I've never made it over there before (though on the other hand I've managed to see more of the sculpture on the nearside). I passed some works by David Nash
though, for the record, 49 Square is currently protective tree-tubes - there won't be a white tree-cube for a while yet, which I suppose is part of the point. I then walked up a third of his works, Seventy One Steps. Which was seventy-one steps. Probably. I didn't count them. I liked it (them?) as steps and was relieved no-one mentioned the nobility of the honest artisan.
I wanted to see the Andy Goldsworthy hanging trees, and I did, but to be honest they were just trees reasonably early on in the process of rotting, and there are plenty more of those around the park. Nice walls I suppose, but not exciting.
I should have gone up to the woods for a look 6 years ago - a point of comparison if nothing else. I really enjoyed the exhibition indoors, then, though was peeved not to be able to take photos - and I did learn on this visit not to blame YSP. That decision is down to the individual artist.
I'm slightly ashamed to confess that I probably trampled all over another sculpture without even noticing. Twice maybe, to make it worse, and the second time I really was looking out for it. Speed Breakers is by Hemali Bhuta and comprises a number of bronzes of cut-off roots set into the path. Here they are, flanked by photos of ... some roots in the path. Am I excused? I had to scrape at them with my fingernail to get even a glimmer of metal..
An excellent day. What did I like most? Black Mound. And apart from that, the birds, the lighting, the landscape. I enjoyed the rest of the art I saw, but no thrill factor. Looking forward to another visit in a couple of months when the next batch of exhibitions arrive.
Have I mentioned before my unscientific theory that, on any motorway journey of, say, 4 hours or more, there will at some point always be cows ambling slowly over a bridge above the carriageway? It was certainly true again today - I'm sure I'm right on this.
Incidentally, on 'pm' I heard a phrase guaranteed to go down as one of my favourites of the year - "In a post-crisis yacht market...". Not terribly useful in everyday conversation, I know, but I still love it.
At the end of summer and the start of autumn, if we're lucky we get some glorious, golden days that blend both seasons into something special. Autumn hints at the future with a touch of butter yellow here, deep red there and an underlying feeling of endings, but late summer warmth fills the world and sunshine gilds every leaf edge. The air is heavy and sleepy, and the default mode of getting around is a dreamy amble.
Today was one of those days and, by happy chance, also the opening day of the exhibition of work by Jen Nuttall and Natasha Lolljee at the Parsonage, Didsbury - a perfect place for a golden day. I'm afraid I didn't give Natasha's work as much attention as I might have, which wasn't fair, but I was there to see Jen's work and it therefore received the lion's share of my time. She has a lovely loose drawing style which translates into print beautifully through her chosen methods of waterless lithography and screenprinting. For many of the pieces here she had built up layer upon layer of imagery, often creating a dense texture that escaped its origins to become something else entirely, hinting at crumple, brocade, crushed velvet. There were massed horses and fountains, wild flocks of birds and buildings, in such profusion that there was almost an archaeological element in the work. You could imagine the infinitely slow and meticulous stripping back of these prints, the separating and laying out of all those layers. Some beautiful juxtapositions of colour too.
This was the biggest work - a wild guess would say 1.5 metres by 2 metres. but I really have no idea.
This one was behind glass, hence the splinters of light across the bottom. I've decided not even to show the other framed one because now that I look at it again, what I can mostly see is the room behind me ... and me, taking a photo. Shame - it was full of horses and had developed some wonderful textured areas.
These two are close-ups from the big work. So much colour!
And then, because it was a lovely day with dramatic sunlight, and Fletcher Moss Gardens are just beyond the Parsonage, I went for a short wander and found a gorgeous avenue of poplars. I'm not a great fan of poplars - to me they always look awkward and ungainly in the landscape, unnatural. Well nothing could be less natural than this avenue of poplars and its fanned barcode of shadows, and it was fantastic. Fletcher Moss Gardens definitely need more exploration.
Above, the immediate view from the front door.
Well of course I had to go and have a look, didn't I, since I had something hanging there. It (my pic) was remarkably unexciting and, alas, pointed up how in general one big picture looks much better than one split up into a grid of images. Certainly in my case - it sort of didn't look worth the bother of looking again, amongst all the rest. Still, we live and learn.
There were some fantastic pieces there. The show includes 3D, but I always feel 3D work gets a particularly bad deal out of open exhibitions like this - everyone works their way round the walls, in the main, while sculptures and ceramics loiter uneasily in the open spaces. There was one stand-out 3D piece for me - Caroline Waterman's 'Wrapped Head' (which I thought was bronze but wasn't) - and a few others that were good but would look better in a whiter, emptier, more 3D-orientated space. I didn't rate the ceramics I saw, but maybe I missed the best bits?
There was so much good work on the walls (as well as just a few where I bitchily wondered 'why?') that I can only mention a handful of the artists there. I realise that an open exhibition doesn't actually do any favours for 2D pieces either, in that they all crowd up there, cheek by jowl with everything else, but everyone manages to pick out what they like. Not ideal, but how could it be? It's inclusive and it does well enough.
I absolutely loved Amanda Ralfe's work - her paintings there were subtly shaded landscapes in a palette of greys and sands, with simple lines and almost geometrical shapes, the whole effect sparse but beautiful. They capture downs landscape utterly and make me want to go back south soon, today, now. I can't show the actual pictures from the show, but these are something quite like.
David Brooke's pictures are always droll, and his two here were no exception - 'Mowing your own path' and 'A slightly unusual plant'. His paintings are often, apparently, his own takes on myth. Again, though, no chance of finding the ones from the show, so here's something else by him; a green man.
Deborah Feiler had two very delicate drawings. 'Under the Lotus' showed three beautiful, fragile, lichen-like structures which I thought were gorgeous, although I didn't really like the panel structure of the mounting - I didn't think it did the daintiness of the image any favours. Her other piece, 'Blink', fascinated too - a circle of barely-there, nearly-digital marks, in silverpoint (I don't know what that is). It sort of reminded me of an almost invisible, much tinier (and entirely flat, of course) Richard Long work.
I went round the exhibition scribbling hasty notes across a page. Numbers and comments littered the paper in gay abandon, but when I look back at them now there is quite some scope for mismatching comment and number (the catalogue was a fold-out affair that I just abandoned on the first visit - I later cut it up, stapled the pages together and took it back for a second visit as a much more useful document). This makes me rather reluctant to use many more of my notes. So I can confidently declare that I also liked Paul Emsley's 'White Rhinoceros' mezzotint (wow!), Thom Gorst's 'Banana Boat' (it made me laugh), Bob Osborne's 'Construction (cars)' (a fun heap of red cars, matchbox maybe, encased in perspex), Tim Heath's 'Mammal skeletons' and Kathy Montgomery's 'Ebb Tide', and that I found David Cobley's massive 'Here We All Are' heart-stopping, but can only say that I think I also really liked works by Rosie Mack and Leslie Glenn Damhus. As for the rest, memory already fails.
It makes no odds and it's only an opinion, but I wouldn't have chosen any of the prizes except probably the graphics one. The framing prize in particular left me bemused, but I'm not privy to the decision making process, so my view isn't worth a thing - and anyway, disagreeing with the judges is fun and surely part of the overall experience. And again, even though I have reluctantly understood the reasons for change, I still think something has been lost by closing off the old entrance to the gallery - it inevitably feels more enclosed and therefore less spacious, less airy than it used to. Though that also could just be me.
But do go and see the show. The thing about an open exhibition is that there's so much on display, and it's all so enormously varied. Go along and love this, hate that, grudgingly admire the skill that has gone into the other - the only opinion that has to matter to the viewer is their own. It's on until the end of August.
In the coffee area, around the corner from the Holden Gallery's exhibition in the main hall, was a delightful installation the subject of which, coincidentally or deliberately, tied in with the main theme of death - bees. The artist, Jade Alana Ashton, says Imagine yourself in a museum of the future where specimens of flora, fauna, botany, are frozen in time... All bees have died... No flowers... No pollen... No bees... Her installation (I never quite know what constitutes an installation, but this says it is, and that's good enough for me) is a collection of fantastically delicate items in jars - as, I suppose, in a museum - many of which are definitely porcelain and some of which might be bone? There are words stamped and prints printed and drawings drawn on to ultra thin (presumably paper) porcelain and the whole show has such fragility. There is a book of quotations and statements concerning bees, with backgrounds, fragments of text, pieces of fabric and lace, dried flowers all sewn in.
And that was the Death part of Monday. Life was a walk afterwards round the Middlewood Locks area of ground, across Oldfield Road from Hot Bed Press. It has been Acquired, so it can only be a matter of time until it's built on - a different sort of death, I suppose, but meanwhile it's buzzing, literally. The whole area made me think of a medieval tapestry covered with flowers - the grass, dried to straw after this long hot spell of weather, sewn through with purple vetches and thistles and buddlieas, yellow ragwort, the rust-reds of dock flowers, large (ox-eye?) daisies, something dainty and white that I didn't know, masses of glorious seedheads - and all on an almost-hidden base of broken tarmac and concrete. Tortoiseshells, meadow browns, dainty moths, bumblebees, crickets, those tiny stripes of electric blue (damselflies?), birdsong (nothing I knew). Alive alive alive.
I made the trek over to Warrington yesterday. It makes me disappointed in myself that a trip to Warrington should loom trek-like, but it does. Until I go, when I realise I really quite enjoy the journey - the road runs alongside the Manchester Ship Canal, and to be next to almost any waterway is nice; there are unenclosed fields for part of the way, which always give a delicious feeling of space and, with everything keen to grow grow grow at the moment, they were beautifully fuzzy-edged; there is a section of roadside that has been made into flower meadows. I've stopped before now to appreciate them, so I was looking forward to them and they didn't disappoint - mostly yellow (not quite sure what) and also red (poppies), blue (cornflowers) and doubtless much more unnoticed as I sped past.
But enough of the journey. I went to see an exhibition being held in the Gallery at Bank Quay House, by a group of artists who call themselves Markmakers, which inclined me to like them before I arrived. The introductory blurb suggested that they had been working from stories into art, with a particular emphasis on Mark Cocker's Crow Country - more reason to like. There were many artists involved, so I should say straight away that I shan't be naming them all, but some artists and works particularly took my fancy, of course.
In spite of the attraction of crows, I was most taken by Claire Weetman's boxes, which had nothing whatsoever to do with corvids of any description. A residency in Shanghai had been full of bustle and bemusement and incomprehensible signs in chinese characters - arrows were more helpful than much else and aided her in making her way this alien world. The boxes each have a lasered quotation on the lid from 'Alice in Wonderland', adrift in her own unknown land, and inside they have photos and (mostly) chaotic arrows. They were lovely things in themselves and definitely portrayed the sense of confusion.
Elsewhere in the show, Fiona Phillips' 'A Crow Day' was a densely layered book created from fabric and paper; Jacqui Chapman had a poem on a large canvas entitled 'Winter Walled Garden, Grappenhall Heyes' - I had some totally deep and meaningful thoughts about it at the time but I didn't note them down so now I don't have them any more, but it managed to make me want to see this winter walled garden; there were some convincingly bird-like wire birds by Angela Sidwell; and Jane Copeman showed Rookery Prints - both the digitally etched wood plates and the prints taken from them. What I failed to see or wasn't there was some kind of introduction - as in the email invitation - explaining the idea behind the show. A very nice touch, however, was having copies of the books used as inspiration or starting point, so that visitors could look at them while having a coffee in the attached café. All in all, definitely worth that trek.
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.