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.
A quick trip around a handful of art in Bath last week - I don't get to everything that I'd like to see, but I don't do badly and certainly I manage to include far more in my trips south than I ever do around Greater Manchester. There's a handful of reasons for that, of which the most important is doubtless that the centre of Bath is compact. Free parking is nice too, when I can get it, and although I think my central spot is due to disappear quite soon, there are others on the outskirts that add perhaps an extra 10 or 15 minutes' walk to the centre. And hilliness, which I suppose will count as some much needed exercise. Traffic is a third factor. Bath has its problems, but they don't hold a candle to trying to get into or out of Manchester at the wrong time of day - and the chunk of time that is the right time can be surprisingly short when all the other considerations are taken into account. But I digress.
This time I started with Bartlett Street, home to Bath's branch of Toast. Not a noted art gallery, I know, but this spring Toast is showing a number of pieces of art, Works of the Heart, across its stores. Lucy May Schofield is one of the chosen artists, and her collection of cyanotypes from last year's winter solstice, Blue Hour (The Last Light) 2016, has been installed in the Bath shop window. The Toast site says:
Schofield’s work is a unique record of sunlight on the Winter Solstice. In the days leading up to the shortest day of the year she imposed upon herself a routine of hand making 160 sheets of Japanese kozo washi (mulberry paper). Before sunrise on 21st December 2016 she painted each sheet of paper with a UV sensitive coating and attached them to the interior wall of a derelict shooting hut in the Northumberland National Park. As light touched the paper between dawn and dusk each piece became a print of the day’s light.
Like a lot of art, something is lost in the photographing of it - subtlety of shade, depth of tone, essential character - which I would say is as it should be. Surely, ideally, the real thing should carry more meaning that a representation of it. The Toast photo is excellent, but I've stuck with my own poorer versions, complete with local reflections, which give it a grounding in location if nothing else.
The David Simon Contemporary gallery is also in Bartlett Street - I've stood outside it a few times before, but always when it has been closed and I've been reluctant to wait. This time, ta-da! I contrived to turn up when it was open. A lovely show, Impressions on Paper, with my favourite works all being Andrew Lansley's. Cue another poor photo, his piece of work in the window, but at least you can see it - inside the gallery my desire for more photos was defeated by reflections. I'd just like to add that it's the most beautiful smelling gallery that I have ever visited, due to Article (purveyors of fragrances, soaps, handcreams etc) occupying one end of its space.
Bath Contemporary changes its exhibitions more or less as regularly as I visit the city, and rarely disappoints. This time the featured artist was Boo Mallinson, with plenty more from their stable of artists in the room beyond. Boo's image is from the gallery website, and the others are snapshots of shadows (so hard to resist) cast by Rick Kirby sculptures.
Hmm. Well it's been a longish break since last I wrote, and it seems too late now to go into much detail about the remaining and by now positively historical exhibitions long long ago. So instead I'll go for something altogether briefer than might otherwise have been the case. Purely in the interest of not leaving this as unfinished business into the new year.
So. Way back then Monday was Bath Contemporary's Walking the Hills, Tuesday was the Society of Wood Engraver's Annual Exhibition, and on Wednesday I visited the Derwent Art Prize for works created in pencil, at the Trowbridge Arts Centre. All sorts of work, some (I think) executed in more than purely pencil, and a number of them so stunningly executed that it was hard for me to believe pencil had played any part, even though close inspection proved that it had. Apologies that I can't put names to artists - I have a list, but the points of reference stored so securely in my memory have perished.
After that, on Thursday, was the Black Swan Open 2016 in Frome - packed with goodies all over again. I did think that by now - four exhibitions in four days - I should have been suffering from overkill, but all the shows were different enough from each other that I was just having a great time. My personal favourite was 'The Passage of Landscape. 6.22 Bristol to Lymington' by Jilly Morris (last pic below, and I think there might be a mistake in the name of the piece but I can't find a reference to correct it) but it was impossible to get a good photo of it past the glass. Apologies again for not acknowledging artists - my notes are too brief and too long ago.
My intention to manage five shows in five days - the fifth to be at West Yorkshire Print Workshop on my way home, I think it was their Open exhibition too - was thwarted by common sense. I realised that it wouldn't extend my day by an hour or two but by considerably more plus endless Friday traffic, and thought better of it, though unfortunately it did mean that I missed the exhibition altogether. The fifth exhibition was, instead, south again on a later visit - the Jerwood Drawing Prize at The Edge, Bath University. Yes, more brilliant work. The winning work was 'Singularity' by Solveig Settemsdal - a video of something white and pulsing, changing shape, growing and moving. At first I felt oddly squeamish about it, something so organic in a yikky sort of way (I know, pathetic), but once I read the sign and discovered that it was actually the artist prodding around white ink in gelatine I felt much better (alright, I'm embarrassed, ok). I was already hooked - it was compulsive viewing - and ended up with dozens of stills.
I originally claimed six exhibitions, and while I'm not absolutely sure what the sixth should have been, it could have been the excellent George Tute one at Bath Contemporary. There was something Paul Nash about the paintings - subject matter rather than execution, I kept thinking of Wittenham Clumps - but I was most taken by his enormously complex wood engravings. Here's one, though whether it was from the actual exhibition or the gallery's christmas show I can't now remember.
And that's it, folks. An end to 2016, time for the next year - let's hope it's a good one.
For several weeks, now, my mouth and my eyes have been filled with flavours, jewels, metals, colours. Everywhere I look I am overwhelmed, as I try to find the words to capture what I see - I can't stop myself, it seems stupidly urgent. Saffron and ginger and nutmeg; gold, copper, bronze; russet and rust, burnt orange and port, toast and butter and honey. The splash of light in a shady corner, is it warm topaz, is it an amber glow? That garden acer, that one there, it's a preposterous lollipop red!
It's not even just the trees - bracken, bare hedgerow, moorland, they're all at it, with splashes of cornfield yellow and heady wine red, flamboyant pumpkin and speckled apricot. I'm even caught up in what I reject - caramel and toffee, flapjack and syrup all too sticky; grilled grapefruit, for all it captures a colour perfectly, and the toasty edges, doesn't feel right. Cinnamon works, foxy not; plum yes, aubergine no. But the irritating truth is that words are failing me. That there are so many blended, perfect shades out there for which I find it impossible to pin down any kind of helpful description. As a word person I find it hard to accept, although as a colour lover I'm happy to gaze at, say, the peachy, brackeny, auburny tones of the japanese maple in my garden and enjoy their nameless colours while they last.
It's mid-November - they'll all be gone soon enough. Already there are as many pools of leaves on the ground as leaves on branches (though when they're below as well as above it can double the colour spike) and soon all will be subtle browns and forgetfulness. That's fine - I love the starker land of winter too, and meanwhile, what a show there's been this year. What. A. Show.
I'm sorry, I really didn't mean to go on about autumn. Again. The point of this was going to be to enthuse about a fine crop of art exhibitions - most finished, inevitably, but that's no reason not to celebrate them. All six (six!) in one go would be overkill, but I could manage a couple today and the rest later.
First of the batch is/was Walking the Hills at Bath Contemporary - a collaboration between painter Malcolm Ashman and Norwegian digital artist Inger Karthum. I'd been looking forward to it for a good while, and I wasn't disappointed. Collaboration is something that has never quite appealed to me because of the lack of total control over one's own work that it implies. You would surely need to accept in advance that you might hate the joint result, and do you therefore put up work that isn't (in your eyes) so good, so that you won't mind if it's ruined? Equally, might you ruin someone else's? Or do you work out each and every collaborative piece of work together, in fine detail? It's very quickly obvious that I have no idea what I'm talking about, but I imagine every collaborative process is pretty much unique. Irritatingly, I've managed to leave this report long enough to have lost access to some of the supporting text from the show, but as I remember it the artists share an interest in memory and displacement. Sometimes the work done by each artist is easy to pick out - 'Paths', above left, for example, where the landscape is by Ashman and the paving slabs below by Karthum. Others required more attention, although obviously close observation makes the digital half of the collaborative images easy to identify. I still have vague, unformed doubts about digital art, but that doesn't stop me enjoying the end results, and these had a subtlety and complexity that fascinated me. The artists each had their own works in the show. too, and the playfulness of a number of 3D works created together added something extra.
Pinning down now why I enjoyed the show so much is proving difficult.Some of it was to do with colour combinations, some to do with the way each style of work really did complement the other. Most of it was that the collaboration was energizing, buzzy. For the first time ever I found myself wondering whether collaborating with an artist you trust might be surprisingly liberating.
Also finished now In Bath (but moved on to Oxford) is the Society of Wood Engravers' latest annual exhibition, which was at 44AD - the rooms there were just right for it. With every passing year I find wood engraving appeals more (still not had a go), and since I still don't go a bundle on the little amazingly skilled, fussy-but-dull pieces I assume that wood engraving is growing. Whether it is or no, here's a little selection - glass and light don't make taking photos easy, but I gave up on the most difficult ones and did my best with the rest. That's enough for one day - I'll finish off the exhibitions cluster next time.
Sunny days in autumn mean constantly being soaked in colour - I'm not complaining, it's glorious, but sometimes it can be overwhelming. The low sun enriches everything it touches. I'm not just talking glossy marmalade leaves caught on spiky, bare-branched hedges - a dark and dusty backdrop designed to show any colour of leaf off to advantage - or the lemon-butter coins adorning languid silver birches, or brilliantly sunshine gold trees set preposterously against others of wine-dark red (who needs New England?). What about the sky? As often as not it's so dense with textured shades of lilac and lavender, dove and gunmetal, that it looks as touchable as the land beneath it. It's all so intense, so unsubtle. Buildings are the same - red brick zings; green glass shouts of the sea. I drive back from my studio past constructions blazing with copper and rust, and at the right angle even the charcoal of the tarmac has more depth than is reasonable. It's insane.
It's mostly the sun. Some autumnal trees contrive to glow like belisha beacons even under the duller kind of grey clouds, but most of the landscape steps back into something softer, something that doesn't thump into my senses. I'm not sure I could manage quite that intensity all year round, but it's utterly amazing while it lasts, and - maybe it's me - it seems to get more colour-drenched with every passing year.
Anyway, while reeling my way along and trying not to veer off the road, the red brick and green glass caught my eye at least partly because I'd been printing with something like just ten minutes earlier - the fourth and final layer of my print for this year's 20:20 print exchange. Technically I'm ready a week early, this year, but as I won't be around to print next week, I suppose it's as last minute as ever.
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.