Up here in Norfolk our lives are dominated by the state of the tide as we like to get out onto the water as much as possible. Wells is a tidal harbour and only fills with water for a few hours a day so just before high tide, weather and wind permitting, we drop everything to spend a couple of hours sailing.
The high tide moves on one hour each day and I love the rhythm and repetition of the tidal routine as it goes through its two weekly cycle. Twice a month at the full moon and the new moon there is a big spring tide. The water rushes in and covers the marsh – a marsh tide – and makes it possible to sail to places that cannot normally be reached. The shallows become a new place to explore and sandy beaches across the channel can be accessed.
Of course it is exciting when there is a strong wind that tugs at the tan coloured sail and pushes the boat fast across the water, the gunnels down so that the sea threatens to wash over the edge – others probably prefer it more than me. My favourite time is when high tide falls in the evening just before dusk and the wind suddenly drops to create a magical stillness where the water looks like glass. When this time coincides with slack water and the water is moving neither in nor out, it feels as if the world has taken a pause before breathing out and letting life continue on as before.
Last Monday I listened to the first of 3 programmes on Radio 4 called Playing the Skyline (thank-you Jo for pointing it out to me!). In this episode two composers were challenged to compose a short piece of music that took inspiration from the outline of the London skyline as seen from the Millenium Bridge over the Thames. The original idea came from a view from an old mariner’s chart where the coastal profile is laid out horizontally as a navigation aid for sailors. The contours of the shoreline between sea and sky rise and fall much like the melody of a piece of music. The chart could almost be ‘read’ as a musical score.
Views and coastal profiles of the Isle of Sable (collections.rmg.co.uk)
I love the idea of creating music from the contours of the landscape and was struck by how similar it is to my Soundmark Drawings which are a reversal of this concept – sound into landscape as opposed to landscape into sound.
Neither the music composed from the London skyline nor my drawings aim to fully represent what is seen or heard – as artists we take in as much information as we can only to filter out what is unnecessary. In my case the rhythms and textures of what I hear are the most important. Sporadic vertical lines are strung out or clustered together along the horizon line giving an interpretation of what I hear and see.
Listening and thinking about this programme has prompted me to draw the skyline here on the coast – these drawings are from my sketchbook.
Looking straight out the sea and sky merge.
As you turn small spits of sand jut out and the profile of the horizon changes – it’s hard to differentiate between land and sea.
Turning further still to left or right the contours of the land rise and fall as it becomes more prominent.
I wonder how these contours would sound if played?
We have launched Pickle (our small Cornish Coble sailing boat) and so summer can now officially begin ….
…. I’m looking forward to working and playing for the next 7 weeks in this wonderful environment – let’s hope the weather holds up!
Next week I go up to Norfolk for the rest of the summer and I am starting to think about what work and materials I need to take up with me. I tend to take just the things required for the projects I have on the go at the time (and a few essentials I can’t do without). The process of thinking about what I need to get done over the next few weeks has made me realise that it amounts to rather a lot! I thought you might be interested in all the ends I need to tie together before the autumn.
Firstly, my Aeolian Pipes. Well – I’ve made four new large ones. As these are an experiment I am trying out one aspect of their design at a time to see how I could get them to sound out in the wind. For this series of ‘trying outs ‘I have changed the shape of the hole in the side. I know from my flute playing days that the shape and size of the embouchure hole effects the type of sound the instrument produces, so it makes sense to start with that. I have incorporated small, medium and large round(ish) holes and one long thin hole. It’s fingers crossed that they make a noise …. I’ll let you know when I get them on the beach in a good wind.
Secondly, I have a piece to make for Studio 21. All year the group have been drawing, painting and generally getting together ideas to kick-start a project that started with some old sewing machines that we abused and pulled apart. I have to say that the idea of making work simply from drawing an old sewing machine didn’t really inspire me but after a bit of thinking things are beginning to fall into place. I am revisiting a piece from the Marking Time project that I exhibited last year at the Crypt Gallery. One piece, Counting Cloth – Beating Time, I always felt would work well as a 3-D installation made up of many identical (or nearly identical) units that tick-tocked their way across the floor and up the wall. The connection to a sewing machine is in the repetitive and rhythmic sound of the motor and the visual action of the needle and bobbin. Here is the first one ….
…. just another 20 odd to make.
While we’re talking about Studio 21 you may be interested to know that the group are currently looking for new members. If you can get to meetings in Surrey and have a ‘strong personal style, exceptional skills in making and an excellent knowledge of your chosen materials’ why not put in an application – we would love to hear from you. Application form here.
Thirdly …. collages for an exhibition in the Autumn. This is an art show and I am doing it specifically to sell work. Shows like this provide me with the funding to buy materials (and time)to make and research the conceptual work that I find so interesting and enjoyable. The collages are small, domestic pieces that are perfect for putting straight onto the wall. They give an impression of how I ‘see’ the coast. One batch is finished and ready to be mounted and bagged ….
…. and they next lot (which are bigger) are on their way!
Finally, you may have noticed that a lot of information has disappeared from the menu bar at the top of the page. This is because it has all moved over to my new website and you can now find my profile, galleries and exhibition details there. There is a link to it in the side bar or you can take a look here.
I have been on holiday in the Lake District – a place I haven’t visited for nearly twenty years. It is an environment that I don’t know very well and is about as different from the North Norfolk coastline as it possibly could be. We had fantastic weather – a rare occurrence for this mountainous area – and the views from the tops of the fells were staggeringly clear and far-reaching.
Even though it was dry practically all week (we had 20 minutes of rain, but that doesn’t count) there was water everywhere. It pools silently in clear, deep tarns and between rocks, and gushes with bubbling force down precipices and gullies. On the tops of the fells water is retained in boggy areas. Mossy, grassy vegetation acts like a sponge to soak it up until it can’t hold any more. As saturation point is reached it drains away to seep or tumble or plummet from the tops of the mountains down any conduit it can find to the bottom – gravity is always in evidence here. Walking is wet as you tramp across the tops or climb slowly and steadily up a rocky path that is more stream than walkway. Good, solid, waterproof boots are a must and Gortex is a wonderful invention.
Experiencing a new environment and then beginning to understand it takes a long time – for me it is the personal familiarity of a place and an empathetic comprehension of the changes that occur within it that lead me to make artworks. But small appreciations and ‘noticings’ of a new place bring some understanding. The elements – wind, water, air, land – are of course the same whether by the sea or on top of a mountain. Each is continually in motion and it is the way in which they interact with each other that creates a unique environment.
Thinking about how water interacts with the land in the Lake District and the recognition that height and gravity play such a big part in this place is a beginning to slowly finding my way in.
‘When the snows melt, when a cloud bursts, or rain teems out of the sky for days on end without intermission, then the burns come down in spate. The narrow channels cannot contain the water, which streams down the hillsides, tears deep grooves in the soil, rolls the boulders about, brawls, obliterates paths, floods burrow, swamps nests, uproots trees, finally reaching more level ground, becomes a moving sea…..the most appalling quality of water is its strength.’
Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain
A couple of months ago I made a new Tarpaulin Cloth.
Like the cloths I made for ‘Caught by the Tide’ earlier in the year this work considers the processes of change that can occur to cloth when exposed to the elements. I like to use the sea as a resource – it is another material available to me – so I put this cloth into the sea and then left it outside in the salty, coastal environment.
The sewn wire eyelets rusted really well in the sea and the sea air, but I wanted more crustiness – a texture and surface on the cloth that looked used and that told a story of its time outside. So I have soaked it in saltwater as well and I’m really happy with the result. It has a subtle, crispy surface that isn’t obviously ‘salty’ and a pleasing stiffness to the whole cloth.
On a whim I entered it for the Fine Art Quilt Masters at the Festival of Quilts and guess what? I’ve been short-listed! So if you would like to see this Tarpaulin Double Cloth it will be on display at the New Designers exhibition, along with the other short-listed works, which is running at the Business Design Centre, Islington, London from 25-28 June or of course you can see it at the Festival of Quilts at the NEC Birmingham from 7-10 August.