Whelk shed studio

Exciting things have been happening here over the last couple of weeks and I have just moved into a new studio in Wells. It is an old whelk shed and is one of a few buildings that were originally used by fishermen to process and boil whelks and other shellfish. These sheds have now been replaced with more efficient and modern buildings elsewhere in Wells and so some of them are now being used as artist studios. It is under 10 minutes walk from my house so is very convenient.

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It is quite a large space – approximately 10 x 5 m (although every time I go in there it seems to get smaller),

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and it is quite basic, with a tap, electricity and a wood-burning stove for heat in the winter (it has had a coat of paint since the photo below was taken).

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You can’t see from the photo above, but the view through the window is wonderful, and looks over the water and the marshes ….

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….. I’m not sure I’ll ever get any work done!

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I’m slowly moving everything in and putting up shelves and storage. Soon I hope to be showing you work that I have made there.

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Ctrl/Shift

The new 62 Group exhibition opens in 10 days time and I am delighted to have had work selected for it. The work that I submitted for the exhibition is the culmination of all the research and experimentation that I have done on collecting pigments from the local landscape and using it to colour cloth.

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P1020399_edited-1Ground Cloth: Chalk, Linen, wire, hand-collected and hand-ground chalk, linseed oil, beeswax, sea-water, found threads, 120 x 197 cm

I have called the three cloths in the exhibition Ground Cloths – a play on the word ground: to grind up a material and the place from which the material emanates. The materials I have collected, hand-ground and used in the work are chalk from both Hunstanton and West Runton, yellow ochre from West Runton and sea coal collected from Wells beach.

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P1020421_edited-1Ground Cloth: Seacoal, Linen, wire, hand-collected and hand-ground seacoal, linseed oil, beeswax, sea-water, found threads, 75 x 279 cm

The brief for Ctrl/Shift was to consider shifts and changes in our practice and to produce work that had moved on or transformed in some way. The Ground Cloths introduce new materials and processes to my practice and I have spent a considerable amount of time researching, exploring and experimenting with the hand-collected materials to make this work.

P1020405Ground Cloth: Yellow Ochre, Linen, wire, hand-collected and hand-ground yellow ochre, linseed oil, beeswax, sea-water, found threads, 106 x 190 cm

Some aspects of my practice have, however, remained and the form of the work takes inspiration from the sails and tarpaulins that are found everywhere here on the coast. The cloths could be considered to be large ‘fragments’ of a sail and the dangling threads take inspiration from reef points that are used to shorten and secure a sail in heavy winds.

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Traditionally, sailors and fishermen would protect sails, ropes and nets by ‘dressing’ them with a mixture of linseed oil, wax and red ochre to give protection from the elements and I have also experimented with, and subtly altered, the traditional techniques of waterproofing and preserving cloth by substituting red ochre with locally-collected materials – chalk, sea-coal and yellow ochre – to produce a blend that both protects and preserves the Ground Cloths and links the materiality of the environment (the actual matter that landscape is made up of) with the utilitarian use of cloth in a coastal location.

The Ctrl/Shift Private view is on Saturday 21 July at the MAC and I have attached an invitation, with details, as you are all welcome to come and celebrate the opening with us and to meet some of the artists.

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Soundwalking

Yesterday I went along to St. Margaret’s church, Cley-next-the-Sea to deliver and place my work for the Cley 18 exhibition.

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The brief for this year’s exhibition, curated by Dr Caroline Fisher, is a quote from W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn,‘The greater the distance the clearer the view’. The Rings of Saturn describes a summer journey up the Suffolk coast where the narrator tells apparently disconnected stories of people and place. The exhibition quote is taken from the part where Sebald talks about the writing of Thomas Browne, ‘the great Norwich physician and writer of the 17th century. It encapsulates the idea that something seen from far away can resolve itself to become clearer than something seen close up or that a long journey can allow us the greatest perspective on a subject. It implies either distance or time between the object and the viewer’.

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Reading the brief, I knew immediately that I wanted to make a new soundwalk drawing that explored the connection between the visual and aural landscapes of the North Norfolk coast and that it would be a sensory response to my experience of the physicality of the environment; a drawing that placed the emphasis on sound to create an evocation of the passing of time and place and to give a clearer and more focussed interpretation of our multi-sensory world.

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Inspired by the architect Juhani Pallasma who says that, ‘Hearing structures and articulates the experience and understanding of space. We are not normally aware of the significance of hearing in spatial experience, although sound often provides the temporal continuum in which visual impressions are embedded’, my drawing is a visual journey through time that connects elements contained within both the aural and visual landscape: movement, rhythm, repetition, line, intensity and silence

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The form of the drawing is one that I have used before and is based on musical graphic scores – a method of writing down sound through drawing rather than musical notation. It is inspired by the sounds I hear as I walk and explore the Norfolk coastline: birdsong, the wind, waves, and footsteps.

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The drawing is called Marsh Soundwalk and it is 1000 x 20.5 cm. It is a watercolour drawing painted on one long piece of paper that I have folded into a concertina book. I have made hand-bound covers for it.

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You can see Marsh Soundwalk at Cley18,  St Margaret’s Church, Holt Road, Cley, NR25 7TT from 5 July – 5 Aug 2018. The church is open from 10am – 5.30pm daily and there is no charge. There is work by other artists on display at the Norfolk Wildlife Centre and on the beach at Cley and workshops and events are also taking place as part of the exhibition.

Wells Art Trail

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I’ve just had a wonderful 2 weeks driving around the whole of Iceland. However, I’m not going to talk about that at the moment although I’m sure that in the near future new work will come out of the drawing and writing that I did on my way round the island. If you’d like a flavour of the trip, pop over to my Instagram page where I posted a few highlights.

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Whilst I was away my work for the Wells Maltings Heritage Art Trail was put up on the quay at Wells by the Maltings hanging team. They have done a fantastic job! It was a thrill to come back and to see my piece hanging between two tall boat masts; gently flapping in the breeze and repeated as its shadow was reflected by the sun on the building behind.

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The work is called View from the Shipwright’sand it is a representation of the view across Wells Harbour from the residence next to where it hangs on the quay at the East End of Wells called the Shipwrights. The building was formerly a pub called the Shipwright’s Arms and its name gives a clue to the approximate location of a previous boatyard.

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The work is 2850 x 117 cm and it combines my own artistic practices with simple sail-making and knotwork techniques. It is protected from the weather in the traditional way using bitumen, beeswax and linseed oil. I hope that the materials will do the job over the three months that it will be hanging there.

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During the 19thcentury the main livelihood in Wells was the trading of grain and coal up and down the coast and many wooden sailing vessels would have been tied up against quay. There were two shipwrights in the town who built and maintained these elegant vessels and provided them with ropes and sails.

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View from the Shipwright’s is inspired by the ‘soft’ materials the boatyard’s sailmaker would have used in the 19thcentury: canvas, thread and rope, and uses bitumen and a traditional concoction of beeswax and linseed oil to preserve and protect it from the degenerative effects of the weather. Looking across the marsh from the Shipwright’s Arms 200 years ago a sail maker would have recognised the contours of the land and sea depicted in my work.

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There are 17 works in Wells Heritage Arts Trail that has been curated by John and Yvonne Milwood and each work has been created especially for the event. The trail takes you around the quay at Wells and onto the beach and it runs from 23 June until Sunday 30 September 2018. There is a free trail guide that can be picked up from the Maltings on Staithe Street, Wells.

 

Update

Well! I’m sorry I haven’t been more communicative recently. I’ve been up to my ears in teaching and I am now (thankfully) coming to the end of an extremely busy, but exciting, 6 months.

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View from the Shipwrights 285 x 117 cm

Just because I haven’t been posting here doesn’t mean that I haven’t been working and in between the teaching weeks I have been frantically making. This summer I will have new work in four exhibitions. Two of them are here in Wells, another is just down the road in Cley and the final exhibition is in Birmingham.

Firstly, I am very happy to have been selected for two inaugural exhibitions at the newly refurbished Maltings building in Wells-next-the-Sea. The Maltings is a new community space and cultural and heritage hub for this part of North Norfolk. It is right in the middle of Wells and was originally built in the mid 19th century. It is one of the last remaining malthouses in the town. The beautiful new extension opens in the summer and there are 2 exhibitions to celebrate: one is in the gallery space and one is an outside art trail that leads you around the town, onto the quay and down to the beach.

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Detail fromView from the Shipwrights

I have a major new work in the art trail (26 June-30 September 2018). It is called View from the Shipwrights and it is a representation of the view across Wells Harbour from the residence on the quay at the East End of Wells called the Shipwrights. Formerly a pub called the Shipwright’s Arms, its name gives us a clue to the approximate location of a previous boatyard and the materials and techniques I have used connect the work to the boatbuilding trade in Wells in the 19thcentury.

In CONNECTION: 2018 OPEN (26 June-30 September 2018) which is in the Maltings gallery space, I have two small paper collages …..

…. and over in St Margaret’s church in Cley-next-the-Sea (5 July – 5 August 2018) I have a new soundwalk drawing in this year’s Cley 18 exhibition . It is a long watercolour drawing that is 1000 x 20 cm and is hand-bound into a concertina book. This is a detail.

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Finally, at MAC, Birmingham I am delighted to be showing three new large works in the 62 Group CTRL/Shift exhibition (21 July – 9 September 2018).

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Ground Cloth: Chalk 120 x 197 cm

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Ground cloth: Yellow Ochre 106 x 190 cm

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Ground Cloth: Seacoal 75 x 297 cm

I’ve got another week of teaching and then I’m off on holiday for two weeks. When I get back normal service will resume and I’ll write more about these exhibitions and the works. I also have some very exciting news to share with you!

Skylark

The sun is out, and I am walking behind the dunes at Holkham with no coat on. After all the recent rain spring seems to have finally arrived and there is no better reminder than hearing the skylarks sing high in the sky above the marsh.

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The skylark, Alauda arvensis, is a small, non-descript brown bird, but its song is a complete joy. Rising from the ground it flaps its wings faster and faster to gain height, and as it flies upwards it sings. Its song goes on and on and on without a pause. If you stop and listen, it is more likely that you will give up listening before it stops singing. What is more astounding is that it doesn’t seem to stop for a breath.

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Being a flautist, I’m interested in breathing and I wondered if, like didgeridoo players, oboeists, and other wind players they could do circular breathing. Circular breathing allows for continuous sound. It is a technique where you breath in and fill your cheeks with air and then with the next breath, simultaneously squeeze out air from your mouth and breath in through your nose. It’s horrendously difficult and I never mastered the procedure.

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However, skylarks and indeed all birds can do it. Their respiration system is different to ours and their circular breaths allow for their song to continue almost endlessly.

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On Holkham beach, with the dunes and the sea beyond to my left and the skylarks singing above I am reminded of one of my favourite poems by Gerald Manley Hopkins, The Sea and the Skylark. In the first two verses he compares the sound of the sea, both low and high tides, and the musical sound of the skylark. Here they are:

On ear and ear two noises too old to end
Trench—right, the tide that ramps against the shore;
With a flood or a fall, low lull-off or all roar,
Frequenting there while moon shall wear and wend.

Left hand, off land, I hear the lark ascend,
His rash-fresh re-winded new-skeinèd score
In crisps of curl off wild winch whirl, and pour
And pelt music, till none’s to spill nor spend.

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I’m sorry not to have been able to take a sound recording for you, but have a listen to the skylark’s music pelting down from the sky here.

Leading lights

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Recently two red and white triangles have appeared in the trees on the dune behind the last beach hut on Wells beach. The Wells Harbour website (I keep my eye on this for news when in Surrey) tells me that they are refurbished and reinstated channel transits. The triangles, which are visible offshore, are placed one above the other and when they appear in line, they indicate a safe course for boats in through the harbour entrance. At night they would originally have been lit by paraffin lamps, but now they appear to have up-to-date solar powered lights. These particular transits were in use from the 1700s to the mid 1900s. I have always known this type of signal as leading lights.

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As a child (and I must confess, still today) I was an avid reader of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons books and anyone who has read them will remember the Swallows finding their way into the secret harbour on Wildcat Island at night with the use of leading lights.

Titty saw them, flickering among the trees and then disappearing again as they were hidden by big rocks south of the island.

John paddled on slowly.

‘There they are again,’ said Susan.

‘Close together,’ said Titty.

John turned round from his rowing and had a good look at two small stars twinkling over the water.

‘Right,’ he said, I’m going to do nothing but row if you’ll keep your eyes on the lights.’

‘Are they still close together?’ asked John.

‘Fairly close,’ said Susan.

‘Where is the top light?’ asked captain John.

‘A bit to the left of the low one,’ said Susan.

John pulled a stroke or two, pulling a little harder with his right. ‘Sing out as soon as it is just above it.’

‘It’s above it now. Now it’s a bit to the right of it.’

John pulled his left.

‘Above it.’

Tell me the moment it is one side or the other.’

‘The lights are exactly one above the other,’ said Susan.

John had shipped the oars and was now sculling over the stern.

‘The lights are quite close to us, ‘ said Roger, and as he said it there was a gentle scrunch as Swallow’s nose touched the soft, pebbly beach of the little harbour.

Captain John had used his leading lights for the first time, and had made his harbour in pitch dark.

 How exciting!

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The idea of a boat, or indeed a body in the landscape, having to move from left to right or up and down to get the correct view of something – to line it up – reminds me of research that I did during my MA about ideas of experiencing the environment. Anthropologist, Christopher Tilley writes in his book, The Materiality of Stone, ‘The body is continually improvising its relationship with things … constantly opening itself out to the world as it moves in it. The manner in which we sense the world remains forever incomplete and ambiguous because we always experience things from a particular point of view or relationship. The body is open to the world but things are always hidden from it.’

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The idea that I could make a piece of work that moves in and out of focus or that only appears as it should from one particular viewpoint is a powerful one. Different elements could line up, as with the leading lights, to make a whole. Or one part of the work could hide another, only to be revealed  as you move or peer around it. To actively walk around in order to experience a work would relate to the way we experience objects outside in the environment, where their size and shape appear to alter as we change our relationship to them. From different directions and with a different order of seeing, things do not have the appearance of sameness.

Seeing the Wells leading lights has got me thinking, but I’m not sure where this one is going yet …..