Chalk Ground at Cley 17

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Next weekend I will be installing my newest piece of work, Chalk Ground, at St Margaret’s Church, Cley-next-the-Sea and I am very pleased to be a part of this exhibition run by the North Norfolk Exhibition Project. Cley is just 10 minutes down the road from my house and so the work is being shown in the place of its inspiration – this doesn’t happen very often!

P1000780 The NNEP was set up in order to be able to show contemporary art in a place where there was no gallery that artists could show new work in. Each year there is a different curator who sets the brief and chooses the artists. This year the curator is Marion Stuart who is an artist, art lecturer and founder of StudioDo. The brief is ‘Connectivity’ and asks artists to use historical context and local connections to create links between site and art. She states that, ‘Connecting is inherently human and one way to connect to the world is through art.’

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This brief was a gift to me and plays directly into all the interests of my practice. Recently I have been using the materiality of the environment to articulate ideas about landscape and place, mostly in my use of salt. Chalk is another material that is associated with this area and I was very keen to introduce this new material into my practice in order to stimulate new ideas and processes.

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Chalk is the bedrock of the physical landscape of East Anglia and it forms a ‘chalk belt’ that runs from the Chilterns to the North Norfolk coast. It has shaped the economic and cultural development of this region and gives rise to some of its most beautiful and inspiring landscapes. Chalk is the basis of the new work, Chalk Ground, and the shape and material of the work draws attention to the world we inhabit by making a connection between the materiality of the artwork and the land beneath our feet.

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Ground:

  1. The solid surface of the earth
  2. A prepared surface to which paint is applied
  3. Reduced to fine particles by crushing

 I love the play on words that is contained within the title of the piece and I have tried to incorporate each strand of meaning into the work. The form and shape of the work reflects the curve of the land and I was thinking of a geographical cross-section when deciding what form the work should take. I have made my own ‘ground’ by ‘grinding’ chalk collected from the environment to make a paint, or distemper, to coat the linen cloth.

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I have used all forms of chalk in the work and its texture varies from fine to very coarse. Added to that, each vessel has a ballast of chalk pebbles to make it stable. The height of the vessels ranges from 55-23 cms in height and each vessel is 5 cm in diameter. The whole work measures approx. 2 metres wide and 20cm deep.  You can read more about the process of making this work here, here and here.

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Lastly, having finished the work I have now made other connections to my practice that I should, perhaps, have noted beforehand. I have used the pipe or tube shape before and it is a form that creates many associations for me. It is a vessel or container and so has the ability to ‘hold place’, but primarily it is the shape of a flute and therefore contains the promise of sound. Coincidentally, the work is to be placed on an stone shelf near to the organ….. I think you will agree that there is more than a passing resemblance to a set of organ pipes.

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If you are in Norfolk from 6 July to 6 August please come and see the exhibition. As Marion Stuart is a ceramicist I expect it will have a pottery slant which I am really looking forward to. There are also some excellent related workshops and events taking place. There is a copy of the leaflet here.

 

 

 

 

 

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Contrasts

What a difference a couple of weeks can make! Two weeks ago I was in the far west of  Cornwall. After a fantastic first day everything rather went down hill. Firstly, I got a cold (the first for 2 years), and secondly the weather deteriorated into rain (heavy at times) and gales. It made for exciting conditions, standing on the top of cliffs, looking down at huge, rolling waves and being battered by force 8 winds. The conditions meant that I didn’t manage to do as much drawing as I had hoped, however, the rain did stop occasionally, the sun did make an appearance (rarely), I did manage a few walks and some sketching was done.

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Looking to Pendeen watch from east of Porthmeor Beach. Grey Granite. Green grass. Grey/blue sea. Grey/blue sky is lighter than the sea which has a softly edged dark stripe along the horizon.

The landscape in Cornwall is vibrant.  The colours are strong and the lines and forms of the land and water are dynamic. All around there is constant activity and movement. When I was there the noise of the wind and the waves was tremendous; it filled the ears and was a real presence. I draw fast, moving pencil, pen and paint over the paper at speed: look, scribble, look, scribble. It is an energetic response to a vigorous landscape.

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Looking down on a boiling sea and rock stack at Porthmeor Beach. Jade green/blue sea. White/jade waves froth around the rocks.

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Rocks at Kynance Cove.

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Cliffs at Kynance Cove.

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Deep black gully looking back from Gurnard’s head.

Back here in Wells on the far east side of the country the contrast couldn’t have been more different this weekend as there were clear, bright days with hot sunshine. Sitting at the beachhut early in the morning, I watched the beach gradually fill with people coming to enjoy the summer sunshine. The long horizontal lines of the landscape languidly mingle and intertwine and although the light is brilliant there is still a subtle blue/grey cast to its colour. Everything appears calm.  Even the incoming tide, that creeps slowly over the sand, filling gullies and submerging exposed sandbanks, moves so slowly it is almost indiscernible. There is movement and change but, at the moment, it is a much quieter energy than that of the Cornish landscape. I draw a line, look and then draw another line. I smooth and gently wash the paint across the paper, filling the brush with colour and letting it drip and mingle as it will. It is a considered response to a contemplative landscape.

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The tide is coming in. The sun is bright with a westerly wind. The sky is cloudless and the sea is a shade darker. A dark line on the horizon.

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British Sharpie Championship lining up for the star of the race. The sound of the hooter carries (loudly) over the water.

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Bunched up before the race.

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A beautiful brown sail boat (runs) sails past the gap in the dunes.

Thankfully the cold has gone!

Cornwall walk – On Gurnard’s Head

About 1.30 pm. Brilliant sunshine with white/grey streaky clouds. A strong westerly wind.

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I have been walking along the SW coastal path all morning and have just arrived at Gurnard’s Head, a small headland on the North coast of Cornwall. With a tricky scramble over rocks I’ve managed to reach a rocky outcrop high above the sea. Exposed to the Atlantic I feel exhilarated.

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I’m facing into the wind and looking straight out to sea. Behind me are cliffs and at 10 o’clock, in the far distance on another jutting headland, is the Pendeen Watch lighthouse. The granite rocks at the bottom of the cliffs are brilliant with yellow lichen – they shine, slick with seawater, in the bright sun.

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In stark contrast, rising up behind the glassy rocks, are deep, dark fissures that have been worn into the cliffs by millennia of pounding seas. The shadows of these clefts are rendered so dark by the glaring sun that no detail can be seen within them. Small white seagulls wheel in and out of the black gullies, briefly showing in relief against the darkness before disappearing as they are backed by a white and blue sunlit sea. They glide round in slow, lazy loops, in turn emerging and vanishing.

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As I face directly into the wind, it roars uninterruptedly in both ears. I only have to turn my head slightly to the left or right and the sound fades. I like the slightly chilly wind on my face in the warm sun.

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Beneath me the sea boils. Waves constantly beat the rocks below; frothing up and pulling back. One rock slopes at 45 degrees into the sea. Pounded by waves, it is submerged in a coat of white sea spume before reappearing as the swell drags the beaten water back down again into the jade/blue translucent morass.

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The sea is rarely like this in Wells. There, its soft grey/blue flatness creeps slowly backwards and forwards tide after tide. Here, on this part of the Cornish coast, the sea is energetic, heaving, rolling and frothed. Each wave is dashed violently against the land, its energy exhausted as it is flung upwards and outwards.

Chalk

Chalk is the bedrock of the physical landscape of East Anglia and it forms a ‘chalk belt’ that runs from the Chilterns to the North Norfolk coast. It has shaped the economic and cultural development of this region and forms some of its most beautiful and spectacular landscapes.

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Hunstanton chalk samples

Although chalk is not as apparent in Norfolk as in other areas of Britain such as the South Downs, at Seven Sisters and the White Cliffs of Dover, it embraces the North Norfolk coast with chalk cliffs to the West at Hunstanton and to the East at West Runton. There are chalk pits and quarries all over the county, including just up the road from here in Wells, and sub-terranean Norwich is riddled with tunnels where chalk was formerly mined.

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West Runton chalk samples

I am using chalk in my next piece of work and decided to collect the material from two different sites that mark the outer boundaries of my ‘place’: Hunstanton, where there are red and white cliffs, and the beach at West Runton where a vein of chalk emerges on the beach and at the bottom of the cliffs. The chalk I find at both sites has broken off from the cliffs, probably from wave action and the force of the tides, and lies scattered across the beach. Huge great lumps, too big to pick up and take home, lie at the top of both beaches under the cliffs, but smaller pieces have been distributed across the sand by the sea. I collect lumps about the size of my fist and smaller pebbles from both places. My intention is to grind them down to a powder and combine the resulting white pigment with a binder to stiffen and colour cloth.

Immediately I can see that the chalk collected from each site is different. The pieces of Hunstanton chalk are rounded and they don’t mark my skin or clothes as I pick them up. They are hard, dry and cold.

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The West Runton chalk, on the other hand, is soft and buttery and the greasy surface of each piece has attracted a light covering of sand. It is damp and soft and marks everything it touches. By the time I get home my hands, clothes, bags and the car are covered with a film of white dust.

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Before I even try to break it up I know that the properties of each sample is very different; the West Runton chalk will definitely be easier to process than the fragments from Hunstanton. I don goggles and a dust mask and whack a small piece of Hunstanton chalk with a hammer. Nothing happens. I try again, and again it doesn’t break. I get a bigger, heavier hammer. This time it cracks in two, but I can sense that using this material will be a battle. I try the West Runton chalk. One firm tap with a hammer and it breaks into four or five small pieces. It is so soft and breaks very easily. I continue tapping and soon I have a coarse powder.

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I take a hard Hunstanton lump and start to grind the softer particles with it. It works well as a pestle and the powder gradually becomes finer. I take more of the softer lumps and continue crushing and grinding until I have quite a large heap. Fine powder rises up with the grinding action and I can feel it drying the skin on my hands and face – I’m glad of the dust mask.

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The ground West Runton chalk is the colour of double cream. I suppose it has been yellowed by sand and I wonder whether covering it with water would purify it. I place it in a large bowl of water and wait. Bubbles rise to the surface as air is expelled from between each grain and after a few minutes the chalk has fallen to the bottom and the water has cleared.

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I put my hands into the chalky soup and can feel hard lumps. I can squish them between my fingers and they disintegrate. I keep squishing, but there are too many to get a fine powder this way.

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I pour off the clear water and realise that, of course, all the large sand and chalk particles  are still combined. I place the creamy, chalk mixture on a tray and leave to dry. Soon I’ll be able to mix it with a binder and make a form of coarse gesso to form the foundation of my next piece of work.

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Painting and drawing

Everyone is back where they should be after the Easter holidays and suddenly I find myself on on my own for a couple of days. Although I have things I should be getting on with, I decide to take a break and do some painting and drawing.

So, this is how a near perfect day on my own goes:

  1. Go to the art shop and buy a couple of sheets of lovely 300gsm watercolour paper.
  2. Stop off on the way home at Morston quay and buy a cup of coffee from the National Trust shop.
  3. Drink coffee and take in the view and general hustle and bustle (boats being put in the water for the first time this year, dog walkers, seal boats loading up to take people out to Blakeney Point). Enjoy the sunshine.
  4. Follow the path along the creek and across the marsh with sketchbook and pencil in hand.
  5. Stop every now and again and draw what catches the eye.

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  1. Lunch
  2. Get out painting equipment, put on music (Bach, Brandenburg Concerto’s) and spend the rest of the afternoon painting (keep half an eye on the morning’s drawings but paint mainly from memory).

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Burnt Cloth

Some of you may be wondering whether I did decide to burn the last of the ‘Flags’ in my Signalman body of work. I was undecided when I last wrote about it.

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Well, after much hum-ing and haa-ing I took the plunge and did it. This wasn’t a scientific, controlled process but more of a ‘go into the garden with a box of matches, some stout boots and a garden hose, type  of procedure’.

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It was surprisingly difficult to make the cloth catch fire and even more difficult to make it catch fire in an artistic way! Anyhow I’m pleased with the result and even more pleased with the patch that I had to put on it where it burnt through too much.

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You can see this flag and the other two in the series at The Archive Project@The Cello Factory from 4-12 May 2017.

My Place

After several weeks of intense teaching, making work and travelling I am back in Wells for a couple of weeks before putting up The Archive Project exhibition in London at the beginning of May. I went down to the beach this afternoon for a walk and it is really good to be back here.

I have just returned from Switzerland where I was teaching an ‘Exploring Place’ workshop and it was wonderful to explore and discover a new environment. The weather was as good as it could have been with sunshine and clear blue skies and the long reaching views of mountains weaving together into the far distance were beautiful …. but it’s not home. It’s not the place that calls and that feels right.

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This afternoon it was a bit grey, although blue patches (enough to make a sailor’s trousers) gave the promise of clearer skies. There was a cold westerly wind and the tide was out. First impressions were that it was rather bleak and there wouldn’t be much to see. But, as always, as I walked a story emerged.

At low tide the contours of the beach are revealed. These change frequently, often from tide to tide. Water is trapped in hollows and small channels, that I call ‘sea rivers’.

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Oystercatchers were stepping around and about the shallow water and as I approached they took off, flying further down the beach with their ‘peep, peep’ call.

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Footprints left in the sand show their frenetic activity.

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The gusting wind freckled the water on the sea rivers …..

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and blew dry sand across the wet beach.

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Wind and water combine to produce an ever-changing picture.

It’s lovely to go away and have new experiences but it’s even better to come back.