Black Beach

P1040287

I don’t know why, but I have struggled to write this post. Normally I sit down and write about my work fluently; straight off; without a second thought. But writing about this piece of work has been surprisingly difficult. On the face of it this piece of work has happened in the way that most of my work happens – by paying attention to my surroundings. Essentially it is about one of those unexpected happenings that I have noticed in my wanderings along the North Norfolk coastline, namely that after a storm at sea, marine creatures can occasionally, and extraordinarily, be found washed ashore, stranded high on the beach by the incoming tide before being washed away again by the next one.

A simple idea? But so many other thoughts have gone into this work: about materials; about processes, both within the natural environment and in the making of the work; about the history of place; and finally, about my own methods of perception, processing information and creativity. A simple idea that has taken a huge amount of consideration and that perhaps, in the end, contains more ideas than is obvious at first glance.

P1040267

I start by writing down a list of principal words and ideas:

  • A moment of being – something I have noticed and remembered:
  • Storm at sea – weather – deposition/ wave action
  • Material process – saltwater/evaporation – transformation and decay/degeneration
  • Form – mussels/beach
  • Wilhelmina Barns-Graham – perception and a way of thinking

But I can’t decide what my message is (my husband calls it my strategic statement); what is the most important thing here?

P1040266

Starting at the top of the list …..

I walk. I notice. I experience. I remember. In this instance I recall hundreds of sponge balls washed up on Cley beach by the action of the waves after a storm at sea has dislodged them from the sea bed. The weather, the waves and the water play a significant part in this shifting, dynamic coastline so that nothing is ever quite the same from day to day. They change the appearance of surfaces and seek to destroy them. They move things around and wear things down. They make things appear and then disappear. This is not a stable environment but a place of transience and uncertainty. Observation of changing phenomena is at the foundation of this work.

P1030843

Things appear and disappear. I wanted to comment on impermanence; a brief interlude of wonder, cast upon the beach by the sea only to be taken away again by the next tide and I have conjured up transient sea-creatures from my imagination. Each ‘creature’ was soaked in a shallow bath of salt water that was allowed to evaporate naturally – a process that took about 2 weeks. Although salt is intrinsic to my exploration of the processes of change and impermanence in the environment, in a dry state the residues of the evaporation process are surprisingly durable. However, a hint of water would quickly turn the crystals back into a salty liquid making it a highly ephemeral, unstable medium. Furthermore, salt is a corrosive material and I would expect the linen and wire in this work to degenerate very slowly over time.

I chose the form of the sea creatures to suggest the oval form of mussel shells. Mussels are harvested all along this coast and in the near past Wells harbour had mussel beds lining the far side of the quay that longshoremen (men who earned their living from the harbour, sea or shoreline) would tend and harvest. The remains of one of the mussel beds lies at the base of the bank opposite my studio, and every time I look out of the window I see the sharp edges of the shells sticking out of the mud. Indeed, my studio would have originally had an old copper where the shellfish would have been boiled before being packed up and sent off to be sold. Mussels are an appropriate form for this piece of work.

IMG_0315Detail of a map from 1908 of Wells Harbour. The little black crosses show the location of mussel beds.

I must also speak about Wihelmina Barns-Graham (1912-2004), a painter and printmaker and one of the St Ives School. Her ideas about how she understood her surroundings have been the mainstay of my thinking regarding how I experience what is going on around me. She wrote about her perception of nature as having ‘something to do with inner perception and outward observation’, and this inner seeing and outer sensing has become central to my work.

To go out, to walk, to notice, to remember and sometimes to document ‘noticings’ is essential but is only the very first stage of the creative process. I increasingly realise that most important are the abstract meanderings of my mind – my inner perception. Like a flow chart I used to draw in maths at school – data goes into one end and comes out at the other end processed and transformed as a finished artwork. What goes on in the middle is key.

Again, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’s thoughts: ‘to develop one’s awareness to inner perception, collecting shapes that become my shapes. To see later what is useful, now with increased understanding of the importance to be in union with nature. To identify with its rhythm so that, again, later I can express myself in my own language’.

P1040275

To express myself in my own language is so, so important. All the information for this work, has been gathered together in a continuous interaction of searching, connecting and making. What makes my work mine can only happen when subjective perception, understanding and selection come together with the creativity of my hands and the way I compose with materials and structure. The end form is only possible as an evocation of my first observations with the coming together of all of these functions. In effect, my senses: my eyes, ears and hands, only operate through the medium of my brain. To sense is to think and to think is to make personal work.

P1040268

So, what is my message? What is the most important thing here? Well, for you the viewer, the work is about the observation: a transient happening that is fleeting and to be marvelled at. But for me, the most important thing that has come about through this particular work is the growing realisation that creativity comes from the processing of my emotional and intellectual experiences of the phenomenological world deep inside my mind. The resulting work is not an imitation of the world but a way of revealing my personal observations of its innumerable manifestations.

I am delighted that Black Beach has been selected for the 62 Group exhibition, CONSTRUCT and it will be at Sunny Bank Mills, 82-5 Town Street, Farsley, Pudsey, W. Yorkshire, LS28 5UJ from 20 July – 15 September 2019.

Screen Shot 2019-07-14 at 16.30.19

 

Advertisements

Making connections

I have a small plinth that has been sitting in a corner of my studio for nearly a year now. It has on it a collection of objects which I have been changing around and adding to regularly over the year. It started with a collection of objects that I gathered on a trip to Iceland, and at the time I felt sure that a piece of work would come from it but although I love the collection, a separate piece has simply not happened.

IMG_0516

I realise now that of course the collection is the work. An array of objects that document my way of interacting with, responding to, and documenting my experience of the natural environment: walking, gathering, keeping, noticing, drawing, making. The plinth is a like sketchbook of objects: a gathering that consists of words, drawings, materials and things. I have found myself adding to and taking away from it over the year in a continuous process of relating one thing to another and I now recognise that the work is not only about linking one object to another but is also concerned with connecting new landscapes to familiar ones.

IMG_0521

Handmade sketchbook dipped in bitumen with ink and graphite drawings of the Norfolk coast, a small linen bag coated with bitumen and paint to keep the sketchbook in.

I have written before that I believe an encounter with a new environment cannot, in this age of browsing the internet, be completely fresh, but that it is affected by expectations and presumptions. A new place, in this case Iceland, is touched by similarities and associations to known places (the Norfolk coast) in a never-ending, and possibly unconscious, triangulation of place, experience and memory.

IMG_0504

Top: Wood from a Norfolk beach painted with bitumen, rope from a Norfolk beach, knotted and painted with bitumen. Bottom: String from an Icelandic beach dipped in bitumen and coiled, string from an Icelandic beach made into a knot and dipped in bitumen, a linen and bitumen bag to hold them.

I’m trying not to analyse too deeply what I choose to keep, but amongst things relating to both the Icelandic and the North Norfolk coasts I have: collected objects, both in their original form and altered; drawings, in a handmade sketchbook and on scraps of paper; made objects that have been painted with bitumen.

IMG_0508

View from my studio, silverpoint drawing on gesso.

The unifying factor for all of these objects has evolved and is now their blackness or whiteness: either the scoured purity of bird keel bones, soft eider down and oily sheep’s wool or the dark, stickiness of bitumen that preserves all objects from the effects of the weather and the damp, salty air.

IMG_0512

Keel bones of birds found on both Icelandic and North Norfolk beaches.

IMG_0510

From the left: Eider down, white sheep’s wool, black sheep’s wool collected in Iceland, held in waxed linen containers with found threads.

What are the influences? Perhaps Icelandic black beaches of volcanic stones or dark bituminous preservative? Maybe beaches of white Norfolk flint or chalk cliffs that give themselves up to be made into fine gesso to draw onto? I think all are there in my memory, connecting backwards and forwards and backwards again to tell a story of places, experiences and materials.

This work isn’t finished and I expect it to keep evolving and to get larger as I continue to have new ideas and to make new things.

Walking – Holkham

Slightly overcast but with a rapidly clearing sky

Wind from the South-west

Warm (short sleeves warm)

fullsizeoutput_1751

As always (I’m a creature of habit) my Holkham walk starts by turning left at the carpark and walking on the path behind the pines. This is mainly because with the prevailing south-westerlies, the wind blows from behind when exposed on the walk back along the beach.  Reed wind-rustle and bird-song dominate. I stop to inspect the leaves of a holm oak (Quercus ilex) at the side of the path. There are a lot of these short, round trees growing here on the coast and recently I have noticed that instead of looking fresh and green their leaves are brown and slightly curled. This one is no exception and each leaf is spotted with small brown spots. The RHS website tells me that this blight is caused by the leaf-mining moth. Luckily the trees tolerate the caterpillars that munch their leaves and continue to grow. Later in the year when the old leaves have dropped the trees should begin to look fresher.

fullsizeoutput_1754

I always stop at this gate and have a look over – there are nearly always cormorants flying overhead on their way to or from their tree-nesting colony on the flat lands behind the beach. If I’m really lucky I might see a spoonbill as for the past couple of years they have been nesting there as well. Today I see neither but there is always the thrill of expectation.

fullsizeoutput_1755

Through the pines, over the dunes and marram grass, and onto the beach.

fullsizeoutput_1756

At this time of year I have to extend my walk a little further to avoid the line and posts that Holkham Estates put up to protect nesting birds: mostly terns and oystercatchers. The barrier runs right along the back of the beach and means that walkers can’t cross from beach to pines – it’s only a few hundred yards longer to walk and no hardship.

IMG_0307

This heavy old piece of wood is where I often sit to take in the view, and today two old palettes have appeared next to it. I sit on the palettes,

fullsizeoutput_1758

and photograph a scrap of old rope that lies in the sand next to them – their colours are almost identical.

fullsizeoutput_175d

On the beach the wind feels stronger and it blows dry sand diagonally across the beach. It stings my ankles as I walk barefoot. Razor shells stick up out of the sand and I have to look where I’m going in case I cut my feet. A few years ago I trod on one and my foot had a gentle reminder for the rest of the summer from the resulting cut – they are well named.

fullsizeoutput_1764

A beach river sparkles in the sunlight as the water trickles towards the sea.

fullsizeoutput_1765

I paddle along the edge of the water where clouds are reflected in the shallows. The bottoms of my trousers get wet. A bit further along several sandpipers join me in the breaking waves and their little legs dash backwards and forwards as they scurry in and out of the water looking for food.

fullsizeoutput_1768

I spend several minutes trying to photograph the way the wind catches the tops of the waves just before they break, flinging droplets up and back in contrary motion…. it’s really difficult.

fullsizeoutput_176a

Then back along the beach and back to the car. I can’t count the number of times I’ve done this exact walk but each time there is something new to see. The tides and the weather change the shape and texture of the beach and bring a different set of noticings and experiences to add to my understanding and memory.

Meaning in material

I have been away on holiday to a place that I have never visited before – Spain. We stayed at a Cortijo in the hills in Andalucia about 80 kms inland from the coast. It was hot – (hotter than I had expected) although a cooling breeze generally appeared in the late afternoon. The sky was a uniform blue the whole time we were there and it was very, very dry.

IMG_0325

We spent our time visiting towns to see the sights: Granada and Cordoba, and spending time in the hills near to where we were staying. I took my sketchbook, but for the first few days I couldn’t write or draw in it – I needed time to absorb and think about this new landscape.

IMG_0333

However, an encounter with a new environment is not a blind happenstance and the experience is affected by expectations and presumptions. Of course I had seen photos of the landscape on the internet and I had a good idea about what to expect.  As E.H. Gombrich writes in Art and Illusion, ‘The innocent eye is a myth…… All perceiving relates to expectations and therefore to comparisons’. In this instance, the comparisons I made were to two long, hot summers spent in the countryside in Provence when I was in my late teens. The heat and the dryness were remembered from that time and also the smell. The landscape smelt dry – of dust, cooking and garlic, mimosa, olive trees and heat – can heat smell?

IMG_0327

The landscape, although new to me, had a familiarity, but nevertheless it took a bit of time to settle in and to begin to really pay attention. I drew where my eyes were drawn. I was always looking up: to the tops of the hills where jagged rocky tops were pale grey in the sun but much darker in the shadows, and to ranks of olive groves that dotted the chalky slopes; serried ranks of rounded globes that merged into a solid greeness with the contours of the hills: chalk, terracotta and green – dry, dusty, colour bleached out by the sun.

IMG_0328

I took my normal, minimalist drawing kit with me: a sketchbook, a black pen, a pencil, a graphite stick, a tiny box of watercolours and a couple of those brushes with a water reservoir. But these materials were wrong. They were too fluid and the colours swirled and ran into each other. This is a dry land. I needed dry materials: pastel or chalk. I wish I had picked up some of the terracotta earth to smear across the page with my finger like the cave dwellers in the Cueva de la Pileta who had drawn on the cave walls in terracotta, ochre and charcoal thousands of years ago. 

IMG_0332

Watercolour is for Norfolk –  a place of water and of flux and change, not for the arid dustiness of Andalucia. The materiality of even a drawing is important as it can evoke ideas of time, place and geography beyond those of the purely visual elements of shape, form and colour. Materials have meaning and consequently I’m not really happy with these watercolour drawings. Wrong materials for the place. It is certainly something to think about the next time I go away and I will have to consider my drawing kit more carefully.

 

Light, texture, sound, movement

9am

Blue sky with a gossamer layer of misty cloud

Warm sunshine

Light movements in the air

IMG_0302

I’m sitting outside the studio in the sunshine. For the first time, in what seems to be weeks, the biting Easterly wind has blown itself out and it feels warm. The water is glassy with only the faintest sign of the slowly ebbing tide. The blue sky is reflected in the shallow water and combined with the sand/mud just visible below the surface, it is a dappled green/sludge/blue colour. Above me the sky is blue, but over on the horizon the colour washes away to be almost white. The pines on the East Hills are a hazy green and looking East, almost into the sun, the landscape becomes monochrome as the mud banks and marsh are silhouetted by the brightness behind.

IMG_0307

There is no noise coming from the working fisherman’s huts (at low tide there is less activity), but just on the pontoon to my right a couple of men are painting a boat and I can hear their companionable chatter. Most of the sounds I can hear are of birds, but looking out there is no movement – the birds are hunkering down on the marsh. Calling but not seen.

IMG_0305

I sit and look and wait. Immediately opposite 2 black-headed gulls start squabbling with a third gull who flies in, taunting them with food. They rise up and try to wrest it away before flying away down the channel still squawking. A tiny money spider falls onto my sketchbook and I trace its path down the page until it falls off. Two black cormorants fly fast and low over the marsh –  determined dark arrows that know where they are going.

IMG_0303

I hear an oystercatcher and look up, but scanning the muddy bank opposite I fail to see it. A few minutes later it appears and starts to preen itself at the waters edge – it’s reflection clear in the water. It restarts its monotonous peeping and others, feeding on the mud, take up its call. It’s a hectic conversation that sounds like a warning – keep away from my patch!

IMG_0308

I can also hear the contented chattering of Brent geese feeding on the marsh. Most of the visiting winter geese have left by now but there are still a few left that seem happy to over summer here. A small group of them lifts off with a burble and a flap of wing. They fly west to join the main flock, their white bottoms shining out in the sun. More geese rise up, chattering as they go, and split into groups as they hurry off to different feeding grounds.

IMG_0304

I get a watercolour pad and paint and start to draw. As always I start literally but after a time I loosen up and focus on two areas: the patch of mud just opposite and a flash of light that is an area of sand away on the marsh. As time goes on the light and the colours intensify. I use more dark and start to splash paint around, not trying to  represent what I see and hear exactly, but to use my imagination to capture light, texture, sound and movement.

IMG_0312

 

 

 

 

Notes from my sketchbook

Burnham Overy Staithe

Blue sky – sunshine

NE wind – strong. It makes the otherwise warm temperature feel rather cold, especially walking out to the beach into the wind.

Oystercatchers – windroar – cold ears.

Sitting on the south side of the dune overlooking the marsh surrounded by intermittent wind/grass susurration. Facing the sun and sheltered by the dune from the wind it almost feels hot.

Small twittering birds.

Haze on the far horizon.

By my side, nestling in the marram grass are minute white shells.

IMG_0292

IMG_0294

IMG_0293

 

Staying ever curious

P1030781Small watercolour, 20 x 20 cm

I’m sitting in the gallery for another days stewarding, spending my time making some new work and chatting to visitors. I thought I would reproduce the introduction to the exhibition that Mary Blue Brady has written. Mary has identified, and written, about the concept behind the exhibition so succinctly that I thought you might like to read it for yourselves.

‘Moments of Being.

The title for this exhibition is taken from a collection of autobiographical essays by British modernist author Virginia Woolf. The collection was first found in the papers of her husband, used by Quentin Bell in his biography of Virginia Woolf, published in 1972.

Virginia Woof was a pioneer in the use of stream of consciousness and this exhibition celebrates the heightened state of consciousness experienced when one feels most alive. Both Caroline Fisher’s porcelain landscapes and Debbie Lyddon’s mixed media cloths share common ground in commemorating moments of focus felt by the artists when visiting the North Norfolk coast.

Both artists have inventive approaches to their chosen materials and employ them to create a sense of wonder and impart an atmospheric response, drawing attention to a moon rise, a flash of water, or the rustling of halyards on boats, for example. In short, these artists raise our awareness of what surrounds us.

Caroline and Debbie’s work also prompts us to remember the preciousness of time, to savour each moment and to tune into individual occasions through deeper observation. For us mere mortals, it is imperative not just to look down at our feet, but also to gaze up at the stars, staying ever curious and open to the wonder of the world.’