I haven’t done any painting for ages, but today the weather outside the studio was so appalling that I felt moved to try and capture something of its bleakness. It is wet, windy and cold here and it’s hard to believe it’s May. There is a freezing, and very strong westerly wind and as I sit here in the studio this afternoon everything is clanking and banging. There is something knocking on the roof and I can’t make out what it is!
This morning the tide was rushing in fast, and the wind was pushing it on, whipping up the water to create choppy waves in the creek. A few hours later and the water is still high – I think the wind is preventing it from ebbing. As I write it is beginning to hail and it is terribly loud.
The swifts, which have just arrived back for the summer over the weekend, are being blown sideways as they swoop and dive over the water. It’s lovely to see them again and there seem to be quite a few around.
So here are a few paintings. They are on Bockingford watercolour paper – it is quite thick, probably more like card than paper, and they are about 16 cm squared.
I’ve used my favourite, sludgy palette of indigo, mars black, sap green and yellow ochre. Today I decided to get out some ink and I drew into them whilst they were still wet so that it spread out and made interesting, but uncontrollable patterns in the wet paint.
I’ve just put 6 of them up in my shop. You can have a look at them here.
Thank you everyone for your suggestions about my green pebble.
One suggestion comes via Sarah Waters who serendipitously read my post just before her brother-in-law, a geologist, came to visit. He says: ‘This is possibly a piece of Cretaceous Green Sandstone. The green colour is from the mineral glauconite which forms in shallow marine environments. This is quite a dark one. It is about 100 million years old and was formed at the height of the dinosaurs dominance of the planet. It almost certainly was washed into the sea at Hunstanton, where a thin out-crop reaches the sea, and moved along the coast by a process of long shore drift to Cley.’ So thank you Sarah for passing on the information.
Even more, she sent me a map of the geology of Hunstanton that shows where the pebble would have come from. It probably originated from the bright dark green area down the right hand side of the river at Hunstanton. See the map below.
So I think that little mystery has been solved. It has pleased me no end to get all your suggestions, and I have made this special pebble a little bag out of a fold of waxed silk that is just translucent enough to see its form and to glimpse a hint of its colour. It will live with the growing number of other found objects and their made containers that are presently multiplying down in the studio!
I have just received my new Fragments book from the printer and it is now available in my shop.
I was to have had an exhibition of the body of work contained in this book last year but the pandemic happened it didn’t take place. So, since Christmas I have been putting together a book so that I can show it to you in another form.
Fragments is a response to diverse recollections of my experience of walking the coast, both during the day and at night. I have created word-sketches, drawings, 2-D and 3-D textile works that explore evidence of natural phenomena and the continuous, and often infinitesimal processes of change that transform the landscape and the objects in it.
The book has a short written essay about the work and my thoughts behind it, photographs and the words that inspired each piece.
The book is 200 x 200 x 7 mm, has a soft cover and 58 pages with full colour photographs.
At the beginning of this year, just after the first lockdown began, I was supposed to be having an exhibition of new work here at the Art Gallery in Wells. Unfortunately, lockdown happened and it was postponed. For various reasons, and the fact that everything is so uncertain at the moment, I am unable to reschedule it in the near future.
I have been wracking my brain as to what to do. I am still hoping to find a gallery to show this new body of work soon, but in the meantime I am going to do what others are doing and just show some of the works to you digitally here on my blog. In the New Year, I hope that there will be a new publication with writing and photographs as well.
I have called the whole body of work Fragments and it is a response to diverse recollections of my experience of walking the coast, both during the day and at night. I have created word-sketches, drawings, 2-D and 3-D textile works that explore evidence of natural phenomena and the continuous, and often infinitesimal processes of change that transform the landscape and the objects in it.
At the heart of this work are words that I have written. In the essay at the beginning of the book I say, ‘At first, I just write down words as I recall, and try to articulate the experience. Nothing fancy, just a stream of narrative consciousness. But very soon I find myself trying to find a different, or better word. I move words around. I cut words out. I simplify. I compose. My aim is to find an expression that is the essence of the experience.’
The first two pieces I am going to show you today are titled Day Moon and Night Walking. They highlight two really very obvious phenomena, things that you will probably have noticed yourselves, but the two works came about when I questioned what I was looking at and didn’t fully understand what was happening or I was seeing. Curiosity, I find, is one of my fundamental criteria to making work.
Norfolk Fragment: Day Moon
The first week of January.
For the past week, around midday, I have been watching the moon rise.
Hanging low in the sky a slivered crescent has slowly grown
to its present bloated, waxing gibbous state.
In a few days, after the full moon, the pale day moon
will again become a luminous night moon.
Question – I always think of the moon as being in the sky at night, so why exactly do I see it during the day? I didn’t know, so I looked it up. The answer?
Half of the moon’s surface is always illuminated by the sun.
It takes 27.3 days for the moon to make a complete orbit around the Earth (sidereal period)
It takes 29.5 days to for the moon to appear in the same phase in the sky (orbital period)
The moon goes through 8 phases in the orbital period
At the start of the cycle, when closest to the sun, the moon is hidden by the brightness of the sun and disappears for 3 days before it appears again as a New Moon.
The only phase that the moon is in the sky all night is the Full Moon when it rises at sunset and sets at sunrise. After that the moon rises about 50 minutes later each day. (which is why we see the moon during the day).
The second piece that works very well alongside Day Moon is called Night Walking.
Norfolk Fragment: Night Walking – Betelgeuse
The beach bank, wrapped in darkness,
Catch at the back of your nose cold and very, very clear.
Looking north, away from the sodium glare of the town,
more and more stars are revealed
as my eyes become accustomed to the dark.
To the west, an indistinct smudge of light above is the Milky Way,
Orion’s spear is clear and bright beneath his three-starred belt
and W-shaped Cassiopeia.
To the north the Plough.
And then a star falls, and another, and again,
out of the corner of my eye in my peripheral vision,
another falling star and another.
Five shooting stars in a row are a rare treat.
Question – what stars am I looking at?
Night Walking simply satisfies my curiosity as to what stars I am looking at when I look up. It highlights Betelgeuse, the red star, and you can see it just above Orion’s Belt in the Orion constellation. It is the rusty red eyelet.
The slightly larger eyelet below and to the left is Sirius or the Dog Star. It is in the constellation Canis Major and is the brightest star in the night sky.
With the ongoing pandemic and uncertainty as to whether the workshops in my diary are going to go ahead next year, I have decided not to book any more workshops in my studio in Wells for 2021.
However, I have done a few online talks via Zoom in the past few weeks and have decided to do a few more if you would like to hear me speak about my work and its inspiration.
During the talk I describe my love of walking, of collecting, of being curious, of telling stories and of making, and outline some of the things that inform my work. I use PowerPoint with photos of the landscape up here in Norfolk and, of course, photos of the work itself.
I talk about the natural processes and phenomena that inspire me – light, weather, water – and some of the material processes that I use to evoke them. I explain why impermanence, change and degeneration play a large part in the making of my work.
I want to make things interesting and varied so I play sound recordings from the environment and video clips of some of the work being made. I have samples and sketchbooks on hand to show you, and at the end there is ample time for some chat and questions.
The great thing about Zoom, and and a huge positive since the beginning of the pandemic, is that it can bring people closer together. Already I have spoken to people in the States and Canada – incredible!
At the moment I am booking for groups only, but may well put up some dates for individuals to book onto in the New Year – I’ll see what sort of response I get first.
I have painted some watercolours, folded them into concertina books and bound them with hard covers. They were done in my studio overlooking the marsh just before the lockdown started. I am finding that a lot of the work I am making at the moment is in response to past experience and each of these images is an interpretation drawn from my visual memory. The shapes, lines, spaces and light are a combination of inventiveness and actuality.
Marsh Watercolour Book #2/2020
The writer AS Byatt said, ‘Memories can be polished, like objects taken out, burnished and contemplated’, and indeed we do not record experiences precisely, as in a photograph. Instead we take parts of the experience and reconstruct it rather than retrieve an exact copy, adding feelings and knowledge of other experiences into the mix. Each time we remember, we remember differently.
Marsh Watercolour Book #3/2020
I have discovered that the very act of remembering has enabled me to create a distance from an experience so that the original observations and thoughts have the opportunity to re-emerge from my mind transformed by my imagination (and other past experiences) to make a new and more lively construction of a remembered reality.
Marsh Watercolour Book #5/2020
We are all, of course, distanced from all sorts of experiences at the moment so the opportunity to remember and to reconstruct in order to create something new is very pertinent.
Marsh Watercolour Book #4/2020
These Marsh Watercolour Concertina books have been painted on Saunders Waterford HP watercolour paper, with a black bookcloth cover and I have put them in a simple paper pocket cover for protection. They are 16.5 x 75.5 cm (open) 17 x 10 x 1 cm (closed) and each book is signed on the back with a catalogue number.
How would you like to join me in Italy on an Exploring Place workshop? I have been invited to teach a 5-day course in October 2020 at the stunning 18th century Masseria della Zingara in Puglia, Italy.
The masseria at dawn
The masseria, sits in 20 tranquil acres of olive, cherry and almond groves and I’m very much looking forward to walking, exploring, noticing, documenting and making in this beautiful environment and sunny climate. I hope some of you would like to join me!
Small, handmade, coptic bound sketchbook
Each morning will start with a walk where the emphasis will be on paying attention and documenting our experiences in sketchbooks that we will make ourselves. Using all of our senses we will explore the contours of the landscape, objects, materials, and the effect that air, wind, light and sound have on the environment.
Soundwalk concertina book
Back in the studio we will draw, and make and sew; feeling our way into the landscape and finding ways of documenting our own personal experience of this place. I expect to experiment with new materials, found objects and natural phenomena such as shadows, light and the wind.
Object made from found rope
The photos are examples of the type of things we will be doing. You can find more information about the workshop on the Committed to Cloth website and more information about the Masseria della Zingara here.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Detail 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’.
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.
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.
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.’