Category Archives: looking

Landscape Change, Material Change

Here on the coast nothing is ever the same.

I have many routes that I regularly walk. Some I do more frequently than others and my favourites may be done once or twice a week. At a glance the landscape doesn’t seem to alter, but as the months go by seasonal change brings different light, colour and weather. Year on year the birds that fly overhead come and go and the plants that bloom at the side of the paths grow and die back. Twice a day the tides ebb and flow and move the shifting sands up and down the beach.

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9 Hanging Salts Pots – 2 years ago

Yesterday I walked at Burnham Overy Staithe. This is one of my favourite walks (at least once a week) as it is always varied and interesting. On this occasion the tide was coming in. There was a brisk northerly wind and a few sailing boats were tacking against it up the creek to wider waters. The sun was warm on my back but high cumulus clouds were threatening rain inland.

DSC_19559 Hanging Salts Pots – 2 years ago

At the end of the raised dyke I turned left to walk along the side of the marsh round the spit of land called Gun Hill. Something had changed – the large, floating and rather ugly, grey shipping container that had, surprisingly, sat on the edge of the marsh, (I think it may have been an artist’s studio) had been taken away. This was a blow as the low, wooden slatted shelves built into its side have provided a place to sit, drink coffee and draw many times in the past. Last time I was there the wooden slats had been prised up; pulled violently away from the container I thought it had been the fault of vandals, but maybe it was time for this temporary shelter to move on.

P10108149 Hanging Salts Pots (detail) – today

Round on the beach a large flock of birds was flying low over the sea edge. Skimming the water, they curved round and landed on the shingle just in front of me. They were well camouflaged by the grey, white and black pebbles but through the binoculars I could see that they were a huge flock of little ringed plovers. I’ve never seen so many together – there were perhaps fifty or sixty birds hopping around. Suddenly another flock flew in and landed beside them. They were sanderling: another, slightly smaller flock of small grey/white birds. I stood and watched them until a passing dog ran towards them and up they rose to land, in safety, further along the beach.

P10108219 Hanging Salts Pots (detail) – today

With the large spring tides we have been having recently, a result of the autumn equinox, I noticed another change in the landscape. The force of the incoming water had pushed the sand up the beach into undulating, shelved ridges. I don’t suppose it will be long before the wind blows it all back down the beach and flattens its surface out again.

P10108089 Hanging Salts Pots (detail) – today

When I make work, I always have this mutable environment in my mind. I aim to evoke the shifting landscape and the consequential implied passing of time in the processes and materials that I use. Salt is one of the materials I use to suggest this as the cyclical transformation of the material from to solid to liquid back to solid is a transformative, time-based process.

P10108029 Hanging Salts Pots (detail) – today

A couple of weeks ago I had reason to look at one of my saltworks, 9 Hanging Salt Pots, that had been packed away for a couple of years. As I took it out of the packaging I was initially shocked to see how much the work had deteriorated. I am, of course, aware that salt is corrosive, but other works have not corroded and broken down in quite the same way as this work. The iron wire that I use to stiffen the rim of the works had completely rusted through – eaten away over time by the continuing action of the salt that surrounds it, so that the eyelets were broken in several places. The cloth was still intact, but the areas coloured by the rust were thinner and beginning to rot. I feel as if it is just a matter of time before the cloth also breaks down.

P10108139 Hanging Salts Pots (detail) – today

My first reaction was ‘on no!’. But on reflection this action has to be a good thing. I want my work to appear weather-worn and to look as if it has had a previous life. What better way is there to achieve this than for the materials I use to actually do their job and to break down the works over time? This is a lesson to be learned and I will definitely exploit it in the future. The only problem is that I might have to put it away in a box for two years!

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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.

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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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.

Sampling

There has been no let up since the Knitting & Stitching shows at the end of last year! I’ve had to slam straight into gear and put my mind to the next (very busy) six months. Before the end of June I have two exhibitions to make substantial new work for (more on these later) and a workshop, Exploring Place, that is happening in an environment, about which, I haven’t previously made work.

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It is very important, to me, that the materials and processes I use reflect the environment that I am working in. Previously, the Exploring Place workshop has taken place in a coastal environment and so my support material doesn’t apply in this instance as it is taking place inland, in the mountains and woods of southern Switzerland.

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So, I’ve been out in the field. I’ve been exploring the beech woods of the Surrey hills, and the pinewoods that back the beach in Norfolk; collecting information, documenting it, collecting specimens and making work that evokes this type of environment.

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The students and I will be looking, listening and touching outside in the woods, and these drawings and small works reflect some of the ideas and techniques we will be exploring.

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Walk 1 – Cley

There is a ‘big’ high tide and I decide to go for a walk at Cley.  Driving past the quay at Wells I see the environment agency people out in full force and so decide to drive down to the quay at Blakeney on the way, just to have a look.

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A strong northerly wind is pushing the water higher than it is supposed to go, and the water is lapping over Blakeney quay. When the wind pushes the tide in like this it becomes obvious why tall, sturdy poles line its edge. The boats strain their moorings as they level with the top of the quay and are pushed up against the restraining posts by the wind and the water; without these poles the boats would be grounded, high and dry, as the water ebbs away.

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I carry on to Cley and driving down the road to the beach I can see enormous waves topping the shingle bank – it is going to be a dramatic sight. The car park just behind the beach is full of water; the sea seems to be seeping through the shingle and filling the lower ground. Out of the car I’m hit by the full force of the wind and quickly realise that a walk along the beach would be potentially dangerous as huge waves are crashing high up the beach, higher than I have ever seen them go before. In places they top the bank and surge down the other side onto the marsh.

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As I stand and watch, other people appear, and also stand mesmerised by the boiling sea. They have cameras and take photos but I have nothing to record the scene with. Instead I just look.

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Spray is blown high into the sky by the wind as the waves peak and then crash down. The sound is deafening: a loud, thundering roar that resonates deep inside you and the rasping, scrape of stones as they are pulled by the back draft. Seagulls are swooping low, flying just above the waves. They seem to be playing dare, as every now and then one flies below a breaking crest into the seething belly of the wave, before rising up again to glide, unconcerned, above the foaming water.

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It’s hard to describe the power and insistence of the sea, but when I get home I do some drawings to try and capture its movement …. I think they are rather too tame!

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