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.
It has taken me a little bit of time to settle into this unusual time and to discover how I will be for what looks like to be the foreseeable future. I had a period of anxiety and being scared in the first few days and found that I couldn’t think about, let alone focus on my work. But by not looking at the news (something I recommend) or social media I have relaxed into what is now my new normal. I am lucky to be a person who is never bored and I can always find something to do. So as well as cleaning things that haven’t been cleaned for years, I have been knitting, baking, taking a daily walk, and making some new work.
After the first few unsettling days I found that my mind was beginning to clear and ideas started to percolate. I began to make. There was no great concept, just some materials and my hands. I let things take their own course and allowed myself just to do what I like to do. I have finished these two small pieces of related work. Both sets are made up of 24 tiny little thumb-sized pots. One set is salted and the other set is waxed. One set is enclosed the other set isn’t. The pebbles at the bottom of each pot have been gathered on my daily walk down to the beach.
This is an extraordinary and exceptionally challenging time but I am trying to think of it as special period where I can quietly be and let my mind wander where it will. I have already started another piece of work and will show that to you when it is finished.
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.
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.
Ground 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.
Ground 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.
Ground 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have finally finished a piece of work using hand-collected and hand-ground clay and chalk: substances that connect the materiality of the environment, the actual matter that landscape is made up of, and the utilitarian use of cloth in a coastal environment.
It has taken me all summer to try and get this process to work to my satisfaction. The problems have mainly been with trying to get the clay or chalk ground to a fine enough powder to combine successfully with a binder. I have come to realise that hand grinding will only get me so far – I’ll need machines to make the pigment really fine.
I’ve also tried using a suspension method to get really fine grains by letting the chalk or clay sit in water so the heavy grains drop to the bottom leaving the lighter, finer grains to be suspended in the water and to be poured off. The process is repeated until the grains are fine enough. This has been more successful but it is a lot more time consuming and there is more wastage.
This first piece uses two processes to colour the cloth. The first is a process I have used before and in this instance I placed part of the work into the sea so that the sewn eyelets rust. The second process uses yellow clay and hand-ground chalk, collected from the cliffs at West Runton, and combined with a mixture wax and linseed oil. This concoction is a traditional way of treating canvas sails in order to preserve and protect them. Read more about this here.
I’m calling this series of works, Groundcloths, and this work is half of a work I’m calling Coiled. It is the first of two coiled pieces and I’ve already started making the second, companion piece. It is made from linen, wire, hand-collected and hand-ground, hand-collected and hand-ground yellow clay, seawater, linseed oil and wax and measures 30 x 30 x 10 cm.
I have two group exhibitions next year and the 2 coiled pieces will be for one of them, although I haven’t decided which yet.
Last time I showed you photos taken on a walk to Burnham Overy Staithe and today I am showing you some drawings and the work that came from them.
As always, I document what I notice about the conditions on that particular day and on that day I wrote in my sketchbook:
The sky and sea reflect each other.
There is so much light.
The land is in relief against it – a dark, almost featureless mass.
Shape – light – dark.
It was a grey day and the tide was out. Huge expanses of wet, shimmering mud were exposed and were reflecting the light from the sky so that a pale grey light almost totally filled my view. If I squinted, half closing my eyes, the overall impression was of dark land silhouetted against the pale sky and mud.
My interest was not the detail but in the sinuous, muddy shapes formed by small channels and creeks that cut the marsh with ebbing and flowing tides.
I looked at the light, the dark and the in-between tones.
In the foreground a scribble describes the chaotic, abundance of late summer wild flowers and plants.
These collages have been made in response to the drawings. They evoke the light of the mud and sky and the heavy, dark shape of the marsh on that day. The colour is subdued and there is just enough detail to suggest the natural rhythms of the aural and visual landscape. Each collage is 20 x 40cms, mounted on 18mm board and has a waxed linen ‘frame’.
These collages will be exhibited at the Cranleigh Arts Centre, 1 High Street, Cranleigh, Surrey, GU6 8AS, from 5-16 September as part of The Makers’ Art 2017, The Society of Designer Craftsmen, North Surrey Group. The exhibition is open from 10am – 4.30pm and entry is free.
Yesterday I spent the day at St Margaret’s church in Cley-next-the-Sea installing my work ‘Chalk Ground’ and I’m very happy with how it looks. I never know quite how things will be until the work is in situ and often something unexpected shows itself as it is put in place. In this case it was the light.
It was a bright day and the sun was pouring through the beautiful window above. I knew that the fine wires hovering over the top of the ‘tubes’ would catch the light but I hadn’t realised how much the work would change as the sun moved westwards throughout the day.
In the morning shafts of sunlight highlighted the lefthand side of the work and as the hours passed the light gradually moved along the 2 metre work, accenting or leaving in shadow different sections until finally by late afternoon the sun had moved away and the work was in the shade.
I love to work with the specific conditions of a space and to be able to manipulate the work to fit the setting. In this instance I added more wires to increase the shimmering miasma above …… the beautiful light was a very welcome and serendipitous addition!
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!
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.’
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.
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.
The solid surface of the earth
A prepared surface to which paint is applied
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.
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.
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.
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.