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.
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.
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.
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.
The Knitting and Stitching shows have finished. It was a wonderful experience and so good to speak to so many enthusiastic people and to get such positive feedback. Thank you to everyone who came, looked, asked questions and were fantastically encouraging. I was exhausted at the end but have spent the past week catching up on domestic things and having a bit of a sit down!
For me this has meant catching up on some reading. I divide my reading matter into ‘upstairs’ books (a secret love of detective fiction) that are for reading in bed and ‘downstairs’ books (books I can get my teeth into and learn something new). I read from a wide range of topics: anthropology, history, natural history and science, and both poetry and prose, to name just a few.
At the moment I have a pile of books waiting to be read
and two journals that I have recently bought.
Elementum describes itself as a journal of nature and story that includes writing from Cornwall showcasing art, photography & features inspired by our connection to the ocean & landscape. This is the first volume and it explores the theme of Calling. It is beautifully produced on nice paper and has wonderful photographs and artwork. I have ordered the second volume that will arrive soon. The second journal, Reliquae, is printed by the Corbel Stone Press and is also a compendium of poetry and prose about landscape, place and philosophy.
There’s nothing I like better in the winter than to draw the curtains when it gets dark, make a cup of tea and sit down and read …. this lot will keep me going for a while. (I always have a pencil for marking interesting passages and this one above is particularly good!)
I’m taking a break from all social media over the Christmas period. It will be a time to relax, recharge and catch up. I’ll be back in the New Year to let you know about an idea that has been percolating in my mind for a while.
Finally, you may like to know that I have put four Marshscape Collages into my shop.
Despite the fact that it has rained just about everyday for the last few weeks the paths along the edge of the marsh are dry. In winter they are permanently wet and muddy – too muddy to walk along without wellies. However the irregular intervals of warm sun and wind at this time of year, coupled with a week of small tides, means that the paths have dried out to a crazy paving of cracked mud and they are now negotiable.
I reach the hut (portacabin) where I was hoping to sit and draw but someone is there before me, perched on a convenient ledge, face up to the sun and quietly enjoying the heat. This is a favourite spot and I have sat here and drawn many times. I move on and find a dry, sand-pebbled spot at the end of the point overlooking the Scolt Head channel.
The tide is out and there are many birds poking about in the mud. A group of oystercatchers chirp continuously with their ‘peeping’ call. They run around on short, red legs and then suddenly rise up, black and white stripy wings flashing in the light, only to land a few yards away, to continue feeding, talking and bickering – a typical family.
A streak of white comes in from the left and lands. Elegant legs and a crooked neck. A little egret stands out brightly against the dark mud. These egrets are a common sight here now on the marshes. At this distance I can’t see its bright yellow feet.
Gulls wheel on the thermals and a skylark rises up from the dunes behind me. Its melodious song strengthens as it flaps its wings and climbs higher and higher. It is still singing half an hour later as I get up and walk on.
You close your eyes and see
the stillness of
the mullet-nibbled arteries, samphire
on the mudflats almost underwater,
and on the saltmarsh whiskers of couch-grass
twitching, waders roosting, sea-lavender
faded to ashes.
From Here, at the Tide’s Turning, Kevin Crossley-Holland
The work I have been concentrating on for the past 9 months is for the autumn Knitting and Stitching shows and is, as always, inspired by the North Norfolk coast. It comprises a major new body of work The Sluice Creek Cloths.
Sluice Creek is a narrowing watercourse that runs off the main channel at Wells-next-the-Sea and from it spring a network of meandering creeks and tributaries. Running through the saltings its banks are rich with mud, sea lavender, samphire and birds. Rotting posts, the remains of bridges and jetties, dot its edges. On the highest tides the whole area is totally covered by water but at low tide the water drains away to leave a slick, shining surface rich in nutrients and teeming with life. It is a complex, ever-changing place and I have sailed here at high tide and walked over the mud. I know it well, but its twice daily ebb and flow means there is a continuous transformation and it hasn’t given up all its secrets to me yet.
The cloths reflect a series of vividly remembered encounters and engagements with this place: things I have heard and seen and noticed. Each work notates an ordinary but memorable, event: the movement of the tides, the sun moving over the marsh and creating shadows, the clink of halyards knocking against masts, the call of a curlew or the moment the moon rises above the horizon.
So far I have made four cloths and I hope there will be more. I’m not ready to show them yet (I will do before long), so in the meantime I have been playing around with my new printing press and these drypoint, collograph and carborundum prints are trials! They are of Sluice Creek and are drawn from memory.
I have finally got to the stage with part of my latest piece of work where I can dip it into the sea and I have been thinking about why this process is so important to me.
Recently, I have placed the finished cloths into the sea two or three times. This, I thought, was principally to rust the iron rings that I had sewn into them, but it has become obvious that the process of taking the cloth to water has more significance than just the visual effect of the rusting.
The cloths are inspired by vividly remembered encounters and engagements with the coast: processes, sights and sounds of the the sea, the beach and the marshland. Placing the work and photographing it in the environment that inspired it somehow brings the whole thought process back full circle.
For me the work I make in response to a place is about the experience of looking, touching, hearing, light and space. The work, for me, is not separate from the original experience. The energy of the place is within the energy of the piece, although its form and material come from my imagination. The introduction of the work to the place brings together two halves of a whole.
The photographs I take of this ‘introduction’ are not a work in themselves, but the documentation of bringing work and place together is highly significant to me and the photographs form a visual record of the act. The other record is of course the resulting rust marks that stain the cloth from the contact of sea and iron.
Without this baptism in the sea the work would not be complete.
I’ve recently started a new project that responds to the collection at Haslemere Educational Museum. This is a traditional museum – dare I say, rather old-fashioned. It was founded in 1888 by Sir Jonathan Hutchinson as a centre for learning. All the artefacts were at that time on open display as Hutchinson ‘believed that people could learn as much through their hands as their eyes’.
I am of course a great believer in understanding things using all the senses and not just the eyes, so this idea appeals to me. Unfortunately the artefacts in the three permanent Geology, Natural History and Human History galleries are now all behind glass. However, the work I am making for the exhibition responds to the idea of open display and will be highly textured and tactile – it will encourage exploration with more than just the visual sense.
You will not be surprised to hear that I was drawn to the Natural History galleries and the collections of insects, bones, marine life and shells. Most of the artefacts were collected by naturalists and collectors at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. These collections show an obsession for exploring, learning and understanding new and mysterious things. Many of the collections are neatly labelled with the artefact’s scientific name, date of collection and locality.
I am a collector. I can’t help myself. It is as Rachel Whiteread says, a type of ‘absent-minded browsing, like doodling in a sketchbook’. I wander along the beach, eyes down, mind whirring as I bend down and pocket stuff. I take it all home and put it in containers – often the bottom of milk cartons (which now I look at them are interesting in themselves as they are dated and the supermarket they come from gives me a clue to where the ‘stuff’ was collected). This, up to now, has been the limit of my rather crude form of documentation.
The plan for this project is not to use my collection but to take inspiration from it. In the spirit of the Victorian collector I will gather and place together mysterious objects to be wondered at. I will make a collection of imaginary marine debris that will consist of things that could have been found and collected along the beach strand-line – objects that could have floated ashore on the waves and deposited as the tide retreats.
So far I have made one set of objects. I will make more sets over the next few weeks and I intend to make drawings as well …. I’ll keep you posted.