The early morning news tells me that last night was the coldest night of the winter so far and that other parts of the country have been disrupted by snow. As yet we haven’t seen snow but looking out all is grey and white . A thick frost blankets the fields over towards Holkham and a light haar is hanging in the air.
Down on the quay a grey mist hangs just above the marsh and the water is completely still. There isn’t a breath of wind but it is bitingly cold. Behind the granary there is a slight golden glow as the sun begins to appear above the town.
I walk down the beach bank towards the sea. Coming in from the North East are skeins and skeins of geese and I can’t miss their woodwind chatter as they call to each other high up in the sky. The low sunlight catches the underside of their wings as they fly right overhead – a fluttering sparkle in the clear blue sky.
In the water a cormorant dives and I follow its underwater path by the stream of small, meandering bubbles that rise to the surface. It stays down for so long that I almost look away and walk off, but suddenly it reappears, a black shadow reflected back by the water.
Yet more geese fly over and their calls fill the air. The sun has now risen fully above the town and other bird sounds join in: gulls, oystercatchers and a curlew. It almost seems as if they have waited for the sun to begin their day.
I walk back along the quay and the sun has begun to burn off the light mist and the contours of the marsh are highlighted by a golden yellow glow.
A walk along the footpath by the pines at the back of the beach.
The rustle of dry branches and the steady, hushed tramp of boots on a slightly sticky surface is accompanied by the gentle chattering of pink-footed geese as they fly overhead to their night-time roost.
It is peaceful in the almost quiet stillness.
Behind me, on the horizon, is a thin clearing of clouds. The dropping sun appears below, a scant semi-circle of glowing light that is diffused softly through the surrounding sky.
I walk on. And look round. Brighter now. In the clear sky is a line of brilliant orange, a streak of golden colour in a grey world.
I walk on. Tall reeds and spiky blackthorn to my right. I glance round and look through the lacework vegetation turned black by the brilliant light beyond.
I walk on. And look round again. The heavy sun sits poised between cloud and horizon. A burning sphere waiting to drop.
I walk on. Moments later the light dissolves. I turn yet again. The sun has gone down below the horizon leaving a final blush of colour.
I walk on. The light flatter, and greyer than before.
Recently I have been re-reading books, that in the past, have been helpful in contextualising and backing up my practice. I am currently trying to ‘place’ the work I am doing at the moment and for some reason the reading isn’t helping.
The solution, as is often the case, is to get out into the open and to feel the air, walk on the ground and to mingle with them.
‘in this mingling, as we live and breathe, the wind, light, and moisture of the sky bind with the substances of the earth in the continual forging of a way through the tangle of lifelines that comprise the land’. Tim Ingold, Being Alive
To experience the landscape first hand is, for me, always the starting point. It is the place where you can let your senses and your imagination wander – to find something inside of you where there was nothing before and to find what you were searching for.
Reading certainly has its place, but at the moment going out, looking, hearing and touching the landscape and then responding to those experiences moves me forward in a more fulfilling way.
These were watercolours done in the studio immediately after a sustaining and refreshing walk.
I seem to have had a lot of waiting around recently – waiting for paint to dry, waiting for plaster to dry and waiting for clay to harden. With time to spare I’ve taken a cup of coffee, my sketchbook and paintbox and have been recording what I see out of the studio window. The ‘bones’ of the view rarely changes: look left, right or straight ahead, but the light, the weather and what my eyes alight on at any one time is different each time.
My Iceland collection has expanded and this is what my work table looks like at the moment. I have made some more plaster reliefs, but you will also see that other found objects have crept in.
Flints and oyster shells with holes made from boring sponges collected on the the beach here in Wells have been included in the collection as I start to make connections between the objects found in Iceland and more familiar objects found here on the beach at home. The shape and texture of the Icelandic bone fragments bear more than a passing resemblance to the pieces of broken flint and likewise the small Icelandic volcanic pebbles relate directly to the holed shells.
I make some more plaster reliefs, this time of flints, and as a direct representation they work very well. However, I want something that is more open to interpretation …. something that has been created out of my own imagination and that is able to blur the boundaries between the bone/flint and shell/pebble samples.
In an attempt to better understand the shape and form of the flints and bones I draw them and in doing so I realise that the reliefs don’t do what I want them to do; their bases are too square and uniform, and the pressed forms are incomplete. I want a full 3-d form. So I try something else and enclose a flint protrusion in clay and fill the resulting indentation with plaster.
This small fragment (it’s about 5cm high) could be either bone or stone.
I make some more ambiguous fragments and feel as if they are closer to, but not exactly what I am aiming for. I think it was the producer John Read who said, ‘Art is the expression of the imagination not the imitation of real life’. I am not trying to imitate or to recreate but to make something new and to create new connections. My thinking and making continues!
Exciting things have been happening here over the last couple of weeks and I have just moved into a new studio in Wells. It is an old whelk shed and is one of a few buildings that were originally used by fishermen to process and boil whelks and other shellfish. These sheds have now been replaced with more efficient and modern buildings elsewhere in Wells and so some of them are now being used as artist studios. It is under 10 minutes walk from my house so is very convenient.
It is quite a large space – approximately 10 x 5 m (although every time I go in there it seems to get smaller),
and it is quite basic, with a tap, electricity and a wood-burning stove for heat in the winter (it has had a coat of paint since the photo below was taken).
You can’t see from the photo above, but the view through the window is wonderful, and looks over the water and the marshes ….
….. I’m not sure I’ll ever get any work done!
I’m slowly moving everything in and putting up shelves and storage. Soon I hope to be showing you work that I have made there.
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.