looking and links

In the last few weeks I’ve seen some wonderful and inspiring exhibitions.  A trip north took me to Perth where I saw the moving work of Angus McPhee, a man who spent most of his life in a psychiatric hospital choosing not to speak and devoting his energies to weaving structures with grass and other material gathered from the hospital grounds.  There is a touring stage show that tells his story, which sadly I didn’t see (although it is still touring). Through this exhibition I discovered the beautiful work of Joanne B Kaar, who created  replicas of some of Angus’s ‘garments’ for use in the stage show.

Angus McPhee peat creel

In Edinburgh I visited the Dovecot Studios and saw the lovely Fleece to Fibre with its wonderful links to the people who were involved in producing the wool used to weave a tapestry version of Victoria Crowe‘s Large Tree Group.  My favourite bit was actually the back of the large tapestry (still on its frame) where you could see all the hand written labels showing the breed of sheep the wool was from and the person who had spun it.  The whole tapestry was made using natural tones of wool from different breeds of sheep.

Ilana Halperlin We make geology

Also in Edinburgh I visited the National Museum of Scotland to see this intriguing exhibition by Ilana Halperin. Ilana’s use of geological processes to collaborate in making her work was really interesting and there is a lovely guide to the exhibition that you can download from the page I’ve linked to above.

Back home I had my first visit to see Cloth and Memory {2} at Salts Mill.  My friend Hannah is exhibiting in this and used my spinning wheel to spin fibre that she found at the Mill into balls of yarn that are included in the exhibition, so I have had a sneaky insight into a bit of the work before it all went up. There is a lovely film here that shows her spinning the wool in the amazing space where the exhibition is.  Because I live just up the road and the exhibition is one for a couple of months I can take my time with this one and visit as many times as I like: there is a lot to see.  On my initial walk round a coupe of things really caught my eye, including some little interventions on the crumbling walls by Jeanette Appleton. They reminded me of this project by my friend Ruth.



Textures of Spurn opens tomorrow at The Ropewalk gallery in Barton upon Humber.  I’m braving the snow we have forecast and hoping to be there tomorrow, even if no one else comes!  I delivered the work on Tuesday and had time with Richard, Exhibitions Officer, deciding how to hang the work.  It is such a different space from the lighthouse!  I found the space quite daunting at first and was concerned that the work wasn’t going to have the impact it had in the previous setting.  By the time I left (in the snow – North Lincolnshire was looking gorgeous) I was really pleased with how it was coming together and I’m excited about seeing it all complete tomorrow.

If you don’t have far to travel and the snow allows then do come along – it’ll be warm in the gallery!  The exhibition is on until 24th February.

Ropewalk setting up


Some time away is a mixed blessing: much needed and precious time with people I love and a chance to step back from the busy home/work life, have some breathing space; always entered into with the knowledge that there is so much to do back in the studio/office.

However, once I can relax into it of course there is so much rich experience to be had.  Time in Somerset and Cumbria this Easter have given me all of these things.  A visit to ‘Damson Country‘ and the Arts and Crafts House at Blackwell are particular highlights.

I’ve known about Blackwell House for years but hadn’t visited.  It was the exhibition ‘Woven from Nature‘ that prompted this visit and, although I knew this was a special example of an Arts and Crafts House, I wasn’t quite prepared for how breathtaking it would be.  You can’t photograph inside the house but you are encouraged to sit on the many cosy window seats and take your time.  This was an absolutely necessary part of drinking the place and it’s stunning location in. 

The exhibition is beautifully curated (on until 29th April so still over a week to see it).  I’ve seen Jilly’s work before a number of times and seeing her colourful pieces in a new location felt like re-visiting old friends.  

I was fascinated by the detail of Mary Butcher’s willow pieces; how a strip of willow can be so ribbon-like in the way it is wound and binds and catches the light as it does so:

What was really clear was the deep understanding of material in all four artists work.  As Maggie Smith says: 

“the themes of my work arise from the ebb and flow of natural cycles, the relationship between maker and materials and by a deep exploration of the materials themselves.” 

Maggie‘s use of found objects, particularly beach-derived ones, had a special resonance for me and her use of seaweed as a basis for cording, twining, knitting, vessel-making was fascinating.

Once outside the house you discover Laura Ellen Bacon’s wierd installation, which emerges out of and oozes down the building and out into the landscape.  If you stand in a particular place on the lawn the two pieces come together, appearing to flow from the roof, right over the wall to the lower terrace.  
Whilst I was enjoying these forms in the spring sunshine (a gap between heavy April showers) I was quite shocked by some of the comments of other visitors; people who were so closed off to the possibilities, the craftsmanship and relevance of such art.  It seems so right for work such as this to be installed at a building whose history is all about craftsmanship and design.  You wonder why some people visit these places if they are going to dismiss something so quickly.  It really made me think about how people might view my work, not that it is in any way approaching the league of what I saw here.  How can you engage people in work that is not immediately ‘pretty’?  Some people will ‘get’ it and some won’t, so is it worth trying?  Even with sensitive and informative interpretation so many people seem to dismiss things without any thought.  I’m afraid it gave me the blues!  

something pretty

do something pretty while you can
Belle and Sebastian

I am always open to opportunities for creating something and this is particularly important when I’m in the middle of a period that doesn’t feel very productive creatively. I love long journeys, especially on a train (as long as it all goes to plan, but even if it doesn’t there is something of an adventure about it when you have to be flexible suddenly as things change).  I love that flashing past of landscape and tiny snapshots of detail.  Sometimes I’ll just let it flow past me and other times I want to record it.

I traveled to London again this weekend to be in the gallery for a day and then take down the Mall exhibition, which, by the way, was a real pleasure to have been involved in.  Spending time alone is refreshing and being away from home somehow forces you to spend time thinking.  

I have a little sketch book in my bag at all times.  This one is a new one and has just words so far (wiggly ones as most were written on a moving train).  Here are some of the words from my journey:

It has been the most sparklingly beautiful of winter days
clear blue sky all day
bright but pale sunshine and a hard frost, which has remained in place all day wherever the sun hasn’t reached.

The almost-setting sun races along on my right
sometimes almost blinding
sometimes obscured from view
by a wall or partially by the filigree network of silhouetted trees.

The shapes of the trees cannot hide in this clear light
each one standing tall and naked and still
shadows cast by the low sun turn an otherwise featureless field into a striking series of ridges

A frozen pond
an abandoned playground
church steeples
church towers
an old windmill tower
all grey silhouettes 
cut out shapes against an only-just blue sky

A solitary small cloud
shaped like a child’s drawing of a horse
now a camel
then some kind of sea creature
is crossed by a small flock of birds.
Where do they go with such purpose on as cold a day as this?

The fiery orange ball slips into the horizon haze
swiftly changing the mood
bleached stubble in disarray over dark earth
Suddenly the clarity is gone
a mist adds to the gathering darkness.

On my return journey it was dark all the way so I couldn’t see out of the window.  Instead I read the whole of a book that I was given for my last birthday but hadn’t opened yet (see the list of books by my bed):  A Bigger Message – Conversations with David Hockney, by Martin Gayford.  I love the fact that you can read a whole book on one journey.  I would never sit and read a book like that at home, always too much else to do.  

David Hockney is someone for whom my admiration and respect grow all the time.  Before moving to Saltaire I knew very little about him and, for me, his work has taken time to ‘get’.  Having a major collection of his work a few minutes walk away from my home means that I’ve been able to get to know it slowly.  He is such an exciting artist who is constantly pushing things.  Inspiring stuff!

london weather

The weather has been so wild on and off for the last couple of weeks.  There was complete chaos on the rail system when I traveled down to London last week.  My train was delayed by 2 1/2 hours, although because of something completely seperate from the weather related hold-ups elsewhere.  That evening, after leaving the gallery, the wet pavements reflected and multiplied the Christmas lights and the Olympic count-down thing in Trafalgar Square.

By Wednesday morning the wet weather had cleared and London was bathed in beautiful soft winter sunshine.  It reminded me of similar conditions on visits to both Paris and Venice at this time of year.  The buildings around Trafalgar Square looked gorgeous and I felt spoiled to be able to have an hour as a tourist before I was due at the Mall Galleries.


>Things have been a bit quiet on the creative side for a while, apart from some creative packing of boxes.  I’m preparing to move house and so some things just have to be put on one side for a while.

I heard on Saturday that my application to Arts Council England for funding for a residency project I’m planning for next year was not successful.  I was initially very upset, gutted in fact:  a lot of time, energy and hope goes into such things.  However, I’m growing more philosophical about it.  I had some really good feedback, so I know that my application ticked all their boxes but that there just isn’t enough money to go around.  Although they recognise that this is a crucial stage in an artist’s career, and that funding can give an almighty boost, I understand that it is also quite a gamble to give funding to a recent graduate.   I am reminded that many artists take years of applying before they actually get anywhere with this kind of funding.  I’m determined not to put the project in the bin yet, I have avenues still to explore and plans may have to be altered to make it all happen.

Meanwhile, I made a return visit to Runswick Bay, almost exactly a year after my first visit there.  The weather was calm and grey (after a starry, starry night) when I first stepped on to the beach with the light changing rapidly, coming and going through racing clouds.  Further along the beach the wind suddenly seemed to swing round and strengthen so that the tops of the waves were blown back out to sea and sand was blown in great fuzzy swathes up the beach.

Things were mostly in grey-scale, or in black and white when the light was strong: high contrast with reflections on water of land in black and sky in bright white.

The grey-scale was occasionally interrupted by gaudy scraps of washed up plastic or the brightly coloured boats that sit about the place.

The chance to get away to somewhere different for a few hours was welcome.  To be by the sea is always a rejuvenating experience; to be out in the air and the wind and get so cold that it takes hours to feel warm again; to drink it all in – the light, weather, the constantly changing shapes and patterns of the water and sand.  I was reminded of how much remains un-resolved from my last visit here.  So much of my work and thinking is coastal at the moment and it looks like it will remain that way for some time yet…

>the old fishing station


I’ve been kind of sitting on this one for a while, saving it up, trying to get my head around the experience of this place. I was staying on the north west coast of Scotland, an area I’ve been coming on holiday to all my life. This place is nestled well and truly in my soul.

This visit was a kind of working holiday – work in the mornings, beach in the afternoons – and all the time this ever-changing view of the sea and the distant hills of Skye and the northern outer Hebrides beyond.

There is a beach beyond the end of the road (where once I rode a horse as a child and the queen had a picnic with her yacht anchored out in the bay) that gets my vote as one of the most beautiful places in the world.

At the southern end of this beach sits the old fishing station. It‘s just a hut, open to the elements; no door or glass in the windows. Inside it is piled full of stuff: ropes, buoys, wood, old tyres, tins, rusty this-that-and-the-other.

Some of this stuff is still used on occasion I guess but there is also a whole load of rubbish. Things are just left as if someone was to come back and use them but in the mean time they’ve gone rusty and are rotting in the salty air and the weather (there is a lot of weather here!). The local livestock obviously use the hut for shelter at times too – they’ve left their mark.

Inside, on the shelves, there are all sorts of things that are now rusted and of no use for their originally intended tasks.

Outside, more rubbish is strewn about, half reclaimed by the sand and rough grassland on the dunes.

Even the outside has a ramshackle collection of nails along its weather beaten boards. This place is/was all about utility and nothing to do with aesthetics but I was totally captivated by it and, throughout my stay, returned a number of times to explore its contents and the treasures of the beach it sits by.

>a musical interlude

After my final deadline a week or so ago I had a little time away as a bit of a treat. It was a very fleeting visit to Suffolk, but absolutely worth the long drive to get there and packed full of sensory delights.

The main reason for going was to hear this amazing ensemble perform at the Aldeburgh Festival. Not only are this group technically brilliant I love their ethos: they are passionate about playing music in the absolutely best way they can, coming together to work intensively on one piece at a time, performing one piece only and without a conductor. They spoiled the one-work-thing a little by playing an encore (beautifully!) but they obviously feel huge pressure from venues and audiences to conform to the conventions of performance that we have. The courage at takes to perform one work only is similar to that needed to show one work only in an exhibition. This isn’t what people expect – they want as much as they can get for their money, but if it is about quality rather than quantity then the result can be so much more affecting.

It was a very moving performance. This group have to communicate with each other in the way that a quartet would, but there are 35 of them. They know each other’s parts inside out as well as their own. Without the barrier of a conductor standing with their back to the audience the concert felt like such a completely shared experience between players and audience – really something very special.

The evening before we stumbled upon this intriguing place, where the instrument workshop is open to the street and all the violin maker’s tools were on view. We peered through the windows at the strange bits and pieces: clamps and planes, partly carved shapes, bottles of varnish – a hive of craftsmanship left for the night.

And then there were various other interesting shops to peer into…

There were reed warblers in the reed bed that Snape concert hall sits next to and that this Family of Man looks out over, warbling away and flitting between the raindrop bejeweled stems.

And as for the beach at Aldeburgh, which in many ways was reminiscent of Dungeness (it even has a nuclear power station within view) but not nearly as barren and strange, well there just wasn’t enough time to take it all properly… I’ll just have to go back again.

Concert listening: Beethoven’s 4th Symphony