Thursday, 20 May 2010


I'm working on a few things at the moment, here's a little detail from a small (smaller than A4) piece...

But I've been concentrating most of my energies on this new much larger piece. It's about the same height as the piece I exhibited at Gas Hall recently, but not so wide. So it's about A1 near enough in length. Here's where I'd got to at the begining of this week...

I made a few pencil sketches of this piece before I began it, and I despaired at its beginings, as it doesn't fit as comfortably as I'd wanted into the format of the page. I wanted to give the impression of a column of energy, starting with the roots of the parasite clinging onto the base of the tree, and crawling up the trunk...

...or maybe it could be draining into the ground, draining the energy of the tree. Depends on whether the glass is half full or empty I suppose.

There's a really gorgeous Nick Drake song called Parasite. For some reason I associate his intricate moody music with my drawings. That music is so English. When I hear the quick, delicate guitar phrasings I can smell the rain on the soil, hear it prickle the leaves and see the light filtering through the branches. Trees are brilliant chemists without knowing it. But then knowing a thing I think is sometimes overrated. You can be a thing without knowing it, in fact knowing what you are can often be totally detrimental. To be without knowing. Sounds like a kind of bliss to me.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Worcester Open 2010 - Part Two

When I'm out visiting exhibitions (or shopping, or anything really) I'm a lot like Philip Larkin's character in Church Going. I'm nervy about going in somewhere where I'm going to get pounced on (I was actually asked if I needed help in Argos looking at their catalogue the other day! I think not...). I don't know if I'd have had the courage to visit the 2 smaller venues of the Worcester Open if I hadn't been driven by self-interest. If it had been in a huge cavernous space, or a smaller one with not a soul about (apart from the audience), I would have definitely stayed longer, absorbed more, instead of having my usual out of the body experience of extreme self-consciousness.

On the other hand, I would not have had chance to meet Nathaniel Pitt, organiser of this year's exhibition. Apart from being very kind about my drawing, which is exhibited in the small but light and sunny Pitt Studio, he made some very interesting comments about the presentation of my work which I will very much take on board. He asked me how I choose the frames for my work, and commented that a frame should be almost invisible, that the work should be the main feature not the frame. I understand entirely the point Nathaniel was making and am very grateful for his opinion. I actually dread framing my work, partly because my decision is almost always affected by financial constraints, or by the simple geographical (and temporal) constraints of my not being able to drive! So when I'm frame buying I'm generally tied to the bus route, or to begging favours of G to drive me somewhere to look for a frame. It would be nice to be able to hand my work over to someone else to frame for me, I wish I could.

Nathaniel's own work currently invoves performance art. He told me how each of the 4 Worcester based artists at the Pitt artist-led project space are taking it in turns to direct a project, and the Worcester Open this year was his own project. Next year's project sounded very interesting too, I really look forward to seeing it.

One final word about the website of the show, which is beautifully presented and extensive. I only found this by accident while Googling links for this site, and I've enjoyed looking at leisure at images from the show. There's a nice feature for participating artists to add a comment or a statement beneath their piece, which I'd have certainly have done earlier if I'd known it was there! Maybe an e-mail to participating artists from the webmaster inviting them to do this would have been useful.

Please go and see this exhibition if you've time, it has so much to offer. It runs until 26 June, check either the website or the Art Gallery for specific opening times of all 3 venues.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Worcester Open 2010

G drove me to Worcester yesterday to see the Worcester Open, an extremely varied and enjoyable exhibition. Unusually this exhibition is held in 3 venues, each with a distinct ethos and feel. The Art Gallery itself houses the largest pieces of the show, those chosen by the selectors. The artists in this show tend to come from farther afield and include Ian Gonczarow, who featured in the BBC4 series about Goldsmiths. So the pieces in this part of the exhibition tend to have that post modern, ironic approach, or the more punchy, urban approach made famous by the likes of Goldsmiths and the Saatchi collection. My favourite piece here was by Fiona Hughes, a window glazed with small blocks of wax and lit from behind. I thought this piece was not only beautiful to look at but witty and full of poetry. Also impressive were John Robinson’s monochrome paintings, and the huge van made of corrugated cardboard by Aaron Head.

The very helpful gallery assistant gave me a map and directed me to the Annex21, which is a small gallery within the Worcester Arts Workshop, just a short walking distance from the main Museum and Art Gallery. The pieces here were generally (but not entirely) smaller in size and tended to have a more craft based approach. These included an eerie and brilliantly crafted piece by Luke Harkus-Jeffries a large dolls house size model which you can peer into via windows or tiny portholes to see the rooms, but there's definitely something suspect and gruesome going on in the basement! I'd seen one of this artist's pieces before at Wolverhampton Art Gallery a couple of years ago, I think it may have been part of the West Midlands Open. Brilliant. I also liked the 3 small glass panels hung high up on the wall above the doll’s house by Lisa Sheppey, which were beautifully crafted and had the added bonus for me on including writing about a ghost! I also really liked the small dark ruralist style landscapes by Edward Clark, again slightly discordant in atmosphere, they reminded me of slightly askew 17th Century Dutch landscapes, they had a haunted quality about them.

The Pitt Studio Gallery lies about 5 minutes walk from the main art gallery in the opposite direction to town. This is the smallest venue of the 3, a tiny veranda literally crammed salon style with pieces, both paintings, sculptures, crafted pieces, prints and drawings. Again, although the pieces here tended to be small, this wasn't entirely so, a painting by Paula Woof hangs here (again there's the inclusion of writing in the form of fragments of handwriting on the wall) and there's a very impressive painting of a man in 17th century armour by Liz Smith. I liked the dark, fairtytale atmosphere of James Howarth's landscape ‘Where the wild things are’, with a small figure perhaps lost or maybe lurking in the forest. A beautifully crafted, enjoyable piece. The pieces in this gallery, as at Annex21, are displayed Salon style, and unusually for an open, include (either on display at present or in rotation) one piece from each of the artists who submitted work to the Open. The nicely produced catalogue of the show (pricey at £10 (£8 for participating artists) but produced in full colour) is titled 'meta - open' and contains an interesting and thought provoking essay on the process of submitting work to Opens. The exhibition's organiser, Nathaniel Pitt, intends this year's open to be a comment on this process, particularly the expense of showing artwork, or submitting artwork to be judged and possibly shown (or not). I was very lucky to meet Nathaniel at the Pitt Gallery, more of which I'll blog about tomorrow...

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Bye bye New Labour...

...hello new pragmatism...

I'm not political at all, but I've found the last few days quite exciting, despite the fact that I have horrible fear that we're in for a rocky ride with our new 'cut until you drop' coalition. Gordon Brown's speech this evening was certainly dignified and quite moving. But finding politics exciting? I must be getting old.

I've finished my tree piece...

Don't have a title for it yet though.

I saw a flyer today for new exhibitions at Walsall Art Gallery. I'm ashamed to say I've never been to the new (as new as New Labour - well nearly. Incredibly Walsall Art Gallery is 10 years old this year) art gallery, but I'd like to see the exhibition by Adam Dant, his complex Piranesi style ink drawings look fantastic.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Spring fever

Lovely bluebells at Dudmaston yesterday. This must be one of the most magical times of the year in nature, I love the intermediary times of spring and autumn. Autumn makes me feel gothic, romantic and vividly sombre. Spring is kind of mystical and mysterious.

Bluebell heaven.

I've finished my small tree in blossom piece...

...but I've an idea to surround it with a frame within a frame, so I've begun these simple vignettes.

I'm doing them in a kind of scraperboard or sgraffito style using coloured pencil and oil pastel. I like working this way, it's a nice way to get colour and line to co-exist. Though the end results are pretty fragile.

Friday, 7 May 2010

No one sees, how shaky my knees...

On Sunday G drove me to Birmingham to pick up my large drawing from Gas Hall. The guy who handed my picture over said that about 20 or so pictures had sold altogether, so I was very lucky in selling mine. He said 'we all liked this one,' re: my large pen and ink drawing. Which was very nice of him. But then again, he probably says that to all the artists.

The next West Midlands Open will be held in 2 years time at Wolverhampton art gallery, and will be back in Birmingham, all being well, in 4 years time. I was told 'there are lots of opens to enter'. Which is true, but my problem at the moment is that now I'm working full-time I can't make many of the handing in dates because I'm working, or if I can hand in, I can't collect, and the galleries seem to be inflexible regarding pick ups and deliveries. G's doing me a huge favour tommorow in picking up my drawing from The Waterside Open, which is finished now, and the gallery wouldn't hold onto my drawing for another week so I could fetch it next week. All in all it's very difficult for artists to enter opens if A. They don't drive (like me) and B they work for an employer (like me also).

Some more progress of my 2 colour pieces. The small blossom picture is finished...

But the larger one is still a work in progress. A frustrating one too. I started off liking parts of it, but then made the fatal error of asking my Mum what she thought. After a moment's silence she said, 'I don't like it, it's blobby.'

So I'm now trying to unblobby it. I knew there were problems but I've got so little time at the moment, and I've invested quite a bit in this one. I'm loathe to discard it yet.

On our way home from Birmingham on Sunday G drove us to Tanworth-in-Arden where Nick Drake has a memorial stone. I think he was cremated and his ashes scattered, I'm not sure where. I've been listening to lots of Nick Drake lately, I find his music both mesmerising, comforting and discomforting. A glorious combination.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

This morning I buried a bird

No, that's not an old blues lyric. I've just come in from out of the general election drizzle, hung up my spade and tapped the mud off my shoes. Two nights ago a cat (presumably) killed a young bird in the night. It's so sad. Yesterday evening I came home from work to see a blackbird standing a few inches away from the corpse gazing at it, cocking its head to one side as if contemplating the poor thing. Do birds have any idea of mortality? Human beings are supposed to be the only creatures that are aware that we're not here forever, but a week or so ago there was a news report about a group of chimps that were apparently grieving for their lost elder. It would be awful, wouldn't it, if because of one dead bird, another bird was struck by the epiphany of death, and this news spread via birdsong to infect every bird?

I'd hate to be the one responsible for the death of birdsong. No birds could sing because sorrow had struck them dumb. There's a fairytale in there somewhere.

I did actually write a story years ago about the end of birdsong, but the idea was muddy and I grew obsessed with the wrong thing in it. It languishes still in the technical conundrum that is my external hard drive.

Enough of this purple procrastination. I've got a couple of hours this morning before I start my day job, and I've got work to do.

No bird will ever come to harm that sings in this tree.

Another new work in progress. Very small this one. An experiment, and I'm liking the way it's going.