Like most artists I know I'd prefer to be behind the camera than in front of it - I'd rather let the work speak for itself, but there are times when a decent photo of the artst in their studio is required. So I was lucky to have the chance last weekend of getting some professional images made by Mark K Jackson, a local partrait and documentary photographer currently working on a project to photograph artists and makers in St Margaret's House. I confess to being totally bamboozled by the technical aspects of photography: thankfully Mark knows his subject well and has some impressive kit too. I dutifully donned my dusty drawing shirt, held my drawing materials still and tried really hard not to blink. Some of the resulting images will probably sneak onto the internet fairly soon!
A very different (and more comfortable) kind of publicity opportunity presented itself recently, in the form of Wolfstar Pictures and their 'Art Drone'. As part of our Open Week/Open Studios event my fellow tenants set out to make a short film giving a taste of the creativity in the building. I was so pleased to have my studio chosen to feature in their fantastic film - see for yourself here »
Make yourself @ home - it was great! Here's the exhibition blog to tell you all about it.
It's been a weird day in studio 6.20 today - my charcoal coated creative sanctuary was invaded by shopping trolleys, power tools and flying techno drones.
I have to be honest and say that there's been no drawing done there for over a month now, other than doodles over photographs of empty gallery spaces and graph paper plans of exhibition layouts. I've really missed getting into my 'grey zone', immersing myself in the pure joy of line, tone, proportion and light. However, I have set myself the goal of curating a sizeable group show with an adventurous concept and that won't organise itself now will it. So, with twenty other artists taking part and only four days to build it in the gallery, I've been putting all my time and effort into preparations and publicity for Make yourself @ home.
I began today by transferring most of the useful and interesting things from the shed to my car, then into a shopping trolley to take them up in the lift to my studio, which meant that the trolley was cluttering up my space. A happy hour or so was spent wielding my power tools, making shelves and brackets and other fixings for the show - very satisfying also because everything was made from materials collected and retrieved over the years or 'buckshee' as the Scots say.
Then Costas and the film crew from Wolfstar Pictures came in to have a look around and see if it was suitable for the wee film they are making to promote our Open Week at St Margaret's House. We had a good chat, they said a lot of technical things I couldn't understand to each other, then we agreed how I should set it up for the filming. Here's a quick snippet introducing their idea, which involves an 'Artdrone' snooping round the studios after hours - slightly creepy but in a good way I think! Other studios are being filmed over the next few days, then we shall see the secret life of St Margaret's House.
Want to know what an Art drone is? Have a look here »
My newest challenge has been consuming all my time lately, hence the long absence from my blog. I've ventured into the realms of curating for the 'Make yourself @ home' exhibition which will be part of the St Margaret's House Open week programme of exhibitions, open studios, workshops and events, launching on Friday 11th October.
The idea has been brewing for quite some time and is largely based on my experience of running my own shows, combined with my years working to develop creative approaches to community engagement, the rationale being:
- The conventional ‘white cube’ art gallery environment can sometimes be intimidating to those not used to it
- People want to buy art but aren’t always sure how to go about it or find it hard to imagine in their homes
- Potential buyers often like to know more about the artist as well as the work - we need ways to bring artists/makers and buyers together
- Create an environment which suggests the domestic, which makes visitors feel comfortable and ‘@home’
- Set the scene with furniture, props, lighting and sound throughout the gallery, evoking different parts of the home – e.g. a bed you can lie on to view a digital gallery projected on the wall, a sofa to sit on with a tv to show artists’ and makers’ images, a dining table where you can sit on handmade chairs, displaying ceramics, textiles etc., a desk with PC to view artist/makers websites, displaying handmade books, shelves etc.
- It’s not the intention to create a ‘showhome’ in the gallery, more to allow participants to show their work in an environment that hints of home but celebrates the original and the handmade
- Be open and clear about selling and buying, make it easy for visitors to buy, easy for artists/makers to connect with potential buyers
- To enable visitors to relate to fine and applied arts as something they would have in their homes
- To showcase the work of some of St Margaret's House tenants and to hopefully sell some artwork to people who will love it.
So those were the ideals I set out with and I now have a selection of works from over 20 artists and makers to feature in the show. I also have loan of a bed, a sofa and even the toilet, which I'm hoping will create some hilarity as visitors perch on the pan to admire the 'view from the loo'!
As I was putting away the last of my works from 'Wood nude tree limb' last night, it struck me that mounting your own exhibition has a lot in common with camping. Don't take me too literally on this - there were no barbeques or long walks to the toilet during our show, it's just that the 'temporaryness' felt the same.
With both it seems that what you need to do is find a space that you like, that you feel comfortable in, then you fill it with your things, spending ages arranging and rearranging till it feels just right. Then of course you invite people to come and enjoy it with you.
I realise this isn't the way everyone does camping but I like to have my camp in reasonable order so I know where to find the lighter or the teabags or the midge spray in a hurry. And I think most campers would be fairly careful in choosing their site before they pitch their tent - as the saying goes, "Pitch in haste, regret at leisure up to your ankles in water in a force 9 gale". These were good choices thankfully, at Blinkbonny Wood East Lothian and Big Sands, Gairloch.
I used to be a puppeteer many moons ago and performing in a small touring company demands many similar skills and tasks too - meticulous planning and packing balanced by a willingness to embrace the unforseen, gamely problem solving when the sets won't fit through the doorway for instance (despite being assured by the venue that they would!). There's a huge amount of effort that goes into setting up a touring show in a new venue, making sure that everything is where it should be onstage and that the audience sees what you intend them to see. Perhaps this is where my attention to the little details such as labels being straight stems from.
There's also the short periods of intense activity contrasting with the long periods of sitting around not doing much and possibly getting a bit bored. All that transporting, building, lifting, fixing, cleaning, fiddling about, then it's done and we can all have a glass of wine.
I like to sit in the gallery during the period of the show because I enjoy meeting people and talking about the work. Their feedback and comments help me reflect on my work - it's a rather lonely business making art so it's always interesting to me to hear other viewers thoughts. When it's quiet in the gallery it's nice just to contemplate, to look at it critically from a greater distance than usual and in a different context or light. I tend to generate lots of ideas for new work during these times and other artists I've spoken to agree that can be worth mounting a show for this reason alone.
Then the show has to come down and what has felt very much like home reverts back to being just a big empty echoey space. The newly filled holes in the wall are like the yellowed patch of grass where the footprint of the tent has been - the stage is cleared, the pitch is clean. One last check around to make sure there's nothing left behind and it's all in good order for the next traveller, then we're off.
Last night's preview was very busy despite the heat yesterday, giving the four of us a great buzz. In the calm of the morning after I've taken a few panaramic photos to give an idea of how the whole show looks...
Hanging an exhibition is a task not to be underestimated. It's never as straightforward as you imagine and there are decisions to be made which shouldn't be rushed, since hanging a group show means finding the best way to do justice to everyone's work and allowing the artworks to 'speak' to each other. A curator's job is a subtle and sophisticated one - I'm only just beginning to learn how much I have to learn! I'll be curating my first large group show in the autumn and very much hope to be ready for the challenge.
There are four of us showing in Wood nude tree limb and it's been a long hot week with some very hard work but I'm pleased to day that (almost) everything is ready for our preview tonight. Just a bit of cleaning and tidying to be done, a few admin jobs and trying to stay cool when you're excited about the show and it's 27 degrees outside!
We spent most of last night placing Allan's sculpture, which was much harder than I expected - in this view it's not quite finished but we're getting there. The three dimensional work really brought the show together and made me smile when walked in to the gallery with fresh eyes after going back to the studio.
I'll be sitting in the gallery during the week so I expect I'll notice things that could be improved, both about my work and its presentation. I love having this opportunity to reflect and review, perhaps it's the nature of the creative mind always looking for a better way?
Back in the grounds of Newbattle Abbey today drawing this fallen beech:
It's unusual for me to have the opportunity to get close to the upper parts of a tree as big as this, since I'm not any kind of climber. It came down in the January storms of 2012 and the photo below was taken shortly after, while the torn trunk was still very fresh and smelling of sap.
I've been collecting as much visual information as I can while it's still in situ - it's possible that next time I visit it could be removed for safety reasons, though I'm hopeful that it will be left to sustain life as it rots.
Here's the very beginnings of a drawing made from photos taken of the tree when it was still standing, it's almost ready to leave the board now but I'm not quite ready to say "finished" yet.
Newbattle Abbey College has a long and interesting history and some of my very favourite trees.
It’s been a regular haunt for me since I moved to Scotland in 1994 and I returned today in search of some tree graffiti to get the ideas flowing around ‘Tree Stories’, a project in the pipeline which I hope to be involved in later this year. It’s being developed by Professor Ian D Rotherham at Sheffield Hallam University and aims to get the public engaged in a national hunt for marked and worked trees, recording them in photographs and trying to find out a bit more about their history.
This idea was immediately appealing to me, as I’ve been collecting images of carved and marked trees and incorporating these into my recent work.
Newbattle graffiti beech, charcoal on paper (plus detail)
It raises some interesting questions for me about where the line is drawn between vandalism and culture, damage and heritage. I’d like to find out more about how carving a living tree affects it – does it lead to stress, disease or weakness, or is the tree able to repair or isolate the damage? How much of the bark’s surface can be carved before it starts to cause serious problems for the tree?
This particular beech seems to have taken on a local significance as the place to ‘make your mark’. The oldest carving I could identify was dated 1955, but most were from the 1970s and 80s, with some much more recent.
It’s both shocking and impressive to see the whole surface of the tree marked like this – as if a large crowd had gathered by the river and started yelling their names.
I've never noticed this on my previous visits, but there are coins pressed into wounds in the bark like some sort of spontaneous offering. I've read about 'money trees' before but never seen one up close.
There are more 'Tree Stories' to come from this one I think!Tags:
I’m often asked why I’ve chosen to draw trees and the honest answer is that I really don’t know, I just found myself doing it and now I can’t stop.
It’s a subject that has so many layers of historic, cultural and symbolic meaning and such visual variety that I know I’ll never get bored. In a way, having that constraint on my choice of subject has made me feel more free to experiment with materials and forms of expression.
However, it’s also true to say that there are many things that have influenced my artistic journey to this point and, since it’s Father’s Day, I’ll give the credit to my dad.
Introducing Tony Lee – Woodturner, who died in 2007 but still keeps an eye on me in my studio. He’s pictured here in his own workshop, surrounded by the tools of his trade and looking justifiably pleased with himself, having created his own business in the dark times of the mid eighties. His first workshop was the garden shed where he taught me to turn on the lathe, cut a mortise and sand to a silky finish. I also learned about the quirks and qualities of wood as a material – how it continues to move long after it’s been cut.
I have some of his calipers in my studio now (you can see them to the left of him in the picture).
So you could say that trees have been a theme in family life as I grew up and going back a further generation this was also the case.
My grandparents lived in Worksop Nottinghamshire, close to Sherwood Forest and the Welbeck, Rufford and Clumber estates, otherwise known as ‘The Dukeries’. We spent many a happy Sunday travelling the countryside in their Hillman Imp and the highlight of a trip would be a visit to this monster:
Here’s a picture of us in authentic 1970s garb to give you a sense of scale – I’m quite glad that this old picture is grainy, so you can’t see my haircut!
The Major Oak is the most famous tree in Sherwood and possibly one of the most famous in the UK. When I was a child you could clamber all over it and my sister and I used to hide right inside its belly. These are much more recent photos I took when visiting early this year:
Of course it’s now surrounded by a fence and is extensively supported by large props. It brings to mind a zoo animal, somewhat constrained but conserved and protected at least.
How could you fail to be impressed by this ancient tree?
I don't really know where my inspiration comes from, I just hope it never stops.