Category Archives: Art Works

paintings, mixed media and 3D works

A Potpourri of Observations

This weeks photo challenge is ‘extra’.  Last week I posted off a package of work for a mixed show in Jersey, in the Channel Island, as a guest artist in Observations with Art in the Frame, at The Harbour Gallery, opening this weekend.  I hope the show goes well.

So I present a few ‘extras’ for you: a potpourri selection of details from some of the work I sent off as my contribution.  (click on images for a larger view).

Seven + One, concertina ‘book’

From the Ancient Landscape Series:

Divided Cells:

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From the Membrane Portals Series:

For other ‘extras’, see here.

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Filed under Art Works, Exhibitions, The Art Business, The Artist as Pilgrim, Wordpress Photo Challenge

A Creative Retreat: Part Two

Room to Grow

My intention is to use my time on Bryher (see part one) as a space to make work.  That’s fine, but I discover that when it comes to it, I am left wondering, is that what I really want to do?  I unpack my boxes of materials, open my sketch books, but when I start going through the motions, the old routines, I feel strangely numb, the actions robotic.  What is causing this impotence?  I am in a stunning location but I feel powerless to render so much beauty with any sense of justification.   Is a fear of failure causing this inertia?  Is my own judgement getting in the way of my creative intentions?  What am I actually trying to do?

An aerial view of an island?  Or the hull of a boat being prepared for painting at a boatyard at Porthloo, St Mary's?

An aerial view of an island? Or the hull of a boat being prepared for painting at a boatyard in Porthloo, St Mary’s?

While I was pondering my condition this quote popped up out of the blue. “I believe it was John Cage who once told me, ‘When you start working, everybody is in your studio—the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas—all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you’re lucky, even you leave.”  Philip Guston.

But I recognise some of these inhibiting factors from past experience, so I revert to my default mode and concentrate on getting a feel for this place, its people, its history, its topography, before I even attempt to tackle what is in front of me head-on: more a quest to decode the sign language this landscape presents to me.

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a long, thin dog walking in a large pebble labyrinth just above the beach.

But first, in order to break through this temporary creative blockage and chase away this Bryher-sized mountain of expectations, I need to ground myself and establish my bearings by walking the landscape and scrutinising the cartography.   The first couple of days here on Bryher I have felt strangely unsettled.  My North / South internal orientation has flipped and it takes a while to re-adjust to the magnetic North within my own body.

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As you can see from this image above (taken from one of the guide books kindly left for visitors in my cottage), the Scilly Isles looked very different 5,000 years ago when sea levels were lower.

from my 'Isles of Scilly Guidebook' (Friendly Guides, 2011)

from my ‘Isles of Scilly Guidebook’ (Friendly Guides, 2011)

Compare that with a current map of the Scillies and I begin to imagine how prehistoric Scillonians might have lived their lives.  For instance, areas of land dedicated to the dead, such as the northern section of Bryher, would have once served a larger community and is echoed by the Northern slopes of Tresco, now separated from Bryher only by a narrow channel of water (see above map).

The duality of opposites:  my desire creates a battle between the opposite twins of hope (intention) and despair (fear).

In terms of creative inspiration, in the past, I have found that exploring opposites is fertile ground for me: light / shadow; above / below; beauty / imperfection (arguably the same); staccato / slow movement; colour / absence of colour; composition / chaos; stasis / flow, etc. etc., and this retreat is no exception.

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I wasn’t looking for opposites, certainly not expecting to find them, but the more I walk around Bryher, exploring its nooks and crannies and feeling its voices echoing back at me through the ages, I begin to feel a distinct pattern emerging.  A notion that this is an island story of two halves.  Take its extremes of weather: it faces the full brunt of winter storms thrown at it from the Atlantic, yet a peaceful idyll when the seas are calm and the sun blazes down on deserted, bleached beaches.  This sense of calm in a time of peace also belies the amount of ships that have floundered off these treacherously rocky shores, thwarted by rows of jagged teeth that emerge from the waters along its western coastline, aptly nicknamed the Wreckers.  This is a place that can bite back and gobble you up if you are not careful.

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looking towards twin peaks of Samson island

Even this seemingly benign island is divided by its topography.  The gentle southern slopes of Bryher are sheltered, verdant and inhabited.  Flowering succulents grow in profusion like weeds in the hedgerows and the air is scented with herbage.  (Similar conditions to the famous Abbey Gardens on Tresco, just across the small channel that separates these two islands).  You would be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled into a garden paradise which time had forgotten.

By contrast, the northern plateau of Bryher feels like a shadow land: a desolate and eerie place where the terrifying might of the waves gouge out huge, black gaping holes in the coastline and the thin layer of vegetation hugs the ground to escape the desiccating winds.

I begin to realise why this northern place, inhospitable to man as a place to live, the exceptional concentration of cairns here indicating it was probably much more suited as a place to bury the dead, even though in the Bronze Age this would have been good agricultural land due to the mini heat wave conditions at the time.  It was also used for defensive purposes with names such as Badplace Hill, and House of the Head (a chilling reminder of the Iron Age Celts and their cult of head worship) which can be reached only by going over The Gulf.

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Shipman Head Down, underfoot a thin, springy carpet of vegetation, eroded into crevices and cracks on its north-western slopes

Entering into this place that overlooks Hell Bay, is like going over a threshold.  There is even a demarkation line where the vegetation clearly changes from small, neatly mown fields to untamed scrubland with a spider’s web network of paths strung over it.  I didn’t meet another soul on my visit here, even on a warm Spring day, when the wind was moderate, and the sea slight.  I was constantly worried about the dogs disappearing over the edge of the cliffs and was pleased to leave this plateau and its ghosts behind me.

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But it didn’t leave me.  I was left pondering about this landscape.  On top of Shipman Down Head, lying amongst the many cairns, I come across a long row of granite standing stones.  Was it a stone row or ceremonial way, a defensive boundary, or a tribal boundary?  Who Knows?  It echoes the row of stones I found on the beach at Green Bay in the south, which were the remains of prehistoric field walls, now submerged by the tide twice a day.

This discovery threw up another contrast, this time extremes of tones: the stone row standing starkly ‘white’ amidst the darker vegetation, contrasting with the submerged field boundary, its seaweed covered boulders marching into the sea, broodingly ‘dark’ against the blonde, sandy beach.

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Having explored as much of the island as I can, going from granite outcrops, entrance graves, cairns, beaches, hilltops, sand banks, even a Hangman Island and back, I am beginning to get a feel for the place and add my sketch books, pencils and pen to the collection of dog bags and old stick of lip slave in my pockets before I set off on my daily roamings.   And just draw.  Anything.

No drawing takes more than a few seconds to do.  I have to work quickly especially when rain drops fall onto my paper wanting to make their own contribution to my presence.

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A boulder on the beach, a line of rocks in the sea, a tree blown into shape by the wind, and in the process, I realise that my drawing is a way of looking, a way of seeing the landscape around me.  A way into a process.  What could be more elemental than that?  Each mark made with the pencil or pen comes from an unconscious place, unfettered by judgement or notions of precision.  A simple interpretation of what is in front of me rendered by a line, a scratchy mark, a dash, a smudge.  A shaded patch here or a line going off at a tangent there.  I am beginning to be ‘left completely alone‘.

And tried a few simple mono prints based on my drawings.

Back home, I may not have achieved what I had set out to do but I have returned buzzing with new ideas, consumed by the names of that shadow land: The Gulf, Hell Bay, House of the Head.  Entering that dark place via a Threshold (my word): A Gateway between this and the Otherworld, between normal consciousness and a spiritualised consciousness.

Combined with insights that emerged from my recent pilgrimage, these are the things that fire my imagination, the places that I want to inhabit, re-visit, to explore what they mean to me in my own deep places, and it is to these very places where I shall be heading with my next body of work.  Where the visible and the invisible meet in me and find an outlet in my practice.   And in that free-flow, reach that still point in my heart, the meeting point between heaven and earth: the only really meaningful meeting of opposites.

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This retreat has served to remind me that my desire to create can only be achieved once I have let go of any expected outcome.  Where hope and despair dissolve into simple, clear vision.  Something, obviously, I need to keep reminding myself.  And it is in this process where, if I’m very lucky, ‘I’, the judgemental part of ‘me’, will leave.

To visit other ideas about ‘room’, this weeks photo challenge, see here.

 

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Filed under Drawings, Paths of Enlightenment, Studio Practice, The Artist as Pilgrim, Walks

‘Holding the Light’ for Angela on St. Michael’s Mount

'Holding the Light', Photograph taken with a pinhole camera, by Angela Shaw.

‘Holding the Light’,
photograph taken with a pinhole camera, by Angela Shaw.

In the middle of Mounts Bay in West Cornwall, there is a tiny island that rises out of the sea just off-shore, near Penzance.   It is here, on top of this Mount in 495 AD, that the vision of Archangel Michael appeared to a group of fisherman in the Bay below.  8th May marks the anniversary of this sighting.

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View of Mounts Bay, St Michael’s Mount in the distance

Living on the hill above the bay, I can see the castellations of the castle on top of the Mount and catch whole glimpses of it when I walk the moors around my home, or the dogs along the beach at Longrock.  The storms this winter exposed remnants of the petrified forest that is normally covered by sand in the bay, reminding us of a time when it was merely a hill in the midst of a landlocked forest.

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St Michael’s Mount is a tidal island 366 m off the Mount’s Bay coast of Cornwall, England, United Kingdom. It is a civil parish and is united with the town of Marazion by a man-made causeway of granite setts, passable between mid-tide and low water’ (Wiki). 

The causeway that links the island with the mainland

The causeway that links the island with the mainland

There is something rather magical about the Mount.  Standing alone in the bay like a figure from Arthurian legend, I feel its constant presence and is always a comforting reminder of home.

 

 

This tiny island has a twin, connected by an invisible thread across the Channel, which lies just off the coast of France.  ‘Mont Saint-Michel is an island commune in Normandy, France. It is located approximately one kilometre off the country’s northwestern coast, at the mouth of the Couesnon River near Avranches. 100 hectares in size, the island has a population of 44′ (Wiki).   Here, I have been told, the tide races in at the speed of a galloping horse.  Both St. Michael islands get cut off from the mainland twice in every 24 hours.  Both have been monasteries at some time in their lives and both are dedicated to the Archangel, Michael.  More significantly for me, both lie on the Michael earth energy line where it crosses with its sister, the Mary Line, making them both pivotal points of powerful Gaia energy.

8th May, 2014.  ‘Holding the Light’.

Lantern and pin-hole camera placed on the Michael Line, St Michael's Mount.

Angela’s Lantern and pin-hole camera placed on the Mary / Michael Line, St Michael’s Mount.

 

The lantern on the Michael line, looking out to sea at the spot where the fisherman in the Bay first saw the vision of St. Michael.

The lantern looking out to sea at the spot where the fisherman in the Bay first saw the vision of St. Michael.

Angela's carefully prepared pinhole, primed and ready to go a few minutes before the 8pm start

Angela’s carefully prepared pinhole camera, primed and ready to go a few minutes before the 8pm start

 

Last week I met up with Angela Shaw (www.angelashaw.org), an MA student on the Art & Environment course at Falmouth, for a special visit to the Mount.  Angela was on a recce to check out a suitable location for her ‘Holding the Light’ project and I was on a mission to identify ‘chakra’ points for a walk I am organising for FFT (more later in a new post).  It turned out to be a very fruitful visit for both of us and I ended up offering to help in her ‘Holding the Light’ project: an 8-point photo work and light sculpture.

The 8 positions of Light

The 8 positions of Light Holders (Cudden Point is just off the map in the bottom right corner, my crop!)

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Angela’s invitation to join in the ‘Light Sculpture’.

I was given charge of the St Michael’s Mount ‘watch’.  In her ‘Guidelines for light holders/ witnesses, Thursday, 8th May, 2014’, she explains, ‘the aim is to ‘hold the light’ metaphorically, to give time and attention to the light……in a synchronised pause, knowing that 7 other light holders, over a 10 mile radius are doing the same’.  Each light holder is issued with a lantern, candle and matches, a pinhole camera, notepad and pen to record thoughts and impressions.

8th May arrived and at 7.30 in the evening, I was picked up from the slip at Marazion by a castle Landrover and driven over the causeway to the Mount, now closed to daily visitors.  From there, the castle manager, Pete, and I jumped into a golf buggy and bumped up the cobbled pilgrim path to the castle at the top where I laid out the lantern and pinhole in exactly the place Angela had identified as the chosen spot on our previous visit together, the very same spot where the Archangel had appeared to the fisherman below.

the setting sun just bursting through the mist before sinking behind the horizon

on the boat back, watching the setting sun just bursting through the mist before sinking behind the horizon.  (For more ‘on the move’ pics for this weeks photo challenge see here).

At 8 pm precisely, I opened the aperture on the pinhole camera and whilst I watched the family of Ravens playing on the cliffs just below us, Pete and Adam (and his lovely dog, Eve) went to turn on the spotlights to illuminate the castle.  At exactly 8.20, the tab was replaced over the hole in the pinhole, the candle extinguished and with the lantern packed away, we bumped our way back down the path from where I climbed into the motor craft that was waiting to take me back across the now flooded bay to the mainland, being dropped off at Chapel Rock where Victoria was recording my arrival with her film camera.

leaving the island behind me

leaving the island behind me

With the light now beginning to fade, Victoria and I walked up the hill above Marazion to watch Angela light the prepared beacon.  A few gusts of wind and the fire roared into life, easily sustaining the 20 minutes for the pinhole there to do its work.  The gentle light from the chalky lanterns now replaced by the larger flames of the beacon.  Standing there completely mesmerised by the spriggans dancing in the gloom and the glowing flames fill the darkness, I felt it had all been a rather wonderful experience and a privilege to have been part of something really special.  So thank you, Angela, for inviting me to take part in your project.  I have particularly enjoyed being a ‘light worker’.  And particularly grateful to all those who had made my visit to the Mount possible.  I can’t wait to see the resulting images from the pinholes and how Angela finally interprets her ‘synchronised pause’.

Angela lights the beacon

Angela lights the beacon.

Victoria recording the event, the lit up castle on St Michael's Mount illuminated in the distance.

Victoria recording the event, the illuminated castle on St Michael’s Mount in the distance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Light is fading as the fire burns brighter

Light is fading as the fire burns brighter

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20 minutes later and the mission is accomplished.

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Filed under Art Works, Earth Goddess, St. Michael's Way, Wordpress Photo Challenge

Shadows and Reflections

A small selection of ‘reflective’ pictures from the archive.  My painterly version of this week’s photo challenge, Reflections.

Tuscany, watercolour on paper

Tuscan Trees, watercolour on paper

Rocky Pools, Jersey, acrylic on card

Rocky Pools, Jersey, acrylic on board

Sky Pool, acrylic on board

Sky Blue, acrylic on board

Shiney Platter, ink, charcoal, acrylic and chalk on paper

Shiney Platter, ink, charcoal, acrylic and chalk on paper

Here for more photo challenge reflections.

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Filed under Art Works, my sketchbook pages

Finding Peace on Earth

To counteract the madness that leads up to Christmas (believe me I get caught up in the excitement too), I like to take myself into the landscape to restore my equilibrium.  These are some of the paintings I did from drawings done earlier in the year.

Roundhouse Village Remains, 2013, 23 cm x 18 cm, mixed media on paper

Heartscape, 2013, 23 cm x 18 cm, mixed media on paper

Winter Solstice, 2013, 23 cm x 18 cm, mixed media on paper

Winter Solstice, 2013, 23 cm x 18 cm, mixed media on paper

Roundhouse Village Remains, 2013, 23 cm x 18 cm, mixed media on paper

Roundhouse Village Remains, 2013, 23 cm x 18 cm, mixed media on paper

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Two Worthy Causes: Helping Survivors of Torture or Typhoon.

Christmas.  You know it’s that time of year when the begging letters with pitiful photos of suffering donkeys/dogs/homeless people etc., flop through your letterbox designed to tear at your heart-strings, and dig a deep hole in your pocket.  They are difficult to ignore.  I’ve seen the graphic images on Facebook too.  Images of unbelievable cruelty metered out on these poor innocent creatures.  They stay with me for days and leave me weeping with anger and sadness.

Poniou by Veronica Vickery

Poniou by Veronica Vickery

But it’s the cruelty we inflict on our fellow humans that is the most shocking of all and shatter the lives of families around the world.  Not to mention the natural disasters like the recent Typhoon Hayain that shatter the lives of millions of people.  At the very least, witnessing the survivors of these natural or man-made catastrophes serve to put any adversities we may be experiencing into perspective.  Anything that we can do, however small, to try to heal those affected and suffering is surely worth pursuing.

installation of 'kisses', Drawing the Line exhibition.

detail of installation of ‘kisses’, Paul Carter and Alexandra Zierle, ‘Drawing the Line’ exhibition.

Two exhibitions opened this week in Cornwall with the aim of raising funds for charities that help others in desperate situations: Freedom From Torture and ShelterBox.  It was a coincidence that they happened to open on the same evening.  Both causes are close to my heart and I am proud to say I have had a small part to play in both events.

preparing to hang

Works by Faye Dobinson (left) and Samuel Bassett.

‘Drawing the Line’, kindly hosted by the Millennium Gallery, St. Ives, is a sealed bid charity exhibition in aid of Freedom From Torture, the medical branch of Amnesty.  The charity aims to help rehabilitate men and women from anywhere in the world who have survived torture.  The exhibition has been organised and curated by artist, Kate Walters, and as a member of the West Cornwall branch of the charity, I offered to help ‘hang’ the show.

lunch break for Janet, Kate (and me).

lunch break for Janet, Kate (and me).

Over 150 artists, not only from Cornwall but also from across the globe responded to the call-out and generously donated works with some well-known names amongst the line-up.   Kiki Smith, Tim Shaw RA, Sarah Gillespie, Lisa Wright and Pippa Young to name just a few.  With such a diverse range of work from different artists and over 200 works, putting this exhibition together has been a considerable task and not without its challenges.

untitled, by Richard Nott

untitled, by Richard Nott

However, there are some truly stunning pieces on show alongside contributions of work by a few of the people who have been helped by FFT.   The exhibition runs until 7th December so there is still time to make a bid and own a drawing by your favourite artist!  (I have donated 4 ‘drawings’).

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A drawing by Hugh Mendes

Over £8,000 has been raised so far from successful bids.  Take a look at more drawings here.

‘The Christmas Postcard Show’ is a collaborative event this year between Badcocks Gallery and Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens.

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The exhibition is taking place in the Lime Tree Café at Tremenheere, with part of the proceeds going to ShelterBox, a charity set up in Cornwall delivering emergency relief to people around the world.  (Typhoon Hayain in the Philippines is still so recent in our memories).  The show which this year has a ‘botanical’ theme, runs until Sunday, 15th December.  You can see the works here  (I have contributed 3 small drawings which I did from a recent visit to the Gardens in November, see one below).   The café is worth a visit in itself.  A slice of their home-made coffee and walnut cake is highly recommended!

Collecting Seeds, mixed media collage, 23cm x 18cm.  Inspired by the knowledge that the owner of the garden is a modern-day seed collector and visits foreign parts of the world to enhance his garden.

Collecting Seeds, 2013, mixed media collage, 23cm x 18cm, by Caro Woods.  Inspired by the knowledge that the owner of the garden is a modern-day plant collector who visits foreign parts of the world to bring back seeds to enhance the garden at Tremenheere.

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Filed under Art Works, Exhibitions, my sketchbook pages, The Art Business

From Boulanger to Stockhausen

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This is the time of year when new books are launched onto the market in book fairs across Europe in time for the run up to Christmas.  So I was delighted to receive a package in the post containing two copies of the hard back book, From Boulanger to Stockhausen, from the publishers, Boydell & Brewer, with my painting, Deep Blue, on the dust cover.  It also contained a personal letter from the author of the book, Bálint András Varga, thanking me for letting the publishers use my image.  It was a touching letter and I felt humbled by its contents.  Bálint Varga said he had loved my painting the moment he saw it and I was immediately reminded of a quote by Robert Motherwell:

What could be more interesting, or in the end, more ecstatic, than in those rare moments when you see another person look at something you’ve made, and realize that they got it exactly, that your heart jumped to their heart with nothing in between.

I haven’t had a chance to open the book yet, (just a sneaky peek between the covers) but if the critical write-ups on the back cover is anything to go by, I am looking forward to a good read.   Based on interviews with composers and musicians, “this is a book of voices“, writes Paul Griffiths, author, and “an important document for new generations of musicians and music lovers“, Riccardo Chailly, Gewandhauskapellmeister, Leipzig.  As musicians and fine artists share a common language, this parallel view of the creative process will be a fascinating read.

There is also an autobiographical section in the book in which Varga, who now lives in Vienna, talks about his Jewish identity and his life in postwar Budapest.  “He has helped me to remember my own not too distant past.”  András Schiff, musician.

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I have already formed a delightful view of the author from his endearing letters.  This will definitely be my special Christmas read this year.

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Filed under Art Works, my sketchbook pages, The Artist as Pilgrim