The Everyday and Extraordinary – An Arts Council Collection National Partners Exhibition at The Towner Gallery, Eastbourne

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Jordan Baseman, Based on Actual Events, 1995, teeth and dental acrylic. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London; © the artist. Gift of Charles Saatchi 2002

A friend and I decided to visit this last week, lured by the introduction of the Gallery’s website:

“The notion of the found object as artistic material, content and subject-matter provides the inspiration for The Everyday and Extraordinary, an exhibition presenting a Wunderkammer of modern and contemporary artworks drawn from the Arts Council Collection. The show brings together a fusion of materials, processes and innovative ideas, celebrating the physicality of objects in this predominantly digital age.

Found objects or ‘objet trouvé’ provide infinite inspiration for artists. When, in 1913, Marcel Duchamp used a found object in his work, he introduced the term ‘ready-made’ to art. Whether modified, presented in a new context or left unchanged found objects have had an enduring impact on artistic practice, with artists appropriating and transforming objects in many ways to communicate particular ideas or concepts. Surrealists used ‘the everyday’ as an invocation of humour and satire whilst Pop Artists directly appropriated items from popular culture. Techniques of the ready-made continue to engage and inspire contemporary artists today.”

We both like to use found objects in our work so thought this exhibition would be right up our street.

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Anya Gallaccio, Preserve (Chateau), 1995. © The artist. Mixed media wall mounted construction. Purchased by the Contemporary Art Society Special Collection Scheme on behalf of the Towner Art Gallery, with funds from the Arts Council Lottery the Friends of the Towner, Eastbourne Borough Council, Towner Contemporary Art Fund Committee and donations.

Anya Gallacio’s installation Preserve (Chateau) shown above in its original form, has been deliberately allowed to rot and is now looking very sad. The frame is somewhat misted up and the flowers have died and are dropping out of the base.  Stated to be a sombre meditation on the passing of time, it consists of 100 red gerberas sandwiched between the wall and a pane of glass. Preserve Beauty was the paradoxical title of a work in which no attempt is made to conserve the wilting flowers.

I liked Mona Haltom’s sculpture + And – but, like many other exhibits, it does not incorporate found objects. A wooden box is filled with sand. Like a clock, it’s two hands rotate.  The serrated hand draws concentric rings in the sand  and these are then obliterated when the smooth hand follows.  There is something soothing about this repetition.

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Tony Cragg, New Stones – Newton’s Tones, 1978, plastic. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist

The above work by Tony Cragg was made in 1978.  This does use the found – hundreds of pieces of plastic.  As a regular beachcomber, I identified with the fact that there is a horrendous amount of such items to be easily found upon our shores and I can only suppose that forty years ago this work was saying something new.  Today I found it too simplistic to be considered a piece of art.

I did like the following exhibits which I photographed together with their notes:

Bill Woodrow - Crow and CarrionBill WoodrowHermione Allsopp - Sidentary ArchiveGareth Griffiths

but, overall, my friend and I both considered the exhibition disappointing.  Too few exhibits featuring the genuinely found and those that did, were not particularly inspiring.  Do let me know what you think!

And finally, we walked along the seafront where we saw two of the five new beach huts installed recently and available to hire.  As art installations, I enjoyed them.  You can read more about them and view the others by following the link above:

Playing with Scale

I have recently attended a couple of Alumi days at West Dean College.  They have been excellent – two tutors Kate Boucher and Mark Anstee have guided, assisted and otherwise inspire a group of us whilst we work on our own projects.  The day starts with a statement of intention and closes with a look at how each of us have got on achieving those objectives – a great opportunity to work with a group of like minded people all working on different projects in different ways.  I hope that we have many more opportunities to do this at West Dean.

I have already posted about the first of these days.  On the second day, I wanted to explore gesso so started by preparing a host of postcards by adding gesso.  This was either left to dry or was scratched and scraped into first.  Once day, I added ink and wax and scraped and scratched some more.  Here is an example of the outcome:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the end of the day, I was set two challenges – firstly, to try (for the first time) working with oil paint and the other was to think about working both very small and very large.

I decided to start with very small and an idea was borne!  Next year my husband and I will exhibit at the Oxmarket Gallery in Chichester.  As he is a photographer, I decided to set about creating a body of work responding to his photography by working in my own way using mixed media but utilising photographic equipment.  To date, I have acquired two ancient cameras (the box brownie brings back childhood memories!), a hundred plastic slides, several hundred slide holders and some lovely vintage spools.  Paper slide cases are on order and I shall have fun deciding how best to work with all of these.  Whilst the objects are not found, I like the ethos of re-using vintage items in a new way.  Here is a taster of what I have in mind:

I am creating a quantity of similar pieces to display in groups.

The next challenge – oils.  I have just three tubes of oil paint and some cold wax medium. Should be fun!

I plan to experiment with working big at College in July.

Dungeness – Britain’s only desert

Dungeness, at the Southernmost point of Kent, is unique – no boundaries, a desolate landscape with wooden houses, power stations, lighthouses and expansive gravel pits. Yet it possesses a rich and diverse wildlife within the National Nature Reserve in one of the largest shingle landscapes in the world.Dungeness has been designated as a National Nature Reserve (NNR), Special Protection Area (SPA) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). It is home to 600 species of plants which is a third of all plants found in the UK. The National Nature Reserve stretches across Dungeness to encompass the vast RSPB reserve and is intended to help protect the landscape and its wildlife.

My husband and I visited for the first time recently and it is an extraordinary place.  As the introduction above states, it is desolate.  We were only there for a few hours and will return without our dog so that we can explore the RSPB reserve and spend more time walking.  Even if you were only to stay for 5 minutes you would be struck by what a special place this is and I urge you to visit NOW before the changes that are starting get a real grip.

The contrast between the decommissioned nuclear power station and the beautiful flora and fauna is quite shocking. The windswept 468-acre estate, on Romney Marsh,  has just 22 properties, mostly converted railway cottages, which are largely owned by fishermen. But change is happening – some of the old wooden property is being replaced by  mini “Grand Design” houses.  Although the new properties are fitting in well, being a modern version of their predecessors and remaining low-key and modest, I could not help but wonder if the replacements are owned by second home owners.  As the owner of two holiday cottages, I cannot be so hypocritical as to condemn this but, in such a small community, I feel that even a few holiday homes would have a massive impact.   I note that when the estate was put up for sale in 2015 at £1.5m, the agent said: “It has considerable potential for increased income from tourism on top of the substantial income it already produces.”  It is now owned by EDF Energy and a quick search today found 7 holiday homes there.

Before, During and After ….

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Flattened
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A new build in progress
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Grand Design

Having said that, Dungeness is far from ruined and there are few outlets for the tourist to spend his money.  Long may it stay that way!  So go, take it in, draw, paint, walk, photograph, and enjoy … while you can!

With apologies to my husband, Alan, I could not resist turning a few images into black and white – it so suits the place!

 

 

 

 

 

Cyanotypes

During my Foundation Diploma in Art and Design, I produced a series of Cyanotype prints.

The cyanotype process was invented in 1842 by Sir John Herschel and is one of the historically oldest photographic techniques.  A solution of Potassium ferricyanide and Ferric ammonium citrate (green) are mixed with water separately and then blended together in equal parts.  Next (and this is the trickier part), the solution is painted onto paper or fabric to form an even coating.  Objects or negatives are placed on the material and the cyanotype is printed using UV light, such as the sun.  I worked using daylight and  herein lies the next tricky bit.  Each print will be different depending on the amount and intensity of the sunlight during the exposure time and the exposure time will vary according to the quality of light so it is an affair of trial and error.

The early cyanotype prints were of seaweed and most usual subject are leaves.  I wanted to experiment a little with the process by combining natural objects with man made items and by including other media on the paper before printing.  I was pleased with my results but was not sure how to present them.

A few months ago I came across a Victorian photograph album in a charity shop.  It was badly worn and some of the inside pages were torn but I felt it had a certain charm.  On further consideration, I decided it would work very well with my cyanotypes – the old technique sat well with the old album and the strong blues contrasted with the faded pages.

I also added a few of the papers which I embossed using lino and a printing press.

Do let me know what you think:

Have you ever sat down and really thrashed an idea?

I know I haven’t.  I read an article by Sarah Ross Thompson in which  she spoke about “excitables.”  I am an “excitable” – she explained – “some people are naturally excitable and explode with ideas….  they find it hard to know which path to follow when so many things rock their boat.  That’s me!

So, I have enrolled on an online course with Sue Stone, Chair of the 62 Group of textile artists, care of www.textileartist.org.  I had done one online course before which I did not enjoy as it was very pressured with new videos arriving every day.  This one, however, I would recommend.  You are given a year to complete the course and can work at your own pace.  Participants are set a series of projects and the choice is yours as to how much time you spend on each module, creating as many or as few samples as you wish.  The first challenge is to work only using running stitch and only using horizontal lines.  Each sample contains a block of four pieces 5cm square and I have so far created five.

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Even though this course is obviously about stitch, I can already see how useful it will be in other areas in that the message is to take an idea and push the boundaries of what you can do with it.  Setting a limitation, either in terms of media, or by reducing the option for a methodology of working, is in fact helping you to think more creatively within set parameters.  Although I am a very organised person in everyday life (where would I be without my lists?!), in my Art practice I like to work intuitively responding to each moment.  So, with the exception of the rigid patterns above, I did not think.  I chose my thread, put my needle in and started without knowing what I was going to do with it.  This way will not suit everyone I know but it suits my loose style of working – I have always said that I can’t sew and I can’t create beautiful embroidery or make clothes but luckily I don’t want or need to be able to do those things.  What I do want to do is to make interesting “marks” whether that be by using a pencil, pen, inks or stitch and I am already learning loads about how I can do that.  Thank you Sue, Jo and Sam at http://www.textileartist.org!

So, why don’t you think of something you would like to do, set yourself some strong boundaries, and play.  And, carry on playing until you really feel exhausted – I can’t tell you when that will be but maybe you need to spend at least a month on that one project. I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback if you have done this!