25 August 2015

The Sailing Years 2002 - 2009

Sailing. I never really wanted to become a sailor. I don't like being wet or becoming cold. I like travelling on trains, and planes, and buses. Boats are windy and wet and can be dangerous in nasty weather, so when my partner Alfred said he was going to sell his studio and buy one I was not overjoyed. It was 2001, the year of 9/11 after which the stock market slumped, and for a while people did not buy very much art. I had a choice of learning to sail and becoming crew, or stocking shelves in a supermarket. Not surprisingly I chose sailing, and this choice changed my life for 8 years. From May until October, Alfred and I sailed on our 32 ft (9.65metres) Vancouver cutter and she gave me a taste of the gipsy life.

We were a slow boat. We sailed round the coast of France, going down every navigable river. We crossed the Bay of Biscay and looked up at the sea and then down at the sea while riding the swell. I have seen the diamonds of phosphorescence in the spume of breaking Biscay waves and have seen white shapes like torpedoes moving in a black sea of night time, leaving trails of jewels in their wake and realised that black dolphins had turned into white spectres and were chaperoning us on our way. I have shivered in the freezing fog of Northern Spain and looked intently into whiteness. Portugal gave us the Trade winds, the stomach churning Atlantic swell and the spectacular sunrise as we sailed round Cape St Vincent. 

The winter months, October to May, were spent in my studio, working mainly on hand finished silkscreen monoprints, a mix of print and paint. Not surprisingly the work connected with my new life and was about the sea, the wind and the sky and a journey of the senses. It was about the silver wake that we left in the water and about fishing. Unbelievably, I became a fisher woman. I trolled a line when we sailed, and had a lobster pot for when we anchored, and I had nets. I spent time looking into the water when we were at anchor and I would see little fish. I would watch them swimming in circles, swimming in tight groups, scattering. Little flashes of colour. I would watch the light rolling on the surface of the water. I would lower my nets near the rocks and they would become part of the watery world, moving with the current.

A graphic language evolved which allowed me to compose works connected to physical as well as visual sensations.  Thus the wind and the wave and the swell of the sea and the movement of the fish and the line from the boat formed a rhythm, a connection, and I didn't mind if wind translated into sea and waves become glimpses of land. The constant interaction of the elements became as one. And of course, there was the colour. Veils of shifting colour. Intense depths of colour. I had an advantage in that I could use the medium of screen print to chase after that colour. I could use layer upon layer of transparent ink to build up the depth and shifting nature of the hues. I could build colour with a luminosity that would be hard to achieve in paint, though paint was used for the detail. The paint is the narrator in the story of these monoprints, the colour is the essence.
We brought the boat back to England in 2009. She was sold in 2010.

Works based on Flamenco music - Cadiz 2007

20 August 2015

Coloursquares and Madurai 2005

The acrylic paintings 'Coloursquares' and 'Madurai' have their origins in second journey to India, to the southern area, in 2002, and my discovery of the wayside shrine. The shrines of particular interest were platforms, usually square with a painted edge containing the sacred area on which were placed various objects, flowers, designs, drawings or simply scratches or stains which bore witness to the activities of the people who honoured them. Above all the shrines were bathed in colour, sometimes intensely brilliant, sometimes earthy, always arresting in their natural richness.

The 'Madurai' paintings are a testament to one of India's greatest shrines. Not the famous and magnificent intricate exterior, but the myriad of intimate places within, where the oil of lamps and bodies connect with the stones at  the heart of the buildings, creating a glow, a patina which echoes the spirit of the pilgrims who visit. This is not simply a place to look at, but a place to embrace and to leave a mark of your having been there.

19 August 2015

Bike Cut Up by…….Ford 2002

This was a weird one.

I was invited to submit a work to an exhibition curated and promoted by Howies, the cyclist's clothes shop. The title of the exhibition was 'Bike Cut Up by' and all the invited artists had the name or initials of different cars……….so my bike was cut up by Ford. Another bike was cut up by Takashi Suzuki, etc. etc.. I thought it sounded like fun to do. The exhibition did have a serious message which was to bring to the publics attention the amount of cycle deaths and injuries caused by inconsiderate driving. Not much has changed there then. 

I enjoyed doing the work and perhaps was naive in thinking that the pristine white paperwork I delivered would be lovingly cared for at least until after the exhibition. It was seriously damaged even by the time it was photographed for the rather nice catalogue, so 'ghost bikes' on a field of pure white was only seen by me and the person I handed it to. What was exhibited was bikes on crumpled dog eared paper. That wasn't the intention, though it may have been the flavour of the exhibition. Artwork Cut Up by………..?

17 August 2015

Frozen Water 1995

The Frozen Water Paperworks are a body of work first generated by concern (outrage?) over the nuclear tests being conducted by France at Moruroa atoll. I discovered that an atomic bomb dropped on a coral reef could turn the coral into glass.
The constructed paperworks  are cool, quiet, and time has stopped for an instant. The  edges of the paper have become  fissures edged with radiant turquoise blue greens of a Pacific atoll. The silver metallic surfaces echo bomb casing  -  hot  frozen water - shoals of silver fish  -  coral melted into glass and holding fragments of life, the feathers, as amber held vestiges of life during the last nuclear age when the earth was forming.  Nature is holding its breath, there is stillness, man is playing at God.

A series of constructed paperworks with silkscreen and mixed media of feathers and string. The feathers which I have previously used as a personal symbol of the bird and a metaphor of strength and vulnerability, have an added  emphasis in that they here represent nature, beauty and life. The feathers are revered icons of vitality, yet here they are sometimes crushed and restrained, sometimes weathered and tattered remains of a beauty that once was - and they are tied to the gun metal bomb metal silver slabs of paper. The metallic surfaces echo meltdown - coral melted into glass. Knotted string is visually echoing barbed wire (danger there is something happening here, come no further).

16 August 2015

The Plight of the Bird 1989, The Evolution of the Bird 1996

My journey started in Avonmouth in 1988 whilst researching the relationship between wildlife and industry for a commission. There I saw four cormorants sitting on a rusted pier, drying their wings in the sun, a functional gesture suggesting a paradoxical attitude of submission and strength: triumph through vulnerability.

These birds were the focus of my 1989 exhibition ‘The Plight of the Bird’, signifying the start of an exploration centred on the development of a bird / bird-woman / feather: icons  adopted as facets of a personal symbol. Certain monoprints from ‘The Plight of the Bird’ accentuated contradictions inherent in their demeanour: pride, aggression, pathos and dignity. These works formed the introduction to a later exhibition shown at the Hot Bath Gallery, Bath, during April 1996,  ‘The Evolution of the Bird’.                                                                                     

This exhibition which developed over the interim 7 years was split into three sections:-

 'The Last Birds' -  monoprint silkscreens printed onto heavy paper, had much of the detail silk screened separately on Japanese tissue which was subsequently collaged onto the base print. This change in surface texture and opportunity to physically distort the images allowed a mode of expression otherwise denied in conventional silkscreen printing. Imagewise these last birds were released from the recurring heraldic sequence which was central to the birds in the former exhibition 'The Plight of the Bird' ; they became skeletal as they disintegrated, falling apart as they confronted a transfiguring force and evolved into the Harpyia.                                                                                                                         

The Harpyia, the bird-women, were the snatchers and personifications of the storm-wind. In a moment of truth and metamorphosis, the  birds decomposed, leaving a core of raw femininity wherein rests  potency - which is not always alluring or polite.  These works tended to be smaller, using a variety of media including different forms of print, paper and selected objects. Some follow the format of ‘The Last Birds’, whilst the series ‘The Man Who Set the Harpy Free, What Will Become of Him Now?’ had a sculptural focus using heavily dyed paper, photocopy, etching, feathers and string.

After the offer of the Hot Bath Gallery show I decided to start work on a third section, 'The Meditation'. This included the 'Phoenix' work, a series of dyed constructed paperworks which were intended to create a conclusion, but instead I found myself with an important starting point. The 'Phoenix' series of paperworks used the neck feathers of a male pheasant, which when tied into dark dyed creased paper had the quality of flames. The work generated a feeling of stillness, particularly when the feathers were used in a formal manner, and from there I started exploring different ways of transforming the feathers within the context of various paper surfaces eventually arriving at constructed paper / silkscreen works.

15 August 2015

Prayers for Kimiko. 1992

A tragedy happened. Kimiko was in a car accident. She was in a taxi in Tokyo which crashed, killing the driver, but unfortunately it didn’t kill her. She was left terribly maimed. Unable to move, blind yet unable to close her eyes, to the world she looked as if she was in a vegetive state, but she was in there. She recognized voices. Her only means of communication was to cry.

I made a series of paperworks called ‘Prayers for Kimiko’. They were done as a request, maybe an invitation, to walk through the door of death. To leave her pain behind. One of the pieces was sent to the hospice where she was looked after, and I believe that it hung on her bed until she died four years later. The works were never shown, and I think they should have been, but it never happened. So I'm showing them here.


Kimiko Nakamura

10 August 2015

1992. The three coal heaps of Penallta Pit - a childhood memory

Most of my fathers side of my family lived in Ystrad Mynach, a mining village in the Rhymney Valley which served Penallta Pit. My grandfather was the pit foreman for many years and was much respected. Uncle Ken never left the village from his birth until 1984, when as an old man he went to London to march against the pit closures. He didn't think much of London and was glad to get back. The colliery finally closed in 1991 and is now Parc Penallta, a wildlife place to walk with way marked trails and a visitors centre.

'The three coal heaps of Penallta Pit - a childhood memory'
Commissioned Artwork, British Railtrack (coal) 1992

My family told how grandfather led a team of men to rescue my father who was caught under a pit fall. My father was then just fourteen years old, and never went down the mine again. My grandfather became foreman and retired after thirty years. He died of black lung.

In the kitchen a huge fire always burned in the range - blue gasses turning black coal red. I sat next to it and rolled cigarettes for uncle Tom.

In the frozen room where I slept, my breath looked like smoke. Through the window I could see the three coal heaps of Penalta.

India Blue 1990 and India Red 1998

India Blue 1990

A journey to India with textile artist friend Caroline Bartlett during the monsoon period of relative coolness, gave me the colour blue: - the blue green glow of oil lamps at night, sun faded yet still brilliant blues of Brahmin houses, the colours intensified by the monsoon rain. The cool blue of dawn travel, a fresh India. These works don't look very cool or very blue I know - more encrusted with age and patina - which was just as exciting as the blue.

However the pearlescent blue of Rajasthan evolved into the suite of prints called Jodhpur Blue’, and they were a bit of a leap in that whilst having worked frequently in a semi abstract manner, these were the first works to become totally abstract. Maybe the early sculpture could be considered abstract. Yes it definitely was, however it soon developed architectural and figurative aspects which took it away from pure abstraction. This was the beginning of a joyous leap into colour. These works formed an exhibition of monoprints and edition silkscreens at Mark Talbot Fine Art in Tetbury Glos.

India Red 1998

Once again, as in Japan,  I found the cultural differences exhilerating, the visual stimulous immense, so when asked to do artwork exploring red my thoughts turned immediately to the magentas and scarlets of Rajasthan, the vibrant activity of the market place where vegetables, spices, brilliant cloths and tiny glittering things were bought and sold. There was noise, shouting, bicycles, horns and cows - and it was all brilliantly coloured. The colour was energy, electricity, as witnessed on my first day, my first view, of India.

The 'Colourworks Red' are an attempt to capture the feelings of these first few days of culture shock and excitement. They are based in landscape and use colour vibrancy and transparent overlays to create space, colour intensity, vigour and mystery.

The screen prints  'India Red', all sit primarily on red as their main underlying base colour, and so the majority of the print surfaces have a uniform starting point on which to build multi layers of transparencies modifying subsequent colours. This red shines through the layers of colours giving a richness otherwise unobtainable.

8 August 2015

Scorched Lands and Flying Peonies - Anna Bornholt Gallery - 1987

I had been working with the Anna Bornholt Gallery in Weighhouse St. W1 for a couple of years before the Japan residency, and on my return she offered me a solo exhibition with a year to prepare. This was a golden time of focussed work. My studio was now large enough to expand the scale of work, I had my own etching press, a 5 ft sink and a huge table to work on, and took advantage of all of those things to produce the exhibition ‘Scorched Lands and Flying Peonies’. 

The title of the exhibition was anchored in my visit to Hiroshima which affected me profoundly, particularly the origami paper cranes blowing in the wind and dissolving in the rain. A Japanese legend states that if you fold a thousand origami paper cranes a wish will come true. The wish that the atomic bomb should never be used again, and that there should be world peace (is that ever possible?) is stated with millions of cranes strung together.

The visit to Hiroshima was during the autumn with strong winds blowing. The wind catching the cranes made brought to mind leaves being blown from the trees taking messages to the sky to not hurt each other. The leaves or cranes got transmuted into peonies. There were about 30 works shown in this exhibition,  paperworks and screenprints.

6 August 2015

Japan Residency - 1986

This residency was organized by Art for Offices. The gallery was in Isetan Department Store in Shinjuku, Tokyo, and the occasion was British week. All over Tokyo stores were promoting all things British, and Isetan was presenting an exhibition of works from the Dulwich Collection along with a separate exhibition of Contemporary British Art. On the roof of the store they had a flock of sheep which were being herded by an English shepherdess with her Welsh sheepdog. Prince Philip came to visit, the store was closed while the entire staff bowed him in. My role was to demonstrate silkscreen printing and talk to the public about the exhibition and processes used in the contemporary show. I had an extraordinary time in Tokyo, whilst out of my comfort zone culturally, the staff of Isetan were very kind and forgiving of my etiquette slip ups, and very good friend, Kimiko, who I met whilst living in Verona, Italy, had subsequently returned to Tokyo and was my introduction to a more intimate view of Japan in that I was invited to stay in her family home for a few days after my residency had ended and before I began my travels of exploration of the country. 

Japan of 1986 was so very different to my subsequent visit in 2008. At that time the Japanese were far less travelled in general, and a tall western woman staying at the home of Kimiko’s father (who wasn’t at all sure about the situation) was incredibly exciting for Kimiko’s young nephews who brought their friends home to look at the size of my feet. I don't think my feet are huge - I take a size 39. Their class at school was set an essay ‘What would you tell a foreigner about Japan if one came to stay at your house’. My stay gave them a mantle of coolness.

That period of time in Japan was visually so rich, and the visit to Hiroshima emotionally so heartbreaking, it’s not surprising that the experience would influence my work for a good deal of time.