Monthly Archives: July 2008

On snakes and ladders

Wednesday 16 July 2008

Yesterday I saw a grass snake, the first in many years… he appeared languidly from behind some plant pots, taking a sun bath, but as soon as I moved in to view him closer he slithered away into the long grass… and with no camera, no photo opportunity. Significant perhaps as I am the sign of the snake, according to the Chinese horoscope. Ah, the symbol of the snake: enigmatic, graceful, alert but cautious, astute, and somewhat secretive.

Which leads me to think about the board game Snakes and Ladders, a moral parable of the path of life, the ups and downs, taking and giving, greed and temptation versus piety and generosity of spirit. Life as an artist is such a game, in which you climb selfishly to reach new perspectives, but one ladder will only reach so far and it is a solitary adventure: many can help steady the ladder, but only one can climb to the top.

It is a sign that we need to to take risks, move out of the comfort zone, avoid falling into the trappings of formulaic or derivative work. It seems too, talking to other artists, that it is quite natural to have fallow periods occasionally, where the creative urge wanes and needs new input, or when you receive rejections which dent the spirit, or you decide to pursue ideas quietly without any reference to an audience (or an income).

I went to see the Margaret Mellis retrospective and the Constructed (De Stijl, Bauhaus, Russian Constructivism) exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre, and the Mellis turned out to be an eye-opener.
margaret mellis collage
This exhibition is a celebration of her life and her work. Reading and watching a film of Mellis (on the video monitor), she became her most productive after the move to Southwold, the work beforehand was quite minimal in contrast (the dates on the few earlier works displayed in this exhibition are imprecise). I found out a lot about Mellis, such as she lived in a village not far from where I spent some of my childhood years, prior to moving on to the coast, her artistic productivity there helped by the numerous offerings of beach detritus from a generous public far and wide.

It is strange to think that she was creating these textural and abstract constructions at a time when I was finding little joy in art classes at school – classes which consisted of drawing sliced cabbages and reflections of newspapers in chrome kettles – although I am grateful I persisted with a 2B pencil as my only medium, since a myopic scrutiny of things is the natural eyesight of an artist.

Here are some of my own mixed media collages from the mid 1990s. It feels oddly fulfilling & meaningful when you can make some connections between your own art and another artist’s work when you did not know of them or their work at the time of making them…
green mixed media collage

my life, in colour

Sunday 13 July 2008

A digital collage of some of the things I have been working on lately…

collage of works in progress

Abstracted dystopian landscapes of environmental disaster and decay on canvas, some line drawings on graph paper that I have scanned, small collages, and some small works on plaster developed from pages in one of my sketchbooks. The line drawings began as very quick sketches of mundane architectural details, which I then scanned onto acetate and overlayed in various ways, successive layers producing structured and yet chaotic imagery that suggests anything from electrical wiring diagrams to maps and building plans, reflecting the fast pace of redevelopment in the landscape … it’s all so busy busy!! Anyhow, my plan is to develop these linear images in printmaking. The small panels (one, bottom right in photo) I have been calling my incidental paintings as they are by-products of the larger canvases, depositories for random daubs of paint, trying out colour mixes…

The Harleston & Waveney (HWAT) art trail continues this weekend, full details of the event can be downloaded from here. The Harleston Gallery is also worth a visit for the taster exhibition, if not for the scrumptuous cakes served in the cafe, or to dine at the evening bistro; it’s an old Georgian bank building, tastefully renovated…

Anyhow, it’s off to to the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich very soon to see the Margaret Mellis retrospective exhibition, A Life in Colour. I am looking forward to seeing it as I have discovered that she was producing large driftwood assemblages during the period that I moved to East Anglia and starting working with mixed media collage and assemblage (as I had no money for a printing press), but I knew nothing then about her or her work. Mellis was a contemporary of Ben Nicholson and the St Ives group of artists (but there’s no mention of her on Wikipedia), so this recognition of her work is long overdue. She finally settled in Southwold in Suffolk; it is undoubtedly the influence of the coastal detritus that inspires the scavenger in the artist to repeatedly construct something unique from the disregards of others…

Homes and Interiors

Sunday 6 July 2008

Photographs of some of my work around the home, a little interior decoration, art house styling… starting from top left to right (as they do in home style magazines)… handmade collage cards on retro coffee table, the paintings meld, crag and mire, detail of the painting mire with Oleander plant, detail of the painting fire with gold-leaf pebbles and turquoise blue glass on driftwood shelf, the painting fire glowing orange in contrast to the black brick fireplace, and the red painting rost with vintage green glass bowl filled with dried chillies…

The Harleston & Waveney (HWAT) art trail brochure can be found here, or is available from the Harleston Gallery