Thursday, December 18, 2014

The random and the nature-collaborative

One of the attractive by-products of printmaking I have found is randomness - the odd unpredictability of what emerges on the paper no matter how hard one tries to control all the elements beforehand.  That chance contribution can of course be negative just as often as positive - although that can depend on whether one is of a positive or of a negative disposition.
Sue Cor: catch the wind (from here)
I have been thinking a lot recently about artists who deliberately court the random by collaborating with aspects of the natural world.  Richard Long uses mud from nearby sources for installations and drawings, Andy Goldsworthy uses what is around for his largely ephemeral sculptures, many people use the sea such as Debbie Lyddon, and Chris Day (as described in Margaret Cooter's post on Ragged Cloth CafĂ©), and Sue Cor uses seaweed in the wind to make drawings.  There are also many artists who use the staining qualities of aspects of the natural world, and especially fashionable at present is the random effect of rust.
John Cage: Strings 1-20 (from here)
John Cage made a system of using randomness which he used not only for composing music but also for visual art.  There is a fascinating explanatory film here.
David Nash sculpts wood, and one of his projects was to make a wooden boulder which he left to the mercies of a river in Wales.  The boulder was carried down to the sea eventually, and now it is not known where it is.  Here is a short film of the boulder.
Image from here
Another example of intentional randomness is to be found in photography these days: ICM is intentional camera movement, which is explained here.  Is it because we are more aware that there are indeed more things in the universe than are dreamt of in our consciousness that so many are reaching out to the unknown effect to further their practice?  Is there a feeling that no matter what we decide to do, the outcome will not be in our control so we might as well throw our bread (or some crumbs, at least) upon the waters, and see what the tide washes in?
Are the artists intrigued by the enhancing of their own ideas if they harness or at least co-operate with the creative energy of Nature?  Or do they think that they are adding the creative element to the random forces?  In most cases the artist does have the final say to accept or to reject chance's effect. 
I do enjoy the odd surprises thrown up by the printing process, and the random consequences encountered in the making of work, but I must admit to a preference for thinking that I am largely in charge - even if that is ultimately an illusory notion!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Bill Woodrow: Black and White 1 (from here)
Reading an interview with sculptor Bill Woodrow in the current Sculpture magazine I was drawn to his Black and White pieces. 
Bill Woodrow: Black and White 8 (from here)
I was intrigued to read that they are white painted bronze on black rubber.  What attracted me was an aspect of bronze which I've found fascinating before: its ability to take on the haptic visual attributes of whatever made the impression.  In this case particularly the cardboard.  I was entranced by the bronze's ability to seem just like cardboard, as well as the cardboard being a completely acceptable representation of ice layers.
Miro: Personnage Gothique in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park 2012
 Bronze's chameleon aspects have delighted me in the work of Miro.  His playful approach to figure and form making using bits and bobs from here and there is enhanced by the unifying quality of the bronze so that the whole is obviously the whole, while the parts are still noticeably distinct.
The threads holding parts of the upholstered form can distinctly be discerned, just as the cardboard 'head' declares itself proudly aloft.
Giovanfrancesco Rustici: The Pharisee, St John the Baptist and The Levite from The Sermon of Saint John the Baptist, 1511, from the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore (Photo: Antonio Quattrone, Florence)
I think that now is the time to add another book to the hibernation pile: the catalogue -only skimmed through so far - for the excellent Bronze exhibition that was on at the Royal Academy a couple of years ago.  Sometimes I find it imperative to read the catalogue immediately after having experienced the exhibition, but often I like to return to read it thoroughly after having been spurred by something related.  I then enjoy the exhibition all over again in my mind's eye.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Winter delight

Vuillard: Deux femmes sous la lampe (from here)
When I was five years old I was an only child, and we lived in a big schoolhouse right on the borders with England.  My father taught in a school in the nearest village.  The school in our garden was for those in our hamlet, all of us mixed ages together in one room with one teacher who told us if we picked our noses they would fall off.
Winter was a good time, because if it snowed the few yards to the school at the back became a journey.  Coming home meant coming back to the warm range where my mother made a raw egg and cocoa drink and I was allowed to light the lamps.  I would then read with my mother in the warm light of the lamp sitting on the range.  A cosy small world in a rattling house with no electricity.
On the nights when my father tutored the local farmer's son, I led my mother up to the one bedroom we shared.  The floors of the other rooms were covered in newspaper-wrapped apples from the trees in the garden.  My mother was afraid of the dark, and especially on the stairs.  I loved the almost dark that cast about the lamp as we moved - the looking to see how things were changing. 
Even now I dislike a strong artificial light unless I am working - as in an office, workroom, or a kitchen - otherwise sufficient spot light clearly to read or stitch is enough.  On Winter nights being indoors with the enveloping shadows is the season's delight.

Friday, December 12, 2014

First it has to get worse ...

before it gets better!
The room exchange is in full swing now, except that our desks are still in place and functioning. 
Meanwhile I've been piling up all my stuff into my new room,
and spilling over into the bathroom too (this is an ex granny annex, and with no grannies any longer in residence, the bathroom is not in full use).
But I'm trying to keep the kitchen - my print area - calm and tidy.  My new drying rack is tucked up waiting for its first use.  I was so pleased that I managed to find one the appropriate size through an educational supplier.  They addressed me as a primary school, but it eventually got to me. 

Tuesday, December 09, 2014


I always imagine that it must be more difficult in the Southern Hemisphere to take a period of reflection at the start of the hottest season, to asses the previous year and make plans for the one to come.  I welcome Winter, the darker days, the cold: driving me towards inward occupations such as reading and reflecting.  For me heat and light lead to looking outwards, while cold and dark encourage inner examinations.
I am thankful that I live in a temperate climate with distinct seasons so that life changes gradually and greatly through the year - nothing too predictable, but also with enough familiarity both to anticipate and regret as the world turns.  There are of course the festivals which mark seasons, Christmas being the loudest of these.  Now that there are just the two of us we can relax and opt out as much as is politely feasible.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Winter sunshine

On Wednesday I met a friend for lunch at the Polly Tearooms in the delightfully attractive small town of Marlborough.  It's over an hour's drive away, and so I was pleased that the sun decided to shine, making my route even more pleasant than normal.  It is a route of vistas and not much traffic - always a plus!
The river Kennet runs through the town, and I enjoyed watching the ripples,
the reflections,
and the water fowl.
Marlborough is a market town, and Wednesday is market day.  The High Street is reputedly one of the widest in the land, but unfortunately that means that the stall holders' large vehicles can be accommodated alongside their stalls: ugly.  But it was too sunny to bother me for long.  There was so much else to delight the eye.
I have known the Polly Tearooms since the 70s, and always enjoyed going there.  I have not been for some time recently, however, and had seen an adverse review online - but I can report that it is better than ever.  Clean, bright, welcoming service, good food, and we never felt rushed as we chatted.
I had been apprehensive about parking, about Christmas crush, ... but it turned out to be one of those glorious days which is full of joy.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

As part of the room exchange

I have been moving my short story collections to another location.  I had tidied them out of the way, packed into the bottom shelf of a bookcase while my mother was using the room, and had almost forgotten about them.  One aspect of tidying and sorting which I do enjoy is the rediscovery of fading memories.
I love the short story form.  I never really understand why it is not more popular.  I encountered the form first from reading essays at school.  My parents were strict about how much time I should spend at homework, and so when I had finished, I always had a book to read.  With a short story I could quickly be whisked away to another environment, and have an intense relationship with character, plot, ambience ... which could all then be savoured in my mind when doing chores etc.  Novels' worlds were more difficult to hold onto until later in my schooling when homework legitimately took all evening and part of the weekend.
I realised as I was transporting my collection the other day, and placing them on accessible shelves, that if I had to choose just a couple of shelves of books that I could keep, it would be the short stories.  I smiled in memory as I put them up: authors like William Trevor, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Somerset Maugham, Katherine Mansfield, Angela Carter, A. S. Byatt, Borges, Theroux - whose short stories I always found more satisfying than the novels or the travel books, William Boyd, D.H. Lawrence - again I prefer his short stories and poetry to his novels, ... oh, just too many to mention.
Some memorable collections are Our Ancestors by Italo Calvino, Dreams of Dead Women's Handbags by Shena MacKay, Unlikely Stories Mostly by Alasdair Grey, Strange Pilgrims by Gabriel Garcia Marquez....  I also discovered a volume I'd completely forgotten, and now add it to my current hibernation pile: Collected Stories by Carol Shields.
I also have collections by country, by topic, and by general anthology like the absolutely marvellous Soho Square collections 1 (cover pictured above), 2, and 3 published by Bloomsbury.  Now, where no illustrations are involved, I shall be continuing to read short stories, but on my Kindle, so this collection of books dating back to the early 60s has become even more precious.