Saturday, November 24, 2012

Day 3 - Be inspired!

The day started with an abrupt awakening: the fire alarm in the hotel at 2.30 am.  After a brief visit to the car park wrapped in coats over our nightwear, we again thanked our luck that at least there was no rain, and the fire engines arrived promptly to tell us to return to bed.  None the worse for our experience, we set off for the nearby town of Wakefield.
A gallery has been built there recently, designed by the architect David Chipperfield, of whose River and Rowing Museum in Henley and the Turner Contemporary in Margate we are fans, and we had been eager to see this place and its contents.  Barbara Hepworth was born in Wakefield, and this gallery is not only named for her, but contains her family's large gift of plasters and prototypes and other working tools etc. within its collections.
Parking is on the other side of the river Calder, within a loop of which the gallery lies, thus providing us with an opportunity to enjoy a walk with much of interest including views of the gallery itself.  To say that we were attracted, delighted, and astonished by what we saw was to put it mildly!
A pause was needed before we went further, so to the excellent cafe for a cup of coffee and cake.  The windows brought in light and delight with the views of water around.  From one side I could see a heron placed strategically under the old bridge, just past the weir where fish would no doubt leap into view.  So much pleasure, and we had barely started!
We wanted to see the collections of Hepworth work and her work tools, and the complementary Wakefield city collection of art and the temporary exhibition of post-war art (which added to our pile of luck by still being on past its advertised end-by date).  I do love British work from the mid 20th century, and never tire of seeing examples.  There are also works from the Arts Council collection, all of which I enjoyed, but especially Keith Vaughan's  Labourers lighting a cigarette.
Progress through these well lit, and asymmetric rooms was enlightening, with the appropriately placed punctuations of large windows down to the floor framed through which we could see the various aspects of the river, the town, everyday life.  It was an enveloping but not an isolating experience.  This extraordinary art had come out of ordinary life, and the gallery itself seemed to inspire one to see the extraordinary aspects of the everyday. 
Two temporary exhibitions provided further pleasures.  One was the collection of drawings of surgeons and theatre staff which Barbara Hepworth did in 1948 just as the National Health Service was being formed in the UK (I was one of the last whose birth had to be paid for.)
Coincidentally, Hepworth's grandson Paul Bowness is Professor of Experimental Rheumatology at Oxford University, and in this site can be seen strolling round the display of drawings.  I found the drawings theatrically staged: with the figures rather like groups of sculptures. I very much like them.  The drawing was done on a gesso base, and so they are like a kind of scraffito, or a base relief.  It was also so good to be able to see so many together, especially as so many of them are in private collections and not normally seen.
The other temporary exhibition within the gallery is the private collection of David Roberts.  Again mostly sculpture, I was most delighted to see examples of the work of Thomas Houseago (whose work had so inspired me in Oxford last year as I wrote about here, and here),one of which is illustrated below, and also taken from this site.
Outside the building is another piece of longterm temporary work: a 3D installation drawing by James Pyman.  Upper Mill has been drawn by him, and 'reconstructed' to sit on the river.  It is an interesting piece: taking the solidity of a building and rendering it lifesize in the delicacy of a pencil drawing.  But I have been frustrated in trying to find out how much of the actual mill still exists and what it looks like now.
On the other side of the river and the bridge from the Hepworth Museum is another fascinating looking building: the Chantry Chapel.  This was drawn in the more conventional way, by JMW Turner.
Brains a-buzz we still had more to come - and the most challenging encounter of the day: our final concert at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival.  First would come the talk by Irvine Arditti about the challenge he also would face in playing the John Cage Freeman Etudes, and then the  90 minute or so experience itself.  And an extraordinary experience it was.  I do not think that I have ever listened so hard in my life before.  My husband's comment at the end put my reaction into words: 'If someone had asked if I enjoyed it, the answer would be No - but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of listening to it.'  I joked as we clapped enthusiastically at the end that perhaps he would give an encore, ... and he did!  It was a short melodic piece entitled Whiskas.  What a day!  What a trip!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Day 2: Listening (and taste)

Monday was our full day of Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival.  We had been threatened with much rain, but in the end it turned out to be a mild drizzle.  The day's programme was full of free short pieces - a kind of tasting menu for us - and again we started with the same venue.  But after that we became bold, and joined the audience flocking from one nearby venue to another - each time being held at the door, and then allowed to scramble for seats.
Three short concerts made a great impression on me.  John Butcher's Tarab Cut was immensely evocative: his saxophone playing alongside recorded sounds of the middle east. 
The second composer who grabbed my attention was Malcolm Goldstein, and his Summer from Seasons: Vermont particularly remains in my memory.  Visually the experience was arresting as a group of musicians - Edges Ensemble - wandered on with objects, including conventional instruments.  Two barrels full of twigs, a metal tape measure, a plastic cup with water and a straw, an empty crisp packet, ... are some of the generators of sound which once our eyes were closed recreated woodland with birds and other movements.  Magical.
But I think the best of all was the singing of Michelle O'Rourke in the atrium of one of the university buildings.  There were three pieces, one accompanied by a cellist, and performed against the comings and goings of a working building (which later in the day became a pop up art school), and the third piece by John Cage just wondrously solo - just beautiful. (There is a version of it accompanied by piano here.)
Here are a couple of snaps I took of the pop up art school while waiting for the next concert - but which excited no curiosity in me to explore it further. 
The other sense which was delighted on Monday was taste, in the discovery of a chain of eateries local to the Huddersfield and Leeds area: Bagel Nash.  It supplied just what we needed, greatly to our satisfaction.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Magical musical trip - day 1

Perhaps imbued with harvest spirit, as we set off on Sunday morning, my husband declared how lucky we were to be able simply to fill the car and depart for a few days of pleasure.  Lucky indeed, and particularly so as the sun was shining too.  We were heading North towards the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival for a few days.
The first concert we had booked was on Sunday evening, which left us plenty of time to visit the Yorkshire Sculpture Park which is near our destination.  Of course it was past mid day when we got there, and given that not only was it Sunday but also gloriously sunny it was packed with families taking advantage of the weather.  We had to park in the overspill overspill car park, but at least we had Sophie Ryder's hare to watch over the car.
The sculpture park is full of attractions, but being of the knee-impaired sorority I knew that sticking to the paths would give ample pleasure.  At present there are two main exhibition attractions: Miro, and Mark Hearld.  I imagined that the latter would attract many family groups, and so had no difficulty making a (hobbled) beeline for the former.
This exhibition far exceeded my expectations.  For some reason I had been apprehensive about the sculpture not looking its best in the light of the Northern sun.  I always think of Miro's work in heat and in direct strong downward sunlight, not the slanting rays of even the sunniest autumn day up in these latitudes.  But it was all so much more than just fine.
Thoughts of the Bronze exhibition returned as I examined the pieces.  I just love how the textures and physical behaviour of the original materials are preserved in the casting.
As well as the outdoor sculptures there are many, some in maquette form, in the Underground Gallery.  And as an especial treat for me there are several prints from the 1970s: aquatints and carborundums.  A brilliant build-up to the superb piece of choral music we heard later: Wolfgang Rihm's Vigilia.  This is a review, which I find a little harsh, of the CD - and another review here, and more information here about the piece, with audio exerpts as well as a  photo of a rather jolly looking WR himself.
We enjoy the experience of what is called contemporary classical music, but we are rich in ignorance about both the field and the components.  We are very much in the position of those despised by the art world who declare no knowledge of art or artists, but know what they like.  Well, we don't really even know what we like! We have enjoyed much of what we have heard, and more than that: enjoyed the experience of exploring the sounds. 
In deciding to take the plunge by going to the festival I did not know enough to be able to choose what we would hear - so I decided to plump for a venue - St Paul's Hall - and stick with that.  We booked two concerts, and saw that in between there was a day of free short pieces.  That seemed sufficient for a beginning.
Church halls can be draughty uncomfortable places in which to be stuck listening to the unknown, so I dressed warmly with thick boots and a large coat over my warmest cowl-necked fleece and scarf.  Of course the other circumstance one can encounter in concert halls which were former churches is theatre seating in stuffy heat!  Let's just say that I changed my sartorial arrangements for future concerts!

Monday, November 12, 2012


Luxury for me comes in the form of space and time, and the new exhibitions called Artists' Laboratory at the Royal Academy have supplied both most generously in the case of the three I have so far attended.  On Sunday morning we had Stephen Chambers' exhibition completely to ourselves.  We were able to stay in there fully to enjoy the works - so long, indeed that the attendant came in at one point to check on us.  The photo below shows the opening party - such a contrast with the wondrous situation we encountered.
The exhibition consists of three collections of prints: The Big Country, illustrated above, is the central attraction.  An arrangement of 78 screenprints is an enthralling attraction which for me is very like watching an episodic story told with shadow puppets.
The unifying 'web' of the background pattern is a device which Stephen Chambers uses in many of his prints.  I find it one of the many attractive elements in his work.  Although each individual print - each framed in a perspex box - is the same size, the scale of the figures varies with soloists standing large, some five 'storeys' high, while complex incidents take part in one box - but each is very much part of the whole: the big story.  One of my favourite elements in the whole work apart from the figures is the tree, seen in quite a range of variations.  The Big Country is black and white, and full of colour.
The other group in the first room - of etchings - on the wall opposite The Big Country, is Trouble Meets Trouble.  These confirm Stephen Chambers' great humour as well as his storytelling impulse.  My absolute favourite is Marie Antoinette, but I love all of them. I have been intrigued by Stephen Chambers' use of chine colle, which in these cases provide the background pattern, seen in the later Big Country as a unifying overall element.
The third part of the exhibition is in the smaller room, and consists of lithographs on the wall from the series Portrait of a Pre-Caffeinated Mind.  (These can be seen on Stephen Chambers' website under lithographs.)  In display cases are examples of pages from the artist's books Long Pig and A Year of Ranting Hopelessly.
There is a catalogue available, which contains an interview with Stephen Chambers as well as an academic essay.  This should be available from the Royal Academy online shop, although it is not listed yet.  There are videos on The Big Country here, and a series here.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Processing progress

In April last year I started going to printmaking classes.  My main purpose was to expand my image making.  I wanted to have a different view of how I was getting to my primary means of expression.
I am certainly enjoying learning to use new techniques to generate images, and very much enjoying the thinking that leads to the employment of those techniques.  I relish the opportunity of using a different array of 'constraints' through which to progress with 'solutions'.
The first of the product of the printmaking classes is now coming through as a concrete textile project.  The traditional technique of collagraph used with variable viscosity inking led to five different prints from the same plate.
I scanned the prints - initially for my records - but liked seeing them together.  I like the idea of repetition, but at the same time not quite exact repetition.  I liked the variations that came about because of the inking, and because of the use of colour in a reasonably limited palette. 
Usually I work in cotton, but these images want to flow more, so I thought of them on silk.  I had some A3 habotai prepared for use in an inkjet printer, and so tried that.  Success!  I printed one each of the prints (!) and pinned them up to look at over a wee while.
I liked what I saw, but found it too 'thin', both literally and metaphorically.  So hey ho I ordered more printable habotai and printed another two sets, having first made a maquette in paper which definitely pleased me and gave me a title: Crowd.
The sheets of A3 habotai are thin and slippery to handle.  They also are in danger at this stage of losing a squared form, so needing to stiffen them a little before machine stitching them together into one large sheet, I ironed a light vilene backing onto each one.
Having achieved one piece of pieced fabric made up of printed prints (repetition is definitely involved here!), it was still too slippery to handle easily, and I also now wanted some means of keeping the whole taut while I got going on the hand stitching.  I had previously tried stitching a single prototype piece of printed silk with wadding, but I did not like the effect, so I decided to use light calico.  This has a taut enough weave without otherwise imposing its character on the silk.
I do not want the stitching to leap out immediately, and so I decided to eschew my normal cotton thread.  On the other hand, I wanted to retain the colour variation in that thread, and so decided to go back to Stef Francis but this time for fine silk threads.
I have not exactly speeded up any progress - it has taken me about a year to get to this stage, and the hand stitching will take me a wee while yet.  But I shall be interested to see what I think of it by the time I'm done.  In the meantime I am certainly enjoying the processes.