Funded by the Arts Council England, this exhibition of new work for the Sandiford Goudie Gallery at the Customs House has been made in response to my exploration of birch woods surrounding my home in the North Tyne valley.
Descartes talked about the eyes as tools for feeling the tactile textures of the world and for me, drawing is about ‘touching with the eyes’. The physicality of the produced mark as well as the idea that this mark is a kind of contact between myself and the subject is central to my work.
In the 16th century, the rural poor would wander the fields where herds of sheep roamed, gathering bits of wool caught on bushes and brush, hoping to find enough to weave into cloth or to sell. As wool-gathering was hardly a lucrative occupation and involved a great deal of meandering around the countryside, by about 1550 “wool-gathering” had taken on the figurative meaning of “wandering aimlessly for no productive purpose’, especially in the fields of one’s own mind.
The wool used for this body of work, has not been gathered, but sheared. Like woolgathering, this is hardly a lucrative business these days, the value of the fleece barely equating to the cost of paying someone to shear it off.
For this exhibition in the old shepherds’ cottages at RSPB Geltsdale in Cumbria, several of the felt sheets were hung from the beams in the flag-stoned kitchen alongside a series of pastel drawings. These studies examine and record the subtleties of the colour and the rhythm of the curl in each small fragment of wool taken from different parts of the fleece.
This exhibition celebrates the end of my twelve-month residency with Visual Arts in Rural Communities in Northumberland. Much of the work is made through the build-up of repetitive actions and the overlaying of objects or marks. Each piece is the result of a cumulative process, hence the title of the show, Cumulation.
Peter Davies, in his foreword for the exhibition publication, writes that the work addresses themes such as “the dependence and interdependence of living things in nature; the measure and recording of the passing of time; and the human condition in the landscape.”
A two-part project exploring how place affects the work we make and how people respond to work in two very different environments.
With Newcastle-based artists Lauren Healey, Rory Biddulph, Thomas Whittle, Holly Watson and David Lisser from NewBridge Project, we spent three days making new work for Highgreen. At the end of the three days, the artwork was shown to the public at a special viewing.
In November we will spend three days at NewBridge Studios to develop the Highgreen work for a public event at a venue in Newcastle city centre.
For more information go to www.varc.org.uk/special-projects/response-a-rural-urban-conversation.
I am very aware of how the sheep shape the landscape at Highreen. They are an integral part of the landscape. They also collect parts of the landscape within their fleeces: heather, mud, grass stains, bracken. Each of these sheets is made from a single fleece and is the size of a single bedsheet. For the exhibition, they were hung in the old laundry at Highgreen Manor.
Living as Artist in Resident in Tarset, a remote part of Northumberland, has been a big contrast to living in the city. The affect of weather conditions and of people working the landscape is very apparent here. I have had the time and space to really observe how the immediate surroundings change from season to season, day to day, moment to moment.
It has felt really overwhelming at times. Sometimes, I end up being in a state of panic because there is so much to see. Take one stone on a wall, covered with moss and lichen and crawling with insects: the closer you look, the more you realise there is. Then you glance up and see miles of walls crisscrossing the moors. It’s dizzying. Through making art, I can find a way to steady myself, to settle, to connect by focusing on a point in space and a point in time.
As well as keeping a daily sketchbook (see journal page), I have been working on several series of drawings and prints, some of which are shown here.
A continuous line tracking my year in Tarset. This single line traces the edges of whatever I rest my eyes on for 5 minutes each day. When complete, the drawing will measure 35metres in length.
This series are all studies from the beech wood next to the studio. Scars, where branches have fallen off or the bark has been damaged in some other way, are like ripples closing back in around the wound, healing but always leaving a trace of the tree’s own history. The drawings are scored into the paper over and over until the paper itself wears through taking on a scarring of it’s own.
Powdered graphite is applied with the fingertips, describing the surface of broken off tree limbs, collected after the heavy snow. The drawings lie on the surface of the paper. I wanted to make them seem like they would blow away at any moment, echoing the transience of the decaying wood, rotting back into the earth.
A body of work made specifically to accompany performances of Mozart’s Requiem performed at St Michaels and all Saints, Bristol as part of the Art on the Hill Arts festival.
The Danse Macabre (dance of death) is a medieval allegory on the universality of death. It is designed to remind us that in death we are all equal whatever our perceived status in life. This series of 9 pairs of drawings shows the bird “looking” at itself and conjures the idea of a dance.
Joint show with Deborah Feiler.
Through our work we both explore our individual experiences of landscape and the passing of time – from the wilting of a flower to the arc of the sun overhead.
Each experience is fleeting, and yet the record of it is fixed through use of line. Line has, for both of us, the physical and emotional qualities that can express the elusive connection between our internal and external landscapes.
The process by which these drawings are made echoes the way a nest is built. The materials a bird or insect uses (moss tugged up from the base of a tree, wood scraped from a window ledge) involve the action of destruction as well as one of construction. Thousands of journeys are made, as little by little, the nest is created. In the drawings, each line that is made is also erased. The task is repetitive: little by little, each line adds to the form that eventually takes shape.
Group Show Fringe Arts Bath
For this exhibition I made a before and an after drawing. I recorded the growth of a pea, daily for 6 weeks. On the eve of the show, I removed the pea from its container and suspended it. On the wall of the gallery, I made a time-lapse drawing that recorded its subsequent wilt and decay. The before drawing still exists.
Nature is always ready to encroach on civilization. It is also what civilization is built on and what sustains it. The plants I have selected to use have nourishing and/or healing properties and all are found in the urban environment: building sites, railway tracks, parks and pathways
Selecting plants found on the building site next to the studio, the drawings have developed over a period of several weeks, recording their gradual decay. The drawing set-up is there for as long as the drawings remain: one does not exist without the other. The plants themselves question the role of the drawings as representation, indeed whether representation is at all possible.
My desire to embed the image was taken a step further when I began to stamp, grind and hammer objects into the surface. Sustained is a calendar recording the bramble season. The work’s assimilation back into the environment is fundamental to its meaning as a reminder that seasons and opportunities pass.
The piece is also made from harvesting seed heads and, it too, is in a constant state of flux. Formally, Drift contrasts the rigid structure and physically fixed nature of Sustained. It is not fixed down but is constantly moving, gradually eroded through the process of being viewed. You are encouraged to touch; to pick one up.Click and drag the mouse on the 360° panoramic image to change the view.
As a consequence of attempting to pin down the elusive, much of my work has a temporal quality. At the same time the process itself is very much about being in the now. Counting, observing, collecting, markmaking is a state of private ritual or meditation. Making contact and marking time is my motivation for making work and in doing this, I am also attempting to bridge the gap between reality and representation.