walkintostaithes

I was very lucky to spend 12 days of December working at Staithes Studios on the North Yorkshire coast. The studio belongs to Staithes Studios Gallery owners and printmakers, Stef and Ian Mitchell who had invited us to work there in response to the locality. Staying beside the studio and working alongside my partner, letterpress printer David Armes, we fell into an easy routine, to keep warm, refuelled and on task; both restful and stimulating.

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Each day we walked for an hour or so and then returned to the studio to print. Often David would go ahead of me, find a path, take photos and notes for his own letterpress prints while I walked round the harbour to draw the water meeting it’s banks whilst the tide was in. The natural bay and man made harbour at Staithes was a great place to continue my study in contained and flowing water.  I plan to work these drawings up into woodcuts.

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Later over coffee David would describe the walk to me and then I would go, with scribbled notes, to find the path and take down my own notes and drawings on foil card to ink and run through the press on my return.  This routine varied a little depending on planned routes or the weather. A couple of walks were a bit longer and needed two heads to find the paths – we always walked without maps. Some days it was bitter in the harbour but warm up on the cliffs. Some days too cold or windy to draw much and I realised that the metal etching needle I drew with was conducting the cold right to my bones!  This actually helped as my preferred drawing style is sparse and in the poor weather I relied on the briefest of marks and the impact of the view on my senses to ink the plate effectively on my return.

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There were so many wonderful textures around Staithes to draw the eye but when I came to walk and draw the landscape my eye always followed the posts, the lines that demarcated paths and skirted the contours. Though the drawings and plates remained largely linear and figurative the textures stayed in my mind and at my fingertips and led my approach to inking.

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My intention had been to walk and draw a card at allotted spots throughout each walk. These would then be printed individually and together to give the impression of sequence and shifting perspective through a walk. I’ve always enjoyed layering images to convey a sense of movement and time. I had used the approach with (lightweight and easy to carry!) foil card to document a walk done over 5 days in 2009 and then reproduced in my artist’s books From Cromer to Hunstanton  and also as original plate and prints in Line and A Line, 2008 to convey the incremental changes of the cracks in my studio ceiling. Still, most recently I have been mainly focussed on relief printing and it took me a few days to warm up to drypoint on foil card, both in drawing and printing.  I’ve never actually had the opportunity to work solidly for such a period of time; there is always paid employment and life to distract. For those 12 days the shift in my printing practice was palpable and I’ve resolved to take time off  and schedule myself out of life next time I want to focus on a project.

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By the end of the 12 days I had made 23 plates and 69 prints. I’ve brought them home to contemplate and perhaps compile a few into an artists book. Then a select few will get framed for an exhibition back at Staithes Studios Gallery at the start of March.  I’m looking forward to revisiting Staithes in the spring.

A big thank you goes to Stef and Ian Mitchell of Staithes Studios for giving us the opportunity.

 

 

 

remains of an old town

September 12, 2016

Photos from a day spent at the old Fortress of Stari Bar in Montenegro this summer. There is plenty of information around the web about this site, abandoned after an earthquake in 1979 took out it’s aqueduct. Now an open air museum, work is being done to restore and conserve, key buildings have had their roofs replaced, one building appears to house an artist studio and performances are made in the amphitheatre. On the day of visiting music wafted across the site, the hot sun drew out the scents of the wild herbs all around while the small windows and nooks that remain in the thick stone walls provided respite from the heat for us and Stari Bar’s many cats.

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Another instalment from a trip made last year.

When I heard that there was a park that had been built over an old freeway running through Boston, I had visions of the Promenade Plantee in Paris – raised walkways surrounded by clambering growth (at least that’s what I remember). I was a little disappointed that the freeway had been dismantled, the cars re-routed under ground and the parks set at ground level with little of the luscious planting of my dreams.  The spaces were neat, flat with many hard surfaces (I include tidy lawn in this) but they did provide an easy walk through the centre of Boston and many sun filled places to stop and view the modern city’s large towers from.  They also functioned well as an outdoor gallery, the lines of the park and buildings complimenting the sculptures.

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A TRANSLATION OF ONE LANGUAGE INTO ANOTHER – Lawrence Weiner, 2015

Whilst looking at the newly installed Lawrence Weiner mural a girl who explained that she saw the wall regularly on her way to the dentist said she preferred the old mural.  I shared my impression of the dazzling dense colours and asked her to not give up on it yet and give it another look each time she passed. Looking at the range of comments made about past murals on the site it is clear that each mural has been deemed a success by some and a failure by others, at least they have been allowed the time to grow in peoples minds.

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Just around the corner was a set of maquettes from an architecture competition, I think, my favourites of which worked well with the bright light of the day.

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A similar construction material to the Serpentine Pavillion 2014 around which I saw a man with bread, veg and fish strapped to his head wander and pose.

 

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As If It Were Already Here – Janet Echelman, 2015

I’d seen some of Janet Echelman’s work in print before but was delighted to find her living and breathing work on the greenway. After being impressed by the graphic and spatial relationships between the city and the previous works mentioned, it was wonderful to see something so huge, delicate and constantly shifting within the city…almost like installing a contained weather system into a small urban space.

Gemma phone_20150926_041Gemma phone_20150926_046I’ll finish this post with a picture of a singing bridge found on a windy day and a Karel Martin print seen later on the same day at the Le Corbusier designed Carpenter Centre for the Visual Arts. The bridge incidentally sung by sounding different notes as vehicles of different weights  drive over at different speeds, making singular notes or harmonies depending on how busy the bridge got.  Unfortunately my mobile phone recording does not do it justice so I won’t include it here. Happily the prints mirror the grid pattern that created the notes and give a sense of the singular and harmony.

a brief visit to Detroit

March 29, 2016

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Last year my partner David Armes of Red Plate Press was awarded a Winston Churchill Travel Fellowship with which he toured and printed in some of the many letterpress studios in the United States. You can see the blog of his trip (and in effect details of parts of mine) here.

Amazingly, I got the chance to visit him, landing in Detroit during his final week working at open access print shop Signal Return and received the same kind and generous hospitality from the team and their founder that they had extended to David.  On my visit to the printshop I had the pleasure of hearing readings from Anatomy of a Museum a book  written by A.Kendra Greene recently published in collaboration with Lee Marchalonis the Printer in Residence at Signal Return.  The book is an account of getting-to-know the Icelandic Phallological Museum, with letterpress printed cover and mono printed endpapers, the book is well worth the read and purchase of.  Kendra and Lee also read from  their most recently completed collaboration and talked of the nature of such wonderful things happening through residencies and time apportioned.

On a kindly lent bike I got to have a scoot around the city.  I guess partly because the city, built for the car, has a much smaller population than it once did, the roads, wide and empty, are pretty safe to cycle on (though there’s quite a lot of bumps). In other U.S cities  I hear people don’t even dare.  Attempts seem to be made to encourage it in Detroit and I did see other cyclists, especially on the Dequindre Cut, a recently installed cycle route running from the Eastern Market through downtown to the river front.  Detroit also have racks on the front of buses where you can stash your bike and hop on.  Even with oil and gas as cheap as they are in the US cycling has still got to be the most economical option for a cash strapped city.

From the river front you can see Canada, in fact Detroit is the only place in the U.S where you look south to Canada. If you carry on along the front you can cycle the wide bridge to Belle Isle Park.  A leisure island home to, among other things, a nature zoo, aquarium, many picnic shelters, a beach, water slide and the Belle Isle Conservatory, built in 1904, run by the state of Detroit and quite lovely.

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I think this was part of the Nature Zoo

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Having just left a small friendly town in the U.K. I found myself getting the same kind of reception and community vibe from the Detroiters, perhaps again, this is because the population has dwindled and folks feel more inclined. Perhaps Detroit folk have always been warm and keen to acknowledge each other. Perhaps I was just looking for it.

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I certainly passed some places where sadness dwells; empty lots next to grand locked up houses, the vast abandoned Packard factories, Michigan Central Station.  I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to watch, not only a big powerful city but a city called home, fall like Detroit did.  At least now, it seemed like in many of these places sadness was being met with creative optimism. On the evening we visited The Heidelberg Project  a young troupe of gymnasts were posing and cartwheeling around for a photographer.  I got an excellent walking/eating tour of Detroit Market Garden who offer apprenticeships and run a twice weekly food bank with crops grown across the city.  There are lots more projects like this.  At least in these places it felt like folk were looking to move on and put something back into the city community whilst doing so, I hope it helps.

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I took these photos as the sun went down in Hamtramck a city nearby Detroit, the most ethnically diverse and feeling-like-home city that I saw in the US.  We gawped at the backyard wonders of  Dmytro Szylak along with a little girl and her mum and read in the comments book notes from international visitors.  Perhaps a little noisy and bright for some of his neighbours, but what a joyful gift to leave the world with.

Just over a year ago we flew into Heathrow, the birds chirping loud and clear as we rolled into London on the tube, I realised I had not consciously heard bird song for a month. Were there no singing birds in Russia, Mongolia, China or even spring time Japan, or had I just not noticed over the ‘noise’ of everything else.

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After a 2 day ferry took us across the sea to Japan. We passed through Osaka on our way to Kyoto where the Sakura parties were in full swing. Wandering through the night streets full of people in high spirits, visiting temple gardens. Filing past dramatically lit landscaping and bamboo. Kneeling in our socks alongside business men and women at the edge of a raked gravel garden ‘ooh and aaahing’ at a full bloom weeping cherry tree, lit like fireworks, centre stage. Blossom trees spotlit in a park full of darkness and smoke. Wading into the darkness, towards the chanting, to find groups of people huddled together under the trees, drinking, eating, singing, intoxicated by but seeming to forget, the blossom all around them.

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We took one train then another, up through the centre of Honshu to Yudanaka, a small town at the start of the Japanese Alps. This whole area seemed used for agriculture, fruit and nut trees as far as I could see, their wiry branches stretched out along supports, too cold for blossom yet. In peoples gardens the ground was worked right up to the back door, not much space for flouncy planting and landscaping, all the land is made use of, it seems like a simple thing, but I’ve never seem it before.

Shrine at Temple in Obuse

Twenty minutes down the trainline Obuse is well known for its chestnut growing with which it makes puree and sweets and tiles it’s pavements with chestnut wood. Here also lives a temple ceiling painted by Hokusai and an old school house museum full of things that we visited in a storm that flapped the windows and pelted the roof.

 

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Chestnut paving, Obuse

From sleepy gentle countryside to Tokyo, which blew my mind. Whether it was the enormity of city itself or the cumulative effect of 3 other countries and cultures in 3 weeks, once we entered Tokyo I was very grateful to be lead around and looked after. The train and underground systems are excellent, I managed to walk around in a daze for most of the visit without getting too lost.

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The city is layer upon layer in a constant state of rebuild. To be a twenty year old building is a rare thing apparently.

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And old Tokyo buildings are resettled in a park museum on the outskirts of town.

 

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a month away – a day here

January 22, 2014

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Just in time for Chinese New Year, my travel reverie arrives in China. I’ve been putting this one off as I so wanted to say something worthwhile about the place, it being a country that everyone seems to have an opinion on at present. My good intentions of reading around my subject got as far as China Diary by Stephen Spender and David Hockney, lent me by the lovely Sara Stabb,a book made after the two men were toured around the country for a month in 1981. It’s an interesting read with regards to two men’s views of China at the time and also how two artists and a country approach such a task.  I was only in China for 3 and a half days, still I will share some pictures and thoughts.

Erlian station

My first encounter with China was in Erlian, leaving the train to have it’s bogeys changed we found we couldn’t get into the station and then later on, couldn’t get out again. I became increasingly frustrated at the restrictions of movement, especially when there was a beautiful platform in full sunshine outside to enjoy. Had there been lots of people to control I could have understood it better, and I guess that’s why those restrictions were in place, but there were just a few of us milling around being kept from our trains and the sunlight – as i saw it. Of course our train came back from the depot at the correct time and we were let out and allowed to climb aboard, this did rather set the tone for a while.

We were met in a ‘small’ (see London) town by strangers with a loose connection and treated to their curiosity, warmth and generous hospitality. I explained my experience in Erlian to one of our hosts and he explained that, with respect, I just needed to do what I was told and sit and wait like everyone else.

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I found similar restrictions in place the next day in Beijing. I just wanted to cross the road but I had to go 3 sides round a square to get to the other side. Now I think about it, this is a more familiar problem to me in England, than it seemed at the time.

forbidden palace gardens

We shuffled around the Forbidden Palace, cold in the Beijing fog/smog. Groups huddled, looking through their cameras at the empty halls and  palaces. The smaller palaces filled with collections of ceramics and jade (see top photo) and living spaces of the courtesans (3rd photo) had such perfect proportions. Perhaps because the rooms were screened off, seemingly left as they had been, with a thick layer of dust on the table in front of the windows,nicreasing the sense of longing, the spaces seemed perfect for being in, nestling in, waiting in. They conjured scenes of intimate and elegant hospitality. They seemed a little like cages too, screened off as they were.

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door in palace courtyard

We climbed to the top of Yingshan Park with a  hot sweet potato to view the forbidden palace through our first cherry blossom of the year. Then we climbed back down stone steps to the sounds of groups gathered in song. Further on in the park we found others playing games, jamming and having discussions. It was a Sunday.

view from top of Jingshan Park

Jingshan steps

There were patterns painted, carved, moulded, engraved and lived everywhere and the marks of time patterning on top of all that.  I tried to soak it up without photographing everything. Still, more to come.

Jingshan park door detail

lions in Jingshan park

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In and around Sukhbaatar Square in Ulan Bator. A large space surrounded by an opera house, a culture house, the palace, a massive sculpture of Genghis Kahn….but also some lovely street lights.

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Lots of the Buddhist Temples in Mongolia were scrapped during the Communist era, Choijin Lama Monastery, above, was lucky enough to be allowed to stay on as a museum. The Temples were a feast for the eyes and a proper celebration of life in all its forms. Walls and ceilings full with lurid painted patterns and images, ghostly prints hanging from the rafters, stuffed textile spirits, hundreds of cast Buddhas and deeply dyed banners, the smells of smouldering incense and the whir or prayer drums.

Wherever you look in Ulan Bator you can see the mountains that surround the valley city. You can also see building sites. Old and new budged next to each other.

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From the top of the hill crowned by the Zaisan Memorial you can see the city growing as it pushes against the sides of the valley.

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The Zaisan Memorial was built to commemorate the lives of Soviet soldiers in World War II. The mosaics also nod to Mongolian independence, relations with China, Japan and space exploration. I wonder how much the teenagers who hang out up there know or rate the sentiments expressed in the graphic style. The Mongolian language, full of sounds that seem to get turned over and around the tongue many times before being let out of the mouth, was a little too nuanced for me to pick up enough to have this conversation.

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Walking over patchy snow and ice that is melting away to reveal the sandy, dry grasses of the Terelj National park on a day late in March. A change to the more familiar-slush mud puddles of Russia.  Some lovely dry brush trees and hills to etch at a later date.

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Something about Ulan Bator was really wonderful. It seemed to me to be the people, who walking down the street would meet your eye with an open smile to share a joke or to simply acknowledge that we are both here together in this moment. I might have been naive or overly romantic, but Mongolia and the Mongolian people felt open, warm, full of interest and playful curiosity. Maybe this is down to their nomadic souls, perhaps it was just how I was feeling at the time. Ulan Bator is a developing city with all the potential unknowns that this status brings, whatever path it choses to take I hope that warm and open feeling remains.

a month away…

April 27, 2013

..moving slowly through landscapes and occasionally stopping, letting the delayed motion sickness subside whilst wandering through city streets soaking up the details of architecture, people, ways of being. Communicating in a mixture of unfamiliar languages and gesture, benefiting from the kindness of strangers. Constantly challenged, stimulated and well fed.

It turns out after all that, I took few photos and most underwhelming compared to the actual. Still, here’s a few, just for the record.

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Moscow, very cold. The metro stations elegant and grand…in the middle of a vast shuffling crowd I look up to see a mosaic stretching across an arched ceiling. Lenin and colleagues detailed  marching in the other direction above us.  St. Basil’s Cathedral… there is nothing quite like the cold held inside an unheated building, but it was a treat nonetheless to meander through the small chapels and walkways inside. It reminded me of the crypt at Canterbury and much of its original wall painting did too, there are some images that fade in and out of the patina just like those in Canterbury, that you can only see if you stand in the right light. Other parts of the wall painting are bold and wonderful,  starting a theme to continue through much of the trip- pattern pattern everywhere.

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tobolsk old town river

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Tobolsk and Tomsk colder still. Snow up to here, ice and more snow and ice and we begin to learn to walk in new ways, after the first few falls. These towns are full of carved wooden buildings, beautifully made, painted and loved, some are sadly falling apart as they fight the extremities of Russian seasons and the poverty of their owners trying to hold them together.

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Finally Olkhon Island, the sacred centre of Lake Baikal, an awesome and ancient island where many fish are eaten and Shamanism is practised. We only saw a tiny portion of the island, dense pine and birch woods, cliffs and sandy headlands, under the snow. During the winter months Olkhon is accessible via an ice road mainly travelled by 9 seater minibuses and camper vans. The ice itself is a whole other post.

olkhon rock

olkhon woods

to be continued…