Sunday, 30 March 2014

Mother's Day

It's Mother's Day in the UK on Sunday 30 March and the shops have been full of greetings cards and gifts for the last few weeks. This year it is also the same day that the clocks go forward one hour and we enter British Summer Time.

Instead of buying a card I designed this one for both my mum and my mother-in-law. I decided to recycle an image I made last year as a response to my visit to the Paul Klee exhibition at Tate Modern because I thought it expressed just the right amount of sentiment being both cheerful and unfussy.

Designing my own card reminds me of the time when as a child I used to look forward to the Mothering Day service at church. I didn't much like church services as a rule finding them boring, long winded and the seating uncomfortable – Sunday school was much more fun. But on this one occasion in the year I was prepared to make an exception.

We used to attend St Mary's church in Goats Lane in Basingstoke and someone at the church took the trouble to nurture flowers in the grave yard. On Mothering Sunday they would cut small bunches of primroses and put them in a basket and then us children would be invited up to the altar during the service to collect a bunch to give to our mums' who were sitting waiting in the pew. This would have been back in the 1960s but I still have very fond memories of this annual event.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Sensing spaces at the Royal Academy

I spent an enjoyable couple of hours in the rarefied atmosphere of the Royal Academy of Arts last week at the Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined exhibition. Seven distinguished, international architectural practices were set the challenge of giving us, the viewer, a new perspective of architecture. The result was a number of large architectural installations designed to make us ask questions about space, light, structures, textures and materials – things we generally take for granted in our daily lives and don't ever think that architects need to answer when they are designing buildings.

You can see some very good photographs of this exhibition at Join the big picture blog which conveys an excellent impression of the installations. I found it great fun moving from one installation to the next and slowly immersing myself in each different experience be it moving from shadow to light, or climbing up a tower and then walking slowly downstairs via a ramp. Inhaling the smell of pine and pretending to be in a forest. Entering a darkened space lit only by spotlights shining light onto wavy twigs felt quite hypnotic and adding a plastic straw to an experimental sculpture made me feel part of the process not just an observer. On the way towards the exit I appreciated the film where the different architects explained the reasons behind their design decisions.

Entering Canary Wharf underground station
I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience but then I began to wonder if I really needed to visit an art gallery to have my eyes opened to the built environment. I often travel around London from Canary Wharf underground station which is like a cathedral to concrete. It was designed by Sir Norman Foster and opened in 1999 and it was voted the 'most loved' tube station in a poll in 2013 which suggests I'm not alone in my admiration of this station. Once you have reached the ticket hall you then descend as far again to the platforms. As you walk through these vast spaces you can't help but be physically affected by the way the series of giant pillars relate with the soaring ceiling and contrast with the gleam of the floor and the matt qualities of the concrete walls. I find it all quite soothing so for me this station has all the qualities of an art installation while at the same time being something of great practical use.

Friday, 21 March 2014

The day Heather met Heather

Just some of the material promoting all this art in the Medway
Long, long ago (back in the 1970s) I was a student at Bath Academy of Art. This was a small college with around 300 students which was partially housed in old Nissen Huts in the grounds of a Georgian house called Beechfield House. These huts were a legacy from WWII when the RAF was stationed there.

The ceramic studios were in the old coach house, the sculpture school had it's own hanger-like building in the grounds and the cafeteria won an architectural award. The library was housed in a gracious stately home called Corsham Court and many of us lived in charming 18th century workers cottages where the walls were not vertical and nor were the floors quite horizontal. I recall quite a number of students were based at Newton Park (another big house with sprawling grounds) who we never got to meet.

The time I spent there were certainly three formative years – the design principles I learned then still inform my design decisions today – but I do try to avoid viewing my student days there through rose tinted spectacles. It's very easy to recall the gorgeous peacocks strutting around the grounds at Corsham Court and to forget how hard I found the course work.

Rochester Castle from an alley
But, I do remember meeting a very nice student in the etching studio or maybe it was the print shop. This was Heather Haythornthwaite and she was into etching. So on Monday last, 17 March 2014, we finally met again when I paid a visit to her neck of the woods. She's still into etching in a big way and runs the Hazlenut Press out of her house. We had a blast chatting about old times and looking at her black and white photos of fellow students. I chucked out all of my work from college back in the early 80s which I don't regret except that I also threw out a small sketchbook I had made in bookbinding class and never actually drew in it and I was reminded of it while Heather showed me round her house.

Heather gave me a proper tour of some of the artistic charms of Rochester and Chatham starting at Café Maroc and I was staggered at the range of opportunities there are to practice as an artist in the Medway area. It's ironic that I live in Hackney, the London borough that has the most concentration of artists living and working in London, and I'm finding it difficult to get involved in Open Studios and regular exhibitions. Anyway, whingeing aside, Heather and I are looking forward to possibly doing some work together.

Monday, 10 March 2014

I'm in York, the old one not the new one

Looking towards the Minster from King's Square
I'm spending this weekend at the Liberal Democrat spring conference in York. I find listening to politics interesting but also draining so I like to find something cultural to do as well. York was a Roman city and the historic centre of the city is clustered around the rive Ouse with York Minster at it's heart.

The site of the above sketch
I've been here for just over 24 hours and I'm beginning to learn my way around the maze of winding streets that are full of sweet (candy) shops. Two famous Quaker families, Rowntree and Cadbury, established factories in the city in the 19th century making chocolate including some brands like Kit Kat which is still being made today. They employed many people and their staff enjoyed enlightened working conditions which was very unusual for the time.

Apparently York is also full of ghosts. There is the Real Haunted House said to be over 700 years old and full of restless spirits just waiting to put the wind up you. If that isn't enough you can go on any number of competing ghost walks and then visit the York Dungeon to journey through York's murky past. If this doesn't appeal I can recommend a walk around the city walls which provides a great panoramic view of the city.

I didn't do any of these preferring instead to spend a short time soaking up the atmosphere in York Minster which was the most peaceful and tranquil part of my day and where I did the following drawing.

I realised that I would never be able to draw
everything I could see so I just concentrated
on some features

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

My walk home from Springfield Park

View from Springfield Park before the weather
took a turn for the worse ©Heather James

I had plans for yesterday that had to be rearranged on the fly so, after a bit of dithering, I decided to head up to Springfield Park just a few miles away. To save time I travelled by bus. When I set out the weather wasn't too bad but by the time I arrived the rain had settled in which wasn't conducive to the sketching trip I had in mind.

By now it was around lunch time so I went into the café to warm up and delay making a decision to either carry on with my plan or jack it all in and go home. Having eaten I felt fortified enough to explore the park and I spotted a shelter I could stand under so even though it was raining I reckoned it was worth unpacking my rucksack and getting stuck into at least one drawing which you can see above.

I found the view really interesting. It included part of the river Lea, some railway lines, swathes of green and trees coming into blossom. Unfortunately I couldn't explore this view for very long because the rain was driving into my shelter and the far distant horizon had turned from an interesting fuzzy grey with indistinct buildings to a blanket of dark grey with no visible features. There was only one thing for it: it was time to head for home.

Walthamstow marshes
I didn't feel like repeating the crowded bus journey with all the traffic hold-ups and passengers yelling at each other so I chose to walk back along the river. When I set out I realised that it must be five years or more since we had taken this route which I found astonishing. The walk home was about three miles and most of it was either along the river or along the Lea Navigation canal.

I was delighted to experience some sunshine along the way that was so warm I had to remove my hat, gloves and scarf. The sunshine brought out the gorgeous scent of some blossom that looked like Hawthorn flowers but seems rather early in the year since I gather it doesn't usually flower until May. I was less pleased when I had to put all these items of clothing back on and endure more cold, windy rain which increased the closer I got to home.

I was thrilled to watch some of the wild life living on Walthamstow marshes which is one of the last remaining wetlands in London. This is definitely somewhere I'd like to explore later in the year. I enjoyed looking at the maps on my route which look so new I suspect they are a legacy from the 2012 Olympics. I was amazed at the number of blocks of high rise flats that are rapidly replacing old industrial buildings – I can't imagine who will be able to afford to live in them. Most of all I enjoyed the peace and quiet of strolling along the river path and scrutinising the narrow boats moored nearby. Some of them looked so fancy they might be featured in a glossy magazine and some of them looked so dilapidated I hope no-one has to call them home.
It was so tranquil I thought I was in the countryside

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Public art 7: Torsion II by Charles Hadcock

Torsion II outside Canary Wharf underground station
This sculpture caught my eye as I was dashing towards Canary Wharf underground station last week. I don't remember seeing it there before so it might have been installed quite recently or I might just have been walking around with my eyes shut for the last few months.

I took this photo on a dull day with my camera phone so it's not a very distinct image. I recommend visiting Charles Hadcock's website where you can see this sculpture much more clearly along with many others displayed in outdoor settings.

Charles Hadcock is a new artist to me although he has been labouring away for years. I find this sculpture interesting because of its upward movement and geometric qualities but I wasn't particularly taken with some of the other work on display on his website. I found some of it rather clunky and too big for its setting. The monumental sculpture I prefer is by artists like Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Anthony Caro.