Here

I was brought up in the hills of North Yorkshire. Based in Bristol for 25 years and having surfed in Cornwall and Devon I was looking for the hills in Exmoor, but one trip to the Black Mountains I realised they weren’t hills at all, just beautiful bumps on a downy devon duvet.

I don’t believe in god or ghosts, or the movement of stars but there is something about the mountains… even if it’s just within the perimeters of my skull.

We found a tiny one up one down cottage with a lean-to studio and a really big garden. I fell in love. On closer inspection however, it had fallen out of love with the land it lay on. It had feet of clay. The clay bed it perched it’s stone on was slipping down the rock of Vowchurch Common. We could have secured roots to the stone and tried to stop the land slipping but we ‘didn’t have that sort of money’.

So instead we went on a 6-month adventure to Barcelona and came back to Autumn in the UK. In Barcelona we had spring early and autumn late, we had swimming in the sea and dancing and roller blading along the beach, but it turns out I am hefted to the UK.

So, within weeks of our return to Bristol we were looking at a rental property above Longtown. It was a day of damp rain and low cloud. She said come back when you can at least see the mountain. It’s brilliant we said, we will take it. We had months of mud and I fell so deeply in love that by the time spring came up through the ground I thought I was going to burst with the beauty of it all.

They needed to sell it.

My father said on his death bed ‘don’t buy that big place’.

And we ‘didn’t have that sort of money’ anyway.

We had looked about south east, east and north east of the black mountains, our tether to Bristol and work being still strong it didn’t seem to allow us straight over the hill.

So, we looked at one place over the other side of the hill and it is now home. It has a tiny garden and a small shed to work in which Graham and I fought over until we found the Chapel on Newport Street.

It was Molly dog who introduced us. We were walking up the road with the cottage particulars, we only ever really needed to see the outside of a place to make a decision as it was which way it was facing that mattered. Molly said hello to Diva dog, so we said hello to Diva’s owner Sue. Turns out she was a sculptor herself and knew my work, turns out her husband Tim was one of our best friend’s Uncle, turns out we have landed in the best place to live in the world with the nicest neighbours you could ask for.

Oh, and then there is this funny unique Hay place. Well that’s a rather superb bonus!

Off on another adventure

Graham and I are off on another adventure. We opened the Bristol Drawing School over ten years ago, Barcelona was nearly five years ago, Bristol is home but life is an adventure.

I am .. in the process of .. moving from my amazing Paintworks studio in Bristol to divide myself between the wilds of the Welsh Marches and East London.

We have been living about 1/3 in Wales and 2/3rds in Bristol for some time but just before Christmas I was lucky enough to be offered a chapel in Hay on Wye, not far from our cottage in Llanigon.

The chapel needs work but we got rid of the carpet, the curtains, the majority of the mold and painted the main space white which will do for now. The toilet door will have to wait. It has a garden, which I spent some time hacking back and that too in time will be lovely, for sure. It has old roses, which spent a little time hacking me back so we have arrived at a truce for now and they are blooming again.

After 25 years in Bristol it has been a slight shock to the system but yesterday I walked our dog Molly over the hills to work and realised that this could be heaven.


The Chapel, Newport Street, Hay on Wye HR3 5BG

A friend described moving like leaping from one trapeze to another, there is always a bit of time spent in mid air after you have let go.

The leap is nearly complete, I have found a studio in London in an area we love. We now just need to find a flat…got my priorities right there! Like Paintworks, the London studio sits in the sun and looks out through big windows onto Regents Canal. It is a short walk up Broadway Market to London Fields for Molly. Don’t feel sorry for her, she loves London, it’s nice and smelly.

11 Regent Studios, Andrews Road, London E8 4QN

We stayed there for two months in January and February. I reconnected with the Royal Drawing School (the inspiration behind the Bristol Drawing School, now at the RWA) . I had long chats with Raphael when I copied his cartoons, I went medieval in the National Gallery, I went baroque in the V&A. The great masters are like route planners, they hand out a baton and they say yes. I like those conversations.

But that richness needs digestion and I am not sure I could cope with that much excitement full time so I think the divide will be good.

Moving

I went and got myself lost.

I was swinging away merrily on my trapeze, I could do all sorts of tricks hanging from my strong tree with a sturdy branch for me. Apart from a temporary perch in London and Barcelona that tree had been home for 25 years.

Swing swing.
Swing swing.

Then a plan is hatched…exciting.
Love a plan.
Love a life plan.
Exciting.
Ok.

Swing swing.

Pack up my still life tableaux’s, my shelves, my studio, my identity. Rip the images from the walls, rip down the walls and floors of our home, our handcrafted work live, (also on a shelf) Put them all into a skip.

Place the salvaged remains in boxes labelled with marker pen, ‘open now’ or ‘archive’. Put all the most precious memories of tiny bits into the wrong type of box so it smashes and spills your life over the inside of the hire van.

It’s only stuff.
I literally don’t care. Swing swing.

Let go of the trapeze.

Carol let go of the trapeze.

Float.

Can’t really see the trapeze the other side by the way?

Float.

Most of my life goes into storage. Move into my new space, a chapel, a different architect, a different sensibility, still cant see the other trapeze by the way? Deadlines don’t move so work surrounded by mess and boxes with no time for gravity.

Float.

Then this morning I think about the labels for my show, my upcoming solo show… in my new tree. The one I was SO excited about. The tree that I wrote all those things in. The tree where I made those paintings and sculptures.

I see that I was in fact here all the time.

There are strong trees in Llanigon and London. And I also see its not necessarily the tree that has to be strong.

Swing swing.
Swing swing.

My Hackney Holiday

Reaching out for knowledge is a funny thing.
It would be good if by doing so the image of yourself stayed the same.
But it doesn’t.

It shifts and grows and shrinks, as if you are sitting in a train
looking out at yourself standing on a platform.
And the train comes in and out of the station.

Your form, like your ego shifts.
Often it is so small it’s
like a pin.
A stripe of figure with a head.

Even from a distance we can recognise this as human.
A little closer the stance is particular.
Closer and you see yourself again
but with knowledge you are altered.

Like gathering candy floss, images come with you.
Jewels float from Victoria and Albert’s stained glass
(which you hated at the time)
and from a tapestry with mad eyes.

 

I could hardly see myself when I arrived,
The tiredness from a years working on adrenalin,
a new space to live, new studio, 2 months of nothing mapped.
But I walked on roots.

The planes outside our window grow on common land.
Their foundations must reach to the edges of the park
so at turf level, below the branches,
we are enveloped in wood.

Days spent in low sun and the patterns of branches,
the unfamiliar becomes the regular
and you find the right route,
the super highway.

And like Barcelona it makes you break into song while riding your bike.
Its January, its raining and cold
but from the cycle path the outlook over the river is awesome.

 

One week in the national gallery
is enough to alter the currency.
The anxiety of a workaholic
switches to self investment, to enquiry.

I went medieval.
I went baroque, I even found Jesus.
And Mary.
And Venice.
I could go on.

The great masters like route planners,
they handed a baton,
they said yes.

After a couple of beers your ambition swelled
to be as great as Amadeus
and ‘so lofty you shat marble’.

Yes, you could be as good as Raphael.
Given the time, the space.

 

The equation is a third.

I am only working to a third of my ability.
(ok so add two thirds I admit Raphael and Mozart may still be a reach)

But as you stared close up at your mad and excited face
the train pulls away.

 

Back in class, learning.

I always said drawing was humbling but then add a tutor’s
knowledge, even just their power to retain names makes you small.
Eating out, drinking, growing physically larger makes you small.
A weakness is exposed, a chink,
and you go for self destruct.

The train moves out and even the pin starts to haze.
You need help to get back into the station.

You reach out by email, ‘I need a guide to help me see myself’.
I check my website to make sure I don’t look too shoddy
and realise that I am back on the platform.

 

I am suddenly back in my body.
The equation is still two thirds
but I have a strong third here.
I am actually a painter after all.

 

 

 

p.s.

Graham says ‘it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you don’t give yourself a hard time about it’
Yes, correct Graham.

But Graham,
it does matter.
It does matter what you do.
2/3 rds Graham,
that’s how much it matters.

 

 

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