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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Bristol 24/7 Autumn Feast

Thursday November 16, in partnership with Square Food Foundation.

Enjoy a three-course banquet style dinner prepared by Square Food’s Barny Haughton and a team of 12 young budding chefs as part of my 25 year celebration exhibition.
The evening will be an opportunity to bring people together and celebrate our wonderful city. Enjoy seasonal, local and delicious food, drink wine and hear about what Bristol24/7 is up to.

10% of the proceeds of all sculptures, drawings and paintings sold on the night will go to B24/7’s social impact agenda.

For more info and to book tickets:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/bristol247-autumn-feast-tickets-37447792355

Planning my 25 year exhibition I knew it had to be a Bristol celebration. I would not only show over 100 artworks in a cavernous space, I would aim for high tide, a swell, a gathering of folk to teach and to inspire so it leaves behind a rich residue of connections, ideas, and hopefully some money, to nourish new growth.

I first came across the Square Food Foundation at a fundraising meal at Spike Island Café, Barny talked about doing cookery classes for people who didn’t know how to cook cheaply, or at all, it was a simple, human and inspirational idea.

As often happens in our city, a chance conversation with B24/7 has helped bring these ideas together. Their social impact agenda is about many things, but to me it’s about making these types of connections and to help us all grow with each other.

Below is interview I did with Bristol 24/7 about the event.

Q. What is your connection to Bristol, and why have you based your studio here?

In 1992, I had two commissions from my degree show and moved directly from Winchester to the Bristol Sculpture Shed. A few sculptors from Winchester were at the ‘shed’ so it was the studio that first brought me here.

We all then moved into Spike Island, and then have been at Paintworks since it started over 10 years ago. Over the years I have had temporary studios in London and Barcelona, but Bristol has always been home. It is here that I have grown up as a sculptor.

Q. Do you find that Bristol has been a good location for your artistic outlets?

It seems ridiculous to like a city because ‘it’s the right size’ but as well as being geographically easy to navigate by cycle it’s got everything. It’s difficult to create in a vacuum, you need good quality inspiration and Bristol has that.

There’s always plenty to see, do, hear and of course taste – it sounds horribly hipster but I love the fact that I can go to a poetry evening, get a locally brewed pint and buy a loaf of bread all at the same time.

Q. We’re celebrating your 25th year: what have you learned over that time, and do you have any tips for budding artists?

As my tutor at college said, ‘it’s just a f…… job’. He had a really annoying habit of being right a lot of times. What I think he was saying was don’t get all artsy-fartsy about making work, just get on with it, treat it like a job and get up every day and do it.

I left Winchester School of Art with determination and passion but I am afraid what they forgot to add was confidence. I didn’t rush my portfolio around the London galleries, I aimed low, as that is what I believed I was worth. I framed some drawings and prints, made cards and took them to a car boot fair. Literally, people looked at me as if I was mad, but it was a start.

You are the way you are but over time you recognise your traits more clearly and I realise I have always been both overly insecure and independent, I never want to ask for help preferring always to just get on with it. After 25 years I realise that this is both my weakness and my strength.

All you can do is work with what you’ve got but as my tutor said, you do have to work hard and put the hours in.

Q. What message are you trying to pass on to younger generations, and why do you think it is important?

I wouldn’t be so bold as to try and say I had a message but I could say it helps to look, work hard, believe in yourself but not so much as that you can’t see.

And never be afraid to start.

Q. Through the Autumn Feast, you’re choosing to support the Bristol24/7 social impact agenda – what does it mean to you?

I had a bit of a tricky spell as a teenager and ended up homeless, having ‘no fixed abode’ you suddenly find yourself on a very slippery slope but I was lucky enough to have been taught to cook.

Having nowhere to go in the evenings and no money I used to sit in the pub drinking water, eventually the landlord said I could use the kitchen upstairs. It was a bit of a rough pub so he was happy to let me have a go and try and ‘improve the clientele’.

I set up my own business doing lunches (it was too hectic in the evenings). It was a slow start, someone would order something at the bar like a sandwich and I would say ‘won’t be a min’. I would take the money for the order and run out the back of the pub to the shop and buy the stuff to make it, it escalated from there until I had enough money to make proper food and Sunday lunches.

One Sunday lunch when I had all my happy customers eating roast beef and Yorkshire puddings someone had issue with the landlord and a fight broke out, ashtrays were thrown at the optics and glasses were being flung about the place. It kind of put a bad vibe on my ‘family lunch’ location but it got me ‘off the streets’.

So, you could say food saved my life! The experience also helped me realise that not everyone can make it, can change the road they are on, without a lucky break and a supportive helping hand.

When Graham and I set up the Bristol Drawing School we never asked anyone to help or permission to set it up, he is also very independent and so we just went for it. We did some great things with the school that we are proud of, but in the end it was a lot for us to take on our own, and eventually we moved it to the RWA where it is a pleasure to see it still flourishing.

What I like about the Bristol 24/7 approach is the way it’s about making connections, all those people and organisations, like the Drawing School, that are battling to do good things on their own are being brought together. The feast is perfect example of this, people have been really happy to help and work together to make something bigger than any of them could do on their own.

Q. As part of the Autumn Feast, your ‘Eve‘ sculpture will be auctioned. What made you pick that one?

A few years ago, I was at a Justin Townes Earle gig at St Bonaventure’s, and someone shouted a song request from the audience, he just looked at them and said, ‘don’t tell me what to do’, and it made me smile for weeks. This piece has Eve sitting there with all those apples, and no one is going to tell her what she can or cannot do with them.