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.

 

Daubers Trip Feb 2017

So for me it seems everything needs a reason to be, a reason to do.

Although the time away from the studio unsettles me, I allow myself ‘painting holidays’, but I still angst about them being a ‘waste of my time’.

But looking at my Tenby attempts to respond to all that sea and sand, although they didn’t capture the seagulls, the warm breeze and sun as I sat on cold morning sand they did make me think of colour. They made me look. They made me look at colour and learn. And while learning their can be no angst there. That is not a waste of my time.

So when we daubers meet for another painting holiday, when they come up to Wales to paint landscape in 2 degrees and a northern friend, the lazy wind, blows from the north east, from Yorkshire, I decided I want to paint ‘my figures’.

I knew if I was going to start the sculpture for my 25 Year Show next month I needed to immerse myself in form. As discovered in the life drawing class on the monday, an elbow, a thy could be my landscape.

So we painted and ate and talked, and painted and ate and talked…it goes like this. The rhythm. Its really very good. The daubers left, having commitments in Bristol and I remained cramped over my little table, the fire crackled and the dog snored and as the eastern breeze took hold, bringing white snow and sleet, here was my opportunity to play with colours. All over the place was colour. Yellows from Barcelona, oranges from Loas and this blue green that seem to come from nowhere.

Then, out on my bike, the white winter sun exposed blue and purple hills and I realised that the landscape is the colour. Llanigon Green at home out the window and on my bike ride, Herefordshire Blue, Whitney White on the bridge over the river Wye who was the deepest dark blue purple.

So yes to looking, yes to walking, even yes to painting holidays, and yes to Laos because they all appear in my work. And most of all I need to chill out about it, as Graham says, ‘it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you don’t give yourself a hard time about it!’

 

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The logistics manager.

There have been tensions in the camp this week.

The logistics manager has got very angry with the sculptor.
The sculptor has been ignoring the logistics manager.

The pr lady is impatient to show the new work off
but she is waiting on the photographer,
as is the person who updates the website.

The accounts department is struggling to cope
under the hours they have been allotted.
The person who orders the materials is getting anxious.

The writer who seems to be always allowed to do what she wants
and has now taken up precious time
so the finisher/polisher/packer
will have to work the weekend.

The finisher/polisher/packer is now miffed.

The painter is sulking.
Someone let her see the light,
she managed to open the door,
just a crack.

Look! Look!
Its really very exciting through there…
very exiting indeed.

But here comes the logistics manager.

No. No. No.
One week is all you get my dear,
come back my dear.
Your time will come.

But she has broken her promise.

Badly.

So the painter is sulking.
In fact the painter is very upset indeed
and tears well up in her eyes as she tells the writer.

The draftsman is more patient, she knows the sculptor cant work without her.
She is waiting for her day.
For monday life drawing class,
all day,
she hopes.

If she is allowed to go.

But the logistics manager is not sure at the moment.

The logistics manager probably won’t let her
and then the draftsman will also be sulking.
And next week she will mess it up for the sculptor,
on purpose.
Just to strengthen her case.

The sculptor is the most challenging for the logistics manager to control.
Because she cant manage without her.
“But this is the most important thing” she shouts.

She turns her back on the logistic manager.
She can feel the logistics manager’s eyes boring into her back.

But the sun is on the sculptor’s side.
It’s also strong.
It shines hot light on the clay forms.
Who can blame the sculptor for moving into that light
to play with the darks and lights of the silky clay.

Fundamentally it’s the events organiser fault.
She got a bit excited because its her 25th year.
She has booked a lot of things.
Quite big things.

Eventually, by thursday,
the only person who can solve the quarrel,
the upset, the swollen eyes…
is the social secretary.

She organises a few beers for the whole team.
The CEO swans in, takes the credit
even though it was the social secretary’s idea.
But the CEO does pay for the drinks
and the accountant doesn’t mind the expense.

They all laugh at and with each other,
they respect each other.
And on friday they wake up happy.

They are all resolved that
this is just how it is running a small business
on your own.
And they all get on with the job
a little less fractured.