All of us make or design stuff. Why do we do it and who for? I know why I make things; it’s quite simply what keeps me sane, especially now with reduced opportunity for socialisation and entertainment. A form of mindfulness, you could say. But who it is for – now that’s another question. And yet as a collector of ‘things’ myself, I value objects made by artists; often unsung craftsmen from other ages and different cultures. Like the Chinese porcelain, basket from Bali, textile from India or glass from Bohemia below.
Two years ago I decided to do watercolour portraits of my belongings. Not every single one, but a representative selection, and then to tell their stories. I have written partly about their history, both in social context and their place in my life; and partly about how they are made and if they have a symbolic meaning. As I wrote, I also tried to tease out why people like me collect and where I am on the scale that stretches from museum connoisseurship to untrammelled hoarding.
What we choose to surround ourselves with tells others a great deal about us. We are experiencing this now as we scrutinise each other’s Zoom backgrounds. Guild-zoomers will have noticed on the dresser behind me, amongst the Delft, Kangxi and Imari, Bros Prue Cooper, Sue Binns and Suleyman Saba.
In fact, I am fortunate to have several pieces by Brethren which I have bought, swapped or been given. Some are impossible to capture, like this optical illusion cube by Master Elect Tracey Shepperd or the sawblades in Katharine Coleman’s paperweight.
Or all my paintings which I did in a series of small 4 cm square details as the whole was too daunting. These below are all by Brethren, past or present or who had some association with the Guild (e.g. subject of a talk).
I don’t collect in an orderly fashion; I don’t strain towards getting all the examples in a series, or a complete set of anything, but certain items crop up all over the house. I painted 8 baskets, but counting every single log basket, picnic hamper, sheath, garden willow and place mat I find I have 91. I can’t walk past a basket shop without going in. Every reader will, I am sure, recognise that urge. I also appear to have a ’thing’ about time.
I always did. Even as a teenager I’d wail, ’For at my back I always hear / Time’s winged chariot hurrying near’. How much more so now! So perhaps this book is a way of accounting for myself through the objects I own and have chosen to paint and write about. Perhaps it will cause you to look at your own stuff in a new way. Or think about the objects you create in the life they lead after you have let them go. It is the opposite of what the artist Michael Landy did in 2001 when he destroyed all the stuff he owned in a public happening held at C&A in Oxford Street: 7,227 items all catalogued in detail, from passport to Porsche, shredded and consigned to rubble. He was reducing himself down to bare essentials; my aim is to explore the permanence of the ephemeral.
There are some 420 individual items and the book is self-published next week. This blog isn’t the place to advertise, but because all the proceeds are going to the Guild, whose income is reduced by Covid, I have been allowed to give details. I am selling it at the self-cost price of £15 plus p&p of £5 and taking orders by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Payment will be to a JustGiving page here.
The letters of Pliny the Younger (61-113AD) a prominent lawyer and administrator of the senator class constitute a remarkable self-portrait from Classical Antiquity. Pliny owned a number of properties but his villa at Laurentum appears to have been his favourite, writing it is ’such a joy to me’. His description (Book II-17) lists the rooms, the relationship to one another, and their orientation, but he says nothing about size, decoration, character, etc with the result that for centuries many have tried to recreate visually that which only survives in words. The recreations vary wildly: some vast, almost like Diocletian’s Palace; some more intimate; some regular and symmetrical; some rambling. Making architectural sense of Pliny’s description is the greatest challenge – if one literally follows what is written one ends up with a chaotic plan that surely was never built.
And that is why the recreations vary, everyone does some editing and ordering making the Villa more like how they wish it had been. I’m no exception, my version follows Pliny more closely than many, respecting his orientation of rooms and relationship to the coast, but all is inevitably skewed by my preferences.
We start at the front door. Palladio believed Roman villas were characterised by a use of columned facades thereby establishing a tradition of grand domestic architecture that continues to this day. Palladio was wrong, but it’s hard to shake off a convention and my design has a shallow portico positioned in a long, high wall. The portico is the only decoration- a portal indicating the nature of the interior within. The visitor travels through the natural countryside eventually meeting the wall and the portal. He passes through the portal and enters a different world – a world ordered by man’s intellect and artistry.
From the entrance door one goes through the Vestibule, the Atrium (with ‘D’ shaped ends) and into the Oecus (drawing room or living room). Pliny has this sequence ending in the Triclinium (dining room) he makes no mention of an Oecus. However, I’ve made the Oecus the most important space, the end of the entry sequence, because this is a family home. (This is introducing a modern sensibility.) Opening off the Oecus are the Triclinium and the Bibliotheca (Pliny’s library). The three most important rooms are then all in close association.
On the left as one goes through the Atrium there are Cubiculae (bedrooms). Pliny has them on the ground floor, but I’ve introduced another modern note by putting them upstairs.
To the right of the Vestibule is the Tablinum (office) this is for business and business visitors. On the opposite side of the Vestibule and opening onto the Atrium there’s a small waiting room for those who can neither be immediately invited directly into the heart of the Villa nor to the Tablinum.
The Romans valued regularity and proportion and this is reflected in my design. The Vestibule is a perfect square with a shallow circular dome above. The centre of the Atrium is a square, the ‘D’ shaped ends, half circles. The Triclinium is also a square and the Bibliotheca a square with a half octagon added. Between them the Oeus is in the proportion of the Golden Section (1:1.618). There’s no evidence that this ratio was ever recognised or used by anyone before the 19th century – I just use it to show how cutting-edge I am.
Away from the main body of the Villa, but connected to it by means of a covered arcade, is Pliny’s Retreat – a place where he can write in peace away from all distractions. It’s the patrician equivalent of a writer’s shed beloved of Roald Dahl, Simon Armitage, et al. I’ve shown the Retreat as a circular room with arms making the shape of a Greek cross. Pliny could then position himself wherever he liked to catch the light and the view from sunrise to sunset as he wrote. He valued writing above everything else to him it was the most important part of the Villa.
Pliny would surely never recognise what I have drawn. But if it could be explained to him, he would surely be flattered as evidence of the continuing interest in the letters he so carefully left to posterity.
Posted on: 29 July 2020
This work is one in a series that I’ve painted about animal rights, starting during the 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak. It is about the effects of global warming on wild animals, but I finished it during the early stages of the Covid 19 pandemic. And there are certain issues that link F&M, this pandemic and global warming.
The foot and mouth outbreak never reached pandemic proportions, but was a seriously disruptive epidemic that affected humans and animals in adverse ways. Contrary to popular belief, British people still eat products from cattle that have contracted and survived the disease - Argentinian beef, for instance, does not have ‘disease-free’ status, and yet we eat it.
Cattle rarely die from F&M, but lose weight. The British government’s response was driven by market concerns – specifically, that British beef should maintain ‘disease-free’ status, because that would fetch more in the largely European (at the time) marketplace.
Covid 19 started (by reliable accounts) in a ‘wet market’ in China. The viruses of wild animals infected humans via contact and/or ingestion. This is due to the fact that Chinese people traditionally hold beliefs that ingesting wild animal parts can provide them with various health benefits, despite the fact that there’s no scientific evidence to support such beliefs.
What links the two is the fact the difficulty caused by both viruses are human own-goals in the sense that they were brought about by attitudes to animals as a resource, rather than a treasure. Both have also been compared to ‘medieval plagues’ and our difficulties in combatting the human costs have been described in terms of declaring war on these plagues. And yet we invited these plagues ourselves.
Global warming is another ‘own-goal’. Our short-term obsession with market growth has been at the expense of the delicate balance of Nature. The growth of our population means that we now encroach on wild animals’ evolutionary habitats, and even more importantly, we have actually changed the weather by an over-reliance on burning fossil fuels to drive our energy hungry lifestyles.
In this five-panelled triptych, I have inverted the roles of Christian iconography, so that the wild animals are depicted like God and two saints – they have haloes and are judging human beings, who still seem oblivious to their own plight despite the fact that they are in danger of extinction themselves.
Although this is a completely original picture, the iconography is borrowed from the ancient Egyptian myth of ‘the weighing of the souls’, where human souls were weighed against a feather. That myth was carried into medieval and early Renaissance painting, but and were converted into Christian iconography.
So this is a moral tale and I hope to sell it in order to raise money for an environmental organisation that champions the rights of wild and domesticated animals.
When writing Voyaging Out (a book about 20th century women artists) I really identified with the artist Elsi Eldridge, wife of poet RS Thomas; her house was full of the bones and decomposing animals she hung up to dry. She even remarked of her dead father in his coffin ’everyone looks rather lovely when they are dead... I hope that even I might make a lovely skeleton’. She called one of the panels The Beauty of Natural Decay in her extraordinarily beautiful mural The Dance of Life (1957), now located in Oswestry. Decaying matter is all about time passing - so perhaps it is suitable for lockdown times...
My house is mostly where I work currently (but the studio is just as full is full of stuff) - and here’s a corner of a tableful here for a start, which I did once rather anally try and sort into wood, metal and plastic bits – don’t look too closely if you are squeamish, as much of the stuff is organic too…
My decomposing beasties are beautiful and poignant; my bluetit in his plastic box is my own Sleeping Beauty, proving birds aren’t really made of substance at all as one always suspects. I think he froze to death one cold winter… and somewhere there is a completely flattened dried frog who turns up from time to time. The desiccated mouse, more a creature of earth, is still so comfortingly mouselike in its decay; and the crow on my desk, a very comforting and inspiring companion, all beaky-eyed crowness, mercurial messenger, keeping me on my toes... tempus fugit... carpe diem.
Decomposition is metamorphosis, growth of a kind, and watching it gives an edge to living, a sense of vastness, immensity, proportion, infinity... and it is also often very beautiful. It is the subject of Alchemy too of course - putrefaction, sublimation, lots of black crows - all in such glorious metaphysical images.
I could never look at anything freshly dead and bloody in a biology lab, but once desiccated, or having been interred and decaying I am fine and artistic curiosity kicks in big-time – I like to leave flowers to the very last breath and see what they do next, and all skeletons are beautiful.
My archaeological layers of stuff are a great aid to creativity; it’s exciting re-finding things squirrelled away - so I daren’t tidy or search about too much if I am already full to the brim with ideas. Lockdown has proved I don’t need the outside world to inspire me – there is a lifetime of it stored in my house; I am revelling in the time to work away without distractions – and perhaps if I ever get to sell the work there will then be extra space in each room to actually move about in my old age for exercise. Lockdown is telling me that at my age now I should use this stuff before it is too late. Dried twisted bunches of grapestalks, dried leek leaves, champagne corks and wires for bracing small papier mache items (they make excellent birds), all kinds of strings and cords for bindings, bark, nice bits and pieces for collage – and of course the dead stuff…
Perhaps the house is just a complete installation as it is, life and art in constant flux, totally embedded…
I am planning to compact some things and embed them into book covers, as I have done before for suitable topics. Much of my current work is about climate change – fire, flood and pestilence; including covid ’tarot card’ packs of shufflable images based around Fools– see example images and my blog…
In the chaos it is easy to lose things – I’ve now no idea where to seek the card bases I fortuitously cut to size on a bookbinder friend’s extra tough guillotine before lockdown.
It has been a boon to have masses of supplies, of paper and wood, even the spare strips of paper off previous productions that need using up are ideal for the playing card size I am needing. I am intending to make scrapbooks, inspired by Ravilious and Bawden, of all the old not-quite-good enough prints I have kept over the years… but I am still too busy excitedly making new work.
If you want to see what I make with all my stuff, and my recent work in lockdown, look on my blog – I have been keeping it daily until recently as a covid artblog for the BL researchers of the future – and on my archive website for older work.
Posted on: 17 July 2020
Members of the Guild are active makers and artists, and one of the (very few) compensations in the current lock-down is that by having to limit what we can actually do, we have time to think about how we do it. I am an architectural historian, but though I can’t get to libraries and archives or go and look at buildings, I can think about what I have in common with other Art Workers in the Guild.
History is a craft. The people and events that are said to ‘make’ history are merely history’s raw materials, just as wood, clay and precious stones are the raw materials of the cabinet maker, the potter and the jeweller. Materials and events are only finished objects or history when they have been shaped and put together to make something that is satisfying and fit for purpose. What matters is the reliability of the materials that are chosen, how the maker sees what might be made of them, and how they are used. The historian’s methods are like the craftsman’s in finding and assessing his sources, and then seeing how they can be understood and related. But for neither the historian nor the craftsman is there any single, right way of doing these things, nor finished designs or histories (beyond the most basic) that are good for all cultures and for all time. Just as chairs, pots or houses are made to suit different fashions, uses and situations, so histories are written for a variety of audiences, to try and solve different problems, to exploit different source materials and to answer new questions.
Perhaps the parallel is even closer between historians and engineers. Engineering is constantly evolving new techniques and materials and rejecting old ones, identifying new problems to be solved and finding new ways of solving them. The historian asks questions because he has new theories that he must test, has discovered new facts to be explained or new sources of evidence, or else because society needs fresh answers to old questions or to questions that have not been asked before. The engineer constructs the future, the historian reconstructs the past, but both use modern tools to serve the needs of the present.
People sometimes think it’s the historian’s job simply to establish ‘the facts’, but if the only link between facts is that one thing happened after another, this does not make them history. The historian’s job is to explain change; without change there would be no history, and the historian must create a credible picture not just of what may have happened but of how and why. One can never know everything about the past, any more than one could design every possible chair. The historian must therefore use his imagination, but he is not free to invent, any more than the craftsman wastes his time in designing a chair that doesn’t fit the facts of human anatomy. The historian must not misrepresent or ignore the facts that he knows, or pretend to know things that he doesn’t, but it is by fresh suggestions and ideas that history moves on.
My own area of history is architecture. I study buildings and read what their architects and their critics have said about them in order to trace the history of design and construction. I study their plans and search for documents so as to understand how buildings were perceived and used, enabling buildings to throw light on other areas of history and society. But besides needing a creative imagination like any historian, I also feel a community with craftsmen in a more material way when I climb around an old building in order to work out how it developed and functioned. Blocked windows, structural alterations and signs that bits have been demolished or added are all essential clues, and call for skill and experience in recognising and interpreting them. Architectural sources, both written and three-dimensional, are the pieces of a four-dimensional jigsaw, and there will always be pieces missing. But trying to solve the puzzle and to create a picture that may correspond to past reality is endlessly rewarding. And by making the past intelligible one makes the present intelligible too.
Posted on: 09 July 2020
I’ve been going to studio most days and I’m currently working on several projects and the major one is the Tate Britain Winter Commission facade opening during the week of Diwali Nov 2020! I’m touched and delighted that Tate directors have asked me to do this. It’s a great opportunity for me to put Diwali on the Western Art World’s landscape and an even bigger opportunity for showcasing my traditional and popular Indian Culture.
I’ve also been extremely busy collating so much stuff for the Tate archive which I mentioned to you in my talk I gave last November at AWG the Tate want to archive! I’ve only sent them in half of my archive which they think is fantastic and they will receive the rest in August.
Can’t believe I’ve saved so much stuff like my books, magazines, reviews, invite cards, letters to exhibit, childhood family photos in India and Liverpool ...cor its been an emotional trip!
In March, Christine Checinska, invited me to talk about my practice at an ideas symposium at the Royal College Of Art materials lab, along the lines of the Cloth and Culture Group which she set up and ran at Iniva’s Stuart Hall Library 2014 -2016. Christine is interested in the way objects become invested with meanings through association and usage.
Every object has the potential to tell many stories. Materials lab aims to explore the relationship between people and the things that they make, customise, consume and collect, and theorises and investigates materiality and immateriality, its nature and how we experience it.
Christine invited me to focus on material culture and materiality in art practice from diverse perspectives. She felt my practice spoke to the remit of Materials Lab – ’Our focus is on material culture and materiality in art practice from diverse perspectives. I am particularly drawn to your work with everyday materials; the coming together of the personal and political via references to childhood memories, pop culture, Bollywood, notions of Asian feminism; the vibrancy of your choice of materials. I think your practice speaks to the remit of Materials Lab, particularly around the public/private/intimate archive focus’.
RCA staff students and invited guests joined the two hour conversation, and in the evening I did a 25 minute interview with Bob and Roberta Smith on Resonance Radio fm on ’on art and music’ which was aired on Make your own Damn Music on 2nd June.
In response to recent events and to show solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movements DACS Design and Artists Copyright Society has curated a selection of images from artists in their membership who have addressed the horror and abjection of racism in our time, and they are including my work ’If There is No Struggle There is No Progress - Uprisings 1981’ among them. They aim to post on Instagram and Twitter. DACS have deliberately chosen works that they believe make a significant statement on their own.
Also Jhaveri Contemporary in Mumbai invited me to send over pop art images for a project they are researching on the History of Pop Art in South Asia for a show later this year.
Looking back, I realise now that this project began with the gift of a book. Over the years I had dipped into some of the text but confess now that it was mainly the beautiful flower paintings that drew me back again and again. I am referring to Alexandra Marshal’s ’flower book’ reproduced by the Royal Collections Trust.
On moving to Fulham, a stone’s throw from Fulham Palace, I often walked there marvelling at the walled garden with its four gates in each wall, the old palace itself and the beautiful trees. One of these is a Holm Oak over 500 years old.
It was a great surprise to me to find that none other than Alexander Marshal himself had moved into Fulham Palace where the famous plant collector Bishop Compton was ensconced. This all took place circa 1675. Carefully I checked the book and the current flower beds to see if there were still similar flowers pushing their way through to the light. Little by little, starting this cold January, I began with the snowdrops. I’ve based my pages of flowers loosely on those found to be still there. It was slow work, checking the gardens and purchasing plants from their collection, then hoping they would flower. Note taking and sketching in the gardens were moving the project forward when suddenly the four gates to the walled garden were locked. The next day the main oak entrance gates were also locked. Through the keyhole I could just see the emerald green of the front lawn and the sunlight dancing on the leaves of a tree.
At this point, a sensible approach would have been to mothball the work but by now it wasn’t just a project to me, and I couldn’t keep away. Marshal painted within the walls, but I must remain on the far side. By peering through and pacing the perimeter hedges I have discovered many flowers growing wild in the adjacent graveyard which after all (or so I remind myself) was very much part of the Palace Gardens in Marshal’s time. As I work through this extraordinary time, I have been able to reflect on Marshal’s work and have come to believe that he had quite a relaxed approach to his subjects. Often on a page you will see side by side flowers that do not bloom at the same time or even in the same season. It would appear the artist gave priority to the colours and rhythm of the page rather than a slavish account dictated by the calendar season of the plants. I must admit that at times it is difficult to find the right flowers.
On 11 May I was heartened to hear that the peacock from the nearby Hurlingham Club made a visit to the closed gardens and had the entire palace to himself. By chance I had gathered the moulting feathers from this very bird for a painting class at the Linnean Society. Marshal himself included paintings of birds and animals so the peacock feathers seemed fitting to mark the roamings of the bird during these strange times. I like to think of this colourful creature flying across Fulham skies. This is very much a work in progress for me.
In order to mark this long closure of the gardens, I have left space among the painted flowers to draw in the four locked gates. These I hope to finish when the gates are reopened … one day.
Decoration was a dirty word when I was a student. It took a time to get over the brainwashing that surface decoration was bad and the Puritan ’truth to material’ mantra, and really learn my craft and find my place in tradition and to start to enjoy modelling.
The forms of crockets and raffle leaves are the building blocks of my work. Working as a carver at Exeter Cathedral I met my first crocket and later, at Uppark House, I had the good fortune to model a lot of raffle leaves in that exceptional medium of stucco. Crockets are leaves carved in profile on the arches and pinnacles of medieval buildings. Raffle leaves are the characteristic leaves of rococo art. There has always seemed to me to be a similarity and a continuity between the design and modelling of the two forms. Artists often look back and take the best of what was done before and carry it forward.
What does the crocket do? At least part of the answer is indicating that nature is part of the architecture and enlivens its static form. It creates a flow of natural form over the architecture. Adding complexity. Adding vibration. The 13th & 14th century crocket is a sculptural statement.
There’s everything here to be learnt about modelled form. For whether the crocket is carved in wood or stone it clearly began as a clay model which the carver copied. Look at the way volume is treated. Convex surfaces mostly, maybe 75% convex. That fullness is what’s visually satisfying and it echoes the fretted outline, the C and S shapes of the ‘linear’ composition.
The raffle leaf is one of the fundamentals of 18th century decoration. It is a graceful, acanthus type leaf with the S shape of Hogarth’s Line of Beauty. It has a convention of form that develops as a progression from its beginning point, dividing by twos and threes and sub-dividing again and maybe turning over itself as if moved by wind or water. To me, they have the same feeling as copper-plate handwriting; flowing, harmonious but active and legible - as illustrated so beautifully in George Bickham’s The Universal Penman.
These long, curling leaf forms abound in rococo decoration. I think they have a lot in common with the crocket: C shapes; S shapes; mostly convex in volume; gestural. In hand-modelled plasterwork, particular variations are almost like signatures, associated with modellers like the Artari or the Franchini families. These dynamic, elegant forms are all about the modelling; here modelling reaches a summit of harmony and inventiveness. A tour de force. A symphony of curves. Pure sculptural joy.
My work is modelling clay. Soft clay. Experienced fingers moving the pliant, receptive, elemental clay. Forming. Putting my intentions and feelings into my fingers makes form appear... I’ll modify it with tools. Mostly I work in relief with a clay background - 2 dimensions; then bring the form out into the 3rd dimension, or push it back a bit. Experience gives you freedom with your medium. Gesture is important; controlled, intentional, but free, too. What gestures are possible? C shapes and S shapes. Curves defining and creating form, adding the clay, pushing and pulling, the gestures composing, harmonising. There’s something in this fluid process that’s natural, instinctive. Like the way nature works, like waves and wind and cloud. Yes, it does feel romantic.
I like to use these forms as freely as I can. Making use of them quite extravagantly, allowing shapes and modelled themes to occur that cannot be planned in the drawing. In fact you are drawing in the clay. The pencil drawing gets you into the right place with your design, proportion and meaning then comes the liberation of working in the clay and realising the new, and somehow unimagined possibilities of your medium.
Here’s a poem by D.H. Lawrence. It’s a slight tangent from what I’ve been writing about, but one I think Artworkers may appreciate:
’Things men have made with wakened hands, and put soft life into
are awake through years with transferred touch, and go on glowing for long years.
And for this reason, some old things are lovely
warm still with the life of forgotten men who made them.’
Posted on: 19 June 2020
Textiles have woven their way into my life from an early age. At 18, I lived in a village called Sarnath, in North India just outside the city of Varanasi (Benares) famous for being a place of deeply spiritual significance and renowned for its weaving industry. I have read that when the Buddha died, his body was wrapped in the wild silk and cotton cloths of Varanasi, owing to their softness and fine texture.
I taught in a primary school and helped in an ashram for those who had suffered from leprosy. On my days off from teaching, I took rickshaws into the city and visited weavers, and basked in shimmering pleasure at being shown silk saris with gold brocade, cotton cut work and hand loom cloth. And so my appreciation of cloth was enriched.
I have worked as a Print and Textile Designer within the fashion industry for 11 years and currently work freelance. After graduating from a degree in Textiles at Leeds I was torn between working within historic textiles - to preserve them or to create them? I had volunteered as an Assistant in the Fashion and Textiles Department at the Victoria & Albert Museum while studying for my degree, and later as a Research Assistant for the exhibition of Quilts 1700-2010: Hidden Histories, Untold Stories. But as I missed designing, I decided to set up a small studio in the porch of my parents’ house in Suffolk, where I worked on a textile print collection, which I sold to Paul Smith later that year. It was a fortuitous combination of a job opening and a meeting with Paul himself, which lead to my being offered my first full time position in the design department at Kean Street.
Here it was my job to design the print artworks for the menswear collections. Each season I saved the strike offs and carefully stowed them away. Four years later I moved to Amsterdam, to design the print and graphics for Calvin Klein, Menswear. My collections were added to, with the addition of more from visits to factories. In particular, a silk factory in Como.
I saved samples, not only for my portfolio but because they seemed too precious to be thrown away. My boxes contained pieces of wool suiting, cotton shirting, silk blankets -which are used to select weaving patterns for ties; prints of clouds, tidal patterns of the North Sea, polka dots from reflections of street lights on Upper Street in the rain, hand painted florals and wild brushstrokes to name a few. Quite literally a patterned history of my career in textiles.
In November, my father, who was a wonderful abstract painter, died. I spent a few months at home in England and returned to Amsterdam in early Spring to focus on work but soon discovered that Covid 19 was starting to creep in and everything began to grind to a halt - my interviews and meetings were cancelled, companies began to delay their collections and factories were facing enormous difficulties with cancelled orders and surplus stock. So in need of a project and a distraction from the unraveling crisis, I found solace in textiles. I unpacked the collections and to my surprise, found a piece of blue and white Laura Ashley cotton print left over from a quilt made by my Grandmother, Rosemary Gwynne-Jones (Painter). The day before the libraries closed I happened to borrow a book of The Quilts of Gees Bend. It seemed all signs pointed to making a patchwork.
Designing for menswear has of course meant that the colors of navy, black and grey have been mainstays, so I added a contrast of coral red linen and silk. It is by no means a conventional quilt, more like a collage in cloth, each square a different composition.
I am embroidering the initials of great friends lost and those who I have thought about during this time. Bro. Edmund Fairfax Lucy - EFL will be sewn in. It was our friend Ed who introduced, encouraged and introduced me (and my mother) into the Guild in 2012. One of the squares is dedicated to my father. It has a stripe of red, a Suffolk sky line at dusk and his initials of FB stitched into the corner, as well as my 96 year old cousin who lives on his own.
I am at the stage now where I have the main squares sewn and a central medallion composed but have a little way to go to transform it into a quilt. The season has transformed since I started on this and so has the city. I watch the newly arrived Swifts, which circle each morning and notice with a little sadness that the cow parsley is almost over. It has been a most fitting time for a project of both creation and preservation.
During these strange times I have tried to carry on with work as much as possible, and this includes work for The Guild. Before Lockdown we had already commissioned two new bookcases for the library and they were all complete, painted and ready to install when ‘Social Distancing’ kicked in, making the two-person job of transportation and installation very hard. However, redecorating the room is a one-person job so I have overseen that, and the Library now is completely redecorated, with wiring in place for new light sconces on the existing and the new bookcases. The joinery company is now looking at ways to install the bookcases safely, complying with the regulations; this could perhaps happen in late June. Then there will be the task of restacking all the shelves completely, in some logical order; no small undertaking, but now we have extra time on our hands we have the ideal opportunity.
I have been popping in a couple of times a month to check on works and see Elspeth from a safe distance. She seems to be relishing touching up chipped paintwork room-by-room with the pots of paint I dug out for her. She kindly gave me a pot of her Strawberry and Pepper jam which I can confirm is now perfected; she has been honing the recipe each time I go in it seems and it has now reached perfection!
Other loose ends include new cast iron handrails which are made and ready to install each side of the front steps. These integrate with the front lanterns and will I am sure be installed this summer. The very dark blueish-black paint on the front railings was formulated on site so we didn’t have a way of replicating it for the handrails, but Brother Patrick Baty very kindly and generously has created a recipe for future mixing of matching paint and donated a large pot for our current needs.
Let’s hope that we can all meet back at 6 Queen Square in the not too distant future. When we can, it will be smarter than it has ever been before!
Meanwhile, at home, I have been doing a lot more gardening than normal, started growing vegetables and more herbs, and doing little jobs that I never before seemed to find time for.
I made new oak slats for my garden bench; redecorated my bathroom with a silver painted ceiling and aubergine walls; rewired my shed; sorted out my bookshelves; tidied my workshop and even started organising my spanners in size order: metric and imperial!
I have made arm rests for my conservatory’s hand-made sofa, display shelves for my Victorian bottle collection, and I am gearing up to practice painting faux Malachite for the top of a chest of drawers.
I have an ever-growing list of creative ideas to explore so am finding the slower pace of life quite liberating and therapeutic. It has actually been good for my mental health; I have never felt so calm and able to sit and think. Obviously it will be good to get back to ‘normal’ but I think it will be a chance to re-think the life/work balance and come out at the other end with a new found optimism and appreciation of how valuable life is.
Bro. Jane Smith gave a wonderful virtual lecture on her research on the Bicorn Hat at the Guild Zoom meeting on Thursday 21 May 2020. You can view a recording of the lecture here.
One thing that has struck me throughout this crisis is how every single person I speak to is impacted differently, it’s impossible to generalise about what’s helpful, what’s not helpful and what we all as individuals need at this time.
As a creative, small business owner and mother I find myself in my own personal situation. As a business owner I feel surprisingly well supported by the government’s financial aid. However what has been glaringly obvious is how severely most creatives fall through the cracks of financial aid.
Creatives subsidise our cultural experiences through their incessant drive to create and as a result there has been a huge altruistic wave coming from the creative sector, where their skills have been used to help others, whether practically or simply to raise spirits or funds, it’s been a beautiful thing to observe.
Harriet Vine and I chose to use sales from Tatty Devine to donate to the Young Women’s Trust’s Emergency Fund. Throughout April we gave £2 from every order placed on our website to the fund. The Young Women’s Trust is a feminist organisation campaigning for economic justice for young women by raising their voices, challenging sexist stereotypes and rebuilding workplaces free from discrimination. Young women in low-paid work are among the hardest hit by COVID19, they are worried about how they are going to pay their rent, utilities and even feed their children over the coming weeks. Again, falling through the cracks. We felt compelled to pass on some of the help we had received as a business.
On a practical level, the designers Holly Fulton, Bethany Williams and Phoebe English got together to form the Emergency Designer Network, which has accessed local manufacturers to create scrubs for hospitals. Similarly The Fashion School have responded to the crisis by setting up two spaces with volunteers helping to make gowns for hospital workers, they have been producing a staggering 750 gowns a day. And, alongside the scrubs production, Milliners, including Bro. Noel Stewart have been producing visors. Utilising the networks, skills and machines already in place to solve one of the biggest (and highly controversial) problems this crisis has thrown at us as a society is simply genius. Thank goodness for creativity.
Scrolling through Instagram recently I was excited to see Mark Pawson was showing some of his badge archive that has a renewed relevance for today. With slogans like I Cut My Own Hair, I’m Bored, I’m still Bored and I love Fresh Air, his badges are indeed a breath of fresh air. Known for his DIY mail art, books, postcards, badges, multiples and other essential ephemera it was exciting to see Mark was giving these badges away, for FREE! Just the small price of £1.15 towards postage and these badges were yours (and mine!).
Bro. Rob Ryan was equally as kind by offering a free print to those hit the hardest. His instagram read ‘Do you live in a flat with no garden?’ . . . and as I swiped through I discovered he was giving a ‘No Garden Special Gift’ away. What a kind and thoughtful gesture, I’m sure the recipient’s spirits were indeed lifted- which counts for a lot these days.
And whilst on Instagram, I have thoroughly enjoyed Bernstock Speirs’ feed over the last eight weeks. The ever talented Thelma Speirs took to making beautiful paintings of people in their hats. It was great to see how the time of lockdown had been used to be creative and make drawings. Again lifting people’s spirits with their work.
There have been vast amounts of challenges, competitions and online tutorials, but I particularly enjoyed Celebrating Architecture’s Junkitecture challenges. Having two small children in the house, we have a habit of keeping all clean packaging to use as making materials, or for ‘junk modelling’ as it is known. Being given a challenge to build our favourite building in London or create a room for our favourite character gave a whole new dimension and new way of thinking to our recycling. Our Tower of London junk model is now home to many toy knights!
I’ve loved seeing everyone’s windows become the gallery to the world and outlets for creativity. A place to communicate our thoughts, wishes and creativity. Jeremy Deller’s piece of work Thank God for Immigrants was not only beautiful in sentiment but also enabled people to buy his work relatively inexpensively, display it in their window whilst also donating money to the Refugee Action and the Trussell trust- a charity for UK foodbanks, which has never been needed more.
Morag Myerscroft has created a piece of work as part of a campaign called #PostersforthePeople. Her work has been put on billboards and you can also buy a print to display at home or in your window. This was organised by Laura Wellington of street art project In Good Company in and again the profits are being shared between the artists chosen charities @stlukessheff @theblurtfoundation @artfelt_sheff #TheTrussellTrust @nhscharitiestogether.
Another print that’s been created with a donation for the Trussell Trust is Donna Wilson’s I Miss Your Face watercolour art. This really sums up how we are all feeling. Creatives need each other, we need the community we’ve created but also the support and love from those were closest to.
Harriet Vine made a necklace last week with the faces of all her friends, as she too is missing everyone. You can find instructions on how to make your own here.
One thing is sure, creativity goes a long way in making life better for ourselves and everyone it touches.
Without the tie of bookings I have replaced the well-worn run from basement to Ground and 1st floor to a marathon up to Ben and Charlie’s flat on the top floor! They have very kindly offered me this exercise so that I can get a breath of fresh air (and some sunshine) on their roof garden while the Queen Square garden is locked up! However other squares are still open and a favourite of mine is St George’s gardens which is the old graveyard for St George’s Queen Square and St George’s Bloomsbury; and early on I could have Lola for a day now and again and we went for walks, though one day we went along the canal and it was rather sad seeing all the notices in the windows of the barges basically asking people to keep away and not cough on their boats. It still shocks me how unfriendly social distancing is in practice.
Shopping is mostly at Waitrose which is still much cleaner than most supermarkets in Bloomsbury – but they now have hazard tape striping the floors - and they often have to repair/replace the floors – I think the tiles must be a bit thin. Social distancing is virtually impossible on the floor and some people are OK about it and some people are still a bit rabitty about it. Goods have been a bit iffy sometimes – I love salmon and couldn’t get it for several weeks, I still can’t get yeast or bread flour and at first it was obvious that the supermarket had sold out, and now the shelves are clean and empty. And at the beginning there were runs on loo paper and spaghetti – it is now possible for me to buy both, but not the sorts I usually buy. And at first the queues were quite long, but now they are moving along quite quickly – I assume they are eating all the spaghetti they hoarded; I myself chose to hoard Knorr stock cubes imagining that I could survive on thin soups if all else failed.
Our Hon. Architect has been working hard trying to finish the decoration of the Library on the 1st floor. He has added to my load with the tempting offer to paint the Lecture Hall after doing all the high-level dusting; I still have some work to do between the red walls and the dark green skirting but I am panicking and getting on with it as everything begins to ease up.
Other paint jobs include the skirting boards in the bar area which were getting a bit battered, the main staircase, and some stone paint for the plinths holding the railings either side of the front door, which had been scored to take the electric cables to the new lamps.
Apart from seeing the inestimable Marin for a few days for painting the Library existing mustard colours (Simon did take some pics) the person I have seen most frequently is Simon Hurst, who has gallantly tried to keep going and is hoping to do a paint job himself over the next few days.
Entertainment has included concocting a strawberry jam recipe which is not too sweet . . .
I am reading a book which I first read when I was about 14! I bought it from Slightly Foxed during their last Readers’ Day at the Art Workers’ Guild, The Eagle of the 9th by Rosemary Sutcliffe, about the 9th Roman Eagle standard which disappeared somewhere/somehow in Northern Britain...
And, of course, I am still playing Patience with an old pack of cards Leigh gave to me at Christmas 2 or 3 years ago.
I find being alone no problem at all, but living in free-time with no fixed schedule is a bit weird – I keep waking up and wondering who to expect today... and I am beginning to get excited about ‘normality’ setting in again. Here’s hoping!
When lockdown came I started a painting that had been waiting 4 years. In 2016 I had a solo show in Hoxton, and showed 3 netball paintings. There was a fourth, but when the deadline came it was hardly begun. After the show I moved on to other work.
But I had done all the drawings for it – from life, of models trying to replicate the poses of netball players in full flight, and I had semi-worked out the composition. So I had everything I needed to start work. It took me some time to rethink myself into the painting, and to sort out what I wanted, but now it has developed its own impetus.
The idea for it was inspired by a painting by Evelyn Dunbar, the Queue at the Fish Shop. She was the only woman Official War Artist, but she wasn’t allowed to go overseas.
In the foreground there is a woman. We see just her head as she exits the painting. In the foreground of my painting is the large figure of the umpire. She is rushing out of the side of the canvas. Everyone else is rushing in the same direction.
Something else entirely: I have visited Angers (Loire) three times to see what I think is one of the wonders of the world – the Apocalypse Tapestry. It is the earliest set of medieval tapestries still existing, woven 1375 – 80, and it is absolutely enormous. There are 7 huge tapestries, each contains 2 rows of 7 scenes. (Seven is a recurring number, 7 seals,7 angels, the Beast with 7 heads etc).
The scenes are alternately blue and red, and are between two borders, heaven above with angels, and earth below, with birds, fish and small animals. The images are marvellous, inventive compositionally and full of strange things: Death on a pale horse, of course, shipwrecked boats and drowning men, frogs coming out of the mouths of 7-headed beasts, horse-like animals with lions’ heads and dragons’ heads at the ends of their tails where the tassels would be, ridden by knights trampling people underfoot.
The Middle Ages was the high point of tapestry weaving. Only 5 warps per cm were used, and a maximum of 15 colours, the most light-fast available. The design was powerful, with distinct outlines and obvious transitions. By the 16th century, tapestry was imitating painting, using up to 15 warps per cm and more than 300 colours, many not light-fast. Hence the blue and brown tapestries full of brawny figures in many stately homes.
Over the river in Angers is another set of large tapestries, Le Chant du Monde (1957 - 1966), Jean Lurcat’s masterpiece. It is a 20th century apocalypse, the main and best part about the atomic bomb.
Influenced by the medieval work and using its methods, he aimed to restore to modern tapestry the qualities of the earlier work, to make something absolutely a textile and not a painting. He allowed himself 20 colours, a reduced number of warps and the banishment of perspective. He did revolutionise contemporary tapestry, becoming director of the Aubusson workshops and commissioning designs from modern artists. Still, it must be said, that PM William Morris had sought to do the same thing 50 years earlier. At the Merton Abbey Tapestry Works he reduced warps to 6 per inch, used a restricted colour range and a shallow pictorial space.
Years ago, before I had seen the tapestries at Angers, I wove one myself. It was a chair seat. I aimed for naturalism and used dozens of colours. It measures 36 x 46cm and took 200 hours to weave. There isn’t time in life for everything and I returned to painting and printmaking.
During these unprecedented times, we have all found ourselves doing what we can to help defeat Covid 19. Apart from just staying at home and keeping an eye on our elderly neighbours and the more needy, there is so much more to be done to help. Some people have done truly amazing things, like 100 year old (now Colonel) Tom Moore, pushing himself to walk 100 laps of his garden.
Fellow Brothers of the AWG Noel Stewart, Rachel Trevor Morgan and Bridget Bailey (also all members of the newly formed British Hat Guild), with many other milliners and dress designers, have all joined a movement creating PPE for the NHS known as the #VisorArmy.
The materials arrived shortly after I volunteered; luckily my local hardware shop was open and had a couple of glue guns left in stock, plus glue sticks - Bingo! Plastic sheets had to be cut into shape to form the shield, with foam rectangles and rolls of wide white elastic. Plus a video of what to do.
I can’t tell you how many times I watched the video before starting. This felt so much more important than ever creating a couture hat for a client has been; this would be helping to save lives! Never before have I been so worried for something so simple as placing four little cuts correctly into a piece of foam. The first attempt was a write off, second attempt not great, time to phone a friend! Rachel suggested I use scissors, phew, that was better. My kitchen table was not nearly large enough to lay out all the materials on, but no army ever before has let such a small matter get the better of it so I push on. Cutting the plastic sheets to shape was no problem, to be truthful a child could do it, I just had to be sure that I did not cut too much off the bottom and be sure each side was even. My boyfriend kindly offered to cut the elastic into 34cm lengths; team work is always high on my list!
With everything ready it was time to assemble; this was my favourite part. Never before have I used a glue gun! Some friends had written NHS in glue and then hearts all along the foam; this is as creative as one can get with a glue gun! Others in the Visors army had embroidered thank you messages on the elastic head fittings but sadly the clock was ticking and I was expected to have them ready for the next day.
Finally, wiping each visor thoroughly with antiseptic wipes and packing them up took far longer than I had anticipated, but my boyfriend again came to the rescue and lent me a hand. Stacking them high on the too small kitchen table, with just enough time to wrap them up and write a thank you note, the whole pile toppled onto the floor, so all needed to be wiped again.
Now sitting here waiting for my next deliveries of material for the next batch.
In a matter of weeks, the @Visorarmy-saveahero have delivered 77,000 visors , and raised £55,000, enough money to make 151,250. Please check them out at https://uk.gofundme.com/f/akhqf-make-a-visor-save-a-hero and give what you can. Thank you.
Stay Home, Save Lives, Save the NHS
Suffolk has very few cases of Covid 19 compared to elsewhere, so we have felt (guiltily) insulated from the anxiety and distress elsewhere - although perhaps it is in store for us when lockdown is eased.
Shops, businesses and schools are closed here but the birds still sing (and are louder without the background noise of traffic). Our weekly local market in Framlingham is still a treasured feature of Saturday mornings, and the deli and supermarket in Framlingham are open. Those are the only places we really need to go to – and the trip in to town for the weekly shop is a treat which my wife Kate has seized as a good opportunity to bump into friends and neighbours (bumping at 2m distance). It always used to be my job!
With five young children ours is not the quietest house, but we are incredibly lucky to have a large garden and orchard, and the spring weather has been blissful. Here is the real guilt – we have been locked-down but able to savour spring unfolding, and the children have been outside a lot. I am rarely at home enough to see (and notice) the daily changes of spring as I have this year.
Home-schooling has taken some effort and parental input (mostly Kate’s). The eldest two children have been fairly self-motivated and have had work set on-line which they are good at getting on with. I brought a spare computer back from the office so that they could both work at the same time, but we are all sharing the same slow internet connection, and that has been a frustration for everyone. Nonetheless, we keep going and they have managed to keep up music lessons by using Skype and Zoom. And although they are missing friends they are all in good spirits and there is lots of good creative play. They choreographed a fantastic wheelbarrow pageant for our three year old’s birthday at the weekend (3 year old ‘royal wave’ perfected which I posted on Instagram @markrussellhoare - for anyone idling!).
I have enjoyed the new slower pace and increase in time we are spending together as a family – but I am well aware how different our experience would be if we were all seven of us in a flat with no garden. The children have for the first time started showing an interest in gardening, and our 11 year old has taken charge of our shabby greenhouses. This has been genuinely thrilling. We have also made an effort to write letters more – to reconnect with those we haven’t seen for a while, and we have an idyllic walk to the post box through meadow and cow parsley which is reason enough to write a letter. If I’m up early enough I can sit outside before 7am and scribble away to the sound of birdsong, and before the chorus of ‘Mummy, Mummy, Daddy, Daddy’. (It is of course usually Mummy who is asked for first!).
We were inspired by Grayson Perry’s art club (Monday, Channel 4) to start drawing more, and so we have set up a self-portrait corner using the mirror from the downstairs loo. There have been some quite respectable efforts so far.
I am trying to work a relatively normal day as there is plenty of work I can get on with. But I take a long lunch to play cricket and look after the youngsters so that Kate can have a decent walk or a break from the childcare, which she shoulders most of. Fortunately we are at a moment in our lives where Kate isn’t also trying to juggle a day job beyond family life.
Our garden studio which we built 10 years ago has become my everyday workspace; we call it the shed but it is better than a shed, and I’m lucky to have it. In normal life it is a place I sometimes work for the odd day or two when I need to have my head down for uninterrupted work (which can be a challenge in our office at Snape due to the interruptions of an open plan office). Two days in the shed can be a treat but I am missing the rest of our team and the creative energy we all give each other; there is no doubt that we all mutually-motivate each other a lot. In the early lockdown days we had some awkward video conference meetings over a cup of coffee and we are getting better and more relaxed at those – but also just picking up the phone to have a chat seems more important than ever. When Prue Cooper rang me to suggest contributing to this blog, it was lovely just to catch up and to hear that Prue and Nicholas were ok, and to be reminded of the Guild, which I do wish I was rather more present in, even in normal times.
The dawn chorus has just begun. ‘Daddy can we go and feed the chicks?’ Rather sweet - I must savour these moments!
With much love to you all
It is not everyday that you get a chance to work with poet laureate, Simon Armitage and distinguished artist, Clive-Hicks Jenkins. When Joe Pearson of Design for Today told me about a special project involving both of them and asked if I was interested I naturally jumped at the chance. I have worked with Joe on a number of projects, ranging from concertina fold-out books, to fully illustrated children’s books and more. The new project was to be a re-telling by Simon Armitage of the Fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel written originally by The Brothers Grimm. It was to be illustrated using a variety of techniques by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.
I work as a graphic designer but I am also a typographer and finished art worker. Finished art working in its most simple form is taking existing artwork and making it print ready. In Clive’s case, the artwork was done either as pencil on paper or graphite pen on a transparent and textured paper. Here is an example of a pencil on paper drawing of Hansel and Gretel by Clive.
I wanted to keep as much of the very subtle lines and textures as possible but had to remove the tone and colour of the background paper first.
This is a very time-consuming process. It requires me to scan and enlarge the image on the computer. I then had to paint out the paper and background by hand using Photoshop. Clive also supplied the overlay which was to be printed as a second colour layer. For this layer I applied the same process. For this particular image there was just the one additional colour, red. Below is the red layer on its own, then overlaid on top of the main pencil image and it is then set to multiply in photoshop which enables it to blend in with the base image.
This is the final printed effect. You can see that some of the registration marks are not perfectly aligned, but that was all an intended part of the look, so that it had a hand-crafted quality.
Here is an image with more than one layer. The butterfly has three layers this time, black line, yellow and blue. They all mix together and thus another greenish colour is made in the wings.
This part of the process is one of the most satisfying. After long hours of careful and patient paper tone / colour removal I added the right colour(s) as chosen by the artist, to see them come together is very exciting.
Clive Hicks-Jenkins and the publisher, Joe Pearson, developed the dummy for the book over an intensive two days at Clive’s studio in Wales, and my role was to join the team in translating the ’cut and paste’ dummy into the finished book. I was able to experiment with colour, type, and to refine the initial layout. At each stage of the design process feedback from the artist, author and publisher played a key part in shaping the final book, a true team production.
We wanted the story to come alive on the pages. We had some fun playing around with the positioning and size of the text. Below is an example of one of the spreads.
Some images took longer to finesse than others. This centre spread was no exception. It was one of the first images I worked on but I’m happy with how it turned out. This particular spread went through a few colour variations but here’s how it ended up.
Using this method gives great control over the colours. They can be boosted and adjusted. One method I used was to double up on a colour if I wanted it to appear brighter/stronger. That can be seen in the red in this image. I have dissected the variants and layers of the colours so that you see what I mean.
The pinkish red on the far right is just the red layer duplicated and set to around 30% or so of opacity. Clive Hicks Jenkins has an excellent brain for understanding colour separations. I’m still not sure how he worked out all the various tones in just black.
I apologise if some of this seems too technical. I will of course be happy to answer any questions if anyone has any. The book took a few months or so of work and was finally published last year. I’m happy to also share that it’s just been shortlisted for the V&A 2020 Illustration Award. If you are interested in purchasing a copy, Design For Today has resumed shipping and you can order it from the website here.
I’ll leave you with a few more images from the book.
I can’t end my account of the Cornwall week without talking about our visit to see the new development on the eastern edge of Truro by Bro. Ben Pentreath. It was great good fortune that Ben, who is notoriously hard to pin down, was actually going to be there anyway on the same day, showing round a group with whom he is working on the Tornagrain project near Inverness.
I suspect that many of you will know Ben in person, or perhaps through his very popular blog, mostly about his rural retreat, the Old Parsonage at Little Bredy in Dorset. The first I knew of Ben was an elegantly cursive letter that arrived for me when he was an art history student in Edinburgh in the early 1990s, asking my advice on his dissertation subject, an interesting 1954 building in correct classical style by William Kininmouth, who was normally a Modernist. A few years later, Ben had gained much practical experience as a designer with Bro. Charles Morris in Norfolk, who had persuaded him to abandon art history and do the thing for real. He was persuaded to add some polish (which he really didn’t need) at the Prince of Wales’s Institute of Architecture, where I was then teaching. He added joyful anarchy to an already freewheeling establishment, while also asking searching questions about what people were doing there. However, one year of even this very alternative kind of qualification was enough for him, and he has continued to practice quite happily in the role of an architect without the official title that others slave, often unproductively, to attain.
Ben now operates on several fronts – as a designer of private commissions for new buildings and alterations to old ones, about which he has lectured the Guild in recent years. He has a semi-separate practice for interior design, he writes books and newspaper articles, and runs Pentreath and Hall, the shop in Rugby Street that started almost by accident in what was meant to be an annex to his office, offering enticing morsels to decorate your home. He has also played a significant role in the design of housing developments, mostly for the Duchy of Cornwall.
Which brings us to Truro. This is a very special town, in a river valley at the head of the Fal estuary, ringed by hills, with the noble Victorian Gothic cathedral jostled among the narrow streets as if it were in Northern France. Truro is popular for shopping, and often flooded with holiday visitors when it rains (as it often does). The County Council built one park-and-ride to ease congestion on the west side, but as a lot of visitors come from the opposite direction, it wasn’t enough. They searched for sites, and settled on a beautiful valley near the intersection of several main routes. The land happened to belong to the Duchy of Cornwall, who initially opposed the scheme, but finally had to give way. Along with the car parking and bus access, a site was found for a Waitrose supermarket and the opportunity was taken to build part of the extra housing allocation required by the government.
All this sounds like business as usual, but a number of factors have lifted it up to another level. A consortium of local farmers wanted space for a covered market, and so were allocated one end of the Waitrose. Ben devised the buildings for this, and also the housing, which is at the head of the valley. He saw the need for a clean edge, unlike the normal straggle produced by development, and following the contour of the land, proposed a Royal Crescent, which enjoys something of the same quality of landscape setting as the famous one at Bath. As so often with Ben, this proposition was cheeky to the point of outrageous, but actually the right one, and now it stands complete in two sweeping halves, white against the skyline. The cars in the lower foreground might be deemed a slight shame, but there are some trees waiting to grow, while the distant views would distract your attention.
Behind the crescent are a few streets of houses, some of which face onto a square with a stone-walled garden. The original proposal was to offer allotments in this space rather than the conventional grass and shrubs. Once it was built, the developers took fright at the prospect, but when they asked the householders, several said they had moved their expressly because of the allotments, so these are on course to happen. The houses themselves are mostly three-bay fronts with central doors, stepping down the slope with minor variations in design and painted in a range of colours. The result is already a much more lived-in look than you normally get in a new place, but without the irritatingly predictable ‘assortment box’ scattering offered by housebuilders (and, dare I say it, in much of Poundbury). It looks and feels local, because these are the house types found in Truro’s most beautiful street, Lemon Street, climbing the hill to the old Falmouth Road.
Many of my group approached with caution and scepticism, unwilling to accept this as the right answer. I think they went away convinced on several levels by Ben’s detailed account of how the whole project had been thought through. I haven’t described the Waitrose, which has a Doric portico and pediment over the entrance, with real granite columns. This has the benefit of leaving you in no doubt where you are supposed to enter. When the proposed upper story on this building was axed as a cost saving, Ben offered to sacrifice the portico, but it was too late, as the commission to the local granite quarry had already been publicised and couldn’t be cancelled. We were joined on this visit by Julian Holder, an architectural historian friend and colleague of mine who recently moved into the area. Arriving late at night after a long drive, he and his partner stopped off at Waitrose to get supplies. He couldn’t believe that such classical stage scenery could be solid, and suffered for his disbelief by unwisely giving one of the columns a good punch to test it.
Posted on: 22 April 2020
Wild Flowers by Ed Fairfax-Lucy
It is with great sadness that I must tell you that Past Master Sir Edmund Fairfax-Lucy, Bt., died on Monday having been unconscious for two weeks following a heart attack at his home. Normally, we would be standing for a minute’s silence in his memory at the meeting today, and receiving tributes from members, of which I am sure there would be many. I have asked PM Ian Archie Beck to contribute a written one, which you will find below. I have sent the condolences of the Guild to Ed’s family. We will miss him very much but long remember his unique contribution to our lives and his great abilities and dedication to painting.
Ed painting in Brittany in 1986. Image by PM Ian Archie Beck
Ed Fairfax Lucy and I joined the AWG in the same year, 1987. This was at the urging of Past Master Glynn Boyd Harte. We had all three been on a painting holiday in rural Brittany together. Ed was, among other things, our designated driver. We had rented a house at Sizun in Finistère, a small town free from distractions but with useful shops etc. The house had a large walled garden. We spent the month of June in 1986 painting, reading aloud, and often arguing there very happily. The good-natured arguments were usually between Ed and Glynn and were mostly about the exact tones of blue in the sky. This was measured by Ed by holding his circled thumb and forefinger up at the sky in order to ‘isolate the tone’. Canaletto’s use of black in his skies was another touch point as was the existence, or not, of Breton wine. Neither side ever backed down.
Ed was a perceptual painter of great subtlety. He mainly painted interiors, still lives, and the landscape around his home at Charlecote Park. In Brittany he was delighted to discover the Breton churches and their primitive carved and painted altar pieces called Retables. He painted many church interiors during that Summer. He had a tendency though to fuss and overwork his pictures. It was as if he was deeply reluctant to ever finish them. Glynn took on the role of the art police. He hid the paintings in various cupboards so that Ed couldn’t fuss with them.
Ed was very knowledgeable on all aspects of art, literature music and poetry. He liked nothing better than holding forth. The subjects might range from Hugues Cuenod’s singing in a Nadia Boulanger recording of Monteverdi’s Zefiro Torna, (which he treasured), to Fats Waller’s piano playing style, and his own experiences of and with Synaesthesia.
He embraced the role of Master at the Guild in very much his own style. He would start every meeting with a suitable poem which he read aloud. His commitment to the Guild during his year as Master and beyond was admirable. He was eccentric and generous to a fault. When driving along the lanes in Brittany he would suddenly raise his left arm as if to strike the passenger in the seat beside him. He gave no explanation for this until pressed when he admitted he was just saluting magpies. After eating a particularly large seafood platter at Concarneau he simply wiped his fingers through his then wild and bushy hair in lieu of a napkin. When some champagne was spilled on to a table-cloth he simply snatched the cloth off the table and wrung it out into his mouth. At the same meal a candle set light to part of his shirt so he simply threw himself to the ground and rolled down the steep incline to put it out. A whole book will be needed to properly record such moments. He will be greatly missed. They broke the mould when they made Ed.
PM Ian Archie Beck
Bro. Richard Sorrell has also written a beautiful piece in Ed’s memory, which you can read here.
Here is a copy of Ed’s Proceedings & Notes from his year as Master of the Guild in 2011, featuring a wonderful foreword - a brilliant reflection of him and his thinking.
Further Tributes to PM Ed Fairfax-Lucy - updated 21.05.20
From Bro. Stephen Oliver:
’I had the honour of knowing PM Ed both through the Guild and as architect at Charlecote Park and Charlecote church. I thought Guildsmen might be interested to know that the churchwarden is preparing a short obituary for the parish newsletter at Charlecote, and is using your splendid notes for reference. She tells me:
I loved what you sent me, it brought tears to my eyes. I have no idea how I can possibly do justice to Ed … ’They broke the mould after Ed’. Anyway, I will do the best I can, he was a very forgiving person. We do all miss him; everyone in Charlecote lined the road as his hearse passed.
This last statement shows with what genuine affection he was held in locally.’
Obituary on the Guardian online - you can read it here.
Posted on: 22 April 2020
I shall make Cornwall last as long as I can, as there won’t be such an opportunity to go and see things for a while to come. This time, I am talking about stained glass that we saw only a little over a week ago.
We made a special journey to the church of St Pol de Leon at Paul, on the hills above Newlyn. This was another brilliant suggestion from Bro. Ruth Guilding, as I had never been there before. The church has an immensely tall tower, so that ships at sea can use it to steer by. The nave seems very low by comparison, and this is partly explained by the fact that a group of Spaniards landed here in 1595 and caused fire damage, but the original granite columns were almost certainly used again in the rebuilding.
There are several fine and fascinating monuments inside the broad and brightly-lit interior. Our main interest, however, was the east window, a war memorial designed by Robert Anning Bell (1863-1933). You may recognise him from his portrait that hangs in the hall of the Guild, showing him with stained glass behind him, as he was Master in 1921. He was local to Holborn by birth, son of a cheesemonger in St Giles, just off Seven Dials. He went to University College School in Gower Street, worked for his uncle, who was an architecture, and was able to study art in London and Paris, coming back to share a studio in Camberwell with PM George Frampton, whose portrait with a prominent top hat hangs close to Bell’s.
In the early 1890s, Frampton and Bell worked together on painted low reliefs, which they exhibited, and some of which can be seen at the wonderful church of St Clare, Sefton Park, Liverpool. He also worked in mosaic, designing the panel on the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill (architect PM Charles Harrison Townsend) and at Westminster Cathedral (the tympanum over the west door) and in the Palace of Westminster. Writing about Bell in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (a great resource for Guild details which you may be able to read via a computer by logging in to your local public library), Peter Rose quotes a writer in the Studio magazine in 1911 who Bell’s ability to grasp ’the issues of the Italian Renaissance … its ability to revive in art remote experiences which have passed into its veins’. Bell started designing stained glass when he was teaching in Glasgow in the 1890s, with the studio of J. & W. Guthrie to help him. In his marvelous book, Arts and Crafts Stained Glass (Yale, 2015), Bro Peter Cormack quotes a lecture given by Bell to students at the Royal College of Art in 1922.
‘Having trained as a painter, he had thought that “a stained glass window was the kind of thing you just did with charcoals and ‘genius’”; as a result he “learnt stained glass backwards. I began by designing windows, and then learned how to work them – designing them all wrong, and talking to the fellows in the shop and learning it that way.’
By the time of his commission at Paul, he had plenty of experience, and examples of his work published in The Studio and shown with the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society had a big influence. His window window commemorates Torquil Bolitho, the son of a prominent local family who died at Ypres in 1915. Unusually, his figure takes a central position as Sir Galahad, leading his horse, with haloed children, angels and a figure of Christ in the flanking lights. The tops of these lights are a reminder of the reality of the war, showing a journey across the battlefield, while the base of the window has the view of Mount’s Bay which lies beyond in reality.
Our visit was much enhanced by the vicar, the Rev. Andrew Yates, who described the major project to remake the decayed Polyphant stone tracery in Forest of Dean, and to re-set the glass, funded by HLF along with many other community activities about remembrance. He describes this in a short film here:
Posted on: 22 April 2020
I was pleased that when 19 sturdy Guild members went to Cornwall last week we were not just looking at old things, lovely though they were, but meeting people and hearing about their activities in the present. These were inspiring and exciting and representative of the kind of thing we all care about, so I thought I could beguile a quarter of an hour of enforced solitude by telling you about them.
On our first morning in St Ives, we visited the Porthmeor Studios. The building, we were told, has about 50 different phases of construction and alteration, including the incorporation of iron pipes and long wooden shafts from redundant tin mines, plus stone, brick and timber.
When Bro M J Long was commissioned to make it stable and watertight by the owners, the Borlase Smart John Wells Trust, she was keen to retain its character and the Trust, led by Chris Hibbert (gesticulating on the right) who showed us round, realised the importance of keeping a space for the fishermen who were on this site before the artists. I could tell you a lot about pilchards, but for now, you can see fishermen using the space for setting nets – stringing them onto lines with floats, each calibrated for a different catch. Upstairs, we saw a couple of the studios which are used with a mixture of long-term and short-term residencies. The light coming straight off the water outside the windows is fantastic, and the artists we saw were actually using paint and colour, which seems a rarity these days.
At the Leach Pottery, also in St Ives, the whole historic site was threatened with redevelopment as housing in the late 1990s, but owing to a listing for its historic associations, it was possible for the original workshop buildings to be saved as a museum, while a new working pottery, education room, display space and shop were added. Bernard Leach started working there in 1920, and there is no other place with such strong associations with the craft pottery movement that he did so much to influence.
We had an excellent tour, enhanced by expertise from the group (David Birch and Emma Barker in particular). Please post more pictures! And most people went away with something from the shop. I got about the smallest thing I could find, a tiny John Leach jug to add to my display at the Guild ‘The Constant Art Worker’, plus a soap dish with draining holes in it which has been much in use since I got back home.
This is the lowest chamber of the Japanese-style ‘climbing kiln’ built for Leach by Tsurunosuke Matsubayashi. The firebrick lining has become glazed over many years of use.
Here is one of the labels from the treadle wheels that Bernard’s son David invented to make throwing more controlled and effective.
On Thursday, we were in Falmouth and had the delightful experience of visiting the workshop of Keith Newstead, a maker of automata. In case you didn’t know, Falmouth is the world centre of automata and the place where Cabaret Mechanical Theatre began. I somehow failed to take a picture of his current project, based on a Rowland Emmett cartoon, but this one gives you the flavor.
On Friday, we started the day in Newlyn, and thanks to Bro Ruth Guilding’s introduction, we were able to visit Michael Johnson at The Copper Works. Michael arrived from Australia, after running a male dance company in his 20s, and developed his metalworking skills through his English-based uncle who made armour for films. In 2004, Michael re-started the copper-beating tradition in Newlyn that goes back to the 1890s. I was especially excited about this as I inherited some pieces of furniture decorated with art nouveau leaves, fronds and flowers that might have come from here.
We were all impressed by Michael telling us that he has always encouraged children and teenagers to come to his workshop after school for no charge, and many have kept on coming as they love working there. In the foreground is a big fountain made of brass for a garden festival (Chelsea?). Being a bit typographic, I liked the plaque on the piece underneath it – part of a tank for a distillery. They called it Dennis after Dennis Hopper.
Posted on: 21 April 2020