Posted on Leave a comment

SILTings: Shrimpers and Mudlarks; Fish and Ships

Duncan Grant: Bawley boat in Bawley Bay
Duncan Grant: Bawley boat in Bawley Bay

This is the third of my blogs about the SILTings creative programme, which runs next weekend (Friday 4th – 6th June 2021) online, aboard LV21  and the surrounding quayside, and at various locations around Gravesend town centre.

If you missed the last two blogs you can catch up here and here.

I do apologise to those of you who got an unexpected preview of this blog, yesterday afternoon. I pressed the wrong button. This is the final version!

Shrimpers and Mudlarks
For the main part of this blog, we’re back with the Shrimpers on Bawley Bay in Gravesend, but this time virtually and through the medium of dance, captured on film by by dancer/choreographer Daisy Farris and artist Nicola Flower.

During the 19th Century, shrimpers would catch and cook brown shrimps aboard Bawley boats and bring in their hauls to sell at Gravesend market, or at the various family run shrimp merchants around Gravesend at that time.

Duncan Grant: Warners Shrimp Merchant, Gravesend
Duncan Grant: Warners Shrimp Merchant, Gravesend

My Great Aunt Hilda used to work in Warners Shrimp Merchant on Cross Street, near the river in Gravesend, preparing shrimps to sell to tourists in Rosherville Pleasure Gardens.

More than ten years ago, visual artist Nicola Flower, heard about the Bawley Bay Shrimpers and the story stuck with her.

In 2014, Nicola met contemporary dancer, Daisy Farris. The two women had  applied, separately, to produce work for IN-SITE, a regeneration project taking place along the Rochester riverside. Both artists were successful and the commissioners paired them up.

 

The rest is history.

Duncan Grant: Shrimpers
Duncan Grant: Shrimpers

‘We made our first piece together,’ remembers Nicola. ‘And then we just kept coming up with ideas of other things that we might do together.’

Although the women have very different backgrounds, they also have a lot in common.

‘We’re from different artistic disciplines but we’ve both got an interest in each other’s work,’ Nicola continues. ‘So Daisy’s definitely a visual creative artist as well as a dancer and I’m interested in the things that I make as a visual artist coming alive. And we both really like is storytelling.  We’re very interested in narrative, but neither of us is overly attached to that narrative being true.’

Nicola Flower and Daisy Farris: She's Like A Forest Fire...Unstoppable
She’s Like A Forest Fire…Unstoppable

 

Although Nicola and Daisy both continue with their own artistic endeavours, they enjoy the support and challenge that comes from their collaboration.

‘Collaboration is so stimulating,’ Nicola says. ‘I’m very excited with my own ideas but I love it when there’s something to butt up against. It takes me out of myself and it makes me think and respond in a different way.’

 

Nicola Flower and Daisy Farris: She is Like a Forest Fire...Unstoppable
Blue dresses hanging from Chatham’s Anchorage House

Their first collaborative work for IN-SITE was a dance performance and installation, She’s Like A Forest Fire…Unstoppable. It championed interesting characters from the Medway area and, in particular, featured a woman known locally as ‘Bluebell’.

Bluebell was an eccentric who, in the 90s, was often seen walking between the Medway towns, dressed entirely in blue.

The production drew on people’s memories of Bluebell and featured oversized blue dresses to capture her essence.

In homage to Bluebell the blue dresses were hung as an installation at Anchorage House, Chatham.

‘Artists can challenge the hierarchy in history and give a voice to people who are not usually thought of as heroes,’ says Daisy.  ‘Bluebell was flamboyant, ritualistic and joyous, but she experienced exclusion from society. Through our work, we wanted to celebrate a compelling and universal character and elevate her status.’

Since then, Nicola and Daisy have continued to collaborate on site-specific works, often linked to rivers.

Daisy Farris and Nicola Flower: 'The Great Thames Disaster' performed on LV21 ©Gigi Giannella
‘The Great Thames Disaster’ performed on LV21 ©Gigi Giannella

In 2018, they toured their production The Great Thames Disaster performing it in venues on the route that ill-fated passenger paddle steamer, the SS Princess Alice would have taken along the river.

The SS Princess Alice sunk in 1878, following a collision with a collier ship, The Bywell Castle, near North Woolwich Pier, on the River Thames . It was carrying 700 passengers returning to London after a day at the seaside.

650 men, women and children died in the incident – the greatest loss of life in any Thames shipping disaster.  The tragedy led to the collapse of the Sheppey tourism industry at that time.

Nicola Flower: Flotsam
Nicola installing ‘Flotsam’ on LV21

 

 

 

 

Following the accident, it is reported that a flotsam of male and female apparel covered the surface of the Thames.

As part of her research for the project, Nicola created a large-scale drawing of this on the deck of the generator room, aboard LV21.

You can see a trailer here for The Great Thames Disaster dance performance, which Daisy choreographed and which involved members of her company, Daisy Farris Dance Collective.

Collaborating in a crisis

Mudlarks at Bawley Bay, Gravesend
Mudlarks at Bawley Bay, Gravesend

It wasn’t until 2018, that Nicola’s idea for a dance performance based around the shrimpers of Bawley Bay and the mudlarks, who scavenged in the Thames for items to sell, started to become a reality.

‘Initially our idea was that this would be a performance with multiple costumes and dancers from Daisy Farris Dance Collective,’ explains Daisy. ‘We were having a very exciting conversation with Päivi Seppälä, co-owner and director of LV21, about producing it for what was going to be SILTings Festival 2020, and then within a month it all stopped because of the pandemic.’

 

‘Then, later, when the second wave of the pandemic arrived, Päivi told us that although the festival would go ahead in 2021, realistically, we weren’t going to be able to have a number of dancers and we weren’t going to be able to perform in front of an audience,’ Nicola continues. ‘So we started to think about an online alternative, something that has a legacy. We had made a film previously,  in 2015, so we decided on that, with the hope that, perhaps, we might revisit the performance as a live event in the future, when we’re allowed to.’

Nicola Flower and Daisy Farris: Shrimpers and Mudlarks. Research
Exploring ideas: Using props

COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing rules made life difficult for all artists. But for Nicola and Daisy, who were collaborating on a project, the effect could have been devastating. Lockdown restrictions made life more difficult – they spent a lot of time on Zoom, which was a lifeline – but there were also liberating factors that in the end, they feel, made their work stronger.

‘Pre-COVID, the outcome of this project would have been very different,’ says Nicola. ‘For me, the creativity we’ve tapped into has been exceptional because of the pandemic.’

Daisy agrees.

‘Although it didn’t feel like it at the start, I think the pandemic was a bit of a blessing in disguise,’ she says. ‘We really honed in on what we as artists wanted out of the project. Sometimes that can end up being pushed to the back because you are committed to having to produce certain outcomes. But because nothing was happening, all expectations went out of the window and we were given more free rein than we’ve ever had before.’

During 2020, Gravesham Borough Council created a series of small grants Make It in Gravesham to support artists to continue to work during lockdown and to stimulate public engagement when public performance and face-to-face, participatory events were not possible.

Nicola Flower and Dasy Farris: Shrimpers and Mudlarks -illustrated postcards
Illustrated postcards captured memories of Bawley Bay

Nicola and Daisy were successful in receiving some funding through the scheme.

‘That was a real challenge because we suddenly realised that we didn’t know how to do that!’ Daisy laughs. ‘Nicola and I spent hours and hours Zoom together thinking about how to make work. And in the end it was great because we engaged people in ways that we never thought we would and we worked in ways that we never imagined.’

The pair made videos for nursery and primary school children, for LV21’s Think Up cultural education programme, focused on the sensations and movements associated with shrimping and mudlarking on the Thames.

Nicola Flower: Shrimpers and Mudlarks. Research
Nicola Flower: Capturing movement in drawing

‘In the primary school video, Daisy would do some movements that shrimpers and mudlarks might have done on Bawley Bay – manual work, the playful wrestling actions of the mudlarks – and I would do a drawing showing the children how to draw the shapes that Daisy made,’ Nicola says. ‘Our nursery video tried to  recreate the sensations that you might experience on Bawley Bay – so, the sound of pebbles, the movement of heavy objects – using plastic bottles or dropping stones in water. And we also sent illustrated postcards to the elderly communities in care homes and sheltered accommodation, which they returned with written memories of Bawley Bay.’

The artists combined elements of their research into Bawley Bay, with children’s drawings, and the stories and memories of elderly care home residents to inspire and inform their final creative piece.

‘It was a way in to the performance itself,’ explains Nicola. ‘Our projects often start with heritage, but it’s not in-depth heritage. We like a suggestion of heritage, so we draw on snippets of information that could be urban myth, or a memory, or even something half-remembered.’

Building the performance

Woman on Bawley Bay, Gravesend
Woman on Bawley Bay

The Shrimpers and Mudlarks performance was inspired by a photograph from Fishermen from the Kentish Shore by Derek Coombe. It shows a woman standing alone on Bawley Bay looking out to the river from the bank of the Thames. It is the only picture of a woman in the Gravesend section of the book.

‘We are two women making work and we often tend to lean towards the femininity of work,’ Daisy explains. ‘We think the shrimper women were responsible for selling the cooked shrimps when they arrived in the Bay. We thought this kind of job would be messy and tiring and probably a bit smelly, but we wanted to capture a little bit of the vulnerability of the woman alone on a beach through the dance performance.’

Shrimper
Shrimper

Nicola is a textile artist and created the costume for Daisy to wear in the dance performance. It was the first time that she had created a costume specifically for her to perform in.

‘We had a conversation fairly early on about whether we wanted the costume to be a very realistic costume of a late Victorian era, or a modern take on that – and that’s what we’ve gone with,’ Daisy explains.

‘I started to construct a garment very intuitively, from ideas to do with worn and torn, patchwork fabric with layers that you can move in to do a manual job,’ explains Nicola. ‘And then I had an idea that I’d like to make a big cape that was encrusted with pearly shrimps – much more beautiful than she would have had – but a nod to the fact that her whole livelihood was the shrimps.’

Nicola Flower: Shrimpers and Mudlarks costume

[Nicola’s costumes for ‘Shrimpers and Mudlarks]

Nicola drew on the skills of the Gravesham community to embroider the shrimps, and also made an enormous fabric ‘net’ from recycled sari fabrics and scarves donated by members of the Rethink Gravesham Sangam group.

Nicola Flower and Daisy Farris 'Shrimpers and Mudlarks' Embroidered shrimps

[Embroidered shrimps]

Finally after months of working together virtually, at Easter this year, Nicola and Daisy had the chance to spend a week together in St Andrew’s Church in Gravesend, to try out their ideas in practice. It gave them an opportunity to review  the project and decide what worked and what did not.

Daisy Farris and Nicola Flower: Shrimpers and Mudlarks rehearsal
Rehearsing in St Andrew’s Church

‘You can immerse yourself in the creative process, but there’s a tipping point where you have to have a bit of an honest conversation to see if it is really going the way you want it to,’ Nicola explains. ‘And definitely there was a moment that Daisy and I recognised that less is more and we knew we’d found  the “sweet spot”.’

‘That’s where collaboration is really helpful,’ Daisy adds. ‘We started off with a lot of props – we had this big megaphone, we had big shoes, builders’ bags and rope, all of which was trying to get me to move in a way that was evocative of manual labour. But it just takes one of you to be brave enough to say, “I don’t think we need that” and then you begin to see things differently.

Daisy Farris and Nicola Flower: Shrimpers and Mudlarks
Rehearsing in St Andrew’s Church

‘It’s a lot harder to make those judgements when you are working on your own because you’re too involved in what you’re doing to know what enough is. So we had a conversation towards the end of that week where we agreed to just put the props to one side, to do less, to let the art speak for itself and trust that what we’d brought to it already was enough.’

The final performance, which was filmed on Bawley Bay over a weekend, depicts scenes spanning a day. Daisy dances alone to a specially commissioned score, composed by musician Aleph Aguiar.

In her cape encrusted with pearly shrimps she moves to reveal glimpses of her patchwork dress underneath.

Daisy Farris and Nicola Flower: 'Shrimpers and Mudlarks'. Filming on Bawley Bay
Filming on Bawley Bay

As the day, progresses her demeanour changes from vulnerability to strength, until finally the dancer discards the cape to reveal a giant skirt of patched fabric, which she uses like a heavy shrimping net, laying it out on the shore and then pulling it in.

As the end of the day approaches, lights in her cape and nets evoke the golden glow of shrimps and mudlarking treasure.

The costumes Nicola created for the performance will be on public display at Gravesend Library window throughout Estuary 2021.

The film premiers online on Friday 4th June 2021, and will be screened in various public places over the coming months. But you can see it here!

Fish and Ships

Duncan Grant: Boats and Buoys
Duncan Grant: Boats and Buoys

Between 4th and the 12th June, I’ll be gigging alongside the Gravesham Urban Knitters in Fish and Ships as part of the Gravesham Estuary Fringe Festival.

Inspired by the river, the Gravesham Urban Knitters have made over 50 small knitted fish and 50 miniature knitted boats. These will be exhibited, alongside some of my boat pictures on board LV21 during SILTings (4th to 6th June) and along the quayside on the 12th June.

 

Gravesham Urban Knitters: Fish and Ships
Gravesham Urban Knitters: Fish…

 

You might know the Gravesham Urban Knitters from their other projects around Gravesham. These include a knitted 4-foot high model of the Gravesend Clock Tower, and a whole pod of knitted Benny the Whales, when Benny was in Gravesend. They’ve  even knitted bikinis for trees!

The group meets at Gravesend market on Thursdays from 10am – noon. If you’d like to join them just turn up or contact them via their Facebook group. Meetings are COVID safe and you’ll be welcome, whether knitting or crocheting is your thing.

At the moment, the group are making flowers to decorate part of the town centre for Blooming Lovely Festival in July.

Gravesham Urban Knitters: Fish and Ships
Gravesham Urban Knitters: …..and Ships

If you want to give it a try before you commit, or if you just want to have a go, why not go down to the quayside between 11am and 4pm on 12th June, pick up a free craft pack and join Gravesham Urban Knitters in Worldwide Knit in Public Day.

If knitting isn’t your thing, why not join me instead and create your own souvenir postcard using cyanotype printing techniques.

Further information

Shrimpers and Mudlarks
Aleph Aguiar
Website: alephaguiar.com

Daisy Farris
Website: dfdcollective.co.uk

 

Nicola Flower
Website: nicolaflower.co.uk

 

Fish and Ships

Gravesham Urban Knitters
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/graveshamknitters

Duncan Grant
Website:
http://www.duncangrantartist.com
Gallery:  http://www.duncangrantartist.com/shop

See also my other SILTings blogs SILTings: The Trail of the Blue Porcupine and SILTings: Filaments Art Collective on LV21

Festivals

SILTingshttps://lv21.co.uk/projects/siltings/

The Estuary Festivalhttps://www.estuaryfestival.com/

Creative Estuary https://www.creativeestuary.com/

 

 

Posted on 2 Comments

SILTings: Filaments Art Collective on LV21

In the dark winter evening of February 2020, just before the even darker days of the first lockdown, Winter Gathering, a community festival produced by LV21 for Ebbsfleet Development Corporation, brought a welcoming glow to Ebbsfleet Valley, a new town in Kent.

Ruth Payne: Welcoming Hands, Winter Gathering, Ebbsfleet 2019
Ruth Payne’s walk through double arch of welcoming hands

I was there leading a Small Town collage workshop, with fairy lights twinkling behind a sheet of my ‘Small Town’ Liberty print fabric.

But the real magic of the evening was created by illuminated art pieces commissioned from Filaments Art Collective, a group of five Kent-based artists – Elizabeth Burman, Karen Crosby, Rosie James, Ruth Payne and Linda Simon.

Visitors were greeted by Ebbsfleet residents from long ago, depicted in old photographs projected large across the community centre, before joining the Gathering via a double arch of welcoming hands, made from latex gloves lit by fairy lights.

Elizabeth Burman: Miniature light boxes, Winter Gathering, Ebbsfleet 2020
Elizabeth Burman’s miniature light boxes

 

Inside, was a display of tiny, intimate light boxes, allowing pinpricks of light to filter through vintage photographs while, in contrast, an interactive, life-sized reflective textile work lit up with the flash from a phone camera.

Winter Gathering was Filaments’ second group exhibition. The women had known each other through local art networks for years before the opportunity to exhibit together arose.

Their first collaboration, a two-night event at St. Mary’s Church at Burham Kent, in January 2020, was called Filaments. It explored thread and light and opened to the public only after darkness had fallen.

Rosie James: Reflective textile installation, Winter Gathering, Ebbsfleet, 2020
Rosie James’s reflective textile work lit up at the flash of a camera phone

Installations used textiles, installation, candlelight, reflective materials, light boxes and projections, and the whole was created and curated to complement the church.

Afterwards, the artists agreed that the name of the show encapsulated their work perfectly, and adopted it as the name of their collective.

Filaments Art Collective‘s work is site specific, telling stories about locations and the people and activities associated with them.

‘We approach a brief in our own unique way,’ explains Linda Simon. ‘Some of us are textile-based artists, others focus on projection and light, so we each draw on our particular interests to interpret a brief. But our work is not completely individual. There are always threads that link everything together.’

Exhibiting aboard LV21 for SILTings

LV21 with Linda Simon's 'Tethered'
Filaments are exhibiting on LV21 as part of SILTings

After more than a year when they’ve been unable to exhibit together because of COVID, Filaments are finally bringing their magical, creative touch to LV21 in Gravesend, as part of SILTings  – a programme of new artwork and performances created in response to the forgotten stories and hidden histories of the Gravesham riverfront.

‘Filaments is one of the jolliest artist collectives I’ve met and a joy to work with,’ says Päivi Seppälä, co-owner and director of LV21. ‘The site-specific nature of the group’s work and the invisible thread that runs through their collective, yet distinct, approach and which joins their individual practices together, fits the collaborative concept of SILTings perfectly.’

Elizabeth Burman, artist, LV21, Filaments
Elizabeth Burman: Magnetic light boxes on LV21

Originally SILTings was due to take place during Estuary Festival in September 2020, so the initial commission ideas were focused on outdoor projections and illuminated artworks to brighten up the dark autumn evenings.  But all this changed when the festival had to be rescheduled for May/June 2021 when the evenings are much lighter.

‘Filaments were unfazed by the challenge,’  Päivi  continues. ‘The group quickly responded with clever new ideas inspired by local stories and created a wonderful body of new bespoke works for people to enjoy both on and off the ship.’

The Filaments exhibition runs throughout the SILTings weekend, from the 4th-6th June 2021, and is one of four Creative Estuary commissioned creative cultural projects with Estuary-based producers and artists, to contribute to the Associated Programme for Estuary 2021.

More details about how you can visit the exhibition in person or virtually can be found below.  But for now, sit back and meet the artists.

Elizabeth Burman

Elizabeth Burman, artist
Elizabeth Burman

Elizabeth decided to study art when her youngest daughter went to primary school. Her background is in pottery and printmaking but her work for LV21 draws on her passion for old ephemera and discarded photographs.

‘An afternoon leafing through strangers’ once treasured moments in a junk shop is heaven to me,’ she says. ‘I love rummaging around the all the unusual objects, textures and images and I feel I replicate the mishmash of paraphernalia when I make collages. It’s instinctual to me to place particular shapes and colours beside one another. The manipulation of photographs and paper materials fascinates me, particularly as we increasingly move towards a paperless culture.’

Elizabeth Burman: Filaments on LV21, 2021
Elizabeth’s illuminated fish tins on LV21

 

Elizabeth’s  work for SILTings focuses on Bawley Bay, which is a tiny piece of riverside adjacent to St Andrew’s Church in Gravesend, next to where LV21 is moored. It was once the heart of Gravesend’s fishing community.

The Bay was named after the shrimp boats that used to moor there. During the 19th century, over  a hundred Bawley boats worked from this one small stretch of the river. Gravesend was a tourist resort then and Victorian tourists loved the local delicacy of brown shrimps.

‘Bawley’ is thought to be a corruption of ‘boiler boat’ because the shrimps were cooked on board so that they were ready to be sold as they were landed. My Great Aunt Hilda used to work in Warners Shrimp Merchant on Cross Street, near the river in Gravesend, preparing shrimps to sell to tourists in Rosherville Pleasure Gardens.

Elizabeth Burman, artist, Filaments, LV21, 2021
Another of Elizabeth’s illuminated fish tins on LV21

For her first installation for Filaments on LV21, Elizabeth used old photographs of people enjoying Gravesend as a riverside holiday destination. She mounted these in magnetic fish tins, to be displayed on the steel surfaces around the lightship.

‘I made holes sporadically around the photos with pins, and put a light in the back so they’re like little light boxes,’ she says. ‘When I visited the LV21, I took some of the tins with me and they were sticking to the boat walls wherever I went. It was fantastic. It was like the whole ship was a gallery. I’m going to make as many as I can and put them all round the ship and move them around every day, so the display is constantly changing.’

Elizabeth Burman: Shrimp chandelier
Elizabeth Burman: Shrimp chandelier

 

 

Her second installation references Gravesend’s shrimping heritage directly. She has constructed a magnificent chandelier, made up of over a thousand hand-made paper shrimps. The chandelier will hang in front of the base of LV21’s lantern tower in the lower deck space and will be lit to cast mesmerising shadows on the walls.

Karen Crosby

Karen Crosby, artist, Filaments
Karen Crosby

After working in retail for 25 years, Karen Crosby’s life changed direction when she took a new job in a secondary school. Seeing that she was good at art, the school placed her in the art department and then supported her to get a BA so she could become an art teacher. She was an ‘A’ student. Her BA degree show, a film Traces of Snodland Mill was showcased for the Platform award 2012, at the Turner Contemporary in Margate.

After her BA, Karen went on to do a Masters, where her success continued. In 2015, her MA work was selected for the tour of France, as part of a cross-border collaboration between Maison de l’Art et de la Communication in Lens, France and 51zero Festival  in Medway, Kent.

With her MA completed, Karen left teaching and set up as a professional artist, working from a studio in Sittingbourne, Kent.

Carol Crosby, artist, Traces of Sittingbourne projection
Karen Crosby: ‘Traces of Sittingbourne’

‘It was while I was there that I got my first funding to do some projections showing old photos of Sittingbourne  in the places they were originally taken,’ she recalls. ‘I love playing with images, mixing the past and the present. Using projection is simple and interesting and it looks great.’

From there Karen was commissioned to do a similar projects in London’s Brick Lane, featuring people and cultural change in Brick Lane over a hundred years ago. Another projection event, The Last of the London, took place at the derelict site of the old London Hospital in Whitechapel Road and told the story of the hospital.  Point of Arrival was a series of projections at the Tower of London, charting the arrival into Victorian London of Jewish immigrants,  fleeing persecution and hardship in eastern Europe.

 

Karen Crosby: Last of the London - A tribute to the former Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel Road
Karen Crosby: Last of the London projection
Karen Crosby, Point of arrival projection, Tower of London, 2019
Karen Crosby: Point of Arrival projection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her work  with Filaments on LV21 is also a projection. Like Elizabeth, Karen is using old photographs.

Filaments, LV21, 'Ivy Rose'
Ivy Rose on holiday in Gravesend

She had intended to research people who worked or lived near or on the River Thames at Gravesend, but COVID made that difficult.

Instead, she used photographs of the famous Gravesend riverside family, the Sutherlands on their Bawley Boat, The Thistle, which is now being  refurbished in Faversham, along with pictures of sent in by the daughter of Ivy Rose, whose late mother spent her WRAF leave in Gravesend, with friends, during WWII.

‘I like things that dissolve that you can’t quite see,’ Karen explains. ‘I took some film of the water and  it was a really sunny day, so I’ve got lovely, sparkly water reflections. And I’ve put old pictures of boats, places, people, shrimpers, going in and coming out, so they look like they’re submerged in the water.’

Karen’s projections will be shown in the engine room on LV21, which houses the lightship’s original rotating lantern.
‘When the lantern is on, its moving light will make the images appear and disappear as well, so it should look quite magical,’ Karen says.

Rosie James

Rosie James, artist, Filaments
Rosie James

Rosie worked as a radiographer for years while she was, as she puts it, ‘faffing about’  trying to decide what to do with herself. She then studied for a degree in textiles and an MA in Art Textiles at Goldsmiths, before going on to teach fashion and textiles.

It was attending a course about a subject that she didn’t want to teach and which, as it turned out, nobody wanted to learn, that determined Rosie’s future artistic direction.

‘Someone asked me to teach free machine embroidery which I didn’t do and I didn’t have a clue about,’ she laughs. ‘ But they insisted that I teach it, so I did a week’s course in it at City Lit in London and it was brilliant! And as I was doing it I was thinking, Oh wow! I can do lots of things with this. The course I was supposed to teach didn’t happen because it didn’t get enough students but by this time I was off – I’d just decided that this was brilliant.’

Rosie James: Ripley Wedding detail
Rosie James: Ripley Wedding detail

Rosie’s stitched drawings pictures often feature people and crowds but more recent work has seen her, increasingly, finding ways to make statements through her work.

‘When I’m stitching figures, I have lots of loose threads dangling off them, Rosie explains. ‘And I’m becoming more and more interested in using these loose threads to actually say something. So they’re becoming bigger and bigger and more part of the scene’

In her exhibition The Power of Stitch at Ideas Test in Sittingbourne, Rosie used the trailing threads as power lines connecting pylons to stitched images of women sewing

I  was linking the loose threads to pylons that were creating energy,’ she says. ‘So basically, the women were powering the world through their sewing.’

Rosie James: The Power of Stitch Rosie James: The Power of Stitch Rosie James: The Power of Stitch

Rosie James: The Power of Stitch

Olive Sutherland aboard a Bawley Boat

For her Filaments installation on LV21, Rosie has used thick cords and threads and various coloured fabrics to produce four large-scale stitched sails, featuring the Sutherland family and their Bawley Boat.

‘I used the photos of the Sutherlands – Eileen, Olive and Bill – to stitch drawings on old dinghy sails and then I thought they needed some words,’ Rosie explains. ‘There is a poem by TS Eliott called The Dry Salvages, which is beautiful and has some lovely words around work – about bailing and hauling. So I used those words to get across the poetics of what the people are doing. The words are appliquéd on in watery, slithery, shiny colours.’

For SILTings, two of Rosie’s sails will be hung the outer hull of LV21, billowing in the wind for passers-by to see, while the other two (Eileen and Olive) will be inside as a backdrop to one of Karen’s projections, featuring an image of the Sutherland’s Bawley Boat The Thistle disappearing into the water.

Rosie James, Filaments, LV21, 2021Rosie James, Filaments, LV21, 2021

Eileen Sutherland aboard a Bawley Boat

Rosie’s embroidered sails, inspired by old photographs, are installed inside and outside the lightship

Ruth Payne

Ruth Payne, artist, Filaments
Ruth Payne

‘I am currently obsessed by diatoms and coccolithophores,’ says Ruth Payne. ‘The smaller things are, the more I love them. As soon as Päivi mentioned SILTings and stories, I thought instead of doing human stories, I would explore the life cycles of the tiny things that live in the water and make up the sediment and the silt of the Thames Estuary. They’re what everything else is based on. The things that I’m drawing are what the shrimps and other water life would be eating.’

Ruth Payne: Digital Collage - Digidiatom 2
Ruth Payne: Digidiatom 2

Ruth’s installation on LV21 with Filaments has arisen through her collaboration with Dr Anna Freeman, an environmental scientist. It involves intricate, enlarged drawings of microscopic images of phytoplankton, which she uses to play with ideas of scale and importance, and how we often conflate the two.

Ruth’s  digidiatoms are a series of magnetic digital collages of diatoms that will be fixed to the inside of Lv21’s hull

Ruth Payne: Installation for SILtings, LV21, 2021
Ruth’s installation on LV21

 

Her main installation for SILTings, however, is in two parts. Each is laid out in a circle on the main deck  in the lightship’s Recreation Room.

There are 6 drawings of diatoms on circular mirrors.

‘Diatoms float encased in silica shells – their own little glass houses – they are found in all water habitats, and around the world, diatoms are responsible for producing a large part of the oxygen that we breathe today,’ Ruth explains. ‘They are stunning!’

The mirrors, which reference the surface of the water and the structure of the organism, also use the viewers’ reflected image to place them within the work, so they become part of the organism’s life cycle.

There are also 6 drawings on plaster.

‘These are the coccolithophores, which live in marine environments, but flow up the estuary with the tide as far as Gravesend,’ says Ruth. ‘I’ve magnified images of these beautiful little organisms onto plaster using carbon paper. They have little plates made of calcium and when they sink to the bottom of the ocean floor, over millions of years they are compressed to form chalk, limestone and gypsum crystals, which are the materials that make up the plaster that I’ve cast the discs from.’

Ruth Payne: Campylodisca

Ruth Payne: Campylodisca

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruth Payne: Diatom Campylodisca, Coccolithophore Emiliana huxleyi and Diatom Stephanopyxis

Ruth has been working as an artist since she graduated in 2002.

Drawing has become important to her over the last few years, but Ruth’s work also includes large-scale installations, digital collage, performance and textiles. Her work is often associated with the psychological charge of difficult domestic environments or the impact of invisible illness, and the psychology of creativity.

Ruth Payne: House
Ruth Payne: House

 

‘I have a fascination with psychology that feeds into my work,’ Ruth explains. ‘For a long time I seemed to be making work that you physically could go into and hunker down. I was making the shelters for me but I wanted to share them so people could escape the sometimes difficult outside world.

 

Ruth Payne: Pale Cuboid
Ruth Payne: Pale Cuboid

‘I made an installation called ‘House’ which is a 6 x 6 ft house shape of rough timber. The walls are constructed of patchwork fabric offcuts, which were destined for landfill. Inside are handmade cushions and blankets and a little bowl of sweets and you can go in, get cosy and hide.

‘And I also made another translucent patchwork structure Pale Cuboid, filled with 42 of my haiku that I’d written out many, many times on little bits of tissue paper. And they were like leaves. Viewers can go inside and sit on the stool and leaf through the haiku. It is a space to reflect, to be outside of the usual world.’

 

‘But of late, that kind of work is sort of passing through,’ she concludes. ‘I’m concentrating more on drawing and the building blocks of life, on ecology, the natural world and how we humans inhabit and interact with it.’

Linda Simon

Linda Simon
Linda Simon

Linda Simon has been working as an artist since she graduated from UCA, Canterbury in 2013. Before that, she held various positions in IT which, she believes, have influenced the kind of work she makes.

‘I often work with encoded information and I like to use alternative communication systems,’ she says. ‘So when Päivi was talking about the ebb tide flag system that is used by the Port of London Authority to alert people to the dangers of the estuary, I was immediately drawn to that as a possible subject for my SILTings installation.’

Linda Simon: Fluffy flags
Linda’s fluffy flags are based on the International Code of Signals

However, while Linda was researching the fluvial flow warning systems and finding very little information, she stumbled across the International Code of Signals – a series of nautical flags used to communicate vital information to sea-faring vessels around the world.  She decided to design a series of flags to be hoisted up aboard LV21 for people to view from the shore.

‘I had been using a traditional latch hook rug tufting method to interpret a number of drawings I’d made by using a set of rules determined by the throw of a dice. The strong graphic elements used within the flag imagery really lent themselves to translation using the latch hook method, and thus my ‘fluffy flags’ were born’.

Linda Simon: Fluffy Dice Drawing No 8 with the original Dice Drawing

‘I love the fact that each flag is a letter or a number so you can spell out individual messages, but also that each flag or pair of flags have their own distinct meanings,’ she says. ‘So my fluffy flags are composed of two flags, and each pair has a different meaning. I chose meanings that either amuse me, such as ‘I am on fire’ or that can be read metaphorically to reference situations we’ve found ourselves experiencing this past year. For instance, one says ‘No-one is allowed on board’. Another says, ‘You should not come any closer.  I also did a combination of eight flags that spelled out ‘StaySafe’’

Linda Simon: Fluffy flags on LV21
Linda’s fluffy flags on LV21
Linda Simon: Fluffy flags 'Stay safe'
Stay safe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Linda Simon: No Entry
Linda Simon: No Entry

‘Often finding an unusual material is the starting point for my art,’ she explains. ‘I’ve been working with safety materials for the last three or four years. Some of the work I’ve made for the ship uses hazard warning tape and I’ve made two big signs – No Entry and Caution which are going to be used to help direct visitors around the lightship.’

Linda’s final piece for SILTings is a flag constructed from yellow plastic barrier mesh and red and white hazard tape, entitled Tethered. It was conceived during the first lockdown and refers to the restricted feelings experienced by many people during this period.

Linda says, ‘It just felt so perfect for LV21 and I’m thrilled to be able to fly it from the flagpole at the stern of the ship.’

CLICK TO EXPAND THE VIDEO

Further information

Filaments
The Filaments exhibition runs from 4-6 June 2021 and can also be viewed online. There will be a limited number of facilitated 30-minute group visits to see the artworks aboard LV21 between 12 – 4pm each day,  if C-19 restrictions allow.

Pre-booking is recommended as places are very limited.

Details of how to book will be available from 28th May on the event website . For any enquiries please email TheCaptain@LV21.vo.uk.

A series of live online IGTV recordings will provide a digital tour of the artworks with behind the scenes interviews with the artists and audiences during the festival weekend.

There will be accompanying creative activities, and meet the artist opportunities. Resource packs can be picked up along the quayside between 11am-4pm on Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th June.

A short video featuring all SILTings artists and their artworks will also be released online after the event,  later in June.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/filamentsartcollective
Instagram: @filaments.art  https://www.instagram.com/filaments.art/

Future exhibitions:
– LV21, Gravesend as part of SILTings  – 4th-6th June 2021
– St. Mary’s Burham, Kent – October 2021

 

 

Elizabeth Burman
Instagram
@Eliza_ink
@thedailyink
@earth.spinned.and.fire


Karen Crosby
Website:
http://www.karencrosbyart.com/
Instagram:  @karcro1
Facebook:  Karen Crosby Artist & Photographer

Rosie James
Website: http://www.rosiejames.com/
Instagram: @rosiejamestextileartist

 

Ruth Payne
Website:
https://ruthpayneartist.wordpress.com/
Instagram: @ruthpayneart
Facebook: Ruth Payne

Linda Simon
Website: www.lindasimon.co.uk
Instagram: @linda_simon_artist
Facebook: Linda Simon 

 


SILTings
https://lv21.co.uk/projects/siltings/

See also my first SILTings blog SILTings: The Trail of the Blue Porcupine

The Estuary Festivalhttps://www.estuaryfestival.com/

Creative Estuary https://www.creativeestuary.com/

 

 

 

Posted on 1 Comment

SILTings: The Trail of the Blue Porcupine

At 11am on Saturday 5th June 2021, blue porcupines will start to appear at various secret locations around the streets of Gravesend. The porcupines will hide in plain sight for a week.

Sarah Sparkes: Blue Porcupine 1, mixed media scupture, 2021
Sarah Sparkes: Blue Porcupine 1, mixed media scupture, 2021

Together they form a two-mile trail around the town. But to discover the porcupines and complete the trail, porcupine hunters must decipher a series of clues.

The trail starts at LV21 and to take part you will need your smartphone, so that you can communicate directly with the Blue Porcupine HQ.

Each blue porcupine that you discover will reveal a password which, when keyed into your smartphone, unlocks a video clue. If you solve that, it will lead you to the next porcupine.

You can complete the trail in one outing or you can tackle it in stages, over the week.

And if you are not up for a walk or you’re not in the area, well there’s no excuse. You can also follow the trail remotely, from the comfort of your own armchair, via Google Streetview. The online resources will also go live on June 5th.

All you have to do is find and photograph all the hidden blue porcupines, to win a chance to become one of three, first ever porcupine hunters to be inducted into ‘The Order of the Blue Porcupine’. Inductees will be presented with a rosette at a special ceremony aboard LV21 on Saturday 12th June.

The mysterious blue porcupine

Gravesham Coat of Arms, 1975
Gravesham Coat of Arms, 1975

The blue porcupines marking the Trail are inspired by the mysterious blue porcupine that has featured on Gravesham’s Coat of Arms  since medieval times.

On the current Coat of Arms, originating from 1975, it appears as a ‘sea porcupine’ – a heraldic mythical creature, part porcupine, part fish – and stands opposite and facing ‘Invicta’, the white horse of Kent.

On Gravesend’s first Coat of Arms (circa 1568) the porcupine appears as a land creature , with legs rather than a fish tail and a chain around its neck, at the helm of a boat.

 

Image from 1568 Coat of Arms, reproduced on the gate of Milton Church, Gravesend

This earlier Coat of Arms has been described as:

…..a boat with one mast….a sail furled, proper, rowed by five rowers hooded and cloaked, with oars and anchor, steered by a porcupine, azure, chained and quilled…

As far as I know, there are only a few places around Gravesend where you can find the original Coat of Arms. It is reproduced on the gate of Milton Church; there is a magnificent mosaic in Gravesend Market; and it can be seen embroidered on banners in St Andrew’s Church.

It has been said that the imagery on this Coat of Arms inspired Edward Lear to write his nonsense poem The Owl and the Pussy-cat.

Mosaic in Gravesend market

Edward Lear’s father, Jeremiah Lear, lived in Gravesend for many years, so Edward was a frequent visitor. Lear senior was buried in Milton churchyard in 1833, although the plot is not marked.

When I was a schoolboy, the emblem moved around the town, emblazoned on the chests of scruffy youths, including my own, on the blazer badge of Springhead School. I didn’t realise the creature steering the boat was a porcupine, though. I thought it was a bear!

Duncan Grant: Springhead School
Me as a Springhead yoof
Springhead School blazer badge
Springhead School blazer badge

 

The porcupine is native to the Americas and Africa, and is also found in Italy, so how on earth did it come to be on Gravesend’s Coat of Arms?

Well, one explanation might be that there was a link to the Sydney family of Penshurst Place in Kent, who added the porcupine to their family crest in the 16th century, as a result of a connection with King Louis XII of France.  In France the porcupine was a symbol of invincibility and Louis XII adopted a porcupine as his personal emblem.

Tomb of Frances Sydney, Countess of Sussex in Westminster Abbey
Tomb of Frances Sydney, Countess of Sussex in Westminster Abbey

In particular, it’s use on the Gravesend Coat of Arms could be a tribute to Sir Henry Sydney and may refer to his authority in governing and regulating barges and boats on the Thames at that time.

The River Thames has always been a leading character in the history of Gravesend, so the portrayal of a boat on the Coat of Arms is not unexpected. A bit of searching on the British History Online website provides a possible explanation for the rowers.

Order of the Blue Porcupine - Sarah Sparkes and James M'Kay
Order of the Blue Porcupine – Sarah Sparkes and James M’Kay

 

 

In 1377, Richard II commanded the sheriffs of Kent and Essex to erect beacons on either side of the Thames, at Gravesend and Farnedon. These were to be lit to provide early warning of enemy attackers coming up the river.

Unfortunately, the beacons proved useless. Soon after they were in place, the French sailed up the Thames and plundered and burnt Gravesend.

To help the town to recover from its losses, Richard II pronounced that the people of Gravesend should have the sole privilege of rowing passengers by water from Gravesend to London, a journey known as ‘the long ferry.’

It is probable that the rowers in the Coat of Arms represent the Long Ferry rowers, although why they are hooded is unclear – although, you’ll probably have noticed, the hoodie remains a very popular item of clothing in Gravesend even today!

The Trail of the Blue Porcupine
The Trail of the Blue Porcupine was devised collaboratively by Gravesham-based poet and spoken-word artist James M’Kay and London-based artist Sarah Sparkes. Sarah made the porcupines, while James worked out the trail and devised the clues that porcupine hunters will solve as they walk.

LV21
LV21

Although they have both been fascinated by the blue porcupine for some time, James and Sarah had never met or worked together until they were introduced by Päivi Seppälä of LV21. She commissioned them to produce the trail as part of SILTings  – a programme of new artwork and performances created in response to the forgotten stories and hidden histories of the Gravesham riverfront.

SILTings runs from the 4th-6th June 2021, and is one of four Creative Estuary commissioned creative cultural projects with Estuary-based producers and artists, to contribute to the Associated Programme for Estuary 2021.

Sarah Sparkes as the Blue Porcupine in Hell or High water on LV21, film by Gary Weston
Sarah Sparkes as the Blue Porcupine in Hell or High water on LV21, film by Gary Weston

Sarah Sparkes is a visual artist and curator, whose work is inspired and informed by myths, folklore and, particularly, ghost stories. Currently, she is painting 101 ghost stories in 101 weeks. She also runs the visual arts and creative research project GHost which explores guests, ghosts and hosts, through seminars, exhibitions, screenings and performances.

Sarah Sparkes: 101 GHost Stories 20 - 'and this is where I saw it' Gouache on cotton rag paper, A6 size, 2021
Sarah Sparkes: 101 GHost Stories 20 – ‘and this is where I saw it’ Gouache on cotton rag paper, A6 size, 2021

‘Myths are histories that have become stories,’ she explains. ‘They travel lightly by word of mouth from generation to generation. The hierarchy will put things in writing and say, this is our history, this is what you have to believe. But folklore is a way that everyday people can own their histories and carry them forward.’

‘And quite often, they stand testament for things that have been suppressed or repressed,’ she continues. ‘Folklore is where that stuff is hiding. That is why these stories are so powerful and that’s why, I think, the blue porcupine is such a powerful character.’

Sarah first encountered the blue porcupine  back in 2013 when she visited Gravesend with a group of walkers and artists to plan the Inspiral London Walk which finishes in Gravesend. Inspiral London are now partners on the Trail of the Blue Porcupine and are also listing the Trail on their website.

Banner in St Andrew's Church, Gravesend.  Photo by Sarah Sparkes
Banner in St Andrew’s Church, Gravesend.  Photo by Sarah Sparkes

‘I was walking around Gravesend and I saw in St Andrew’s Chapel, a banner with this extraordinary creature, like a big rat at the front of a boat, and I wondered what on earth it could be,’ Sarah remembers.

The mystery of the blue porcupine caught her imagination and she began to research the heraldic symbolism, its place in the history of Gravesend and how its story might be developed and made relevant through art.

‘I like the idea of art that is really centred in the community and captures people’s imagination,’ Sarah says. ‘Art that makes people see something about where they live, celebrate it, embrace that and then make work about it themselves. I really want to make this magical, wonderful creature, the blue porcupine, a significant part of Gravesend, for the people of Gravesend.’

The Blue Sea Porcupine, Sarah Sparkes, Gouache on paper, 2020
The Blue Sea Porcupine, Sarah Sparkes, Gouache on paper, 2020

In 2020, Sarah was invited by curator, Caroline Gregory to contribute to Hell or High Water a weekend of art on LV21, exploring transitions, adversity, survival and transformation.

The art that Sarah planned, Azure, Chained and Quilled, was a performance piece portraying the blue porcupine being released from its chains and navigating the lightship to safety. Sarah made a blue porcupine puppet and head dress for the performance, which moved from the Gravesham Arts Centre, along the Thames foreshore and on to the deck of LV21.

Because of Covid the event took place virtually. Sarah’s live performance did not go ahead but it was filmed and is still available to view.

 

James M'Kay performing his Poetry ay St Andrew's Church, Gravesend
James M’Kay performing his Poetry ay St Andrew’s Church, Gravesend

If you live around here, you may know poet James M’Kay from his live spoken word performances at venues in London and Gravesham, or through Reverb Chamber, the monthly neighbourhood poetry nights that he hosts at Cafe No.84.

James first encountered the blue porcupine when he moved south from Newcastle.

Over the last year, during his lockdown walks around Gravesham, James has occupied himself by inventing a parallel, fantasy landscape, imagining fantastical  stories about the areas he walks though.

He is excited by the lack of ‘facts’ surrounding the story of the blue porcupine because, he explains, it leaves space for people to imagine their own stories.

‘The blue porcupine is a Rorschach Blot,’ he says. ‘It’s a tool for telling stories, which can be whatever people want, to express however they feel about the place. I have my own ideas. I think I know why the porcupine is in that boat, who it is that are rowing, and why they are going away, but I don’t think I’m prepared to say just yet.

‘Everything I’m planning to do with Blue Porcupine is encouraging people to make up stories because I think a little playfulness is what we need after all we’ve been through recently.’

Before they collaborated, Sarah and James had each imagined different stories about the porcupine in the boat. To Sarah, the porcupine is female. James sees it as male, so they have agreed to use ‘they’ as a pronoun when talking about the porcupine .

Sarah is troubled by the porcupine being, apparently, tethered to the boat.

Sarah Sparkes: Blue Porcupine Stencil, 2021
Sarah Sparkes: Blue Porcupine Stencil, 2021

‘The porcupine seems to be both a slave and a heroic figure,’ she say. ‘It has got a chain around its neck, like a collar, which I think is really sad. But yet it’s a kind of figurehead. It’s the navigator. It’s the seer. It’s finding the way. The oarsmen aren’t looking where they are going but the porcupine is.’

James disagrees. ‘Yes, the blue porcupine has a chain around its neck,’ he counters. ‘But I think it is a mayoral chain. I think the blue porcupine is in charge. He is steering the boat.’

James and Sarah are hoping that through the Trail of the Blue Porcupine, they will perhaps uncover new information about the story behind the porcupine, or that people will report new sightings of the image around the borough. They certainly hope that the event will stimulate many new imaginings of the porcupine’s story.

If you have any information or wish to share your stories, factual or imagined, please either comment on this blog or contact James and Sarah directly, through the links given below.

A Blue Porcupine Festival

Blue Porcupine Headdress, Sarah Sparkes, mixed media, 2020
Blue Porcupine Headdress, Sarah Sparkes, mixed media, 2020

For the future, James and Sarah are hoping to organise a Blue Porcupine Festival in Gravesend.

‘Ever since I saw the blue porcupine in St Andrew’s Chapel, I’ve had been harbouring this ambition to do a Blue Porcupine Festival in Gravesend,’ Sarah reveals. ‘I imagine it to be like Jack in the Green in Hastings with costumes, parading and everyone getting involved. When Päivi talked to me about doing this project, I sketched a costume based on the mosaic that is in the old marketplace and I imagined that at some time in the future, this could become part of a blue porcupine festival.’

 

James believes that the blue porcupine movement is going to have a momentum of its own.

‘I think we’re going to have trouble catching it!’ he says.

As the blue porcupine is part of the Coat of Arms, there are no copyright restrictions in relation to the use of its image.

Sarah Sparkes: Blue Porcupine puppet, 2020
Sarah Sparkes: Blue Porcupine puppet, 2020

‘One of the things that I absolutely love about the blue porcupine is that it doesn’t belong to anybody – not to any particular community, organisation or group,’ James says. ‘If you’ve got anything to do with the Borough of Gravesham, you’re entitled to use the blue porcupine to tell whatever stories you want with it, which I think is great. I’m looking forward to Blue Porcupine Bitter, Blue Porcupine cocktails, Blue Porcupine tattoos. I think the people of Gravesham need to start running with it. It’s our porcupine!’

James has started the ball rolling. His blog is called Blue Porcupine Poems and Things.  And he has one more idea, inspired by his own experience of the success of The Angel of the North in bringing the community together in Gateshead.

‘The week before they put it up, everyone in Gateshead was saying, what a load of rubbish, but a week later they were calling it, “our Angel,”” James recalls. ‘So I think, at the very end of the promenade, that little bit that juts out, would be the perfect place for a massive 30-foot, major, iconic piece of porcupine art – illuminated at night obviously so that all the ships coming up the Thames would see it.’

‘That’s where I think we should be going with this!’ he laughs.

More Information

Order of the Blue Porcupine - Sarah Sparkes and James M'Kay
Order of the Blue Porcupine – Sarah Sparkes and James M’Kay

The Trail of the Blue Porcupine

The trail launches at 11am on Saturday 5th June 2021 on the quayside outside LV21 and is available throughout the following week. It is also available online. Clues for the Trail of the Blue Porcupine will go live on YouTube on Saturday 5th June 2021 

Join the Blue Porcupine Fan Club on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/Blue-Porcupine-Fan-Club-100823918862979/

Follow the Blue Porcupine Instagram: @theblueporcupine

Sarah Sparkes: 'Azure, Chained and Quilled', on LV21
Sarah Sparkes: ‘Azure, Chained and Quilled’, on LV21

 

SILTingshttps://lv21.co.uk/projects/siltings/

The Estuary Festivalhttps://www.estuaryfestival.com/

Creative Estuary https://www.creativeestuary.com/

 

 

James M'Kay ©Tim Goddard
James M’Kay ©Tim Goddard

 

James M’Kay

Blog: Blue Porcupine Poems and Things
https://blueporcupinepoemsthings.substack.com/

Soundcloud: Poet and Reciter James M’Kay
https://soundcloud.com/mckay_poetry
https://grandbabybeat.bandcamp.com/releases

Sarah Sparkes 

Sarah Sparkes: 101 GHost Stories 16 - 'Licht Und Blindheit' Gouache on cotton rag paper, A6 size, 2021
Sarah Sparkes: 101 GHost Stories 16 – ‘Licht Und Blindheit’ Gouache on cotton rag paper, A6 size, 2021

Instagram: @thesarahsparkes

Website: https://www.sarahsparkes.com/blog/

GHost website: https://www.ghosthostings.co.uk/

Liverpool and Taiwan ghost stories:  http://www.theghostportal.co.uk/

Senate House Ghost Stories: http://ghostsofsenatehouse.blogspot.com/

New Art Projects: http://newartprojects.com/artists/sarah-sparkes/

 

 

Posted on 2 Comments

Griselda Cann Mussett: A self-portrait

Ernest Hanchard Goodwin: LLoyd George
Ernest Hanchard Goodwin: LLoyd George

I never met my grandfather, Ernest Hanchard Goodwin, as he died five years before I was born. But I grew up surrounded by his drawings, which were to be found in piles of sketches at my grandmother’s house. There are hundreds if not thousands of these drawings.

As his middle name suggests, he was part of a French Huguenot family, originally silk weavers. He had been born in 1870 in poor circumstances in Shoreditch in London’s East End, and had become so adept at drawing at a young age that he determined to make his living through his pencil, to support himself and his two sisters. He found work in Fleet Street as a newspaper cartoonist, working under the name of ‘Gee’.

Ernest Hanchard Goodwin: League of Nations, Mosul
Ernest Hanchard Goodwin: League of Nations, Mosul

Eventually through his contacts and with his intimate knowledge of the weaving of fine screens of silk, he helped devise a new method of printing photographs in newspapers – the half-tone method – and with that he made his fortune.

As I understand it, a photograph could be re-photographed through a silk screen which produced a new image composed of 1000s of tiny dots, not unlike the pixels we are familiar with today. And from those dots, the newspaper presses could produce credible black-and-white images.

Ernest Goodwin at Englands Lane Studios
Ernest Goodwin at Englands Lane Studios

Ernest married, had five children, and lived in amazing splendour in a house in Highgate, which is now part of Channing School. In the 1911 Census he is shown as a manufacturer of photo-process blocks.

But the marriage ended, acrimoniously, and he left his wife, giving her all but three shares in his printing company Gee and Watson, which enabled her to live in financial security for the rest of her life. She had loved his double-barrelled name, but he never used ‘Hanchard’ again.

He was then mixing with artists, writers and musicians in London – people such as Thomas Beecham, Martin Stainforth and Bernard Shaw.

Around 1919, he met the young woman who was to become his second partner – my grandmother as it turned out – though they never married. With her he had eight more children (including my mother) and they lived in Hampstead.

Ernest Hanchard Goodwin: The Caravan Man
Ernest Hanchard Goodwin: The Caravan Man

 

He seems to have stopped drawing around this time and started writing novels and plays instead. His writing was briskly romantic and swashbuckling – you wouldn’t know there had been a catastrophic war. Maybe it was too horrible to think about. But the books sold very well, especially in America, and are still available in reprint formats. He did illustrate at least one, The Caravan Man (1918).

He died during WWII, and eventually his creative work faded into obscurity, apart from within the family.

But I grew up knowing my grandfather had been ‘an artist’. I admired his drawings which were quick and compelling. He had a skilful way of capturing people’s appearance, their clothing, expressions, posture and humanity, exaggerated in some ways, but always interesting. What I learned was, all I needed to do was pick up a pencil. So I did.

Moreover, the family felt at ease with art. They were pretty bohemian. As a child I’d go with my parents into Kenwood House and I found I’d be staring at that Rembrandt, and that Gainsborough and that Vermeer and that Van Dyck and that Franz Hals and that Lawrence.

Griselda Cann Mussett: Amsterdam (2019)
Griselda Cann Mussett: Amsterdam (2019)

Later when I was travelling round London as a young teenager, I’d go to the National Gallery or the Wallace Collection or the British Museum, looking and looking. I never dared go into any of the smart commercial galleries in the West End – they were not for the likes of me.  I read, bought or stole books with interesting illustrations –  in particular I loved Edward Ardizzone and Eric Ravilious, and, later, a book of African folk tales illustrated by Blair Hughes Stanton. However, even with all this immersion it never occurred to me that I might be an artist too.

Griselda Cann Mussett: Faversham Market (2019)
Griselda Cann Mussett: Faversham Market (2019)

I was miserably aware that my drawings were becoming more and more formularised. The  art teacher at my school was a terrifying lesbian, tough and uncompromising. I wilted under her critiques and then fled the art department.

Most of my grown-up life was as an art outsider… loving art, but feeling totally inadequate as a maker. My own critical eye steered me away from sentimental imagery, or copying, and I took life classes when I could find them, but still, I could see how incompetent I was.

Griselda Cann Mussett: Brussels Cafe (2019)
Griselda Cann Mussett: Brussels Cafe (2019)

I bought paintings and prints, as a distant and very humble worshipper might gaze at an icon. I read Gombrich, and John Berger, and went to the ICA and the Design Centre and the South Bank Galleries and the Tate and the Royal Academy shows.

I married, had a baby. At a babies’ music group I met another mum called Penny – she turned out to be Blair Hughes Stanton’s daughter, partner of Norman Ackroyd (later CBE, RA) and she and I became friends.

Griselda Cann Mussett: Harbour Street, Whitstable (2019)
Griselda Cann Mussett: Harbour Street, Whitstable (2019)

She published a book of my poetry (Scar Lines, Penny Press, 1993). I wrote the words – but Kandis Cook made the illustrations.   Although I was coming to understand that, regardless of subject, in effect all art is a form of self-portraiture, it still didn’t dawn on me that I was an artist too.  I was in awe of artists.

Griselda Cann Mussett: Almshouses Organ Recital with Screen (2019)
Griselda Cann Mussett: Almshouses Organ Recital with Screen (2019)

Not till I was in my sixties, and living in an art-rich community (Faversham) and getting to meet and know working artists of all kinds, did I start to question my own exclusion. Secretly I had all my sketchbooks, and some terrible canvases stacked up in a spare room – work I had done in solitary embarrassment.  What was wrong with me?  From raising my own two children I had developed the belief that all of us are born as artists… so why hadn’t I included myself in this list?  All I could do was make sketches.

Griselda Cann Mussett: Nathalie makes ratatouille
Griselda Cann Mussett: Nathalie makes ratatouille

Nathalie Banaigs – an inspired Parisian organising art salons and meetings throughout Kent, set up an event with an American art networker, Crista Cloutier, which I went along to. Crista spoke about her own art story, how she’d joined a big gallery agency after graduating from art school, and learned that while artists seem to believe they must starve, rich people crave art but don’t know how to choose what to buy… And at the end of the talk she gave everyone a large pin-on badge which said ‘Artist’. And I started to cry.

I was amazed when my husband (a musician and senior producer in BBC Radio 3) said, “Well, of course you’re an artist. I always knew that”.  Why did I not know myself?  But, that badge propelled me into a whole new life.

Griselda Cann Mussett: Queueing at Sainsburys (2020)
Griselda Cann Mussett: Queueing at Sainsburys (2020)

I started work in earnest. There are classes, all the time – and I saved my money and signed up: to Michael Foreman’s life classes, to Jacqueline Summer’s workshops, Hugh Ribbans’ print-making classes (where his mate Alan Burton, another print-maker, was amusingly teaching contradictory methods), Ashley Hanson’s abstract landscape workshops, Tracie Peisley’s feminist sculpture and drawing workshops.

Griselda Cann Mussett: Street sketch, concert under the Guildhall (2020)
Griselda Cann Mussett: Street sketch, concert under the Guildhall (2020)

I was talking with (and sometimes buying works from) Duncan Grant, Jill Holder, Bob Lamoon, Derek Steele, Georgia Horton, Amanda de Pulford, Max Kimber, Chris Blunkell, Mark Thatcher, Daphne Candler, Nicole Antras, Vicky Emptage, Ruth Dalzell, Tony Bream and the many dedicated and kind artists at Nathalie Banaigs’ meet-ups.  I had stepped into the arena.

Griselda Cann Mussett: Salzburg Evening
Griselda Cann Mussett: Salzburg Evening (2019)

All this was in real time and place, before lockdown engendered the thousands of online workshops which we see now. Now, when I had to grapple with that lifelong sense of inadequacy in the face of other people’s brilliance and competence, I started reacting quite differently… I was a student. I would be making mistakes. I needed to practise. I needed to learn new techniques. This wasn’t therapy now. It was work.

Griselda Cann Mussett: Dover Harbour
Griselda Cann Mussett: Dover Harbour

Trips abroad pushed me into obscure regional art galleries and museums and caves – finding Palaeolithic and Neolithic art and architecture, early Picassos and Monets and Manets, political and experimental artists in Spain, Italy, Corsica, the Canary Islands, Corfu, Malta, that people never heard of in Britain. The normal-ness of art was borne into me.

Griselda Cann Mussett: Canal (2020)
Griselda Cann Mussett: Canal (2020)

The internet started to offer more and more interesting teaching – some about techniques but some more highly organised, and popular. These were free workshops, preludes to paid courses, and so I found Nick Wilton in California, Tracy Verdugo in Australia and Louise Fletcher in Yorkshire and my studies with them (alongside thousands of other students) have been about how to paint abstractly… another big step forward.  I had previously tried making non-realistic work but found it hopelessly challenging.

Griselda Cann Mussett: Study
Griselda Cann Mussett: Study

It was already plain to me that since the invention of cameras, artists were no longer constrained to make realistic records of things, places and people.

For hundreds of years, ‘art’ had been defined by patrons rather than makers. Churches liked to see images of humans in mortal danger, peril and pain, saints and god himself, depicted at the first and last moments (especially popular if they were ghastly).

Monarchs and other rich and powerful people liked to see their faces, wives, houses, horses and fruit bowls captured forever, and that had defined what ‘art’ should be, apparently. That I had learned many years before, in Kenwood House.

Griselda Cann Mussett: The Last Day of Happiness
Griselda Cann Mussett: The Last Day of Happiness

But as the shutters clicked, artists could now turn their collective attention to other matters – the nature of light, the experience of time and emotion, the study of shapes themselves. So, since the lockdown, I have been learning (with these teachers) more about making abstract works.  Every penny spent has been worth it.

The small band of people who have been kind enough to like and even buy my earlier work (landscapes, still life studies, more-or-less realistic paintings) are I think perplexed by my forays into this new wild and wicked world. (I say, if you have not tried to make consistently good abstract paintings, don’t knock it).

Griselda Cann Mussett: The Road from Panel
Griselda Cann Mussett: The Road from Panel

I am coming to trust the process rather than seeking definite outcomes. I am at last letting go of the nagging worry about making things ‘which will sell’. I am doing what I love.

I have learned to put my works into public display through a website http://griseldamussett.com/ and via Instagram and Facebook, mistakes and all. I have to overcome a terrible nausea to do it – but that is the fight. The inner demons who say… who are you? But I know them now for who they are.

I have never stopped encouraging other people to start making art. I’m partway through writing a book called, So you want to be an artist fuck it?

Griselda Cann Mussett: Winnie's First Train Ride
Griselda Cann Mussett: Winnie’s First Train Ride

I think probably everyone is an artist. It gets bashed out of us at home, at school, in the world. How often have I heard people say ‘I can’t draw….’?  Well, unless you pick up a pencil and start, then that will always be true.

Visual arts are – powerfully – non-verbal. They require and develop parts of our brains which are scarcely recognised in our western culture. The state of mind I get into when I am making art (and I think other artists find the same) is a powerful primitive fundamental human experience.  It may, or it may not, provide us with a living, but ‘good’ art will speak to people forever.

My grandfather did manage to support himself, his sisters and then his young family for a long time with his pencil, but he made his fortune through the new technologies, not his drawings.  And then he reinvented himself, not as a visual artist but as a writer and as a businessman, because he had found himself with art when he was young.  His drawings look quaint now, of their time. But they’re good, or good enough.   My own paintings and drawings are so much part of me now I can’t imagine being without it all. I am my art. I am painting myself.

Griselda Cann Mussett: Charcoal Selfie (1978)
Griselda Cann Mussett: Charcoal Selfie (1978)

More information
If you would like to see Griselda’s work in person and you’re in the Faversham area, you can.
Her art show continues in the summerhousein her garden until 16th May 2021.  Viewing is by appointment only. Call Griselda on 0797 492 1913 or email griseldacmussett@gmail.com.

Website: http://griseldamussett.com/
Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/GriseldaMussettArt/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/griseldaart/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/griseldamussett

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Gettin’ Giclée Wit It

For some time now, thanks to the high quality images taken by my good friend, photographer, Roger Crosby, I’ve been able to offer prints of all my artwork, as well as selling the originals. These high quality photographs were good. They looked pretty close to the originals, especially when they were mounted and framed.

But from now on, if you order a print from me, it will be a Giclée print, produced by renowned East London-based printers, The Print Space. The quality of their work is fantastic, so I think you’ll be very pleased with the result.

Duncan Grant: Books
Books: A giclée print I sold recently

Giclée printing has a number of advantages:

1.   The quality will be better. Often with a Giclée print, it is almost impossible to distinguish the print from the original.

2.   You’ll be able to order your prints in different sizes.
Most of my ink drawings are A4. Because I draw them on my lap, often in my van, it’s just a more manageable size. But now I will be able to offer prints in A3 or A4 formats.

I’ll be putting a price for A4 and A3 prints on my website but if  you’d like a bigger size, contact me and I can let you know if the quality of the original image will allow a bigger print and, if so, how much it will cost.

Duncan Grant: Kitchen
Kitchen: A giclée print I sold recently

It might take me a whle to update all the art on my website – there are hundreds of pictures up there and I’ve made a start – but A4 (mounted prints) will be £65 and A3 (mounted prints) will be £80. Add £8 for an A4 frame and £12 for an A3 frame. If you find you can’t order the option you want online yet, just get in touch and I’ll add the options to the one you want.

Similarly, if you would like a print of a picture that is a non-standard shape – there are a few – just let me know and I’ll see if it can be done.

3.   With giclée printing, the print stays in mint condition for longer. Because the type of ink and paper used for giclée prints, they won’t fade when they are displayed in normal conditions indoors. The colours should stay true for decades – I’ve heard 80-200 years from different sources.

So what is a giclée print?

Jack Duganne
Jack Duganne

The term ‘giclée’ comes from French and means ‘a spurt of liquid’. It was coined, in 1991, by  American printmaker Jack Duganne, who died last year.  He wanted to find a word that would differentiate fine art prints from commercial printers’ proofs.  Today, it is used to describe a printing process that uses large-format inkjet printers that can match colours and apply ink precisely, to produce exceptionally high quality prints of original artwork.

The ‘recipe’ for a commercial quality giclée  print requires four ingredients.

Duncan Grant: Norfolk Sun
Norfolk Sun: Another giclée print sold recently

First you need an image of  the piece of art that you want to print. That can be a digital image from a camera or a scan. The important thing is that the resolution must be high. Most digital images have a resolution of 72 DPI (dots per inch). For giclée printing, the image file will need to be at least 300 DPI. The greater the DPI, the more detailed your print will appear. If the DPI is too low, the print will lose detail and reproduction of the colours will be less accurate.

When it comes to printing, the type of ink you use is also very important.  Giclée printing requires ‘archival quality’ inks. These  are pigment-based,  rather than the dye-based inks that are usually found in inkjet printers. Pigment-based inks are permanent and are resistant to  light, heat and water.  So you can expect a giclée print to last a lifetime without fading or staining.

©ThePrint Space
©The Print Space

The quality of the paper used is the third element in achieving a successful giclée print.  My prints are  on Hahnemühle German Etching paper, which is a heavyweight, acid-free paper with ‘a slightly warm base tone’ and ‘a strong mottled texture’.  I have been really impressed with the finish. The texture of the paper means that it can hold more ink and it captures the light, resulting in a print that has strong colours and deep blacks.

The final ingredient to make your perfect giclée print is a great big inkjet printer – but not just any old inkjet printer. Traditional inkjet printers use the classic cyan/magenta/yellow/black (CMYK-4) colour combination, whereas inkjet printers used to make giclée  prints are able to hold up to twelve different coloured ink cartridges.

If you order a giclée print from me it will be despatched directly from The Print Space, but before it is sent, I get to see it online in a virtual room. I also get tracking details so I know when it has been delivered safely.

So there you are.  Happy Easter!

Here is a link to my gallery – off you go!  😉   https://www.duncangrantartist.com/shop/

©The Print Space
©The Print Space

Links to the images featured in this blog are:
Books
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/books-print/
Norfolk Sun
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/norfolk-sun-print/
Kitchen
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/kitchen-print/

All  printing images are  ©The Print Space
Contact them at info@theprintspace.co.uk or call them on +44 (0) 207 739 1060

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home

Posted on Leave a comment

Invitation to Pull Up A (virtual) Chair with Anne Langford

You get to know the place where you were born and brought up, don’t you?

Duncan Grant: Brewery
My version of the old Russell’s brewery which was by the river

You know what you like and what you don’t like. And have a picture in your mind about what that place is like.

But it’s not often you get the chance to see that place through somebody else’s eyes.  As a proud born and bred Gravesender myself,  I’m very interested to see how our community is perceived by somebody – ‘an outsider’ – with a fresh perspective on the very familiar.

At the beginning of March, artist Anne Langford issued an invitation on Facebook for residents of Gravesham to get in touch with her. She wanted to hear about what it is that people living in Gravesham take pride in, and  what it is about the borough that makes them proud.

Anne Langford © Gary Weston
‘Pull Up a Chair, Gravesham’ is a collaboration betwen Anne Langford and LV21 © Gary Weston

Anne admits that she ‘loves chatting and is a little bit nosey’, but her request was not made just out of idle curiosity – something to keep everyone amused during lockdown – but to initiate a month-long Arts project that she is undertaking, in partnership with Gravesend’s independent, floating art space and performance facility, LV21.

The Arts Council England funded project, called Pull Up A Chair, is  a research-focused project run by Brighton-based organisation Quiet Down There, exploring how residents and communities participate in and enjoy (or don’t enjoy) arts and cultural activities. A longer term objective for the independent arts organisations involved – in Gravesham’s case LV21 – is to plan what more they can do to involve local communities in arts and cultural activities.

Anne Langford: Pull Up A Chair, Gravesham
To mourn the loss of her ‘live’ project, Anne I decided to burn a matchstick chair on the foreshore of the Thames – the river that connects her to Gravesham.

Pull Up A Chair  offers a new spin on the familiar concept of an artist-in residence: one that was developed through a collaboration with Apexart based in New York City.  In this model, instead of embedding an artist within an institution – a university, museum or art gallery, for example – artists are asked to immerse themselves in a community for a month, experiencing what it is like to live, work and play there.

Artists are paired with locations of which they have no knowledge, and which they have never visited previously. The idea is that they approach their work with no pre-conceptions about a place or its communities.

During their residency, artists are asked not to produce artwork but, instead to follow an intense programme of activities around the locality, to meet the people, and to report on their activity via social media.

 

The Gravesham project, which has a loose theme of ‘pride’,  is one of three linked residencies each of which has been affected by the pandemic.

In Luton, a collaboration between artist  Alex Parry and Revolution Arts has now been completed but was cut short by the pandemic.  And the project in Swale, Medway, with artist Chloe Cooper and Ideas Test,  was reimagined because of Covid, and took place in June 2020. You can read Anne’s reflections on the loss of Arts projects during the pandemic on her blogpost Resorcing the Ruins.

Anne Langford: Pull Up A Chair, Gravesham
This chair Anne found in the street has become the focal point of her virtual residency from her London flat

Pulling up a virtual chair
Anne Langford’s residency in Gravesham was due to begin in March 2020, but COVID put paid to that. Funding constraints meant the project had to be completed this financial year, so Anne has been challenged to develop the model even further, by looking at what can be a achieved through a ‘virtual residency’.  In fact, Anne has only visited Gravesend twice – once before the project started to meet everyone at LV21 and once, as part of the project, for a solitary walk around Trosley Country Park which she reported on in her blog. The rest of the time, she has explored Gravesham via her computer, from her home in East London.

Anne Langford: PullUp A Chair, Gravesham
Inspiration from Anne’s visit to Gravesham

‘It’s been interesting finding out how to do this remotely, and how to get some sense of immersion in the project when, essentially, I’m in the same flat I’ve been in for a year,’ Anne says. ‘So I’m sitting here with a little bottle of water from the Thames at Gravesend and a little pot of soil from Elizabeth Gardens. I’ve got  some ropes from LV21, a piece of  flint from Trosley Country Park and some chalk. I’ve been on a Google Earth tour and let myself get lost in Wikipedia.’

If the project had run to plan, Anne would have lived in Gravesham for a month and followed a schedule of events – maybe volunteering at the Food Bank, or joining a yoga class – talking to people she met. She was particularly looking forward to ‘ship spotting with Betty and Arthur’! But  beginning the project in lockdown, although she had a number of telephone calls lined up with notable residents, Anne wasn’t sure she was meeting the people she really wanted to reach.

David Banfield: Woodlands Park gates.
‘Beauty abounds in the Borough. History around us. Great buildings’ said one Facebook respondent.

‘I thought how do I get out and meet some of those “other” people, because the project is about starting new friendships and relationships with people that don’t know about LV21, or LV21 don’t know about them,’ Anne explains. ‘So I asked, do you mind if I just go on Facebook – there are a lot of Facebook groups all over Gravesend – and let me see if they’ll let me post and say hello. And it’s turned into this phenomenal source of  people who I probably wouldn’t have met another way.’

Through her Facebook page, Anne has begun to make contact with the everyday community groups that meet around Gravesham.  She’s discovered the Harvel Hash House Harriers (a drinking club with a running problem); the Chalk Village Gardeners Club; the supper club in Higham Village, run by a chef that, in normal times, sells out just from people in the village; and a local Beaver group. She’s also spoken to some local personalities, like Genny, The Confidence Queen , a conversation that left Anne ‘fizzing with energy and joy’.

‘At the beginning of the project I was feeling a little despondent,’ Anne says. ‘And now it has turned into a really joyous thing. I’m just loving connecting with all these people ready to share – sending in photographs and saying, I’ll put you in touch with so-and-so, or I’d love to meet you for a socially distanced walk. It feels like at the end of a long Covid year, Gravesham is giving me a real gift!’

It is the often overlooked stories that Anne is looking for, the ‘ordinary everyday’.

Anne Langford: Pull Up A Chair, Gravesham
Sri Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara

‘I read an article about how a lot of Scandinavian countries work on the basis that most of us will live an ordinary, rather than a extraordinary life,’ Anne says. ‘And because of this,  they make the ordinary things in public spaces, comfortable and beautiful, as well as functional. And I’m interested in that – how if we just valued the ordinary and the everyday, our lives would be so much richer.’

Anne Langford
Anne grew up in a small town in Worcestershire. Originally, she dreamt of being a jockey but later decided to become an English teacher.  But while at university in Aberystwyth, Anne ‘fell in love with drama’ and decided that her future lay there.

After she left university, Anne landed her dream job (‘living in a caravan in the middle of Wales and earning peanuts’) working for Equilibre Horse Theatre, a company that made art and theatre productions in communities with horses.

 

The company, which no longer operates, presented classical riding as a theatrical art form, involving  performance artists to explore the centuries-old relationship between people and horses

Anne Langford: Pull Up A Chair: Gravesham
Horse lover, Anne, spotted the Romany racing Sulkies on her visit to Gravesham

‘It combined my first love, horses,  and theatre,’ Anne recalls. ‘Mid-Wales is a really creative world – all the farmers are poets and musicians. It’s part of their life.  So when we did an open day where dressage trainer, Georges Dewez, shared how he trained the horses and local musicians played some music and a poet performed a poem, everyone said they loved it and asked us to do it again. And from that it grew into this big theatre performance.’

When the company took a break, Anne returned to the Midlands and worked in a call centre for a bit, before moving to Belfast for a couple of years, as a producer with a small touring theatre company called Kabosh.  After that, she came back to the UK, to work as a local government arts development officer for Worcestershire County Council.

‘That job was amazing!’ says Anne. ‘It’s one of the things, professionally, I’m most proud of. Because, after  growing up in a small town without any theatre, I set up a rural and community touring scheme that took professional performing arts into village halls and community centres.’

Anne Langford: The Resilience Project. Anne in the water through an antique lens)
Anne Langford: The Resilience Project © L.M.H.C

But although Anne was working in the Arts and doing important work to increase access to theatre, something still niggled with her.

‘I knew I loved the theatre and I loved performing,’ she explains. ‘But I didn’t have much confidence in my own ability as an artist. I would get involved in productions but as a volunteer, rather than professionally. And then finally, in 2005, I got the confidence and the guts to put myself through drama school.’

It was a great move. She emerged from E15 in London with a Masters in Drama and her own theatre company.

'You Were Us / We are Here' - a performance by Yard Youth photo by Edith Whitehead
You Were Us/We are Here – a performance by Yard Youth © Edith Whtiehead

 

Since then, working mainly freelance, Anne has mixed up working as a performer, with producing and directing shows.  And, increasingly, she has become interested in making work for people who wouldn’t necessarily think of going to the theatre, telling the stories of those whose voices, otherwise, might not be heard.

More recently, she worked for 18-months with Clean Break a theatre company who work with women affected by the criminal justice system, on a show about loneliness and belonging for young women on the edge of society.  She also completed another project with young people at  Yard Youth in East London, looking at their experiences of being in public spaces and the treatment they receive from adults and those in authority. And she has worked with a group of LGBT+ emerging artists at the Park Theatre, in London.

'You Were Us / We are Here' - a performance by Yard Youth photo by Edith Whitehead
You Were Us/We are Here – a performance by Yard Youth © Edith Whtiehead

 

 

‘I’m really interested in the creativity and storytelling that is there in all of our lives,’ she says. ‘Even if you don’t go to the theatre or if you say you’re not creative, we are all storytellers. Everyone tells stories, in the pub or to a friend. Sometimes theatre companies will approach you and say, “we’d like you to work with this group of people on this issue”, and that’s great! But I often think there’s been a step missed out, around spending time with people  and finding out what it is that they are interested in.  That’s why when I saw the opportunity to apply for Pull Up A Chair, I was desperate to do it because it was a chance, as an outsider, to find out what people like about a place and what they don’t like. To give them free rein to get excited or let off steam.

‘We tend to think of culture as something that happens on a big stage in a shiny theatre, but actually culture is the stuff we do every day – it’s the supper club, it’s the gardening group, it’s the running club. That’s what culture is and we need to celebrate it.’

Anne Langford@ Pull Up A Chair, Gravesham
Anne Langford: The Thames at Gravesend

Early Impressions
Although she has only been working on the project for a few days, Anne is already beginning to form the impression of Gravesham as a borough whose identity is strongly shaped by its association with the Thames.

‘I’m really interested in the idea of an estuary and what it means,’ she says.  ‘There’s constant change both to the landscape itself and to the population. The river brings people in and out, and people have come and gone from Gravesham over the centuries. It’s a place that is constantly being built up and taken down. And it seems, more recent movement is just repeating this pattern.’

Anne has also detected a strong  sense of connection among residents.

Anne Langford: Pull Up A Chair
Anne Langford

‘There seem to be phenomenally rich and connected layers of community in Gravesham and people have a real affection for the place,’ she reflects. ‘And they’re not naive. There is a knowingness about the bits that are not so pretty, but it is really lovely to hear people talk so passionately about the place they live in.’

Links
You can follow Anne’s residency journey, which ends on March 31st 2021, on her blog .
If you’d like to suggest any ‘must not miss this’ Gravesham places to visit, people to meet (via a phone call, online or in person when restrictions allow socially distanced outdoor meetings later in March) or stories and thoughts on what ‘pride’ means to you, please send an email to info@lv21.co.uk or post your suggestions on Anne’s Facebook page.

Posted on 1 Comment

Richard Jeferies: Creating artistic communities

Richard Jeferies: Hand of Artists: Five of Hearts
Richard Jeferies: Five of Hearts

Visit Duncan Grant’s gallery
Those of you that know me  know that I’m a big champion of community art. But Richard Jeferies, the artist featured in this blog, has ‘community’ running through him like a stick of rock, which is apt because he does live beside the seaside, in Sheerness on the sunny Isle of Sheppey, on the Kent coast.

Richard Jeferies: Hand of Artists - Fun Face Boards
Richard Jeferies: Hand of Artists – Fun Face Boards

The Kent art community is pretty well networked and artists from all over bump into one another from time to time. Richard designed a playing card and painted a couple of his ‘fun face boards’ for the launch of my Hand of Artists community arts project in 2015 (click on the link and scroll to the bottom of the blogpost for a slide show). He also contributed to the charity Christmas Card project that I organised in 2019. I turned up for one of his chalk art events, which, unfortunately, was rained off. I’ve also participated in  his online drawing projects.

The coronavirus lockdown has been difficult for all artists, but it must have been particularly difficult for Richard because so much of his art is made with and for other people.

Richard Jeferies: Remembrance mural, Sheerness
Richard Jeferies: Remembrance mural, Sheerness

If you know the Isle of Sheppey, you will probably be familiar with  Richard’s work, stretching along the coast or dotted around the island. You might also stumble upon his work if you are out shopping in Chatham or taking the kids to school in Gillingham.

‘Some people have said, there can’t be an inch of wall locally I haven’t painted,’ Richard laughs.

 

Richard Jeferies
And if you live on Sheppey, there’s a good chance that you’ll know the man himself.

As well as being a familiar figure around the island with his ‘Artist’ tee shirt and brushes,  Richard has become an integral part of his community.

When he moved to Sheppey from London in the mid-80s, Richard joined the local art group, eventually becoming chairman. He also got involved with the local Little Theatre, painting sets at first and then moving on to acting and directing. Theatre has been a passion of Richard’s ever since, he jokes, he played one of Humpty Dumpty’s soldiers at primary school and was allowed to wear his red and gold trousers to the Christmas party!

‘Acting is another art form for me,’ he says. ‘It’s like drug in a way. You can’t resist it. It draws you in and then you can’t stop doing it,’

Richard Jeferies in John Buchan's The 39 Steps at Medway Little Theatre
Richard Jeferies in ‘The 39 Steps’

In 2014, while he had an art studio in Chatham, Richard auditioned for a role in  a comedy adaptation of John Buchan’s The 39 Steps at Medway Little Theatre.

‘In an astounding piece of miscasting, the ruggedly handsome 37-year-old hero, Richard Hannay, turned out to be me in a wig!’ he exclaims. ‘It was so much fun. Very energetic, lots of quick costume changes, slapstick and improvisation.’

Since then, Richard has continued to channel his energies into the community where he lives: designing carnival floats; leading community art projects; entertaining passersby with his window displays at Christmas; and even DJ’ing on Sheppey FM for a while.

 Battle of Britain Lace, Healthy Living Centre, Isle of Sheppey
Sheppey’s Battle of Britain Lace

Community art workshops
Richard has no formal art training. He started painting as a child alongside his father who painted in oils and, when he left school, trained to be a draughtsman, which is how he still earns his living today.

Although, like most artists, Richard says he would give up his day job if the right art project came along, he believes that his day job and his work as an artist are complementary.

‘It’s great because I draw as a hobby and I draw as a profession,’ Richard explains. ‘My professional knowledge of perspective and scale and even just laying out a page feeds into my art, and the art feeds back into my technical drawings, in that I know when a drawing is telling the right information.’

In the early 2000s, as a result of contacts through the local art group, Richard became involved in a project to commemorate the Battle of Britain. It was inspired by the ‘Battle of Britain lace’ which hangs in the Sheppey Healthy Living Centre. The lace is one of  38 commemorative laces made by Nottingham lace-making company, Dobson and Browne, in the mid-40s. Laces were presented to  those whose invaluable contributions to winning the Battle of Britain hastened the end of the War.

Sheppey: Battle of Britain Lace art project
Battle of Britain Lace art project

‘We came up with the idea of photographing the lace, breaking the photograph down into individual squares and then getting as many members of the public as possible to recreate that square in their own style and in colour, rather than in the black and white of the lace,’ Richard recalls. ‘It was a resounding success. Lots of people of all ages got involved and, for many, it opened their eyes to things that they might never have had the chance to do before.’

Art classes
Art classes

 

The finished work, comprising two hundred individually designed squares, was laid out on the tennis courts  at the Healthy Living Centre,  where it could be viewed by the public from the upper gallery.  

The interest and enthusiasm the project generated, led the council to fund some evening art classes for beginners, and some creative workshops, around the Battle of Britain, drawing on local knowledge about the Second World War. Richard led these sessions and then, subsequently, a series of 10-week community art courses. And although he really enjoyed teaching, artistically it was a steep learning curve for him.

‘I had to learn techniques in so many media,’ Richard says. ‘Everything from drawing, watercolour, acrylics, pastels, oils, even egg tempera – where you mix ground pigment with egg yolk, as Michelangelo did when he painted the Sistine Chapel.’

Richard Jeferies: Art classes
Art classes

But it was worth it.

Richard loved it when novice artists found a medium they loved and were inspired to continue their creative journey.

‘Some members of those early classes have gone on to have artistic success of their own, and I’d like to think I’ve encouraged them slightly,’ he says.

Richard remembers, in particular, one man who came to classes with his wife.

Community Art: Beachfields, Sheerness
Community art project at Beachfields, Sheerness

 

‘It was clear that he was just there to keep his wife company,’ Richard says. ‘He didn’t really join in. Until one day, everyone had a small canvasses and some oils. And during that evening, I noticed that people were leaving their desks and wandering over to see what this man was doing. And he was having the time of his life creating this fantastic sunset using a palette knife. The next week, his wife took me to one side and said, “Thank you for that. It has cost me a fortune. After that class, we went out and bought all the materials and he hasn’t stopped since!”

Community Art Project at Beachfields, Sheerness
Community art project at Beachfields, Sheerness

 

 

‘And I thought, that’s exactly what it is. You can’t teach art per se. Art is an expression, it’s heart not mind.  What I can teach is how to use the media, but in the end the spark comes from the individual.’

The arts funding that made those initial workshops so inclusive is no longer available and Richard is concerned that the introduction of fees for art classes excludes many people from opportunities to be creative.

‘At that time we were able to offer workshops for free. Now you have to charge people £20 a time, and you need at least 20 people in a class to cover the overheads, and many people just can’t afford that,’ Richard reflects. ‘That goes directly against what I try to achieve, which is opening up art to people who would not normally have had the opportunity to have that creative experience. So now I try to do that, whenever I can, through my public art projects.’

Public art projects

Preparing for the mural: Chatham High Street
Preparing for the mural

Richard’s first big public art commission came in 2013. The local council put out a tender for a mural to be painted on some hoardings, owned by the Emmaus Church, on Chatham High Street, . Richard’s winning idea was to use the space to portray Chatham past, present and future.

Mural Chatham High Street: Tiny clay bricks
Tiny clay bricks

‘But I didn’t want to say, this is the mural you’re going to have, I wanted to include local stories and even to get local people involved in the painting,’ Richard explains. ‘And as we were working, we had people rolling up and saying, that looks fun, I wish I could join in, and I’d say, well here’s a brush and some paint, off you go!

‘And as I was painting I thought, maybe we could include some of the local people out shopping in the mural. So as people were passing I asked, would you like me to put your picture up there, or perhaps you’d even like to paint it yourself?  By the time we got to the end, one panel had become six panels and we had 250 faces!

Richard Jeferies: Chatham High Street Mural
Chatham High Street Mural

‘Hundreds of people were involved in that project – young offenders who helped us with the base coat and 150 children who contributed paintings or messages on tiny clay bricks,  as well as other artists and the general public. And that, for me highlighted the whole success of the project. And it was what really gave me the buzz for public art projects.’

Richard Jeferies: Chatham High Street Mural
Chatham High Street Mural

 

 

 

Inspired by the success of the Chatham Mural Project, Richard decided to try to make a go of it as a professional artist.

He rented a Studio at Sun Pier in Chatham and set up Squarecube Artisans.  (The name came from a project where Richard decorated a foam board cube in a different way each day, which earned him the name ‘Squbie’ among his son’s friends.) But although Richard continued to be offered commissions, there was never enough work to enable him to give up his day job.

‘What I really needed was an agent,’ Richard says. ‘ I hate chasing work down and I hate forms. I just want to do the painting stuff.’

Medway FUSE Festival: Frankenstein's monster
Frankenstein’s monster

Despite not making it as a professional artist, public art commissions have continued to come in over the years and Richard has remained true to his principles in their execution.

‘There’s a large community of  artists locally and so I always ask them if they want to join in,’ he explains. ‘I’m not precious about it and I’m not here to take the credit for everything. I like other people to be involved.’

Following the success of the Chatham High Street mural, Richard took part in the Medway FUSE Festival for a couple of years.  One year, working with other artists, he created  larger-than-life cut-out characters to line the Chatham High Street. These figures proved more popular than their creators imagined.

‘The Frankenstein’s Monster cut-out, designed and painted by artist Riven Gray, was stolen that day and was apparently last seen on a train heading for London!’ Richard laughs.

Richard Jeferies: Pavement Art
Richard Jeferies: Pavement Art

Other community projects followed, such as annual pavement art events along the long sea wall on Sheppey, involving both local artists and the public.

In 2019, Richard was commissioned to restore a poem written by Ros Barber. It had been painted by Simon Barker, fourteen years previously, onto the risers of the massive concrete steps on Sheerness sea wall,  as part of the Four Shores project.  The poem, which faces out to sea, recalls a ship carrying explosives that was sunk there.

Four Shores Project, Sheerness: Restoring Ros Barber's poem
Restoring Ros Barber’s poem

‘The action of the salt water and sand movement had eroded it,’ Richard explains, ‘So I repainted the whole poem which, in many cases, involved recreating the text from scratch and even repositioning some lines, because sand movement had covered the original locations.’

The pandemic strikes
In 2020, all public involvement in public art events stopped because of the pandemic.

‘Last year was a real bummer,’ says Richard. ‘ We had four or five projects that we were hoping to kick off with and they would all have been community projects but, because the money had been allocated in the local council budgets,  I ended up doing them either by myself or with just one other artist.’

Richard Jeferies: Bee Road mural, Sheerness
Richard Jeferies: Bee Road mural

Working alone outside can have its disadvantages. As he started work on a mural of a giant bumble bee on the sea wall at Beachfields. Richard was approached by the police.

‘I was engrossed in my work when a police car pulled up and an officer told me they had received a report of someone drawing graffiti on the wall,’ Richard remembers. ‘ Luckily I had all the correct permits, so they went away smiling.’

The twelve foot high mural, which took Richard three days to complete, signals  the start of the ‘Bee Road’ at Barton’ Point Costal Park, as part of the Making a Buzz for the Coast run by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. The route is marked by smaller bees along the way.

Richard Jeferies: Fighting Temeraire mural Sheppey
Richard Jeferies: Fighting Temeraire mural

Minster Parish Council also commissioned Richard to recreate JMW Turner’s famous painting  The Fighting Temeraire on the sea wall. The original vessel,  after fighting in the Battle of Trafalgar,  was towed up the Thames  by a paddle steam tug , before being broken up for scrap in Rotherhithe. Turner, who was a regular visitor to Sheppey, painted his original masterpiece there.

Richard Jeferies: Alice Maze
Richard Jeferies: Alice Maze

 

 

 

Other lockdown projects have included painting  a set of concrete steps in descending tones of the rainbow, to make them more  visible to people with sight loss, and an ‘Alice Maze’ for children, on the seafront, inspired by the original Tenniel illustrations .

Unfortunately, the maze was later removed by the council.

Richard Jeferies: Rainbow steps, Sheerness
Richard Jeferies: Rainbow steps

‘It was a great tragedy that, having devised and painted a fun, interactive floor mural for children to enjoy, it had to be removed because someone thought a children’s play zone was a good place to ride his bike,’ Richard says sadly.  ‘So when the cyclist slipped over, he decided to claim against the council and the maze had to be power washed away to prevent further “slippery when wet” incidents.’

Drawing projects
When Richard is not working or painting, you’ll find him at home, drawing or making things.

‘I go through phases,’ he says. ‘Sometimes I can’t think of anything to draw so I’ll start making something. Then, when I’ve got no inspiration for making something, I’ll start drawing again. It means there is always an outlet if I really need it. And of course there are days when you have so many ideas, you do nothing!’

Richard Jeferies: #gothonmykeyboard
Richard Jeferies: #gothonmykeyboard

The days that Richard does nothing must be few and far between. Once, when he was bored at work, he drew a small ‘goth’ on a Post-it note,  stuck it on his computer keyboard and posted it on Facebook and tagged it #gothonmykeyboard.

‘The next day I had another idea and she became a recurring theme,’ Richard explains. ‘Sometimes she was just a silly cartoon and sometimes she might have a message. I found that she could say things  that I wanted to say and people responded to her. She became the voice of inclusivity.’

Richard Jeferies: Goth on my keybord says:
Richard Jeferies: Goth on my keybord says:

 

 

Later, when Richard came across the charity SOPHIE (Stamp Out Prejudice Hatred and Intolerance Everywhere) set up in memory of Sophie Lancaster, who was murdered  in Lancashire in 2007 for being a goth, he published a fundraising book for the charity, featuring a collection of his #gothonmykeyboard cartoons, along with poems by Jaye Nolan and Alison Eley.

‘People suggested that my goth character would be good for that,’ he says.  ‘She never came down hard on anyone.’

Richard Jeferies: Colouring sheets
Colouring sheets

During lockdown, last year, Richard featured another character, Luna the Librarian, in a series of free colouring sheets for children, published via Facebook.  Luna made her debut in a mural that Richard painted on a boarded up window at Sheerness Library.

Richard Jeferies: Luna the Librarian
Luna’s first outing

‘One of their large plate glass windows had been smashed and was boarded up awaiting repair,’ Richard remembers. ‘Having walked past it  for several weeks and seen the boards still there I asked the library if I could paint it. They agreed and until the glass was fixed, Luna was on show.

‘Because of that project, I was commissioned to paint another mural in the children’s area of the library.

‘The colouring sheets were just my little bit of something I could do in the first lockdown, a) to keep myself sane and b) to help other people. I ended up producing nearly one a day,  almost 50 in all. Some of them were exhibited at The Beaney Art Gallery in Canterbury as part of their Life in Lockdown exhibition.’

Richard has also illustrated a book for an ADHD charity, ADHD Awesome which was published this year and is now raising funds via Kickstarter for an adult colouring book of ‘saucy seaside postcard style drawings’ featuring Instagram model @SunnyToni85.

Richard Jeferies: Terry Pratchett frame
Richard Jeferies: Terry Pratchett frame

Making models
In 2009, as a challenge to improve his inking skills and develop positive drawing habits, Jake Parker created Inktober.  Each day in October, artists were given a single prompt word as a stimulus for a drawing.

Richard was inspired by the idea and helped found a Facebook Group called Drawing Days, where members – including me – followed a word prompt each day and uploaded our themed drawings.

Richard Jeferies: Advent calendar window
Richard Jeferies: Advent calendar window

The daily drawing format has since been picked up by all kinds of groups and each year the Discworld forum, one of the forums of the late Sir Terry Pratchett, issues daily Terry Pratchett themed prompt words for Disc-tober.

In 2020, Richard, a great fan of Terry Pratchett and his books, decided to challenge himself to make a model, related to the prompt word every day. He then arranged the whole set of models in a tiny handmade room – a library containing all Pratchett’s books.

Tiny rooms had featured in Richard’s work before.

Richard Jeferies: Advent calendar attic
Richard Jeferies: Advent calendar attic

 

 

During December 2018, he transformed the front window of his house into a giant advent calendar, adding one themed room each day. There was a library, a 60s themed room, a kitchen, a Terry Pratchett room, and an observatory, complete with a telescope to commemorate the late astronomer Sir Patrick Moore, who Richard once met while on a visit to the Herstmonceux Observatory in East Sussex.

‘He was as eccentric in real life as he came across on the screen,’ Richard recalls.

‘He was filming a show and I asked him for an autograph. He agreed, reached into his left pocket for a pen and came out with a pair of glasses. So he reached into his right pocket and came out with another pair of glasses. He held them both and said, “Oh, I was looking for them!’

Richard Jeferies: Kite
Richard Jeferies: Kite

Everything in each room in Richard’s advent calendar was handmade. The final piece to be added was an attic containing ‘old computers and all the usual paraphernalia you’d probably find in your own house’.

‘It was great fun to do,’ says Richard. ‘And it certainly created a lot of interest, especially with youngsters and their parents on the school run.

 

 

Recently Richard has been experimenting with making models out of tin foil using scrap cans collected  from his local beach.

Richard Jeferies: Hare
Richard Jeferies: Hare

‘I just had a feeling that I could make something out of tin cans and feathers seemed the easiest, so I made a kite which I’ve got in my garden,’ Richard says. ‘I’m now building a hare, also out of tin cans, for my mum, because she wants that for my Dad’s memorial grave. And a couple of weeks ago I was contacted by the owner of a local holiday park. He saw the kite and wants me to do a tin can sculpture for him, to promote recycling.’

Just before lockdown, Richard completed a painted ‘Elmer the Elephant’ to go into Elmer’s Bog Heart of Kent Parade to raise funds for the Heart of Kent hospice. The parade was to have taken place last summer, but has been postponed until this June because of the pandemic.

For the future, Richard is just looking forward to the end of lockdown so that he can continue with his community art projects.

‘My art is no different from thousands of other artists,’ he says. ‘I create stuff that somebody else can easily do. But if I can inspire somebody who didn’t necessarily think they could do it to do art, I consider that a resounding success.’

You can find out more and follow Richard on:
Facebook:  www.facebook.com/SquarecubeArtisans 
Instagram:  #gothonmykeyboard  
Website:
http://squarecubeartisans.co.uk/
Kickstarter ‘Saucy Toni Col