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My 20-20 vision: A virtual exhibition

In January this year, I had a short exhibition called My 20:20 Vision at St Andrew’s Arts Centre in Gravesend. It featured quite a bit of new work, including some painting, which I hadn’t done for a long time. Many of the pictures were loosely based on memories of growing up in the Gravesend Riverarea. I sold a bit and it was lovely to see everybody who came.

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Unfortunately, my 20:20 vision didn’t extend to predicting COVID-19 and the devastating effect that is having on everyone.

I’m in a high risk group for health reasons and find myself confined to barracks. Three follow-on exhibitions I planned at The Hot Tin https://www.the-hot-tin.co.uk/ Iron Pier Brewery https://www.ironpier.beer/ and Cafe No.84 https://www.no84.co.uk/ had to be cancelled so I thought I’d do a virtual exhibition on here for a bit.

BTW if you live locally, Iron Pier are providing a take away service to keep us all going while the taproom is shut. You can find out more on their Facebook site.

Anyway, enjoy the virtual exhibition. There is a bit of blurb and information about size, medium and price of all the pictures featured in the video below, with links to my gallery www.duncangrantartist.com/shop/ where you will find many, many more pictures!


The music for the video was composed by talented musician and friend Ian Kirton. He has recently been writing some tracks exclusively for Audiojungle and this is one of them. It is available to license for media projects here https://audiojungle.net/item/relaxed-friendly-inspiring-acoustic-guitar/25685439

Details of artwork in the video
You can see all my latest work, which featured in My 20:20 vision exhibition, here https://duncangrantartist.com/product-category/new-artwork/

Road and Power Lines
I’ve always liked roads heading off into the distance. I think it’s the idea of a journey and of things yet to come. I often place man-made artefacts into my art. I think it adds to the story.
Acrylic on stretched canvas
70cm X 50cm
£140
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/road-and-power-lines/

A4 digital print also available
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/road-and-power-lines-print/ 

Across the Estuary
This is the view down to the Thames from the higher chalk land on the foot slopes of the North Downs. My old stomping ground as a callow youth.
Acrylic on stretched canvas
70cm X 50cm
£140
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/across-the-estuary/

A4 digital print also available
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/across-the-estuary-print/

 

Fifty Trees
This paining is inspired by a childhood memory of walking and cycling past this row of poplars between Higham and Cliffe in Kent. Those trees are still there today.

Acrylic on stretched canvas
70cm X 50cm
£175
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/fifty-trees/

A4 digital print also available
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/fifty-trees-print/

Crows on the Field
I like the lines that fields and trees make. There is a sort of bleak beauty about winter fields.
Acrylic on stretched canvas
40cm X 40cm
£90
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/crows-on-the-field/

A4 digital print also available
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/crows-on-the-field-print/


Migraine

Ever since my serious illness, I get really bad dreams…..I’m glad when I wake up.
Acrylic on stretched canvas
40cm X 40cm
£100
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/migraine/

A4 digital print also available
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/migraine-print/

 

Happy Easter
Just a little head pattern inspired by the mysterious stone sculptures of Easter Island
Ink on A4 acid-free paper
£120
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/happy-easter/

A4 digital print also available
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/happy-easter-print/

 

In a line
Populating Smalltown. Just seeing how people and movement can be applied with a few simple marks.
Ink on A4 acid-free paper
£120
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/in-a-line/

A4 digital print also available
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/in-a-line-copy/

 

Ferry
Just my impression of people on a crowded ferry. Nowhere in particular. Maybe Tilbury, Galicia or Greece.
Ink on A4 acid-free paper
£120
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/ferry/

A4 digital print also available
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/ferry-print/

Winter Haze
As a child, I remember cement dust everywhere around the local cement works. In this picture I was trying to capture that grey, dusty environment.
Acrylic on stretched canvas
30cm X 40cm
£90
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/winter-haze/

A4 digital print also available
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/winter-haze-print/

 

 

Lower Hope 2
This is the stretch of the Thames below Gravesend where I spent many a day as a boy fishing and having bonfires.
Acrylic on stretched canvas
40cm X 30cm
£90
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/lower-hope-2/

A4 digital print also available
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/lower-hope-2-print/

Cliff at Sunset

The chalk cliffs in Kent and Sussex always impress me when I’m lucky enough to see them.
Ink on A4 acid-free paper
£120
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/cliff-at-sunset/

A4 digital print also available
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/cliff-at-sunset-print/

 

White Cliffs
I studied Geology and it was these impressive formations, made up of billions of dead sea creatures, that started my interest in the subject.
Acrylic on stretched canvas
50cm X 40cm
£125
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/white-cliffs/

A4 digital print also available
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/white-cliffs-print/

Under the Pylon
The 400kv Thames Crossing is an overhead powerline crossing the River Thames, between Botany Marshes in Swanscombe in Kent and West Thurrock in Essex. Its towers are the tallest electricity pylons in the UK.
Ink on A4 acid-free paper
£120
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/under-the-pylon/

A4 digital print also available
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/under-the-pylon-print/

 

 

Salt Flats
This drawing is inspired by a childhood memory of fishing and messing about by the Thames down river from Gravesend, Kent.
Ink on A4 acid-free paper
£120
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/salt-flats/

A4 digital print also available
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/salt-flats-print/

Red Sky
Chimneys were on every horizon in my childhood and, to be honest, I like drawing them and the have become a recurring theme in my art.
Ink on A4 acid-free paper
£120
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/red-sky/

A4 digital print also available
https://duncangrantartist.com/product/red-sky-print/

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Glenn ‘Fitzy’ Fitzpatrick: Echoes of war

Fitzy: Gravesend

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Glenn ‘Fitzy’ Fitzpatrick grew up just along the road from me in Gravesend. He is now quite well known for his art. But if his name is not familiar to you yet, you may have seen his work, pretty much all of which is inspired in some way by his experiences as a trooper with the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars during the first Gulf war in 1991.

I bought this map of Gravesend off him a while ago.

 

 

From Gravesend to the desert
Although Fitzy was noticed at school for his exceptional drawing skills, a career as an artist was nowhere on his radar at that time. Instead, at the age of 17, he left home and, like his father and other family members, joined the army. Seven months later he found himself on the way to Iraq after Kuwait was invaded by Saddam Hussein.

Squaddie

Fitzy’s outfit spent six months training in the desert before Operation Desert Storm kicked off. ‘By then we were so bored, we were desperate for some action,’ Fitzy remembers. ‘There was no TV, no local shops, you couldn’t do anything other than just embrace sand life.’

To pass the time, Fitzy started drawing little cartoons on the military hardware. ‘I started with a little motif of a desert rat with a samurai sword on the side of our tank,’ he says. ‘Senior ranks really liked it and asked if I’d mind drawing something on their tanks and before I knew it I was drawing on tanks and even missiles in exchange for sweets and cigarettes.’

One officer, impressed by Fitzy’s talent, asked him if he’d thought about going to Art School. He hadn’t, but it planted a seed in Fitzy’s mind.

The realities of war when they came – the fighting lasted for just four days – were devastating for Fitzy. Driving a converted tank, his job was to get casualties to safety. Among those casualties were friends and colleagues, killed and mutilated in the battle.

‘It was all too much for me,’ Fitzy explains. ‘I went into the war quite gung-ho, but I was just 18 and, apart from watching films, I’d never experienced anything like that.’

Fitzy: From ‘Arts and Mines ‘

But perhaps the most shocking and confusing aspects of the war for young Fitzy were his encounters with the enemy. He describes seeing two captured, badly injured Iraqi soldiers at an allied field hospital. They were holding on to each other, crying. And he was deeply affected by an encounter with an Iraqi man found in ‘a shocking state’, in the desert at the end of the war. The prisoner, terrified that he would be shot, offered Fitzy his watch in exchange for his life.

‘I could see such fear in him that it broke my heart,’ Fitzy recalls. ‘He wasn’t anything like what I expected my enemy to be like. It brought back my humanity. I thought, “My fight isn’t against you”.’

 

Fitzy fed the prisoner who, as he began to recover, introduced himself as Saddam. He asked if the war was over.

‘When I said “yes”, he put his fingers to his head in a gun-like gesture and asked if Saddam Hussein was dead,’ Fitzy remembers. ‘I was embarrassed to have to tell him “no” and to my surprise, Saddam began to cry. It made me realise that this man didn’t want to fight. He only ever wanted to be at home with his children.’

At the end of the first Gulf War, Kuwait was liberated but there was no push on to Baghdad to overthrow the government. Saddam Hussein, having surrendered, was allowed to remain in power. In Fitzy’s opinion, the war had been a failure because it had failed to stop a tyrant, and it played on his mind.

‘I have always believed, along with so many men out, there that we, as a peace-keeping force, should have removed the evil dictator,’ he says. ‘The time was perfect and we were close enough to Baghdad and ready for extraction. What was the point of liberating Kuwait and saying, “Off you go, don’t do it again Saddam” Did our leaders really think that, given time, he would be good to do business with?’

Fitzy: Anti-war sticker

Fitzy is now completely anti-war. He did not support the 2003 invasion of Iraq and joined in the mass protests in London in the run up to the attack on Baghdad.

‘I love the environment. I believe in equality and I’m absolutely sick of the wrong-doing that average people in this world are suffering at the hands of the few,’ he declares.

From soldier to art student
When Fitzy left the army, because of his experiences in Iraq, he found it really difficult to adjust to civilian life. He had nightmares, struggled with relationships and avoided talking about his experiences to his family and friends in case he upset them.

After drifting into a series of temporary jobs, including a spell tarmacking with gypsies in Spain, an old friend, now at Art School, persuaded Fitzy to come along to an open day. He loved it and that seed planted by the senior officer when Fitzy was drawing on tanks in the desert, began to germinate.

Now there was no stopping him. Fitzy signed up for an Art Foundation Course and then went on to study for a degree in fine art and then, finally, a Masters at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) in Canterbury, Kent. https://www.uca.ac.uk/

‘It ignited something in me that I’d been suppressing for a long time,’ Fitzy explains. ‘Somewhere deep down, I knew I was going to be an artist. I was just too afraid of it.’

He talks about his decision to become an artist as a kind of ‘coming out’. ‘It’s like it’s inside you, you can’t get it out and you can’t turn it down,’ he explains. ‘Even when you’re working full time you come home and you still want to do it. That’s when you know it’s never going to go away.’

Fitzy: From ‘Arts and Mines’

During his time at Art College, aged 27 now, Fitzy started experiencing blinding headaches. An MRI scan revealed a life-threatening cyst on the carotid artery under the base of his brain. The cyst was removed in a nine hour operation. He woke up with a new determination to make the most of his life and began to draw, documenting his illness in a series of frenetic black and white pen drawings.

 


From art student to …what?
After leaving the army, Art college had provided some welcome structure and security in Fitzy’s life. But when his studies were over, once again, he found it hard to adjust to daily life. He was drinking and the stress of the war, of major surgery and a badly broken leg acquired in a road accident began to affect his mental health.

‘I was no longer A1 fit and I felt that I would be a liability to any employer,’ Fitzy explains. ‘My self-esteem was at an all-time low. I felt very much alone. I’d lost touch with my army friends and everyone at art school had disappeared off home.’

It was time to seek help. Fitzy was offered professional counselling by a mental health charity for ex-servicemen Combat Stress https://www.combatstress.org.uk/ ‘That place came to my rescue and even more so, the people and comrades that I met there,’ Fitzy recalls. ‘We were all on common ground and could laugh and cry at our experiences. Just knowing I had somewhere to turn in times of trouble gave me a fresh start and a light at the end of the tunnel.’

Fitzy: Book cover

Artist and author
In 2009, with a new commitment to pursue a life as an artist, Fitzy published a graphic novel Arts and Mines – Hell and beyond: A personal odyssey. It’s a great book, full of (true) anecdotes from Fitzy’s colourful and interesting life. One moment it’s funny and the next it’s tragic – a bit like army humour Fitzy says – and it’s illustrated throughout with Fitzy’s brilliant and insightful drawings, including those dark sketches he did while he was ill. Unfortunately the book is out of print at the moment, but I managed to get a copy second hand.

Fitzy says that working on the book enabled him to get his demons out. ‘It’s brought me closure,’ he explains. ‘I can leave this book in my past and I can run as far away from it as I choose.’

He is now working on a second graphic novel picking up his life story where the first one ended. There is a lot more to tell. ‘I never seem to have a normal life,’ Fitzy laughs.  But if you want to read it, you will have to wait for a bit. Fitzy expects it will be another five years until it is ready to be published.

Art as communication
Before the publication of Arts and Mines, Fitzy had struggled to express his experiences, feelings and opinions in words. The process of writing the book showed him the power of art to communicate, not only his own experiences but also to explore current issues, such as power, conflict, consumerism, and the environment, which have always interested him.

‘Through art, I found I had a louder voice but without words,’ Fitzy declares. ‘I could go straight in and give a visual account of the state of society. And I was able to reach out beyond myself. Even when I’m absent, when the art is on display, it’s still doing that communicating.’

Fitzy: Symbol of Society

One of his first works, a sculpture called Symbol of society, reflects Fitzy’s belief that many wars are motivated by oil. Exploring the analogy between sticking a bayonet into the enemy and sticking a pump nozzle into a car to refuel, Fitzy attached a knife to the end of a petrol pump, to make a ‘weapon. He fixed his Gulf War medal (‘I wasn’t proud of it’) to the top of the pump in place of the energy company logo. This piece became the first weapon in Fitzy’s ‘armoury’, a large body of military inspired work that has been central to his exhibitions.

Fitzy: Empty magazine

 

Through the armoury, Fitzy has been able to explore other issues that concern him. After the Charlie Hebdo magazine shootings in France in 2015, Fitzy added a machine gun sculpture made out of used pens, called The pen is mightier than the sword.

‘I thought, people are being killed by a bloody machine gun because of something they wrote,’ Fitzy exclaims. ‘I wanted to explore the line between freedom of speech and the freedom to offend.’

Fitzy: Legion

 

Gradually, over time, Fitzy’s armoury has increased. More recently, he has referenced environmental concerns, using discarded nitrous oxide canisters to make a series of knights’ helmets. All this, alongside numerous detailed drawings, mainly in black and white.

The Armoury Project came full circle for Fitzy, when he visited the armoury at the Wallace Collection in London for the first time. https://www.wallacecollection.org/collection/

‘It was breathtaking!’ he exclaims. ‘It solidified the armoury project for me. I realised that I had a contemporary version of what they had. I’ve got drawings and weapons too, but it’s all for art, not war.’

 

Send in the clowns
Recently, Fitzy has made the move from Canterbury up to London. ‘I just felt the need to kick myself up a gear, keep my brain running and add a bit of colour to my life,’ he says.

Apart from his book illustrations, most of Fitzy’s drawings have been in black and white. But his latest series, featuring clowns, are full of colour. They are inspired by a group of hairdressing clowns Tuttii Fruittii in Deptford, where Fitzy lives. If you’re interested, this video is a good watch  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNuO57EyfNs

‘I was looking for a way to move on from black and white to colour and to incorporate everything I’d done before,’ Fitzy explains. ‘I got to know these girls and they’re quite inspirational. They liked my art and they had me do little drawings of them, in exchange for free haircuts!’

Fitzy: Boris Johnson

Although this new work looks very different from Fitzy’s previous art, he sees it as a progression. ‘It has allowed me to step outside the military genre and look at other things, but it is also part of a continuum,’ he explains. ’In part it’s a comment on the people running the country – I can pick on Boris Johnson quite easily. But it’s more than that. In the military we used to use camouflage cream, so this is more about the armour or camouflage that we all wear. We all have our own guises, our alter egos – make up, how we dress – and I wanted to explore how that changes our perceptions of each other.’

Now Fitzy is working up to an exhibition of his work, which will feature pieces from the armoury and his clowns. ‘You’ll be able to move from one end of the room and see a knife with a petrol pump, and then to the other end to see the clowns,’ Fitzy explains. ‘And it’s all threaded together, part of an elongated life narrative.’

 

Fitzy: Clown series

Certainly Fitzy has been through some dark times but he feels that things are looking up. ‘I’m in what I consider to be one of the brightest times of my life now,’ he says. ‘I’m finding people who wear their own armour and I think, “Wow that’s beautiful, can I paint that.” Yeah, that’s where I’m at.’

If you’d like to find out more about Fitzy’s art try here:
Instagram: glennfitzy
Facebook: Glenn Fitzy Fitzpatrick https://www.facebook.com/fitzy593

Arts and Mines-  Hell and beyond: A personal odyssey was published by Aerocomm in 2009.

If you are quick you can see some examples of Fitzy’s work in an exhibition Delirium he is curating at the Ridley Road Social Club in Dalston, London E8.

It runs until 16th March 2020, Monday- Saturday 10am – 9pm. https://www.facebook.com/events/2562548180534728/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Nicola White Mudlark: Discarded objects and lives in limbo

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I’ve talked a lot on here about my relationship with the River Thames growing up in Gravesend and how it ‘flows’ through a lot of my art. https://duncangrantartist.com/2019/03/20/drawing-inspiration-from-the-thames/

Tideline Art
Greenwich-based artist, Nicola White, who I first met through the Two Rivers art project in 2016, goes further. Her work arises from the Thames, literally. Her Tideline Art  is created using the objects she finds washed up on the foreshore when she is mudlarking.

I’ve done a fair bit of mudlarking myself. As a teenager I used to pick up Romano British pottery from the Thames mud. I remember, my dad used it as drainage in his plant pots! But what Nicola does with her finds is stunning.

Nicola White: Thames glass fish

Her trademark Thames glass fish are made up from the glass that she picks up on the foreshore. ‘I use a lot of Victorian poison bottle glass,’ Nicola explains. ‘It’s like history you can touch. I love the idea that each fish is made up, like a jigsaw, of so many parts of London history.’

Nicola White: Thames plastic cormorant

She also makes sculptures and collages using driftwood, metal, pottery and plastic.

While out walking on the banks of the Thames or the Thames Estuary, Nicola collects the plastic that she finds. Sometimes she uses it to make 3-D sculptures but, more often, she lays it out to make a picture by the side of the river, before photographing it and taking the plastic away. Her Lighter Fish was made with over 150 disposable lighters that she collected along the Thames Estuary in less than 2 hours. She believes it is a good way of raising awareness of plastic pollution.

Nicola White: Lighter fish

‘It’s quite visually compelling to see something and to think, wow, you collected all that along the river in one afternoon,’ she says.

 

Nicola collects the items she uses in her art while mudlarking on the River Thames. Originally, the term ‘mudlark’ was used to describe very poor people, often children or the elderly who, in pre-Victorian times, scrabbled around in the mud of the River Thames at low tide looking for anything of value that they could sell. Some mudlarks managed to scrape a subsistence living in this way. But it was a dangerous occupation. The river was filthy, full of raw sewage and decaying animal corpses. Mudlarks were at risk of infection from cuts they got from broken glass left on the shore.

Modern day mudlarking, Nicola explains, is a lot less hazardous and mudlarkers have a different motivation. ‘We go down to the river to see what history we can uncover. What I find most inspiring is that the objects we find have had a past life. They’ve come to rest on the shore and they have a story to tell.’

Thames finds

Nicola finds all manner of objects on the foreshore – pieces of pottery and glass, clay pipes, coins, buttons, bullets, animal bones and teeth and even, rarely, very old human remains. She once found an unexploded hand grenade which then had to be detonated by bomb disposal. http://www.tidelineart.com/thames-mudlarking-finds.html

Nicola was bought up in Cornwall and spent a lot of time, as a child, beachcombing. In 1998, she moved to Greenwich, in London. ‘At that time, I didn’t know that mudlarking was a thing,’ she remembers. ‘I found myself down on the foreshore and I started finding bits of glass and pottery. I realised then that there were these little treasures down on the banks of the Thames. I was so excited I was when I found my first coin. And it just went on from there.’

Thames torpedo bottle

But it took years for Nicola to realise her dream of a creative life. ‘I ended up spending over 20 years working in an office: something I said I would never do,’ she says. ‘I don’t regret it. It helped me get where I am today. But I have always had this passion to be creative and about five or six years ago everything changed.’

At that time, Nicola had came across a poem The Summer Day by US poet Mary Oliver, about a day in the life of a mayfly. https://emilyspoetryblog.com/mary-oliver/poems/the-summer-day/ ‘The last line is Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’ she recalls. ‘And I just thought, gosh, life is short. I really don’t want to be working in a bank like this for the rest of my life. I want to wake up in the morning and feel excited about what I’m going to do with my day. So I started to make plans to leave and to make a living from my art.’

Roman Samian Ware find

As well as creating and selling her Tideline Art, Nicola also enjoys sharing a weekly mudlarking video on YouTube, where she has over 70,000 followers https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2K7yEwPIcPaQT5FM78dpyw

In the videos she takes her audience mudlarking with her. She explores her finds back in her studio and shares what she has discovered about the history of the objects she has found and the stories of those whose lives are washed up on the banks of the river.

And it is fascinating.

On one occasion, Nicola found a little brass tag from the suitcase of a WWI soldier. From his address on the tag, she was able to find out more about his life – he went to Australia and joined the Australian Imperial force, survived the trenches and returned to the UK to marry his landlady. ‘And then I found his grave,’ Nicola remembers. ‘He didn’t have any children so just finding that little piece of metal brought him back to life for a while and I was able to tell his story.’

When, Nicola found a button with Millbank Prison – a notorious penitentiary back in the 19th Century – written on it, she wondered how it came to be in the Thames. Her research led to her find out about the transfer of prisoners from Millbank to prison ships (Hulks) at Woolwich, where they served their sentences.

Thames clay pipes

And there are many similar stories emerging from the river.

Clay pipes are a common find. Nicola explains why here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GjsHQ4s87dc

Essentially, clay pipes are the equivalent of modern day cigarette butts, the result of centuries of smoking, but they hold a particular fascination for Nicola. ‘I just love finding them!’ she enthuses. ‘There are so many different designs and they can tell us so much.’

One of the very many clay pipes that Nicola has found bore the name of Catherine Shipwell, one of the very few women pipemakers, whose largely unknown story she uncovered and shared.

‘Mudlarking is so interesting because you never know what you are going to find or where it will lead you,’ Nicola says. ‘For me, the most interesting finds are those that offer a glimpse into the lives of those from a London of the past.’

Roman pot find

Although giving up her corporate job required some lifestyle changes, Nicola has never regretted it. She has taken Martin Luther King Jr’s advice and is following her passion.

Set yourself earnestly to discover what you are made to do, and then give yourself passionately to the doing of it. (Martin Luther King Jr)

‘My life now is like dream for me because it’s a mixture of all the things I love,’ she reflects. ‘It occurred to me recently now I’ve got my studio, I thought, wow, this is exactly what I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid!’

 

Art from death row
And it is Nicola’s work with prisoners on death row that offers us a glimpse into other lives – lives that, in this case, are intentionally hidden from view. ‘With Tideline Art I use objects that have essentially been thrown away,’ Nicola explains. ‘And it is a bit like that with the men on death row. They have, for the most part, been forgotten about and are considered to be of no further use to society.’

It all started about 10 years ago. Following a chance meeting with a woman from LifeLines http://www.lifelines-uk.org.uk/ – a charity that finds pen friends for prisoners incarcerated in the USA on death row – Nicola started corresponding with a prisoner on death row in San Quentin State Prison in California.

There are currently 760 men on death row at San Quentin, many of whom have been been there for decades. There they live lives in limbo under the shadow of imminent execution.

Daniel Landry: Many faces of me

In 2015, Nicola travelled to the prison to meet her pen friend ‘He frequently sent me beautiful hand-made cards created by his fellow prisoners,’ Nicola explains. ‘During my visit he told me about inmates who spend hours alone in their cells each day painting and drawing pictures, most of which are then packed up and stored. I thought this was a tragedy.’

‘Expression through art can take prisoners’ minds and imaginations on a liberating journey as they create a painting or drawing, or write stories or poems,’ Nicola continues. ‘I know how important it is to be able to express yourself creatively and to be able to share your work with others. I’m lucky enough to be able to do that and I wondered if I could find a way to give these men a voice, to help them to reach out with their art and connect with the outside world.’

Keith Loker: Butterfly

Nicola asked her pen friend if he thought the artists on death row would like to do an exhibition. She sent him some flyers which he distributed to other inmates and, after a while, Nicola began to receive some artwork. And so ArtReach, a travelling exhibition featuring art and poems from San Quentin’s death row, was born.

The purpose of ArtReach is to provide a platform for artists on San Quentin’s death row to exhibit their art and creativity, both online and in a variety of exhibition venues. It also aims to give a human face to the prisoners, using art and writing as a vehicle to raise awareness, and to generate debate and discussion about capital punishment.

Over the last few years, Nicola has taken the exhibition to galleries around London and the South East and it is soon to be packed up and sent to the University of Columbia, where it will be shown as part of a death penalty summit.

Michael Combes: Aurora Borealis

There are no exhibitions planned in the UK in the near future but you can see (and buy) the prisoners’ work via the ArtReach website https://www.artofsanquentin.com/ Ten per cent of proceeds from sales are donated to charity and the rest goes to the artist to fund art materials, stamps or food etc.

‘Each artist has got such different skills and styles,’ Nicola remarks. ‘And when you look at the artwork or read the poetry, expressions of emotion are evident – inspiration, regrets, happiness, sadness, yearnings, longings. For a place known for death and despair beautiful art with hope for life can emanate.’

You can hear some of the prisoners reading their own poems on the ArtReach You Tube site. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7GaPevHO0XxZiQuYJ-ZiTA/featured

Nicola is currently focusing on her Tideline Art and restocking her Esty site  https://www.esty.com/uk/shop/Tidelineart.

You can find out more and follow Nicola on the following social media platforms:
Twitter and Instagram:  @tidelineart
YouTube: Nicola White Mudlark
Website: http://www.tidelineart.com/

 

 

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Fluid Landscapes: Responses inspired by the river at Gravesend and the nearby marshes

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Thank you to everyone who came to my exhibition My 20:20 vision last month at St Andrews Arts Centre in Gravesend. It was really well attended, despite the short notice. It was lovely to see everybody and I sold a bit, which is always nice.

Thanks also to the Iron Pier Brewery https://www.ironpier.beer/ who provided the beer. The Perry Street Pale went down really well.

The exhibition featured quite a bit of new artwork – I’ve started painting again – a lot of it inspired by my experiences growing up in Gravesend. You can see this new artwork, all in one place at the moment, on my website https://duncangrantartist.com/product-category/new-artwork/

Breezy Day: Duncan Grant

 

Among the pieces, there’s one of Rochester Road where I grew up and where my mum still lives. There are the bonfires that used to be built on the communal ground up at Barr Road in the run up to November 5th. And there are a few different treatments of the strange line poplars that I used to walk and cycle past and that still act as wind breaks in the fields between Higham and Cliffe, .

But the biggest influence on my art has always been the Thames. If you live in Gravesend you can’t avoid it: the river is just part of your life. Its cranes and chimneys, and now the wind turbines at Tilbury, are visible from the town centre and from loads of other vantage points. As I was growing up, I could see a ‘slice’ of river between the houses over the road, from our front bedroom.

As a kid I used to go walking on the marshes with my dad and sometimes we went over to Tilbury on the ferry to visit relatives.

Rochester Road: Duncan Grant

Later, as a teenager, I spent loads of time down on the Thames foreshore and in the backwaters, out on my bike, with my mates, fishing and just generally messing about.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that if you’re from Gravesend, you’ll have your own perceptions and memories of the river. After all, it is the reason the town is here and it was once a major source of employment for Gravesend folk.  It really is an ever present figure, flowing through our lives and shaping the history and geography of the place.

Salt Flats: Duncan Grant

 

I wrote a blog about the Thames in March last year. If you missed it, here is a link which includes some of my older pieces inspired by the river, as part of a soundscape https://www.duncangrantartist.com/2019/03/20/drawing-inspiration-from-the-thames/

Fluid Landscapes
Gravesham Arts’ Fluid Landscapes: Responses inspired by the river at Gravesend and the nearby marshes project is now extending an invitation to local creatives to express their particular relationship with the Thames through their art, writing and poetry.

This project is being led by Heather Haythornthwaite, who was one of the artists selected for the Gravesham Arts Sponsored Artist Programme for 2019-2020. Heather runs the The Hazelnut Press, a fine art printmaking studio in Rochester, Kent, and her own artwork often explores the histories embodied in the local landscape and people’s personal experience of them. She is particularly interested in depicting familiar and overlooked places.

Where the Marsh Meets the Sea: Heather Haythornthwaite


Fluid Landscapes
works like this. A series of concertina ‘sketchbooks’ are shared and circulated between participating artists. Each artist adds an original hand drawn picture, painting or collage, inspired by the Thames at Gravesend, to one of the pages in the sketchbook. Then, within 48 hours, the sketchbook is passed on to the next artist. That artist adds their contribution, and so the process continues until the sketchbook is full.

Although a wide range of different artistic contributions are welcome, there are some restrictions. Artists are asked not to use anything too fragile or thick, and the work must be completely dry before the sketchbook is passed on! There is more information, some guidance notes and some quotes and video to help inspire you, on Heather’s website https://www.hazelnut-press.com/fluid-landscapes

St. Andrew’s Arts Centre

The Fluid Landscapes project will culminate in an exhibition at the St Andrew’s Art Centre in Gravesend – the place where I had my recent exhibition – at the end of  May 2020. At the heart of the show will be the communally produced concertina ‘sketchbooks’, accompanied if there is room, by other freestanding art pieces, writing and poetry, all focused on and inspired by the theme of the Thames at Gravesend and its marshes. Heather hopes that the sketchbooks will find a more permanent home somewhere in Gravesend, after the exhibition is finished.

Heather is already working with the Gravesend Art Group http://www.gravesendartgroup.co.uk/on this project but if you would like to get involved and produce a piece of art that expressses your own particular relationship with the Thames, there is still time.

Fluid Landscapes is not an open access project, you have to have your ‘application’ accepted if you are to take part.  So, if you are interested in taking part, please contact Heather at info@hazelnutpress.com

And if you would like to find out more about The Hazelnut Press and its print-making courses, follow this link https://www.hazelnut-press.com/

 

 

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Update: Exhibition of new work, Christmas cards, blog and Liberty fabric spotting

 

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Time for a few more quick updates.

My 20:20 vision – Exhibition of new work

I’ll be exhibiting some new work for 2020- inspired by my childhood, my town and other stuff – next weekend at St Andrew’s Arts Centre in Gravesend. Private view (you are all invited) from 6pm on Friday 24th January. There will be beer https://www.ironpier.beer/ and biscuits.

The exhibition continues on Saturday 25th January and Sunday 26th January from 10am to 4pm. There will also be biscuits and maybe beer then too, depending on how much gets (many get) drunk on Friday night.

Do pop along if you can!

New work will be added to my website in February https://www.duncangrantartist.com/shop/

St. Andrews Arts Centre has an interesting history. As you can see, it used to be a church. The Diocese of Rochester decided to close the church because of the cost of repairs, but it was rescued and bought by Gravesham Borough Council in 1975 and transformed into an Arts Centre.

The original church was built to serve Gravesend’s waterside community. In the middle of the 19th Century, the river Thames was really busy with cargo and passenger vessels preparing to sail to Australia, New Zealand or the Americas. Emigrants often lived on board ship, sometimes in terrible conditions, for weeks before they sailed.

Smaller boats serviced the larger ships and the crews of these boats lived with their families and livestock on barges moored just offshore. The priest of the local Holy Trinity Church, Rev C E R Robinson, considered all these people to be his parishioners and visited them. Records show that he carried out over 600 baptisms for emigrants wanting to be blessed before their departure.

A couple of interesting facts for you about St Andrew’s.
Did you know?

  • Most UK churches are aligned east/west. But St Andrew’s is aligned north/south because that was the land that was available and its parish was the river
  • The ceiling of St Andrew’s is shaped to resemble an upturned boat.

Come along to see for yourself next weekend. Did I mention that there will be Iron Pier beer, and biscuits?

Last word on Christmas cards
A big thank you to everyone who contributed to the Christmas card project, either by contributing a design or by buying the cards.  We raised £900, enough to fund Christmas lunch at Cafe No. 84 https://www.no84.co.uk/ this year, and with money left over either to fund a similar event next year if the cafe owners decide to do it again, or to donate to Crisis at Christmas if not. If you’re not sure what I’m taking about, more info here: https://duncangrantartist.com/2019/04/07/only-261-more-days-until-christmas-time-to-think-about-lunch/

Liberty fabric scraps of news
I think my Liberty fabrics have sold out now. The last remnants were in the recent Liberty sale.

The Faber & Faber edition of the Booker Prize winning Milkman was in the shops at Christmas. Did you see this interview with Anna Burns, the author, and me?
https://www.libertylondon.com/uk/features/design-and-living/faber-interview-anna-burns-duncan-grant.html

 

 

 

Now a new hobby for me is watching products made from my fabric springing up in different places, especially in Japan, where you can buy pencil cases and other small gifty type bits in a Small Town design. I saw this one on Instagram and contacted them to ask if I could buy a pencil case. A woman replied. She said she liked my art and would send me one as a gift. As the parcel weighed less than the 2kg allowed, she has filled it up with Japanese sweets. Nice. Looking forward to receiving it soon.

Here is another one.

Top blog!
This blog has been going for just under a year now and you may have noticed that it has changed a bit. I ran out of things to say about myself and started featuring other talented and interesting artists of my acquaintance – check the archive. Well, imagine my surprise when I found I’d been included in Feedspots Top 100 Art Blogs and websites to follow in 2020.  I’m currently in at number 81 pop-pickers https://blog.feedspot.com/art_blogs/

I’m not really sure what this means or whether it will do me any good but I’d like to stay on the list.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably already following the blog. But I would like to attract more followers if possible – aiming to get 200 maybe by the end of this year – have 159 at present. So if you know anyone who you think might be interested, just ask them to pop their email in the box at the top of this page AND THEN really important, click to confirm on the link that is sent out (it might go to spam, so check). They’ll get an email alert when each blog comes out – about once a fortnight – no spam, no ads, I promise. Thank you.

Well that’s it. I’ll be back with another really interesting artist for you in a week or two.  Hope to see some of you at the exhibition. Did I say there would be biscuits and beer…..?

 

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John Bulley: The ‘mediocre’ painter who created an icon

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If you’ve ever been to Camden Lock in North London, you’ve almost certainly seen John Bulley’s most famous painting. There’s a good chance that you may even have a picture of yourself standing in front of it. It’s the signage painted on Camden Lock Railway Bridge, which towers over the market.

In the late ’80s, after being thrown out of art college, John was living in Peterborough, working as a designer for Bike magazine. Fed up with that, he decided to move down to London to join some friends who were painting signs for Oddbins wine shops.

‘I started working as a signwriter, painting signs and hoardings all around London, and it was brilliant,’ John remembers. ‘Anyway, someone from Camden must have seen my work because a bloke called Eric Reynolds contacted me and said, I like what you’re doing. Can you do some signs for us?’

John Bulley: London Zoo
John Bulley: London Zoo

The Camden Market redevelopment was surrounded by hoardings at that time, so John painted those, including a massive piece for London Zoo. He also worked on Dingwalls, a music venue, and painted a satirical mural for the Jongleurs comedy club.

‘That was good fun – no holds barred,’ says John. ‘Basically, I took the piss out of royalty, every government bigwig at the time, and the rich and famous. It was pretty radical and they loved it!’

 

John Bulley: mural Jongleurs
John Bulley: Jongleurs mural

One day, among all the other jobs that he was doing around the market, Eric Reynolds asked John if he could come up with an idea for a design for the railway bridge, which was about to be refurbished and repainted by British Rail.

‘It was that simple,’ John recalls. ‘No biggie. British Rail had their scaffolding up. It was just a job on a bridge that needed doing, so I did it.’

After a couple of days, John came up with a design.

‘I wanted to do something a bit different, with a bit of humour in it, that would stand out from a distance,’ he explains. ‘I invented a big fat typeface and chose colours that I thought suited the Camden feel and that would look good against the green background. And I came up with the idea of making it look as if there were two blokes up there painting it, like it would never be finished, and those blokes would always be up there painting away.’

The painters immortalised on the bridge were modelled by John’s mates, Tim and Frankie.

‘I got them to hang off bits of string in the art department where we worked, so I could pose them,’ John remembers. ‘Neither of them was athletic and they were horrified at having to hang around on bits of string. But there they are, up there forever.’

 

And the rest is history. John’s painting has become one of the most photographed in London.

‘It’s become bloody iconic, it’s weird!’ he says. ‘But I suppose it makes sense. If you’re a tourist and you want to show everybody that you’ve been to Camden Lock, you take a photograph of yourself in front of a big fuck off bridge that says Camden Lock on it. And every time they do a bit of promo on Camden Lock, there it is again’.

Over the years, Camden has been approached by advertisers offering huge sums of money to advertise on the bridge but all their advances have been rejected.

‘The bridge is the bridge and it stays that way,’ says John.

Camden Lock Bridge has been repainted once since John’s original job in 1989.

‘A few years ago Camden got in touch with me wanting to know the spec for the colours I’d used,’ he explains. ‘They were going to repaint the bridge exactly as it was. It needed it. It was looking very sad.’

John’s first reaction was indignation.

‘I said, fuck off, it’s my bridge, I’ll paint it,’ he laughs. ‘But they wanted to do it themselves, so in the end I gave them the colours they needed and they repainted it. And they did a pretty good job, I have to admit.’

‘I like to pretend the bridge is no big deal, just another bit of work I did ages ago but in reality I love it to death,’ John admits. ‘I love walking under there knowing it’s all my own work. And I love the kudos it brings me with street artists when I casually drop into conversation “Oh yeah, Camden Lock Bridge, I did that”‘.

John’s creative relationship with Camden has continued over the years. He’s painted other exteriors, and in 2017 he painted murals for Cuban restaurant Gabeto https://www.gabeto.co.uk/. Recently, he was contacted by Camden Town Brewery. They wanted him recreate his original design, to ‘bring a bit of Camden’ into their new brewery in Enfield. John, who owns the copyright for the bridge design, agreed.

‘I used the Brewery’s colours, but kept the Camden Lock lettering and the pictures of the two mates who I’d originally put up there,’ he explains. ‘It looks really nice.’

John Bulley: Oh Piss Off!
John Bulley: Oh piss off!

John now lives in Southend-On-Sea, in Essex, where he pursues his own art. He also accepts commissions and takes other paid jobs. Among other things, he worked on two of the Harry Potter films and the movie Memphis Belle.

Memphis Belle was a dream job for me cos I’m an aeroplane freak,’ John says.

After the film came out, Biggin Hill contacted John to ask if he would repaint the nose art on the Sally B, the original B17 Flying Fortress used in the film.

‘So she’s flying around right now with my artwork on her, which is pretty cool!’ he enthuses. http://www.sallyb.org.uk/ 

Despite his success and his portfolio of work, which often features characters from film or television, John insists that he is not an artist.

‘I hate everything about the art game,’ he says. ‘I loathe the way galleries are like cathedrals with their white walls and there’s all this sacred stuff in them, which you’re not allowed to touch because it is so precious. And I hate arty people standing around clutching their Prosecco pretending to read the art bollocks while sneakily eyeing each other up. Pretentious tossers.’

John Bulley Begbie Trainspotting still
John Bulley: Begbie from Trainspotting

‘I’m the opposite of that. I’m a painter, I mess about with paints,’ he continues. ‘I paint pictures. I copy photographs and I paint bridges. I’m an artisan, not a fine artist.’

John’s disdain of the commercial art world has prompted him to take his art into the community and his paintings are now a familiar sight around Southend.

‘Southend council funds an “official” arts organisation called Metal Culture which controls who can be artists, which leaves nothing for those of us that don’t fit in with their agenda,’ says John. ‘The people at Metal got fed up with me banging on about them getting all the money and called me “mediocre” so I got a tee shirt made with it on and I wear it with pride!’

John Bulley wears his 'mediocre' tee shirt with prideJohn has some sympathy for their opinion of his work.

‘Some of what I do is pretty mediocre,’ he reflects. ‘I’m not making any great claims for it. I paint what I like.’

‘Anyway, I got really fed up with the Arts situation in Southend, so I found an old derelict building and I thought I’d paint that and see if I could get away with it,’ he continues. ‘First, I painted Michael Caine from the film Get Carter and people really liked that, so I though I’d do a gangster theme. I painted the Kray twins, but I did them in their mum’s house set against pink wallpaper having a cup of tea from dainty teacups, and I did Bob Hoskins in Lassiter.’

John Bulley: Derelict gallery
John Bulley: Derelict Gallery

The ‘derelict gallery’ has been knocked down now, but for John that’s just an natural part of the process. ‘Nothing lasts forever and I love the fact that it is temporary’, he says. ‘It gives the work the kind of respect it deserves. And anyway, once you’ve taken a photograph and shared it on Facebook and Instagram and all that, you’ve reached as many people as you’re going to reach. If things get pulled down or painted over don’t be precious about it, do another one.’

‘One day the bridge will come down too,’ he reflects, ‘but for now I’m happy still to be able to wander up the road from the tube station and see it gradually appear over the canal.’

John Bulley: Italian job
John paints on large hoardings around Southend

Now John paints large (8ft x10ft) works and pastes them up on hoardings around Southend.

His work is topical and subtly subversive. ‘I did one of Megan and Harry called One day my prince will come – playing on the idea that a woman needs a handsome prince to be happy – and another one of the Royal Family called Land of Hope and Glory, which of course it isn’t,’ he comments.

John Bulley: One day my prince will come
One day my prince will come

‘I’m quite careful about what I put up around the town. I try to make sure it doesn’t offend. Although I did put up a picture of a homeless person just before Christmas and it was taken down the same day. It’s ironic that people were offended by a picture of a homeless person but not so much by homelessness itself.’

John is a champion of community art. Ten years ago he was one of the founders of  the annual Estuary Fringe Festival https://www.facebook.com/estuaryfringe/ an initiative aimed at giving art back to the community.

 

 

‘Me and my mate were in this cafe one day and I was moaning on as usual about the state of the arts in Southend,’ he recalls. ‘And he said, stop moaning John, and do something about it. So we set up the Festival. The first one was organised in just seven weeks and with no money, which just proves you don’t need hundreds of thousands of pounds to put on a good festival.’

The Festival features musicians, poets and artists. ‘Basically, we just want to be as anarchic as possible,’ John explains, ‘which we can be of course, because we’re not beholden to anybody.’

And what is John planning for the future?  Well he has some ideas but he’s keeping them under his hat.

‘For now, I’m just chipping away. Trying my best to be a thorn in the side of the powers that be,’ he says. ‘And my bridge is looking a bit sad again now. That could probably do with another coat.’

You can see more of John’s paintings or contact him here: http://www.johnbulley.com/ or on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/theartistjohnbulley/