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Wendy Daws: A touching story

My mum has been on my mind a lot lately.

She has just returned home having spent weeks in hospital and then rehab, after she fell over and broke her hip.  We’re now thinking through what needs to be in place for her so that she can continue to live independently into her nineties.

Before her accident, during the lockdown, we used to joke with mum that she had been socially isolating for the last ten years!  And, actually, that’s not far from the truth. Macular degeneration has left her with very little vision and that, along with poor hearing, makes it difficult for her to recognise faces and to follow conversation in social spaces. So, she prefers to stay at home listening to her audio books and receiving the occasional visitor.

Wendy Daws
The isolation that some people with sight loss experience is something that Medway-based artist Wendy Daws has been thinking about for a long time. For nearly 15 years, Wendy has been working with groups of blind and partially sighted (BPS) people, as Lead Artist Volunteer for Kent Association for the Blind (KAB). https://www.kab.org.uk/  KAB is celebrating its centenary this year.

Wendy runs art groups in Medway https://www.facebook.com/KABmedwayartgroup/ and Gravesend https://www.facebook.com/KABGravesendArtGroup/ and before lockdown, was about to start a third group in Canterbury.

Wendy Daws: Copper, Latex, Canvas Blanket, 2003
Copper, latex and canvas blanket

Discovering the value of touch
By training, Wendy is a sculptor.  She grew up in Hoo in Kent, and after leaving school at 16, worked in a series of admin jobs, taking City & Guilds courses at night school. Uninspired by classes in book-keeping and shorthand, Wendy switched to pottery and sugar craft instead and then, aged 29, she left work altogether to go travelling. When she arrived back in the UK ten months later, Wendy was ready for a change.

‘I was determined not to go back into admin work,’ she remembers. ‘I wanted to do something more creative and be my own boss. I did a City & Guilds welding course and doing that convinced me that I just wanted to learn more.’

In 2003, after what she refers to as ‘three mad years hoovering up art courses and being very skint’, Wendy got a place at the University of Brighton to study for a degree in Three Dimensional Craft and Design. And in her 2nd year, she took an artist residency at Nagoya University of Fine Art in Japan.

Wendy Daws: Copper, wire, latex and canvas blanket, 2003
Copper, wire, latex and canvas blanket

‘I wanted to go to Japan because I was interested in Samurai armour,’ she explains. ‘I wanted to know how it was made, how all the elements are held together.’

While she was there, Wendy learnt an etching process, in which an image is transferred onto a copper plate and then put into acid, to leave a raised outline. It was a seminal experience for her.

‘I became really interested in the potential of that raised, tactile line,’ Wendy says. ‘It brought back memories of when I was about 14, on a school trip to the National Gallery. I was drawn to a luscious red cloak in one of the paintings. I remember reaching out my hand to touch it and being told off by one of the guards. And it got me thinking about how we’re not allowed to touch things in museums and art galleries – and I completely understand why we can’t – but I wondered, what if you’re blind, what is there in galleries for blind people?’

Wendy Daws: Copper and thread blanket, 2003
Copper and thread blanket

Back at university, Wendy developed the etching techniques she learnt in Japan and started to use them in her sculptures. She describes how she started to make miniature ‘blankets’ from little pieces of copper stitched together on latex.

‘They were quite tactile but they had holes in them, so you’d never be warm, you’d never be cosy,’ Wendy explains. ‘I lost my mum when I was 20 and, in hindsight, I think I was somehow trying to recreate a hug from her. Something to wrap myself up in.’

Another key influence on Wendy’s art at this time was the work of South African artist, Willem Boshoff, whose exhibition Blind Alphabet C was held at the Brighton and Hove Museum. https://www.willemboshoff.com/blind-alphabet-feature  It was groundbreaking show, designed to improve the accessibility of museums and art galleries to people with sight loss, and to help redress the discrimination they experience.

Wendy Daws: Cotton and thread blanket, 2003
Copper and thread blanket

Boshoff’s exhibition featured a series of lidded, black mesh shoeboxes, mounted on plinths. Inside each box was a carved wooden sculpture, inspired by an unusual word beginning with the letter ‘C’. For example, ‘cassidiform’, which means ‘helmet-like’ and cetacian , which means ‘whalelike’. The mesh box prevented fully sighted visitors seeing the contents. At best they might be able to make out blurred shapes. Detailed explanations of the contents were provided, but they were written in Braille. To appreciate the exhibits, sighted visitors had to rely on visually impaired guides and museum staff , who were on hand to help them.

The intention of the exhibition was to give sighted people an insight into how difficult it is for those with sight loss to appreciate public art. It also aimed to promote understanding of the ‘social model of disability’, where people are disabled by the barriers that society puts in their way, and to prompt discussions about how these barriers might be broken down.

‘I was absolutely gobsmacked by the exhibition,’ Wendy remembers. ‘It just embodied everything I’d been thinking about.’

Totally Touchable exhibition, Blake Gallery
Totally touchable art

So ignoring her tutor’s suggestion to explore Samurai armour from a feminine perspective in her dissertation, Wendy wrote about her new passion – the value of touch in art.  Her dissertation, The Value of Touch: Blind Alphabet C and Museum Approaches to the visually impaired visitor was published in 2004.

‘What I took away from my time at university, was a determination that any art that I made would be art that could be touched,’ Wendy remarks. ‘And if it can’t be touched, I’ll think, how can I make it accessible?’

Memory blankets

Wendy Daws: Memory Blanket, Acrylic and shadow, 2004
Memory Blanket ©Simon Sandys

After university, Wendy took a part-time job in Francis Iles’ art shop in Rochester, Kent https://francis-iles.com/ where she got to meet other local artists.

Now sharing a studio with illustrator Mark Barnes, https://www.facebook.com/MarkBarnesIllustration/ Wendy returned to etching, replacing the expensive copper etching technique she had used previously, with a cheaper alternative, using photocopied images on acetate.

‘I really liked the acetate with the black line, and just holding it up to the light to see the shadows it created,’ Wendy remembers. ‘So I went through lots of family photos and traced the outlines and started doing this shadow work with laser-cut clear acrylic. I’d then sew those together, in grids, in the same way that you’d make Samurai armour, except mine had gaps.

Wendy Daws: Memory Blanket, Acrylic and shadow, 2004
Memory Blanket ©Simon Sandys

‘You can’t see the shadow line until it is lit and then it is quite striking. The depth of it makes it look as if the photographic outlines have been drawn onto the wall with a pencil. And through studying the projected images, other people could discover stories of my family’s life.’

Wendy’s ‘memory blanket’ installation Memory was exhibited at Rochester Art Gallery, in 2008. This video combines time lapse and real time footage that documents the process. https://vimeo.com/15401562  The exhibition was a success but Wendy had begun to think about her future as an artist.

Wendy Daws: Memory Blanket, Acrylic and shadow, 2004
Memory Blanket ©Simon Sandys

‘I was really nervous about describing the detail of my memory blankets in writing because it was so personal, but I was happy to talk to people about it,’ Wendy explains. ‘So I was in the gallery a lot talking to people about my work, and there was this realisation that I didn’t just want to sell my own art, I also wanted to help others to make art.’

KAB Medway Art Group
It was about this time that Wendy started volunteering for Kent Association for the Blind and established the KAB Medway Art Group. The group, which meets regularly, attracts people with a range of visual impairments. They explore a variety of art forms – painting, sculpture, poetry, graffiti, print making – using different generic and specialist materials and techniques. They also visit exhibitions together, invite inspirational speakers and get involved in high-profile group art projects.

KAB Medway Art Group, Through Our Eyes, Royal Engineers Museum ©Gary WestonYou don’t need to be ‘arty’ to join in. Wendy starts everyone off gently, providing a cup of tea and a biscuit, sitting new members next to a ‘buddy’, and selecting materials and tasks where they are likely to succeed. In this way, she gradually integrates them into the group and builds their confidence.

When someone joins the group with existing artistic skills or transferrable practical skills, Wendy is quick to build on them. She tells of how she encouraged one man, a former  gas fitter, to use his welding skills to make copper pipe sculptures. A few years on, he is still a member of the art group, but he is also a successful sculptor, selling artwork created in his shed at home.

Wendy Daws: The Value of Touch. KAB Medway Art Group‘Over time I’ve seen everyone’s confidence grow,’ Wendy says. ‘Everyone is happy to pick up different materials and to try out different ways of using them – and to show me other ways of creating.’

‘[It has] opened the door to new ways of expressing ourselves – be it painting, poetry or music,’ says KAB Medway group member Brian. ‘Our first reactions have been “I can’t do that.” But thanks to the dedication of the artists involved we have found that we can do that… If you cannot paint small, paint large – use a 6” brush if need be!’

Wendy Daws: Clay carving Rochester Cathedral’s Baptismal Fresco ©Sara Norling
©Sara Norling

In 2010, keen to show off what the group could do, Wendy organised their first art exhibition Eyes Wide Open at Rochester Cathedral. They were given free rein to explore the cathedral in any way they chose. The artwork they created, inspired by their visit, was later displayed around the cathedral.

Following that exhibition, Wendy and the group received a commission to create a bronze tactile interpretation of Rochester Cathedral’s Baptismal Fresco by Sergei Fyodorov. The fresco, completed in 2004, was the first traditional fresco to be painted in an English church in eight hundred years. https://www.artandchristianity.org/sergei-fyodorov-st-john-the-baptists-frescoes

‘We ran workshops and studied the fresco to come up with ideas about what this tactile plate should look like,’ says Wendy. ‘Then I carved the fresco plate in clay, A2 size, and it was cast in bronze. And there it is, in front of the fresco, and it will be there forever more!’

By 2015, the KAB Medway Group had begun to get quite a name for themselves. They were invited to explore and respond artistically to the space at the Royal Engineers Museum in Gillingham https://www.re-museum.co.uk/ This too culminated with an exhibition at the museum called Through Our Eyes.

 

Wendy Daws: Value of TouchIn 2016, Wendy and the group took part in The Value of Touch, a collaborative sensory arts project with the Guildhall Museum in Rochester https://www.visitmedway.org/attractions/rochester-guildhall-museum-2132/ . This explored ways to make selected museum artefacts more accessible to BPS visitors.

After a series of object handling sessions led by one of the museum’s Collections Officers, the group created new artworks inspired by those objects. These were then displayed alongside the original artefacts, with accompanying large print and Braille guides.

That exhibition received more than 400,000 visitors in person and online.

Wendy Daws: Value of TouchThe unprecedented access to the museum exhibits had a profound effect on those involved in the project.

‘The whole project from the very beginning has been a wonderful discovery of the museum,’ one KAB Art Group member commented in the project report. ‘It’s been a privilege to have access to absolutely anything in the museum, we’ve only had to ask and we’ve been able to touch it, smell it, engage with all our senses, and this has led to such a rich exhibition for us.’

KAB Gravesend Art Group
Wendy Daws: KAB Gravesend Art Group 'Totally Touchable'As news of KAB Medway Art Group’s success spread, it prompted interest from BPS people in other parts of the county.

‘Some people from Gravesend said, “Hey that’s not fair! We want an Art Group too,”’ Wendy laughs. ‘But I couldn’t afford to volunteer in two towns so, together with Gravesham Borough Council, I wrote an Arts Council bid and we got some funding to do Totally Touchable, and that was the start of the KAB Gravesend Art Group.’

Wendy Daws: KAB Gravesend Art Group. Totally TouchableTotally Touchable (2016)  was an exhibition that gave the KAB Gravesend Art Group an opportunity to show the public their own ways of  making art. The group offered guided tours to sighted visitors, who were invited to wear ‘simulated spectacles’ or ‘sim specs’ so that they could view and handle the exhibits through the eyes of the people who created them.  You can hear from some of the artists and enjoy some of their artwork in this short video. https://vimeo.com/144599869

KAB Gravesend Art Group too has gone from strength to strength.

There is a statue of Pocahontas https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pocahontas in the grounds of St George’s Church in Gravesend. In 2016, one year before the 400th anniversary of her death, KAB Gravesend Art Group collaborated with professional opera singer Tania Holland Williams and the RiverVoice community choir to present Reaching Out, an art exhibition and musical performance inspired by Pocahontas. This short video captures the project and the performance. https://vimeo.com/175844855

In 2017, Wendy was commissioned to create two bronze tactile interpretation panels of the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee commemorative statue in Gravesend market. As usual, she used the expertise of the Gravesend art group to  help come up with  the design.

‘I always try to find a way to include those often unheard in voices in whatever I’m doing,’ Wendy explains. ‘We visited the market when it was quiet and took moulds from the statue. We cast them in plaster and then the group decided what should be included in the bronze plaque, including the Braille that is part of it.’

Sensing culture
In 2018, Wendy applied for a commission to work with the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge in Canterbury, Kent https://canterburymuseums.co.uk/beaney/  as part of an HLF/RNIB funded project, Sensing Culture.

‘I was really keen to get involved with this project because it was everything my dissertation was about,’ Wendy enthuses.‘ It was about how to make the Beaney collections more accessible to BPS visitors, and by default, to all visitors.’

Sensing Culture. Image courtesy of The Beaney
©The Beaney

Out of that project, a third group, KAB Canterbury Art Group was born.

Highlights of the Sensing Culture  project and information about how galleries and museums can be made more accessible to visitors with sight loss can be found on the website  http://www.sensingculture.org.uk/.

The MESS ROOM
Wendy Daws: THE MESS ROOMWendy now shares a studio at Sun Pier House, in Chatham, with fellow artist Christopher Sacre http://christophersacre.com/website/Home.html and together, they have created the MESS ROOM, a not-for-profit organisation hosting artist-led projects, in partnership with local communities. http://www.messroom.org.uk/

‘Throughout my time working with blind and partially sighted people, I’ve always strived for us to have our own space, a studio where we can make a mess and leave our work here if we want to, instead of just being creative for two hours and then switching it off again,’ Wendy explains. ‘The MESS ROOM allows us to do just that.’

Wendy Daws: THE MESS ROOMWhile Wendy’s experience is with the BPS community, Christopher, who is deaf himself, specialises in working people with hearing loss. Last year, both communities collaborated on an art project exploring their experiences and identities, called My Self . The project and the exhibition of artwork, held at Sun Pier House, is documented in this short video. https://vimeo.com/373089157

Having her own studio at Sun Pier House has provided the space and opportunity Wendy needs to concentrate once again on her own career as an artist.

‘I get so embedded in finding opportunities for the groups, that my own artwork gets put to one side, so the aim in the future is that I do make more artwork for myself,’ she says.

Wendy Daws: THE MESS ROOM My Self project
My Self

The MESS ROOM has also provided space for the group workshops to evolve. Wendy and Christopher have started a new inclusive open arts day, Peer Arts, which, before lockdown, met every Friday at the MESS ROOM.

‘Peer Arts is a model of how things could happen,’ Wendy explains. ‘The only qualifying factor for coming to Peer Arts, is that you are a human. We want it to be completely inclusive. Absolutely anyone can join in. It’s a very relaxed day, and I plan to include this group too in other art projects that I do.’

 

Creativity in a time of coronavirus
The C-19 lockdown has brought a temporary end to Wendy’s group art activities, but not an end to her drive and creativity. She now has a new lockdown project Out of Sight Not Out of Mind, running in Gravesend, Medway and Canterbury. It is aimed at people with sight loss, and all generations will be invited to create artworks at home.

‘It’s a doorstep gallery,’ Wendy explains. ‘I’ll set up a Zoom account and contact everybody about making new artwork at home. If I need to take materials to them and give them a quick demo at the end of their path, I can do that.  At the end of their making, I’ll take a picture of them on their doorstep or through their window, holding their artwork. And then, later in the year, when the lockdown is lifted, we’ll have local physical exhibitions of the artworks.’

Wendy is also involved in two other projects at the moment and, if you want, you can get involved too.

She is now running workshops for the Creative Estuary team, on a theme of The Water Replies. https://creativeestuary.com/the-water-replies/ In this project, everyone living along the Thames Estuary is invited to keep a creative journal about what, for them, life is like living beside the Thames. There is no set format – journals can be completed with words, photos, drawings, collage, poetry, prose, lyrics and thoughts. There is still time to join in. So, if you would like to create your own journal, email info@cementfields.org and they will send you a blank journal, free of charge.

To inspire you, here is one created by Norma, which Wendy Shared on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/wendydawsart/videos/273768104042753/

And Wendy is also part of the creative team for the Fat Lady Opera’s current project ‘Persephone’s Dream’,  a digital/live hybrid opera that tells a story of withdrawal from the world. More details of how you can get involved in this project can be found on their website:  https://www.fatladyopera.com/persephone-s-dream

You can follow Wendy her activities and her groups and projects on social media

Wendy
Website: wendydaws.co.uk
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wendydawsart/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wendy_daws/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/WendyDaws

THE MESS ROOM
Address:
Ground Floor, Sun Pier House, Medway Street, Chatham, Kent, ME4 4HF
Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/MessRoomMedway/
Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/messroommedway/
Twitter:  https://twitter.com/messroommedway

KAB Medway and Gravesend Art Groups
Blog:  kabmedwayartgroup.wordpress.com

Duncan Grant: Portrait of my mum
Original – https://duncangrantartist.com/product/mum/
Print – https://duncangrantartist.com/product/mum-print/

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The Hot Tin: Making a bid for the future

Duncan Grant: What a Liberty private view
‘What a Liberty!’ opening night at the Hot Tin

The Hot Tin Auction is Live. Click here.

It was just about this time last year that I exhibited at The Hot Tin arts centre and cafe in Faversham, Kent. https://www.the-hot-tin.co.uk/

I’d just received some samples of the Liberty London fabric printed with my designs and it was the perfect place to celebrate alongside the other three #LibertyOpenCall winners.  Barman, William Ford, designed a cocktail ‘The Drunken Duncan’ (gin, lime, lovage and absinthe) specially for the occasion and we danced the evening away to Northern Soul, from DJ Ged ‘Stax Volt’ Kelly. htpps://m.mixcloud.com/XRAYSOULCLUB/  It was a great night! If you were there, you can relive it a little here: https://duncangrantartist.com/2019/05/19/what-a-liberty-great-first-night-at-the-hot-tin/

The Hot Tin, Faversham
©cene-magazine

Well how quickly things can change.

Just a few days before the UK went into official lockdown, on 20th March 2020, Boris Johnson announced that pubs, bars and restaurants would close for the foreseeable future. Three months down the line, small venues like The Hot Tin are struggling to survive.

RouteStock
The Hot Tin
(or The Tin as it is known) is the brainchild of Romana Bellinger and Mike Eden.

Their company RouteStock  https://www.routestock.org/ is a non-profit Community Interest Company (CIC) dedicated to bringing communities together through art and music.  RouteStock  specialises in creating audiovisual content for prestigious live arts events all over the country.

©cene-magazine
Romana and Mike ©cene-magazine

Their professional portfolio includes Lost Lectures https://lostlectures.com/ which Romana describes as ‘a bit like Ted talks but funkier’, the Breakin’ Convention hip hop fusion dance festival at Sadlers Wells https://www.breakinconvention.com/ and work with live orchestras.  Three years ago,  they worked with the late Roy Budd’s wife to produce a restored version of the 1925 film Phantom of the Opera, accompanied by a 74-piece orchestra,  which premiered at the London Coliseum.

The Hot Tin
©cene-magazine


Finding a venue
But the dream for Romana and Mike was always to create their own arts venue, to complement and extend their RouteStock projects.  When they saw the  Grade II listed, converted tin chapel online, they couldn’t resist.

‘The idea was always to have a place of our own, so that we could do what we love doing – connecting with people and bringing people together,’ Romana explains. ‘When this building came along it was a match made in heaven. The living accommodation was beautiful but when we saw the main hall, we just thought, wow, we can do so much with this!’

Tin chapels
Originally, St Saviour’s Church (still  the building’s official address) was a flat-pack church, built around 1885. It was probably made in the Old Kent Road in East London, and then brought down the river to Faversham on a Thames barge.

During the Victorian era, the rapid growth of urban populations , prompted the mass production of cheap, easily erected buildings to meet the needs of new communities.  Pre-fabricated churches were relatively cheap. £150 would buy you a chapel seating 150 people. The size and other embellishments could be altered to meet different needs and budgets. If you are interested, you’ll find lots of technical information about these buildings here https://www.buildingconservation.com/articles/tin-tabernacles/tin-tabernacles.html

Before it’s recent transformation into an arts space, The Hot Tin building experienced many reincarnations. It remained in use as a church from 1885 until 1950, when it was deconsecrated.  After that, for a while, it was used by a school for gym lessons and piano teaching, and then as a scout hut.  Romana explains that the different glass in all the windows is probably down to the ball games played inside.

Over the years, the building has also been a camping shop, a printers and an antique furniture showroom, before being used as a joiners for 30 years. Romana and Mike bought the building from Nick Kenny, who had converted the back of the building to living accommodation and used the main hall to build bespoke kitchens and bathrooms.

Renovation
Because The Hot Tin is a Grade II listed building, remodelling possibilities were limited but that suited Romana and Mike. ‘We didn’t want to dress it up and make it prettier than it was, because the building has its own beauty,’ Romana explains. ‘ We painted to some extent and opened up an area that had been blocked off.

The main thing was cleaning the ceiling. It was in a terrible state. So we had one of those telescopic cherry pickers and we were up there with Henry the Hoover, for about a week, cleaning off layers and layers of wood dust.’

Because it is a tin building with no insulation, The Hot Tin gets very hot in the summer – hence the name – and cold in the winter, so Romana and Mike researched a way of heating the big space that would be as efficient and sustainable as possible. Now infra red heaters keep The Tin hot all year round.  Future plans are to restore the building, rather than to change it.

The Hot Tin, Faversham

A new arts space and cafe
For 18 months before the lockdown, The Hot Tin  was thriving. The cafe, with its art exhibitions and workshops, locally sourced coffee and homemade vegan food attracted families, local businesses and other residents during the day. And in the evening, live music, DJ sets and films attracted a broad spectrum of people from around Faversham.

The cafe is now an important and integral part of the business but it wasn’t always in the business plan.

The Hot tin, Faversham
©cene-magazine

‘When we saw the building, we immediately thought arts space and we started to apply for our licences,’ explains Romana. ‘But because some people in the area just didn’t understand what we were doing, we got a lot of opposition. So we thought maybe we should have a cafe. That would support our events and allow people to get to know us and to understand who we are and what we are trying to do. ‘

Local resident Debbie Lowther was one of those who was sceptical at first.  ‘When I first saw the planning permission for turning the Tin Chapel into an entertainment venue, I couldn’t see how it would work,’ she says. ‘ But work it does… for quiet coffee meetings or lunch during the day and for its music, great art and yummy cocktails, all unique in Faversham. I love it!’

Griselda Cann Mussett, who also lives in Faversham, agrees. ‘The Hot Tin has become something of a marvel with excellent food, art exhibitions and occasional music and all so well-run. It’s an imaginative use of an unusual and special building,’ she says.

‘Our main ambition is to provide a one-of-a kind venue for live music, performance, films and the arts,’ Mike says. ‘We want to promote musicians and artists from around the world and around the corner.’

‘What we strive for is to be a place that is inclusive and where people feel comfortable,’ Romana adds. ‘Everyone is welcome here. We want to bring these sorts of arts events to the people of Faversham in their own town, so they don’t have to go to London for them.  We want to make The Hot Tin a resource for the community again, which is really what this church was built for.’

The Hot Tin, Faversham
©cene-magazine

Although it has only been open for 18 months, The Hot Tin has hosted some classy acts.  These include Switzerland’s urban folk band Black Sea Dahu https://www.blackseadahu.com/ French-born Tucson singer Marianne Dissard (who now lives in Ramsgate) https://www.mariannedissard.com/ local electro-acoustic duo Liotia http://liotia.co.uk/ and from the forefront of the new London jazz scene, the Ash Walker Experience, a multisensory show with a six piece band. https://www.cenemagazine.co.uk/news/2019/12/6/the-hot-tin-ash-walker-experience

The last artist to play at The Hot Tin before lockdown was spoken word artist, writer, saxophonist and bandleader, Alabaster dePlume whose performances have received wide critical acclaim https://www.alabasterdeplume.com/

 

Lockdown and beyond
The coronavirus emergency and the closure of entertainment spaces and venues has hit The Hot Tin hard. Because they have so little outside space, Romana concedes that they will be unlikely to reopen for quite some time.

RadioRouteStock https://www.routestock.org/radio is still broadcasting LockDown DJ sessions. Details of tonight’s session (14th June) are in the image on the right. And Romana and Mike are exploring a subscription-based, TV broadcast quality, live streaming service, whereby audiences could have access to live interactive shows without being  present physically at the venue. Once The Hot Tin is up-and-running again, live streaming could continue to be used to increase access to events for those who are unable to attend in person.

Fundraising
To help get them through this difficult period, The Hot Tin is trying to raise some money through two fundraising initiatives.

‘We  are part of the Music Venue Trust http://www.musicvenuetrust.com/ and we’ve got a Crowdfunder campaign at the moment,’ Romana explains. ‘As a collective, we’re trying to raise money and awareness because grassroots venues are obviously going to be hit hardest by lockdown.’

So far The Hot Tin has raised nearly £2,500 towards its target of £10,000. Donations will help Romana and Mike keep some of their staff who ‘fall between the cracks’ of the government support schemes, cover some of the business’s ongoing overheads and losses, and help towards restructuring during lockdown and for when they are finally able to open again at full capacity.

You can donate here: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/thehottin

The Crowdfunder campaign runs until 1st September 2020 at 8pm.  Any money raised over the £10,000 target  will be donated to the Music Venue Trust crisis fund to protect other small venues across the country.

Faversham-based artist and Hot Tin bartender, chef and cocktail supremo, William Ford, is also organising a silent auction to help keep the venue afloat.

There has been a callout to creatives to donate artworks, ceramics, merchandise and crafted goods. These will be displayed and described on an auction site, which goes live on 27th June. It will work a bit like ebay, with members of the public invited to bid on items until the auction closes on 19th July.

‘We have been overwhelmed with the support we have received ,’ says William, ‘Originally we asked for artworks, because that was the idea I had in mind, but we’ve had lots of makers offering to donate things – some beautiful jewellery and stained glass. We’ve had bands offering merchandise bundles and others offering online services, such as guitar lessons or a garden design consultation. So now the auction is a proper showcase of what The Hot Tin and RouteStock is.’

The Hot Tin, Faversham
©cene-magazine

To maintain social distancing, artists will be responsible for getting items bid for to those who have won them, although The Hot Tin can help if this is not possible.

If you are keen to see The Hot Tin reopen when the time comes and would like to donate to the silent auction, please contact William. will@routestock.org

Officially the deadline for donations is today (June 14th) but William is happy to receive new offers over the next week or two.

The auction goes live on 27th June. For more information, you can follow The Hot Tin on:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheHotTin/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thehottin/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheHotTin
or contact them info@the-hot-tin.co.uk

 

 

 

 

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Terrible times and tall tales

Everyone loves a good story, don’t they?

Those who know me, and readers of this blog, will know that throughout the current pandemic, I’ve been shielding because my underlying health conditions put me in a vulnerable group. I find it hard to sit still at the best of times and so being locked-down has been very frustrating.  I’ve been drawing (of course) and listening to podcasts and, my favourite occupation, drawing while listening to podcasts.

Duncan Grant: Cheesy bug lino print
To me this is a ‘cheesy bug’

I’ve always been interested in the way that stories, and particularly words, are passed from place to place and down the generations through oral transmission.

Those of you that have been following me on Facebook for a while will know that I’m fascinated by how the names for ‘woodlouse’ vary from place to place, even within a few miles, so much so that what you call this prehistoric creature is a pretty good indicator of where you come from.

If you’re from a few miles down the road from me in Medway, you might call them ‘pea bugs’, or if you come from Canterbury, maybe, ‘monkey peas’.  Other names are ‘slaters’ (Scotland, Australia and New Zealand), ‘chucky pigs’ (Dorset), ‘cheesy bobs’ (Guildford), ‘sandies’ (Portsmouth), ‘gramfers’ (Cornwall), ‘pill bugs’ (US) and so on…..

Now that language has become so much more standardised, this is one of the few words that has kept its regional identity. Also, I like it because it’s one of those childhood words – like ‘fay nights’ of ‘Fein Knights’ – that never really makes the dictionaries but is still in common use.

Legends, Myths and Folklore
One of the podcasts I’ve been listening to  is Tales of the British Isles https://soundcloud.com/talesofthebritishisles which ‘tells some of the famous and not-so-famous myths, legends and folklore from the British Isles in a haphazard order’. I knew some of the stories already through listening to the music of bands like Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention, and I’ve included links to some of their musical retellings in the stories below.

So, just to explain a few things – what’s the difference between a legend, a myth and folklore?  According to this education website http://myths.e2bn.org/

  • Legends are semi-true stories, passed from person-to-person, which have important meaning or symbolism for the culture in which they originate. A legend usually contains elements of the truth or is based in historical fact, but it has ‘mythical qualities’. Legends usually involve heroic characters or fantastic places and often encompass the spiritual beliefs of the culture in which they originate
  • A myth is a story based on tradition or legend, which has deep symbolic meaning. A myth conveys a truth rather than necessarily recording a true event. Myths are often used to explain universal and local beginnings and involve supernatural beings . The great power of the meaning of these stories to the culture in which they developed is the main reason that they survive as long as they do – sometimes for thousands of years
  • Folklore or folktales are popular stories passed on in spoken form from one generation to the next. Usually, the author is unknown and there are many different versions of the story. Folktales fit into many categories – fables, fairy tales,  old legends and even urban legends.

So there is a lot of overlap, but the website offers this diagram to help clarify the relationship between the three:

The creation of a modern legend?
It’s been interesting watching the news with all this stuff going on in my head.  Following the politics (and the science) has become a bit of an obsession.

Of course, politicians have always spun stories and told tall tales, but the development of The Legend of Dominic Cummings has been fascinating.  And it is indeed a legend. Based in historical fact, it contains elements of the truth but also elements of fantasy. There is a voyaging ‘hero’ – a concerned father, who is a genius and a prophet. There are fantastic places – a remote estate and a historic castle. And, the whole tale so clearly shining a light on the political culture in which the story originated.

But, I guess, there is a fundamental difference. Those communicating this particular modern legend are politicians, not storytellers.

Well before all this kicked off, Wayne Macauley wrote in the Guardian in 2014, reflecting on the difference between politicians and novelists – they both make things up, right?

In their desperation to control the narrative, politicians….may have stolen our [novelists’] kitbag of trickery and artifice but they left behind the fundamental principle: storytellers are the liars who admit they are – the rest are just, well, liars.

So perhaps we need to add a fourth bullet to the list above, or extend the fact to meaning continuum on the diagram above, to include barefaced lies.

Anyway,  here are some of the traditional stories from around the British Isles, along with the drawings I made as I listened to them.  I recommend it. Much better for the underlying health conditions than watching the news!

All the drawings featured are available from the Gallery on this website: https://www.duncangrantartist.com/shop/ 

Great Britain
Albina and her sisters
Duncan Grant: Albina and her sistersAccording to a 14th century British medieval legend and myth, Great Britain was once known as Albion – it sometimes still is – after an exiled queen called Albina.  She was the eldest of a family of sisters who had been exiled from their homeland in Greece. One version of the story tells how a king of Greece married his thirty daughters into royalty. But the brides colluded to murder their husbands because they didn’t want to be subservient to anyone. However, the youngest daughter wanted no part in this and revealed the plot. As a punishment, the murderous princesses were set adrift in a rudderless ship.  After three days they reached land, in England. The eldest daughter Albina was the first to step ashore. She laid claim to the land, naming it after herself. At first, the sisters gathered acorns and fruits. Then they learnt to hunt. Having meat in their diet aroused their desires. As there were no other humans in England at that time, the sisters mated with evil spirits, which resulted in a race of giants. You can read the legend of Albion here: http://folklorethursday.com/legends/british-legends-origin-albion-bloodlust-albina-sisters/

Duncan Grant: John BarleycornJohn Barleycorn
John Barleycorn features in a British folk song. But he is not a person, he is a personification of the important cereal crop barley, which is used in making beer. The song describes how John Barleycorn suffers indignities, attacks and death, corresponding to the various stages of cultivation and brewing.  Here are folk rock band Steeleye Span singing the song.

https://youtu.be/uArDiTWcDaw

The Green ManDuncan Grant: The Green Man
The Green Man is a legendary being representing rebirth and the cycle of new growth that begins every spring. The Green Man is most commonly depicted in paintings,  sculptures, or on pub signs as a face made of, or completely surrounded by, leaves.

Reynardine

Duncan Grant: ReynardineReynardine is a traditional English ballad. The subject, Reynardine, is a werefox who attracts beautiful women to him so that he can take them away to his castle. The fate  that awaits them once they get there is usually left to the imagination.
Here a rendition of Reynardine by Fairport Convention.  Any excuse to hear Sandy Denny.
https://youtu.be/J25mmIKp1SM

Duncan Grant: The Witch and the HareThe Witch and the Hare
Many British folk tales feature witches that transform themselves into hares, usually to lure an unsuspecting huntsman into some sort of trouble.

England
County Durham
The Lambton Worm
Duncan Grant: The Lambton Worm
The story of the Lambton Worm tells of a rebellious lad called John Lambton who skips church to go fishing in the River Wear. The boy catches a small wormlike creature with nine holes on each side of its head and throws it down a well. Eventually the worm grows extremely large and the well becomes poisonous. The villagers start to notice that farm animal are going missing. They discover that the gigantic worm has emerged from the well and coiled itself around a local hill. The worm terrorises the nearby villages, eating sheep, preventing cows from producing milk and snatching small children. It then heads towards Lambton Castle. John Lambton’s father (Lord Lambton) manages to placate the worm by feeding it twenty gallons of milk a day.  Eventually, Lord Lambton manages to kill the worm but since that day, the Lambton family were said to be cursed. Here is Bryan Ferry, who was born in County Durham, re-telling the tale: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFQ3D6dGcik

Duncan Grant: Spring-Heeled JackBlack Country, London and other places
Spring-Heeled Jack
In Victorian England, the scariest bogeyman was Spring Heeled Jack – a fire-breathing devil, with a goatee beard, pointed beard and fiery eyes,  who could leap across rooftops.  Sightings of Spring-Heeled Jack are recorded across England, but they were especially prevalent in the Black Country. His agility allowed him to terrify his victims and then escape his pursuers. Older Black Country residents still recall being threatened by their parents with an appearance by Jack if they failed to go to bed on time. My picture shows Jack against a collage of  cut up maps of London. https://duncangrantartist.com/product/myths-and-legends-series-spring-heeled-jack-print/

East Anglia
Black Shuck

Duncan Grant: Black ShuckBlack Shuck is the name given to a ghostly black dog that is said to roam the coastline and countryside of East Anglia. It is one of many ghostly black dogs recorded in folklore across the British Isles. The appearance of Black Shuck is sometimes thought to be an omen of death. One of the most notable reports of Black Shuck occurred at Holy Trinity Church at Blythburgh in Suffolk. On 4th August 1577, during a storm, Black Shuck is said to have burst in through the doors of the church to a clap of thunder. He ran up the nave, past the congregation, killing two people and causing the church steeple to collapse through the roof. As the dog departed, he left scorch marks on the north door. These, it is said, can still be seen at the church to this day.

Duncan Grant: The Ghost Ship of Goodwin SandsKent
The Ghost Ship of Goodwin Sands
Goodwin Sands is a 10-mile long sandbank off the Deal coast in Kent. The Lady Lovibond  was a schooner that is alleged to have been wrecked on Goodwin Sands on 13 February 1748. It is said that it reappears there, as a ghost ship, every fifty years. The first sighting of the phantom Lady Lovibond on 13 February 1798 was reported by at least two ships. Apparently, the ghostly ship’s appearance in 1848 was so convincing  that lifeboats were sent out from Deal in the hope of rescuing survivors. The last report was filed in 1948 by Captain Bull Preswick, who was convinced he saw the Lady Lovibond  surrounded by a green glow as she entered the Sands. The story of the ghost ship created so much attention that a crowd of  curious onlookers made their way to the Sands on 13th February 1998, hoping to catch a glimpse of the legendary ship. But they left disappointed, as no ship appeared.

Duncan Grant: The Lincoln ImpLincolnshire
The Lincoln Imp
If you visit Lincoln Cathedral, look up. Hidden between two arches on the north side of the Choir, sitting cross-legged, is a small, grotesque carved figure – half human and half animal.  Legend has it that one day the devil let two of his naughty young demons out to play. After stopping at Chesterfield, where they twisted the spire of St Mary and All Saints Church,  they went to Lincoln and began wrecking the cathedral. They knocked over the Dean, smashed the stained glass windows and destroyed the lights. To put a stop to any further chaos, an angel appeared from the bible on the altar. One imp ran away but the other carried on hurling insults and stones at the angel.  So the angel turned the imp to stone where it sat and where it can still be seen today.

NottinghamDuncan Grant: Robin Hood and his Merry Men
Robin
Hood and his Merry Men

Stealing from the rich to give to the poor, Robin Hood and his Merry Men are now an established part of popular culture. The story is set in Sherwood Forest in Nottingham, during the reign of Richard the Lionheart. The adventures follow the principled thief as he woos the beautiful Maid Marian and thwarts the evil Sheriff of Nottingham.

Yorkshire
Duncan Grant: The Wantley DragonThe Wantley Dragon
The Wantley dragon is a legend about a knight who slew a terrifying dragon that lived on Wharncliffe Crags in South Yorkshire.  The story is recounted in a comic ballad of 1685 which, although not well-known today, was quite popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. https://allpoetry.com/The-Dragon-of-Wantley The dragon, which was as big as a Trojan Horse, devoured everything in its path, even trees and houses until  the knight, More of More Hall, suitably fortified with strong ale and dressed in a suit of extremely spiky Sheffield steel armour, landed a fatal kick to the dragon’s ‘arse-gut’ its only weak spot, as the dragon explains with its dying breath.

Ireland
Duncan Grant: Finn MacCool and the Salmon of KnowledgeFinn MacCool and the Salmon of Knowedge
When Finn MacCool was a boy he went to live with his tutor, an old man named Finegas,  who had lived by the River Boyne. Finegas had fished in the river for many years because it was rumoured that a fish called ‘The Salmon of Knowledge’ swam in the nearby river. And it was said, that the first person to taste this salmon would become the wisest person in all Ireland. Fineagas went fishing every day, hoping that one day he would catch the Salmon of Knowledge. One day, as Fineagas was teaching Finn by the river bank,  he noticed a huge, pink salmon swimming towards them and he rushed to get his net. Once Finegus eventually caught the enormous salmon, he was exhausted and needed to sleep. So he asked Finn to cook the salmon for him but he warned the boy not to taste even the smallest bite of it. But while the fish was cooking, a small drop of hot fish oil splashed onto Finn’s thumb. Finn put his thumb in his mouth to stop it burning but it was too late. Even though Finn he had not eaten the salmon, the special knowledge had been given to him and he grew up to become the most able and celebrated of the Fianna warriors.

The Giant’s Causeway
Duncan Grant: The Giant's CausewayThe story of the Giant’s Causeway is another chapter from the legend of FinnMcCool. Finn McCool was the biggest and strongest giant in Ireland – 54 foot tall and with the strength of 500 men. At the same time there was another giant called Benandonner who lived on the Scottish coast. Benandonner believed that he was the strongest of all the giants and this made Finn McCool mad. So he picked up a huge lump of earth and threw it at Benandonner. It missed but it landed in the middle of the Irish Sea making the Isle of Man. The hole left by Finn became Lough Neagh. Eventually Finn Mc Cool got so fed up of being taunted by Benandonner that he decided to fight him to decide, once and for all, who was the strongest. Finn started to build a path to Scotland, laying down thousands of rocks with his bare hands. When Benandonner heard what Finn was doing he decided to build his own path from Scotland to meet up with Finn’s path. But when Finn saw Benandonner he was shocked – Benandonner was twice his size and looked twice as strong! He ran back to his house, with  Benandonner hot on his heels, and asked his wife, Oonagh, to hide him. She came up with a cunning plan. She disguised Finn as a baby.
When Benandonner knocked on the door Finn, dressed up as a baby, pretended to cry. When Benandonner saw the size of the baby he was terrified. If the baby was that big, his father must be enormous! Benandonner turned as fast as he could and ran, ripping up the causeway behind him so that Finn could not follow him. You can take a virtual tour of the Giant’s Causeway here http://panoramas.nationaltrust.org.uk/giants-causeway/1/

Scotland
Borders
Duncan Grant: The Ballad of Tam LinThe Ballad of Tam Lin
Tam Lin is  a pre- sixteenth century ballad that has inspired many stories and novels.  http://www.kitsuneyama.com/Mountain/Bardic/Songs/tamlin.htm
You might be more familiar with Fairport  Convention’s  1969 cover version
https://youtu.be/4FuaSdOdpzw The story of Tam Lin tells how he was kidnapped or ‘taken’ by the queen of the fairies when he fell off a horse while hunting.  He is destined to be sacrificed by the fairies on Hallowe’en but he is rescued, at midnight, by his pregnant lover, Janet.

Galloway
Duncan Grant: The Mermaid of GallowayThe Mermaid of Galloway
There are many tales of encounters between humans and mermaids and none of them ends well. The Mermaid of Galloway is a famous Scottish tale of a man who captures a mermaid and makes her his wife. But, of course, the ending is far from happy for the young crofter.  In another variation, the mermaid of Galloway lived in a beautiful burn and every evening she would perch on a seat-shaped rock and give medical advice to the people who gathered to ask for her help. But a local religious woman thought that this was the devil’s work, and, clutching her bible for protection, pushed the mermaid’s seat into the pond. The next evening when the mermaid appeared, she was upset to find that her seat had been destroyed, and cried out, “You may look to your empty cradle’. The next morning the religious woman’s baby was found dead.

Duncan Grant: The Story of Da Kunal Trow KingShetland

The Story of Da Kunal Trow King
I can’t tell this story of about a union between a witch and one of Shetland’s most famous, magical creatures, a trow, any better than this version by Shetland comedian, Marjolein Robertson! https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p088w3tb

Wales
Duncan Grant: Y Tylwyth Teg

Y Tylwyth Teg
Y Tylwyth Teg, which means ‘fair family’, is the name for the ‘fairy folk’ who live underground or near water. They are said to have fair hair, to dance and to make fairy rings. But there is a more sinister side. Y Tywylth Teg kidnap golden-haired human children and leaving changelings in their place. They give gifts to those they like, but take these gifts away if the recipient tells anyone about them. Fairy maidens can marry human men but they must be careful never to touch iron or they will vanish back to fairyland never to be seen by their husbands again.

 

 

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Iron Pier Brewery: The Art of Brewing

Visit Duncan Grant’s gallery

As regular readers of this blog will know,  my art has ended up in places I’d never imagined.

It’s been on fabrics for Liberty London,  https://www.libertylondon.com/a book cover for Faber & Faber, https://www.faber.co.uk/9780571355075-milkman.html pencil cases in Japan and shirts in Russia.  And this week it is appearing on beer cans in Gravesend, courtesy of the Iron Pier Brewery and Taproom https://www.ironpier.beer/

Iron Pier Brewery
I’ve been drinking at the Iron Pier since it opened in 2018 and they’ve hosted a couple of exhibitions of my art.  Tucked behind Perry Street on a small industrial estate, it’s a fantastic place with a great community atmosphere – and the beer is even better!

Iron Pier Brewery: Charlie Venner & James Hayward
Charlie Venner & James Hayward

The brewery is run by head brewer James Hayward, who used to run the Caveman Brewery in Swanscombe http://www.cavemanbrewery.co.uk,  and his business partner Charlie Venner who, previously, ran The Compass Ale House, in Gravesend http://thecompassalehouse.co.uk/ which James used to supply.

At Iron Pier they produce a range of cask , keg and barrel-aged beer to their exacting standardsas they say on their website,  it is ‘lovingly crafted, full-flavoured and perfectly conditioned’. https://www.ironpier.beer/beers

The brewery is named after the Gravesend town pier, which is the oldest surviving cast iron pier in the world. And many of the beers brewed there, such as Rosherville Red and Perry Street Pale,  have names drawn from the local area.

‘We always knew that we wanted to be part of the community in Gravesend,’ says James. ‘So having the taproom on the same site as the brewery gives us a real link to that community. But we also wanted to be a brewery that went beyond the local market. We supply pubs locally and in East London, and we do brewery swaps, where we’ll send our beer up to Yorkshire or Manchester  and they’ll send theirs down to Kent.  Last year , we took our beer out to a beer festival in Germany. And it’s really nice, being in Germany as a brewery from Gravesend.’

Duncan Grant: Brewery
Russell Brewery, Gravesend

Brewing in Gravesend
Iron Pier is the first brewery in Gravesend for  nearly 90 years. In 1932, Russell’s brewery, in West Street – famous for their Shrimp Brand beers – was acquired by the London brewing giants, Truman.  By 1935, brewing had stopped on the site, although it was used as bottling plant for about 50 years after that.

Truman bottling plant, Gravesend
Truman bottling plant, 1950s

If you’re familiar with Gravesend, you can still see evidence of the Russell brewery  down by the River, near Asda.  Most of the old brewery buildings were demolished, but the original maltings – the building where grain is converted into malt for brewing – still survives, although it has been converted into flats now.  The big square section of  The Maltings with its triangular roof was part of the kiln used to heat the barley.

 

Duncan Grant: Hop picking
Duncan Grant: Hop picking

Hops
Hops are a key ingredient of traditional brewing,  and hop-growing has always been an important agricultural activity in Kent, which is still the biggest hop-growing county in the country. At the end of the 19th century there were about 200,000 acres of hop fields in the UK, now there are only about 6,000 acres.

‘It has shrunk pretty much every year from 1897 to 2017 because of lack of demand,’ explains James Hayward. ‘Beer styles change. Most people now drink so-called continental lagers and those don’t use many hops really, so the hop market completely crashed. But it is coming back a bit now because small brewers like us tend to use a lot of local hops.’

Duncan Grant: Hops and blueberries
Duncan Grant: Hops and blueberries

There are many different hop varieties and new hop strains are being bred all the time, in England and in other hop-growing countries like USA and Slovenia. Every month Iron Pier  brew a different Joined at the Hop beer, where an English hop is partnered with a hop from somewhere else.

‘It’s a form or research and development for us, ‘James explains. ‘It gives us a chance to see what works well, and we’ve found a few that we really, really like. There’s a Slovenian hop, Styrian Cardinal, which we used in a Joined at the Hop beer and that is now in our Session IPA.’

Although much farm work is now mechanised, in the UK  hops are still mostly picked by hand as they always have been. I was talking to my mum, who is ninety in a couple of months, about when, as a child, she used to go hop-picking with her family. The Kidd family lived locally to the hop fields so, for them, hopping was a series of day trips over the two or three week harvesting period. But some large hop fields had accommodation on site and families, particularly from East London, used to stay on site to pick.

My mum dug out a couple of battered black and white photos and agreed to talk about her experiences for the blog.  Friend and composer Ian Kirton kindly offered to edit it altogether.  If you like the music, which Ian composed, you can listen here: https://www.pond5.com/royalty-free-music/item/104662981-mind-and-body-gentle-warm-emotive-inspirational-instrumental

Anyway, here is my mum, Kathleen Grant (nee Kidd) reminiscing.

Iron Pier Brewery: Take-away service
Take-away

Thinking outside the taproom
Before the coronavirus emergency, Iron Pier were planning for a busy summer – full tap rooms,  more community events, beer tents at local festivals, as well as providing beer for pubs and festivals across the country. So when lockdown started, pubs closed overnight and summer events were cancelled,  James and Charlie had to come up with a Plan B to keep their business afloat.

Plan B (part 1) was a socially distanced,  takeaway service. If  locals weren’t able to pop out to the taproom or a local pub for a few drinks with  friends, at least they could enjoy a pint or two of Iron Pier beer in the comfort of their own home. And, as James explains, it is all going very well.

Iron Pier Brewery, Gravesend‘When the virus first struck and the pubs were closed we were terrified, because selling our beer to other pubs was such a big part of our business. But our take-away 4-pint and 2-pint carry-kegs are going insanely well – even better than when we had the bar open. We started with two hours on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, but we’ve had to extend Fridays to three hours now because the queues were just getting too big.’

If you fancy a carry out from Iron Pier you’ll find collection times on their Facebook page  https://www.facebook.com/ironpierbeer/

It’s in the can
Plan B (part 2) swung into operation last Tuesday, as Iron Pier started canning four of its beers – Keller QueenSession IPA, Rosherville Red and  Breezy Day IPA – to sell through the takeaway service and its new online shop. https://www.ironpier.beer/cans.  

‘We always had this idea in our heads that we were going to put our beer into cans,’ James explains. ‘It was originally part of our third year plan, but when this all kicked off it was like, well we’re  not making beer for pubs any more so let’s do this canning thing now.’

Iron Pier Brewery, GravesendJames and Charlie and I had already discussed the possibility of putting my artwork on the cans about a year ago, so they were able to move from idea to product really quickly. ‘Yes,’ James laughs. ‘We didn’t need to find a designer, so for us it was just finding somewhere on the can to put our logo so it didn’t get in the way of the artwork and we were done!’

While the beer is brewed on site, Iron Pier brought an external contractor into the brewery to can the beer.  In the future, if the new cans prove popular, the brewery might consider purchasing its own packaging line.

Iron Pier Brewery, GravesendBy the end of Tuesday, the brewery had three out of the four beers ‘in the can’. But there was a small technical hitch with the fourth.

‘A new process in the brewery always involves a bit of a learning curve, and something usually goes wrong,’ James explains. ‘We brewed all four beers for the canning day  but when we began filling the Breezy Day we noticed that we were still pulling through hops from the fermenter, so we decided not to can it that day.’

The team is going to  polish up the Breezy Day  ready for when the canners return in a week or so.  In the meantime, the other three canned beers are for sale. You can buy them in cases, or individually, through the take-away service or via the online shop.

‘We were really happy to see some great dissolved oxygen numbers in the can,’ James says, ‘so the beer should have a decent shelf life, which was the main thing I was worried about.’

Iron Pier Brewery, GravesendIn normal times, Iron Pier would have held a big knees up to launch their new cans, but since these are not normal times, you are invited to a Virtual Launch/Meet the Brewer/ Beer Tasting event, this evening (17th May 2020, @ 7.30 – 8.30pm) hosted by the Admiral’s Arm micropub http://www.admiralsarm.co.uk/  Follow this link for more information: https://www.facebook.com/events/241388767208060/

Hope to see you there. Cheers!

 

You can follow Iron Pier on:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ironpierbeer/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ironpierbeer
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ironpierbeer/

My original ink drawings, as well as digital prints, of the art used on the beer cans and in this blog are available from the gallery on this website. https://www.duncangrantartist.com/shop/

Keller Queen (Small Town #141)
Original ink drawing: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/small-town-141/
Digital print: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/small-town-141-print/ 

Rosherville Red (Small Town #132)
Original ink drawing: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/small-town-132/
Digital print: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/small-town-132-print/

Session IPA (Twenty-eight poplars)
Original ink drawing: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/twenty-eight-poplars/
Digital print: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/twenty-eight-poplars-print/

Breezy Day IPA (Breezy Day)
Original ink drawing: SOLD
Digital print: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/breezy-day-print/

Russell Brewery (Brewery)
Original ink drawing: SOLD
Digital print: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/brewery-print/

Hops and blueberries
Original ink drawing: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/fruit-series-hops-and-blueberries/
Digital print: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/fruit-series-hops-and-blueberries-print/

Hop pickers – SOLD

 

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Wayne Howes: Documenting London in lockdown

Duncan Grant: Roadworks in London
Normally London is busy, even at night

Visit Duncan Grant’s gallery
An unnaturally silent and deserted London in lockdown has been captured in a series of beautiful images, by Gravesend-based photographer, Wayne Howes.

Before the coronavirus lockdown, London was buzzing with tourists and locals going about their daily business. I work on the roads at night and, although some parts of London are quieter then, city life never stops.

A third of everyone that works in London works at night so there is always traffic. All-night restaurants and cafes are busy and, just before dawn, clubbers spill out onto the streets and start making their way home, past the increasing number of rough sleepers in shop doorways.

Wayne Howes: London in lockdown
Regent Street

And that’s what makes Wayne’s photographs extraordinary. They show London as it has never been seen before.  With most workers staying at home, the streets are quiet, free of cars and with barely a soul to be seen.

Wayne has taken photographs for as long as he can remember. He exhibits his work regularly at Gravesham Arts Images exhibition, which is where I first met him. And his pictures of Kent wildlife and the night sky have appeared on book and CD covers, as well as in national publications.

Wayne Howes: Mrs Fox
Wayne Howes: Mrs Fox

Wayne’s day job, as an engineer for a security systems company works perfectly with his freelance photography business. He spends a lot of his day walking between iconic buildings in central London. And wherever Wayne goes, his camera goes too.

One of his specialities is film and TV shots.

‘I don’t like the word paparazzi,’ he says. ‘But, over the last ten years I’ve photographed everything from Hollywood blockbusters like Mission Impossible and James Bond to Sherlock and Eastenders. If something is being shot on the streets of London, I’m not far behind with my camera.’

 

Wayne Howes: Tom Cruise filming Mission Impossible 6
Tom Cruise filming Mission Impossible 6

You may have seen Wayne’s shots in the national newspapers, capturing the moment Tom Cruise broke his ankle, when he misjudged a leap between two buildings, during a stunt for the Hollywood movie Mission Impossible 6′. 

With lockdown underway, nothing is being filmed in London at the moment, so Wayne, who is a key worker and still travelling to London every day for work, is capturing London in Lockdown through his photography.

 

Wayne Howes: London in lockdown
Oxford Circus

‘I think it is important to document what is going on in the current climate and to preserve the images I’m seeing every day for the future,’ he says. ‘We’ll never see London like this again, after this madness is over. In rush hour on a Monday morning, it can take you half an hour to drive down Regent Street, so to see it with no cars and no people at that time is really unusual.’

Over the past few weeks, Wayne’s pictures of empty streets, eerily quiet parks, deserted markets and a Stock Exchange devoid of traders have captured the essence of London in lockdown and hinted at the impact of coronavirus on the social, cultural and economic life of the capital.

Wayne Howes: Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square 9am Monday morning

Later this year, Wayne is planning to self-publish a hardback book featuring twenty-five of his lockdown photographs. He hopes to raise £3,000 to fund the project via Kickstarter.

The Kickstarter site goes live this evening and is open for donations until 7th June 2020.  You can support the project here. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/waynehimages/london-in-lockdown?ref=ksrfb-prelaunch&fbclid=IwAR0qAhHKIqhYojTNac0urAYBopbkRBprLXaoODD-XG0pd-6xOQKQD4IY2GI

Wayne Howes: London in lockdown
St Paul’s Cathedral

As is usual with Kickstarter projects there are incentives to encourage you to give.  Here is what Wayne is offering if you donate.

For a £10 donation, you’ll receive a thank-you postcard of one of the images through the post.

A donation of £30 gets you a signed copy of the book

If you can afford to donate £45, you’ll receive a signed copy of the book and a mounted print of your choice from the book.

And for anyone able to donate £100, there is a signed copy of the book and the opportunity to take part in a photography workshop in London, with Wayne, where you can take your own images at the locations featured in the book – but this time with added people.

Wayne Howes: London in Lockdown
St James’s Park

If Wayne’s London in Lockdown project does not meet it’s target, you will pay nothing.  If he exceeds his target, he will publish a bigger book, featuring more of the hundreds of lockdown pictures he has taken.

You can see more of Wayne’s London in Lockdown images and his other work on his website https://www.howesimages.com/ or you can follow him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/wayne.howes1 or Instagram https://www.instagram.com/waynehowes/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Art world rocked as COVID-19 hits Small Town

Duncan Grant: Coronavirus
Coronavirus

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Residents of Small Town are being advised to adhere to strict social distancing measures after the world-famous region registered its first cases of deadly COVID-19. It is thought that several people, who have tested positive for coronavirus, are are now being treated in intensive care, stretching the towns already scarce resources.

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by the coronavirus. The disease first broke out in 2019 in Wuhan, Central China, and has since spread rapidly across the world. In March, the World Health Organisation declared a global pandemic. Common symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath and, in severe cases, pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

Duncan Grant: Small Town #155
Duncan Grant:Small Town #155

Small Town rose to fame a few years ago when prolific Gravesend-based artist, Duncan Grant began depicting its dramatic, pollution-filled skies and the way its industrial landscapes appeared to change colour from day to day. Grant’s designs were popularised by Liberty London on limited edition fabrics and, since then, have been reproduced across the world on clothing, pencil cases and even beer cans.

Duncan Grant: Small Town in Lockdown
Small Town is now in lockdown

Although coronavirus was late arriving in Small Town its effects have been felt swiftly.  By the end of March, with just a few cases confirmed, local businesses were closed and hundreds had lost their jobs, contributing to record unemployment figures. Now, much of Small Town has ground to a halt, with restaurants, bars and leisure facilities among the first to close. Supermarkets have seen an increase in demand, with many reporting empty shelves as shoppers stockpile essential items.

Duncan Grant - Small Town: International Cheese Festival
Last year tourists flocked to the Small Town International Cheese Festival

Many of the events that kept Small Town connected to the outside world have been cancelled. Even the town’s celebrated International Cheese Festival has been postponed until further notice. There are rumours that dairy farmers are dumping tankerloads of milk down drains as demand for cheesemaking ingredients dries up, and that thousands of wheels of Gouda, Stilton, Brie and Camembert are destined for landfill.

There is an eerie atmosphere now in the once bustling docklands area, as deserted fishing boats bob in their moorings and the shipyards have fallen silent.

Since Grant drew the world’s attention to Small Town, an increasing proportion of its income has come from tourism. But fears for the future of Small Town have sparked paranoia. Residents report spotting sightseers wandering around the streets taking photographs, with little regard for social distancing.

‘A few weeks ago the virus felt far away from Small Town but this is no longer the case,’ a local explained. ‘Now we have all had our eyes opened to just how quickly this can spread.’

Duncan Grant: The Great Plague of Small Town
The Great Plague of Small Town in 1665 

Small Town has seen nothing like the current crisis since the days of the Great Plague of Small Town in 1665, which wiped out nearly half of the population and devastated the economy.

‘If this goes on too long, we won’t survive,’ a council official said. ‘This is virus is going to kill Small Town.’

Duncan Grant: Pandemic series - Masks
Outside the house, everyone must wear a mask

Recent quarantine regulations mean that most residents are staying at home. Leaving the house is permitted only for shopping or for one outing each day for exercise. It is advised that face masks should be worn at all times.

People are allowed out for one period of exercise daily

‘It is difficult having to stay inside, especially if you have children,’ one mother said. ‘We’re lucky to live in the countryside so we can go for long walks. It’s a very weird time. We’re focusing on getting through it and being as upbeat as we can.’

Duncan Grant: Inside Small Town - Dockers 2
There have been reports of groups gathering near the docks

With many public parks and spaces closed to encourage people to remain indoors and to deter gatherings of more than two people, residents in urban areas of Small Town have limited opportunities to exercise. The recent warm weather, has tempted people outside, and police report breaking up public gatherings, especially in the town’s dockside region.

Duncan Grant: Three Blind Mice
There are concerna about the impact of the virus on mental health

Duncan Grant’s drawings have often alluded the dark side of Small Town. His pictures hint at a brooding disquiet within the brightly coloured houses. Small Town Social Services have expressed concern about the impact of quarantine on a community where many people were already thought to be at risk. ‘We were experiencing elevated levels of stress and anxiety before we had any cases here’ the Chief Medical Officer stated. ‘Our resources are already stretched to the limit and it is difficult to see how we will cope with a deterioration in mental health if quarantine is extended.’

During this difficult period however, there have been many examples of the community coming together to support each other. ‘We know that there are elderly people in Small Town who are lonely or who can’t get out,’ a resident commented. ‘We in small Town have a long history of working together to help overcome adversity.’

The response to a volunteer scheme set up by Small Town Council (STC) to support the vulnerable has been overwhelming.

Duncan Grant - Pandemic Series: Stay at Home
Volunteers support those in need in the Small Town community

An army of volunteers is standing by to support neighbours in ways ranging from telephone chats to relieve loneliness, to more practical help with shopping,  dog walking or putting out the bins.

Holed up in his home studio, in self- isolation for health reasons since the coronavrus crisis started, Duncan Grant is unable to visit Small Town. He sends good wishes for a speedy recovery to the community he has come to know so well but says that, until the crisis is over, he will continue to draw Small Town from memory. ‘I just can’t stop myself,’ he says. ‘It’s a compulsion.’

Duncan Grant: Self-Portrait: Man on ventilator
Duncan Grant was in ICU at St Thomas’ Hospital in 2015 after contracting sepsis

 

Duncan Grant’s Small Town drawings and his Pandemic series can be found, along with other artwork, in the Gallery on his website.
Small Towns: https://duncangrantartist.com/?s=small+town&post_type=product
Pandemic Series: https://duncangrantartist.com/?s=pandemic&post_type=product

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My 20-20 vision: A virtual exhibition

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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.

Follow Iron Pier on Facebook for latest

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/