Those of you who have been following this blog for a while may remember a post in 2019 about Art on a Postcard.
Art on a Postcard was founded, in 2014, by Gemma Peppé as a unique way to raise money for for the Hepatitis C Trust. It works like this. Invited artists are sent postcard-sized pieces of paper to decorate in any way they wish. These miniature artworks are then put up for auction. All works start at £50.
Last week I was up in London at the Winter Auction private view held at the Bomb Factory Art Foundation gallery in Covent Garden.
The auction is run by Dreweatts. Bidding closes at 2pm GMT on 15th November 2022. To bid, just visit http://www.dreweatts.com to create an online bidding account and register to bid.
You can view the exhibition on the site and follow the bidding without registering if you want. Those who have won lots will be contacted by the auctioneers with payment details, shortly after after bidding closes.
So, if you want the chance to buy a bargain from a famous (or soon to be famous) artist, while simultameously supporting a very good cause, pop over and have a look now. Normal sized pictures by me are, of course, always available in my gallery.
I’ve been living up in Norfolk for about 6 months now and really loving it. But what with settling in, working the day job and exploring the area, I haven’t really got involved much with the art scene here yet.
Norfolk Open Studios 2022 is giving me a chance to dip my toe into the water.
I’ve also got a big box of unframed pieces that you can rummage through and, of course, my colouring books, Van Doodles and Oodles More Van Doodles
Norfolk Open Studios 2022
Norfolk Open Studios is an annual event where Norwich’s artists and makers open their homes and studios to the public. All studios are free to visit.
This year’s exhibitors include over 200 painters, sculptors, weavers, furniture makers, jewellery makers – and lots more – at all stages of their careers, from emerging artists to established professionals. I’m hoping to feature some of them on this blog in the future.
19 Norwich schools are also taking part and, last weekend there was a preview of their work at the Undercroft Gallery, at the back of Norwich Market. Various local artists ran art workshops there and I did a lino cutting and printing demonstration. I was going to throw away the demo prints I did but I hand coloured this one, just to see what it looked like.
There is a comprehensive Norfolk Open Studios 2022 brochure, which introduces each participating creative and their work and, most importantly, tells you when they will be available for you to visit.
As part of Open Studios, I’ll be exhibiting at my house over the next three weekends (September 24th & 25th ; October 1st & 2nd; and October 8th & 9th) between 10am and 5pm.
Do pop by and say hello if you’re in the area. Details are below.
It would be great to meet some more Norfolk art folk. I might even push the boat out and get some tea, coffee, bikkies and cake. Sorry, I drank all the beer!
If you want to make a day of it, the Norfolk Open Studios brochure suggests a number of Art Trails that you might like to follow. Each one based in a different area of Norfolk. I’m part of the Broadland and Great Yarmouth trail. I’m number 056.
It seems like ages ago when I was commissioned by Gravesham Borough Council to create an installation in a telephone box, as a tribute to The Jam’s 1980 studio album, Sound Affects, as part of the Winter Light Festival 2020. But as with most things lately, COVID got in the way and the event was cancelled. I got paid and I kind of forgot about it.
But now it’s back again! And my installation will be one stop on a circular trail of light around the ‘Heritage Quarter’ and along the river.
Sound Affects I’m not sure quite how well known it is , that the telephone box outside Gravesend Old Town Hall was featured on the Sound Affects album cover.
The original photo was taken by art director, Bill Smith, who worked with The Jam over the three most important years of their career. During that time he designed five album covers and 16 singles bags for the band, as well as a range of promotional ads, posters and videos.
‘The idea came from Paul [Weller] who was working in the studio at the time making the album, and they used some effects from the series of BBC Sound Effects records,’ Bill explains. ‘Paul gave me a sleeve with the BBC scrubbed out and replaced with JAM and the number altered to 80 (to reference 1980, the year Sound Affects was recorded) and “Effects” changed to “Affects”. He asked me to recreate the cover, using images that related to the songs on the album.’
Bill was brought up in Gravesend but, by 1980, had moved away. It was while he was visiting his mother-in-law in Gravesend to photograph her dog for the Sound Affects cover that he took the picture of the phone box.
Bill shared the photography for the Sound Affects cover with renowned rock photographer, Martyn Goddard.
‘I just chose subjects around my home – the jukebox, record player and even my sister’s friends baby,’ Martyn says. ‘Then I walked around the streets of Camden Town and the West End of London shooting interesting subjects, such as the funeral hearse in York way and a taxi at Kings Cross Station. The power station at Dungeness was mine, plus the police car and the Brunswick Centre.’
Martyn has since met one of the funeral staff. a young undertaker who was in the hearse that he shot for the cover. Thirty-odd years later he was running the firm and Martyn was able to provide him with a print of the photo.
The Sound Affects album was released on 28th November 1980 It sold over 100,000 copies and spent 19 weeks in the UK album charts. making it to number 2. The track Start! was a number one single for the band. And although That’s Entertainment was never released as a domestic single, it did chart as an import single, making it to number 21.
Sound Affects was the last album cover Bill and Martyn ever did for The Jam.
‘We created the sleeve and inner bag and I designed a series of ads and posters that used Roy Lichtenstein pop art influences for these,’ Bill remembers. After that there were three or four more covers for singles that I did, including 1981’s Funeral Pyre , for which I also wrote and directed a promotional video. And finally, Absolute Beginners. I also wrote and shot a video for that with Gered Mankowitz but the band weren’t happy with our initial edit and, rather than let us do a re-edit, we were sacked and they did a brand new video shoot. It was the last time I spoke to Paul Weller until the 2015 Jam exhibition at Somerset House.’
Red telephone boxes The first public telephone boxes were introduced by the Post Office in 1921. They were made of concrete and some local authorities, including the London Metropolitan Boroughs, refused permission for them to be installed. Eastbourne Corporation stipulated that the kiosks could only be installed if they had thatched roofs!
In 1924, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott won a competition to design a telephone kiosk that would be acceptable to the London boroughs. You might have heard of Scott. He designed Our Lady of Assumption Catholic Church in Northfleet…oh yeah, and Liverpool Cathedral, Battersea Power Station and the Bankside power station (now the Tate Modern). Scott’s winning design featured steel structure with a silver exterior and a greeny-blue interior. The Post Office, however, decided to make it in cast iron and to paint it red. Kiosk Number 2 (K2). The boroughs were won over and K2 was installed in and around London.
After three more iterations, the Post Office commissioned a new ‘Jubilee kiosk’ to commemorate the silver jubilee of George V. The K6, as it is known, again designed by Scott, went into production in 1936. It was a bit more streamlined than the K2, designed to be cheaper to produce and to take up less pavement space. The number of glazed panels were increased from 18 to 24.
Thousands of K6 boxes were made and installed all over the country, replacing most of the existing telephone boxes, as well as introducing them in thousands of new sites. The telephone box by Gravesend Old Town Hall – the one on the Sound Affects cover – is a K6.
Although there was some objection early on to the bright red paint used on the boxes, the K6 box quickly became a national icon. In 1980, British Telecom’s plan to paint all telephone boxes in their corporate yellow caused a national outcry. Battered into submission by the Daily Mail. BT backed down.
By 1985, BT announced that the old red telephone boxes would be replaced because they no longer met the needs of customers and were expensive to maintain and clean. Once again their was a vociferous campaign to stop this but, this time, BT held firm.
In the late 80s, just before deregulation of telecoms, I worked for BT for a bit, identifying new sites for payphones around the country for BT to develop, before they were nabbed by their main competitor, Mercury Communications.
With the old red boxes being replaced by more utilitarian versions, many local authorities used legislation designed to protect buildings of architectural or historic importance to keep their red telephone boxes. Around 2,000 red boxes were given listed status. Lots more were sold off. But more than 6,000 were bought by organisations and converted for community use, as libraries or to house public defibrillators. The only use forbidden by the regulations was ‘telephony’.
In 2021, BT announced that about 5,000 public phone boxes around the UK would be protected from closure in areas with high accident or suicide rates or poor mobile signals.
The Gravesend mod revival scene in 80’s Gravesend In the 1980 when Sound Affects I was released, I was working just around the corner as a Saturday (and holidays) boy, alongside my mum, in Boots. I was 15. At around the same time, my now wife, Davina, and her mates were part of the mod revival – hanging round the town centre showing off the look and dancing the night away at mod clubs. Davina’s friend Kay Sugg even had a scooter.
The Jam, with their mod styling and energetic, punky post-60s mod sound was the soundtrack to their lives. And with no mobile phones then, telephone boxes were essential for keeping in touch.
Davina and her friends still have really good memories of those times.
‘I wasn’t a fully fledged mod when Sound Affects came out but Quadrophenia had been out the previous year, so the revival was in full swing,’ Davina reminisces. ‘The album reminds me of just turning 17, dancing at every opportunity and a continual round of parties with my school friends. My favourite track was and still is Start!‘
‘Sound Affects is as good today as it was 40 years ago,’ says former teenage mod, Yvonne Lynn. ‘Listening to the album back when I was a 16-year old mod living in Gravesend consolidated my feelings of belonging in the mod scene. The lyrics and music made sense to my teenage rebellious self and it was the glue that held our group together.’
‘The album tied in with so much,’ agrees Derek Forbes. ‘Mods, scooters, my first girlfriend and my favourite band.’
‘I was desperate to become a mod,’ Davina admits. ‘But I was too shy so a boy from my school took me to my first mod night in Wings in the Battle of Britain pub in Northfleet. I couldn’t believe that so many other kids of my age were so into 60s music, like I was, so I was soon hooked – and that’s where it all began. After that, most of my time was spent in second hand shops and Kensington Market perfecting the mod look, and dancing! It took hours to get ready. Getting the make up just right – the eyeliner was the hardest bit as well as back combing your hair – normally with a bathroom full of giggling mates and a Supremes album on for inspiration!’
Mod Life, soul music, scootering and Carnaby Street filled my youthful heart, took me on an amazing journeys and left a lasting legacy of wonderful memories that still make me smile at the love we all shared, ‘ says Kay Sugg. ‘From the sharp cut of a suit, a neat bob hairstyle, ski pants or mini, we danced our style, to our music and looking cool round town was an every Saturday treat.’
‘That’s Entertainment’ installation So back to my installation. Because the phone box was featured on the Sound Affects album, Gravesham Council wanted my installation to be a tribute to The Jam.
I tried to combine all this in my piece. I started with some initial sketches – two figures – mods – speaking lyrics from Start! one of the tracks on Sound Affects, to go on either side of the telephone box.
And then a eight smaller drawings – my take on some of Bill and Martyn’s images from the Sound Affects cover.
The Old Town Hall box has 24 panels, eight on each side, so the next job was to measure them up and draw them to scale. While it was pretty straightforward to cut paper to size for the smaller drawings, I drew out the people full size and then cut them into panels afterwards, discarding the bits of the pictures where the metal window frames would go.
Gravesham Council then took those drawings and transferred them onto white vinyl to stick onto the inside of the box. The plan for the Winter Festival is to light the box from the inside, illuminating the drawings, while the Sound Affects album plays on a loop.
So come on down next weekend and have a look and a listen. I’ll be hanging around the phone box and it will be nice to see everyone there – sharp suits, Chelsea boots and Parkas optional.
Follow the link below for the full programme but don’t miss the interactive installation, Light and Thread, in St Georges Arts Centre, created by friends of this blog Filaments Art Collective, who work aboard LV21 was featured last May.
Also, check out Bill Smith’s book which tells the stories behind some of his covers – you’ll recognise pretty much all of them, I reckon.
Light and Thread by Filaments Art Collective
A collection of light installations and digital projections made from textiles, thread and paper.
19th – 30th January 2022
Tuesday – Friday 10am – 5pm
Saturday and Sunday 10am – 4pm
Cover Stories: Five decades of album art by Bill Smith
It’s amazing what a word of encouragement can do. I met Karen a few years ago at a MUD event. She had just started painting and told me she was interested in exhibiting and I told her to just have a go. I didn’t know at the time, but I certainly do now, that when Karen ‘has a go’ she really has a go.
In this guest blog – thank you Karen – she describes her journey from successful actor to (accidental) artist and her triumphs and personal battles along the way. Enjoy!
Battersea girl I was born into a hub of drips and buzzers and penicillin, in the East Lambeth baby wing of St. Thomas’ Hospital, London, in 1962. My mother weighed approximately five stone and was extremely ill during her pregnancy with me. She was also wracked with tuberculosis, which cut a swathe through London in the 60’s.
Although I was a healthy baby at 8lbs, due to the medication my mother was fed to combat the dreaded TB as she carried me in her womb, I did not open my eyes nor utter a sound for nearly two months. There was some conjecture that I would be severely impaired – brain damaged, deaf or even blind. My grandfather kept a vigil over me day and night, while my mother was taken to the TB wards of Guys Hospital to recover.
Then one day the doctors decided to give me a massive jab of penicillin to ‘ try and wake me up’. It worked! I opened my eyes, then my lungs, and hollered, much to everyone’s relief. And, as my grandfather put it, I never closed my mouth again!!! I was bundled off to Battersea, in South London to begin my life journey.
Home was a big old London Pub, The Fox and Hounds, on the Latchmere Road in Battersea. We all lived there, my mum – a single parent, my half brothers and me.
My grandmother lived with us and was the matriarch of the family, whilst my grandfather lived in Wimbledon with his partner. He was the Daddy of the family. He put a roof over our heads and gave my mother an income. When he barked you jumped to attention, but his bark was always worse than his bite.
Our neighbourhood was a rich melting pot of White, Afro Caribbean, Asian, Persian, Russian, Irish and Portuguese. Plenty of diversity to feed the senses and the stomach! People were ‘poor but happy’ as my great aunt Rose would say.
In the 70’s Battersea was one of the poorest parts of London. By the 80’s it was the new capital of the Yuppie kingdom.
Our street was a hybrid of working class families, struggling artists, photographers and musicians. We all played together in the streets and in each others’ houses. It was an enriching, multicultural experience in every way. The Kings Road and its soon to be Punk revolution was a brisk two mile walk, over the bridge that spanned Old Father Thames. Battersea Park and Clapham Common were a half mile in either direction. Clapham Junction a spit away. There was plenty of green space for young minds to invent strange new worlds.
Growing up in the pub, memories abound of old ladies in big hats and black coats decorated with dead fox collars, complete with head and claws, whose beady, emotionless little glass eyes stared at you. Their coat pockets bulged with hankies, ready to be spittled and applied to the face of any grubby child passing by.
In the saloon bar, the men wore Sunday Crombie coats, pork pie or trilby hats, ties and cuﬄinks, whilst donkey jackets, hearty laughter and coarsely bearded geezers graced the public bar. Everyone was called ‘Ducks’ or ‘Dearie’, ‘Flo’ or ‘Esme’.
I could glean a pocketful of pennies and boiled sweets – unwrapped and complete with ﬂuﬀ – by ‘doing a turn’, singing a little song, on a Sunday afternoon at closing time. I was born a natural entertainer, or a show-oﬀ for want of a better word!
Into the ‘world called show’ I hated my primary school and did not settle. I cried everyday and became a handful. So when my mother was hospitalised with yet more pregnancy sickness, while carrying my brothers, our kind neighbour, Betty, came up with a solution. She suggested that I could sit in the back of the kindergarten at the performing arts school that her grandson went to. There I could paint pretty things and sing and dance in the afternoon. It was a grand diversion for an anxious child, while my mother awaited the arrival of the terrible twinnies.
I could already read, write and recite my times table up to ten when I started primary school. So when I was sent on a blanket audition for the musical adaptation of Scrooge, featuring Alec Guiness and Albert Finney, I naturally sailed though – reading the script ﬂuently, singing and acting my little heart out, as I had done for all the old dears in the pub on a Sunday afternoon.
I secured the role of second child lead, much to the chagrin of the fee paying stage mothers, was hastily enrolled to the stage school and agency, and plunged into the biggest adventure of my little life.
And that was how I became a part of the alumni of the Corona Academy, a famous performing arts school in West London, spawning actors such as Ray Winstone and Nicholas Lyndhurst; Queens corgi painter, Cindy Lass; the original ‘Miss Whiplash’, Cleo Rocos; and a ‘Real Housewife of Beverley Hills’ to boot!
So there was little old me, securing enough TV commercials, voiceovers and supporting roles in ﬁlm and television, to ensure that I paid my school fees on time and maintained living this magical dream. I can’t recall ever being happier to be honest.
It was at Corona, with its progressive form of education and teachers with sometimes questionable qualiﬁcations , that I ﬁrst garnered an interest in producing art.
Roger Ruskin Spear founder member of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, son of British portrait painter Ruskin Spear, taught a mixture of art, philosophy and music business acumen, and treated us like the young adults we were becoming. I achieved an A plus grade in my Art O-level and I lay this squarely at his door.
We also had a New Zealander, a bearded Hagrid, who taught us about Cubism and Picasso, mainly because he was developing his own play called Picasso I don’t care, funnily enough. I don’t think it ever saw the light of day.
Then we had an elderly German gentleman who let us explore contemporary art, cover our canvasses with Polyﬁlla, and encouraged us to produce everything in mixed media.
There was all of this and the regular curriculum, on top of the singing, mime, stagecraft, acting, ballet, jazz and tap dancing that we threw ourselves into daily.
Corona was one big family, a way of life, and it consumed me like a drug. It invaded every pore of my being and I wallowed in it. When I left at 18 years of age, I was suddenly bereft and at odds as to what to do with myself.
Fashion and beyond I started working for my second cousin, Brenda Knight, a successful Fashion PR, and her famous designer partner, Nigel Preston of Maxfield Parrish fame. I ﬁgured with a full Actors Union card under my belt, I could aﬀord to take a year or two out of the business. Just to see what life was like on the other side.
The Fashion business is a crazy world. I was the original Bubble (Ab Fab). Despatched across London with bags full of samples to present to fashion editors in big magazine houses. Not knowing my arse from my elbow in all truth. It was 1981 and the kids were in America with Bette Davis Eyes.
Noticing my complete naivety during one presentation of fashion samples to her, Anna Wintour patronisingly remarked that she could, ‘see it was a dress’. I got all ﬂustered and started to apologise. She smiled witheringly at me and said, “My dear how very ENGLISH of you!’. Formidable…. ..she was!!
Then came the call from my agent, would I like to go to a casting for Granada TV’s Crown Court?
The fashion business was long hours, skinny sleep-deprived models, lots of freebies, launch parties and lashings of red wine, but the pay was pants. I got the part and stepped back into ‘that world called show’, where I resumed my career as a supporting actor for another 15 years.
I also ﬂirted with the music business. My husband, a session guitarist, and I formed a grunge band. I discovered I was a formidable front man/girl, and song writer. We had a small modicum of success and a video on the telly.
Then disaster struck. My mum lost her home, her husband and her business. Ironically this coincided with us losing our peppercorn rent Battersea ﬂat. Everything was put on hold!
A move to Kent and a mortgage ensued and I fell into a ‘day job’. Sales is every actors spare string to the bow, yes that old chestnut!
Logistics, mortgages and then the crash of 2007 ended that sojourn and I found myself working for the probation service – a rewarding but poorly paid job. It was now 2017 and, after a particularly challenging bout of nightmare neighbours, which left me with a stress condition and seizures, I took three months oﬀ work with anxiety.
A fresh start in art I was shell shocked and desperately needed a fresh take on life. We had moved towns and left the horror behind, but the echoes remained.
My Facebook friends were reaching out to me, so I made it a challenge to get out and meet as many of them as was geographically possible.
In closest reach were the artists Craig Turner and Peter Reeds, who welcomed me with open arms, told me how much they enjoyed my little blogs on Facebook and encouraged me to start painting.
I then progressed to the Nucleus Arts Centre in Chatham, Kent.
I had a lot of artist and entertainer friends on my Facebook page. As I went to each studio at Nucleus, matching the real person to the posts on my feed, I met artists Jon Gubbay and Nigel Adams who became casual mentors to me.
So here I was, an untrained outsider artist, arming myself with pastels, paint and a whole lot of enthusiasm. I had begun posting my endeavours on my Facebook page, when I heard about a new collaborative artists group that was in its infancy called MUD. I dragged my husband along to the ﬁrst meeting at a micro pub on Rochester High Street, and made the acquaintance of artists and founders of MUD Duncan Grant, and Derek Wells.
I’d gone along to the meeting to support the group and left as an exhibitor. ‘Just do it !’ was Duncan’s advice. So I did.
In 2017, I successfully submitted four oil pastel paintings for the very ﬁrst MUD artists exhibition at the Blake Gallery, Woodville Halls, Gravesend, Kent.
I continued to produce work in oil sticks and to exhibit work in acrylics. I was also developing a penchant for Sharpies and brush markers. This led to my #sharpieworx project.
In the spring of 2019, my work was progressing to more ﬁgurative and abstract ﬁelds. I took the bull by the horns and decided to submit to the 2019 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. I submitted an abstract acrylic called Brother Sun, which made the ﬁnal selection. I made the ﬁnals (!!) but didn’t make the hang. However, I was mighty proud of getting that far with what was essentially only the ﬁfth acrylic painting I had ever produced in my artistic endeavours.
Then in July of that same year I was struck by a hemorrhagic stroke, paralysed down my left side, and packaged oﬀ to a neurological rehab centre in Ashford, Kent. It was like a boot camp, but I quickly got with the programme and started to regain the use of my limbs.
My brain bleed aﬀected the creative part of my right lobe and I didn’t attempt to draw for a while. Then one day I got bored with staring at the white board in my room and drew an Italian looking lady on it in red marker.
‘Oooh who did that?’ the nurses all exclaimed. Phew I could still draw!
After three months I returned home and started producing a lot of erotic art. I had always drawn female nudes, but now there were men as well.
I got back into the swing of things and ordered a whole heap of paints and canvasses. I started to experiment with abstract form and expressionism. For once I was producing a lot more works in acrylics than pen.
I also started to concentrate on developing my Android Photography PhoneArt : #TinyEyeProject.
I have been exploring the medium of Phone Art for three years now. It is a new and accepted art form and I am totally absorbed by it.
My parameters are very strict:
Everything must be photographed, enhanced and edited entirely on my mobile phone
NO Macs or Photoshop, and
I trawl the Android world for free digital apps to manipulate my work with.
This has resulted in a catalogue of amazing images. It also resulted in a project featuring myself titled: A Persistence of Being. This is a series exploring female sexuality, its projections, and feminism.
I have recently also started another PhoneArt project featuring my friends titled: Pimp My Pals. This is a collaborative work, as I take existing photos from friends albums and ‘pimp’ them digitally. I am currently building this into a series as well, in the same style as my Persistence of Being project. Both are a hybrid of photographic and acrylic works, taken from the detail of the photographs.
I hope to have both these both ‘in the bag’ by Spring 2021, with a view to featuring them in solo exhibitions.
I am fascinated by how digital media pervades everything we do and dictates how we look, behave and perceive ourselves. We have essentially become ‘avatars’ or ‘parodies’ of ourselves. Social media platforms are becoming an extension of our personality and being.
Why sexuality? Surely it’s been done to death?
Sexuality has always been historically a very important component of art. There is the male and the female gaze. It features very strongly today across many social media platforms, with women unwittingly pushing back the margins of feminism, with their trout pouts and bum enhancements, twerking merrily as they display themselves as sexual objects.
In my project I explore this. I have used traditional poses, but also direct poses that are designed to make the viewer somewhat uncomfortable, such as in Kiss me Quick. It’s the ultimate feminist statement, in that as a woman I am taking charge of my sexuality. And indeed this has had that eﬀect on some male viewers, who have likened this picture to that of a gun ﬁghter and acknowledged it as somewhat challenging.
My stroke has deﬁnitely taken my work to another level. I know my brain injury has changed me in subtle ways and in the beginning, I felt like a part of me was missing. But it also took me to a diﬀerent viewpoint. I have expressed this through my art, and it has helped me work though it and discover who I am.
I can’t say I’m really inﬂuenced by any one particular artist. I have eclectic tastes in nearly everything. I don’t use life models except for myself, and I produce a lot of images directly from my head, with very little reference material.
I have been described as an ‘automatic artist’, in that during my creative process I make no preliminary marks or sketches. The same goes for my photographic work, I just shoot and see what comes out.
As an untrained artist, I enjoy being at liberty, devoid of boundaries or parameters. I have an experimental nature and noone can really tell me, ‘You can’t do that!’.
My work is very rarely planned unless I’m working to a brief, even then I will put on some sounds and let the muse take me.
My inspiration comes from many sources, Literally whatever makes my brain go pop!
Regardless of the Covid 19 virus, I managed to squeeze in three exhibitions this year, including at the prestigious Peter Pears Gallery in Aldeburgh, Suﬀolk, and despite suﬀering a badly pinned hip fracture.
So ﬁnally, why the accidental artist ?
Well….. had it not been for attending that ﬁrst public MUD meeting in 2017, meeting Duncan Grant and being told by him to, ‘Just do it!’ I would never have dreamed of exhibiting professionally and taking my art any further than a hobby to calm my anxious mind.
It was an act of fate, a leap of faith and sheer determination!!
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.’
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.
‘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.’
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’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.
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.’
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.
Unfortunately, my 20:20 vision didn’t extend to predicting COVID-19 and the devastating effect that is having on everyone.
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!
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/
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/
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
Those of you that know me or who have been following me here or on social media, know that my day job (or more often my night job) is in construction on the roads. This involves a lot of time sitting in my van waiting for things to happen, and during that time, I doodle. I also doodle when I’m watching TV or listening to music. My Small Towns , for example start from a horizon line and I build out from that. In other ink drawings I’ll start with a ‘object’, say a mushroom or a shell, and expand the picture from there, never really knowing how the picture will turn out until it is finished.
Chatham-based artist Luna Zsigo describes doodling as a kind of ‘automatic drawing’. This is an approach to art that she, and many other artists before her have used as a starting point or creative stimulus for their art.
The key principle of automatic art is that the artist starts work with no preconceived idea of what the finished product will look like. Rather, the final artwork is inspired by dreams or emerges from the subconscious. The surrealists famously borrowed Sigmund Freud’s automatic drawing and writing techniques, which he used as psychoanalytic tools, to stimulate their art. They believed that creativity from deep within the subconscious was more powerful and authentic than that arising from conscious thought. They were also interested in dreams as expressions of unconscious feelings and desires.
MoMa (New York) cites the work of French artist of Andre Masson (1896-1987) as examples of this approach to art.
[Masson] began automatic drawings with no preconceived subject or composition in mind. Like a medium channelling a spirit, he let his pen travel rapidly across the paper without conscious control. He soon found hints of images—fragmented bodies and objects—emerging from the abstract, lacelike web of pen marks. At times Masson elaborated on these with conscious changes or additions, but he left the traces of the rapidly drawn ink mostly intact.
After many years travelling and raising her family, Luna trained, as a mature student, in Art and Design at University for the Creative Arts in Rochester (whose alumni include Zandra Rhodes, Tracy Emin and Karen Millen). After graduating, Luna worked for eight years supporting students with disabilities to complete their creative studies. She now works as a freelance artist and has been re-employed by the university’s outreach department as a creative workshop tutor.
After leaving Art School, Luna’s early work focused on traditional portraiture, layering oil paint and glazes. ‘I’d always seen myself as a portrait painter and after college I went back to my comfort zone,’ she remembers. ‘I felt that I needed to prove to myself that I could still paint.’
While studying at University, Luna was inspired the glass work of Daniela Schoenbaechler. https://danielaschoenbaechler.com/work She began painting quick acrylic portraits on acetate, fixing them to windows and photographing them against the dark skies. ‘Through this experimentation I found, interesting things beginning to happen in the negative space, where there was no paint,’ she explains. ‘Things would emerge, images I wasn’t expecting. It was as if I was looking beyond the physical self and into the emotional being, between the two worlds – it fascinated me then, and still does today.’
For a while after her studies, Luna continued painting portraits using traditional methods, but she felt constrained. She found she was painting the kind of art that people might want to display on their walls, rather than using her art to express herself. However, through discussions with a fellow artist, that changed. Luna realised that she could work differently, putting all of herself into her art. ‘These conversations gave me permission to express myself fully through making a mark – just putting my pencil on the paper and letting it move and having no idea where it was going to go or what it was doing,’ she explains. ‘My partner, showed me a video about automatic drawing, featuring a comic book artist called Moebius. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Giraud Moebius used it as a discipline in his work. I hadn’t heard of automatic drawing until then, but I realised that that was what I was doing.’
Years previously, Luna had been fascinated by an artist and mystic called Hilma af Klint https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hilma_af_Klint whose bold, colourful abstract paintings (1906-1915, but not exhibited until 1985, 50 years after her death) were generated through a process of automatic painting as part of her spiritual practice, and represented direct communication with the ‘divine’.
The pictures were painted directly through me, without any preliminary drawings, and with great force. I had no idea what the paintings were supposed to depict; nevertheless I worked swiftly and surely, without changing a single brush stroke – Hilma af Klint
‘Klint’s work stayed with me and I was really inspired by it,’ Luna recalls. ‘Throughout my life, I think I’ve learned to bury my difficult emotions – anger, hatred, jealousy, anxiety – but today if I am experiencing a difficult emotion and I don’t know what to do with it, I will just let the pencil move and as it moves I will just, very intuitively, go to the paints or the medium that I want to use and then all of a sudden, in front of me, I see things in the piece, the work starts to communicate with me, to tell a story.’
‘I believe that we all come from creation, therefore we must be creative and it is only the intellectual mind that gets in the way of that,’ she continues. ‘So if I allow the drawing just to form, with no expectation of what I’m going to draw, it’s a real freedom and I’m able to understand my own journey and express myself.’
Recently, Luna has tried to let go of everything she was taught about artistic technique to move completely into this new way of painting. ‘I wasn’t sure how it would be received by the public,’ she says. ‘But I was delighted to sell 20 paintings at a recent exhibition, so it seems that people connect to the work and it has some value.’
Luna’s automatic drawings have different starting points. She still paints portraits but rather than focusing on a subject in front of her, or a photograph, she works from a remembered image, memories of the person, and the emotions associated with those memories. She draws a continuous line, with her eyes shut, to ‘bring the person through’. She also sometimes paints to music, allowing her hand to respond to the sounds she hears to form the final piece.
Luna recently collaborated with musician Terry Lane on his soundscape The closer we are to dying. ‘Some of Terry’s soundscapes were to do with war and through my automatic drawings I found myself going to a very dark places, not only visually but inside myself,’ Luna remembers. ‘I wondered what would happen if I repeated the same process with other types of music.’
Where automatic art tells a story of an emotional journey, Luna has coined the name ‘selfscape’. ‘It is a selfscape because it is a painting of my emotional landscape,’ she explains. ‘There was an initial thought behind the image on the left. When you are really frightened of doing something, there is a door. But then you push through that door and five other doors open. I feel that has been my journey, pushing through anxiety and self-doubt. As I do that, I move from dark to light, from anxiety to bliss and freedom. I push one door open and new doors appear, new opportunities arise, and so it goes on.’
Looking at the final painting, I said to Luna, ‘The journey from dark to light is powerful – but where are the doors?’
‘It was supposed to be doors but it ended up looking like a bridge!’ Luna laughs. ‘It doesn’t matter though, because it is a journey of self-discovery and you can name the artwork afterwards.’
Explore and Draw has well over one hundred participants and Luna is taking the group with her on a journey of self-discovery to explore their creativity through experimentation with materials and processes, such as automatic drawing. ‘I will continue to use still life at some events as it is a fantastic tool to show people technique, such as mapping and measuring, colour theory and composition,’ she explains. ‘It is also a mindful activity. It helps people to relax, to learn to draw what is in front of them, to have fun and make friends. But I’m also interested in giving people the freedom to explore and to begin to put the whole of themselves into their art.’
I am always really conscious of the power of these emotions though, because working in this way has been such a painful process for me,’ she reflects. ‘So I’m always careful to make these days fun and to create a safe space. And people are enjoying the process and find it fascinating.’
They group started their foray into the unconscious by painting with materials where they had less control than they would normally have with traditional brushwork. ‘We used Brusho crystal watercolour paints which explode on the paper like fireworks and you can find images in those marks,’ Luna explains. They then went on to paint with music, as Luna had done – she hired a string quartet to play while the group drew. Next year she is planning an automatic drawing workshop around vibration and sound, featuring a gong.’
‘Life isn’t easy,’ Luna concludes. ‘Everyone has light and darkness in them and we all go through trauma at some point in our lives, so these paintings talk to people on lots of different levels. I can look at a painting and appreciate the artist’s technical ability but if I see a picture that stirs my emotion, that’s the picture I will remember. That’s the picture I want to buy.’
If you would like to hear from Luna herself, she is giving a public talk entitled Selfscapes for the Rochester and West Kent Art Society at Sun Pier House in Medway on 15th January 2020 from 7-9.30pm.
When I was a lad, before I went to college, and again during the 80s, I used to play rugby for Vigo RFC https://www.pitchero.com/clubs/vigorfc. I started out playing on the wing and then moved forward as I got older and slower.
Well, this year marks the Club’s 50th anniversary and to celebrate that they’ve brought out a limited edition book, charting the history of the club, edited by Trevor Newnham. I was delighted to be asked if I’d do some artwork for the book, based on old photographs. You can see one drawing on the cover, and three others inside.
The club, originally based at the Vigo Inn, near Fairseat in Kent, on the top of the North Downs, has an interesting history. This brief account is based on information from the 50th anniversary book and from Trevor’s article for the Stansted and Fairseat History Society https://stanstedhistory.org/groups-vigo-rfc/ Both contain some fascinating old images.
Rugby wasn’t always the game of choice at The Vigo Inn, formerly called The Upper Drover. Once upon a time, punters used to play ‘daddlums’ a form of table skittles. But everything changed one Sunday lunchtime in 1968 when a group of well-oiled local rugby players – regulars at the pub – came up with the idea that the field at the back of the pub would make a pretty good rugby pitch, and as such would offer ‘an ideal opportunity to combine beer and fitness’. Despite the field in question being ‘none too flat’ and more than somewhat muddy, their beer fuelled vision gradually turned into a plan. There were meetings, a committee and, in 1969, with telegraph poles as goalposts and a disused chicken shed to change in, Vigo RFC was founded. Lillian Ashwell, the pub’s landlady was elected as President – probably the first woman President of a rugby club in England.
A couple of players from nearby Gravesend RFC were persuaded to provide some coaching – a necessary first step as many of the prospective players had never touched a rugby ball before. But the team was enthusiastic and willing to learn and most players were soon judged to have ‘mastered basic rugby techniques’ and despite being ‘a little raw in one or two specialist positions, such as hooker’ were ready for fixtures with B teams from other clubs. In their first serious match, away to Deal in 1969, Vigo RFC recorded a ‘resounding’ 3-1 victory.
As the rugby became more serious, the club moved several times. Ten years on, it settled in current home at Swanswood in Harvel, not far fromthe original Vigo Inn. A club member who was also a builder, supervised the construction of a clubhouse, with the players acting as labourers. And, over the years, through a number of fundraising initiatives, the clubhouse was improved and floodlights were installed.
Since then, the club has gone from strength to strength. It now fields four adult teams, a juniors team, and two junior mini-rugby teams.
As Trevor Newnham writes:
‘From the grassiest (and muddiest) of grassroots, the Club – Vigo RFC – came into being. A pub side at heart, a determination to be independent of any brewer, professionalism, and a club that would offer a warm home to anyone who loves this great game.’
The 50th Anniversary Book: Vigo Rugby Football Club 1969-2019 is available now from the club at a cost of £10.
The originals of my drawings for the book and digital prints are available on my website. Just follow the links below:
Well, what a day. Today I finally got to see the fabrics created from my winning #LibertyOpenCall design for sale on the shelves of Liberty! It was the first time seeing them for real. We only saw the strike offs when we visited the factory in Milan. The fabrics looks fantastic, brilliant quality and great colours. I have three colourway of one design ‘Duncan Grant’ on Tana Lawn and three of a second design ‘Small Town’ on silk.
To mark the launch, the store was decorated with panels of our fabrics and information about each of the four winners all the way up the stairs and around the Haberdashery Department.
We were treated to breakfast with the design and sales team and then signed copies of our original designs, which will go into the famous Liberty archive.
We each received 5metres of one of our fabrics – I chose the one closest to my original design in terms of colour, and then I couldn’t resist buying a metre of each of the others.
As one part of the journey ends, another begins. We’ll be kept informed of how our fabrics are used. So if, say, a fashion house uses one of our designs of fabrics for a garment in their 2020 season collections, Liberty will tell us and will keep our names with the designs as far as they can.
Will let you know about any developments on here. Thanks to everyone who has encouraged me, voted for me and supported me so far. One of you is getting a pair of designer boxers. You know who you are!
Here are the links to my fabrics on the Liberty website: