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:
Liberty have just sent through these photos from our visit to the factory, near Milan. Great shots of the commercial print process on a massive scale…
And here we are – me and the other three winners – with the print samples (strike-offs) that the design team had prepared so the Liberty buyers could make their selection of colourways for production. Chosen designs will be revealed at the launch at the Liberty store on 8th May 2019.
I wasn’t going to post again until after my visit to the Liberty factory in Italy, later this month but I wanted to share these short ‘soundscapes’ with you. They were made by talented Carlisle-based singer, songwriter and musician, Ian Kirton, using my pictures and his original music.
Ian played in numerous bands before developing an interest in music production. He now has over 10 years experience writing and recording music for film, television and video. Some of his tracks are available to license at https://www.audiosparx.com/IanKirton Links to the particular tracks featured on these videos are given below.
Ian also accepts original music commissions. If you think he can help you with your project you can contact him at email@example.com
In September 2018, Liberty London, the designer department store, invited artists and designers to upload images of their work to Instagram using #LibertyOpenCall to compete for the chance to have that design used in Liberty fabrics. There were over 5,000 entries and, amazingly, I was selected as one of the four winners. You can see my design and those of the other winners here
Earlier this month I was invited, along with the other winners to visit the iconic Liberty Store in London’s Regent Street to view the Liberty archive and work with Liberty designers to turn our images into fabric designs, to be featured in the Liberty summer collection 2019.
We had a great day. It was amazing how they can take bits of the design and make it work for different products. Liberty will print several test prints from each winner’s design and then their buyers will choose at least one from each artist to develop into Liberty fabric. Really exciting!
The next stage is a visit, later this month, to the Liberty fabric mill, near Milan, to watch our designs transformed into fabric.