Posted on 2 Comments

SILTings: Filaments Art Collective on LV21

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exhibiting aboard LV21 for SILTings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth Burman

Elizabeth Burman, artist
Elizabeth Burman

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth Burman: Shrimp chandelier
Elizabeth Burman: Shrimp chandelier

 

 

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

Karen Crosby

Karen Crosby, artist, Filaments
Karen Crosby

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosie James

Rosie James, artist, Filaments
Rosie James

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosie James: The Power of Stitch

Olive Sutherland aboard a Bawley Boat

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

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

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

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

Eileen Sutherland aboard a Bawley Boat

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

Ruth Payne

Ruth Payne, artist, Filaments
Ruth Payne

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

There are 6 drawings of diatoms on circular mirrors.

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

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

There are also 6 drawings on plaster.

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

Ruth Payne: Campylodisca

Ruth Payne: Campylodisca

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

Ruth Payne: House
Ruth Payne: House

 

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

 

Ruth Payne: Pale Cuboid
Ruth Payne: Pale Cuboid

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

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

 

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

Linda Simon

Linda Simon
Linda Simon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Linda Simon: No Entry
Linda Simon: No Entry

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

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

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

CLICK TO EXPAND THE VIDEO

Further information

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

Pre-booking is recommended as places are very limited.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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


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

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

 

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Posted on 1 Comment

SILTings: The Trail of the Blue Porcupine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The mysterious blue porcupine

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

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

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

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

 

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

This earlier Coat of Arms has been described as:

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

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

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

Mosaic in Gravesend market

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

LV21
LV21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Blue Porcupine Festival

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Information

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

The Trail of the Blue Porcupine

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

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

Follow the Blue Porcupine Instagram: @theblueporcupine

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

James M’Kay

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

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

Sarah Sparkes 

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

Instagram: @thesarahsparkes

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Posted on Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anne Langford: Pull Up A Chair
Anne Langford

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

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

Posted on 3 Comments

Luna Zsigo: Capturing emotional landscapes

Visit my gallery

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.

Andre Masson automatic drawing
MoMA Andre Masson: Automatic drawing

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.

Various forms of automatic art were also developed by other artists, e.g. Max Ernst  (surrealist collage, frottagegrattage) and Joan Miro. Later automatism played some part in the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock and others. Today it continues to inspire artists and over the past year has been a major influence for the artwork of Luna Zsigo.

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.’

Luna Zsigo self-expression
Luna Zsigo: Self-expression through art

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

Luna Zsigo: Primal Scream
Luna Zsigo: Primal Scream

‘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 Zsigo: Grandad portrait automatic drawing
Luna Zsigo: Grandad

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 Zsigo: Collaboration with Terry Lane 'The closer we are to death'
Luna Zsigo; Collaboration with Terry Lane

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.’

Luna Zsigo: Painting to classical music
Luna Zsigo: Painting to classical music

Inspired by the synesthesia artists, Wassily Kandinsky https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/wassily-kandinsky-1382, Roy De Maistre https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/roy-de-maistre-1556, and Melissa McCracken https://mymodernmet.com/melissa-mccracken-synethesia-paintings/ who paints the ‘shape’ of music, Luna has produced pieces inspired by local musicians. ‘I went to see the City of Rochester Symphony Orchestra and I produced 4 or 5 drawings from that,’ she recalls. ‘They became paintings, and I couldn’t believe the imagery I got from that music.’

Luna Zsigo selfscape emotional journey
Luna Zsigo: Selfscape

 

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.’

Luna Zsigo: Explore and draw
Explore and draw

In 2017, Luna founded Explore and Draw https://www.lunazsigo.com/explore-and-draw/ an art group that  welcomes artists of all abilities to come together to create art. By collaborating with local businesses and heritage sites, Luna has facilitated workshops in stunning and interesting locations around Kent. Regular venues include Rochester Cathedral https://www.rochestercathedral.org/, Fort Luton https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Luton The Copper Rivet Distillery https://www.copperrivetdistillery.com/ The Cheese Room https://www.thecheeseroomrochester.co.uk/ As part of a Meet the artist events, where the group collaborates with and learns from other artists across artistic disciplines and boundaries, I led a workshop earlier this year on LV21, on the Thames, in Gravesend. https://duncangrantartist.com/2019/03/20/drawing-inspiration-from-the-thames/.

Luna Zsigo: Guilt 3
Luna Zsigo: Guilt 3

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.’

Luna Zsigo: Thoughts
Thoughts

‘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.

Tickets are also now available for the next Explore and draw – Lunar event at Rochester Cathedral in February 2020. The workshop will explore the ‘Museum of the Moon’ installation https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/whats-on/rochester/rochester-cathedral/explore/2020-02-19/10:30/t-jpzxgd And there are lots of other exciting events planned for 2020. More details will be announced on Luna’s website and Facebook page soon:
https://www.lunazsigo.com
https://www.facebook.com/exploreanddrawmedway/

You can also follow Luna on Instagram: artist.luna

Posted on Leave a comment

Lino print workshop and a big bike

Visit my gallery

I’ve been working on the roads pretty much full time over the last few weeks so not much time for doing art or blogging about it. So it was really good yesterday, to kick back with a few others for a day of lino cutting at St. Andrew’s Arts Centre in Gravesend http://www.graveshamarts.co.uk/.  It was a mixed group in terms of previous lino cutting experience but, as you can see from the pictures below (with thanks to Mandy Wooding and Amanda Groom Davies) everyone had got the hang of it – with minimal blood letting – and everyone produced some great work by the end of the day.  

Was good also to see ‘Penny Les’ New who dropped in on his massive bike, pictured here outside St Andrew’s and the magnificent LV21 https://lv21.co.uk/

 

If there’s enough interest I’d love to run another workshop soon and am happy to come and work with groups if anyone would like me to. Just contact me via the website. If you haven’t already subscribed to my website, please do, then you’ll get regular updates of forthcoming events. Just put your email in the subscription box and click on the link it sends. You won’t get bombarded with stuff, I promise.

In the meantime, here is an earlier blog I wrote about lino cutting. https://duncangrantartist.com/2019/06/16/what-a-relief-a-blog-about-lino-cutting/  If the summer holidays are beginning to drag maybe try a bit of Dry Point with the kids to get them started. https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=you+tube+dry+point+polystyrene+print&view=detail&mid=1AF60B09C714A34E43DF1AF60B09C714A34E43DF&FORM=VIRE

Enjoy the pictures from yesterday. And if you are interested in seeing more of my limited edition relief print work, you can find them all here https://duncangrantartist.com/product-category/prints/lino-cut-prints/

Amanda Groom Davies
Amanda Groom Davies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amana Groom Davies
Mandy Wooding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on 2 Comments

Drawing inspiration from the Thames

Visit my gallery

A beautiful sunny day with a Force 9 gale battering the prom seemed like the perfect backdrop for a nautical themed Explore and Draw session on the magnificent, retired lightship Light Vessel 21 – LV21 now moored at St Andrew’s Quay in Gravesend, Kent.

I was booked to give an introductory talk to the artists and after that, taking care not to be blown overboard, we set off to explore the ship in search of inspiration for our drawings .

LV 21 was acquired in 2009 by Päivi Seppälä and Gary Weston who have converted the 400m, steel-hulled ship into a thriving cultural and heritage centre. https://lv21.co.uk/ It was the last lightship to be built by Dartmouth-based Philip and Son, and spent most of its service off the Kent coast on the Varne, East Goodwin and Channel stations. Derek Grieve, the last Master of the lightship, explains what daily life was like for the crew on board. website https://lv21.co.uk/about/history-of-lv21/crew-stories/

In 1981, LV21 survived a collision with another ship, the Ore Meteor, which was being towed by a tug. Crew member Brian Packham gives a fascinating account of the event. https://lv21.co.uk/about/history-of-lv21/collision-at-the-varne/

The Thames has inspired artists for centuries. Many people will be familiar with J.M.W. Turner’s work but you may not have heard of The Wapping Group of Artists, founded in 1946, who met initially to record the busy life of London’s dockland and, since then, have painted the Thames and the land either side of it. http://thewappinggroupofartists.co.uk/

Being born and bred in Gravesend, the river hasalways been part of my life and, inevitably, its history and childhood memories have found their way into my art.

This limited edition lino cut shows the Chapman Lighthouse, which stood off the coast of Canvey Island in the Thames Estuary from 1851 to 1957, warning sailors away from the mud flats. It featured in Chapter 1 of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. https://duncangrantartist.com/product/chapman-light/

The digital print (below right) depicts Lower Hope, a stretch of the tidal Thames, below Gravesend, near the Ship and Lobster pub.  The picture, which was originaly an acrylic painting, is about remembering my dad. We would go walking down by the sea wall when I was a kid. The background is a doodle of elements from my life. I am the small figure in the middle. I guess I am walking on my own these days.  http://duncangrantartist.com/product/ac364-print/

 

This final image, also a digital print from an acrylic painting, is a view of the Thames from Gravesend High Street. Visitors to Gravesend are often amazed to see 7-storey cruise ships appearing from behind the buildings at the end of the road. http://duncangrantartist.com/product/to-the-river-print/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The variety offered by Thames and LV21 did not disappoint the Explore and Draw artists. Encouraged by workshop leader and artist Luna Zsigo, they captured their surroundings in very different ways – from detailed drawings of ropes, to windswept landscapes framed by the lightship’s portholes. My LV21 inspired drawing is at the top of this post.

 

Everyone is welcome at Explore and Draw sessions – from absolute beginners to more experienced artists. The atmosphere is relaxed, friendly and non-judgemental…oh, and the cake is to die for!

If you are interested in joining or attending other cultural events on board L21 or organised by Päivi and Gary, visit the website: https://lv21.co.uk/events/ 
Explore and Draw workshop photographs by Neil Thorne Photography – 07715 681855

Finally, talented musician Ian Kirton has set some of my Thames-related work to one of his original compositions ‘Simplicity’. See the You Tube link below.

A licence to use Ian Kirton’s track ‘Simplicity’ can be purchased here: https://www.productiontrax.com/royalty-free-music/249644

All the pictures featured are available to buy on this website, just search for the title in the Gallery.