So shortly we are off to the Shetlands, to Scalloway and to The Booth. For a month we will be living and working there and it is always tricky on such an expedition deciding what to take by way of materials. You don’t want to be too prescriptive on the one hand but properly equipped on the other. Especially so as material supplies may be tricky there (though of course it might be much easier than I’m imagining). Nonetheless I have drafted a sort of plan! Some time back I was rather taken by a small clutch of Knitting Sheaths that reside in the museum there – I’m hoping to see them during our stay.
And I’ve riffed on them over the past few months in photoshop…so I have at least the beginning of imagery that hopefully relates to my Wonky Geometry. Then a trip to the Ashmolean a while back with my pal Simon to see the wonderful Raphael drawing show had us wandering through the room of Japanese scrolls – kakejuki…brilliant! Just the thing for a trip away…paper based and roll em’ up to transport back easily.
I’m wondering exactly what may be the unintended consequences of working from my mashups of the photos I take in preparation for my series Playground of the Midlands. Perhaps it should have occurred to me a lot earlier. After all I started playing around with photographic source imagery back in the 1990’s! But in all honesty I’d not really thought it through much until earlier in the week. Stepping back from one of the canvases the choices of elements were shockingly clear – yes – you could see what it was! Usually my mashing up, or colour choices or plain cackhandedness takes care of any original referent.
One of my many painting heroes is Thomas Nozkowski. I like his clearheaded and unfussy approach to the business of making a picture and the plain commonsense of much he says about it. He is rightly admired for his certainty that everything he does is grounded in real world experience. You get a really honest insight into his process from these videos made by his son – here’s the other – where he expands on the idea of how the work evolves. I guess one of my reasons for liking his work is my similar idea of how to construct a picture. In a 2015 catalogue he talks of his work becoming “more open ended. That’s to say initially I prided myself on sticking close to my original source material…but I’m much more interested in all the evocations and echoes and implications…so instead of a tight little knot, I think it’s now something that’s a bit more open for interpretation”. I’m wondering whether or not I may allow some movement in the other direction – or should I – as Thomas suggests – work harder at the taking out rather than the letting in?
So that’s one conundrum going around my head (where a gummed up ear is making it a rather lonely and frustrating place right now). Another that’s been bugging me for a while is the point of all this anyway. I mean doing what I’m doing right now…’social media’ that as David Byrne recently suggested may actually do as much harm as good. After all if there’s a point to painting it has to be in substantial part the engagement with the actual object. It’s not lost on me that both the bodies of work I’m particularly focused on right now have no obvious outlets in the real world – and that is equally frustrating too. Maybe the memo to self is to start searching for opportunities to get the work out there…though after I have resolved it all!
whatever that is…I guess that was our day…so much so that mid afternoon trapped in a road diversion scenario in the far east of Leicestershire Simon and myself decided we had properly topped up our ‘rural reserves’ for a bit. So we resolved to cool it a bit on the Painting The Town Red project (not least as I’m getting seriously behind on the paintings). Besides it was perishing out there.
I’ve tried before explaining the rationale behind these rural excursions but its hard to explain what I’m driving at. Its the quirky visual incidents that meld together with other impressions, feelings, thoughts and ideas that ‘inform’ the image that results and these elements can, most often are, the base material and might easily be viewed as just ‘normal’. Though, as here in the churchyard at Eastwell, this suggests that in certain contexts things can be quite unusual in some ways. I’m assuming its a bug hotel but why such a thing is necessary here in such a rural setting I can’t particularly imagine.
and there they are…the Marquis of Waterford and his pals up to ‘high jinks’ in the 19th century in the town of Melton Mowbray. Literally painting the town’s buildings (and apparently one of the toll keepers) in red. Yes…following on the heels of From The Earth Wealth a few years back and last years Playground of the Midlands it is onto the Borough of Melton in what has become a grand projet to visit, photograph and produce a painting for every place listed in a guide to each borough or district of Leicestershire. As with Playground I’m being accompanied by my friend Simon and once again I’ll refer you to his posts for the quality photographic images – my excuse for the low grade ‘snaps’ is my focus on using (and abusing) them to make photoshopped collages that serve as the springboard for the canvases. So our first trip out takes us out to Welby (hardly a place at all…the local Manor owner apparently shipped out the locals back in the day!) but the church still exists…although we had a few interesting moments locating it!
Then onto the somewhat larger village of Scalford, that was pleasant enough but lacked much liveliness although as always there were several interesting and novel visual ‘tags’ to take in. Enough at least to enable me to cobble together a collage that can spur on the painting process.
Having strolled around the village (larger than it might appear from the main road that runs through it, as has been the case with quite a few) we decide to move on to the lunch venue. I’ve described before how these are chosen – by zooming in on Google to the relevant area till the first knife & fork symbol appears – but this time I omitted to check that the Rose & Crown in Hose actually opens for lunch and it didn’t!
So we double back into Long Clawson the last of our quests on this first trip out. We spot a fella appearing to enter the Crown & Plough the pub in its centre…so start hot footing towards the entrance – only for said fella to pass us saying it too is closed! Now glum chums we get back in the car grumbling about what is wrong with these inns only to turn the bend and spot the On The Sands cafe & deli. Hooray! lunch is available and very good too. So hardly painting the town red…more the surrounding countryside a delicate light shade of pink…or it might be except its January in England
It’s the last trip for the Playground of the Midlands project that started the day in Syston before moving onto Seagrave and lastly Walton on the Wolds (though my estimable partner in crime ducked out of this one). Some might think that we were fairly eccentric in this endeavour though it doesn’t seem to have caused too many raised eyebrows as we, two loud, large, late middle aged, men with cameras, cruised about the Charnwood borough (other than crashing the Thurmaston Parish Church Coffee morning a couple weeks back).
Anyway we are done now. And of course there have been several of these signs dotted about the borough. They have a certain charm and usually feature fairly bland and obvious imagery as above…but hang on a minute…whats that chap doing on the right hand panel above?
I think we should be told…why its Montague ‘Bertie’ Bird. The sometime Vicar of the parish who around the turn of the twentieth century developed (excuse the pun) a passion for photography and…a habit of doctoring his images! Well that is eccentric!
As Simon says…its a hard business but we have been chosen (or at least we self selected). And today I spent the first forty five minutes saying I’d never been here before…until we chanced across this charming scene from King Lear (appropriately in a lake of the same name – well gravel pit) when it became clear that many moons ago (the 80’s) I had passed this way once before…just as the artist was creating the work…he was a young sculptor – David Hunter – from Leicester and he had the opportunity to make a piece on this site…back then a pretty rough and ready location.
The construction of the piece was – I recall – quite a challenge for David, fresh out of college, and a pretty stiff learning curve. It was cold and very wet the day I visited but he persisted and it was good to see that the work has stood up to the test of time pretty well.
We were of course on our Playground Of The Midlands jaunt…the project to mark every entry in the early 80’s Charnwood Borough Guide. Today we took in Birstall, Thurcaston & Wanlip though in truth we pretty much kept to the Watermead Country Park that the three bound on the north side of Leicester. It made a refreshing change to take in plenty of waterside and countryside for a change and on reflection seemed quite appropriate overall. Not least as the River Soar is, as my pal Simon pointed out, the ‘backbone’ of the Borough running from just south of my village Kegworth, above the north boundary, and leaving it to meander into Leicester proper to the south. Whatever our excuse it made for a good walk topped off on our return to The White Horse in Birstall for a damn good pub lunch!
Yesterday was good, really good actually, beautiful weather – sunny and warm but with that slight cooling autumnal breeze – the makes England, especially that rural part of England that is the Playground of the Midlands such a good place to be stirring the creative juices. If you want (and why not?) some good images of our travels head over to the site of my pal and partner in crime. I’ve long since given up on slogging it out with him on the photo front – my images are simply fodder for the paintings, not least as I bastardise them extensively before using them as the equally loose basis for the paintings themselves (see below!).
Though my pal’s blog points up a particular problem with the project – that villages like Swithland present rather few points of incident for novel creative interventions. Indeed I was reduced in that location to snapping planning applications appended to the telegraph poles…
And this got me to thinking today. I, with most of my family, was overjoyed that, despite the awful, nasty vilification from Labour MPs, the whole UK media and a loud but mercifully modest (and utterly misguided) section of the membership, got our Leader re-elected. This after a poisonous and wholly unnecessary contest that did nothing but deflect us from the vital task of defeating the awful, corrosive and divisive Tory government hellbent in taking us back to Victorian times.
As we strolled along the road, passing the homes that (entry level 500k plus) lined these leafy glades, it is easy to think that the Tory way is set in England forever (and some of my Labour friends think our decision to elect a genuinely left Leader seals the deal). But these places are ‘true blue’ and of course will never elect a decent fair-minded and compassionate government. Greedy, selfish and narrow-minded bigotry seeps out of a fair few driveways (apologies to those thereabouts that don’t see it that way, I’ve met quite a number over the years!). But nonetheless the fight for a properly fair and decent society has always been fought on a thin sliver of the electorate (usually no more than 500k) whose interest in politics is marginal at best and most of whom take little or no interest in the day to day knockabout of the political process. Their votes are always up for grabs and more often than not go to the party that seems least likely to upset the applecart (and its usually the case that one side loses rather than that the appeal of the others wins).
And so (with my first stab at the likely image for Shepshed from my project as my headline image) I’m thinking: why have so many of us decided to back a properly left of centre leader for our party (now apparently the biggest left of centre political party in Western Europe)?? Maybe, just maybe, the really radical and constructive alternative to a Tory government (whose sole purpose is to protect the interests of the few over the many) can succeed if it sticks together and keeps true to its principles. Not least as whole swathes of middle England (the Shepshed’s rather than the Swithland’s) sink deeper into despair to shore up the super wealthy and the penny begins to drop that it just ain’t working for them. We can only hope.