I am just back from seeing an exhibition called 'Mixing it Up. Painting Today' at the Hayward Gallery on London's South Bank. I tought it would be interesting to see what is happening in painting at the moment. Reports of the death of easel painting are always premature and this exhibition was indeed full of life, with a wide range of artists and subject matter - mostly narrative, imaginative, and often political.
Half way through I was surprised to stumble upon what looked like some kind of stained glass mounted in the concrete exterior wall. I could see vivid colour and translucency and it definitely wasn't painting, which was interesting, given the theme of the exhibition. On closer inspection I could see it wasn't glass, either.
This is the work of Samara Scott, who makes 'paintings' using household liquids such as cooking oil and shampoo and discarded objects, captured between sheets of Plexiglass.
Aesthetically rich and pleasing to the senses, this piece, called 'Shannon Ridge' contains fabric softener, ink, plastic, oil, and electrical cables. What you might call mixed media meets objets trouves.
Scott says she finds discarded materials poetic. The solid materials settle over time, so the final composition is partially accidental. She describes her work as 'almost a total resistance' to painting: something that she similutaneously tries to avoid and that is always hovering. To the artist, these works are 'elixirs', 'broths', 'potions of this era'.
Her inclusion in a survey of Painting Today is interesting, but with my interest in translucency, it was one of my highlights of the show.
In the exhibition commentary there was no mention of any kind of environmental comment or protest. As I travelled home I reflected that around here in Oxfordshire it might be more authentic to incorporate a little horse dropping, some wheat chaff, rotting apples and the odd lost face mask.
Here is a slideshow showing the latest progress in making the Swimmer. Experiments with the lightbox are ongoing, but we are working towards installation.
You may remember that last year during Lockdown One, I wrote a sequence of poems called 'Breathe', which I then illustrated to create a book. For one of the poems, 'Swim', I made made a whole sequence of images, always trying to get closer to the experience of resurfacing through the water back to breathing air.
As I said in my blog (June 2020) some of these ideas started moving sideways into sketches for glass. Some seemed more likely to succeed than others, but I have learned to keep everything, just in case.
A friend expressed an interest in these ideas for glass, as she is also a keen swimmer and loves the experience of looking up at the light, from under the water. Once she had moved house and created a new room on the back, the stage was set - I was invited to create a design for a stained glass panel, not for the window (they are all folding doors), but for the wall. I managed to visit, with all the doors thrown open for ventilation in these strange times, to firm up the idea: we decided to illuminate the glass from behind, by creating a light box of about 50 by 50 cm. So I set to work, revisiting the earlier sketches, but coming at it afresh.
I wanted to capture the movement of the swimmer and the water and the sense of the boundary between water and air. I was happy to have it unclear as to whether she is dropping down into the water or rising up out of it.
I was able to show Judith some designs and a selection of glass and below is the chosen design, with instructions from Judith not to make her look as if she is wearing a 'tankini'! The sky, with its radiating lines, seems slightly art deco, which suits the house. It was built in the 1930's in Florence Park, Oxford, for workers at Morris Motors in Cowley.
Now I can move on to cutting the glass and starting the making process - I will keep you posted!
If you are interested in the poetry book, please take a look here.
A walk on the first evening of our holiday near Boscastle in North Cornwall brought an unexpected bitter sweet waft of Thomas Hardy, who is of course normally associated with Dorset. As we ascended a steep valley, there were the four pinnacles of the square tower of St Juliot Church peeping above the windswept hedges.
On entering it struck me as a (disappointingly) Victorian interior, but clearly there among the plain windows was something special: a memorial window for Thomas Hardy, full of delicate engraving by Simon Whistler.
The window celebrates Hardy's association with the area of Cornwall he came to in 1870 as a young architect sent to oversee the restoration of the ruined church of St Juliots. Architecturally, it is a ‘heavy’ resporation as so little of the ancient building could be reused that only birds and bats were enjoying it.
For Hardy it was a deeply significant period of his life as the Rector’s daughter in law (and keen champion of the project) was Emma Gifford. Emma was to become his wife, and it was she who encouraged him to turn away from his architectural career and devote himself to his true vocation as a writer.
Whistler's sensitive imagery is full of the local landscape and references to the story of their courtship, including Emma on horseback on Beeny Cliff, with her hair flying in the wind.
Hardy drew on his experiences of the restoration of the church and meeting Emma in his novel, ‘A Pair of Blue Eyes’, and after her death, he published his poems of 1912-13, looking back at that time with love and regret.
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Walking from Cornbury towards Finstock, past the bull field, one fine day in May, I was faced with a sea of yellow oil seed rape. I love the little bowl-shape valley there and that day there was fast moving shower cloud, casting shadows moving across the field.
Thinking about it over the next few days, and looking at my photographs, I wanted to recreate not only the intensity of the colour, but the sense of space both across the land and across the sky, with clouds blowing towards and above me.
I haven't used pastels in a long time, but knowing I wanted real intensity of colour, I got out some oil pastels and made a quick sketch, seeing what marks I could make, and whether I could work in layers, colour above colour.
Encouraged, I went on to make a small, more finished drawing on pastel paper. As I worked I realised the yellow sits in a sea of green. I wanted to use a variety textures - blending in areas more blurred in the distance and using lively curly marks in the foreground.
Having recently had some rather frustrating struggles with acrylic paint, I found I was really enjoying using pastels, which I see as working with colour in stick form - in effect, drawing with colour. As a drawer, I am happy with some kind of mark-maker in my hand! When it comes to paint, I enjoy using watercolour and inks, but watercolour is not what you need for building up a picture in layers - it seems to me watercolour is all about capturing translucency and fleetingness, not solidity.
I decided to be bold and go big, this time working in chalk pastels, which are crumbly and can be used broadly in big sweeps, or finely. I have a good collection - one box of Sakura pastels goes right back to my childhood. I found a large sheet of Canson pastel paper in a greenish grey, and set to work, remembering to stop work and step back from the work to see what is really going on!
I enjoyed my few days immersed in that field (I even dreamt about it) and I feel I have captured something of the glow of that morning. I might even mount the final piece. But now I shall turn back to making stained glass refreshed, and ready for the next design.
I have been making good progress on my circular window. Here is a little slideshow.
Now that the panel is dry, I have delivered it to Teresa and Richard and I await the opportunity to see it in situ and lit up.
When Lockdown 1 ended and life opened up again (for a while) I was approached with an interesting proposition - creating a circular stained glass window, which can only be seen from the front of the outside. The client, Teresa, explained that she wanted something lovely to look at when she arrived home. The window sits in a gable which was once over the front entrance of the house when it was a bungalow. Nowadays the space within is just a low storage area off a bathroom.
Normally, of course, stained glass is viewed from the inside. I suggested that we would need to back light the window and I showed them a mock up involving a cake tin and some LED ribbon. As it turns out, Teresa's husband Richard is an engineer and he volunteered to create a circular lightbox - subsequently dubbed 'The Biscuit Tin'.
Teresa's initial suggestion for a design was plants, as she loves her garden, with the colour red to feature. I knew I needed to create something bold enough to be 'read' at a distance, and I wanted to use the circle in a dynamic way.
I started with design ideas based on ferns, but when we met again to look at the designs and the splendid metal Biscuit Box, with its rings of LEDs, we agreed we needed to adjust our ideas.The effect was a bit startling.
As soon as we put glass onto the light box it became apparent that an abstract design was going to work better - and I could see that with that amount of light I would be able to use gorgeous, deep colours.
So I went back to the drawing board and developed more designs. It struck me, as it has done before, that I can make designs which are quite effective, but not necessarily attractive, such as the top right hand design above which is based on the curl of a new fern leaf. It is slightly creepy! However, the basic vortex idea was firmly embedded in my mind.
I knew I wanted rich colours and textures and I gathered up a palette of glass, and worked out the colours, using both paint and pieces of glass on the lightbox. What the design signifies to me is the light coming out of the darkness, whether it is the initial act of creation ("Let There be Light!), or the light at the end of the dark tunnel we find ourselves in now.
Happily Teresa and Richard are happy to 'go abstract' and Teresa likes the sense of the sun at the centre. Given that she and I met in a yoga class, the piece could equally be called 'Salute to the Sun'!
In selecting the glass I have tried to achieve a balance of textured, wispy glass and plain pieces to provide contrast, and to make the fiery orange the centrepiece. Luckily I had stocked up on my favourites at Reading Stained Glass in February, including a beautiful piece of wispy blue and turquoise Bulls Eye glass . You can see me cutting it above. (The plaster on the finger is a badge of honour in this job.) The other star piece of glass is the wispy orange and red for the centre. Cutting it was nerve-wracking as it was my very last piece.
Happily, Teresa and Richard are happy to 'go abstract' and Teresa likes the sense of the sun at the centre. After a final check of the measurements of the window recess by Richard, I could make the cutline drawing and get cutting. Here it is on the Biscuit Tin.
Now for the leading... I'll have to ask my husband to make a bespoke jig to hold the work on the board. Luckily, he has developed a taste for woodwork.
As lockdown was lifted I was delighted to be asked to design and make a second arrow-slit window as a companion to 'Vase of Lilies' I made for a house in Charlbury last year (see my blog of of June 2019). The clients wanted a window with a family resemblance, and this created an interesting design challenge for me - not only the extreme narrow form again, but how to make something similar, but different. It is on the opposite side of the sitting room, with morning rather than evening light and again it would mask a not very inspiring side view of fences etc. (The room also has very attractive views over fields, trees and distant hills).
Should I design more flowers in a vase, but with a different colour scheme? Perhaps spring flowers in the morning window, as a companion to more autumnal colours in the first? Or use the same colours, with a contrasting design? I knew the clients were not keen on me using paint on the glass, so the design was all about the colour/texture and the lines of the leads. I was keen to reuse the method I use before of taking a narrow slice of a wider picture, which creates more impact and a degree of abstraction.
Three different designs emerged: a garden scene, a deep view from the rear of the house and finally, a more abstract design based on reflections. For this one I returned to photographs I took several years ago of daffodils reflected in my parents' pond.
The design based on the garden steps going up through the border was my favourite for this project and I was very pleased that that was the clients' choice. It was based on a lot of drawing and photography over the summer - and a deep sense of gratitude to have a lovely garden to nurture and enjoy during this difficult year. Given that I had to keep visits to the clients' house to a minimum, it was helpful that their garden also contains step, slopes and tall flowers.
When resolving the design, I kept looking back at the cutline for the 'Lilies' window to make sure they would complement each other.
Somewhere in my mind was Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Scottish designer at the turn of the twentieth century - I will never forget my visit to the Glasgow School of Art and the famous Willow Tea Rooms.
Many colour studies later, work began, as you can see in the slideshow below.
Now the cement is curing, and I am looking forward to the installation. I do hope the sibling windows get on well together.
The light has changed - the garden has changed and the hot pinks of summer are giving way to faded dustiness and the deeper reds of Autumn. I particularly love the combinations of faded echinaceas and sedum. Even the foliage of the humble loosestrife is turning a lovely dusty pink and salvia 'Hot Lips' has turned from its scarlet ways to the prettiest pink.
I will store up these colours and return to them one cold day when I can play with my new, and lovely, Schminke 'professional' watercolours.
The proof postcards of three of the images for my "Breathe' book now have arrived, and they are good - as large postcards - but not quite what I had envisaged as the elements of a potential artist's book. They seem not large enough, and a bit flimsy.
And so I have decided to use a photo printing company (Photobox) to create my book, using the format of a hardback album. My objective was to use their format creatively, and bend it to my needs!
Having moved on from my previous imaginings of over laying each image with a text printed on translucent paper, I decided to create double page spreads of image and text.
I spread the whole thing out on the bed, to see how it was all going to work as a whole, both visually and in terms of the content of the poems, and then I set to work. Using the text input provided by Photobox soon proved to be too fiddly for my purposes, so I have set out each poem text in Canva and then imported it into the book, as if it were an image, to go alongside my scanned artwork.
I am very pleased with how it looks in preview mode and have enlisted various family members to proof read for me. I have now pressed 'send' and await the first batch, for people who already expressed interest. I am very grateful for their support, as it gives me confidence to keep going.
Now I have to wait until delivery at the end of next week! I find you can never tell how something is working until you have it physically in your hands...
The book will be priced at £40, or £45 with a box. Please contact me if you would like a copy.
I am a glass artist based in Charlbury, Oxfordshire. I work in stained and fused glass. I work to commission and teach stained glass in my studio. I open my studio to visitors during Oxfordshire Artweeks.
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