Friday, 30 August 2013

Seamus Heaney RIP

Quitting Time

The hosed-down chamfered concrete pleases him.
He'll wait a while before he kills the light
On the cleaned-up yard, its pails and farrowing crate,
And the cast-iron pump immobile as a herm
Upstanding elsewhere, in another time.
More and more this last look in the wet
Shine of the place is what means most to him -
And to repeat the phrase, 'My head is light',
Because it often is as he reaches back
And switches off, a home-based man at home
In the end with little. Except this same
Night after nightness, redding up the work,
The song of a tubular steel gate in the dark
As he pulls it to and starts his uphill trek.
(c) Seamus Heaney 2006, from District and Circle, pub. faber and faber 2006

So often Heaney's everyday words placed in order fit together like a dry stone wall to make a solid memory of a thing. 

His passing, announced by his family this morning, makes this a sad day. 

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

A Blessing by John O'Donoghue and an emerging Artistic Vision

Last weekend was the 40th Greenbelt Festival - website HERE - an arts festival rooted in the Christian tradition: a collision of arts, faith and justice. I have the honour of being voluntary Company Secretary for the Charity and Company, using some of my skills to support the only expression of Christianity I have found that I can live with. Its ethos is inclusive, open, curious, generous, imaginative and welcoming. It therefore meets with the disapproval of several branches of the church for various things they might see as shortcomings, or aberrations (probably the very same things that allow me to be involved at all).

Anyway, the festival is run by a small core of dedicated and creative staff and about 1,500 volunteers. This year our creative director opened the volunteers' pre-festival welcome event with a 'blessing' written by the late great philosopher/priest/poet John O'Donoghue. The words struck me as an encapsulation of much of my motivation in life and in making art:

May the light of your soul guide you.
May the light of your soul bless the work
You do with the secret love and warmth of your heart.
May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.
May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light and renewal to those
Who work with you and to those who see and receive your work. 
May your work never weary you.
May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment, inspiration and excitement. 
May you be present in what you do.
May you never become lost in the bland absences.
May the day never burden you.
May dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your new day with dreams,
Possibilities and promises.
May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.
May you go into the night blessed, sheltered and protected.
May your soul calm, console and renew you. 

Some of the Greenbelt faithful have spent months wrestling with a definition of its approach to art and what art is. Greenbelt has now published this quite interesting 'emerging artistic vision':


Imagination is more than the impulse to create.  It is the ability to see something that is not there, to plan, to hope, to empathise.  Politics, social outreach and theology are all rooted in the imagination.

So, of course, is art. And we believe that...

Creativity and imagination have their source in God and point us back to their source.

Not a product, but an expression of meaning that is invaluable.

Helping is feel more fully human, awakening us to our true value.

Communicating and connecting in ways words cannot.

Challenging the status quo, cutting through convention, subverting power.

Personally and communally, building identity and well-being.

Participating is as important as the end result; art is a shared experience.

Enabling us to create meaning, connecting our stories to other stories.

And what we believe about art, we believe about ideas too. 
We programme both.
We cherish both.
We celebrate both.

Art and ideas.
Acts of the imagination.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Basing House Dig: Vols 3, 4 and 5

The second and third week of the dig involved the team in completing the re-opening of the 1960s box-grid excavation. Archaeologists, students, researchers, local volunteers: all working to gather as much information as possible from this little area of ground, giving up its secrets as the different contexts were worked down through.

The different layers beneath the turf are called 'contexts'. At Basing House the layers included a burnt-flint layer above a crushed chalk floor of what were probably late iron-age round houses. 

The production of zines consumed a great deal of my time - with some assistance on folding duties from a few of the students,and patient support from the visitor centre staff when the photocopier jammed or needed logging-in. 

The zines aimed to capture some of my thoughts and reflections and to provide a memento/souvenir of the experience for the members of the dig team. I made limited editions of 52 signed copies of each zine. I suppose I did that to make them somehow more 'special' more personal, more 'valuable' to the recipients.

I was working with limited studio-access and limited media: paper, drawing pens, a b/w printer, my friend's home made pasta-press for producing mono prints, black litho/relief ink, some coloured pencils. 

My output reflects those limitations but it was more limited by the size of my imagination.

Some students wanted to try mono-printing techniques so I did a number of mini workshops with two students at a time coming to my makeshift studio and producing their first ever mono-prints. Some even made work with archaeology themes. A few of their prints appeared in the zines, one commanded the front cover of zine Vol. 5.

The material excavated and dumped on the spoil heap included beautifully formed flints, crumbling soft chalk, clay, stone, earth, roots, bits of old tyre...all had their own charm. 

The working methods with spade and shovel, mattock and trowel allowed layers to be cleared efficiently and sensitively down to a fine shaving of soil to find the edges of each feature  and context.

Each find was thoroughly documented - from a Carling Black Label can to a stunningly preserved Roman coin.

Making work in response to all this excitement was a challenge. So many visualising technologies were in use by the team, with meticulous section drawing, formal photography and image capture to enable computer modelling - that I found myself withdrawing to the comfort zone  of old technology, pen and paper, glue and scissors and printmaking. 

Perhaps next time I will be braver and engage with some new media expressions. 

It was a privilege to work beside these people and to see the sum total of human knowledge and happiness increased by a notch or two.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

The Basing House Dig - Zine Vol 2.5

Some of the outputs from the Basing House residency silk screen and monoprint workshop, collected into an 8-page foldy-zine. Work by Nicole Beale, Michael Davies, Peter Driver and Lucy Whitehall.

Back and Front covers

Basing House - Artist in Residence

Assembling the gear (including a lot of borrowed kit) to set up my studio at Basing House,Hampshire, where I am Artist-in-Residence for three weeks. 

Makeshift studio set-up in the learning resource centre with my laptop,
Andy Reaney's printer and the WSA monoprint  kit, including a
press improvised from a lasagne press.
Basing House was a very grand Tudor House, of similar design to the Tudor parts of Hampton Court Palace. It was owned by Sir William Paulet and visited by royalty including Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Built on the site of a Norman ring and bailey castle, with evidence of earlier Romano British and Bronze Age activity, it has long been the subject of serious archaeological study.  The House was completely destroyed in a 'great conflagration' during the Civil War, with only the Great Barn and a few outhouses remaining.
Interior of the Great Barn at Basing House
(complete with Civil War period cannon-ball holes in the walls)
The current dig, by archaeologists from Southampton University, Hampshire Museums service and local volunteers, is excavating part of the earthwork defences erected hastily during the English Civil War as a first line of defence against Cromwell's New Model Army.

De-turfing the 1960s excavation site - archaeolology about archaeology
As Artist-in-residence I have made drawings and photographs, the plan is to create a series of 8-page zines (foldy-zines each made from a single sheet of A3) I am producing them in real-time, during the dig, so far each member of the dig-team has received copies of Vol. 1 and Vol 2.

Vol 1 and Vol 2 - limited editions of 52 

The first volume borrowed some of the style of a Civil War period pamphlet, the second was largely concerned with the team's contextual visit to Hampton Court Palace.
Part of Vol. 1

Part of Vol. 2

Basing House is offering family activity days for two days per week during the dig. The students have created activities related to Tudor games, and archaeology. My artist friends Jeff Phegley and Mike Davies, came to help run silk screen print workshops, mostly for children, and to demonstrate monoprint and woodcut techniques. 

Clear line of white chalk evident below the Civil War embankment level

By day nine, the archaelogists had removed most of the infill from the 1960's excavation, revealing the edges of the box-grid digging system which was prevalent back then. This shows clear stratification of the ground level prior to the Civil War earth works and lower levels, where Romano British sherds have been uncovered.
Cleaning sherds of Romano-British pottery at the finds desk
Watch this space for more updates and some glimpses of the mono-prints and other work generated in response to the dig.