It seems like ages ago since I last posted anything here. I usually write something on a Sunday morning when I have a couple of hours to myself in the Howgills while the rest of the family is off doing something else. I’ve had a bit of a busy few weeks lately which part explains why I haven’t posted anything – Sundays became very much part of my 8 day working week. I did start writing a couple of posts – one a review of a couple of exhibitions, the other about rural geography and networks – but the timing wasn’t right for either them. Anyway, this morning sees a glorious autumnal day. I’m sitting on a bench under a golden oak by the babbling River Lune.
I love this time of year. It’s definitely my favourite (and not just coz it’s nearly my birthday). The sun is lower in the sky which picks out the shapes and colours in the landscape beautifully. The air is clearer so you can see further. The temperature is dropping fast and so are the winds. Consequently we get more of these lovely temperature inversions in the fells. The most obvious change though is in the colours of the landscape. The uniform green of summer has given way to a much richer palette. The bracken has turned, the heather is turning and the trees are starting to separate as each species changes at a different rate. In my mind this is when the Dales and Lakes are at their best.
It’s also when I like to do new work outside, which has been what I’ve been doing lately.
The big thing I’ve been working on has been a series of pieces for James Cropper– a paper manufacturer in the lakes who make speciality coloured paper. They approached me over the summer to see if I would be interested in doing something for a trade show in Monaco. They had seen some of the stuff I’d been doing with the National Park Authority about colour. The brief was a fairly open one. They wanted to use contemporary art to convey some key messages about their brand. Namely colour, quality, bespoke production, environmental awareness and with that a link to the Lakes landscape. As a Quaker company, philanthropy is part of their philosophy so they wanted an artist they could work with to help realise genuine works of art and not just publicity or display material.
The timescale was short though. About 6 weeks start to finish. After much head scratching and building hundreds of little paper boxes, I ended up creating a series of paper installations to explore texture, shape, scale and colour in the Lake District. From those ‘sketches’ I created a paper sculpture made from 10,00 sheets of paper in an organic form. The sculpture wasn’t as large as I was originally going to make it – shipping logistics and an ever looming deadline meant a hasty scale-back at the last minute – but I think it embodies the essence of the landscape installations I did. I’m already working on more pieces like this. I like the intensity of the colour and the almost randomness of the surface you get as you build the piece layer by layer.
The Landscape sketches were fun too – done in a very different way to my normal working practice. I normally start at a site and then work with what is there, light
conditions, sight lines etc. to create something which works there uniquely. For these however, I started off creating digital visuals of colour / texture concepts. I then had to go off and find suitable locations before finding a day and time with the right light to make them work. As a result it took longer than expected and the finished images are very different. The photography was also a much more important part of the process as no-one else would see the original pieces. It was good to think about photography as a primary source again – I started out as a photographer many moons ago and it was reassuring to know I still enjoyed the process.
In the end the client loved the images so much they became a main feature of the stand along with the sculpture. They were debuted this week so I’ll find out soon how it all went down.
The other large piece I’ve done recently was Sentinel – the barn piece for Wool Week I’ve posted about before.
The barn got covered with around 200 fleeces – mostly local Swaledale, but a few random others when I ran out. As it was done for no budget it was cobbled together from stuff I had kicking around my studio. I had four great volunteer assistants for a couple of days and we got most of two walls done in that time. It was also nice to do something on home turf for a change.
It was good to do a piece in his part of Cumbria as it caught the North East media too and met a whole new audience. Only this morning I saw another piece – this time on the front of the Teesdale Mercury. I love the local press. Although I’m not normally bothered about what people think about my work – I’ve only ever had one art review published (4 stars in the Guardian) – I’m particularly chuffed whenever I make the farming pages. It’s probably the old skool socialist in me, but the fact that farmers get my work speaks volumes.
Again, I enjoyed photographing the final piece as part of the process – seeing how the textures play with the rapidly changing palette and how the piece itself sits in the landscape.
Autumn for me is also Cocteau Twins and Mortal Coil (Filigree and Shadow).
Anyway, the other thing about autumn is the breeze is chilly and typing on an iPhone quickly becomes numbing on the thumb. As winter approaches I might just have to succumb to the temptations of a coffee shop for blogging next week.