Archive for January, 2011


In 2005 I installed seven large red balls on Grasmere in the Lake District. I liked the colour red before then or course, but for me that piece changed the way I look at the colour in the landscape, and in art in general.

Towing a ball on Grasmere

Balls to Grasmere - 2005

It was said that Constable and Turner would compete with each other at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Constable would do outrageous things like add a blob of red to a painting just before hanging. (oh! the rebel).

My first car was red.

Renault5 MkI - 1976

Red is a lucky colour in China. In the ’80s the first traffic lights appeared in Beijing causing much chaos – why should cars stop at red lights? It’s a lucky colour.

Souvenir - Shanghai 2007

Souvenir 2. Shanghai 2007

The installation on Grasmere worked as the red balls filled a gap in the palette of the landscape. In this way the colour works as a visual accent adding a focal point or point of reference within the landscape.

Red Cubes - Ullswater, Cumbria. 2010

Wrapped yew from colour workshop, Brockholes, Windermere, Cumbria 2009

walkway and jumping bridge in the Garden of Cosmic Speculation, by Charles Jencks. Portrack, Dumfries & Galloway.

Lily - Tatton Park, Cheshire. 2010

Red form in the snow - North Pennines. 2010

Shelter - Newtown, Powys. 2009

There something about scale and colour I find interesting. Same as intense coloured environments such as Olafur Eliasson’s ‘Weather Project’ installation in the Tate Turbine Hall, and Annette Messager’s ‘Casino’ at the 2005 Venice Biennale. These installations, as well as the immense ‘Marsyas’ piece by Kapoor, have in their own way helped influence my attitude towards space and place through colour.

Marsyas by Anish Kappor - Tate Modern, 2003

'The Weather Project' by Olafur Eliasson, Tate Modern, 2004

Casino by Annette Messanger at the Venice Biennale 2005

Cloudcube - Lancaster University. 2009

Dotted - an installation in Robert Stephenson's historic factory, Newcastle. 2005

Eliasson used specific use of the colour in his 2007 Serpentine Pavilion, although not to the extent of  Jean Nouvel in 2010. Nouvel making great use of the variety of green within Hyde Park with which to juxtapose his rhapsody of colour.

Lamp detail from 2007 Serpentine Pavilion by Olafur Eliasson

Serentine Pavilion 2010 by Jean Nouvel

Serpentine Pavilion 2010 by Jean Nouvel

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Over the shoulder

OK. So I’m a bit late in doing this. After all, it’s 2011 proper now. It’s all set to be a busy year. So far I’m booked up until the summer, with a few more to confirm in the coming weeks plus another last minute request which I’m actually quite excited about now and hope comes off. So, while I do all the paperwork and boring pre-project stuff for all these adventures, I constantly have to refer to all the things I did recently, and anyway it’s always good to remind yourself of all the good things that happened recently.

So here’s a quick look back over my shoulder at the handful of things I did last year. So, if you weren’t paying attention, here’s your chance to catch up.

First up was ‘Clad’ near Newtown in Wales. As part of a gallery show ‘Beyond Pattern’ at Oriel Davies, I covered a derelict cottage beside the old canal in the fleece of local rare-breed Kerry Hill sheep.

The piece came down in February, in a few hours, with all the fleece squeezed into the back of my little car. However, the best bit about this piece is what happens next. Late last year I took all the fleece – the white Kerry Hill and the Black Welsh Mountain – down to the Natural Fibre Company in Cornwall. There it is being scoured and spun into yarn in its natural undyed colour. It will then go off to a weaver in Wales to be turned into beautiful throws and blankets in a pattern somewhere between the cottage timbers and the traditional weave from Newtown. There’ll be around 100 of these in total, so each will be signed and numbered on a special label.

For a while now I’ve made a conscious effort to reuse and recycle the bits from installations, but this will be the first time a temporary installation will be entirely recycled into a new product – and a useful one at that.

the next project was, shall we say, less successful.

‘Lily’ was to be a 1.5 mile long installation on Tatton Mere as part of the Tatton Biennial in Cheshire over the summer. It would have been stunning. Fifty giant red lilypads meandering over the course of the river Lily beneath the lake. Big enough to be seen even from the planes taking of from nearby Manchester Airport. Certainly the biggest piece I had done to date. Months were spent planning the piece – surveying the bed of the lake, ensuring there was no disturbance to the sensitive plantlife on the lake bed (a SSSI and unique in Europe), making sure the pads were safe for the sailing club and other boat users, and more bizarrely ensuring that Canada geese wouldn’t poo in the water.

Plans, big maps and dozens of visual images were generated in the process, not only to appease the various stakeholders in the lake, but also so that I could work out how on earth this was going to be done. The visuals themselves went viral and the pictures found their way into dozens of publications – including the Royal Academy magazine – and even used on billboard posters on the London Underground. This piece really was going to be huge.

However, in the end it didn’t happen. Time, money and fabrication logistics conspired against it and with three weeks to go, all the plans I had in place just fell apart when a key fabricator pulled out at short notice. In hindsight we should have just accepted the delay and rescheduled the piece for later in the summer, but hindsight is a luxury we didn’t have with 3 weeks to go.

‘Lily’ did go in, but it came out just as quick. It wasn’t right and wasn’t the piece it should have been. As an artist you have to take risks to push the boundaries of artistic possibility – so it was inevitable that one day the risk wasn’t going to pay off. And this was that time. There’s probably a whole post to written about when things go wrong. They do. Often.

Still, the masters and moulds are still in my studio. One day the timing, location and budget will be right and ‘Lily’ will be done properly as planned. And it’ll be incredible.

But moving on. There were more pieces to do.

LawnPaper was another piece I really enjoyed doing. They don’t get more environmentally sound than cutting grass with a push mower and then letting it grow out. I don’t know if the Lake District has ever had a drought before, but this time it did, so my nice lush lawns weren’t. That aside, what better way to enjoy a stunning summer than being outside in the lakes, cutting grass and drinking fresh lemonade. It was all captured for the new series of The Lakes (ITV1, Mondays, 8pm) – I lost count how many times I had to lay a single piece of string for different camera angles, but all part of the summer fun.

The second half of the summer and autumn was taken with a series of very temporary installations back in the lakes for local paper manufacturer James Cropper. Paper doesn’t really like being outside so it was a real weather-dodging game. It all paid off one Monday morning as I stood on the shores of Ullswater watching the mist rise to get the lake shot I’d been wanting all summer. The images accompanied a large sculpture made from 10,000 sheets of individually hand cut paper and were shipped out to be displayed in Monaco.

The season of outdoor pieces was rounded off in October with ‘Sentinel’. After years of doing things in the lakes, it was so good to do something back here in the North Pennines. Although this is where I live, I realised I really don’t know it as well as I should. Let’s just say I think Sentinel was the start of something new here for me.

So onwards and upwards into 2011. Lots of new places, new and old clients -all new adventures. I’d love to tell you all about what’s coming up, but every single project is embargoed as I write. The price I pay for the work I do. But none of them will happen if I don’t get all this pre-project paperwork done.

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