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Posts Tagged ‘tea’

It feels like ages since I last posted something here. Actually it was ages. It’s been an eventful summer – lots of new work getting made and going up all over the place, amazing weather to distract me, and … oh, I moved house.

Moving house is a stressful thing at best of times – when you’re self-employed and you have to move house in the middle of lots of work it seems doubly so.

empty house

My six years on a mountain was an amazing adventure. Stainmore is not exactly known for its sunshine and warm weather. In fact quite the opposite.

Four out of the last five winters have been especially hard up there. At around 1,500ft above sea level snow was pretty much a given. Most years I’d find myself snowed-in for a total of five weeks – that’s 10% of the year when you couldn’t get within a mile of the house by car. Yet, somehow I felt endeared to that bleakness and solitude. No double-glazing, no central heating and a coal-fired cooker. It was never going to be easy. But the clouds and the wind and the curlews and seeing hares on the track most days and listening to the owls at night… it was a truly special place.

view from window on stainmore

I haven’t moved far. Just over the hill. And a little lower down. I now have double glazing, central heating, hot water on demand. All the little things I didn’t know I was missing. And I still have a view to look out over while I drink my tea. (new house, new view, new header images at the top of this blog)

view with tea

But it’s a very different view. Obviously it’s not as high up as the one on Stainmore. It’s still got those wild North Pennine fells though at the moment – probably because it’s still summer, they don’t do very much yet. The biggest difference is trees.

I had trees on Stainmore. The owls used to sit in them at night and call to each other. They also protected the house from the worst of the northerly winds. But there weren’t very many of them, and there weren’t many to be seen in the view either.

Here in Teesdale, there’s a lot more of them – little copses and big woodlands. Mostly deciduous too – I’m hoping for an autumn like last year. That would be amazing. And they don’t just make the landscape look different – it sounds different too.

Stainmore was all curlew and lapwing – alien sounds in the bird world. Here, there’s still the odd curlew cry, but there’s much much more variety of birdsong. Yes, birdsong. That’s what was missing before. Tweets and trills and swoops and chirps. So many different sounds and it’s always there. The trees seem to act as some kind of filter removing much of the background noise, but somehow the birdsong still cuts through.

The other week was haymaking in the dale. The current rules on farming in this Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) mean that many farmers have very short windows to harvest hay and silage and it seemed like the entire valley got harvested in a matter of days. One of the local contractors was using some beautiful old machinery to make square hay bales. There was a wonderful rhythmic pattern circulating around the fields as the machine scooped up the hay, compacted it, tied it into bales then stored then gathered them up to be deposited in convenient piles to dry in the sun.

bales in the fields

Of course I never went out with any sound recording stuff to capture all this while it’s still new and exciting to me, so for now they’ll just have to be memories.

The other sound that somehow manages to carry on still evenings is from the water cascading down the falls a couple of fields away.

close up of waterfall

..but that’s for another story.

 

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It’s afternoon on the first day of a brand new year. The weather is a touch brighter and calmer than it has been of late adding to that sense of a new start. It’s only a day different from last year, but that idea of starting all over makes all the difference.

A clean slate and all that.

As I sit here with the obligatory cup of Yorkshire tea and listening to Mahler’s first symphony, it seems like a good time to catch up on the past 12 months and put it to bed before moving on with the future.

The Mahler seems appropriate as 2012 was the year I fell in love with playing music all over again. Just 12 months ago I was polishing my old East German Lidl and oiling up the valves before blowing some dusty notes through it.

Since then I’ve joined a couple of orchestras and played with a few others and performed live in front of paying audiences. The repetoire has been almost unbelievably vast – from newly commissioned works through chamber pieces, a wonderfularray of Mendelssohn, Mozart, Schumann, Brahms, Beethoven, my beloved Tchaik 5, a whole day of Wagner overtures (to a horn player that’s like dying and going to Valhalla) and two who Mahler symphonies (including the one I’m listening to).

I got to play on a victorian bandstand at Beamish museum, at the Sage in Gateshead and in Bishop Auckland completely intimidated Joe McElderry who was supposed to sing Nessum Dorma with us but as we weren’t a backing track in his earpiece he couldn’t do it and showed himself to be no more than a vertically challenged karaoke singer. Bless.

In June I played in an emsemble at the opening of the new Tees Barrage and was picked out of the hat to meet the ACTUAL Queen. I have to admit she gave me a bit of a disapproving look – dressed as I was in jeans, un-tucked shirt and a waistcoat I bought to wear to an All About Eve gig at the Royal Albert Hall in 1990, and clearly doesn’t fit anymore, and I think she guessed. Still it was good to feel I’d played a part in the whole Diamond Jubilee thing and have my own memory of it.

queen

I finally got back into writing my own music again too. Still a little tentative although the eagle-eared among you may have spotted a couple of pieces slipping out over the year.

The other big thing of the year – if not the biggest for most – was the Olympics in London. I was lucky to get tickets and had an incredible day there with my kids. Words just cannot explain the roar for the home team in the venues. Just hearing it eminating from the main stadium sent inexpicable shivvers up the spine. Remembering it now has the same effect. Truly an unforgettable experience. Even Kapoor’s Orbit was more interesting in real life than I thought it would be.

orbit1

On the visual art side, it was another busy year. In the current climate this was something I’m particularly fortunate to have had, I know.

In the spring I went back to China to make a new piece for a Cumbrian Paper Mill. It was part of a series of works I’d been doing for a couple of years now exploring the connections between paper, its raw materials of wood and water, and playing with colour and form in the Cumbrian landscape. They even made a gorgeous limited edition calendar of all my paper pieces (there’s a little booklet about them here).

cortexspare

It was a far from smooth process working in China again this year – you can read about it on an earlier bog post here – but the offset was making the piece in Suzhou – home to some of the most important traditional gardens in China. Working there gave me an extra opportunity to get a better understanding of the importance of art and landscape in Chinese culture and helped make some imporatnt links in my own work. There’ll be another blog post about this no doubt.

chinese-shadow

At the same time. Let me say that again. At the very same time, I was installing and showing a piece back in the UK. It wasn’t really a new piece, but the first time this piece had been seen in the UK since the first version in Shanghai in 2006. ‘Brockhole Souvenir’ was commissioned by Mid Pennine Arts for the ‘Art of Destination’ conference on art and landscape. Through the miracles of technology I also presented at the conference from a slightly seedy hotel room in downtown Shanghai.

orange

Unfortunately some of the good folk of Preston thought differently about the pieces and were badly vandalised within minutes of them going up. This was the first time any of my pieces had been vandalised, let alone damaged while up. Maybe I’d just been lucky up until now. It was sad to hear of their too swift demise and even sadder too for the folk at MPA and the Brockholes people.

Still, the process threw up some interesting ideas which although couldn’t be realised there at that time of year were too good to let go of. Also, Khan’s visitor centre at Brockholes was criminally omitted from the Stirling Prize shortlist in a year when the Stirling prize became far more interesting than the Turner prize (discuss?).

brockholebubbles

The ‘Fairhaven Bubbles’ which resulted were one of my favourite pieces so far. A combinatio of a good client, the right budget and an enthusiastic team based at the lake ensured that the piece worked the best it could. The initial teething problems were patiently solved and even the unfortunate attacks on the pieces (what was wrong with you Lancashire?) were handled with a determination to keep the piece looking its best. The most flattering bit came when my artist’s talk at the lakeside cafe was not just standing room only but there were people standing outside who couldn’t get in who still enjoyed the sunset cruise around the piece afterwards.

bubble

A determination to finish a piece also resulted in ‘Twisted’ at Cromford Mill – a work that this time last year I was disappointed to not have managed to realise. This time I found all the funding and managed the project myself and the final piece was not only as spectuacular as I’d hoped, but its silent majesty and the way it remained in place for over six months and looked just the same on its final day as it did when it was first completed.

twistedwithkids

I was also fortunate to be invited over to Sweden a couple of times last year to do some talks. On the first trip I also got to have a little play in an ancient forest as part of a project looking at how artists can drive sustainable communities. Sometimes the most interesting work comes without a brief.

red

There were other projects and pieces. Some big, some tiny, and mostly enjoyable. I did lots of talks – the one in Presteigne is now up on the Culture Colony website (link here) if you want to know what they’re like. Another one on working in isolated rural communities was filmed at Li Yuan Chia’s place on Hadrian’s wall for the Museum of Modern Art in Taipei.

On top of this I’ve had yet another year living in the most amazing part of the world, where everyday the light and landscape never cease to inspire me.

landscape2

….

Well, that was last year.

Twenty thirteen, you’ve got a big act to follow.

But somehow I think you’re going to beat it.

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I’ve swapped one of my normal hillside blogging spots for a comfy sofa and a cuppa. It’s Heritage Open Weekend so I’ve taken the opportunity to have a nose around Farfield Mill Art and Heritage Centre as it’s free today. There’s normally an entrance fee to see the artists studios, shops, small exhibitions and displays of the weaving heritage of this bit of the dales. Not the best choice of art or the most engaging of displays so the entrance fee is another barrier to me coming more often. But still, these things cost money to run and the cash has to come from somewhere.
It’s a topic I’ve found myself conversing about a lot this week – firstly at a talk I was asked to do about being a professional artist in Cumbria for Littoral Arts in the Lakes. It also dominated chats I had when I visited the lovely folk at the Storey Gallery in Lancaster and meeting the deputy director at the North Pennines AONB in Teesdale. There’s a great deal of concern around at the moment about the state of government funding for the arts and public funding generally. Wobbly times it seems. David Shrigley has even made this video for the cause.


As an individual artist I realised long ago that you couldn’t rely on public money to pay you a living. I’m sure there are artists and even more arts organisations who feel the state owes them a living, but that’s something I feel very uncomfortable about. As Alistair Hudson from Grizedale Arts pointed out in his presentation at Littoral the visual arts are largely dictated by the commercial sector. Artists are only famous and successful if they are selling well. The Turner Prize is never contested by struggling artists. The public face of visual arts is determined by a small group of influential gallerists and collectors. In fact they have it all pretty much sewn up at the top end.
So what chance do artists who don’t want to go that route have of ‘making it’? It’s all a matter of business models. The music industry was once seen as a similar situation with record companies monopolising on what was considered talent. Then came Napster and illegal file sharing and a whole range of internet based ways of discovering more music – beyond just those the record companies wanted to sell you. Then iTunes came along and wanted to sell you that new found music legally. Now places like Bandcamp mean that musicians can make and sell music without record companies. There’s more profit and less interference. Win / win for the artists. While musicians are waking up to the fact they can control their own artistic directon and make a living too, the record labels ate crying foul and blame it on piracy for the wholes in their pockets when it’s just that their business model has just been bettered. Similar things are happening in publishing with a whole bunch of authors taking advantage of the boom in ebooks and loopholes in their publishers contracts which enable them to bypass them and sell more directly to the public.
That’s all great for musicians and writers, but what about visual artists?
In 2008 Damien Hirst pulled a fast one by selling directly through an auction house. The sale room becoming a solo exhibition and the auction house publishing the catalogue. As the buyer pays the sales commission on top of the hammer price hirst pocketed every penny of the £111 million sales.


Christo and the late Jeanne-Claude fund their multimillion dollar temporary installations entirely from their own pocket. They make their money selling drawings, prints and models produced as part of the preparatory process and giving lectures. Not only does it give them a more sustainable business model but crucially it gives them 100% independence from the agendas of cultural institutions funders and curators.

It’s that independence from the source of money that I aim for. While I’m lucky to be in a rare position to make some form of living solely from my art I also realise just how important it is to keep money and art separate. Making art for money generally leads to bad art. It then becomes a manifacturing process Using art to subsequently realise more money is a far more sustainable option as it ensures investment for the future and room for development. How that balance is realised depends on the business model. It’s not arts funding that will see artist through these uncertain times, its a look at the broader business model. Art always fairs well in turbulent times. Maybe the latest financial insecurities will prove to be a good thing for arts – a chance to step back and regroup. A time to reflect on the value of the arts and the affects of art.
In the meantime I’ll reflect with a cup of tea on a comfy sofa. There’s a lot of profit in a cup of tea…

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