Tuesday, 23 April 2019

A Visit from some York St John Students

Left to right: Alex, Natasha, Fletcher and Sasha

Life is incredibly serendipitous sometimes; on the day that I had finally reclaimed my studio at home I had an email from Natasha, a student at York St John's college, asking if she and some of her peers could come over for a visit!

Previously, the studio at home had been impassable - a mix of left overs from the anti fracking campaign and general stuff from home that had just been chucked in there as I simply didn't have time to deal with it all was piled up and you could not get through the space safely!

Anyway, today I was ready with soup for lunch to keep them going, a tidy studio and work laid out for them to see.  They were a lovely bunch of people and it was interesting to hear about their own work as well as to show them mine, even though I had to explain that there is very little recent work to show them because of the time it is taking to recover from our campaign and get my head back into a place where I actually feel able to make new work.  I am not a massive sketch book user but they were all interested in looking at the ones I do have - I also have a goodly collection of empty ones; you never know, I may even fill in a few of these soon!

But I am ready!  I have 2 very large paintings started some years ago that I aim to finish this year as well as complete the 3D pieces I started when I was on the AA2A scheme.

To get myself back into the work making mode, I have been attending some printmaking workshops and I will do another post about those shortly.

It was nice to be able to talk to these students about my work and to feel part of the art community again; I have really missed it.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

It is over two years since my last blog post; I am slowly regaining my equilibrium.  And where have I been?  Well, the campaign to prevent fracking on my doorstep and throughout the UK, is where.  

It has been an immensely rewarding, exhausting, confusing, at times scary and also wonderful time.  Along with my fellow protectors, we succeeded in preventing Third Energy from fracking at their site in Kirby Misperton, Ryedale, North Yorkshire.  Last Christmas saw me on the brink of utter despair and exhaustion; then in the new year, Third Energy left.  I was elated, then ill; the result of the endless days starting sometimes as early as 5.30 am, standing at the gates, in hail, snow and sunshine, extreme cold and heat.  But that is what protectors do; we are not a "travelling circus of protesters", as Claire Perry,  Minister of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy recently labelled us, we are for the most part locals.  Yes, we were helped and supported by protectors from further afield, who have more experience than us and we are eternally grateful for their advice and energy, their hugs and wisdom but most people at those gates every day came from Ryedale or nearby and were, like me older than we care to admit.

The fantastic community liaison celebration at the main camp we held in Summer 2017.  The camp served as a wonderful hub for local people and people from much further afield, including Canada, to gather, to join us for a cup of tea, to learn about fracking and what they could do to help.

I volunteered to be the liaison person for the local community and the protection camps.  There was the original camp near the junction with the A169 and then, as matters became more serious and we needed 24 hour monitoring, a camp on the verge of the road at the gates to the site itself.  At the moment it all seems like a dream; I cannot remember everything I did to help the campaign run smoothly I certainly rose at dawn and had breakfast for the protectors ready at the gates in the early days of that camp forming.  I was one of the people that locals could come to for advice about how best to support the camps and of course, I cooked and made cake!  

Early start at the gates, before the bell mouth fencing had been erected and with the protectors from main camp that were always there.  A few tents had begun to arrive but the gates camp or Kirby Misperton Forward Protection Camp as it was named, was yet to be fully formed.

A highlight was the Christmas meal we cooked and served to the first protectors at the main camp in 2016; it is still talked about by those who tucked into it!  My proudest moment was a year ago, last September, when I participated in the first lock on at the gates as part of the "Bat Girls" protest, to bring to public notice the plight of the local bats, should fracking go ahead.  It was of the utmost importance that a local person should participate in the first non-violent direct action at those gates.  Of course, I was arrested; I knew I would be.  It was a physically painful yet joyful experience and I do not regret it for one moment despite being found guilty last May of Obstructing the Highway and given a 12 month conditional discharge and directed to contribute towards prosecution costs.

In the run up to all this, I have lobbied, spoken at rallies, written to my MP, written objections to planning applications, held meetings for local people, been sworn at and told to "F**k off back to where I came from", ironic as I live about a mile from the well site at KM8.  I have  attended endless meetings to discuss our strategic planning, baked endless cake, raised money for the campaign and supported other Frack Free groups across the country.  I continue to do so when I can.  

I have witnessed police behaviour so brutal that it took my breath away with its complete disregard for protector's safety as they facilitate this awful industry.  The police have become nothing less than the security force for this industry, a sad and dangerous state of affairs.  Recent developments have shown the complete disregard for our democratic rights to protest with judiciary listening to impassioned presentations from protectors regarding the ecocide of this land, (which incidentally, is not a crime in this country or anywhere on the planet, as far as I am aware) and showing sympathy, but finding them guilty anyway.  The injunctions against protest and protesters that all the oil and gas companies are now bringing, aided and abetted by the civil judiciary, to prevent any protest outside their sites and at the sites of their suppliers is a dangerous erosion of people's democratic rights to protest.  It will not stop us.

Since early this year, after Third Energy left the area, (we are constantly alert for any signs of a return), I have been slowly and surely regaining my health and life.  I have spent much more time with my beloved grandsons; I have been mentally unable to write any documents, my brain just will not function.  And now, here I am; still recovering slowly and surely and regaining my enthusiasm for "normal" things while at the same time supporting other groups fighting fracking where and when I can.  I should add that this is not a unique situation I am in; all of my good friends and colleagues have found themselves feeling much the same as me.  This campaign is a terrible and glorious thing to be involved with.

Catching the drone, after a reccy with Eddie Thornton, pilot.  I love this photo!

I have done no drawing, painting or printmaking; the most I could manage was to sit in quiet contemplation and crochet.  I felt that the world could do without more paintings and prints, but a blanket or scarf is always useful!   But now, I am beginning to emerge from this fog and starting to think of how to use my experiences in new work.  It had been creeping up on me for a long while, and now I feel sure that my work should say something about our struggle to regain democracy and protect the land.  How many more pretty paintings of landscapes do we actually need, after all?  And this is not to denigrate artists who make such work, this is just my personal opinion at this moment in time.

Camp, winter was awful!  I was so glad I didn't have to live on it like the hardy protectors.  I was very glad to have my warm home and bed just a mile up the road.

I have visited a few exhibitions when I can, to bring myself back into my preferred world.  I am not yet sure how my experiences and the knowledge I have gained is going to manifest as artworks but I have begun some tentative drawings in various sketchbooks and I signed up to a course of printmaking workshops as a way of re-engaging with my practice.  The courses are being held at Lund Gallery workshops,http://www.lundstudios.co.uk/
near Easingwold and facilitated by Patrick Smith,  https://www.psmithstudio58.co.uk/.  

The first was in October, entitled "Following in the Footsteps of Rembrandt", and was an etching workshop.  Working in that wonderful space, I felt a huge weight lifting from my shoulders and the realisation that I was re-entering my rightful world. Please do visit the web site for this wonderful space, there are amazing courses available and the exhibition space is wonderful.  

Meanwhile, the weather has turned very wintry and my studio is not a place to be during the cold, so I will be quietly attempting some drawing, maybe doing a bit of printmaking or book making in my smaller space at home with determined plans to be back in my messy space come next Spring.  Wish me luck.  

PS: I have quite a number of books on making simple book structures but I could not resist purchasing another one and I am so very glad I did.  It is full of information and great book structures.  It is called "bound 15 beautiful bookbinding structures", by Rachel Hazell, pub. Kyle Books.  Well worth buying a copy.  Rachel's mark making and ink work on the covers and pages of her books very much appeals to me as I utilise similar in some of my own work.

Thursday, 28 April 2016


This first third of my year has been somewhat fraught to say the least; a birth, a wedding, illness and a death. . . .  not all of which I have been prepared for and certainly not the best situation to be in when trying to make new work for the AA2A scheme, which has suffered as a consequence.

However, it is all part of life's rich tapestry, I am beginning to resurface from it all and trying to be kind to myself and not plan any major new things for the whole of the rest of this year. My original plans for the work will get made eventually, and will hopefully get shown in some galleries once I have the energy to sort it out.

What I am showing for this exhibition is a compilation of my research so far in the form of 3 banners on Chinese paper.  I have managed to produce something that is visually arresting, I think, and which has masses of information when you look closer; something I have always aimed to achieve.

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Monday, 22 February 2016

Basil Beattie at MIMA

The impressive, fabulous grid of drawings that hits visitors to the exhibition as they enter.

It was such a privilege last Saturday, to attend the public opening of Basil Beattie's exhibition When Now Becomes Then: Three Decadesat Midlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. The exhibition runs until 12th June and I heartily recommend it to all people interested in painting and the development of visual art in this country.  

I completely agree with Mel Gooding's remark at the end of his conversation with Basil that it says something about the cultural state existing in this country today that a show of this magnitude by one of our great painters has taken so long to come about.  I have followed Basil Beattie's work since I was a student, not always closely, but he is one of the painters that I have long admired and a go to for affirmation that painting with gesture and guts and interesting imagery is still a worth while thing to strive for.

When I am visiting a major exhibition of a painter I admire, I like to walk through the galleries quite quickly to start with, to gain an understanding of the sequence.  I then go round again more slowly and meander backwards and forwards, looking at the work, noting formal points of interest, the use of motifs, colour and how the works communicate with each other in the space.  While I do this, I sometimes jot down words or phrases that spring to mind about the works; it helps me to connect the works I am looking at with my knowledge of art history and experience.  Then I read the accompanying texts and make note of dates when the paintings were made; I don't like my opinion of the works to be influenced by the texts until I have done this but I am happy to have my thoughts altered and expanded upon once I have had a chance to form my own connections.  When I say connections, I mean that I like to work out where the artist may have responded to works from the past, how the works connect with artists working today, how the artists' work has developed over time and the philosophical and psychological connections that may exist.  I am not an expert on philosophy; I wish I was, its connections to art are strong, lets face it, because art is about life.  I am constantly trying to improve my knowledge of philosophy but I can never remember what I have read!

Anyway, a few of the words I jotted down are as follows:

Goya?  (existential)
de Kooning
fantastic painterliness

And here are some of Basil's own words, spoken during the conversation with Mel Gooding (that I have taken from MIMA'S web site):

“I always try to make the next painting not like the last one, I’m often asked if I make several paintings at once – I don’t. I have to turn all the last ones to the wall in order to grasp the identity of the specific painting I’m working on.”
“The art of painting… leads you to thoughts and ideas that you may not have had if you didn’t start painting. You have to know how to deal with them. A lot of people know exactly what they want to paint so they have to get it right. In my case I recognise it when I see it, when I feel it. It may be that I’ve got the bare bones but I have to put the flesh on and that’s a very different matter. It may be that it becomes something else during that period.”

“When Now Becomes Then: Three Decades is a look through one's artistic life over the last 30 years. I’m expecting surprises, in terms of juxtapositions because there will be combinations of paintings that I won’t have seen before and it will be interesting to play around with that opportunity. I’m looking forward to the show in terms of learning more about what I’ve been doing. I mean, if it gives any value to anybody it will be value to me.”

Basil Beattie's words have such resonance for me; I approach painting in very much the same way, letting it develop, finding connections as the work emerges.

I am not attempting to critique this exhibition but to try and give a flavour of what it feels like to be within it.  I hope that this tempts lots of you reading this to visit!

Basil Beattie (right), in deep discussion.  I didn't dare to approach him!

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Sunday, 7 February 2016

Talk about self employment

I seemed to spend the entire day on the train last Thursday.  My car was in the garage to have a broken spring mended - a common problem living where I do because the pot holes in the narrow roads have to be seen to be believed. (And when they are invisible, as in my experience recently because it was full of water and much deeper than anticipated as I pulled over to give way to an oncoming van, they are very damaging and dangerous).  So, I made the treck by train to Middlesbrough via York to attend the talk given by Wendy Mason of AA2A, about self employment.
Thank you to Wendy, for a frank and informative talk outlining the basics along with some of the pitfalls and for pointing out that there is joy to be had in the independence that being self employed can bring to an artist's career.  And how easy it is to fill in a tax return, once it has been done a couple of times.  The links Wendy supplied were not all known to me either, so that was also very helpful.
Now, I am in a strange position when it comes to self employment; I have, since I moved to North Yorkshire, never earned even a £1000 profit in a year.  I was teaching part time and paying my taxes before I moved here. I hasten to add that I am not a dishonest person trying to avoid paying tax.  I have been on a few courses about being self employed and my current situation simply does not fit any of the normal career outlines.  Namely, I moved here because my husband was offered a job and have not been "employed" since although I have worked as a volunteer at a gallery.  I make work that I want to make, because my lovely partner told me it was my turn to develop my career; I know this means I am lucky. So, I do make the work I want to make, what interests me, and which very rarely sells.  I am so below the tax threshold, it simply is not worth me wasting HMRC's time with declaring myself as self employed.  I am what would be termed a "hobbyist", but not in the derogative term that most people use the word.  I just do not make my living from my work; it does not mean that I am not a consummately professional artist.
I was lucky to be able to chat with Wendy while we waited for our trains home about this and I was heartened that she agreed with me that declaring myself to be self employed was not necessary at this point.  I had been feeling a little uneasy about the whole thing, so it was good to know from someone who knows what they are talking about, that I am not doing anything wrong and that I should just keep going with developing my work.  Thank you Wendy!
 I just wish the well known local artist that attacked me about this a few years ago, in front of a lot of other local artists, saying that what I was doing was illegal and that I was despicable, had thought to talk to me first.  Oh, and maybe check her facts.  It's a shame too, because she has refused to acknowledge my presence ever since, even though it was she, not I who was in the wrong.  

Monday, 1 February 2016


I have not begun to make any final works for my AA2A project yet; I am still busy collecting material to incorporate into it. My aim is to combine text, image and mark making to create a visually interesting surface in three dimensions.  The use of print and paint on Chinese paper will have a beautiful way of diffusing light and creating shadows, depending on where it is shown and how it is draped or hung. This will mirror the hoped for quality of the acrylic piece I am planning as part of the trio of free standing pillars. I am already thinking about other venues where the work could be shown but not approached anywhere as yet.
I am planning to make at least three free standing pillars that represent the qualities of earth, air and water.  (This is the working title of the piece).  These are the "holy trinity" of our life support system that will be threatened if fracking is allowed to take place.  One pillar of steel sheet (homage to Middlesbrough steel manufacturing as well as a nod to my original ballot box piece), one pillar of ply wood and one of acrylic sheet, all painted and printed upon with a variety of text, imagery and mark making to produce an interesting surface.  The work is not meant to be polemic; it is my personal response to the threat that fracking poses to the land, water and air where I live, and beyond.
I put out a call last Friday to local people fighting fracking to provide me with a few sentences each about how they feel about it.  I have had ten responses back already and am hopeful of a lot more; this community engagement aspect has grown out of my continued thinking process about the whole body of work.  
I am also continuously surprised at the connections I am making with ideas within the project; I have already mentioned textile construction, its relation to "taking a line for a walk" in drawing and recently the ideas of darning to repair holes has become a metaphor that I have begun to speculate on.  Recent research into chemicals used in the fracking process or those that are brought up to the surface of the earth as a result of fracking has startled me; the diagrams of the different chemical bonds looked very similar to crochet diagrams!
Attending the recent lecture at Teesside University by Alice Fox was interesting; her method of collecting, refining, thinking and producing, have certain parallels within my current work. Also; her absolutely beautiful artists' books (I have been lucky enough to own one for a few years now), constantly inspire me. Alice self publishes books as well; kind of catalogues of each body of work she produces; this is something I need to seriously think about too because, like her, I simply do not manage to sell many of my original pieces and as Alice pointed out, everyone can manage to buy one of those for a few pounds.
I may not be around Teesside University campus very much during February; my daughter is due to have her first baby in about a week.  I will however continue to collect material together and to make small drawings so that when I am able to be back, I can get going with producing the final works.
I am beginning to feel excited and a little daunted!

The works illustrated here are part of the interim exhibition at Teesside University that illustrate my research methods during the early stages of a project and reflect my studio wall during this phase, hence the tape rather than nicely presented work!

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Wednesday, 20 January 2016

AA2A project research

At the presentation I gave to students at the beginning of my placement, one of the students asked me if I would use fracking as my subject matter.  At the time, I said no, although it was a possibility.  I have since decided it is too rich a seam to ignore.  Excuse the pun!

I am only at the research stage in terms of content and deciding on how the art works will be made and look but I do know that the work will be presented in three dimensional form.

All four of we AA2A artists were required to present the work we have made so far in an interim exhibition in the walkway of part of the Fine Art complex at Teesside, which we put up this Tuesday 19th.  I have completed some prototype artists' books along with collecting lots of information, quotes and sketches linked to my thinking.

I decided to put it all up on the boards as a reconstruction of my studio wall during researching the project using tape, just as I do when working and gathering material.  I'm hoping it gives the students an insight into my working practice; it has certainly helped me to appraise where I am so far, to see some interesting connections and to make some decisions about the way forward with the experimentation and continued research.

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