Friday, 19 August 2016

Drawing Inspiration


1996 Contemplate and Cure, Taitemia Gallery, Kuopio, Finland
One of the requirements of the City and Guilds Basketry Certificate, that I did at the London College of Furniture in 1982, was to produce a body of work using all the techniques and materials we had studied based on a theme. Mine was Baskets in Paintings as there were plenty of them and  I enjoyed looking for them. Subsequently, paintings and drawings, without baskets in them, have often provided me with inspiration and in each case helped me to develop new techniques and forms,(the Heironymous Bosch painting Christ Crowned with Thorns  and Picasso's The Pan Pipes, among others)  but I haven't done any for a while.

1998 Basket inspired by Heironymous Bosch, Cardboard, willow and plastic bottles

During a recent search for some slides of old work I came across some  images which reminded me just how good it can be to work off someone else's creativity, without actually working collaboratively.

In 1996 JJ Ignatius Brennan (my husband) and I had a joint exhibition in Finland, at the Taitemia Gallery in Kuopio. The title of the Exhibition was 'Contemplate and Cure' which was also the title of a series of drawings he had done in response to my having a cancer scare. In turn I then used his drawings as the inspiration for my baskets. For me it was a great way to get ideas without having to search for them, they just leapt off the drawings at me, but they also presented me with  lots of challenges in terms of techniques, which I relished.




Whilst we were there we taught a joint workshop at Kuopio Academy of Crafts and Design where the students were asked to use their senses smelling, touching and hearing things to inspire marks on paper. These marks led to drawings which became baskets.

It was a long time ago, I cannot remember the names of all of the students and my photos of the workshop were not good. But I do remember it being a very creative few days, for all of us.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Stroking Straws


The hit is instant your skin cools rapidly and there is a powerful smell of dust and damp stone.You struggle to see anything in the deep shadow and the silence is palpably beautiful. Tentatively stepping forward, afraid of stumbling on the rock floor, you look up. It's an automatic reaction. Everyone who enters does it and the reward for this involuntary neck exercise is to see some sublime stone carving.

Out there on the other side of the giant oak door, the crowded market street is noisy, and unbearably hot but, on this side you find yourself in the best chill-out room imaginable. There was no charge to push open that door and enter, yet you are surprisingly alone in this cool and tranquil space. Red tea lights flicker ebony shadows over hand crafted, arcane and symbolic treasures. Their significance escapes you, but their presence is curiously soothing and you feel the need to be still.

There are plenty of places to sit. In fact a couple of hundred simple wooden chairs, lined up in rows facing east. Old hand-made upright chairs with straw-wrapped rush seats, each one unique like the people they have supported over the years, people who came here seeking support of some kind. Light streams in from a window high in the walls and the empty seats glow gently.

Sitting on one of these chairs you notice that none of the rush worked seats are identical either. Different sized  coils, varied straw colours, different cross over points and oscillating twists. The urge to stroke them is irresistible, they are lovely because they were lovingly made, they are simply beautiful.

The heat is crushing, there is a strong smell of exhaust.  The light is painful and you are enveloped by noise. You wonder if somehow, in a moment of inattentiveness, your eyes closed  and it was just a dream.




Friday, 17 June 2016

Ghosts at the Kloster

Deep Six
Weaving Ghosts is now on show at Halsnoy Kloster (monastery) on the island of Halsnoy in the Hardanger fjord in Norway, where it will remain on show until the 14th August.

The trip to set it up started badly for me, with striking railway workers in France preventing me from getting to the airport. This resulted in losing a day that had been planned for the installation and also meant that there was little time spare for me to explore the island.  In the end it didn't really matter because the house and gardens of the Kloster are so special there was no need to look further.


The gallery and my home for the week was in a rustic mansion built in 1841 set amongst the remaining stones of the original medieval monastery. It reeks history and according to the locals is haunted. The floorboards did creak occasionally but I have no doubt that was caused by the unusually warm weather with the sun shining out of a clear blue sky for six days solid, rather than phantoms. One of the locals told me that summer normally happens on a Tuesday in July!


Flotilla


There Were 15 to Feed at Midbrake and Fleiki
In the semi basement, which has low arched windows looking onto the garden, are four linked rooms providing the main gallery space with heavy wooden beams and rough cast whitewashed walls. The walls in the two main reception rooms on the ground floor are also used for exhibitions and are decorated with painted canvas panels in red and green.

HelenPetersen is the curator and manager of the house which is used for a photography residency and private events like weddings and conferences as well as being open to the public. It is filled with furniture from the museum collection and outside a lawn runs down to the  boathouse and stone jetty with a spectacular view of the mouth of the fjord. The house is surrounded by very tall ancient oaks, beech and ash. There has been very little modernisation in the house so it feels as though you are living in a very unprecious museum where you are allowed to sleep in the beds, sit on the chairs and eat at the tables.




It was interesting to set up the same exhibition in two very different spaces. The simple white box in the Shetland Museum  where everything could be pinned to the walls made the exhibition very easy to install  and I was very happy with how it looked there. But this is something totally different at Halsnoy, very domestic, small separated spaces, where nothing can be pinned to the walls, forcing me to re think how things could be presented. The effect it had on some of the pieces was dramatic, particularly Deep Six and Deep Sixty which came alive against the coloured walls of the Red and Green Room, I doubt if they could ever be hung in  better spaces.

Deep Sixty
Curating and installing my own work is becoming a habit that I enjoy. Each time I present it in a new location there are challenges and surprises that allow the work to be seen in a different way. In the Shetland Museum the space and lighting were a pleasure to work with but at the Kloster it is the fabric of the building and its demands that have added a new dimension. 

Footwarmas and Key of Sea
Peg Kishie
Being Shetlands' closest neighbour this region of Norway is also very appropriate for this particular body of work because there are many similarities between the two places. Not just latitude and climate or because they both have  Leirviks, but also because  they both lost a large part of their  basketry tradition when oil was discovered in the 1960's in the sea bed between the two places. 

My thanks go to Jane Catherin Saersten Junger of Sunnhordland Museum for inviting me to exhibit at the Kloster and to Helen Petersen who made me very welcome, working hard to make sure everything went to plan including gathering and washing materials from the beach for the workshop and open day. Also my gratitude to Oyvind Hjelmen who with Helen manages the photography residency at the Kloster and who helped me with the installation of my benign ghosts.

The fast ferry to Bergen made up for the trials of the outward journey. We definitely need one of these in Shetland to go from Yell to Lerwick... I might have to start a petition.







Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Rencontres Autour du Saule, Bouxurulles


An appropriate name for this sociable little basket festival, the sixth edition of which was held in the tiny rural village of Bouxurulles in the Vosges last week.


Valerie Testu one of the principal organisers and a professional basket maker herself,  invited myself  and others from Germany, Alexandra Marks, Belgium, Liev Lieckens,  UK, Adrian Charlton, Spain, Carlos Fontales and, of course, France, Francois Deplanches, Regis Colin, Stephane Deleau, Florence Canavacciuolo, and Florian Gascht to teach workshops.

Work by Alexandra Marks
I hadn't seen Alexandra, Adrian, Carlos or Francois for a while and so it was a pleasure to have a chance to be with them and to meet others. Some makers were there to  take part in the basket market held at the weekend and Klaus Seyfang turned up, to the delight of everyone who knows him, just to be sociable.


Work by Valerie Testu
There were  18 classes run over a 3 day period and my contribution was a 2 day one for coiling and looping with recycled and found materials and  1 day on hexagonal plaiting. Many of the students were regulars to the event, people who really enjoy making baskets as a leisure activity.



The village residents host the tutors and organise meals and entertainments for everyone concerned , the sun shone and nearly 600 litres of local beer were consumed over the 5 days. Personally I enjoyed it very much and wish to thank all the villagers concerned but particularly Valerie, Jeannot and Zabeth for their incredible hard work and kind hospitality. I have happily accepted an invitation to return next year.


Monday, 11 January 2016

A Day Lasts Only a Few Hours.....

A day lasts only a few hours, at this time of year, or so it seems to me. In truth, of course, they are expanding, the shortest day has been and gone  but the daylight seems to only stretch slowly forward into  the evenings, not back into the night  where I need it to go. How can I go to the studio in the morning in the dark? My body is reluctant to stir. The outdoor cold shower (yes, I know it's crazy but it works for me)  helps to get me into the day quickly. It warms my body instantly and stops me yawning but only if I do it straight from a warm bed. If I hesitate and stagger about in clothing before the shower it is much harder to strip off again.

In the autumn I can hear an animal settling into hibernation in the roof above the bed, it moves about for a few weeks at dusk, presumably making up its bed, then all goes silent and it won't stir again for a couple of months. I could happily do the same but I have an exhibition to work towards.
Perhaps I was stupid to accept these dates for a major exhibition but it never occurred to me to think about the effect of the planetary movements on my ability to work.

Another thing I failed to think about was photography. I have always taken my own photos, initially the motivation was to avoid the expense of paying someone else, but quickly I learnt that it was important to photograph my work in the way that I wanted it to be seen. In 'Crafty Containers' the publisher did all the photography and hung my baskets, made of urban waste, in trees at jaunty angles or filled them with plants that hid the baskets. The photos could not have been more inappropriate but I had surrendered control and got what I deserved I suppose. It was a tough lesson.  If I can help it I  don't  use flash photography, but at this time of year the light is so bad it is almost impossible to take good photos of work indoors. From past experience I know I need good photos of the work before the exhibition opens so I will just have to find a way to do it.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Unpicking 'Poesie'



With roughly nine weeks left for me to finish new work prior to the opening of Weaving Ghosts the pressure is starting to mount.  Nine weeks that inevitably has to include Christmas and New Year celebrations.  It is true that I am no fan of Christmas, mainly because it seems to start at the beginning of November and just gets worse until Epiphany and the 'sudden and miraculous realisation' that it is, at last, all over!

Creative pressure, however,   is not like other kinds of pressure for me. It seems to be a positive force.  The nearer the deadline gets the more I start undoing things that are already almost completed. This would appear to be counterproductive behaviour but, often, it is because I have finally realised that there is a better way to use that material or technique and the remake, if that is what it can be called, usually happens very quickly. Since March this year I have spent many hours making things that I am now unpicking,  it's a bit of a kamikaze tactic because there is no time left to do it a second time so this time it will have to work. But, I am a fatalist and think that if my instinct is telling me to undo something then that is what I should do.


The piece that I am most excited about at the moment is something that came together relatively quickly and won't need a remake. But, on reflection, I realise that I have actually been working on the idea for several years and it just didn't manifest itself as a piece of work until now. When something excites me it takes over and I can work very quickly and put in long hours without noticing I am doing so.   It is almost as though the speed at which a piece comes together physically is an indication of how successful it will be for me. It doesn't matter if it is a first make or a remake, if it happens quickly it seems to work. That said, I still need to put the hours into making things that get unpicked because without making nothing happens, the ideas come out of the making process, however tedious that may be at times.

An obvious work ethic in art  seems to suck the vitality out of it for me, so I deliberately try to make my work look as though it came together without effort, but this can be counterproductive in terms of selling work.  Appreciating  the manifest gestures of labour in a piece of work is one easy way for the viewer to understand it and its price tag (if it is for sale). There are many contemporary basket makers who use a very obvious visible gesture in a piece to demonstrate that they have put painstaking hours into their work, which in turn will help to justify what appears to be a high price. But often they do it at the expense of what, in French, is referred to as 'poesie' and the work takes on a moribund character becoming nothing more than a demonstration of skill. Its' a trap I try to avoid, so more unpicking awaits....








Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Paillasses and Peluches


Bric a bracs are a recurring theme for me because apart from the visual spectacle of a sea of  peluches (soft toys) or a crate of keys, they always have lots of old baskets in them.



Most of them are horrible commercial varnished things, made to sell cheaply, often imported from China or bought as  souvenirs in some far flung place.  Sometimes though, there are also old local baskets coiled from straw and bramble ( paillasses or paillassous)  that were made to store dried plums (these are known here as bourgnes) or to raise bread dough and no doubt many other uses  unimaginable to us now.

Unwillingly, as I am not too keen on clutter,  my studio has become  the rescue centre for these lovely old baskets as I find them too difficult to ignore in their often derelict state. This year however, I have blocked my ears when visiting bric a bracs  so that I cannot hear their plaintive cries, enough is enough! But I swear they know I am there. During the weekend of the Assumption  there were bric a bracs on Saturday as well as the  Sunday and I knew, somehow, I wasn't going to get away with coming  home alone. Having walked for at least an hour round the Sunday market in the streets of a local village and within metres of the car for a quick getaway,  I was feeling smug that not a centime had escaped my purse when I saw her. Sitting proudly above the sea of plastic junk on the wobbly wallpaper table, with her lid fitting as snugly as a sailors cap,  she was scanning  the hoardes as they pushed past  and before I had a chance to hide, she had spotted me and was calling out.

How could I resist? She was lovely, no holes, no worm, beautifully made, all that remained was to pay up. The owner had gone into her house to cook lunch and so was dragged out, wiping her hands on a tea towel, by someone manning the stall for her.  Apparently it had been made locally and had been in her family for four generations. We calculated that she must be over 100 years old but she really doesn't look it - the basket, of course, not the owner! She said she would have liked to have kept it for her children and grandchildren but they hadn't shown any interest in it. I won't tell you what I paid for her because it's not polite to talk about ladies this way, but it wasn't much,  lovely old baskets have little or no value for most people here now.

 Back in my studio she has found a warm, dry home and some friends. I will have to start finding good homes for them soon.....