Friday, 29 July 2011

Blooming Britain

When I told my head of department at work that I was writing blogs he said he wasn't a ranter and couldn't do it himself. I smiled to myself at the thought that the only blog was a rant - but - on this occasion allow me to indulge myself.

earth and planter
weedy meter
I am sure that many countries have civic pride competitions and here one of them is Britain in Bloom. I love flowers and you would think that this would be right up my street. I am full of admiration for the many people who dedicate their time and energies to planting out baskets and troughs every year. But hasn't it sort of lost its direction? In the town I live in we are visited by the judges in early to mid July. You would normally expect planters to have been giving pleasure to the town from early June but ours are left as bare earth and not planted until the week before the judges come... This year hasn't been quite so bad due to the dry weather but some years I have seen beautiful baskets, say, along a road junction but immediately below them 4 foot high stinging nettles! As someone who mentally weeds everywhere I go I find this so painful. Even in the central area of town by the river there are planted troughs - in much need of a lick of paint - looking very sorry for themselves because the surrounding bed has over the years become a walking track and no alternative solution has been devised. Even car parks take on a look of neglect when - ironically- blooms appear that are not planned. I know that the ownership of land is an issue and again wonder how retail stores ignore the fact that their surroundings are part of their brand statement.  I do feel for those volunteers because their efforts are not part of an holistic approach to civic pride. That of course could lead me onto another rant  - litter - but I will try to contain myself.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

a sculptural period

raku head being washed
Life goes in cycles. You can have periods of following a particular creative route, for instance and then it's all change. A special time for me was the seven years in the late 80s and early 90s when I was absorbed in creating sculptural clay forms of heads and bodies. Whilst working and bringing up young children I also managed  to make a new sculpture a fortnight. Looking back as an older, less energetic woman I marvel at this. It was probably due to the inevitable stresses of that time of a life that this was possible. And they do say if you want something done ask a busy person. I like the way when you take up new creative forms you start to see the possibilities around you. Like blog writing of course! All sorts of things used to inspire me with new sculptures. Magazine adverts were a big source of ideas. Works by artists like Klimt, Kathe Kollwitz and Beardsley proved to be useful starting points for a new sculptural form. Punk heads were a boon. Life classes and the mirror were essentials. Many of my sculptures were Raku  -  an exciting process involving quick second firings and sawdust with some lovely turquoise or white crackle glaze like in the picure of a head being scrubbed up after a firing.

I don't have much left now - just a few mementoes that go in the garden of a summer and a large selection of reference books, but it was a rewarding time and part of me mourns the passing of it. Had there been an internet then I might have had a website to direct you to! As it is a few badly scanned shots of some of them is all that remains and the memory of all that energy!

sculptural miscellany

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Sand, sea and surf

Are there things you find yourself doing in your life that are really in memory of another? I have just come back from a few days in the Isle of Wight. Every time I go anywhere near the sea I have this urge to go in even though I know it will be freezing cold even in high summer and often quite a challenge. But I am compelled!.  This time I managed to go in at 8 am for three mornings and though my legs felt they had been sawn off to start with it was invigorating and I felt I had risen to the challenge.
it really is pretty cold, this sea!
It is my late father I am paying tribute to and who I think about when I am in the water. He loved to belly surf on what was basically a piece of plywood with a slightly upturned end.  Here are my brother and I with me making wet sand stockings, another favourite beach pastime that girls probably still take part in. Note the way my four year old brother is standing soldier like with the board..
beach 1963
My father taught me to swim in the shallow pools of Cornish beaches by holding onto my navy blue flowered ruched swimsuit from above and gradually letting go. Bit different from the hours of swimming lessons most people watch from the side of the pool these days. Most of my memories of my father are swimming related in fact. An open air lido in Tooting, South London, a lovely hill top open air pool in Box Hill, the numerous local 25 yard pools with changing rooms round the edge and the pinnacle for me - swimming 52 lengths of the crawl one evening, aged nine. Here he is relaxing in his favourite place - on a beach...thanks Dad!

Friday, 8 July 2011

Indelible imprints - leaving home

That first London flat, £6 a week, January to July 1974, only six months but the memories make it seem elastic. That first exciting dip into independent waters and there was no looking back.

The room an attic in a dank Victorian terrace in Pimlico. A surprise to see it still standing 30 years later. Securing it one lunch time meant a future with no more trains to London Bridge or interminable bus rides to the tube line or long lurching Northern line journey.
Day one – moving in with the first possessions of an 18 year old. The first of a lifetime’s supply of quilts - thrown off those dated blankets - and Woolworths crockery and cutlery. This is 70’s London! This is a brave step, rashly conceived but sealed before courage evaporates. Wave goodbye to a startled Mum and Dad. Now, where is that toilet? Ah... the basement..

Separate lives behind closed doors. Landlord whisky breathed, gravel voiced smoker old enough to be the father of all the transient sub letting tenants - trying hard not to remember this or that he has a blonde Swedish wife in tow. Only pretty girls need apply.

Joyous squalor, when it is all your own and even if it is four flights down to the most gruesome facilities a girl from a middle class suburban semi had ever seen.

And what memories? A visit from an ex, summoned by me to discover we had moved on and already I was the more experienced in life. The flotsam of life passing through, living in the way that only the 70’s knew how. The memories meld into one Pimlico experience – even with the next rented room down the road and light and airy and only one other elderly toothless, lifetime-in-the-same-room man upstairs, sharing the bathroom – when? Don’t think about it. [ Can’t forget those false teeth..]

There was a much to be envied ground floor tenant, a loud and bossy East Londoner, lustrous hair in long brown tresses, out of keeping with her attitude to life. She knew the ropes – and had two rooms and a live in boyfriend and a sixth floor council flat in Bow lined up it transpired. The next floor contained the wordly 27 year old Pam – in advertising for Nestle. We didn’t have a name then for always making yourself sick but she was envied her two rooms and balcony –something to aspire to here. Mystery in the blackened smoke damaged basement, left until more wealthy developers transformed the block and the area into mock Belgravia – much later.

The second landlord is gentle and grey bearded and living in Sussex - always visiting with his wife. They wanted staid spinsters - of the said parish - not dolly birds and the contract told me this. But he resigned himself to my first brown and orange decorating attempts with a request for future restraint. I had my own chocolate carpet tiles too, for the maggots to settle in around the Baby Belling. And I loved my first chair, a modern corduroy and tubular chrome Habitat piece that would look contemporary – briefly - 30 years later.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

They do it with mirrors

Mirrors are a source of endless fascination. Starting with me in the pre computer generated days of filming where we were told "they do it with mirrors"  to the fairground halls of mirrors and the opportunity to see ourselves as distended, stretched, obese, squat shapes accompanied by shrieks of laughter.

I am beginning to dismantle the mirrors in my house as I get older and more reluctant to view myself but it is interesting to unpick the history of mirrors in a life. Why was a mirror the first joint item purchased in a relationship? Why are reflections so compelling? I am not sure I have the answer but I know that my first art gallery visits brought me headlong into paintings like Jan Van Eyck's Portrait of Giovanni Anolfini and his wife painted in 1434. The picture below which  is an enlarged section from the painting of the mirror behind the couple, with miniature mirrors round it, part of a much bigger picture. Then there was the mirror image from the pencilled sphere in a hand by Dutch artist MC Escher whose paperback book fell apart it was so well thumbed during my teenage years. More distortion here...

What about a move to current times and the world about us. I constantly work on the chance to photograph mirror images in buildings through mirrored windows or in rivers and canals like this Stoke canalscape.
And finally a quirky self portrait using an extendable mirror to pick up my reflection...still not over it then..?