Today is a little nerve-wracking for me, as I’m off to a conference, Liquidscapes, at Dartington. This is not, in itself, unusual, as I attend many conferences. I talk at them, chair discussions or engage as audience. But this is a first – I am performing [gulp].
Most people are aware of my passion for the River Severn. I’ve drawn it photographed it, written about it. Several years ago I did a project with Suze Adams whereby we met opposite sides of the river and photographed the bore as it passed between us.
Over recent weeks this action has been repeated, but this time meeting Carol Laidler, with a very clear agenda.We set ourselves a number of tasks and met at three pinchpoints – Aust/Beachley; Sharpness/Lydney Harbour and finally Upper Framilode/Rodley.
It was fascinating to do. We wrote independently, took photos, then collaborated to bring it together as a conversation – sometimes in parallel, other times converging.
Whether it will be fascinating to see us perform is yet to be seen.
I’ve been going around in circles a lot lately, having returned to my own practice, as well as continuing to produce projects and collaborate with others. Doing GDPR has got me in a spin as to how to address these issues in one email newsletter. This is IT.
Flow has its own mailing list. Please forward this link to your friends and invite them to join too!
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JUST FOUND THIS IN THE DRAFT FOLDER ON MY WEBSITE. I USUALLY DELETE OLD DRAFTS, BUT THIS ONE HAS PROMPTED ME TO SHARE MY SADNESS. THE EXHIBITION AT THE GEORGE WAS LAST SUMMER.
The blogpost in italics below was created nearly a year ago. It heralded my first exhibition of the panoramic riverscape charcoal drawings, depicting both sides of the Severn. The opening night was shared with a farOpen exhibition, set up by a group of forest-based artists. It was a lovely evening both weather-wise and celebration-wise. Apparently we attracted more people at the private view than ever before. The George was the perfect venue for this – a summers evening, the courtyard garden looking lovely, the friendly staff making it special, crowded with people chattering.
farOpen had blossomed from a start-up group of around fifteen artists wishing to deliver open studio events. It has grown to over seventy members and the farOpen Studios runs Saturday 7 July until Sunday 15 July this year.
My own practice had established itself again, after a long gap of non-making. All was well.
The George closed only last week, less than a year later.
In the whole of the forest there are very few gallery outlets, Taurus and The George, both Camphill Trust venues, were the main/only ones along the Severnside area, where artists could exhibit and sell art.
This isn’t just a loss to the art sector, it is a loss to the local community. The George hosted many groups, local residents of all ages popped in and out for coffee and cakes. The majority of the food was made within the Camphill Trust and many items on the menu were locally sourced. People held meetings there, The George choir was born there. There were once art classes upstairs, performances, talks, music (there was a baby grand upstairs). The residents of The Grange and Oaklands worked in the cafe and were always charming and good company. They in turn enjoyed interactions with the public and families. There was a weavery, a room bulging with huge looms and baskets of hand died wools.
Later, the upstairs room was given over to exhibition space, after the wonderful bookstore was removed (it was downstairs in a dedicated space ten years ago, then moved upstairs only to be, eventually, dismantled)
The opening hours gradually reduced. The staff were always lovely.
There are many reasons for its closure and this blogpost is here to celebrate what it was, and how much it is already missed, not critique its viability. There are still some fantastic shops and businesses here (I shan’t refer to each one as the list is long), but no other cafes, bar the Armoury Hall coffee mornings, which are a weekly delight. Hopefully the ethos of social enterprise will help to keep safe the thriving village that we know and love.
There are many people who would like to see something similar to The George in its place, only time will tell if this is possible.
Meanwhile, support the village, keep coming and enjoying what is here, and consider whether you are prepared to put in some work to help it flourish again. If you are, join the ReNewnham Facebook Group and be part of that conversation.
p.s. If you want to see more of my art, including 360 degree works, go here
Here are a few photos of the drawings in situ. It is important to me that these works are shown on both sides of the river. If you have any suggestions about where they could be hung, or wish to host one or more, get in touch. Ideally they need to be seen near one of the places depicted.
For example, a very kind friend who lives on the Sharpness Canal at Purton has offered to host a pop-up in her home. We’re aiming for the August Bank Holiday weekend, so do note that in your diary. Details to follow.
I’ve always created work and produced projects in non-gallery locations, so am keen to use unusual locations as well as walls!
There’s two weeks left in The George. Here’re are a few pics of them there.
I haven’t written a post for a while as I’ve been otherwise distracted, for many reasons. Sometimes life takes a few twists and turns and it takes a while to assimilate direction. Demobilised by lack of car and having been ill, I’ve had lots of thinking time!
January 2017 saw me taking up drawing again and resulted in many exhibitions, some sales and much happiness. The River Severn research took me back in time and made me consider the future too – the drawings and musings about that will eventually come out later in the form of a book.
My renewed pleasure from drawing has now become viral and spreading to others. A few people asked me if I would consider leading drawing workshops (or looking classes, which is a more accurate description), mostly using charcoal. Several workshops later, they are gaining momentum and keeping me on the ball too, encouraging me to stay with my creative practice, as well as sustain my work as a producer. So my art practice and my producer practice are acting like river banks, and I and I flow between them…………
Last year a lot of thinking time and meetings was taken up with Creative Canopy,* which has gone quiet for a while while it gains momentum again – I look forward to the next wave of action with that.
The village in which I live is undergoing some rather depressing changes as austerity and general decline in economy results in many closures of shops and businesses. So I am looking into the formation of Social Enterprises. Create Gloucestershire hosted an excellent event last week about them at the wonderful Gloucester Services . They have an excellent social enterprise ethos to consider, which will prove to be very helpful. These models can be used both in the creative art sector and beyond. Here’s a little pic I took during Ruth Davey’s presentation about Look Again.
I’m working with some very interesting artists too, working up projects that both relate to the Severn (no surprises there then!). As someone who has spent my life commissioning works in different places from diverse artists, I have come full circle, returning to my own practice and, literally, turning full circle in front of a 360 degree camera as part of my inquiry into romantic landscape history. You can see more on my Instagram account, where they get a huge amount of positive comments.
Thursday, the second of March, 2018. The UK was in shut-down due to the Beast from the East and Emma. Both arrived with fanfares a-blowing, the weather channels in their element as they shared endless predictions and warnings. Yellow, amber red — no, it’s ok, the red is only yellow, no need to worry. But wait, the yellow is now amber, we’re in red-alert!
Whereas we used to look out of the window to gauge the weather, or tune into the weather report that followed the evening news on the radio or TV, we now have constant satellite updates relayed online, through apps on our phones and tablets, from scrolling lines of text on our screens as we work. Witty people posted on Facebook Marketplace that they had a fresh supply of snow in at a good price, and that more was coming constantly — collect your own while it still lasts.
The crisis-planners took the siege approach, storming supermarkets for bread, milk and other items that they need to survive for a day or two, or risk dying. Humour began to wane as the transport system skidded slowly to a halt, like Bambi on ice in slow-mo.
It all became quite chaotic on the news, digital noise that battered us, creating anxiety balanced with bemusement. I can’t help wondering how it could have come to this. After all, this is Britain, a country with distinctive seasons, one of which is winter, during which we get snow, every year.
Who would have thought it? Snow! As the population became resigned to the fact that there would be no chance of finding a loaf of bread, or any mode of transport that is reliable, everyone eventually settled into hygge-mode. All of a sudden the panic switch was left to idle, and communities got their act together. Neighbours looked out for each other and social media proved to be a really useful tool, for a change. People who were stuck in places far away from ailing parents were able to communicate with someone in their parent’s village and arrange help for them — pills from the chemist, food for the cat.
Maybe I am a romantic, but I am convinced that those who braved the cold into the streets to spread grit, or shovel snow, were glowing not only from the icy wind on their faces. They flushed with the pleasure of being part of their local community. People you rarely saw in the village came out of their houses. The pubs filled up with cheer and pictures shared on mobile phones, comparing the size of their snowdrifts — oooo, look at THAT one!
Oh, how we laughed, until we realised that during the two hours we were in the pub it had not stopped snowing and had got very dark. The main road had become an ice rink and the village shop closed up early as they had little left to sell.
Friday morning, at dawn, most people were still snuggled up in bed under stacks of quilts, condensation dripping down their bedroom windows. Little did they know that out there, in the biting winds of minus four, was a madwoman dressed in layers of clothes tromping down to the river to film the bore. It was me.
Clutching a tripod in one hand and a mug of tea in the other, I crept out into the superb virgin snow. As I left, I kicked away the knee-high drift that had created a curving wave-sculpture against my front door. In the street, the snow was easy to walk through as it was soft and powdery. It made a wonderful crunching noise as I walked. That was the only sound in the road, indeed in the village — no cars, no birds, no distant trains, no planes overhead, nor doors banging.
It is impossible not to feel a sense of power and childish delight when you are the first to tread newly-fallen snow. Difficult not to whoop with delight in a street where others are sleeping. I let a giggle slip out, because there was no-one to hear me. As I approached the riverbank the wind whipped up, burning my face with biting cold air, my tea already down to lukewarm, my fingers beginning to hurt under my gloves. Little splashes of English Breakfast left stains as I rushed along, leaving a trail, like Hansel and Gretel. Should I have tumbled into the freezing waters, they would have found me by tracking those brown traces.
Just before a bore comes in, the riverbed is usually very low, and that morning was no exception. Whereas normally it reveals a brown-grey sandy bank down the centre of the river, that morning it was glittering with sparkly ice, metres and metres of crystal formations surrounded by slow-moving water, travelling downstream. I swear I could hear them crackling in the otherwise silent landscape.
There was nobody else in sight. The snow was fell gently, the scene disturbed only by the occasional fly-by of terns or egret. I set up my tripod, worrying a bit whether, like my fingers, the three hundred and sixty degree camera would suffer and struggle to function. Clipped onto the tripod safety and planted with all three legs deep into the snow drifts, I felt it was securely stable against the wind. Inside its little Lycra sleeve, it would be ok, after all, Lycra keeps surfers and divers warm. I set the kit up ready to shoot and stood there, waiting, rubbing my hands vigorously and stamping my feet as I gazed downriver.
It was uncannily beautiful.
The shadowy line in the distance got closer, the water appeared to travel at the speed of mercury — weighty with the biting cold air, thick, heavy, it spread over the icy mudflats, changing the colour to murky brown.
I whipped the camera-warmer off and pressed start for the video.
This was my reward for all that scaremongering and stress that had wrapped the nation in fear. This was peace. Pure, unadulterated snow and pure unadulterated wonderfulness.
Admittedly, pure unadulterated numbness of fingers was beginning to set in too, and my face was feeling raw. But standing there, still for a moment, the sound of the bore approaching filled the air. As it approached the west bank behind the cliff below Newnham Church, a flock of ducks rushed out to avoid being swamped. As a group they flew low above the water’s surface, upriver, only to come back later when the tide had settled again. They always do.
I filmed for a very short time, both fingers and camera being very vulnerable and risking irreparable damage. I returned home cold and with painful fingers and toes, but it was worth it. Soon, all of our lives will have returned to normal again. I am lucky, I have some beautiful three hundred and sixty degree footage from a magical moment by the river in minus four degrees. Life is just a matter of degrees of happiness, make sure you use them well. Better than being numb.