Tag Archives: walking

Whixall to Bettisfield Moss Walk

29 Nov

Now we’ve had a few frosts and even some flurries of snow, its good to look back on the Summer.  On what was probably the hottest and most humid day of the year, I joined a small band of artists from Participate Contemporary Artspace for a walk starting from the car park by the Llangollen Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal.

We had been permitted access to the Furber’s Breaker’s Yard, which I had seen from a distance on previous visits.  It was a forbidding place and I was always curious how such a monstrous eyesore could ever have developed next to one of Britain’s largest peat bogs and a site of major natural significance.

 

After 50 years of operation, the breaker’s yard has recently been taken into the ownership of Shropshire Wildlife Trust so that it may be restored to nature as part of the Marches Mosses or, more specifically, Fenn’s, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses.  Shropshire Wildlife Trust is working very closely with Natural England and Natural Resources Wales to develop and deliver restoration plans.

There is some information on Fenn’s, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses National Nature Reserve here and from Natural England here.  The Mosses straddle the Welsh and English border, and there is a feeling of being at the edge of the land.  The landscape has many rare flora and fauna, and it has a particular haunting atmosphere that I am attracted to.  It is worth visiting in all seasons.

The scrapyard site has been cleared of most of the cars, but there were some 100,000 tyres remaining in huge piles. And on close inspection, much of the 6 hectares was covered with a scattering of pulverised fragments of metal, plastic and other vehicular materials.

 

We had a good wander around, taking in the atmosphere.

 

Black rubber cascades

Engulf this delicate land

Slender stems rising

 

 

 

Smashed fragments glisten

Tokens of dreams subsiding

Old codes turn to rust

 

We left the scrapyard, and followed the canal to the junction with the Prees Branch of the Ellesmere Canal. We then zigzagged south and west via Moss Farm and Moss Lane into Bettisfield Moss.  At first, we passed along beautiful grassy pathways through woodland.

And then we reached the open wetland of the Moss.  The land is quite flat, and in some places it becomes difficult to get bearings and sense of direction.  We were unable to make a circular route and had to return to the original path into the Moss.

It doesn’t take long to notice the biodiversity though.

 

Heat hangs heavily

Over quivering parched grass

Dragonflies darting

 

At the time, I resolved to create some artworks to document the walk in some way, but time has flown with busy activities, and it is only now that I am reviewing these photographs, and thinking about what to make.  I’m starting with some drawings which could lead into some paintings and a small book.  Watch out for that sometime soon.

 

 

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It’s a sign

30 Oct

To quote from Cool Hand Luke: 

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate”

Signs Copyright 2017 All rights reserved, Andrew Howe

Give me a hand

29 Jul

After a flurry of exhibition and creative activity, what better way to enjoy the Summer weather than a relaxing stroll around Telford’s Stafford Park Industrial Estate?

It was a baking hot and humid day at the end of July and a storm was building to the west as I made a circuit through the estate…

…before going over and across the roar of the M54, ambling around Priorslee Lake and the quiet suburbs…

…some found paintings:

then back into the estate:

I find something enticingly eerie about the huge monolithic sheds, the boom, clank and hiss of machinery, the almost complete lack of people visible, and the incessant movement of vehicles.  I feel a part of a larger machine, where stuff is made, moved around and, sometimes, stuff is brought back in.

Around lunchtime, some people, mostly men, emerge to walk around the block, to stand smoking, staring at the traffic, or to dodge across the road to the uninviting cafe for a sandwich.

“…And there’s no thanks
From the loading bay ranks…”

Always in such places, I recall the Fall’s “Industrial Estate” and “Container Drivers”, Mark E Smith… so clinical and relentless.  So evocative of my youth, listening to the Kicker Conspiracy EP, “Wings” again and again.

Detritus lies scattered in the verges and under every bush.  Landscaping so carefully planned for a life of minimal maintenance.

I am curious about the large numbers of discarded, or perhaps just lost, gloves.  Poignant remnants of human contact.  Always just a single glove.  Were they dropped by accident?  Or were they jettisoned once the owner realised there was no longer a pair?  Or are they a secret sign… a code between drivers … of a place they can go to escape?  Or are they a call for help?

gloves

 

Space Explorers!

1 Jun Andrew Howe Space Explorers

My walking workshop event at the Hive stimulated some interesting responses.  May 23rd was a a beautiful warm Summer evening in Shrewsbury, and after my brief introduction in the gallery to my exhibition and ways of working, we set out for a walk of about 30 minutes.

Everyone was familiar with the town, so I wanted to try and break habitual ways of observation and remove some of the filters we employ when we walk from A to B.  Using input from participants I developed a simple algorithm to guide me on  route to our destination.  None of us knew where we would end up, so we just had to concentrate on being in the moment, taking in the overwhelming flood of sensory experience when we limit other distractions.  I walked at a brisk pace which was a frustration to some who wanted to linger and study passing views in more detail.  Overall though, the algorithmic walk was a fascinating experience, and most of the attendees began noticing details they might otherwise have missed.  I even walked through several locations around the town centre that I had never visited before in 20 years.

We arrived at Frankwell car park between the Guildhall and River Severn.  Clouds of mayflies danced in the low sunlight, a cricket match commenced in the sports field nearby, a fellow artist wandered by walking their dog, groups of kids hung about by the river – it was a relaxed atmosphere in which to gather materials to make art.  Participants made sketches, tracings, rubbings, photographs and recorded experiences in text.

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On our return to the Hive, and after some refreshment, we began making small collage/installations using some of the gathered materials.  We worked quickly and spontaneously to work with instinctive ideas.

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I was impressed with what could be created in a short space of time.  It was interesting to see how our collective experiences of the place overlapped and contrasted, how unique visual maps had been generated by each person.

Some of the work we made:

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Exhibition at the Hive

20 Apr

Here’s another opportunity to see some of the paintings I exhibited in my In Parallel show at Participate Contemporary Artspace last year, plus new paintings and my In Parallel and Entwined book:

The Hive,
5 Belmont, Shrewsbury,
SY1 1TE

24th April to 27th May 2017
Tuesday – Friday from 9AM – 5PM

During the exhibition, I plan to run a Space Explorers workshop from the Hive involving walking and gathering inspiration for creative activity:

Tuesday 23rd May 2017

17:30 – 21:00h

£7 per person.  Places are limited so book early please.

Call the Hive on 01743 234970 or see website for further details.

Andrew Howe Space Explorers

Open to everyone with an interest in using walking to find inspiration and materials for creating art work.  No particular artistic ability is required.  The workshop will encourage different ways of looking and spontaneity in putting ideas together.

Meet in the Hive Gallery at 5.30pm before setting out on foot into the cosmos.

Some paper and art materials will be provided, but you are welcome to bring your own small sketchbooks, camera or drawing materials.

The walk will last 30-40 minutes, brisk paced over urban terrain, possibly including steps but no climbing.  There will be a short break for drinks and light refreshments after the walk and before the art making.  You are welcome to bring your own food.

 

The exhibition will feature some new works including my In Parallel and Entwined book, an oil painting triptych and a polyptych of 9 small mixed media panels.

The fire exit staircase appeared as a motif in the original exhibition.  I was struck by its sculptural form and yet its mundane functionality tends to make it “invisible” or easily overlooked.

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Rising, oil on canvas triptych, 3 x 300mm x 400mm

The other new work “Pieces” resulted from experiments with combining small scale panels mounted in grids.  I used different techniques of painting and collage, continuing the themes of the exhibition, to produce a large number of panels.  So far “Pieces” is the only finished work, but I expect to produce some more over time.  Putting individual paintings together in these arrays opens up more connections and narratives between paintings that would not work if I was to just combine images within one painting.  Next step may be to play around with the scale and formal/informal arrangement of the panels.

Andrew Howe, Pieces

Pieces, 150mm x 150mm x 9 mixed media panels

Pieces (detail)

 

 

In Parallel and Entwined

19 Jan

Another new book!

My preparatory studies for the In Parallel project included a number of black and white collages, drawings and mixed media works on brown/neutral paper.  I had had it in mind to continue these and develop them into an artist book.  The themes of everyday details and office work suggested the use of manila envelopes as the ground for the studies.  The variety of tones and hues of these envelopes and parcel paper is large and so the combination of studies is quite visually pleasing.

The studies are diverse but all referring back to motifs from the In Parallel project of maps, everyday details of the business park (air conditioning vents, manhole covers), elements of the landscape (disused railway bridge), and plant forms.  Methods include collage (using digital images, maps), drawings in a range of media, frottage and painting in gouache and acrylic.

I selected 25 of the studies to create a concertina-style artist book with a frieze on the reverse of the pages running the length of the book.  These are then bound into a clam-shell box with a cover that is itself a collage using strips of different brown envelopes/parcel paper, and applied acrylic medium as a smooth protective layer.

The original works are published as a single limited edition.

I self published a full colour paperback version on lulu.com, which retails at £12 + p&p.  Further details for purchasing here.

I’ll be launching the book during the exhibition at In Good Hands cafe in Shrewsbury.  See the news page on my website for more information.

The paperback version front cover:

print_cover

Here is a small selection of the finished studies:

Here is a selection from the frieze on the reverse pages:

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The Art of Relating Sites

21 Oct

Earlier in the Summer, on consecutive days, I had the pleasure of seeing Laura Oldfield Ford and George Shaw give talks about their respective exhibitions at Grand Union, in Birmingham, and the National Gallery.

I had researched both artists as part of my contextual study in edgelands, site specific art and psychogeography for my Creative Arts BA, and they feature in my extended written project. The paper investigates some strategies that artists employ in relation to site-based art, focusing particularly on painters. It reviews the extent to which a selection of contemporary artists measure up to the challenge of Miwon Kwon’s relational specificity. Kwon asserts that they should deal with the:

“uneven conditions of adjacencies and distances between one thing, one person, one place, one thought, one fragment next to another, rather than invoking equivalences one thing after another” (Kwon, 2002).

It is suggested that psychogeography offers a productive means of making connections between adjacent places in time and space in order to foster new and unexpected perspectives on a site.

You can download the essay here:  160406-a-howe-the-art-of-relating-sites_final

 

Laura Oldfield Ford’s show Cnothic Reverb was the result of a residency at Grand Union in the Summer of 2015.  It comprised a 30 min sound installation (city sounds, music fro 80s, 90s, 00s) and Ford’s voice describing thoughts, reminiscences and experiences of Birmingham) plus black and white photographs and copies of drawings posted onto wooden and citex billboards constructed into an enclosed rectangular layout within the gallery.  Ford’s characteristic pink was used as coloured fluorescent strip tube lighting.

Walking around Digbeth beforehand, I had very similar experiences to those explored by the artist in her powerfully atmospheric show.  Like Ford, I was returning to this area of Birmingham for the first time in about 20 years. Some areas were threatening (was this just because I was no longer familiar) but other areas felt the same (eg the areas around the Custard Factory).  There were large amounts of graffiti, security devices/fencing/wire and lots of dark “goings-on” behind industrial metal doors and boarded up buildings.  There seemed to be endless car/taxi respray and maintenance workshops interspersed with gentrifying art/music/design studios.

There was a strange eclectic mix of furtive people in alleyways, doing something on phones, snogging in corners, sawing a wooden crate for some unfathomable reason, standing in groups on corners talking or smoking.  There were arty or well dressed affluent folk and more “ordinary” working folk on their way home.  Some photos I took on the day:

There was a buzz, a tension.  As I got used to the atmosphere, I reacclimatised and felt more comfortable, invisible.  But still I didn’t fancy walking down onto the canal towpath, through a graffiti-covered seating area, populated initially by 3 overexcited kids, possibly drunk, on drugs or glue or just being kids off school, and later by two wizened old drunks.

Walking out of the glitz of the Birmingham Bull Ring towards Digbeth I was struck by the rapid change in the people from bright happy shoppers to more downbeat individuals waiting listlessly for buses, ambling along or homeless sitting on any available vantage point.  I was accosted (politely) for help by an Irishman, and given looks of cautious suspicion by people of Asian or eastern European appearance.

Am I remembering something that really happened, something someone else talked to me about or something I just imagined.  For example, returning to town via the large area of land left vacant ready for the incoming HS2 station, I saw the derelict shell of the Fox and Grapes pub on Freeman Street.  That name rings a bell, but I recall going to a different pub on or near that road (The Vine?) but the Fox and Grapes did seem familiar.  I “remembered” a Summer afternoon, mid-week when I went there, played pool, listened to the Happy Mondays (Thrills, Pills and Bellyaches LP) with either my brother(s) or possibly one of my Moseley mates, or was it someone else?  Or am I just imagining the whole thing?  Our perception of the world we see is based on memories and hearsay that we just can’t rely on.

Ford’s commentary alluded to place, her memories of pubs and buildings, and the history of local events such as the Battle of Saltley Gate” during the Miner’s Strike of 1973 – she said “we need to remember when “we were on top”– and “make new positive trajectories” that may modify the writing of political history or instigate actions along these new trajectories.

The conversation with Dr Phil Jones (urban geography lecturer at Birmingham University) was slightly disappointing but it did prompt some good insight into Ford’s thinking and psychogeographical methods – using the derive as a starting point for her work.  Despite her relatively diminutive stature and neat appearance, she has an aura of anger and history of living in squats and political activism.  I asked her about whether her work may increasingly draw on the optimistic aspects (in reference to her positive trajectories which in turn referenced Walter Benjamin’s  writings) to suggest future solutions.  I had previously heard criticism of her, because despite her anger, she fails to make positive alternative proposals – and indeed she avoided doing so when asked directly by Phil Jones.  I can see that there are signs in her paintings of the positive aspects of community cohesion.  She acknowledged my support but did not say much more about whether her approach may change to a more optimistic, constructive view.  In a way, why should she?  Art can be about raising issues and asking questions, expressing anger … without necessarily having all the answers.

On the following day I travelled to London to see “My Back to Nature” by George Shaw at the National Gallery.

In reading the excellent website by Duncan McLaren Scenes from the Passion, following his work in detail, I became more aware how autobiographical Shaw’s paintings of the Tile Hill estate are. They are not just nostalgic reminiscences of places he knew growing up, the paintings reflect Shaw’s moods and his experience after the death of his father.  (Shaw ceased painting for some time after this event).  For example, paintings of tree trunks in earlier work were revisited but now they were literally truncated, chopped down or burnt and vandalised.  Clearly a metaphor for life that I had not fully considered previously. Trees become anthropomorphised, and are certainly corporeal in several paintings, including this new exhibition. Similarly, Shaw’s paintings of fences, walls and other barriers perhaps reflect some of the feelings of frustration and loss he had in coming to terms with life after his father’s death.

The exhibition press release is here.  There is some interesting insight in the touring information sheet, revealing some of the mythological background to the paintings, and also a glimpse of some Shaw’s studies in his studio space at the National.  I was aware that there is a considerable background of cultural references behind Shaw’s paintings, and he evidently gives each work a great deal of thought.  This is reflected in his writings, and interviews.  Certainly a line can be drawn from a Neo-Romantic heritage to Shaw’s work.  He lacks the political anger of Ford, while taking a more realist, pragmatic, honest view of the contemporary landscape.  Perhaps closer to the paintings of Sutherland, Nash and Piper than Ford’s urban viewpoint.

In his residency at the National Gallery as part of the Associate Artist scheme, Shaw has interpreted paintings from the collection whilst keeping within his known territory of the woodland near the Tile Hill estate.  The paintings are inspired particularly by Titian’s Death of Actaeon and Diana and Actaeon.  Poussin and Constable are also references, and it was fascinating to see the exhibition and view these paintings face to face.  The blue plastic sheeting, the fragmented porn mags, and graffiti on tree trunks take on new significance in the paintings, and I see the links with the old.  I am also reminded of the passage about the English affinity for woodland, (and the oak tree in particular) in Schama’s “Landscape and Memory”.

The interview with Shaw in the a-n website also provides some interesting insight,  as does this BBC Radio 4 interview.

There is a review of the exhibition in the Observer here.  And an earlier review in the Guardian here.

The review in the Telegraph was less enamoured with the exhibition and is not impressed by Shaw’s contemporary interpretations of the paintings in the National Gallery.  It does not seem to make the connections with Shaw’s earlier work.  This is what they say:

“Gone are the goddesses and forest nymphs, replaced by discarded beer cans and the scattered pages of porn mags. Elsewhere Shaw depicts a tree trunk with a large phallus graffitied on it.

In short, he opts for slightly coarse, 21st-Century twists on age-old erotic myths, bringing the illicit sex and drunkenness of works like Poussin’s Triumph of Pan into the present day.

In one scene – the ironically titled Call of Nature – Shaw himself can be seen urinating against the foot of a tree, but this is the only figure we see. The other scenes are entirely depopulated; in some cases they’re so bare even the trees are bereft of leaves. Does Shaw want us to pause for thought about how modern man has despoiled his landscape?”

I don’t think Shaw is making a strong ascerbic point about human impact on nature (although he is making a point), but he is drawing attention to the fact that nature can resist and thrive in spite of human disregard. At least, that is my thinking on the subject. Shaw’s perspective is complex.  I suspect he found the woodland of his youth a place of refuge and calm, but also of threat and darkness.  Certainly, he sees the litter and casual disregard for nature as symptomatic of contemporary human attitudes.  Yet he also views the woodland as representing a place of freedom.  The meticulous style of painting is surely evidence of Shaw’s love for the woodland/nature – and this is also seen in his paintings of shabby housing and wasteland.  The painting of Shaw urinating against a tree, is more ambiguous, perhaps recalling a time when he was not so observant or caring of nature.  Or perhaps, it acknowledges something in himself that is always at heart a grimy urbanite, someone who can never have true affinity with nature.

Shaw reveals that initially he saw the residency as an opportunity to change his style or subject matter, and indeed some of the early work comprises 14 charcoal self-portraits in the positions of Christ in the Stations of the Cross (which he knew from his local church in Coventry).  While these offer a different perspective on the artist, and they do relate to other work in the National Gallery, they do not sit easily for me alongside the woodland paintings he returned to, of which Shaw has made a huge number during the 2 years.  I should not be so surprised by the self-portraits since Shaw studied performance art, not painting, in his first fine art degree.

One of the main technical changes Shaw made in this exhibition was to move away from painting on board (mdf or plywood) and to use canvas, which relates with the materials used by the Old Masters in the Gallery.  He still used the Humbrol enamels, which he says, he initially adopted as a means of distancing himself from the established history of oil painting. The enamel paint is quite dark and glossy on board, but it seemed softer and less reflective on canvas.  Either Shaw is refined his technique, or the canvas allows for greater subtlety.

I admire the way in which Shaw has found a voice that rarely strays from a specific location and landscape, and yet he is able to layer on multiple meanings and moods that reflect both his own personal story, but also wider views on society.  Shaw uses a familiar place to make universal statements.  My own range of painting subjects and places is more diverse than Shaw’s, and at the moment, I would find it restrictive to stay focused on one site.  But it is useful to think about how I can use motifs or themes that I revisit frequently to reflect thoughts and views which may have a tangential connection to what appears to be the main subject in the painting.

Trees and woodland, for example, regularly feature in my work (eg “Ours Too” – the rope swing painting or “Ours” –  the den painting), and I made a book some time ago collecting various paintings and photographs together with haiku poems by Colin Blundell, called “We’re Not Out of the Woods Yet”.  I can see many connections with George Shaw in the topographical visual aesthetic, the corporeal tree trunk, the “mistreatment” of woodland by people or rather the use of liminal spaces for experimentation and play, such as kids making dens, trying cigarettes and alcohol.  My painting “Trunk” has some similarities with Shaw’s preoccupation with tree trunks.  It shows my own geometric aesthetic, and I recognise the parallel verticals which feature in others of my paintings.

There is no doubt that woodland was a formative landscape during my childhood and teenage years when I used to go into Ecclesall Woods near my house in Sheffield, in much the same way that it was for George Shaw.  Now Shaw has established such a strong identity for himself with the edgelands, I feel slightly intimidated in trying to forge my own identity with this subject matter.  This is a little like how Shaw must have felt during his 2 year residency, walking in past the Velazquez and Rubens.

In the evening I attended the event: George Shaw in conversation with Paul Farley (edgelands poet and co-author with Michael Symmons Roberts of “Edgelands: Journeys into England’s True Wilderness”)

There was inevitably some mutual self-indulgence in this conversation but some of the points I took included:

  • the edgelands are not really feral, they are not wilderness, they are only yards from “civilisation” where one can hear car alarms, children shouting etc;
  • the woodlands are places only adolescents (and criminals) feel empowered to experiment in because there are no rules, no CCTV, no parents, no one is watching;
  • for others they are a place of threat of violence and wild behaviour or a place to rediscover the liberation of adolescence;
  • there are only a limited number of narrative themes, whether Shaw really sees these themes, or whether he creates/constructs a scenario based on classical references;
  • edgelands have stopped being the unnoticed landscape, and by the very nature of their being explored are being changed.