residencies round up: last Arvon October

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the hurst

Last autumn I was a guinea pig artist-in-residence for The Arvon Foundation  at their Shropshire centre, The Hurst.

The brief was for me to spend a week in The Clockhouse, neighbour building to John Osborne’s grand and gothic former home The Hurst, and make visual art in response to the place, as well as on any themes I was preoccupied with already.

I was invited because Arvon, working with Jo King at Ludlow Open, was looking for an artist for whom image and text are inextricably intertwined. With the Arvon Foundations expertise at generating all kinds of text, with their incredible year round programme of writers and courses, it was felt that fostering visual art alongside could build in yet more inspiration.

Part of the arrangement was that I’d donate a piece from what I made, which could then contribute to the development of a contemporary art collection for the house.

It was bliss to stay at the newly refurbished Clockhouse, which is run as an untutored retreat space, with four tranquil apartments, and homecooked meals in one-person sized portions to heat up on whim.

It happened that three Ukrainian writers: Halyna Shyyan, Volodymyr Rafieienko and Lyubko Deresh were my excellent housemates, over at the invitation of the British Council and Writing West Midlands. Having already toured and read in Birmingham, they were on the second, ‘now you have time to write stuff’ leg of their tour.

We shared the big kitchen and sitting room for breaks, and traded ideas about poetry, vegetable preparation and the world. Halya’s English was brilliant and we worked on translating a piece of her punky writing together, which we then read from in turn at a presentation later in the week.

I covered my nice carpet and desk with dust-sheets in case of paint, and made the study into a studio. I walked in the redwoods and got lost in the enveloping fern/oak/cloudscapes of the Shropshire Hills. Away from domestics, my mind flickered over into making things mode. Into the emptiness jumped my dead parents, as well as all my living relationships. There’s nothing quite as welcome: engulfing, freaky, disorientating – as some peaceful, paid for nothing.

shropshire hills

studio desk at the Clockhouse

dead bloom everywhere

never get a job

Getting lost in those luminous hills set me off too, and I have yet to edit the small clutch of poems it inspired, especially as in visual artist capacity I was trying to steer my imagination mainly into paint.

Here’s a chat that I couldn’t resist documenting though,  in both types of inky line: me trying to encourage Lyubko to set foot outside, though I knew I’d only seen him in dainty fawn loafers…

Lyubko and the London Boots

At The Hurst next door a group of 16 writers were hard at creating Young Adult fiction. We ate with them and their tutors a couple of the nights, an entertaining bunch. It was interesting to listen to talk of plotting, pace and character, the practicalities of narrative… how they were (and weren’t) progressing.

After myself and the Ukrainian writers had given our talk/readings on the Thursday evening, introduced by Natasha Carlish, who runs the Hurst, it seemed a fun and connective addition to offer myself in story collecting capacity the next day, and collect ‘young adult/teenage stories’ from all who wished to share one.

I brought my ink and paper through on Friday, and lots of people came. One by one they told me about rites of passage: times of shame, triumph, love, discovery, rebellion – from their adolescent years. Jo though, the Arvon gardener, wanted to tell me a much younger formative story, (I grudgingly allowed this!) Having heard and drawn it, I too will go and pay my respects to the snakes first, whenever the chance arises.

Jo's Black MambaOf course I loved all the stories. Me and this Clapham Rachael laughed so much together I could hardly operate my brush.

Good, I’m glad I told you that, she said. I’m going to frame it and put it up in my loo.

tucked in kilt story

Most of the week I worked in ink or gouache, and on the Friday drew about twenty of these teenage stories, I collected some from myself too, as a friend helpfully suggested that for every twenty I hear I should draw at least three of my own!

french exchange

I particularly enjoyed Natasha’s swirling plumes of fuggy cafe steam. With my many stranded brush those flourishes pretty much draw themselves. It’s a great tool for corduroy trousers and heavy rain as well.

natashas patisserieIt was hard to tear myself away on the Friday, surely I will return! For now, I will let the chosen painting hover in Shropshire on my behalf, also feeling glad that the label (and the name) for the new enterprise of THursty home grown apple juice from the Hursts  orchards bears the stamp of my inky paw. Thanks to everyone at Arvon for really knowing how to look after people, and to Jo King and Natasha Carlish for giving me such a dreamy opportunity.

juice label

 

 

 

VOYAGE and other journeys

Over the last couple of years, my story collecting project has been expanding into the rich theme of migration: and I’ve had the chance to hear people tell me about what makes them feel at home: whether it’s a kitchen, a hobby – their body, or a poem…

Londons diversity has always made me relieved to return to it, but many people don’t experience the city as friendly. How do we live in our communities, connect with neighbours, make ourselves heard? These questions seem more urgent than ever, post brexit, where polarities have been amplified, in and outside of our various bubbles.

In Hounslow I was working with Creative People and Places encouraging residents to develop their own modes of story collecting, which we practised by listening, drawing and writing poems together, after initial inky story collecting sessions with me.

IMG_2658

Over at the National Maritime Museum I’d also been listening and collecting, from visitors to the RE*THINK space there, as part of work with The Migration Museum Project. Poet and friend, Karen McCarthy Woolf was writer in residence on this theme. We hatched a plan to collaborate, and make a piece of work to show our findings. This is now manifest as a 36 page book: Voyage, and contains an essay and new poems by Karen, with stories collected and drawn live by me.

As we were addressing the subject of migration, I wanted to supplement the narratives I’d heard at the museum, with some from more recently arrived people, people who might not yet be at the museum visiting stage… so I approached South London Refugee Association, who welcomed me to their drop in. I met and spoke with people there, who shared some of their moving stories with me. Karen and I selected a range of drawings and poems from the work we’d made, the book was supported and introduced by Joanna Salter at the museum, and we in turn were listened to, re paper stock, layout and printing by old friends at Aldgate Press.

We’ve had a lovely article and review of the book, by Bidisha, on the BBC arts website.

VOYAGE reviewed on BBC Arts

There are lots more of the drawings to look at via this link, and a short film of me, made by Chocolate Films where I’m collecting one of the Hounslow stories.

Voyage readings and launch at The European Commission in London:

Europe House, 32 Smith Square SW1

6:30 -8:30 September 15th. Please come along.

Cake in the Forest

The project that catapulted me into Nature and away from my habitual London scenery: The Listening Forest, is now up in another form, as an exhibition at the HQ of the Poetry Society at 22 Betterton Street Covent Garden: The Poetry Cafe.

chichis forest cover pic

About thirty of the original drawings are on the walls, chosen from the hundred or so that make up the book, which in turn, were chosen from perhaps twice that that I made whilst in residence for Fermynwoods Contemporary Art in Northamptonshire.

P1000990.jpgMany of the drawings on show are those I drew live from local people recounting to me what they get up to in the woods; others are ones that I made away from company, on my own in the cottage I was put up in.

IMG_8379

There are also the six paper cuts I made as a structural device to tailor the book into its shape as a mirror to the forest, filing stories as appropriate under section headings: noticings and changes of direction in path, strange sightings and confessions in  undergrowth, the ordinary and everyday in shrub layer, revelations and insights in clearing, lofty thoughts in canopy, base material in floor

undergrowth RRH

 

New for the space in Covent Garden, I replaced Ralph Steadman’s Byron scribed lampshades with new ones of my own, some written on in loose ink with excerpts from my forest poem sequence, some coloured with streaks of Nepalese paper cut into leaf-spiders, moth-women, crow-huts.

lamps

flophouse pic (chichi)

The show opened on my Dad’s 90th birthday, so he came along, and after I’d read some poems, the audience sang to him and we all shared cake!

me and dad po caf

The same week it was the  The Poetry Library open day at the Festival Hall, which took as its theme: The End of the Poem. It was exciting to see the library’s copy of the limited edtion huge version of The Listening Forest in its thirty metre incarnation, laid out on one of the tables, near another recent collaborative work: Collective City, the book we assembled from visual poem collages made by visitors to the Southbank Centre’s Poetry International Festival and made into an inventive street shaped book by the same team who bound the forest book: the inimitable Henningham Family Press

library open day

The Listening Forest exhibition runs until February 4th and is open most days and evenings, but please do check the Poetry Cafe website.

Another evening viewing is scheduled for Thursday December 17th, with mulled wine, a chance to buy screen prints, books and original drawings, and a short reading of some forest and city poems by me and some surprise guest poets!

I will also be running a day workshop in conjunction with The Poetry School, called Hide and Seek in the Ideas Forest, on Saturday January 30th. We’ll be working on how to set traps for the unconscious, and turn what we find into art and poetry.

So many people have been involved with this project, big thanks to all who joined me on the path: including Yasmin Canvin and the team at Fermynwoods Contemporary Arts, Kate Dyer and Lorraine Dziarkowska of Corby Community Arts – and everyone who told me a story or listened to a poem or idea. Particular London thanks to Tanya Peixoto of The Bookartbookshop and Mike Simms of the Poetry Society.

Here’s a poem.

Forest Of Experience

It’s a flophouse for moths

they flail in beige stupor

all eyes and faintings

Victorian ladies with the vapours

 

I tune my ear

to their sighs

floating up in snatches

from hazy gilded blades.

 

Car salesman newt zips

in and out of his slovenly

basketwork: rotted black twigs

laced with bark ribbons.

 

A glowing toadstool

in coral polyester

sponges me

her beauty tips.

 

My forest of experience cracks

under the books I’ve read

the words I’ve spilt

and pictures that I’ve made

 

so badly, so laboriously.

My painting arm remembers

Prussian Blue, Chrome yellow –

squeezed from tubes

 

crude globs, unlike this life

where ferny fountainheads

prise lids off every shade

from eau-de-nil to sludge

 

and nodding fronds of fronds

swish me like a sap

into their losing green.

Nouveau pines

 

rise smooth as vaulting

in my restless cinema

and up in the spaghetti

canopy, sinuous capillaries

 

make grids for clouds

and trap me in a silence test.

Strain, for what?

Your ghost? A hare?

 

But only midges jitter

provincial, repetitious

have they not seen lipstick before?

Their dots itch every inch

 

of me, tiny tireless clubbers

mobbing the street.

Through tough foliage

glimpse bolts of deer

 

shaded in private fur

impervious to sting

or stinging remark –

every day there’s carnage.

 

Bird spangled branches

trumpet fat green notes

filling all imagined spaces

in between parked stars.

 

A tiny dandelion bud

sucks in its yellow cheeks –

I’m the jam and you’re

the butter dripping sun

 

it’s easy to lie down

in blackthorn studded mud.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

yo ho ho and a bottle of ink

My story collecting live in ink process took me to Greenwich last week, where the impressive edifice of the National Maritime Museum, its doorway flanked by huge anchors, made me feel both excited and nervous, with my wheelie suitcase full of cartridge paper and crumpled studio get up – a bit like arriving somewhere new for the first time…

The atmosphere inside was buzzy and friendly, and I loved listening to stories of home and migration from a bunch of local year 5 children, drawing and writing down a small sampling of their great variety of experiences.

sobithwa gwaanceiling fan

We were in the Re:Think space which for now is the borrowed terrain of the Migration Museum Project, set up three years ago to consider our ever changing flow – people and their movement, in and out of the UK and the ocean of complicated facts and feelings that accompany this.

A bonus was that I also had a lunch break with fellow traveller on the poetry seas, Karen McCarthy Woolf, whose stunning book An Aviary of Small Birds has just been nominated for the Forward Prize for best first collection. Karen currently has a writing residency with the National Maritime Museum, and took the photo below, of me drawing the story of her own small but huge migration: from north to south London. (Such a good move, we’re very welcoming in the south!)

karen mccarthy wolf north to southdrawing at nmm

We were both made to feel at home in the museum by being allowed to choose and make things to put in our own allocated glass cases, what a dream!

I will be there again on July 7th and 31st, and on August 23rd, which is also slavery memorial day. Come along if you’re free!

If that’s too far along the river I’ll be on hand to help any visitors to the Festival Hall create poetry pages from wherever they might have come from… we’ll be making a new London poetry book from all the contributions as part of Poetry International. That’s on 25th July, all kinds of art materials will be on hand, so bring your most properly colourful language!

maryland new zealand

The Listening Forest

LF2 cover a:w
Book cover

Early plans for a publication at the end of my residency with Fermynwoods Contemporary Art included the idea of a series of woodcuts, but I shelved these as story collecting and poem writing took over. It seemed like that was plenty enough to do…

country park cafe victorOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It surprised me then, to find myself cutting out leaves and letters from black paper in my studio the week I was due to hand in the pages to David and Ping at The Henningham Family Press.

I took my scalpel, cutting mat and big piles of A3 paper, and cut out a page for each of my six sections: path, undergrowth, shrub layer, canopy, clearing, floor. It was very freeing, snipping my way into a happy trance where black and white dance their dialogue  – a more familiar terrain to me than anything outdoors, or that other forest I’ve been hacking about in: Poetry.

Here are the images for Clearing and Undergrowth.

clearingundergrowth RRH

Amazingly, these are now in place in the book proofs, heralding the start of each clump of collected stories and other drawings. The book is going to print this Monday, all 112 pages of it.

Anyone who feels like a trip to Corby on the 2nd May will be welcome to join the launch party.

wood demontoadstools in logistics

We’ll be in a woodland clearing in the middle of town, just up from the boating lake, Cottingham Road, NN17 2UN, 4- 6PM – with drawings in the trees, music and forest refreshments.

I’ll be reading poems from the book, and other poets from the area will also be performing work on the theme. If you know a great woodland poem, or have written one, bring it along to share.

London showings/readings are scheduled for June at TheBookartbookshop, Hoxton, and The Poetry Society in Covent Garden in November/December.