Friday, 30 May 2014

Traditions Futuristes

For reasons too tedious to describe, we ( myself and  JJ Ignatius Brennan)  find ourselves making a large new joint work for Traditions Futuristes an exhibition that opens on the 14th June. The details are in the side panel. We will have had 3 weeks to design and make the work. Its always quite exciting when these things happen. One minute work is progressing at a leisurely pace on some distant project, and the next you are in hyperdrive frantically trying to meet a deadline for something you haven't really had any time to think about, at all. But, as I have said before, it is often in these circumstances that the ideas appear easily and with great clarity, which is what happened in this instance.

I don't want to say too much about what it is, at the moment, but it  will be quite big, about 3 by 4 metres made of lime twigs, willow, wood  and wire and is called Retroscope. The picture provides hints.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Speak Up!

The Art Workers Guild with the portrait of Thomas Okey to the right of the door.
Speaking publicly about my work is not easy but I really enjoy the challenge.  Last week I gave a talk, to students, staff and prospective students at Brighton University and to members of the Art Workers Guild in London.

Giving two talks back to back was daunting  because  they were two very different audiences but, in the end it worked out well. I kept to the time limit, there was only one technical glitch and no-one shouted ‘speak up’!

The invitation to Brighton was from Margaret Huber and Graham Rawle, the super duo of the Sequential Design and Illustration department and  my thanks go to them. I have spoken there quite a few times before so it feels cosy  and the audience gave me a warm reception.

The Art Workers Guild building I am also very familiar with because it is the same one in which  the Basketmakers Association AGM is held.  The audience was, however, quite different, as the Guild Members are all renowned experts in their own art, architecture or craft fields. My invitation from  Prue Cooper, the current Master and witty ceramicist, to speak to them this year was because 2014  is the Centenary of Thomas Okeys’ year as Master of the Art Workers Guild.

Illustration from "The Art of Basket-Making"

As many of you reading this will know, Thomas Okey (1852-1935) was, also a basket maker.   Born in the East End of London into a basket making family he worked in the family business for 30 years. He taught himself  Italian, French and German from books  before starting work at 6 am and by going to evening classes at the end of the day.  He developed a passion for the Italian language and culture in particular and translated and authored many books on the subject, going on to become, a Fellow at Cambridge despite no formal qualifications He also wrote one the best instructional books about willow basket making An Introduction to The Art of Basket-Making published in either 1912 or 1932 depending on which source you read ( I have a copy marked 1st edition which says 1932). So, having been born 100 years and one week later than Thomas, lived and made baskets in the east end for 30 years,  written books on basket making,  gone back to university late in life and struggled (I think he was a natural) to learn foreign languages. I actually feel a sort of kindred spirit with him.  It was, therefore an honour for me to speak in the same place that he had been Master. It also seems a strange coincidence that David Drew, probably Britains best willow basket maker, also a Libran, has exactly the same birthday as Thomas Okey. Are there many other basket makers out there who are Librans?

For these occasions my talk is autobiographical. It is, after all, what I know best and  it is what I want to hear when I go to talks given by other people. I want to know how and why they became what they are. Grayson Perry and Paul Smith are two people who do this and they are probably the two speakers I have enjoyed the most, so I try to follow their example. As an artist it is impossible to separate my life from my art, I will die on the job, it isn’t something I can retire from. So, I cannot talk about my work without talking about the circumstances of my life that have often been the catalyst for changes in my work.

I work hard at my talks, so it is rewarding when it pays off, as it did on these two occasions.  I knew it was going particularly well at the Art Workers, when I became aware that almost everyone in the room was looking at me, very still and silent, but sitting very upright and alert, craning their necks just a little bit. I hope no-one in the audience that night will be offended when I say it was almost as though their ears had pricked up! It was an unforgettable sensation, one that I imagine many actors experience and one that I will now always have to try to make happen.