A touch of English Magic

William Morris, enragedA little bit of gritty glamour is currently in residence at Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery, as Turner Prize awarding-winning artist Jeremy Deller presents his critically acclaimed exhibition, English Magic.

The show, which includes additions especially commissioned in response to the museum’s permanent collection, offers a curious look at the country we live in, with juxtaposed imagery, surreal responses to our tax angst, and some exquisitely political murals.

Set in galleries over two floors, part one invites you to sit for a few moments on a bench repurposed from a crushed Range Rover and watch a film intersecting scenes of owls and other birds of prey intersected with scenes of vehicles being destroyed, set to a soundtrack of a steel band playing. Glance up and you’ll notice illuminated examples from the museum’s taxidermy collection gazing thoughtfully as though you may well be the next titbit on the menu.

Archive photography of Ziggy Stardust on tour is interspersed with scenes of the violence of workers’ strikes, troubles in Ireland and more.

I want to be invisible

Upstairs, the past is superimposed by present and future – with truths matches to surreal but infinitely possible imaginings. Vast murals take precedence – wry, simmering works that seem to demand “had you noticed…?” Directly inside gallery five, painted buildings billow with flame-edge smoke – a portrayal of what could happen if civil unrest over tax evasion resulted in rioting in St Helier, Jersey: “The event quickly gets out of hand; protesters overwhelm the local police force and burn the town to the ground.”

A Good Day For Cyclists

At the far end of the space, a gigantic mural titled A Good Day For Cyclists shows a hen harrier carrying off a Range Rover, providing a visual protest against persecution of the powerful against the seemingly powerless.

I won’t list all the exhibits here (though the drawings by prisoners, “many of which are former soldiers” merit a mention), so will leave you with my favourite, shown at the top of this post. The mural shows the rise of Victorian artist and socialist William Morris from the waters of Venice to restore the view he so loved – colossus, visionary and champion of the common, everyday people – not all that unlike Jeremy Deller.

English Magic is at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery until 21st September 2014. Find details here.

Enter Aesthetica Magazine’s Creative Writing Award

CWC-imageAesthetica Magazine invites writers and poets to submit work into their Creative Writing Award.

Now in its seventh year, the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award celebrates outstanding short fiction and poetry from around the world. The deadline for entering the award is 31 August 2014.

The Aesthetica Creative Writing Award presents a fantastic opportunity for established and emerging writers to showcase their work to new, international audiences. Now in its seventh year, the Award champions and supports creative talent from around the world in a celebration of outstanding poetry and short fiction.

Prizes include publication in the Aesthetica Creative Writing Annual and a £500 for each category winner. To whet your appetite for creating more literary works, the winners will receive a selection of inspirational books from Bloodaxe Books and Vintage, and a subscription to Granta magazine of new writing.

In addition, the fiction winner will receive a consultation with Christine Green Authors’ Agent and the poetry winner will have a consultation with poetry organisation Apples and Snakes, making this a great competition to enter if you’re keen to further your writing career.

Entry into either category of Poetry or Short Fiction is £10 (not including tax) and permits the submission of two works into one category.

Fiction entries should be no more than 2,000 words each and poetry entries should be no more than 40 lines each. Both short fiction and poetry entries should be written in English. Unusually, submissions previously published elsewhere are accepted.

For full details, visit www.aestheticamagazine.com/creativewriting
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TREEOLOGY – or how I can’t stop writing about trees

Future self cr Judy DarleyFollowing the publication of Trees of Bristol, the book’s author, poet Tony D’Arpino, confesses his obsession with all things green and leafy, and offers his advice on giving into your own inner tree-person, gracefully.

“Sometimes a tree tells you more than can be read in books.” Carl Jung, psychogeographer

Why write a book about trees of Bristol? One answer may be because it wasn’t there. Or, because the trees were there. But the real reason I think is beauty. This beautiful area is intoxicating for a poet. Bristol is a truly special place. There are not many cities now in which one can see hedgerows, fields, and woods from the city centre. The idea of this book really started here in the streets of Bristol, which were once the woods. It’s a kind of dream book, because trees set me dreaming.

Quaker Buriel Ground cr Judy DarleyAnother reason: I’m a tree person. I was born near a forest and pretty much lived in those woods as a child. I’ve been lucky to have lived and worked in some the world’s most beautiful forests – the woods of New Jersey and the Atlantic seaboard, the redwoods of California, the rainforests of Hawai’i and the Pacific Northwest, and now Bristol and the West Country.

What’s your favourite tree? I’ve been asked this a lot recently. There’s so many. The dogwood from childhood. Do you always remember your first climbing tree? My new favourite tree may be the apple tree I’m planting this week at the allotment. What’s your favourite tree? The one you’ve just planted.

Know your roots

Bristol has over 200 Legacy trees (aka Landmark trees) in Ashton Court Estate alone and England has more Legacy Trees than all of Europe combined.

A small island, with more Legacy trees than the continent.

There’s a reason for this: the Ancient Forest stewardship of our ancestors. Pollarding. Coppicing. Pleaching. Traditional, artisinal forest practices. It is a monumental heritage. Humans are a very invasive species, but the English have behaved very socially with trees and forests. It’s something in the English soul – a part of this island’s mythological makeup. It’s why trees and forests pervade our consciousness. It’s a heritage we need to continue.

Westonburt Arboretum cr Judy Darley

Echo your ancestors

Santiago Rusiñol was an early 20th century modernist painter and writer, who was an influence on Picasso. This is from his book The Island of Calm:

“One could write a whole chapter concerning the harm the automobile has done to the woods. It would seem ridiculous if we tried to prove that the trees have been cut down to be converted into petrol.”

He goes on to lament the aristocrats and landowners who choose between shade and speed: “If the motor car is to be their first consideration they have to mortgage their estates. This means the felling of trees and general laying waste, and that is why the beauty of this wonderful island is gradually being converted into carbon to make the petrol.”

He adds: “In some countries it is a transgression of the law to cut down a wood, and to those who would wish to infringe this regulation they say: ‘Enough! Since you have no conscience we will have it for you. We will make it impossible for you to commit the crime of damaging what is beautiful, because beauty belongs to all.’”

Now I’ve never heard of an automobile that runs on charcoal; but of course Santiago Rusiñol is being metaphorical (with Catalan humour). He’s talking about protection vs destruction.

Sawdust. It’s an emotional thing and causes civil disobedience. Don’t grumble, plant a tree.

Arnos Vale leaves cr Judy Darley

Pick some apps

The Forestry Commission has a tree identification app called ForestXplorer but the coolest so far is called Leafsnap. It uses face-recognition technology to identify any leaf.

There’s another tree app I’ve heard about: a leaf-noise app, which claims to identify any tree from the sound its leaves make in the wind. I’m pretty sure that was a joke I heard on the BBC gardening program.

“Every forest is a dormitory for the atavistic being we’re still evolving from, who emerges nightly in search of his true boudoir. Every woods is a bedwoods for the backwards boy in my brain.”  Bill Knott.

Every forest is a dormitory for the future.
The forest is like childhood, forever growing.
There is a young soul in the most ancient tree.

Sow with foresight

I have an illegal tree. It’s a very young oak tree I need to move and replant. It grew secretly in a large overgrown herbal mound of sage and rosemary on my allotment. Just discovered last autumn, it’s about three years old now.

And of course you’re not allowed to have oaks on the allotment gardens. The high sheriffs say it must be removed. Its origin: one of the ancient oaks in the nearby hedgerow. If anyone has a place for it, I’ll be happy to bring it to you and help you plant it. And I’ll deliver anywhere.

Some ships travel far from their acorns.

Tony D'ArpinoAuthor’s bio

Tony D’Arpino is a San Francisco poet and writer now living in Bristol. He was a forest explorer from early youth. His first book of poetry was entitled The Tree Worshipper. Other books include The Shape of The Stone, Seven Dials, Greatest Hits 1969-2003, and Floating Harbour. His poem Pero’s Bridge appears in the anthology The Echoing Gallery: Bristol Poets and Art in the City, published by Redcliffe Press.

The photo shows Tony in the woods above Arpino, Italy: “My family’s hometown, also the birthplace of Cicero.”

Amid trees with Daniel Ablitt

Drifting cr Daniel Ablitt

I have a recurring dream, or daydream perhaps, of wading into the cool, clear waters of a lake or river, surrounded by trees. It’s a moment of calm that I can draw in supermarket queues, crowded commuter trains, and while waiting to speak on stage about my writing.

I have no idea where this tranquil scene comes from – perhaps its an amalgamation of places visited and glimpsed – who knows? But then one day at the Affordable Art Fair in Bristol, I discovered Daniel Ablitt’s paintings and realised his artwork reflects the mood in that dream with uncanny familiarity.

Waiting At The Jetty cr Daniel Ablitt

Waiting At The Jetty © Daniel Ablitt

His pieces often show a single figure, or a pair, allowing you to imagine yourself stepping directly into the setting, meandering amid the trees or slipping into the water. There’s a sense of contentment, and self-containment, exuded by his work that I find wonderfully enticing.

Somehow I find it unsurprising that he comes from a family of artists.

“Both my parents are potters so art and creativity has been a constant through my life. As a consequence it seemed perfectly natural for me to follow an artistic path,” he says.

Warm Winter Light © Daniel Ablitt

Warm Winter Light © Daniel Ablitt

Daniel studied for a degree in fine art at Cheltenham and Edinburgh, but feels his education “really started as a child with family travels through Europe in a camper van, stopping at any church with a fresco and museum or gallery on the way.”

Sounds heavenly to me.

“I think the first piece of art I was proud of creating was a drawing of a deer that I did when I was about 10,” Daniel says. “It was the first drawing that wasn’t of superheroes! It is also my first piece of work that was framed. I think as an artist you create pieces throughout your working life that for some reason are seminal to you, that mark a turning point or break through of some kind.”

Daniel says he draws inspiration from “places that I find hold a sense of peace and contemplation. These can be places I have recently visited or part remembered places from my childhood.”

That makes perfect sense to me, given my personal response to Daniel’s artwork. More recently Daniel travelled to Patagonia and has embarked on a series of paintings inspired by his time there. “The landscapes I encountered there were truly breathtaking.”

Shadow of the Mountain © Daniel Ablitt

Shadow of the Mountain cr Daniel Ablitt

I asked Daniel what influences his work, and while he listed Peter Doig, Toulouse-Lautrec, and landscape painter Casper David Friedrich, he was keen to point out that he sources inspiration from many different sources “not only other painters. It can come from music, film, literature or something as simple as a quality of light at different times of the day.”

He adds: “I honestly try and empty my head at the beginning of a piece. Being surrounded by trees or moorland or mountains, gives me a greater sense of self. In these places I feel more physically, mentally and emotionally aware.”

Secret Place cr Daniel Ablitt

Secret Place © Daniel Ablitt

You can see Daniel’s work at various art fairs in September and Octobe, and at the following galleries on an ongoing basis.

John Martin Gallery, 80 Fulham Rd, Chelsea, London, SW3 6HR.
Wills Art Warehouse, 180 lower richmond road, putney, sw15 1ly.

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Give me a shout at judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Midweek writing prompt – write a letter to an unknown soldier

Unknown Soldier_2As part of this year’s World War I events, Kate Pullinger and Neil Bartlett invite you to write a letter to an unknown solider.

In an effort to engage as many people as possible, this thought-provoking and moving venture encourages you to dig deep and think about what you would say to the people who lost their lives fighting to defend us in the years 1914-1918, as well as every war since.

The letters submitted will be gathered to form, as the tagline states, ‘a new kind of war memorial made by thousands of people’. And you can be part  of it.

“On the hundredth anniversary of the declaration of war – in this year crowded with official remembrance and ceremony – we’re inviting everyone in the country to pause, take a moment or two, and write that letter.”

The idea was prompted by the statue on Platform One of London’s Paddington Station, which shows an unknown soldier reading a letter.

Use this as your writing prompt this week, and write a letter of hope, of gratitude, of understanding, or whatever else you would like to share in memory of the sacrifice of countless thousands of people. The deadline for submissions is 4th August 2014.

And if you need a nudge to get started, got to the 1418now website and read the letters already submitted, written by everyone from Stephen Fry and Andrew Motion to ex-soldiers and school children. It’s powerful stuff.

If you write something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. With your permission, I’d love to publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Review – Triple Bill at the Tobacco Factory Theatre

Polly Crockett-Robertson cr Films.Gb

Polly Crockett-Robertson © Films.Gb

The latest show from Third Stage Dance Company at The Tobacco Factory offers up three delightfully different acts making use of dance to tell stories that stir, intrigue and engage.

The first, justWORDS, begins with a dark stage with fleeting moments of light, illuminating a lone woman dressed in black while words, spoken in German, murmur overhead. As a writer, I’ll admit I wished the words were in English, as the only one I grasped fully was ‘liebe’ – ‘love’. Perhaps that was all that was needed, though…

The stage illuminated fully, and I felt we’d entered the woman’s dream. Dancers took turns on centre stage, before a familiar trio, Polly Crockett-Robertson, Sara Mather and Luke Antysz, began to spell out tales of tenderness, betrayal and reconciliation while other dancers flooded in and off stage. Recurring motifs, some of which were achingly sensual, contributed to the dream-like feel.

Triple Bill1 cr Films.Gb

© Films.Gb

The second act, Invitation Only, presented work by guest choreographers and dancers, including the impressive RISE Youth Dance Company who exhaled energy and emotion – particularly in the breathtakingly angst-filled last set. Stunning.

In the final act, Never Brought To Mind, the dancers, dressed in pastel-pop shades of lemon, peach, aqua and palest green, waited at a railway station for a delayed train.

Live music from the Ryan O’Reilly Band provided a folksy soundtrack for a series of dances that showed off the talent of this innovative company. It was a cheery, visually compelling note to end on, with some standout performances (Gudrun Derrick dancing to the song ‘Elizabeth’ was simply gorgeous), and made me wish delays were always so entertaining.

I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out to see what Third Stage gets up to in future.

Triple Bill cr Films.Gb

© Films.Gb

 

Promote ecology through art

Potting shed cr Judy DarleyInspired by the earth and all that grows in it? Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World (CCANW) is inviting applications for the second round of its Soil Culture artist residencies.

The aim of Soil Culture is to encourage a deeper understanding of the value of soil – it’s not just what we stand and build on, but what we live on.

They say: “Healthy soils are essential for the production of the food required to feed a growing population.  They also play an important role in our global eco-system, acting as a carbon sink to reduce the impact of climate change. Today, soils are threatened by several forms of degradation including loss of natural nutrients and bio-diversity caused by contamination, compaction, erosion, flooding and salinisation.”

Got that, and got something to express about it? Taking place across the South West of the UK the residencies will allow you to experiment with your ideas and develop new work to help the public engage with these message. To enable you further, you’ll have unparalleled access to facilities, expertise and working contexts.

Currently there are two projects you can apply for. The deadline for submissions is 30 July 2014.

The Eden Project mid-November 2014 to April 2015

“This residency invites an artist to work with the Eden Project team to re-engage visitors with the brown gold beneath our feet, revealing the secrets of the life within and the life-giving force of the soil, helping to communicate how Eden turned a recipe that usually takes 200 years to cook into an 18-month process and to provoke curiosity and ultimately create a love affair between man and soil.”

Interview date: 20 August 2014

Schumacher College, Dartington January / February 2015

“This residency invites an artist to explore soil from a holistic and ecological perspective, creating a deep engagement with the earth. The work needs to have a strong connection to nature, with at least an element of exploring soil in an outdoor, living context.”

Interview date: 26 August 2014.

Wellies cr Judy DarleyThese paid, part-time positions offer a fantastic opportunity to explore your understanding of and promote ecologically far-reaching ideals.

CCANW will also be inviting applications for the third round of residencies in the autumn 2014.

For full details and an application form, visit www.ccanw.co.uk or contact Sally Lai on s.lai@ccanw.co.uk.

From Cabot Tower to the towers of Hong Kong

orange stained sky, Hong Kong cr Susan LavenderThis week I received the exciting news that one of my stories has been selected to be performed at a Liars’ League literary night in Hong Kong! How’s that for international?

Liars’ League are a series of events across the globe, with the strap line: Writers Write. Actors Read. Audience Listens. Everybody Wins.

Can’t argue with that!

My story Night Flights, which explores the somewhat dark and twisted relationship between a brother and sister, takes place entirely on Brandon Hill and up Cabot Tower in Bristol. The idea of it being shared with story-lovers in Hong Kong is somewhat mind-blowing!

As part of the ‘Night & Day’ themed event hosted by Liars’ League Hong Kong, Night Flights will be read aloud by Susan Lavender. Susan is a writer, performer and lawyer, and also took the glorious photo at the top of this post.

The Night & Day event is at the Fringe Club Dairy on 28th July 2014 from 8pm sharp, so if you happen to be in that part of the world that evening, do go along!

Nature and fantasy in Jessica Stride’s art

Flying on a Bird cr Jessica StrideIn art, and in my day-to-day life, I’m always drawn to vivid colours, nature and a touch of fairytale fantasy. So when I discovered Jessica Stride’s saturated paintings and multimedia creations I was instantly entranced.

“Ever since I can remember, I’ve been highly aware of colour and it’s important for me to have it in my life,” she comments. “I’ve always knitted, crocheted, sewn and it’s always the colour that drives me.”

Jessica graduated from The University of the West of England with a Fine Art in Context Degree in 2000. “During my degree I’d worked on various public sculpture projects in the city but my real love was for colour and although discouraged from painting while I was at uni, I knew that’s what I really wanted to do,” she says. “I started to paint only after I’d finished my degree and felt like a complete beginner so decided to attend adult education classes in painting once a week. I loved experimenting with combinations of colours on the canvas and my early paintings were abstract. It wasn’t long before I began to have regular exhibitions in Bristol.”

Today Jessica continues to draw inspiration from colour, as well as wildlife in the West Country and beyond. “I love nature and quite often my paintings include the sea, birds and plants.”

Book Lover cr Jessica Stride

Book Lover cr Jessica Stride

A lot of her works also feature books, as the one above does. The presence of the books enhance the wistfulness of the pieces, and the sense that the figure shown is deep in a daydream (though possibly about to have her brains pecked out!).

Abundance cr Jessica Stride

Abundance cr Jessica Stride

Jessica says she finds it difficult to describe her style to other people. “I work intuitively and I think that the best pieces evolve without me thinking about them,” she comments, then adds intriguingly: “Many people say it makes them feel happy when they look at my work which often surprises me because some of my paintings have a darker side which maybe isn’t obvious because of the bright colour!”

And of course I can’t help loving this new, bee-infused painting, ‘Beatrice and Her Bees’, now available from Jessica’s Etsy shop.

Beatrice and Her Bees cr Jessica Stride

You can see more of Jessica’s work at www.facebook.com/Jessicastridepainting, and discover her process at jessielilac.blogspot.co.uk. Much of her work is available to buy here: www.etsy.com/uk/shop/JessieLilac.

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Give me a shout at judy(at)socketcreative.com!

Midweek writing prompt – child and beach

Small children, beach cr Judy DarleyGive a child a beach, a bucket and plenty of salt water, and generally they’ll be in heaven. While adults lounge, sun-doused into somnolence, kids become industrious little marine bees, building, sculpting, digging…

But just occasionally so much joy can turn sour – transform them into mini savages. You only need to turn to Lord of the Flies to know how tenuous our so-called civility can be.

I don’t want you to plagiarise William Golding’s novel – but simply use it as a vivid reminder of the knife-edge all children seem to amble between angel and devil. Send them to the seaside, turn on the heat and see what bubbles up…

If you write something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. With your permission, I’d love to publish it on SkyLightRain.com.