Early morning art with Carolyn Stubbs

Sculpted paper birds cr Carolyn StubbsThere are few places or times more enticing to me than a coastal area soon after dawn. Through much of her artwork, Carolyn Stubbs evokes this setting with heart-aching grace.

Part of it comes from her subject matter – many of which are wading birds the like of which frequent southern England shorelines. It’s clear that Carolyn’s love of these areas drives much of her work, as does her ardent ecological stance.

“I think that giving a visual focus to the plight our planet shifts perceptions in a fresh way so that people may begin to take notice,” she comments. “We are overwhelmed with communication at so many different levels – there is only so much we can absorb at any one given time. Looking at imagery can open us up to more soulful thinking, hopefully touching our hearts.”

Curlew cr Carolyn Stubbs

Curlew © Carolyn Stubbs

Despite a life-long love of art, it took Carolyn a while to come to it professionally. “At school, art and English were my best subjects and my teachers actively encouraged me to have a career in the arts.  However, I wasn’t supported in this by my family and reluctantly opted for a career in nursing,” she says. “All through that, however, I spent my spare time painting and drawing.”

It took a near-death experience to remind Carolyn to take control of her life fully, however. “It wasn’t until I contracted Tuberculosis from a patient, and almost didn’t survive, that I decided to prioritise my life and do what I’d always wanted to do – art!”

Carolyn has since gained a degree in Art & Visual Culture (BA Hons) and an HNC in Graphic Design. “These were taken when I was a mature student. It was a great experience, collaborating with others of all ages and backgrounds.”

Carolyn finds inspiration in the natural world, especially “vulnerable species such as delicate birds, our fragile eco system but also people, cars (I have a rusting project on the go!) and places that many are unaware of – particularly wildernesses, and broken parts that were once whole.”

Lapwing cr Carolyn Stubbs

Lapwing © Carolyn Stubbs

In order to do her subjects justice, Carolyn devised a new form of artwork, which she calls sculpted paper.

“When I was doing my HNC Graphic Design course, there was a call for the students in my course to enter our work in a ‘Designs on Nature’ competition,” Carolyn remembers. “The brief was to design a range of stationery that had a theme to it. I decided to try creating a couple of hens in a different way. I tried the collage technique but wasn’t pleased with the result. I experimented with cutting out paper finely to fill the image I’d drawn. It worked!”

Carolyn received an award for her entry. Following her success, Carolyn refined the technique by using a scalpel to cut carve out very fine segments and layering them up to gradually build an almost 3D image, which she then coats in protective artists’ varnish.

“With the sculpted paper I aim to reflect the birds’ fragility and vulnerability,” she explains.

dipper cr Carolyn Stubbs

Dipper © Carolyn Stubbs

I also find myself drawn to Carolyn’s photography, particularly her ‘mudscapes’.

“For me, photography goes hand in hand with my other work,” she says. “Photography captures moments in time that a painting couldn’t.  It’s the immediacy of the picture, the fact that this image will never be seen again. I’m concentrating on our unique world, bringing awareness of the incredible diversity and qualities of our landscapes that are often ignored, or forgotten, like the mud of the Severn Estuary.”

Mudscape cr Carolyn Stubbs

I find the imagery unexpectedly serene and contemplative – ideal for hanging on the wall of a writing room!

Find out more about Carolyn’s work at www.carolynstubbs.co.uk.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com.

Midweek writing prompt – Art Everywhere

David Hockney, My ParentsI’m a big fan of projects that bring art to the masses – public works of art that brighten up city centres with unexpected sculptures and the like.

A new exhibition aptly titled Art Everywhere is currently showing off works of art in spaces normally reserved for advertising – from billboards to bus shelters, and I think they’re a real breath of fresh air!

The exhibition, spearheaded by artist Antony Gormley and Grayson Perry, was preceded by a grand online vote via the Art Everywhere Facebook page, which resulted in more than 38,000 people voting for artworks ranging from David Hockney’s My Parents (shown at the top of this post) to Ivon Hitchens’ A River Pool (below).

Ivon Hitchens A River Pool

Gormley, who produced a specially-commissioned digital artwork for titled Feeling Material for Art Everywhere, says: “Works in public collections form an important part of our collective visual memory, marking a particular place, time and person. It is great that these works are being celebrated and shared in this way.”

Art Everywhere will be scattered throughout the UK, including on bus shelters, underground stations, roadside billboards, motorway services, national rail networks, shopping centres and airports, as well as on motion screens in the back of more than 2,000 black cabs, until 31 August 2014.

Antony Gormley Feeling Material

The event organisers say: “Be moved, be inspired, be surprised and get smiling! Use #arteverywhere to share your thoughts and snaps on Twitter and Instagram.”

But first, take part in this week’s #writingprompt.

Imagine a scenario where your character sees a work of art that means something personal to them suddenly exhibited at the bus stop where they wait to commute to work. It could be from a favourite gallery they used to visit with a loved one, a landscape painting of a childhood haunt, a work by an artist who happens to be an ex-lover, or even a portrait of someone they thought they’d never see again.

Marc Quinn, self portrait

What reaction might the unexpected sight prompt?

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 share it on SkyLightRain.com.

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 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.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com.

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.

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.”

Warm Winter Light © Daniel Ablitt

Warm Winter Light © Daniel Ablitt

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.”

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.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.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.

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.

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.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.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.

Poetry review – On Becoming A Fish by Emily Hinshelwood

On Becoming A Fish by Emily HinshelwoodIn this collection of finely drawn poems, Emily Hinshelwood invites us to accompany her on a series of meandering strolls through the coastal landscapes of west Wales, and presents a series of impressions it may take eons to erode.

Footprints in the sand “collide, converge/in silent riot of unmet strangers”, “sounds of birds/run like wet paint/across the sky”, a journey to a lighthouse ends with a walk home “followed by that empty sweeping beam”, a duck “dives down past walls of limpets, ‘dead man’s fingers, spider crabs/anemones,” the ocean reeks of “the breath of saints,” and “the face of Saddam Hussein flaps in a hedge.”

There’s a delicious intimacy to Hinshelwood’s words, enhanced by her humour and evident fondness for the places included in this tour of Pembrokeshire. With the poet as our guide, we embrace enticing rock formations at Saundersfoot, watch gleeful ghosts run “long-knickered into the sea” at Tenby, observe swans “floating/like love letters, open only to each other” under the Cleddau Bridge, sneak a peek at a girl’s prayer for her goldfish at Caldey Island, greet a snake at Shrinkle Haven, bear witness to the disintegration of a wreck at Mill Bay: “Salt cuts lacework as/the stiff body is eroded rib/by rib.” We even join the poet and her daughter in counting dead birds at Skomer Island: “use the binoculars/to see their twisted spinal columns in grotesque detail…” Continue reading