Otherworldly views with Anouk Mercier

Hotel Belvedere cr Anouk Mercier

Hotel Belvedere © Anouk Mercier

Artist Anouk Mercier invites you to take a stroll in a landscape that seems at once deeply familiar and uncommonly strange. Like a set from an arthouse sci-fi film, skies are golden and flecked with bubbles that add both beauty and peculiarity to a scene that may well include an intricately detailed rendering of a grand Victorian country home, a craggy rockface and a scattering of trees.

Anouk never really made a concrete decision to become an artist. “Drawing and reading were always my favourite activities as a child, perhaps partly because I grew up without a TV at home,” she says. “Drawing was and still is so many things to me; a form of entertainment, escapism, relaxation and expression.”

This last point became particularly significant when Anouk first moved to the UK from France “and couldn’t speak English – I learned at that time the power of drawing, and Art generally, as a universal language and means of communication. So there wasn’t so much a decision to ‘become an artist’, as much as an ongoing endeavour to lead my life in a away that would allow me to draw as much and as often as possible.”

Cascade du Lac Noir cr Anouk Mercier

Cascade du Lac Noir © Anouk Mercier

Anouk went to Art School in Paris and then in Bristol, and after graduation found work within the Arts to continue her development “in parallel to my practice.” She says she always makes an effort to ensure any outside work, such as teaching or curating, “compliments and feeds into my practice, whilst allowing me plenty of time in the studio so that I can draw as much and as often as possible. It is all about establishing and sustaining the correct balance!”

Finding the correct balance is also key to the eerie serenity of Anouk’s unique artworks, which blend antique photos and postcards with her own mark making.

The Gorge cr Anouk Mercier

The Gorge © Anouk Mercier

“My practice begins in the collecting of images,” she says, explaining that she has an immense collection to select this base images from. “This is the case whether for a graphite-only drawing, photo etching or acetone transfer and airbrush piece (I use several different techniques throughout my practice).”

Anouk’s process for the latter involves “making multiple photocopies of a selection of existing Romantic landscape prints or paintings, fragments of which are then carefully re-printed onto paper using acetone transfer. I then delicately apply colour to the skies using airbrushed inks, building a base on which to embellish with my own delicate mark-making.”

It Stood, Abandoned, Against the Yellow Skies cr Anouk Mercier

It Stood, Abandoned, Against the Yellow Skies © Anouk Mercier

It’s a multi layered, and often laborious process, she says,”and each stage is more or less predictable. It’s a technique that’s evolved naturally over time, developed to best convey and present concepts and notions inherent to my work.”

Anouk feels fortunate to have “turned my passion into my ‘job’. I love being surrounded by creative, open minded people and objects of beauty, being self employed and free to manage my own time to a certain extent. I have spent every August over the past few years working from France, for example, which always offers fresh perspective and new sources of inspiration.”

It Stood, Abandoned, Against the Yellow Skies - Detail cr Anouk Mercier

It Stood, Abandoned, Against the Yellow Skies – Detail © Anouk Mercier

Inspiration can come from anywhere at any time, “which is why I always feel that a big part of being an artist is being curious and inquisitive. Generally speaking I tend to be drawn to places and objects that are either beautiful, uncanny or both, which covers a very broad spectrum!”

Anouk spends much of her time taking country walks and visiting stately homes. “Nature, architecture and art all inspire me.”

Anouk’s extensive collection of early photographs and postcards, ranging from Alpine scenes, to Modernist American hotels and hand tinted flowers, are “an inexhaustible source of inspiration to me. I’m currently particularly interested in 18th and 19th Century garden design and landscaping, so I’ve been spending a lot of time ambling through the beautiful grounds of estates such as Stourhead and Hestercombe.”

It sound like a divine way to search for and foster ideas for new artworks.

Warm Glow, Burning Through the Clouds cr Anouk Mercier

Warm Glow, Burning Through the Clouds © Anouk Mercier

Anouk is currently represented by Antlers Gallery  and The Contemporary London, and regularly exhibits with both. She recently had a drawing shortlisted for the Jerwood Drawing Prize, which you will be able to see as part of a touring exhibition opening in London on 16 September 2015.

Find out more about what Anouk’s up to at www.anoukmercier.com.

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

Writing prompt – blooms

Blossom car, Bristol cr Judy DarleyThis Mazda MX-5 was recently parked in a smart part of Bristol, annoying locals by taking up a parking space, but charming passersby with its abundance of flowers.

This week, imagine the person who created such a floral cornucopia. Why plant it in a car? What does the car mean to them? Where do they intend to go with it? Why?

If you create something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to judydarley(at)gmail.com. With your permission, I’d love to share it on SkyLightRain.com.

Book review – Unraveled Visions by Nina Milton

Unraveled Visions by Nina MiltonUnraveled Visions (A Shaman Mystery) is the second of The Shaman Mysteries by Nina Milton. This review has been written by Lee Fielding.

We’re back on the rain-drenched moors and the rugged, forbidding coastline of Somerset for the second Shaman Mystery by Nina Milton; Unraveled Visions. One of the many things that draws me to read these books and that keeps me looking out for them, is the brilliantly described landscapes, both of Somerset and of the shamanic otherworld – the place shamans go in when they’re in a trance.

As with number one of the series, In the Moors, which I reviewed for SkyLightRain on its release, I was hooked from the first page, a tense description of the body of an unknown young woman being winched up from her watery grave in a silted gravel pit on the River Parrett.

Like In the Moors, Unraveled Visions is a mystical thriller; a whodunit with supernatural undertones, but it still feels very much of the real world, because shamans are part of the alternative therapy community all over Britain and the US, as well as in traditional communities.

Continue reading

The joy of clay with ceramicist Rose Bates

Asian Dreams cr Rose Bates

Asian Dreams © Rose Bates

Ceramacist Rose Bates fell in love with clay after exploring almost every other creative form she could imagine.

“Weaving, chair caning, cake decorating and more – there was always something missing, all fun but short lived and none left a desire to carry on,” she says. “In 1992, a friend persuaded me to take GCSE Art and Design at our local Adult Education Centre. As chance would have it, as well as being an accomplished artist, our tutor’s real expertise was in ceramics. Handling clay with its versatile properties and endless artistic possibilities, I was hooked.”

Deep Blue Sea cr Rose Bates

Deep Blue Sea © Rose Bates

Rose stayed on to study Art and Design A-level, Art and Design A-level 3D, and spent four years gaining a City and Guilds Ceramics in Hampshire and Sussex.

“City & Guilds invites complete commitment and discipline towards your subject, a challenge for a Gemini like myself, used to flitting from one idea to another,” she says. “Initially, there was heavy emphasis on drawing and designing projects, with no contact with clay. During the four years, I was pushed to become competent in throwing, glaze making, hand-building and so on, as well as designing my own pieces of work from start to finish.”

Female Torso cr Rose Bates

Female Torso © Rose Bates

In the midst of this, several techniques gradually came to the fore. “The excitement of creating my own glazes, with the mixing and sifting of oxides seemed like alchemy with a hint of danger, especially as some elements are highly toxic in the raw state,” she says. “Choosing a tricky glaze to create seemed a good idea, although choosing macro crystalline glazes was risky.   This technique  requires perfect balance between mixing the right ingredients and  managing the temperature of the kiln in order for  crystals to grow.  Get it wrong and you are left with a perfectly good shiny glaze – but no crystals.”

During this time, Rose also “rediscovered the art of fire. Having nearly set a hillside on fire at the age of nine in Kent while cooking sausages in a frying pan, I finally had a legitimate use of tinder. RAKU  `Happiness by Chance’ is the ancient Japanese technique of firing bowls for tea ceremonies and today offers endless attractive surfaces on pots and sculpture.”

Treasure cr Rose Bates

Treasure © Rose Bates

Rose particularly enjoys “fashioning a lump of clay into something hopefully attractive (sometimes useful) and lasting, as well as finding new colour in glaze. I have also entered a world full of dynamic artist friends, uncovered opportunities to travel and to hold classes in my studio, gathering students as local education colleges close down vocational subjects.”

Her work is driven by the desire to “find new ways to express art in clay, using folk art of world cultures, the natural world and the human body.”

The Chase-Crystalline soft greens:blue of a mermaid and dolphin-Rose Bates

The Chase © Rose Bates

Rose’s ceramics are regularly exhibited in Sea Sky Art, Southampton, Rum’s Eg Gallery, Hampshire, Crafters Gallery, Dorset, and The Creative Gallery, Wareham.

To contact Rose, email bates4crystal(at)btinternet.com.

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

Writing prompt – mislaid

Bench thong cr Judy DarleyOccasionally, the morning after the night before, I spy a suspect trail of cast-of clothing wimbling up the hill. A shoe here, a sock there, a bra draped across a litterbin over there.

This week, no such riches, just a single crimson thong adorning the corner of a park bench.

But what happened to the person wearing it? When did they realise they’d come home without it? How did they explain or hide the loss of their underwear (and possibly their dignity too) from their nearest and dearest?

If you create something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to JudyDarley(at)gmail.com. With your permission, I’d love to share it on SkyLightRain.com

Film review – Song of the Sea

Song of the SeaDrawing on Celtic selkie myths, this animated film is utterly immersive. Mr and I attended a lunchtime showing at Watershed, Bristol, and were initially perturbed to find ourselves surrounded by parents with small children, including one babe in arms. However, as soon as the intricately detailed and gloriously colour-saturated images flooded the screen, all audience members grew still and silent, entranced by the story and the scenes.

The story opens with a little boy, Ben, and his mother Bronagh singing to her unborn child, while Ben’s father Conor looks on fondly.

Six years later, there’s no sign of Bronagh, and Conor is a broken man, with only his love for his son and daughter keeping him going. Ben finds his wordless younger sister, Saoirse, a terrible annoyance. He’s developed a fear of the sea that laps at the foot of their lighthouse home, and attracts his sibling in ways he cannot understand.

Weaving together ancient mythology and very relatable issues of grief, jealousy and sibling rivalry, the tale introduces peril and intrigue, partly in the form of an owl witch (a bit scary for little ones), several adventures in caves and a stormy night in a small boat at sea.

Song of the Sea1

There is humour to balance out the moments of fear, particularly with faithful and immense hound Cú and the Seanachaí with his slipshod memory and stories caught up in his beard. Moone Boy’s David Rawle is fantastic as Ben – developing from resentful to protective to heroic by the end of the film.

But above all, this is a film of exquisite beauty. Interviews with writer and director Tomm Moore reveal how the imagery has its roots in his own watercolours – and the fluid, textural style of each frame is intensely and painterly.

Song of the Sea – discovering the selkie coatFrom the underwater segments where sea jellies waft like abstract lampshades to the cross-country odyssey populated with every kind of rural Irish wildlife, to more intimate scenes such as Saoirse discovering her selkie coat for the first time (above), it’s a rolling array of treats for the eyes and for the heart. Song of the Sea is a gem of a film, emotionally and visually rich, and if you’re lucky moments from it will replay in your mind at unexpected times for days following.

The Song of the Sea is currently playing at Watershed, Bristol and cinemas throughout the UK. Gain an insight into the film here.

Explore ideas of identity with an exhibition in Bath

Map of Days by Grayson Perry, etching 2013-detail- cr Grayson Perry and Paragon-Contemporary editions Ltd

Map of Days by Grayson Perry, detail © Grayson Perry and Paragon Contemporary Editions Ltd

What makes us who we are in the eyes of others? Is it our outer appearance, our inner turmoil or the objects and actions we surround ourselves with?

Portrait artists have been exploring these concepts for centuries, as a new exhibition at the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath reveals.

The free exhibition Portraits and Identity has been curated around Grayson Perry’s Map of Days etching, which was acquired last year for the Gallery’s permanent collection.

“The piece is an unusual self-portrait in the form of a walled city, the streets and buildings inside the wall representing aspects of the artist’s personality, whilst outside the walls are the things that did not penetrate the defences,” explains Jon Benington from the Gallery.

Map of Days by Grayson Perry, detail showing Bradley Wiggins

Map of Days by Grayson Perry, detail showing Bradley Wiggins

The river of imagination flows past a walled city made up of streets with names such as ‘Intuition’, ‘Revenge’ and ‘Churning Insecurity’.

Other portraits in the exhibition include works by artists as diverse as Hogarth, Dürer and William Nicholson.

H M the Queen (Victoria), by William Nicholson 1897

H M the Queen (Victoria), by William Nicholson 1897

It’s an intriguing insight into the ways artists used visual props, such as books or the tools as their trade, to impart us details of a sitter’s life. Other examples offer more subtle clues, such as this lithograph of Queen Victoria walking her dog in the gardens of Kensington Palace, and described by the artist as looking like ‘an animated tea-cosy’. It reveals her formidable character alongside her love for her affection, and, through this, for her people.

Then there’s the work of caricaturists, which are far more direct, with Gillray transforming naturalist Joseph Banks into a showy butterfly after receiving the Order of the Bath, while William Hibbard depicts the Bath Corporation with symbols of their businesses for heads.

Portrait and Identity is on at the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, from 20th August until October 4th 2015, and runs alongside the Jane Austen’s Bath exhibition.

Creepy, kooky, beautiful

Mixed Media Domino Art Dolls by Carla Trujillo

Mixed Media Domino Art Dolls by Carla Trujillo

If you like your artwork a little uncanny, a little unsettling but undeniably desirable, look no further than Carla Trujillo’s gorgeous Art Dolls. With soulful expressions and bodies built from the kinds of long forgotten items that lurk at the back of cupboards and drawers, they seem made from childhood memories distorted by dreams.

“Being an artist has always been in my blood,” says Carla. “I started drawing at an early age and won my first drawing contest at age twelve. The prize was free drawing lessons from a local artist.”

As a teenager, Carla “dabbled in painting on canvas, burlap, and soft sculptured pieces done with panty hose” then went to college and discovers her true passion in printmaking, which is a medium she’s now been experimenting with on and off for more than 25 years. “I try to continually challenge myself by exploring things that are out of my comfort zone, such as ceramic classes and online courses in plaster, mixed media jewellery, and textiles.”

Block Art Doll Fritz cr Carla Trujillo

Block Art Doll Fritz by Carla Trujillo

Her art dolls first came into being following the arrival of her children. “Having children was a major transition for me artistically speaking,” she explains. “I could no longer spend endless hours in the studio printing, so I needed to find another outlet for creating art.”

Carla initially began creating her contemporary art dolls out of wood, plastics, leather and various fabrics. “Surfing the web and looking at art magazines, I came across a couple of artists creating mixed media art dolls and I fell in love with their creations. That discovery was life changing in my art journey.”

Art Doll by Carla Trujillo

Art Doll by Carla Trujillo

That encounter happened eight years ago and Carla hasn’t stopped since.

When it comes to creating the individual pieces, Carla acts primarily on instinct. “I’m not a planner, so when I usually go into to the studio to work, I don’t have a preconceived idea of what I’m going to create – I just let the hands do the work. Even on occasion when I do have an idea, it changes totally from the original thought.”

Due to this, each of the dolls is one of a kind, making it extra special.

Mixed Media Assemblage Bird by Carla Trujillo

Mixed Media Assemblage Bird by Carla Trujillo

The materials she uses to create the dolls include wire, metal, wood, clay, porcelain, various fabrics, fibres, and found objects. “I have slowly introduced ceramics into my work and am really loving the results!”

two winged angel by Carla Trujillo

Two-winged angel by Carla Trujillo

Carla exhibits widely in the Greater Cincinnati area. Find more of Carla’s work online at Indiandollartworks.blogspot.com, on her Facebook page, or head over to her Etsy shop to buy a piece or two.

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

Writing prompt – balloons

Balloons over Totterdown cr Judy DarleyLast weekend was Bristol Balloon Fiesta and the skies over the city filled with brightly coloured, oddly shaped inflated aerial contraptions. It fills the hearts of Bristolians with delight, but for this week’s writing prompt I invite you to write a piece about hot air balloons from the point of view of someone who’s never seen one before.

What might they thing as the lurid swollen shapes swoop towards them, and when they hear the gas burners’ roar?

If you create something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to judydarley(at)gmail.com. With your permission, I’d love to share it on SkyLightRain.com.

Theatre review – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime cr Brinkhoff Mogenberg

© Brinkhoff Mogenberg

Mark Hadden’s 2003 bestseller is dream material for any imaginative dramaturg. The result from playwright Simon Stephens, director Marianne Elliott and their team is an exquisite work of art, incorporating clever lighting, movement and huge volumes of emotion.

It begins with a dog, a garden fork and a distressed 15-year-old boy. Christopher Boone (Joshua Jenkins) has trouble making sense of other people, especially when it comes to reading their expressions. Unable to lie, in many ways he is an innocent, yet one equipped with extraordinary amounts of resourcefulness and determination.

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time cr Brinkhoff Mogenberg

© Brinkhoff Mogenberg

Christopher sets himself the task of solving the mystery surrounding the dog’s demise, treating it as a project, and takes us along for the ride.

And what a ride it is. Through the street he lives on, to the train station and then into the bewilderment of the London underground. At times Christopher’s sensory overload became my own, as crowds ebbed and flowed, lights fractured and sound pulsated – ringing through us, the audience, as well as our hero on-stage.

There are moments of real fear amid the overriding tension, as well as sublime beauty, magic and even peace. The scene where Christopher imagines being an astronaut is particularly elegant.

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time cr Brinkhoff Mogenberg2

© Brinkhoff Mogenberg2

Joshua Jenkins is extraordinary as Christopher – as the character he reels off strings of facts, figures and theories at speed, uses the entire stage and the full scale of human emotion. The whole cast were excellent – his parents, played by Gina Isaac and Stuart Long, were especially impressive – drawing us deep into Christopher’s vibrant, sometimes alarmingly intense, world.

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time cr Brinkhoff Mogenberg1

© Brinkhoff Mogenberg

The answers he finds in his search aren’t the ones he’s anticipating. If you’ve read the book, I urge you not to re-read it before seeing the play as the surprises when they come are revealed with grace as well as gut-wrenching power. As audience members we emerged exhausted but exhilarated – and, unexpectedly, understanding Pythagoras‘ theorem.

I watched the play at the Bristol Hippodrome. To find out where The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is on near you, visit www.curiousonstage.com