Of place and time

Comfort Zone by Jimmy Lawlor

Comfort Zone by Jimmy Lawlor

When Jimmy Lawlor was 16 years old, he won the Texaco National Children’s Art Competition, an Irish art contest for children aged up to 18 years. “That was when I really knew I wanted to be an artist, and I used the money won to save for art college.”

He’s been pursuing his talent ever since, pinning it down in the form of paintings that seem to offer glimpsing into bigger tales, and playing both with scale and our expectations.

Spilt Milk by Jimmy Lawlor

Spilt Milk by Jimmy Lawlor

“I’m constantly sketching or imagining how images would work,” Jimmy says. “I live in one of the most beautiful places in Ireland, and people here are friendly and welcoming. In this place technology isn’t the mainstay of their lives, people stop for a chat, a coffee, a catch-up… There’s ‘time’ here.”

It seems to me that this ‘time’ allows the mind to unfurl and remember how it was to be a child, when summer holidays stretched all the way to the horizon, and every day held an infinite number of possibilities.

He says that he resists explaining what any particular painting is about, leaving it up to the viewer to fill in the dots and provide their own narrative. “But they are most definitely influenced by my surrounds and the wonderful people I meet.”

She Sells Seashells by Jimmy Lawlor

She Sells Seashells by Jimmy Lawlor

The painting shows above demonstrates Jimmy’s knack of marrying the real and the unworldly. A particular quality of light gives the scene a fairytale quality, while the lost expression on the woman’s face makes me think of the confusion that afflicts so many of us as we age. Perhaps in this case, childhood daydreams have seeped to the forefront of her mind, sending her astray so that instead of arriving in town, she’s ankle deep in the cold lick of the tide.

Jimmy refers me to a statement on his website, which he says he thinks sums up his aims best: “Each town has its own characters and characteristics but they are basically the same in every town. He applauds these people and their character, which makes them unique. Lawlor appreciates the humour of the Irish people, he finds the gentle mannerisms that he encounters while painting them honourable “

It explains how his paintings teem with stories.I’m trying to capture ‘life’. The life that surrounds me, and is still at a nice pace, where people stop and chat. To remember that it is moments that are memorable.”

A Firm Grasp On Reality by Jimmy Lawlor

A Firm Grasp On Reality by Jimmy Lawlor

Being an artist, Jimmy admits, like all jobs has its ups and downs. “Thankfully, it has more ups. I get to create with total freedom. I have also the honour of being with my children every day and watch them grow up. I have been there when they started to walk and talk.”

This freedom is a privilege Jimmy relishes. “My job has given me the luxury to take time off to go fishing, go camping with my kids. I think this has been the most important gift being a successful artist has given me. I’m extremely lucky!”

Find Jimmy’s work at www.jimmylawlor.com, www.solart.ie, www.cfag,co.uk, www.irishartinlondon.com, www.killarneyartgallery.com and www.jacktierneygallery.com.

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.

Writing prompt – reflections

Girona reflections cr Judy DarleyThis photo shows the Catalan town of Gerona on a beautiful sunny March day. The coloured houses make the reflection particularly striking, don’t you think?

Imagine a river or a lake so still that the surrounding buildings are reflected almost perfectly. Imagine this upside down town is as populated as the one you live in, by people who live in a topsy turvy world where everything is back to front and they breathe water instead of air. Imagine they see your world as the reflections, and think you’re the one upside down.

This could be a children’s story, or a thought-provoking dystopian tale. You decide.

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

Poetry review – Spilt Ends by Claire Williamson

Split Ends by Claire Williamson cropQuestions about family run like a vein, or a seam of quartz, through Claire Williamson’s pamphlet Split Ends. She guides through the catacombs of her search for her biological parents and what this means in terms of identity, at times head on as in She Thought Her Father was a Butcher and Red Herrings, at others at a slant that seems full of glinting motes.

Split Ends by Claire WilliamsonOf the latter, Minotaur sent shivers through me. Elegantly told, this is both a lament and expression of hope. In the poem’s most chilling moments, the bull-headed creature of the title speaks of the “seven petrified children” brought as food, then being devoured only by each other in the desperate hunger of the dark. Including a glimpse of young Icarus adds a wonderful spark to the poem’s ending.

In other poems we’re offered a portrait of grandparents – the grandfather “who taught us kids to read a clock”, and the grandmother, described through the poignant details of the house she made “a home.” In After the Hanging, we meet Williamson’s brother, and feel her pain as she writes of his suicide with an extraordinarily raw beauty.

Others glow with Williamson’s love for her daughters, and touch on the pain of separation by “cross winds, no rest-stops,/ hard shoulder, the motorways.”  Continue reading

Victor Hugo in Guernsey Festival 2016

St Peter Port cr VisitGuernsey

St Peter Port © VisitGuernsey

Tickets are now available for events at the first ever Victor Hugo in Guernsey Festival, which takes place on the Channel Island of Guernsey from 2nd-10th April 2016. What a perfect excuse for a hit of springtime island hopping!

The festival celebrates the 150th anniversary of the publication of Victor Hugo’s novel Toilers of the Sea, which was inspired by and set in Guernsey where he spent 15 years in exile from France from 1855. If you go along, you’ll have the to chance explore some of the historic events that influenced the book, while celebrating Victor Hugo’s life and works.

The eight-day extravaganza features exhibitions, paintings, talks, walks, films, performances, photographs and a one-day seminar from four world experts on Victor Hugo, al taking place at Guernsey landmarks, Hugo’s favourite haunts, and places that provided the inspiration for Toilers of the Sea 150 years ago.

The Victor Hugo in Guernsey Festival is part of the wider Channel Island’s Heritage Festival 2016 (25 March – 10 May 2016) which this year takes a maritime focus, celebrating Guernsey, Jersey, Alderney, Herm and Sark’s relationship with their coastline and their seas.

Top things to do during the Victor Hugo in Guernsey Festival

1 Hugo’s Guernsey exhibition – 1-10 April

Throughout the Channel Island’s Heritage Festival, St Peter Port’s Priaulx Library will have a free exhibition of photographs and objects associated with the period of Hugo’s exile on the island.

2 Victor Hugo concert – 2nd April

Quebecois singer, songwriter and performer, Alain Lecompte, will lead a musical homage to Victor Hugo with excerpts from his internaionallly acclaimed ‘Hugo Live’ concert.  Lecompte will be joined in Guernsey by local choral ensemble, Bel Canto, at St James Concert Hall in St Peter Port. Tickets are £10 for adults and £5 for students.

3 Seminars and lectures from Hugo experts – 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 7th April

A series of seminars and lectures from leading authorities on the life and works of Victor Hugo will delve into the writer’s inspiration, influences and legacies. Events include ‘The Life of Victor Hugo in Exile’, a day-long seminar and Q&A session with four of the world’s most renowned experts on the French writer, a lecture by the designer of commemorative ‘Travailleurs’ stamps, a talk by the instigator of the Folio publication of the novel, and a WEA Maritime Heritage Series Lecture on Hugo’s relationship with the sea. Tickets range from free, for ‘The Art of Hugo’ lecture, to £20, for ‘Travailleurs, Creating the Stamps’ lecture lunch.

 In the Footsteps of Hugo – 2nd-10th April

During the eight day festival, there will be a series of two-hour long guided walks with experts departing a 10am and 2pm, to Hugo’s favourite spots on the island, which inspired many of the settings in both Toilers of the Sea and Les Miserables. The walks are priced at £8 per person.

5 Exhibition of Cartoons of Victor Hugo – 2nd-16th April (closed 3 April)

An exhibition of the caricatures of Victor Hugo published in the satirical press of his time will be on display throughout the festival in Guernsey’s capital of St Peter Port. Original caricatures will be exhibited at the Archive Centre for one week, while enlargements will be on show for two weeks at Inner Street Market. Admission is free.

Hauteville House cr VisitGuersey

Hauteville House © VisitGuersey

6 Tours of Hauteville House – 2nd April – 27th September

Visit the beautiful house where Victor Hugo lived during his time in exile on the island. Hauteville House was where he wrote many of his most well-known novels, including Toilers of the Sea. Tours take place daily throughout the Victor Hugo in Guernsey Festival and priced from £6 per person.

3 Hugo’s Banquet des Enfants – 3rd April

A six-course feast for 200 guests at Guernsey Market Buildings, replicating meals given by Victor Hugo to poor children at his home, Hauteville House. The lunch will be accompanied by live performances of music and drama.

Tickets for all events are available to purchase at www.Guernseytickets.gg. For full details on the festival, visit www.victorhugoinguernsey.gg

Find out more about visiting Guernsey at www.visitguernsey.com.

Kit Boyd’s tranquil wilderness

Another World Autumn 3 by Kit Boyd

Another World Autumn 3 by Kit Boyd

Living hemmed in by buildings as I do, I sometimes yearn for the winding tracks of country paths; the luxury of views so wide I need to turn my head to see them in their entirety.

Kit Boyd seems to have a similar thirst, filling his artwork with hillsides and forests that sweep towards churning skies. There is an impression of movement and sound – wind through leaves, water rushing. It’s as though you’re on some kind of pilgrimage and have paused to take in your surroundings, catch your breath and relish the peace of the natural world.

For Kit, however, reaching a point where his art could sustain him was itself a significant journey.

“It’s a long time since I did my degree in Visual Art in 1991 and for the first six years after, I worked in record shops to get by and carried on painting in the evening,” he says. “I found it difficult to sell my work, which was then far more surreal. I then got a job working for an environmental charity which I put all of my energy into, so between 1999 and 2006 I wasn’t making any work and was becoming rather unhappy about it. I also had a problem with my eyes which needed a lot of treatment, and I felt that I should get on with being an artist before it was too late. I packed in my job, sold my flat and drove around mid Wales looking for somewhere to live.”

Rural Rhapsody by Kit Boyd

Rural Rhapsody by Kit Boyd

This courageous step meant that Kit, through the sale of his flat, had some money for the first time in his life.

“It meant I could invest in myself and my career,” he says. “It took five years of doing art fairs on my own and not making much money (the 2008 crash didn’t help at all!) until I moved back to London and rented a studio, learnt printmaking at Morley College and joined several co-operative artist groups with galleries.”

Finally Kit had the connections, skills and vision he needed to start selling more work.  “Being with these galleries at the Affordable Art Fairs was an aim – they’re the best art fairs in the UK and have made a huge difference to me in reaching an educated art buying audience. So I’m finally making a living as a full time artist, but I had to dedicate myself to it 100%. It’s still a very unpredictable profession in terms of income, but as long as I can pay the bills and eat, then I’m OK.”

Kit’s determination paid off, fuelled by feeling “compelled to do it and believing in myself – it honestly felt the right and only thing I should be doing. I always wanted to make art to hang on people’s walls but which had some deeper meaning at the same time.”

Wanderer November by Kit BoydWanderer November by Kit Boyd

Wanderer November by Kit Boyd

Kit’s time in Wales also reinforced his love of the natural world, and the majority of his work now focuses on real and imagined landscapes.

“The two are intertwined for me. My imaginary landscapes obviously refer to the natural world and landscapes I know, but their order is more to do with the internal workings of my mind,” Kit explains. “When I moved to Wales I was looking for a particular kind of landscape and found it eventually on the borders of Powys and Shropshire. It was like going into an ancient pastoral world where the only signs of modern life were the odd telegraph pole or plane flying overhead. I had found Samuel Palmer in the 21st century and knew straight away that this was where I wanted to be. Those landscapes are still an inspiration to me and I go back several times a year to paint and draw. I also take a lot of photographs of plants and lanes for reference.”

Through his artwork, Kit says he is aiming to explore the idea “that the divine is nature itself. Really it’s a pantheistic feeling. It’s a spiritual communion with the earth and the spirit of place that I aim to express in my work. I’m not trying to picture the reality of a landscape as it actually appears, but more to express my personal feelings in the landscape. A lot of my images are quite dark and reflect an internal world rather than the material outer world.”

Dusk Return Red Sunset by Kit Boyd

Dusk Return Red Sunset by Kit Boyd

Kit’s work reminds me of the walks I used to take with friends as a teenager, strolling through fields and up hillsides with only the moon to light our way. Even today a sense of serenity steals over me when I step into a city park after nightfall, just as all more streetsmart people are skirting its edges because of the dangers it potentially contains.

“I love making something that seems to come from nowhere, and which has a life out in the world connecting to other people,” says Kit. “It feels magical when this happens, which is why I prefer making imaginary landscapes to real places. Tapping into the subconscious, you are also accessing a deeper truth about yourself and your place in the world.”

Find more of Kit’s work online at www.kitboyd.com. He also shows in several galleries in London: Greenwich Printmakers in Greenwich Market, and Skylark Galleries in the Oxo Tower, Rostra Gallery in Bath and also at the Affordable Art Fairs in Battersea (autumn), Bristol, and Hampstead, and also Edinburgh Art Fair each November.

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.

Writing prompt – Spyhole

Spyhole by Judy DarleyI confess to being the kind of person who can never resist peeking though a hole in a fence, door or indeed historic wall. This particular spyhole is part of a stately home in Cornwall, and reveals a rather elegant room with no public access, though it seems some volunteer has chosen to stow their trusty steed there. Quite appropriate, really, as it adjoins the stables.

What secret might be uncovered through nosiness? What mystery could be solved by one detail easily overlooked?

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

Book review – The Bees by Laline Paull

The BeesThe beautiful book is one of the most unusual tales I’ve read. Told entirely from the point of view of a single bee, Flora 717, it encompasses a whole life and society, from the confines of a hive to the surrounding orchard and beyond.

Flora is a sanitation bee – the lowest caste of her community, assumed by all to be without voice and without thought. When she learns to speak, she finds herself overcoming the preconceptions and prejudice of her sisters to rise through the ranks, and gradually comes to understand the politics and hidden dangers of her home.

The Bees is an exhilarating read – initially somewhat claustrophobic but expanding as Flora’s perceptions develop. The first time she experiences flight is a wonder that may leave you breathless, while her encounters with treacherous wasps and the ‘myriad’ are as enlightening to us as to Flora herself. Continue reading

How to give a book wings

Craftivist Collective_hopeHave you heard about Unbound? They’re a rather ingenious new kind of publisher. They’ve already attracted the literary talents of Salena Godden, and are now jumping up and down in support of craftivism queen Sarah Corbett.

The way it works is: an author pitches an idea for a book, then you, the potential reader, can choose whether or not to make a donation towards the completion and publication of that book.

In return, you receive a beautiful e-book, paperback or hardback copy of the finished book, depending on how much you pledge. You also get access to ‘the author’s shed’, showcasing their progress and offering insights into the process of putting the book together.

Craftivist Collective_minibanner

Sarah’s book is How to be a craftivist: the art of gentle protest.

Intrigued? Sarah says, “If we want our world to be more beautiful, kind and fair, then shouldn’t some of our activism be beautiful, kind and fair?”

Sarah’s been running Craftivist Collective since 2009, tackling issues ranging from climate change to the businesses failing to pay employees a living wage.

“My approach to Craftivism is to tackle issues not with anger and shouting, but with gentle protest. Gentleness is not weak, it requires self-control in the face of anger, injustice and sadness. Gentle protest lets us have conversation instead of an argument, debate instead of shouting, and collaboration instead of opposition.”

Craftivist Collective_heartonyoursleevecampaign1

Sarah vows that her book will get to the heart of Craftivism – the purpose, process and pitfalls. Areas it will cover include:

1. How to use the process of making to engage thoughtfully in the issues you care about.

2. How to see every detail of your creation as important: from the colour you use to the fonts, the size, the messaging….

3. How Craftivism can engage people on and offline around the world.

4. How Craftivism can create conversations and action.

“Gentleness, conversation and collaboration can make our world a better place, and the road there less angry, aggressive and divisive.”

Craftivist Collective_minibanner1

Find out more and help Sarah on her way to making her book a reality at unbound.co.uk/books/craftivist.

Find out more about Unbound here.

Art at large

Victoria Young Jamieson

Victoria Young Jamieson

I recently interview Victoria Young Jamieson for a feature published in New Artist magazine’s launch issue. We covered far more than could fit on the printed page, but I thought her answers offered a wonderful insight into what it takes to balance a duel career as both an artist and curator.

Here is the transcript in full.

How did you become the curator of art exhibitions at The Crazy Fox?

I started getting involved with The Crazy Fox in October 2014 when it first opened. I was commissioned by its owner Charlie Stead to put up my photographs and prints.

I had only seen the café in St James’s arcade once before, when it was a building site. The space already had so much character but when it was finally finished the café boasted light and bright spaces and large walls.

I had recently moved up to Bristol from Cornwall and had just started to work for myself. Like most other artists, it has always been a dream of mine to set up a gallery, but I had no idea where to start.

There were still some blank walls in the upstairs of the café, but Charlie didn’t have any more artwork for the space. Considering he had just refurbished the entire shop I don’t think there was much left in the kitty!

I spontaneously proposed an idea where we could both benefit – if I found the artists and curated the exhibitions, the café would always be supplied with changing and refreshing artwork on the walls without him having to spend thousands of pounds.

Since January 2015 I have been curating solo and group exhibitions of local artists work. It is a platform for artists to exhibit within Bristol without all the extra costs that you face with traditional galleries.

The Crazy Fox artwork cr Judy Darley

How do you think this compares to exhibiting in traditional galleries?

Why should artwork only be on view to the people visiting an art gallery? The work in a café is on view to everyone and anyone coming in to enjoy a coffee. It’s on view to the art enthusiast or to someone that wouldn’t usually visit a gallery. Art is also personal – sometimes you need to be able to look at something for a while to know that you want to own it. The café environment allows anyone to do so, and they can keep coming back to visit it.

There are also no extra fees for the artists. I don’t charge a submission fee and there aren’t any additional costs. All I ask is that they provide the artwork, an artist’s statement and any extra information that I can use on social media to help promote their show.

The Crazy Fox interior cr Judy Darley

What do you think the advantages are for the café, and for the exhibiting artists?

The café benefits because the space is always changing. It allows the regular customers and the staff to see something different every month. A bigger audience forms as friends or followers may want to come in and have a look. And it’s a good excuse to have a party as each of the artists can have a private view for their show! The Crazy Fox do a cracking espresso martini!

Why would you recommend artists to take this approach to showing their art?

For me, cafés have been a great way to build confidence before approaching bigger art galleries. The Crazy Fox is a good platform for artists to be able to experience hanging and exhibiting work and is a networking opportunity when there are group shows or private views.

The space is open to any type of artists, whether they do art in their spare time or they do it as a profession, there is no pressure to be at a certain level. The space is there for them to take what they want from it.

I hope that eventually The Crazy Fox will become more of a multipurpose space, with possible workshops, artists’ talks or activities from other art forms.

Are there any downsides to exhibiting in cafés that you think artists should be aware of?

I explain to every artist before they exhibit that it is only a café and that people aren’t necessarily there to buy the artwork. But that isn’t really what my aim is for the gallery. It is providing artists with a networking opportunity and for the experience of exhibiting in a curated space.

The space is huge so the body of work that one artist can create might not have the chance to be hung together again. I ask all the artists to bring business cards and they always seem to be disappearing so as long as word is getting out, it’s a step further to a commission or a sale.

The Crazy Fox interior1 cr Judy Darley

How do you think the trend towards art appearing in a broader variety of spaces benefits the public, artists and the art industry as a whole?

Pieces of art are hugely subjective. Seeing a work hanging in an organic space such as a café allows people to more easily envisage how it might fit into their own home or work environment. An environment where there is furniture, people, food and movement lets people contextualise the art in a way that many gallery spaces wouldn’t be able to.

There is a popular demand for affordable artwork and there are a lot fantastic illustrators, painters, printmakers producing it. The café is a platform for them to launch themselves and get noticed around Bristol. For the customer in the café, it may unexpectedly spark a memory, create a conversation, process a thought or catch the imagination of the exhibiting artist… and perhaps result in a sale.

What do you think the trend means for the future of art exhibitions, and art itself?

I think traditional gallery spaces will exist as they always have, and will always be the best way of viewing the art in its own right. However, artists and creatives are increasingly searching for new and unusual spaces that offer a different approach and viewpoint. Bristol thrives in this respect. Among my favourite unusual spaces are the Edwardian cloakrooms in Clifton and the Space Gallery on Stokes Croft. There are countless undiscovered gems waiting to be exploited. So much is going on, with lots of opportunities for artists to get involved. Every weekend another building or space becomes a pop up offering the public a different and exciting way of seeing.

As long as people keep drinking coffee and eating cake, the art space in The Crazy Fox will exist. It benefits the artist by providing a space to show their work, the café by having a cycle of new artwork on the walls without the bill, and the customers, who get to see a new exhibition every time they come in.

The Crazy Fox are currently seeking art submissions for their upcoming exhibition, with the theme ‘affordable art’. The deadline is Monday 21st March 2016. Find full details at thecrazyfoxart.tumblr.com.

Find Victoria at victoriayj.blogspot.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.

Writing prompt – lakeside

Vondelpark barbecues cr Judy DarleyI took this photo in Vodelpark, Amsterdam, during a heatwave some years ago. As the sun began to dip, dozens of people arrived and began to settle down for an evening of revelries.

The scene is so atmospheric with the smoke from barbecues and bonfires drifting skywards. What could happen here in this hinterland between day and dusk?

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