Book review – Storm Warning by Vanessa Gebbie

Storm Warning by Vanessa GebbieI’ve always thought of short stories as being the perfect portable fiction – ideal for dipping in and out of on trains and buses for a few moments of sheer immersion.

While Vanessa Gebbie’s tales certainly fit the first part of this by being invitingly easy to dip into, it’s far more difficult to dip out of her short stories. In a few, brief beautifully spare paragraphs Vanessa has the power to utterly transport you, immersing you in lives that ring out with authenticity and enmeshing you in their emotions – all without a touch of sentimentality.

I was initially a little put off by the fact this collection is solely focused on war, as the subtitle Echoes of Conflict testifies. But far from being bleak or terrifying or gory, the tales shimmer with humanity – people grieve and remember and regret, but with such elegance that you’ll find yourself savouring the passages like the very best poetry. In Maiba’s Ribbon a boy recalls the day his brother lost his hands, in The Wig Maker a woman shares three truths, the last being the most heart-rending. In Cello Strings and Screeching Metal a musician explains why champagne bubbles transport her back to a single, shocking moment in time. Continue reading

The precarious nature of being

Rosie McLay studioEntering Rosie McLay’s studio at The Island is like gaining admittance to a secret cave. Light floods from on high as rain tumults against windows set into the eaves, while every other surface jostles with art. Breasts cast in copper, resin and coal extend like stalactites from the walls, and etchings of gigantic wasps, octopi tentacles plus a hedgehog who might just savage you, leer from shadowy corners. Mirrors are reverse etched with paint scratched away to reveal negative sketches, proving that Rosie has a view of the world that is entirely her own.

Hedgehog print by Rosie McLay

Hedgehog print by Rosie McLay

It’s not entirely surprising when you consider Rosie’s upbringing. “I come from a family of creatives,” she says. “Dad is a joiner, making bespoke designer furniture, so I was always around the smell of sawdust and stacks of wood waiting to be transformed into other things. Mum was a photographer and film maker as well as doing embroidery and other things. She was always finding old things and turning them into new things.”

Rosie McLayIt was through this that Rosie’s own early artistic explorations began. “We were all encouraged to see the potential in everything, patch things up and reinvent them.”

Rosie graduated with a BA in Drawing and Applied Arts from UWE in 2014. While still on the course she began running makers’ fairs and has been creating and selling her work ever since.

A love of materials has been key to the direction her art has taken. “I love working with copper, but part of that is the machines. I love using those big Victorian presses.” Rosie is a member of Spike Print Studio, an open access organisation that offers technical support and courses, as well as allowing use of a varied selection of presses and other equipment.

Bone Case by Rosie McLay

Bone Case by Rosie McLay

Her most recent fascination is with glass. “It feels so clean and fragile. Working with it is quite spontaneous – you apply the paint and cast a blade and needles across it to etch away the layers you don’t want.”

The slipperiness of the surface is part of the attraction. “It feels so clean, far more so that drawing a pencil nib across rough paper. Working on glass makes me calm.”

If she wants to let out a more vigorous emotion, she says, she’ll turn to woodcuts or copper, “carving, shaping or puncturing holes.”

Wasp sculpture by Rosie McLay

Wasp sculpture by Rosie McLay

The fragility of glass is also appealing. “Glass is slightly dangerous – I like the sense that it can shatter. There’s an element of unpredictability. The material has a say in how the final piece will look.”

Rosie’s approach means that even the mistakes are welcomed, and even encouraged. She points out a beautiful etching on the wall that seems blotched with light. “I think I was a bit careless when preparing it, so it’s got my fingerprints on it and I smudged it with the heel of my hand. When it came out of the press, I thought, well, that’s a day’s work wasted, but now I can see that those marks make it a really interesting piece.”

Breast series by Rosie McLay

Breast series by Rosie McLay

For her latest exhibition, Rosie is toying with the idea of inviting viewer to touch her creations. “Despite the ‘do not touch’ signs at my previous exhibitions, my casts ended up with loads of finger marks all over them, most notably my copper breast where the marks became darkly tarnished over the days. All the fingerprints were in exactly the same place, everyone touched the breast in the same way. It’s as though it’s instinctive.”

Copper breast by Rosie McLay

Copper breast by Rosie McLay

The current exhibition, Body, Material, Change, focuses on Rosie’s thoughts about decay and regeneration – how all of us eventually die, and our bodies break down, often with assistance from the woodland creatures and insects she loves to draw.

Heart etching by Rosie McLay

Heart etching by Rosie McLay

“I want to explore our relationship to our bodies,” she says. “I find it very strange that I don’t really know what my organs look like. A lot of the time, we’re very separate to our bodies – it’s as though it’s just a vessel, a vehicle to take us through life.”

She adds with a grin: “I find it a miracle that I even exist. Every part of us is a mass of clever calculations and gungy stuff. I want to appreciate that more. It feels like a miracle to even be born.”

Rosie will be exhibiting at The Station, Silver Street, Bristol BS1 2AG, from 7-28th May. The gallery will be open from 11-8pm Mon-Sat. Find details at www.thestationbristol.org.uk.

Find Rosie at www.RosieMcLay.com, RosieMcLay on Twitter and Rosie McLay Art on Facebook.

Writing prompt – influence

Boy meets the busker cr Judy DarleyIt’s my littlest nephew’s 3rd birthday this week, which means that any one of the many adventures he embarks on could well become his earliest memory.

On this day, he met a busker, stood transfixed, and then took the coins his mum gave him to drop into the busker’s guitar case.

The scene makes me think about the friendships that can form between the very young and very old – the positive influences each can have on the other.

Imagine your protagonist’s childhood. Who did they meet who helped shape the person they grew into? Alternatively, imagine your character very old – what small person might help them see the world with fresh eyes?

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.