Reading the walls of Kaunas, Lithuania

Kaunas Lithuania. pic by James HainsworthOur first full day in Kaunas, Lithuania, was flooded with bright sunshine and brilliant blue skies, so we took the chance to follow one of their excellent tourist maps, Wallographer’s Notes.

Street art began to emerge in the city as a form of protest during the years of Soviet Occupation from 1944 to 1990. Today, the City Municipality regular invites applications of ideas for new artworks, and so every month new creations appear. Here are ten of my favourites.

Insects of Ladislas Starevich. Kaunas Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley1. Insects of Ladislas Starevich
Rotušės Aikštė, 15, Kaunas
If you begin at the town hall, you will soon happen across this trio of gigantic insects: an ant, grasshopper complete with violin and stag-beetle created in honour of pioneering puppet animator Ladislas Starevich.

Dogs Fountain, Kaunas Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley2. The Dogs’ Fountain
Rotušės Aikštė, 19, Kaunas
Created by sculptor Vytautas Narutis in memory of the canine guardians said to protect the sleep of emperor Napoleon when he stayed in Kaunas Old Town, Fontanas Šunys (Dogs’ Fountain) was installed in the Kaunas Town Hall square in 1987. The dogs have lovely friendly faces rubbed shiny in places, presumably from people patting their noses for luck.

The Freedom Warrior. Kaunas Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley3. The Freedom Warrior
Pilies G. 17, Kaunas
Located between the 14th century Kaunas castle and the Neris River, this exuberant statue is named the Freedom Warrior. The figure of the armour-clad knight on horseback mirrors the one of the city’s heraldic shield, known as Vytis. It stands an imposing seven metres high. I love its celebratory air, but feel its triumphant air is rivalled by the tot scooting around the monument’s base in my shot.

The Wise Old Man, Kaunas Lithuania. pic by Judy Darley4. The Wise Old Man
Jonavos G. 3, Kaunas
Turn to the right with your back to the castle, and you’ll spy The Wise Old Man, or The Master, a gigantic portrait smoking a pipe apparently in his pyjamas. We visited on a Saturday when the square below was laid out with stalls selling freshly unearthed root vegetables, cheese, honey, cured fish and the eponymous tree cakes. The 440 m2 creation by artists Tadas Šimkus and Žygimantas Amelynas overlooks it all with a benevolent air. Ironically, he’s painted on the side of a former footwear factory, and though you can’t see his feet in this photo, he has no shoes. He’s said to be an homage to George Maciunas, one of the pioneers of the Fluxus art movement.

Monument to Abraham Mapu. Kaunas, Lithuania. Photo by James Hainsworth5. Monument to Abraham Mapu
Mapu G., Kaunas
This jaunty chap stands on a chair inthe courtyard of the Ars et Mundus Gallery. He is the sculpture of a beloved Kaunas-born author,Abraham Mapu, who is credited with writing and self-publishing one of the first Hebrew novels in 1853. I love the cheeky character sculptor Martynas Gaubas has achieved. With his hand held just so, he looks about to doff his cap in greeting.

Owl on Owl Hill, Kaunas Lithuania1. pic by Judy Darley6. A whole flock of owls
Pelėdų Kalnas, Kaunas
These concrete and sand owls mark the perimeter of Pelėdų Kalnas, or Owl Hill, and were created by sculptor Vincas Grybas in 1922. The owls are the symbols of Kaunas Art School, the hill and the city below.

Owl House on Owl Hill. Kaunas Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley

We followed tourist map to visit the owls, but spotted the above en-route to Owl Hill. What is that? An owl-shaped building?! So fabulous. Wonder if it’s on AirBnB,

The Cabin. Kaunas, Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley7. The Cabin
Putvinskio G. 36, Kaunas
This gorgeous rainbow building springs out of its surroundings as a reminder that art rests on every corner of Kaunas. Once an abandoned and weather-beaten house, it’s now a vivid slice of life set almost midway between the Devil’s Museum and the Žaliakalnis Funicular (which was closed when we visited, with no explanation as to why). There are two chairs on the cabin’s roof, perhaps in case the devil or his wife fancy a rest.

Levitator. Kaunas, Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley8. The Levitator
Nepriklausomybes Aikštė, Kaunas
Situated close to St. Michael the Archangel’s Church, this sculpture resembles a miracle caught in mid-moment, as a figure rises, harnessed to its long-locked plinth only by a swathe of cloak.
I’ve since seen photos of children pressing themselves beneath the hovering body, but when we saw it rain poured down and all that caught there was the suggestion of clouds. By the way, apparently the Lithuanian word of Levitator is levitatacija. Beautiful.

Yard Gallery Kaunas1 Lithuania. pic by Judy Darley9. Yard Gallery
Ožeškienės G. 21A, Kaunas
Begun in artist Vytenis Jakas more than a decade ago, the Yard Gallery is a constantly evolving creation, with new artworks being added by a range of artists, neighbours and passersby all the time. It aims to bring life and a sense of community to this space surrounded by residential homes. An astonishing space crammed with evidence of narrative and imagination.

Pink Elephant Kaunas Lithuania. pic by Judy Darley10. The Pink Elephant
Ožeškienės G. 18A, Kaunas
Just up the hill from the Yard Gallery, you’ll find a vast, resting elephant depicted in power pink. That large ear seems ripe for secrets, better than any church confessional. It’s by artist Vytenis Jakas(yep, him of the Yard Gallery, and to me seems to represent all things joyful and accepting in this quirky creative city. It was actually inspired by a graffiti slogan that translates as Love Conquers All.

Find out more about Kaunas, Lithuania, at visit.kaunas.lt/en/ 

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Painting and piecing artefacts

Screen Illuminated by Sunset, gouache on paper by Alan James McLeodAlan James McLeod took a long and winding route to reach the abstract works he’s becoming known for. “I graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 1990, in applied design, then became a freelance textile designer, producing hand painted fabric and wallpaper designs for companies such as Warner Fabrics, Habitat & John Lewis.”

Following “a long hiatus” during which he set art and design aside, Alan chose to return with a more fine art approach at the beginning of 2014, “but the design background is always there.”

An Echo of the Story by Alan James McLeod

An Echo of the Story by Alan James McLeod

The delicious textural look to Alan’s artwork is created by handpainting papers he then collages. The result is an intriguing resemblance to unearthed artefacts or enticingly  weatherbeaten ephemera.

“At college I used to paint on top of oil pastels, then scrape through to create designs,” he explains of his technique. “This developed to layering the paint colours on top of each other, using clear wax instead of the oil pastels. Lots of scraping and washing, leaving out in the rain, anything to reveal what’s underneath.”

Illuminated by Alan James McLeod

Illuminated by Alan James McLeod

He developed his unique style through a balance of “not worrying about the outcome”, embracing “happy accidents to push my work in different directions” and endeavouring to produce individual pieces “that reminded me of something, and that have some sort of resonance or depth. Papers that are too ‘surface’, can be useful in my work as well though, as they can be overworked or gilded to bring them to a level of usefulness.”

Being away from the art world for around seven years was useful in its own way, as it showed Alan how intrinsic art had become to him. “I was missing a big part of my life, and after work I would head upstairs to our spare room and start sifting through old textile designs, found papers and postcards.”

Before long, Alan started making little collages. “This was purely for enjoyment’s sake. It wasn’t until 2012 that I decided to try a couple of them in a gallery.”

A Hidden Room by Alan James McLeod

A Hidden Room by Alan James McLeod

He describes moving house a catalyst for taking his work to a new level. “At the same time as I was taking my art more seriously, my surroundings were unfamiliar, and not giving me the inspiration that directed my work. This is when a more cerebral approach took over, with my imagination coming in to play.”

Alan felt that collage work using found papers, was already a crowded area. “Many artists have mastered college, one of my favourites being Kurt Schwitter.”

To ensure an originality in his own work, Alan decided to focus on creating his own unique painted papers as the medium for his collages.

Unknown Origin by Alan James McLeod

Unknown Origin by Alan James McLeod

I’m impressed by the beauty of the light Alan captures in his work, and ask how he learnt to represent it so effectively. “Sometimes we need to be shown the light,” he says. “I hope in my work that I’m revealing a little of what may have been hidden.”

The process of developing and completing a work of art can be lengthy and ponderous.
“Often a piece of work will ‘hang around’ for quite some time before finding another paper to marry up with it,” Alan says. “At the onset, I have no preconceived idea of any finished work. The process is just in the doing. I’m thinking about ancient weathered walls, tribal textiles, or a place of cultural interest which has only the decorative architectural features left, with all the precious artefacts removed. Towards completion of the work, I’m striving for depth, hidden meaning, or just something beautifully decorative.”

Never Wanting to be Found by Alan James McLeod

Never Wanting to be Found by Alan James McLeod

Daydreaming is a vital part of Alan’s creative process. “I did a bit of travelling when I was younger, not so much now, so the use of a good imagination helps. Places like Italy and Malta, left an impression on me. The faded colours, layers of history living side by side…”

Alan begins the creation of his painted papers with no fixed plan or vision. “It’s solely about the drive to create an effect or texture that I feel I can use in a finished work,” he says. “How the papers end up influences the direction the piece is going in, be it a more planetary look, abstract landscape, or thinking of imagined shrines, artefacts or architecture. Very rarely is a piece completed using only one paper. I use a combination of techniques, including edge to edge joining for the composition, and collage for the decorative elements.”

Lost Poem by Alan James McLeod

Lost Poem by Alan James McLeod

In his bio on the Lime Tree Gallery website, where he frequently exhibits, Alan states his goal of documenting “emotional responses to music and memory, celestial bodies and changes in the seasons.”

He elaborates: “Abstract work can evoke memories of not just places, but feelings and experiences. I add shapes to the compositions to add focus, hoping the viewer finds enough space within the work to add their own interpretation. Anthropomorphising what is seen happens often, but the attaching of memories and the personalising of the piece is the joy of producing the work.”

Find more of Alan’s artwork on Instagram.

Things Seen That No Longer Remain by Alan James McLeod

Things Seen That No Longer Remain by Alan James McLeod

Artistic embroidered trendrils

Olivia's Summer Garden by Shuya Cheng My first impression of Shuya Cheng’s embroidered artwork was of encountering an elegant form of climbing plant, with tendrils and foliage in a lip-smacking array of colours. Clusters of leaves, petals, moss, coral, shells and tide-manipulated seaweeds are mounted onto crisp white surfaces where their shadows add another layer of design.

Sun carrier Shell by Shuya Cheng

Sun-carrier Shell by Shuya Cheng

This eye-catching approach took Shuya some time to develop, she admits. “It took me a long while to find my artistic niche,” she says. “In my early twenties, I worked as a general assistant to a fashion designer in Taiwan which taught me a lot about creativity and having and working towards a vision. I then trained and worked as a graphic designer for a period of time. In terms of my current art focus, I’m self-taught with a lot of trial and error and the assistance of the internet where a lot of artists generously share their techniques. I am also an abstract painter and I bring this abstract element to all my embroidery work.”

Mind's Eye by Shuya Cheng

Mind’s Eye by Shuya Cheng

I’m impressed by Shuya’s exquisitely delicate stitching, and ask her to describe her methodology.

“My work is free-hand machine embroidery created by spending hours over a sewing machine stitching intricate designs on to water soluble material,” she explains. “This is then dissolves and I shape, arrange and pin the embroidery in a shadow box (a deep picture frame also called a box frame). Much as I would love to lay claim to having developed the techniques, there are a number of artists out there using and sharing these techniques.”

Seaweed Series by Shuya Cheng

Seaweed Series by Shuya Cheng

Shula says she was initially drawn to the deceptively simple appearance of this technique. “I seek to take a physical structure such as a leaf skeleton and through the process bring an abstract element which makes the viewer pause and take a closer look at the intricacies. Pinning the works in shadow boxes allows me to introduce a living 3D element with the shadows changing along with the light.”

She adds: “For me, the 3D effect created by the shadows brings the piece of art to life. Stillness and movement are integral parts of each piece. They are floating; they are moving; they are alive.”

Indian Summer by Shuya Cheng

Indian Summer by Shuya Cheng

Finding a man-made or natural structure that will translate successfully with Shuya’s desired results can be surprisingly difficult. “Sometimes inspiration does come spontaneously but most of the time it involves hours of research looking at photographs. Occasionally I get lucky – on a beach in Northumberland I found a fascinating piece of kelp root which served as the basis for a piece of work.”

Laying the foundations for each piece of work of art is a painstaking process. “Shaping and arranging the embroidery, whether a single piece or a number of individual pieces, takes almost as long as sewing,” Shuya says. “I spend a long time manipulating the embroidery so that the individual components come together as one piece.”

Blue Coral by Shuya Cheng

Blue Coral by Shuya Cheng

Shula begins by envisioning the finished piece in her mind, “which helps me work purposefully towards my goal. It is almost a form of therapy. However, inevitably surprises, and occasionally disasters, occur at various stages. These can lead to the thrill of an unexpected outcome. The moment I finish and sign the work and complete the framing brings a sense of closure and calmness – at least until I start thinking about my next design! My work has to speak to me and I hope therefore it will speak to others.”

Trios by Shuya Cheng

Trios by Shuya Cheng

Shuya exhibits at art fairs across Bath and Bristol, including the Combe Down Art Trail, Widcombe Craft Fair and Art Trail, Front Room Totterdown  Arts Trail and Cam Valley Arts Trail. “The last two Christmases I have exhibited in the Bath Humbug event hosted by the 44AD gallery. I have also exhibited at a number of open exhibitions including the BSA Open Exhibition at the Victoria Art Gallery and Visions of Science at the Edge, University of Bath.”

She also notes that an online presence is essential these days. “I try to post regularly on Instagram and Facebook with regular updates of what I am working on and upcoming events. My website www.shuyacheng.com is a good starting point for anybody who wishes to find out more about my work and my artistic journey.”

 

Mapping myths in lino cuts

Detail from 'Redhead The Whale Man' by Victoria WillmottWhen I discovered artist Victoria Willmott’s fresh, sketchy linoprints, I fell for the energy they exuded. In particular, I love her beautiful foldout inspired by the Icelandic myth ‘Redhead The Whale Man’. Victoria tells me she’s been drawing inspiration from fairytales and folklore all her life.

“During my Illustration BA course I worked on a project to illustrate a series of fairytales,” she says. “I started to realise these tales were more then just children’s stories, they were little gems to me that sparked my imagination.”

Detail2 from 'Redhead The Whale Man' by Victoria Willmott

Detail from ‘Redhead The Whale Man’ by Victoria Willmott

She adds: “What’s interesting is that fairytales have lasted through hundreds of years and several generations and are still so well known today. The stories themselves often carry a hidden meaning that brings sense or a moral message, but sometimes they’re just fantastic stories that take you on a journey far far awayand I love that about them. I like to reimagine these fantastical fairy tales within our every day and place them into our modern world.”

Visiting Iceland in 2018 was the starting point for a special project.

“I brought myself a book on Icelandic fairytales. It was filled with short stories from elves to trolls, and ghosts with some very dark endings,” she says. “I was drawn to the story ‘Redhead The Whale Man’because it has an element of surprise and absurdity and because it’s a story at sea.”

Detail3 from 'Redhead The Whale Man' by Victoria Willmott

Detail from ‘Redhead The Whale Man’ by Victoria Willmott

She explains that Redhead The Whale Man tells the story of a young fisherman who is turned into a whale by elves. “He betrayed his elf wife and elf child by dis-owning them in his homeland. His punishment for doing so was to live as a whale for the rest of his life and haunt the seas his fellow fisherman sailed in.”

The red head is actually nothing to do with his hair colour, but instead comes from the fact he was wearing a red cap at the moment when he was cursed.

Detail4 from 'Redhead The Whale Man' by Victoria Willmott

Detail from ‘Redhead The Whale Man’ by Victoria Willmott

“In this story I like the symbolism with the red cap and that it is a simple object that you can associate to your own world,” Victoria says. “I like to see fairytale emblems in ordinary items, and now a red cap can be added to that as an object that could conjure up a fantastical story.”

Victoria has bookshelves crammed with fairytales ripe for informing and inspiring her work. These include books by the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, and Charles Perrault, as well as folk tales from Ireland, Africa, Iceland and India.

“I created a piece of work called ‘The Lost Slipper in Southville’ which was a reimagining of Cinderella in my neighbourhood of Bristol, Southville. It purely started from personal experience of loosing my own shoe as it flew out of my bicycle basket. It was found, not by prince charming but on a kerbside – luckily in good condition considering it would have been rained on for four days.”

The Lost Slipper in Southville by Victoria Willmott. Lino cut

The Lost Slipper in Southville by Victoria Willmott

From this, Victoria began to see how elements of the Cinderella story could appear in her day-to-day life. “The ugly stepsisters, for instance, I saw in two geese at the local City Farm, which I pass to get to the studio,” she says. “Their webbed feet could never fit into the lost slipper and their constant cackling gave them an unpleasant manner just like the stepsisters bickering.”

Victoria decided that the Prince’s Ball should be held at the local South Bank Club, “where dance classes and evening do’s are abundant. I imagined the dancers there dancing out onto the streets. In one of the original tales of Cinderella she goes to the ball three separate occasions with three different dresses, in the colours of sunlight, moonlight and starlight. I used the colour referencing those aspects for the dancers.”

Victoria created the artwork using lino cut and devised a map that leads you through her alternative Cinderella tale, “but you could take any path you wanted and perhaps make up your own version of the story.”

Crop of The Lost Slipper in Southville by Victoria Willmott

Crop of ‘The Lost Slipper in Southville’ by Victoria Willmott

Victoria is keen to share her interest in fairytales through her artwork. “I find that I want to communicate that there are stories everywhere and people can use their imagination to read between the illustrations and make up their own tales,” she says. “That’s the essence of storytelling – originally fairytales and folk tales would have been passed on through oral telling and each storyteller would have their own take or version of the story. I like to think people are given the option to read my prints in their own way and make up their own story about them too.”

Victoria begins a new piece of work by sketching on location and then takes those drawings back to the studio to refine. “I have an abundance of sketchbooks that hold precious ideas,” she says. “When I look back at them I start to see characters and scenes that I could use in future work. I enjoy the sketching process where I work quickly and produce loose and free drawings. I try to hold onto that looseness and transfer drawings into lino cut prints.”

Recently, Victoria has been working on large-scale map-style prints that are built up from individual lino cut stamps. “The process of making these requires printing each lino cut by hand,” she says. “I have a rough idea of how these prints will end up but I let spontaneity happen on the day of printing and use my instincts about what colours and images will work well together.”

Crop of Icelandic Whale Man Story Map by Victora Willmott

Crop of ‘Icelandic Whale Man Story Map’ by Victora Willmott

The trickiest part, she admits, is recognising when to stop working on a piece of art.

“I feel there is part of my brain that is more critical and aware of my choices and the other half is being playful and spontaneous and having more openness to creating,” she says. “I think the playful side comes out mostly in the sketching and printing process, and then I have to allow the critical side of my brain to come through and make a judgement to see if the piece is finished.”

She smiles and then adds: “I often have to take a photograph of the artwork, make a cup of tea and then let both sides of the brain either agree or not. It’s useful to take a step back and then let you mind see it from a new perspective.”

You can find more of Victoria’s art at www.victoriawillmott.com, twitter.com/vlwillmottwww.instagram.com/vlwillmott and www.facebook.com/VictoriaWillmottIllustration.

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, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com.

 

Festive wishes

Tinsel tree 2018. Photo by Judy DarleyMerry Christmas Eve! As feared, our small Christmas tree didn’t make it through 2018 and when we moved to our new home in March, he didn’t come with us. I’m hoping his branches helped to nourish some other growing trees.

However, when I mentioned we might not have a tree this year, my mum immediately offered to loan us her 1960s tinsel tree. This slender silver beauty has pride of place in our cosy living room. We’re just taking care not to place any candles too close!

And yes, in case you were wondering, that is a fairy sheep on top, and a peeping snowman to the right. And no, I can’t (won’t) explain those two little festive oddities.

This year has been tumultuous in many ways, but speckled through with serene pockets of creativity and spangled with small but shining literary successes.

Wishing you a peaceful, joyful Christmas, however you choose to spend it.

Art on the street

You can't hide homelessness by John D'ohIf you live in the Bristol area, you may well have already glimpsed work by urban artist John D’oh. Now the author of the freshly published Street Art And Graffiti: A Dissertation, he explains how he reached this new chapter in a life of creativity.

“I used to do street art as a kid but got into a long-term relationship so gave it up for a long time,” he says. “Back then I got into street art and graffiti because of hip hop and I considered them to be part of that culture. These days my style and art has changed and now it’s more about getting a message in with the art.”

From Dreams to Nightmares by John D'oh

These messages can be prompted by a wide range of environmental, societal and political issues. “I follow the news and politics but sometimes I cover other issues like homelessness or environmental issues, which are close to my heart. If I see something that I feel would benefit from my street art then I start thinking about the logistics.”

These include social issues “like civil rights, poverty, racism, bullying, inequality, immigration, and homelessness. There are a lot of politics in my art and some that are just done for humour.”

His aim, he explains, is to encourage views to question what they read in newspapers and online. “People noticed during the last election that there was a lot of bias one-sided right-wing journalism,” he comments. “It’s nice just readdress issues and get people talking and thinking and not just believing the fake news that’s out there in abundance.”

Vote Corbyn Momentum

He adds wryly: “How many people voted for Brexit just based on the extra 350million a week promised to the NHS, which was all lies and deceit which has helped put us all in the mess we are in today?”

killer clown craze cr John D'oh

John describes his creations as “pretty much similar to advertising, as I only have a few seconds to catch the public attention with my art. Hopefully my artwork will make people smile as they go about their daily lives, but also maybe start debate or discussions as they talk to friends, work colleagues or other members of the public, if shared through social media.”

The humour inherent in his work is an essential element, he explains. “I feel we all need a little humour in our lives and it’s often better than the forced advertising that we are forced to endure on a daily basis.”

John D'oh artwork

Often the idea for a new work takes shape thanks to a news story. “I think about how I am going to adapt that to fit into an image, with maybe a short quote that can instantly grab attention of the passing public,” John says. “I then cobble the artwork together with a mixture of photoshop and paint software, which I use badly, and freehand and draw the rest.”

What offshore accountsThe biggest challenge is the speed at which a new idea needs to become an existing work of art in order to be relevant.

“I find the news changes quickly, so the timing has to be right – if you miss the headline or the story then it’s too late; there’s no point in putting it out a week later.”

The design stages are the most crucial. “You ask yourself where you’re going to paint it; whether there are any CCTV cameras; how big you can make it; how many layers it needs; whether it should be pre-made or maybe be an art installation…”

Once it’s completed, John has one goal in mind. “All I hope to do is get that one descent photograph before my artwork is removed, painted over, jet washed or tagged. I consider what I do as a temporary art form and am not too precious about my work once it’s done.”

Street Art And Graffiti A Dissertation book coverThe idea to produce his debut book, Street Art And Graffiti: A Dissertation, was prompted by students and academics asking for insight.

“The book took me six months to put together so a lot of thought has gone into it,” John says. “I’ve read many books on the subject and I feel mine is like nothing on the market. It’s an insider’s view and where most artists produce what I call generic coffee table books with just page after page of glossy photos of their art, mine is different and balanced with about 50% text.”

The book covers and raises a lot of questions about the nature of street art, he says, “like should street art be protected and if so how do you choose what to protect? And the re-appropriation of street art, should art be removed from the streets? If you take this art then and stick it in a gallery or a museum, does it then loose its integrity? And lots more.”

Peope Think I'm Banksy. By John D'oh
John’s trademark wit shines through too.

“I’ve included some funny stories, some background information about myself that’s not common knowledge and many unseen photos,” he says.

John is hoping that the book will be used as an educational tool for teachers and students, “as the subject is becoming more common place in the school curriculum. I hope it will be something teachers can use in the class room to generate discussions between teachers and pupils and for students to maybe read.”

Tony Blair Bear Pit Bristol

Plus, as the title suggests, he’d like to see his book provide support for anyone writing a dissertation on the subject of street art. “My book may make it easier and highlight some interesting topics from which to base their work.”

The book is also bound to appeal to anyone who appreciates art in its myriad forms.

You can see original street art by John D’oh all over the UK. “In some areas it stays up longer than others,” he says, listing: “Bristol, Burnham on Sea, Manchester, Liverpool, Cheltenham, Worcester, Upton upon seven and Gloucester, to name but a few. And I’m always on the lookout for new locations, opportunities and walls.”

Street Art And Graffiti: A Dissertation By Street Artist John D’oh is published by Tangent Books and available to buy here.

Daily creativity with Ulla Maria Johanson

180329 by Ulla Maria JohansonIn 2014, artist Ulla Maria Johanson set herself the challenge of creating and completing a new painting every day. It marked the start of a period of intense productivity that has resulted in a series of exquisite work by the Swedish artist.

There’s a sense of spontaneous energy to Ulla’s paintings that I find utterly enticing, yet her habit of producing daily paintings began as a reaction to something of a painterly drought. “I was in a period when I experienced that I lacked inspiration, time and ability to paint,” she explains. “My dream was to paint big and have a lot of time for creation, which was difficult to combine with full time work. When I did find time, the white canvasses felt scary and I rarely managed to make a whole painting I was pleased with.”

Ulla’s frustration grew, until during a break at work she went to an online bookshop and sought out their art catalogue. “I found Carol Marine’s book Daily Painting,” she recalls. “Interested, I read about the simple concept of painting small and often. I immediately felt that it was something for me, and I made my first daily painting the next morning.”

180509 by Ulla Maria Johanson

Luscious brushstrokes build up abstract scenes that summon up an impression of setting, season and mood.

The biggest challenge, she says, is to find sufficient time each day. “I learned quite soon to make it easier for myself by making a little pop-up studio,” Ulla says. “At first, it was also difficult to find motives and ideas. Some days it seemed hopeless and I thought about giving it up.”

To maintain her determination, Ulla gave herself a feasible end date. “First, I decided that I should give it 30 days in a row before stopping,” she says, “and then I extended it to 100 days.”

180416 by Ulla Maria Johanson

Four years on, the habit is now a deeply ingrained pleasure.

“The joy is to take the time to do what I really want,” she says. “It’s also a great liberation to have this daily habit established. At the beginning, I was often dissatisfied with what I achieved – my internal critic shouted in despair and encouraged me to quit! However, I soon found it became easy to silence the critic – the most important thing was not that the day’s work should become a masterpiece but it should become something. Who can expect to produce perfection when time is tight?”

She adds: “The next day there is another chance to do something, and then it could only get better. Painting small and often also makes it easy to try new, experimental techniques and take chances.”

180205 by Ulla Maria Johanson

Ulla usually uses acrylic paint “because it dries quickly and you can paint over with several layers. I do small paintings (15x15cm or 20x20cm) on canvas or on a board, while larger works are always on canvas.”

Ulla prepares her surface an uneven layer of white primer “so that it becomes a structure. Once the foundation is properly dry I paint with a wide brush with short, stiff synthetic bristles, rarely cleaning the brush while I work.” This allows the colours to mix with one another as she transfers them from palette to canvas or board.

“As I work,  I turn and turn the canvas to look at it from different angles and notice what appears. In addition to the broad brushes, I sometimes also use finer round natural brushes and a thin synthetic brush.”

180414 by Ulla Maria Johanson

The early stages are the most intuitive for Ulla. “When I start to work, I do not know at all where it will go. Often, it becomes layer upon layer, before the motif emerge,” she admits.

Her own frame of mind is part of the adventure. “At first, I’m curious about what’s going to happen,” she says. “Sometimes I quickly find something that feels interesting and worth exploring and reinforcing, and at others I find that the work feels it reaches a sticky dead end where the colours do not work together and I wonder how to go on. Then something happens and I introduce a shade or shape that makes the whole thing feel harmonious.”

180820 by Ulla Maria Johanson

The biggest challenge is to know when to stop. “Sometimes I’m sure the painting is done when I finally clean the brush off, and on other occasions I need to let the painting be for a while so I can study the work when it’s dried and make a choice. Maybe it will stay as it is or maybe I will change all or part of the painting.”

180607 by Ulla Maria Johanson

Ulla lives on the Swedish west coast, which influences her artwork. “I often walk and enjoy nature and sea,” she comments. “It is reflected in my art and I also find inspiration in the environments and pictures I come into contact with online and in books.”

For Ulla the finished artwork is only the first stage. “What I want to communicate with my paintings is the beginning of a story that can grow and blossom in the viewer’s mind,” she says. “It’s wonderful to hear people tell me about the different things they see in one of my abstract paintings. I’m also happy every time I hear that my work has prompted someone to feel inspired to create something of their own.”

Find more of Ulla’s work at the following: umjartoneartworkeveryday; instagram.com/umj.art; facebook.com/umj.art

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, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com.

Imaginative city

Waterstones Bristol. Photo by Judy DarleyBristol Festival of Literature begins on Friday 19th October and runs until Sunday 28th October, with a variety of imagination-stirring events taking place across the city. I’ve written about it for The Bristol Magazine, and can’t wait to dig into the riches promising to well up.

You can read my feature in the October print edition, or online here: https://thebristolmag.co.uk/word-on-the-street-bristol-festival-of-literature/

Jari Moate. Photo by Paul Bullivant

Jari Moate. Photo by Paul Bullivant

I’ve already got my tickets for two of the highlights I mention in the piece The first of these is Festival founder Jari Moate’s launch of his novel Dragonfly, taking place on Saturday 20th October at Waterstones, the Galleries. It starts at 7.30pm. Tickets are free but need to be booked here: www.bristolliteraturefestival.org

The second is the very last event of the festival – Finding the Positive –Dystopias and Utopias in a Changing Climate.

This CliFi (aka Climate Fiction) workshop is from 2-5pm on Sunday 28th October at Bristol’s YHA, and promises to offer insights into how we can share stories of our changing climate and inspire action in a positive way. I’m looking forward to soaking up plenty of inspiration!

Bristol Writers Group in Redcliffe Caves1. Photo by Paul Bullivant

Bristol Writers Group in Redcliffe Caves1. Photo by Paul Bullivant

Lots of other intriguing happenings are unfolding throughout the days of the festival, including Dark Confessions with Bristol Writers Group and friends. I’m one of the friends and looking forward to sharing my story Tunnelled in the setting that prompted it – Redcliffe Caves. Find out more and book tickets here.

And if you make it to anything on the Festival calendar, let me know how you get on!

Got an inspiring event, venue, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud(dot)com.

Starstruck by art

The Art Institute of Chicago, Michigan Avenue Entrance. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago. Edward Kemeys, Lions

Edward Kemeys, Lions, Michigan Avenue Entrance. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Visiting the Art Institute of Chicago is bound to be a highlight for any art aficionado visiting this extraordinary city. This vast space is teeming with renowned artworks, as well as plenty of less famous gems. From the intriguing Thorne Miniature Rooms to marvels such as Georgia O’Keefe’s Sky Above Clouds IV (below), I found myself floating on an excess of wonder.

Sky Above Clouds IV by Georgia O'Keefe

Stairways and soaring corridors led us to the Contemporary Wing, housing an impressive assortment of notable works. Frankly, it was like attending a party attended by an eccentric assortment of heroes. Meeting creations by the likes of Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein, Charles Ray, and Damien Hirst made me feel a little starstruck: wide eyed and at a loss for words! I also had a the pleasure of encountering some artists for the first time, including Katharina Frisch, whose ‘Woman With Dog’ brought to mind happy hours scouring coastal rock pools as a child.

Woman With Dog by Katharina Fritsch

Woman With Dog by Katharina Fritsch

Downstairs I found myself drawn to the implied magic of the miniature rooms conceived by Mrs James Ward Thorne and created, under her guidance, by master craftsmen between 1932 and 1940.

Cape Cod Living Room 1750-1850

Cape Cod Living Room 1750-1850

Each represents a home from a particular time and location, with details down to the carpets and knick-knacks summoning up an impression of the lives that might have been lived there. It’s entrancing for any lover of art, architecture, history or humanity.

The Art Institute of Chicago. Alsdorf Galleries of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan, and Islamic Art. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Alsdorf Galleries of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan, and Islamic Art. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Elsewhere, the halls of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan and Islamic art instilled us with a sense of tranquillity, while the Architecture and Design exhibits inspired is with its grace and practicality.

We were also fortunate to visit when the John Singer Sargent and Chicago’s Gilded Age exhibition was on, and to walk among excellent work not only by the artist himself, but by his contemporaries, including Claude Monet.

The scale of these galleries makes it unlikely you’ll be able to see every exhibit in a single visit. My advice is to select a few galleries and do them justice. To me the Art Institute of Chicago felt like a portal through time, space and sensibility, with each doorway offering admission to another absorbing world.

Find out more at www.artic.edu.

Discover Bilbao.
Discover Brescia.
Discover Budapest.
Discover Bath.
Discover Barcelona.
Discover Laugharne.
Discover Reyjavik.

Got an inspiring venue, event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud(dot)com.

Bristol art – Autumn 2018

Before Nightfall by Nigel Shipley

Before Nightfall by Nigel Shipley

There’s so much art happening in Bristol at present that I barely know where to look first. Last weekend (6th-7th Oct 2018) was Art on the Hill – the ever-inspiring Windmill Hill and Victoria Park arts trail. The Totterdown Front Room Arts Trail will follow from 23rd till 25th November. Can’t wait!

Prior to that, HOURS Gallery is hosting Daydreams, an exhibition of Nigel Shipley‘s abstract paintings, accompanied by music and readings of poetry created in response to the works. Sounds really intriguing! I love work that transcends form in this way. The performers are all members of Bristol Tonic.

Bristol Tonic poet

  • Date: Saturday 13th October 2018
  • Venue: HOURS Gallery, 10 Colston Yard, Bristol BS1 5BD (HOURS is in Colston Yard, accessed from the top of Colston Street, through an archway between Bike Workshop and Blaze)
  • Times: Gallery open from 10am-10pm. Performance from 7-8pm. The exhibition can be viewed by appointment until 1st November, ring 07909874586 to arrange this.
  • For more details, go to: www.nigelshipley.com
Wind by Yurim Gough, part of her Elements artwork

Wind by Yurim Gough, part of her Elements artwork

And the RWA’s wonderful Open Exhibition has launched, revealing a spectacular array of works, including Yurim Gough‘s ‘Four Elements’. Definitely one for your calendar! The show is on until 25th November 2018.

Judy Darley in Redcliffe Caves

If you’re seeking further inspiration, don’t forget Bristol Festival of Literature, running from 19th-28th October. I’ll be reading in Redcliffe Caves on Tuesday 23rd October as a guest of Bristol Writer’s Group for an event titled Dark Confessions. There are masses of other curious happenings too, so I’m hoping to get to as many as possible. Hope to see you at an event or two!