Breath after breath

Waterclour by Liz Butler RWS

Watercolour by Liz Butler RWS

If you visited RWA’s exhibition of The Power of the Sea in 2014, you’ll know how excellent their taste is in choosing works preoccupied solely with one particular element of nature.

This time around the remit was to seek out pieces that scrutinise a more intangible aspect of our surroundings – the very stuff we live in and breathe.

The Balloon over Calais by E. W. Cocks, 1840, oil on canvas, cr Science Museum: Science & Society Picture Library.

The Balloon over Calais by E. W. Cocks, 1840, oil on canvas, cr Science Museum: Science & Society Picture Library.

More than one artist on show creates a sense of substance through the presence of a balloon or several; for others, such as Jemma Grunion and her scattering of oils and resins layered on board, it’s the clouds that transform the unseen into the visible.

Paintings by Jemma Grundon and orbs by Polly Gould

Paintings by Jemma Grundon and sculptures by Polly Gould. Image by Alice Hendy.

You’ll see sculptures representing curls of sky and swooping birds, anamorphic landscapes by Polly Gould, clouds created on tracing paper through the art of rubbing out, a glass trombone and an avian flu molecule. There’s even a depiction by L.S. Lowry of early 20th century air pollution – it’s clear that air resonates with countless possible interpretations – from freedom to sound.

L. S. Lowry, A Manufacturing Town (1922), oil on panel, 43.2 x 53.3 cm. British Council Collection. Photo © Art Image Library LTD. © The Estate of L.S Lowry. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2017

L. S. Lowry, A Manufacturing Town (1922), oil on panel, 43.2 x 53.3 cm. British Council Collection. Photo © Art Image Library LTD. © The Estate of L.S Lowry. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2017

The exhibition itself is beautifully laid out, allowing space to meander and contemplate as light streams in through the main galleries’ lovely and very appropriate skylights. Through four centuries of work, there’s an overriding sense of humanity marvelling at the things that soar so high above us, and of the desire to enter, investigate and conquer this nebulous territory. Artworks focused on flight abound, and a colourful windbreak made from shredded plastic by artist Freya Gabie wafts gently in the breeze.

Windbreak made from shredded plastic by Freya Gabie. Image by Alice Hendy

Windbreak made from shredded plastic by Freya Gabie. Image by Alice Hendy

Other works offer an altogether more intimate examination of our relationship with air, not least in Capacity by Annie Cattrall, made in part using exhalations of human breath. Just knowing that gives me delighted chills.

Capacity by Annie Cattrell. Image by Alice Hendy

Capacity by Annie Cattrell. Image by Alice Hendy

For me, the sky has always seemed to be our very best art gallery, offering up colour studies, sunset silks and endlessly reconfigured sculptures.

To host an exhibition concentrated on this extraordinary theatre of the atmosphere is an act of audacity that I applaud.

Jeannette Kerr voyaging through the Arctic

Jeannette Kerr voyaging through the Arctic

As an added bonus, you’ll find Arctic Air, an exhibition by Janette Kerr PPRWA RSA (Hons), made in response to three weeks on a ship sailing up the coast of Svalbard, Norway. The works are compressed with layers of wonder, representing Janette’s awe at encountering icebergs and glaciers, and thinking of “the hundreds, even thousand, of years locked inside, suspended in tiny air bubbles.”

Ancient Air by Jeannette Kerr

Ancient Air by Janette Kerr

Just like the exhibition in the upstairs galleries, this is a contemplation of a part of our planet so otherworldly that it almost feels off-world…

And yet this element is what enters our body and fuels all our vital internal churnings. Without it we could not exist, let alone create and appreciate art.

Air: Visualising the Invisible in British Art 1768-2017 is on at RWA in Bristol until 3rd September 2017. Find details at http://www.rwa.org.uk/whats-on/air-visualising-invisible-british-art-1768-2017. All images in this post have been supplied by RWA.

Book review – Elephant Tales by Mark Shand

Elephant Tales by Mark ShandGiven to me by my sister as part of a boxset of Penguin 60′s miniatures, this small volume has been travelling with me everywhere recently, and aptly so as it’s one of the finest examples of travel writing I’ve encountered.

In Elephant Tales, Shand is learning to drive Tara, a female elephant of great dignity, stubbornness and, intermittent whimsy. Like an eccentric great aunt and errant toddler in one, she ambles her way through the pages and into your heart.

The fondness and respect Shand feels for this pachyderm. Carrying him on her back and occasionally, though more often not, doing his bidding, Tara offers the author, and us, an uncommon view not only of the atmospheric Indian landscape, but also of the people and wildlife that populate it.

Continue reading

Theatre review – What if the plane falls out of the sky?

What if the plane falls out of the skyThree dysfunctional siblings invite us to examine our fears in this raucously comedic tragedy.

Heron (Susie Riddell), Magpie (Adam Fuller), and their little sister Feral Pigeon (Emma Keaveny-Roys) have been left to fend for themselves, and are struggling to keep their inner dread at bay. To face their terrors head-on they’ve devised a multi-step reward programme of badges and affirmations, and some eerily familiar dance moves.

As we took our seats, the siblings asked us for our fears. A curious number of audience members mentioned audience participation. And yes, as you might expect, there was plenty of that to go around. One pair got to try froggy bagging (don’t google that. I just did and cannot unsee what I have seen). For the rest of us the participatory element mainly involved partaking of a complimentary in-flight snack and drink, then doodling the things that scare us.

What if the plane falls out of the sky_inflight refreshments

The play was a tableau of exquisite moments, occasionally switching from humour to pathos in the twinkling of an eye. The afore-mentioned dance routine began lightly enough, but piled in the tension as Heron’s darkest thoughts rose to the surface. Co-director and performer Susie Riddell’s talents shone as she portrayed Heron’s slowly shifting mood through subtly modified dance moves and an increasingly distressed expression. As her brother and sister faltered to a halt, the whole room fell silent.

The emotional peaks and troughs were breathtaking, a roller-coaster equivalent of hitting reset whenever the hilarity or the grief veered to the brink of hysteria.

At one point we were instructed to blow our anxiety into brightly coloured balloons. My friend’s balloon burst four breaths in, releasing a gale of giggles, but the rest of us released ours in a gorgeous moment of synchronised farty rainbow childishness.

What if the plane falls out of the sky

Talking of rainbows, Magpie overcoming his dual qualms about glitter and intimacy was a vision to behold. I’m just hoping the glitter was applied with oil, not glue, as he’s a somewhat furry man and the removal later could be excruciating.

Presented by experimental theatre company Idiot Child as part of Bristol Old Vic‘s Studio Walkabout Season, the show featured too many perfect moments to share them all here. In short, a dizzyingly cathartic show that will imbue you with a sense of joy you hadn’t known you were missing.

In Bristol, What if the plane falls out of the sky? took place at The Loco Klub. The show is also travelling to Shoreditch, Brighton, Birmingham and beyond.

I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Book review – Some of Us Glow More Than Others by Tania Hershman

Some of Us Glow More Than Others by Tania HershmanThis luminescent collection of short stories and flash fictions offers up Tania Hershman’s unmistakable blend of the poetic, the uncanny and the deeply human. Drawing from a background in physics and a fascination with other sciences, Hershman explores our predilections and imperfections with effortless eloquence.  Through her writing you’ll feel yourself at one with nuns, researchers and divers alike, not to mention gas molecules and eerie little immortal girls.

I often see colours when reading fiction, and Tania’s tales in this collection are shot through with shimmering shades – pools of silver, midnight blue, aquamarine and ultramarine are gorgeously offset by threads of vermilion and gold.

Each of the tales examines, in its own way, what it means to be human, and the potential kindnesses and cruelties lying in wait both around and within us. While many lead us into laboratories, other sneak us into more unexpected places of moral and quizzical reflection, sometimes under cover of darkness.

Continue reading

Poetry review – Hope Alt Delete by Nikki Dudley

HopeAlitDelete CoverPoet and author Nikki Dudley’s first full length collection is small, spiky and full of attitude. Rolling out and tuning into a multitude of voices, it feels like a conversation only half-overheard. Tantalising segments glimmer on the page, inviting us to move closer, listening harder, and maybe pocket a shining phrase or two to carry home and examine at our leisure.

Nikki’s energy rustles behind each line, as she plays with familiar words and makes them at once more explicit and more unknown. Sentences stretch in strange, beguiling directions, or curl up tight, and words skip defiantly into slots that seem meant for something else, or break up entirely in ways that insist we regard them anew.

“Can you under-stand me?
Can you over-stand me?”

In other spaces, words are superseded by font, punctuation and blank lines that express everything you need to know. Continue reading

Poetry review – Take This One To Bed by Antony Dunn

Take This One to Bed by Antony DunnIn an homage to rural and suburban living, and the creatures that live among (and, in one case, within) us, poet Antony Dunn examines human nature by setting it alongside, well, nature.

We meet spiders, newts, frogs, slugs, sheep, mice, bats and crows startled to “beating black”; unborn children, born ones, and, most evocatively, lovers, all sensuously laid out in deceptively simple verses that summon up the world.

For me, Leaving: vi Two Mohitos in Bratislava, feels plucked from my own memory; causing my mouth to flood with a craving for the zing of citrus and mint. The word choices are crisp and visceral – happiness is sucked, a quartered lime fished, an ice-cube shunted. It’s deeply, satisfyingly, envy-inducing.

Even in a poem about a solo journey, Dunn conjures flavour and texture by mentioning “the woman with her honey in mis-matched jars” and  “sunlight quickening/ the dust and tar/ and rosemary”.

Continue reading

Art review – Drawn 2017

Ghost Nets of Hallsands (iii) by Frances Gynn, ink, crayon and charcoal_£2000

Ghost Nets of Hallsands (iii) by Frances Gynn, ink, crayon and charcoal

The Royal West of England Academy‘s biannual exhibition Drawn has returned, with a wealth of works that reveal the powerful possibilities offered by ink, pencil, paint and thread and more.

“Drawing is a means of communication and interpretation; it is a building block of creativity and a fundamental part of the creative process,” says  Gemma Brace, Head of Exhibitions.

Eighteen Occasions by Rebecca Swindell, pen on cork_£350

Eighteen Occasions by Rebecca Swindell, pen on cork

The variety of mediums was exceptional, including a selection of atmospheric etchings by invited artist Norman Ackroyd RA. My favourites among the others include Rebecca Swindell’s ink drawings on corks (shown above), titled Eighteen Occasions, Yurim Gough’s Shopaholic on ceramic, and Belinda Durrant’s corset titled Gilded Cage.

Terrain by Dail Behennah, paper and graphite_£3000

Terrain by Dail Behennah, paper and graphite

Dail Behennah’s elegant executed Terrain is a three-dimensional geometric landscape that drew me to my knees for an almost immersive view. In other cases, a few swipes with a stick of charcoal conjure an arresting portrait, while skilled artists such as Kevin Line capture scenes of uncanny realism with the same humble medium.

Bowed to the Wheel by Kevin Line

Bowed to the Wheel (cropped) by Kevin Line

In the adjoining gallery, dim-lighting and a sense of seclusion offers the backdrop to Lines in a Landscape: Drawings from the Royal Collection, a selection of works lent by Her Majesty The Queen.

Guercino, Detail from A Landscape with a three-arched bridge over a river, c.1625, Pen and ink (RCIN 902717), Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Guercino, Detail from A Landscape with a three-arched bridge over a river, c.1625, Pen and ink (RCIN 902717), Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Next door you’ll see examples plucked from the RWA’s own extensive collection for Beyond The Sketchpad, before emerging into the Drawing Lab with the option to create your own work.

In the speeches at the preview, Peter Randall-Page RA RWA swept us away with a reminder of all the ways in which the term drawn can be used: how we can draw curtains; draw people together; draw water from a well; draw swords; be drawn and quartered,  among others.

Even in language, it’s clear that drawing opens up a multitude of possibilities, but in this case it’s the paintings, etchings, sculptures and otherwise realised works that stopped me in my tracks.

The Hounds by Abigail Reed, Charcoal on paper_£950

The Hounds by Abigail Reed, charcoal on paper

Drawn and its accompanying exhibitions are on at the RWA until 4th June 2017.

To submit or suggest an art review, please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Book review – Unthology 9

Unthank_Unthology9_Cover_The tales in Unthank Books’ Unthology 9 are awash with troubled souls grappling with twisted ideas about love. From paternal to oedipal, the sensuality is fringed with unease. Protective love, manipulative love, obsessive, idealistic and thwarted, it’s all here, laid out between the pages of Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones’ latest masterpiece.

The introduction is itself akin to a beautiful flash fiction, rich in atmosphere and mood. It’s the perfect introduction to this archipelago of outstanding fiction, where every story is an island and each reader an elective castaway.

And, like all shipwrecked souls, we’re soon immersed in the preoccupations that make up human existence, starting with the mortal coil, and the twin barbs of love and loneliness.

Continue reading

Book review – Watercolours Unleashed by Jane Betteridge

Watercolour Unleashed by Jane BetteridgeThe cover of this beautiful book offers a vivid preview of the treat you’re about to experience. Mouthwatering shades and intriguing textures abound. Inside, Jane presents an array of wonderful techniques, using everything from clingfilm and tissue paper to threads, seeds and (my alchemical favourite) salt to create effects that will lift and transform your art.

With chapters devoted to materials, colours and preparing your paints, Jane ensures you’re equipped to make the most of any opportunity to capture a scene. A section on composition will help you present your subject in the most breathtaking or pleasing way possible, while a series of projects will ease everything you’ve learnt beneath your skin so that it becomes an everyday part of your artistic arsenal.

With Jane’s exquisite paintings appearing through, the book is also a pleasure simply to pore over for a hit of energising colour.

I spent a very happy Sunday afternoon dabbling with a few of the techniques, and watching the results. My painting, below, created using Jane’s tips and encouragement, turned out a bit clumsy and abstract, but was infinitely satisfying.

Textured Haze by Judy Darley1

As Jane comments in her intro to the book, it turns out that “Watching paint dry can be extremely exciting.” She also takes a moment to remind us that painting should always be a pleasure, never a chore. “Free yourself up. Unleash your passion for watercolour by keeping an open mind, experimenting with techniques, and enjoying yourself by trying new ideas. The watercolour medium has a mind of its own.”

Well, how could you resist? Watercolours Unleashed offers full, unreserved permission to play. Whether, like me, you’re fresh to your artistic journey and seeking the courage to tackle the beauty about you, or experienced and wishing to rediscover that early joy, Jane is the artist to take you there, and inspire you every step of the way.

Watercolours Unleashed by Jane Betteridge (RRP £14.99) is available to buy from www.searchpress.com

Discover more of Jane’s art.

What are you reading? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Book review – A Book of Silence by Sara Maitland

A Book of Silence coverIn A Book of Silence Sara Maitland takes us on a journey not just into her own quest but those of countless others, as she searches for the pure joy she equates with the experience of true silence.

According to Sara, silence is not a vacuum or an absence of something, but rather an element in its own right, and one we are losing a sense of in our increasingly fraught and noisy lives.

On the surface this is an almost political attempt to overthrow a deluge of lies and misconceptions about the concept of silence: “We say that silence ‘needs’ – and therefore is waiting – to be broken: like a horse that must be ‘broken in.’”

Continue reading