Anthropomorphic metaphors

Mermaid by Simon Tozer

Mermaid by Simon Tozer

The first time I laid eyes on the screen prints of Simon Tozer, I couldn’t help but laugh aloud. There’s a quiet joy in his artwork that I find irresistible, as his characters appear to ramble through lives far more colourful than our own.

“I was encouraged to draw by my parents early on,” he remembers. “I think art became an important thing for me as a teenager. At the time I wanted to design album covers and the covers for science fiction novels. When I started an Arts Foundation course, I felt more comfortable with the confused artists rather than the technically skilled and apparently very organised graphic designers.”

Simon focused on painting while studying for a Bachelor of Arts. “After college l moved to Oxford and spent a very unhappy and lonely year working as a gardener and trying to be a painter,” he says.

He soon gave up and got “a normal job”, but the desire to make art remained within him and years later he signed up for evening classes at the Oxford Printmakers Co-operative. “Partly I liked it because of the friendly other printmakers, but I also realised that I liked drawing more than painting, and print is all about drawing,” he says. “Also, I liked the constraints of print. Painting always felt like an amorphous activity where you can keep changing what you are painting constantly, and there is never a clear point where the picture is finished.”

Love Calls by Simon Tozer

Love Calls by Simon Tozer

I love the way Simon’s prints resemble scenes in stories, or, stills in quirkily appealing animations. However, he says, his main inspirations are works of art.

“There is a quality of artlessness in some artists’ work which l find inspiring, and energy – energy seems very inspiring,” he comments. “Sometimes it’s subtle like Morandi’s paintings, and sometimes not like Lucien Freud’s. There is a contemporary artist and illustrator called Johnny Hannah who is very inspiring for this quality.”

Quotes can be inspiring as well. “On my studio wall l have a quote from Grayson Perry which goes something like ‘Ideas are like furry creatures, you’ve got to be nice to the first one that comes along, or the others may not come out of the undergrowth.’”

Simon mentions on his website that he tries “to illustrate human dreams, fears and frailties.” I ask him how his subjects, such as vehicles and bears, help him to achieves this.

“There is a lot of visual metaphor in my pictures, and also a lot of anthropomorphism, so animals and cars are usually really people in another guise,” he says, “For instance in the car pictures, each car is an emotion or an anxiety, and the idea is that they are all in one persons head, in an emotional demolition derby, bashing into each other and causing chaos.”

He adds: “With image of animals there is an extra element, which is that animals don’t speak, and usually pictures don’t speak either, but both have their ways of communicating.”

Perhaps that’s why many of his works seem to me to reveal a kind of wry, faintly melancholy humour, which is often most visible in the eyes of viewers drawn into the scene. For example, the small owl watching a sorrowful bear contemplate his furry face in Unwanted Hair, or the child staring, apparently aghast, from beneath his umbrella as a woman strides by in her cozzie, in Swimming Club.

Swimming Club by Simon Tozer

Swimming Club by Simon Tozer

There’s something about Simon’s prints that opens up conversations – they make you want to smile and share your discovery with other people, not to mention discuss what the rest of the story might be. For Simon, however, the delight is far more visceral.

“I am grateful be able to have the creative freedom to explore my imagination,” he says, “and make something tangible from it, and to be able to work with my hands.”

You can see more of Simon’s work at simontozer.co.uk. His print Mermaid, which originally caught my attention, is on show as part of the 164th RWA Annual Open Exhibition, which is on until 27th November 2016.

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.

Gazing upon serenity

Big Sky, Small Trees by Laura Boswell

Big Sky, Small Trees by Laura Boswell

Laura Boswell has a distinctly economical way of regarding a view. With a sharp eye for the most important and aesthetically pleasing or telling elements, she strips everything else away, until all that remains are a few colours, sweeping lines, and a sense of utter serenity.

For me there’s an impression of having struggled uphill or through a tangled forest, and then happened upon the most beautiful, breath-taking, equilibrium-restoring scene.

Persimmons And Rice by Laura Boswell

Persimmons And Rice by Laura Boswell

Laura studied printmaking at university, but then went into the photographic industry. “It was only in my forties with the loan of a printing press that I began work again as an artist, and I sort of fell into it as a career,” she says. “ My main drive was that my work should be good enough to sell to strangers, rather than amassing a drawer full of prints, so by that very ambition, rather than by planning, I became a fulltime artist.”

Likewise, Laura’s affinity for linocut and Japanese watercolour woodblock printing came about through practicality.

“I was the only student in my year to embrace printmaking and, from necessity, I found I could work on lino alone and still achieve good results,” she says. “Consequently it became the focus of my work. Japanese woodblock I admired, but knew nothing of the technique until I studied in Japan (again a chance comment from a friend led to that residency) where I found that Japanese woodblock’s subtle painterly quality was such a good counterpoint to linocut that the two techniques give me everything I need for a lifetime’s printmaking.”

Laura’s landscapes and shorelines have a wonderful lightness and elegance about them, which is due in part to her overarching aims for each piece.

“I think I try to give people space and room to escape through my work – a private escape for the viewer,” she says. “I also hope to catch something of the familiar for the viewer – the feel of a remembered walk or view. My main ambition is to allow my viewer a quiet moment of pleasure and peace.”

Mission accomplished most beautifully, in that case.

Barrow Beach After The Rainstorm by Laura BoswellBarrow Beach After The Rainstorm by Laura Boswell

Barrow Beach After The Rainstorm by Laura Boswell

“I get a lot of ideas from craft-made items, such as textiles, jewellery, and ceramics,” Laura says. “Since my work is chiefly about shape and colour, inspiration can come from anywhere. I do love a good transport poster and spend a lot of time simply looking at historical prints and engravings. Of course, mainly I work with landscape so do a lot of staring and sketching outside.”

More recently, teaching has become “an essential part” of Laura’s artistic life. “It challenges me and keeps me on my toes,” she comments. “It allows me to put my thoughts and methods into words and it always encourages me to rush home and work. I also get a genuine thrill out of coaxing a good print from my students and that happy feeling has to be good for my own work.”

The best part of Laura’s life as an artist is simple. “The fierce delight of beginning a new project. I can’t think of anything else as purely pleasurable as working on a set of design drawings and then working towards a finished project, whether that’s a commission or a personal project or even my annual Christmas card!”

Discover more of Laura’s work, plus a list of the galleries that stock Laura’s work along with full details of shows and events at www.lauraboswell.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.

Exploring starfields with Sarah Duncan

White Noise by Sarah Duncan

White Noise by Sarah Duncan

The skies above are full of beauty, wonderment and mystery. For artist Sarah Duncan, the big secrets are not what they show us of the universe, but what they help us to perceive about ourselves.

“Throughout history, the night sky had been a screen for our projected dreams. My work seeks to reflect this screen, and to find others to illuminate,” Sarah says, stealing lines from her website blurb. “I’m inspired by our relationships with the remote and inaccessible, seen via telescopes and microscopes. We’re fascinated by phenomena, which appear on the surface to be constant, but on further inspection reveal themselves to be unique, constantly in flux and ever changing.”

Sarah has “always made things and created pictures, there was obviously a time when I had to work out how I was going to make a career out of my artwork.” The answer came in the form of a BA in Textiles and Print, followed by an MA in multidisciplinary printmaking.

“My practice aims to embed the humanly experienced physical world into the unimaginable enormity of the cosmos,” Sarah says, explaining that in a philosophical sense her art “shares the central aims of science” in trying to understand the marvels of nature and the physical laws that guide them.

Neutrino by Sarah Duncan

Neutrino by Sarah Duncan

Taking a step sideways and beyond a straightforward scientific gaze, Sarah also brings into the puzzle a focus on our “emotional and embodied response rather than just an intellectual one.”

I love the idea of Sarah’s portrayal of astral spectacles being laid out with all the questions and curiosities that define us as a sentient species.

Doppler Effect by Sarah Duncan

Doppler Effect by Sarah Duncan

“I think being an artist is part of who I am; it has grown with me, and I have developed as an artist alongside growing as a person, says Sarah. “I love that my practice means that every day is different; that a final piece could have taken many mistakes, multiple rejects, and a lot of learning to arrive at the end result.”

Intrigued? You can discover more about Sarah and her art at print.sarahduncan.net, and at www.instagram.com/sarahduncanprint. “I currently work at Spike Print Studio in Bristol and often exhibit with them, and have also got work at the Gas Gallery in London and Cambridge Contemporary Arts,  as well as forthcoming at The Printroom in Suffolk and Zillah Bell Gallery, in Thirsk, North Yorkshire.”

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.

Organic shapes with Cheryl Brooks

Elderflower buds - lino cr Cheryl Brooks

Elderflower buds lino print © Cheryl Brooks

Organic silhouettes and echoes printed on circles enclosed within squares form the heart of artist Cheryl Brooks’ work. “I lived in Barcelona for eight years and grew very interested in the geometry of Islamic tile patterns – they can’t depict anything natural, so it’s all about the shapes, and they must look perfect, but can never actually be perfect. That was the beginning of the idea for me.”

Drawing these ideas into her own work, Cheryl began to meld it with an obsession with the geometry seen in plant life, and then expanding it.

Geometric Sero - Green & Peach cr Cheryl Brooks

Geometric Sero © Cheryl Brooks

“While in Barcelona I had a dog who was not my dog,” she smiles, “and I would walk in the park with this dog who was not my dog. I began taking lots of close-up photos of the flowers I saw there, examining their intricate forms.”

Back in England, Cheryl continued to explore, developing a series of pieces playing with the visuals of cow parsley, elderflowers and other botanical shapes. “I love taking something small and making it bigger,” she says. “No matter how small the original blossoms are, the natural geometry is still there.”

Long before she realised she wanted to be an artist, Cheryl recognised the joy making things gave her. “I love working with my hands – cutting, pasting and printing,” she says.

The desire to make and create initially led to Cheryl training to be an interior designer, gaining both a BA and MA in the discipline before taking a job designing spaces for pubs and nightclubs. “I eventually left that because it was so stressful and on such a large scale,” she says, “but I still wanted to be in that industry, so I worked with an architect in Cheltenham, still as an interior designer, but on much smaller projects.”

At this time Cheryl began taking a life drawing class, and then left Cheltenham to go travelling. “An Australian friend I had met while travelling asked, what do you really want to do? And I said, be an artist. Then she asked, are you good enough? And that got me thinking.”

With questions like that, who needs a life coach? The result was another BA followed by an MA, both in Fine Art. “So now I was MA squared,” Cheryl grins.

The most important thing she felt she learnt on these courses was how to transfer her ideas into art. “I had all these thoughts in my head and wanted a way to express them, to find my own way to make sense of the world and share this.”

Cow Parsley - 2 Blues, 3 Flowers cr Cheryl Brooks

Cow Parsley – 2 Blues, 3 Flowers © Cheryl Brooks

Part of Cheryl’s MA was spent in Barcelona, a city she fell in love with so deeply she returned in about 2004 to make a go of being a full time artist there. “It was really hard,” she admits. “I did have a gallery who sold my work, but still… You have to get used to being very poor, and after a while that’s all you can think about. It gets in the way of the work, of the creating.”

To counteract this, Cheryl trained as an English language teacher, which freed her up to focus fully on creating whenever she had the time. After eight years in Barcelona, though, it felt like time to return to England, this time to Bournemouth with its profusion of foreign students in need of a good language teacher.

Teaching, for Cheryl, is about sharing her knowledge and encouraging others to join in – an ethos that also informs the collaborative art project she launched, titled Image Flowers https://imageflowers.wordpress.com. “We have a series of core images that people can look at and think, that reminds me of… and then produce a work in response to it, or simply submit a photo,” she explains. “The idea it that the initial image is the centre of the flower and each of the responses is a petal. It’s about opening up dialogue. Anyone can get involved.”

Being involved, a part of something bigger, has worked well for Cheryl. While settling into her new Bournemouth life in 2013, Cheryl joined Poole Printmakers. “They’ve been going for over 20 years. It’s a cooperative where you can go and use the presses, meet other printers, do courses. It’s very inspiring!”

Having a space to go and be creative in was especially important to Cheryl at that point. “I was renting a room in a shared house, so had nowhere to work,” she remembers. “These days I have a studio in my own house, where I tend to hand roll the prints, but if I want to use a press I go to the cooperative and make as many as I need.”

Natural Geometry cr Cheryl Brooks

Natural Geometry © Cheryl Brooks

The break away from painting to printing made a huge difference to Cheryl’s perception of her work. “Printing takes me away from concentrating too much on the concept and allows me to focus on the image,” she explains. “It allows me to create something more immediate, and by making multiples rather than a single image that takes a long, long time, it means each piece is not so precious.”

Cheryl’s materials emphasise this, as many of her striking round pieces are created using the polystyrene circles you find in the packaging of shop-bought pizzas. “I love the round shape,” she comments. “The polystyrene is very receptive to the oil-based printing inks I like to use. The surface is quite soft so you can create a lot of expressive marks simply by pressing lightly.”

It sounds really satisfying! Cheryl also creates linocuts, which is a lot more challenging but results in a very different effect. “A pizza base plate has a very limited life, while a lino plate will print again and again,” she points out. “The lino is harder which means they’re much more precise. A pizza base will always squidge a little, which produces a very different look.”

This technique for creating prints has in itself formed the idea for another online project, this time in the form of an arts hub called Pizza Base 15 http://pizzabase15.wordpress.com. “It’s a virtual arts centre, with workshops, a café with cake recipes, exhibitions and more,” she explains.

More recently, Cheryl has been taking a course in surface printing on textiles. “I’d like to take it away from fine art and back towards craft,” she says. “I want to explore the possibilities of making things you can actually use and wear rather than just hanging them on a wall – learn about pattern repeats, the dyes and inks you need to use, and try printing with pizza bases onto fabric.”

Cheryl particularly relishes the juxtaposition of circles within squares, a pairing seen in many of her framed works.

“It’s the infinite within the rational,” she says, “The organic world is full of spirals and spheres, but there are no squares in nature. It’s a manmade shape. I love putting the two together.”

Find Cheryl at pizzabase15.wordpress.com, imageflowers.wordpress.com and cherylbrooks.weebly.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.