Paul and I have just returned from a wonderful art research trip to Greece, with full sketch books, lots of small watercolour paintings, far too many photos, pages of journal notes, a pile of very heavy books and a number of museum replicas. Our memories are full of spring flowers, pale columns against a deep blue sky, the shining cliffs and mountains of Delphi and the constant distinctive presence of the Acropolis, crowning the skyline of Athens. So I’m feeling overwhelmed at the moment, but excited by the many new ideas and challenges that are beginning to emerge! These are a few of the watercolour sketches I made of the acropolis in Athens. At the time I was just trying to catch something of the colour and light as it changed. Now I’m working on developing something about the glimpses of it’s turbulent history that I have from the sculpture, fragments of pots and evidence of past lives. I’m not sure yet whether to work in paint, print or something else, so I’m starting by linking the watercolour skyline with some of my sketch book drawings of figures from pots. More news later!
I always find January difficult! I want to make a positive start to a new year, but there’s such a gap in ‘normal’ life over Christmas that I lose touch with my practice, particularly if I’ve completed a project and need to get started on something new.
I did print the Merry Maidens woodcut before the break, but there were a few details to sort out and I worked on that again to get started this year. I like that image in black and white, but I also made a print of the Men an Tol image that I’d put in a blossom surround and I’m wondering whether to try that in colours now.
I had a project in mind that I was very unsure how to start, but the deadline is approaching and that always provides some impetus! The idea is that a group of people who are still in touch and who studied at Bath Academy of Art before the mid-1980s, should each make a small work that can be mounted to form a ‘Matchbox Museum’ to exhibit together. It’s a challenge, because the size is 47x35mm – which turned out to be tiny when I drew the rectangle. It’s supposed to be representative of our work now, but nothing I’ve made before is that small! I started trying to build up some ideas, but nothing seemed to fit. Then I tried cutting it out as a frame and holding it over some of my work to see if anything might work on that scale. First, I realised that the new line of figures I’d made was just the right sort of size in height – much too long, of course.
Then I was very surprised to find that fragments from older prints worked well together in colour and marks, so I chose tiny sections that hinted at woodland and seascapes. I found I could collage these with sections from the line of figures and suddenly these tiny scenes look very much like some of my recent work. Now I’ve made three and I think of them as ‘Winter Walks’.
This year we moved house and studios, so most of our paintings and prints have been wrapped up and stored away for months. We’ve gradually been sorting them out again as we’ve made new studio spaces and opened our new town-centre studio/gallery in Worthing. It’s been an interesting experience to see older work again. I’d expected to feel pleased to meet familiar friends again, but I often found myself revisiting ideas behind the work, subjects and themes that are still current for me. One example is this etching, based on the Merry Maidens stone circle near to Lamorna in Cornwall. The story is of local girls who were on the moors here on a Sunday and they heard pipers playing, so danced to the tunes and were turned into stone! I’ve been attracted to this circle for a long time and visit it most years, usually in winter and when it’s freezing, but often bright. The circle has a special atmosphere on these moors, with distant views and nearby pipers also turned to stone. I’ve made many drawings, sometimes struggling in wind and rain, which have led to making prints and paintings whenever I found more to explore in the ideas.
When I unwrapped this painting I’d made some years ago, I remembered that I had always felt not quite right about it. I thought the pink and yellow too ice-creamy and the ovals not working at all as a suggestion of mushroom circles. I wanted to connect the images of dancing maidens to the stones more directly and build in more of a feeling of the contrast of movement and stone. I reworked it using layering over the original painting, an approach that I wouldn’t have tried at that time. I found that my more recent approach of building up images in layers and adding fragments of imagery in the layers gave me a new way to consider this subject and offers the viewer more opportunities to engage and interpret.
After a recent visit to Cornwall in November, I feel reconnected with these ideas, so I’m starting a new woodcut. I’m doing this in the studio/gallery and will still be working on it on Saturday and probably next week. I’m not sure at the moment where this first plate will take me – I might make second or third plates to print over or under it or make layers in other ways. I might find that I want to cut the plate up to use the elements separately – I don’t know yet and I don’t know when I will know. This is a lovely stage to be at in a project, because the development of the work will show me directions to take and it will develop as we negotiate with each other.
At last we’ve found a shop that’s just right to be our centre of town Studio/Gallery! So Paul and I will open the first exhibition here on November 19th (but if you’d like to come to the Private View, sign up on our webpage http://www.martinstudios.co.uk and I’ll send you an invitation). The Studio/Gallery is at 2, Stanford Square, Worthing, BN11 3EZ (just off Warwick Street in central Worthing).
Here it is with the new fascia board (the colours are a photo of part of one of Paul’s palettes). The paintings are propped around while we work out where to hang them.
We’re planning to have exhibitions every couple of months with open dates that we’ll advertise and in between we’ll run in ‘studio’ mode and be open when we’re there working (usually Wed – Saturday 10 – 4pm).
It will be lovely to be able to focus on making art again soon, instead of dealing with the amazing amount of work involved in preparing the Studio/Gallery! Hope to see lots of you there!
Fish Factory, Brighton Road, Worthing – from June 2014
We have a show at the Fish Factory – unusual, because it is about the restaurant floor!
Perhaps it was the wine, but a few weeks ago we began a conversation about how interesting the Fish Factory floor had become. We heard that it was shortly to be replaced and a project was born.
I started to crawl around on the floor, making rubbings on paper of the distinctive shapes that had developed on the floor boards.
Paul Martin started to draw the markings and their associations.
Barry Williams saw the rich colour and took photographs.
The floor bore the marks of more than ten years of us, the customers, walking in and out and moving our chairs around. It bore the marks of the many thousands of journeys the staff have made, carrying our fish and other food. It bore the marks of tables being moved as groups of people came and went. The floor embodied the history and character of it’s life – but was worn out!
This is the rubbing that the photo above shows me making, between two more rubbings that I made on restaurant menus using one of their table candles. Many of the rubbings were in transparent wax and I used inks and watercolour in my studio to bring out the grain marks before mounting the pieces to frame for the show.
This work celebrates the old floor and the rich marks it developed through service. There are references to the origins of the wood in the grain patterns and to the scars it developed as a floor. We miss it!