Blog Entry No. 1 – Adventures across the Neighbourhoods with the trolley. 02/07/17
Collecting & Conversations.
We roamed along the streets, through the spaces and across the places of St. Peter’s, the Moors and St. Paul’s on a fine and dry Friday; the last day of June.
We paused en route to observe the buildings and brickwork, the tenacity of nature, the dust, the colours, the peeling paint, the tags, the highs, the lows, the edges and the dark and light spaces in between.
Appreciating the distinctiveness of here and there and each nuanced sense and scent of place; the atmosphere, the noise, the silence, the sights, the sounds, the smells.
We stopped at a host of strategic locations to collect earth, leaves, stones and bits and pieces as part of our mapping and documentation of the neighbourhoods.
The curiosity of the trolley and my lab-coat raised eye-brows and offered talking points for many people. And thus several enlightening conversations were had with residents, dog-walkers and passers-by. Illuminating anecdotes and experiences of life here were willingly shared that also enabled me to spread the word about the arts activities for LSP LSP.
The collected material is bagged and labelled and now fills my car with the rich and mingling scents of The Rock, of Tewkesbury Road, the banks of the River Chelt, the Moors Pocket Park, the lost Rose Garden, Maud’s Elm, Elmfield Park, Pittville Park and Brunswick Street. Such was the extensive geography of our explorations.
The material shall be re-used and represented in some way, shape or form and, along with ceramic works to be created with Kate and local residents, it will be re-presented as a rich visual and sensory archive of the ground beneath our feet.
As Antoni Tapies said:
“Like a researcher in his laboratory, I am the first spectator of the suggestions drawn from the materials. I unleash their expressive possibilities, even if I do not have a very clear idea of what I am going to do. As I go along with my work I formulate my thought, and from this struggle between what I want and the reality of the material – from this tension – is born an equilibrium.”
So, we shall see. In the meantime exciting creative adventures with clay at Gloucester Road and Dunalley Primary Schools now await us.
Sincere thanks to Yao Guo, a research student at University of Gloucestershire, who kindly accompanied me on this first adventure and documented the activities, encounters and local characteristics.
Blog Entry No. 2 – Adventures with Gloucester Road Primary School. 10/07/17
“Art should startle the viewer into thinking about the meaning of life.” Antoni Tapies
On the 4th July Kate and I spent the day with Mrs Tuck’s class; a delightful and inspiring group of year 6 children.
Collecting, Conversations & Working with Clay.
We began by sharing stories of prehistory – the first narrative marks and symbols made in caves – and then we talked about Mondrian, Tapies, Richard Long and contemporary grafitti.
Relating these ideas of abstraction and expression to the importance of maps, the value of local life and the wonder of natural materials. This set the scene for the day.
The children explored the familiar spaces of the school playground. Collecting leaves, sticks, flowers and earth. On gathering the individual colour palettes together, everyone marvelled at the beauty – often hidden – in the world around us. This simple act of abstraction, representation and observation allowed the everyday materials and features to reveal themselves to us in unexpected ways. We were open and receptive to appreciating the unfamiliar in the familiar.
Map making came next. Careful consideration of our place in the world, where we live, the important people in our lives and the familiar things around us – the River Chelt, the houses on our street, Tesco, the bus stops, the parks and other places and, of course, our school.
The process emphasised the value of self-expression more than accuracy; using charcoal and coloured pastels to present a series of wonderful portraits of locality.
After lunch we shared the story of clay and Kate described her work as a potter and ceramicist and her love of this most natural, abundant and magical of materials.
Kate demonstrated the colours, textures and qualities of different clays from different parts of the country; including the marvel of the local ‘slip’ that she had made from the clay in Robert Rimmell’s garden, close to Wyman’s Brook.
The children were invited to ‘play’ with the clay – to hold it in their hands and feel it, shape it, form it, mould it, enjoy it, experience it, converse with it – before making a tile or two. The tiles were imprinted with ‘found’ natural materials and other objects and painted with Robert Rimmell’s slip. Each of the resulting pieces is so delicate, yet so bold, simple, yet exquisite. Separate, yet connected. Each is an individual work of art that is intrinsically part of the bigger picture.
In many ways, the clay pieces represent the connection between physical and emotional worlds and all their interwoven complexity, beauty and imperfection. The work is a link between what is outside the door, what lies under our feet and the spirit inside each of the children. As they prepare for life in secondary school perhaps these small works of art symbolise their wonder, their curiosity, their compassion and optimism, their future and the role that they will play in shaping it.
The turning point from one place to another.
From here to there.
“It seems reasonable to expect that beauty will emerge from a fusion of the individual character and culture of the potter, with the nature of his materials.” Bernard Leach
I am struck by Kate’s infectiousness; her absolute love of clay, her knowledge of the making process, her passion for experimenting, her abundant energy and her sincere desire to share this with others. I am learning much from our exchanges and can only hope that she is too.
As we shall see, our work together has led to the emergence of a wonderful idea…..
Blog Entry No. 3 – Adventures with Clay in the Community. 16/07/17
On the 14th & 15th July Kate and I spent time out and about with the mobile studio.
Collecting, Creating & Conversations.
“The story of pottery is the story of civilisation.” Dora Billingford, 1937
And so it goes.
The truth of it.
The potential, the usefulness and the beauty of it.
Clay has fascinated humankind for civilisations.
It has performed an intimate role in our lives for thousands of years.
The presence of clay remains an integral part of the ritual of daily life.
And yet we take it for granted.
The stuff beneath our feet.
And here we are – Kate and I – with great curiosity, exploring the locality, digging deep here and there to shine a light on what is hidden beneath the surface.
And thus we ventured out. Kate and I. To Elmfield Park on Friday.
And to St. Peter’s Square on Saturday.
With the mobile studio. And lots of clay. And our smiles. And enthusiasm.
To see who and what we might encounter.
At Elmfield we hung out with Yao and Geoff and Debs and talked to passers-by.
Chloe and Ben joined us. Naomi and her new baby and her dog also came along.
What curiosity people have to find out more.
Geoff scoured the park and discovered a love of snail shells and retrieved other bits and pieces from here and there and even made a pot or two.
Conversations were had about lives and life as the clay was shaped and moulded and small pots and objects were created and imprinted with symbols, feathers, leaves, lichen, letters and we learned a thing or two about some local people we had not met before.
There was magic here.
On Saturday we adventured to The Moors and some children of the Square joined us.
And one or two adults did too.
And word got around and one or two more were encouraged to come and have a play with the clay. And so it was shaped and moulded by many hands.
But in a different way, with different people and in their distinctive place using their ideas, thoughts, discoveries and imaginations. Pieces of glass, a found lost key and imprints made on the fence and the walls of the house.
Clay on clay.
Raw material impressed upon the brick.
A new connection. A reconnection and realisation.
There was magic here too.
And more to be discovered.
As we soon discovered on our visit to see Rob Rimmell.
And the sheer joy at seeing his own clay – made by Kate – from the raw material extracted from his own garden.
And here we have the simplistic beauty of Kate’s great idea – to meet a few local people and dig a sample of the earth from their gardens. To then transform it into workable clay and meet them again to work with their clay to make something special. Something that says something about where they live.
Ruth Duckworth questioned:
“Can I, in my work, express what I feel about life?
About being alive?
About the earth and its creatures, its beauty and fragility?
My life and work are relatively unimportant these days compared to the drama of a sick planet. The health of the planet and how to keep it intact is what matters most to me.
The earth needs so much love and caring and not just from me.
Can I express any of that in my work?
I really don’t know.”
So, perhaps, through our brief encounters and small, yet meaningful, actions with clay and in those moments of exchange we offered a little space for personal reflection as well as a collective understanding of the value of our lives, of life here and in the world around us.
Sincere thanks to Yao Guo, a research student at University of Gloucestershire, who kindly accompanied us and documented our encounters at Elmfield Park and to Geoff who enthusiastically shared the joy of clay and made many new discoveries on both days.
And so to end this entry:
Most people think that a sculptor or a painter
Is something more excellent to be than a potter.
Most people think of china or porcelain
As merely for use, or for decoration—
In either case, an inferior art.
For me, they are neither “use” nor “decoration”—
That is, decoration as a background for living;
For me, they are life itself. To be among such things,
If it is an escape, it is escape into living.
– The Confidential Clerk – T.S. Eliot