To be published on or after 05/01/18
No, not rum but ‘rum‘ a Danish word that can mean ‘space’, ‘room’, ‘place’ or other things, depending on the context – and which is the theme for this year’s Bornholms KultureUge (Bornholm’s Culture Week).
I have been asked by the organisers to make an ‘anamorphic street painting’ for the opening event on Saturday the 16th of September – an ephemeral artwork painted directly on the cobbles of the town square. The brief was simple and non-prescriptive – just to create something non-permanent in ‘Stor Torvet‘ with the theme of ‘rum‘ as the starting point.
Well, I have used the anamorphic technique several times in the past, see here and here, to create a three dimensional space in which the viewers are themselves immersed within the artwork, so ‘rum’ fitted the idea of an anamorphic painting very well from the start. I’ve never created something like this ‘out in the open’, but I very quickly decided I wanted to create something that would grab the attention of passers-by, and have something to do with the whole idea of ‘public art’ – a hot topic on Bornholm in recent months (see below).
Practically speaking, the ‘venue’ posed some specific challenges. The cobblestones themselves are rough and uneven, with large irregular (and sometimes grass-filled) gaps in between. This immediately causes problems with the creation of the three-dimensional illusion that is so important in anamorphic perspective drawing. The square itself is on a slight angle as well, which caused also caused a real headache in terms of defining horizons, vanishing points, levels and so on.
The non-permanence of the artwork also presented the possibility of weather playing an important role (more below…)
So, back to public art – a prickly subject here on Bornholm. Last year, a local fund that supports the arts (and me) called Brøderners Larsens gifted some money towards the creation of three contemporary artworks to be created and placed in the centre of three roundabouts on Bornholm (under the management of the local Arts Council). One of the artworks is already completed see here, and received a certain amount of criticism, but it is the second one that has really lit a fire and caused Local Controversy’. The artist collective ‘Randi and Katrine‘ proposed to create a rather kitsch and humorous sculpture of a Bornholm Round Church (itself a ‘symbol’ of tourist Bornholm) in one of the aforementioned roundabouts – felling the fine tree that is currently in the centre of the roundabout. To cut a very long and slightly tedious story short, the destruction of the tree to make way for contemporary art became a bit of a local story, with many arguing against the artwork in local papers, Facebook and so on. I followed this debate with some interest – on the one hand it is great to see art being pushed into the public sphere, but on the other hand it is depressing to realise just how far removed the ‘normal’ public is from contemporary art practice and its proponents and components. The whole debate became distilled and simplified – ‘tree vs crap sculpture’, ‘nature vs art’ or ‘good art vs bad art’ with very little debate on the potential merits of public art – and more importantly (this!) – how and why the general public could feel so far removed from contemporary art practice in general, and the commissioning of this artwork in particular.
And so on to my idea – in the middle of the town square is a large granite sculpture by recently deceased Japanese Bornholm-based Jun Ichi Inoue. Hemmed in by cafe tables and chairs in the summer, and often completely ignored by passers-by this neglected sculpture is actually a gigantic ‘sundial’ positioned so that light passes between specific points and casts a shadow on a granite stone at the equinoxes. At various times people have suggested moving the sculpture, while others have pointed out that it is a site-specific work and should not be moved. Whatever the case – there is no question that it is neglected and ignored.
I propose then, to try to draw the public’s attention towards Jun Ichi Inoue’s sculpture, and to the merits and possibilities of public art. Hopefully people – ‘normal’ people – will come and take selfies and look at my painting and Jun Ichi Inoue’s sculpture. Hopefully they will react more positively to public art, who knows? I’m going to be employing the services of former students of mine from Bornholms Art School to help (it works out at about 80sq metres ‘on the ground’), as well as my own kids, and the whole thing is going to be a brilliant experience. Hopefully it’ll work out, and the rain will stay away for a while…
My own personal opinion is that the proposed Round Church sculpture looks questionable to say the least – and I have reservations about the commissioning process (local artists?) – but I have not seen the complete sculpture yet, and reserve judgement (and I can’t wait to see it). In any case, my opinion or ‘judgement’ is meaningless in relation to my support for all sorts of public art in general. I’m not expecting to love everything all the time, but just the idea of public art, the support of the Brørderns Larsens Fund and the inclusion of interesting contemporary artists is a positive thing as far as I’m concerned. Three sculptures on roundabouts on Bornholm – brilliant! And the tree? Why not get local artists such as Hans Henning Pedersen to make something with it? I’m hoping to use some of it in a school project I’m doing next year, if I can…
Anyway, back to the town square. The original idea was to have the painting completed by 12 noon on Saturday the 16th of September. This is not going to happen. Bornholm is currently in the grip of an autumn storm and I am checking weather forecasts hourly. All being well, I shall begin on the afternoon of Friday the 15th, and take it from there, working all day Saturday and Sunday. I hope to be completed by 12 noon on Monday the 18th – hopefully I’ll see you there…
Update – the finished work…
‘Villads fra Valby’ was the working name for a huge art project I worked on during the first half of 2017.
The project was originally conceived by the local Bornholm council as a way of encouraging a more fluid and less stressful transition from nursery to school for Bornholm’s 5 and 6 year olds. At some point in their discussion and planning, they had the bright idea of involving local artists, and that’s where I was called in, together with local artist and illustrator (and Glasgow School of Art graduate) Tilde Lerch Engstrøm. The idea was to create an art-based project that would encourage the children to feel more positive about starting school, while at the same time giving them the opportunity to meet their new school mates, teachers and surroundings in a comfortable and creative emotional and physical space.
Originally, Tilde and I were given the popular Danish children’s book and film ‘Villads fra Valby’ as a theme or subject from which to base our project, but actually we rather quickly dropped Villads and worked within the framework of self-portraits and communal self-expression instead. The project that we created was thus: Four sessions with every child of school-starting age on Bornholm (over 300 kids). Two sessions at their nursery/playschool (not sure what the correct English translation of børnehave should be – but Danish kids don’t start school until they’re 5, 6 or sometimes even 7) followed by two sessions at their prospective school. Running throughout spring 2017, the idea was that, come their first school day in August, the children would already be familiar with their new school, their teachers and their new school mates, and would be comfortable working in a creative and expressive way with each other.
The idea was that the children would produce a life size self-portrait (cut out from Foamex panels) which they would draw and paint themselves – paying particular attention to how they felt about starting school (shy, proud, expectant, nervous, etc.) and how these feelings could be represented on their self-portrait (position of eyebrows, arms, colours and so on). On their figure would be a ‘secret’ door, behind which the children could draw something special that they loved. At the school, the children would then work together to arrange Foamex triangles together to create a giant artwork.
The first session was a bit of an eye opener for me, as it had been ages since I had worked with children this young – it seemed like ages in fact since I had even talked to a young child. But the kids quickly brought me back to earth with a bang, and we concentrated on practicing drawing techniques, mark making and generally having fun. The second session, where the children began to draw and paint their figures, was even more eye-opening, as the difference between what I thought the kids could do and what they actually could do became obvious (not to mention the huge difference in ability and engagement amongst the kids themselves). The third and fourth sessions at the schools were no less challenging, as it became clear that my inexperience with working with young children meant that I had seriously overestimated their ability to work together.
Bu no matter! A lot of enthusiasm and good will, will go a long way, and throughout the process Tilde and I were supported by a fantastic back up team that organised all of the practical and organisational matters, as well as the professionals working at the nurseries and schools, for whom I now have the highest regard and respect. Furthermore we were helped by other groups of people the ‘mijløpedaler’ that ferried the Foamex sheets around the island, and the ‘remissen’ that cut them all out (all 312 of them…)
‘Villads’ was a pilot project; a vast and ambitious project that was challenging and even disruptive in many ways for many people. Along the way much hard-won experience was gained and hopefully this will lead to even more successful projects in the future. Despite all of the stresses and difficulties, however, my abiding memory of ‘Villads’ will be the children themselves and their joy and pride when showing off their figures to their friends and families at the ‘private views’ (all 15 of them) that we held around the island in May and June. For what its worth I really enjoyed working with the children – almost as though I had forgotten how much fun they could be. The way children of this age can draw – completely free from fear – is a wonder to behold, and they created some truly wonderful self-portraits. It really was uncanny to see how they somehow managed to capture their expression or their personality even, with a few deft strokes of the pen. Amazing…
If you’re any good at Danish, here is a film of one of the private views, made by Øens TV, Bornholm…
More photos and film soon…
So, I finally managed to finish all twelve of the prints. All were hand-printed at Tryk2 værksted in Årkirkeby, Bornholm – more info here.
The prints have already made the trip to Sweden for an exhibition, and this weekend (25th May to the 28th May 2017) they will be on display, along with some new watercolours, at Engholms Brændpunkt, Sandvig, as part of this year’s ‘Kunstrunde’… The prints cost 600kr each framed, or 450kr unframed (4.800kr / 3.600kr for all twelve). The actual image measures about 12cm square (fit a square 24cm frame)…
I’ve been working on a new project – ‘Bird of the Month Lino Prints’ (for want of a better title) since December of last year. The idea behind the project is the creation of 12 two-colour reduction lino prints – one for each month of the year – depiciting a Bornholmian bird, or group of birds, in a Bornholm setting.
Actually I’ve been thinking about doing this for years, and my head has been full of ideas about which bird and which place on Bornholm. Self-enforced and ‘proactive’ projects like this are a much needed counterpoint to my usual working practice – ‘reactive’ responses to ephemeral changes in the environment. The self-enforced structure of the project, together with the somewhat methodical nature of printing, gives me an different way of working which I find both challenging and refreshing.
As such, the project is driven by the following (informal) objectives/rules
- Each print will be small and identical in format (approx 12 x 12cm)
- The print run for each month will be between about 20 or so
- Each print will depict a bird that is ‘classic’ for Bornholm for that particular month
- Each print will depict the birds in a recognizable place on Bornholm – one where they can be seen
- Each print will be a reduction linocut – in most cases with just two reductive stages (=white paper, plus two colours)
- Each print will be nearly colour neutral, with an emphasis instead on tonal contrasts and a simplified graphic approach. Groups of birds, strongly lit and blending in and out of their background, will be the order of the day.
I am now more than half way through, and hope to be finished some time in Spring. I’m hoping they will be ready for the exhibition in Sweden, and perhaps even for Kunstrunde here on Bornholm.in April.
All the printing has taken place at Tryk2, the fantastic printing workshop in Åkirkeby, Bornholm. I cannot recommend this place highly enough. Anyone interested in Bornholm and printing should book it for a few weeks in the summer (it comes with a flat). It is very well equipped and affordable – check out their website (*new website currently under construction, will update link soon…).
Here is one of the prints I’ve been working on. Black headed gulls for August (this is actually three colours/levels of reduction, so I broke my rule here…).
The finished print here…
Anyway, I eventually settled on the following month/bird/place combinations…
- January – Rooks (Råger) – Østermarie Rundkirke
- February – Ravens (Ravner) – Rytterknægten
- March – Lapwings (Viber) – Udkæret
- April – Shelduck (Gravænder) – Salthammer
- May – Ederfugle (Eider ducks) – Christiansø
- June – Vandrefalke (Peregrines) – Vang
- July – Razorbill (Alke) – Hammerknuden
- August – Black Headed Gulls (Hættemåge) – Dueodde
- September – Cranes (Traner) – Bastemose
- October – Greylags (Grågæes) – Nexø Sydstrand
- November – Fieldfares (Sjagger) – Svaneke
- December – Long Eared Owls (Skovhornugle) – Rønne
The list is more a reflection of when and where I get my inspiration from during the year, rather than an attempt to showcase rare or exciting birds that you find on Bornholm. There were lots of ‘honorable mentions’ that didn’t make it onto the final list – but who knows, maybe I could do another round in a few years?
I’ll update my progress on this blog… until then, back to work…
‘Brud i Gennem’ (badly translated as ‘Breaking Through’) is the name of an anamorphic installation I did at Galleri Rasch in Rønne, Bornholm in the end of September 2016.
Nothing to do with birds (though I did actually hide a peregrine in one of the paintings) the exhibition is concerned with the way in which we (=I) struggle to deal with the ‘viral’ images of dead and injured children that are pumped out of Syria into the wider media on a regular basis. In a broader sense, the exhibition addresses the issues surrounding the Syrian Humanitarian Crisis and the influx of refugees into Europe (and even little Bornholm).
The main premise is this: I live in an incredibly safe war-free zone, surrounded by wonderful nature far from the dangers of bombardment and starvation , or the need to flee for my life. I take a walk in the daytime, maybe sketch some birds. In the evening on one or other screen (or , more probably, several) I am served images of dead or dying children – ‘viral’ images that awaken the conscience, tug on the heart-strings and cause pangs of guilt – until they are swiftly forgotten and life moves on… Until that is, the next time I sit in a bus with some confused Syrian refugees, or my child talks about the new kid in their class ‘Mohamed’. My seaweed drawing on the beach, see here, was part of my response to this situation.
‘Brud i Gennem’ came about when I was invited to have an exhibition during Bornholms Kulturuge (‘Culture Week’) in September 2016, by Galleri Rasch in Rønne Bornholm. The theme for 2016 was ‘Brud’, an interesting word in Danish that has multiple meanings and idiomatic uses. In Spring of this year I did an art week with some students from a school in Nexø that explored some of these themes, and some ideas relating to the refugee crisis and the use of the anamorphic technique began to fly around in my mind.
Being very busy this summer, I didn’t really have time to move things on much. When the images and films of Omran Daqneesh ‘the boy in the ambulance’ surfaced on the News and online, I was shocked and appalled. The helplessness and shock on his face reflected the whole situation in Syria, and I couldn’t get the image off my mind. It is precisely the of the image that makes it so powerful. Omran looks lost, helpless – both young and vulnerable, but somehow ossified and ancient at the same time. War photographers from Syria see worse – children with their limbs and heads blown off – but the image of Omran was somehow shocking enough – without crossing the line into gore. He could have been anyone’s kid. Could have been my kid.
Going for a walk in Vang stenbrud (an old granite quarry here on Bornholm) looking for some recently fledged peregrine falcons a few days later, I was still thinking of the image, or rather, it was still preying on my mind. The deep shadows in the rocks hid a multitude of faces and figures and seemed to echo the statue like-figure of Omran, covered in grey dust, shocked into catanonia. It was then I realised how the anamorphic technique (where an image is seen as three-dimensional from a point in space, rather than a flat plane) would be the perfect vehicle to reflect the way in which the image drifted in and out of my mind.
I started the installation on the monday, and opened on the saturday – all in the incredible heat of an indian summer (the gallery is like a greenhouse). As the week went on, the exhibition began to change into something – what it is now. ‘Break Through’ works as a ‘normal’ exhibition, with pictures hanging on walls. Then there is the anamorphic composite image of Omran seen from a specific point in the gallery. Nearly hidden on the pictures themselves are also quotes taken from news report from the time relating to Omran in particular, and viral images of war in general. Lastly there is a painting where visitors to the gallery are encouraged to write their feelings and thoughts directly, like graffiti on the rocks.
I tried to change our relationship to these images – to reinvigorate them and make our relationship to them active rather than passive. To re-infect the virus.
I was helped by my family (Alma painted the amazingly small quotes with a brush), by the Gallery, and by some students from Bornholm Billedskole. The film I made with the help of Verner Kjærsgaard – a local photographer who dropped everything to lend his expertise and equipment free of charge.
A local radio station P4 Bornholm made a film of the installation which can be seen here (scroll down to 17th Sept)…
TV2 Bornholm, a local TV station made a short piece about the installation here (20.09.16).
My film of the exhibition is above.
Straight after my trip to Turkey, it was off to Scotland for the Seabird Drawing course. Formerly led by the late John Busby, the Seabird Course is now headed by Darren Woodhead, along with Greg Poole, John Threfall and Kitty Jones. This year Bruce Pearson was the invited guest tutor. Bloomin’ brilliant.
Having arrived pretty much straight from Turkey with Greg, we were both ‘battle hardened’ and eager to get out in the field again. The drawing conditions in Turkey had been very pleasant, but the wildlife and birds were sporadic at best and we spent most of our time drawing in quite a ‘static’ environment. The seabird course could not have been more different. The weather was cold, windy, changeable, windy, showery and downright challenging and the seabirds were anything but static.
St Abbs proved to be the most popular venue and there is really no place like it. The constant din of seabirds, vertiginous cliff and rocks, crashing waves – a kaleidoscope of colour and form. You can sit anywhere in St Abbs and find amazing stuff to look at. There is simply no end of things to see and draw, and I could gladly spend the rest of my life just walking up and down the paths over the cliffs, drawing and painting. And through time, of course, everything changes. Each weather front brings its own colours and shades, and the tides and the movement of the sun create a dynamic backdrop to the even more dynamic movements of the birds.
I spent most of my time working on ‘time-based’ work – following the flights of the seabirds with brush strokes and creating a long exposure of their flight lines. Landscapes split into different sections throughout the day, some under the sun, others rained upon. Row upon row of 10 second, 20 second sketches of the same bird. I really feel as though I am going somewhere with this sort of stuff, and I look forward to mining this more and more – I think it is a rich seam.
A boat trip to the Bass was another highlight of the trip – unfortunately I was not able to get on the rock this time. In the lee of the wind, we made countless small circles in the shadow of the gigantic cliff, drawing and painting a moving – but returning – target. An incredible and moving (ahem) moment, as tutors and students alike scribbled away in total concentration, wordlessly, under the din of the squabbling gannets. Unforgettable.
As this was my second trip I felt I was able to hit the ground running. I knew what to expect and what I wanted to do. This year, the tutors had a more ‘hands on’ approach, in that the day started with warm up drawing exercises and finished with evening talks from the tutors. This was a really positive development that opened a whole new element to the course, without detracting from the democratic and non-prescriptive atmosphere that made the seabird course so iconic in the first place. The dynamic of a residential course, where everyone is in the same boat, is a wonderful thing to behold and experience, and I look forward to the next time I can come. The SWLA has a bursary – see here….Go if you can!
Earlier in June I was lucky enough to be one of four SWLA (Society of Wildlife Artists) artists invited to take part in an EU funded partnership with Doğa Koruma Merkezi (DKM), a Turkish environmental NGO. Working under the expert stewardship of an administrative team, the four tutors (myself, Nik Pollard, Greg Poole and Esther Tyson) spent five days mentoring and tutoring a group of approximately 20 art school students, artists and scientists from all over Turkey, and five days by ourselves, out in the field, painting and drawing.
The project aimed to establish a cultural bridge through art and nature – to promote observation and field-based wildlife art as a tool for raising awareness of the Turkish Sweet Gum Forests. The tangible project outcomes, aside from the mountain of artwork produced by tutors and students alike, are a project book and an exhibition, both of which are at the time of writing, being developed. The exhibition will travel to three different sites in Turkey as well as the ‘Natural Eye’ exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London.
So, that is the blurb. On my way over, truth be told, I had little idea what to expect and was pleasantly surprised when we rolled up at the Flora Hotel – a fantastic home away from home on the shores of Lake Köyceğiz in South Western Turkey. DKM had booked the entire hotel for the project team, and the following day the students and invited Turkish artists started to arrive. After an informal ‘ice breaking’ session I had a much better idea about the professionalism of the project, the passion of the SWLA artists and the enthusiasm of the Turkish students.
The participants themselves were from all over Turkey – a really diverse mix of BA, MA and Phd art college students, professional artists and one or two with a more scientific or birdy background. There were illustrators, land artists, animators, fashion students – a really heady mix. Despite this, and the fact that they didn’t know each other, the group was really coherent and harmonious and all of the students were eager to get out in the field and paint.
Nik (SWLA) and Aydan (DKM) had produced a very detailed itinerary, that mostly revolved around visiting the Sweetgum forests – with our ‘base camp’ in the Kavakarasi forest. So, off we would trot in the mornings, into the forest to draw and paint. At first I was a little disappointed with the lack of bird and animal life, but with repeated visits the forest grew on me, and the human stories (foraging and ‘gum’ collection) were really interesting. Later in the evening, we would have ‘share and tell’ sessions in the hotel, where we all got our day’s work out and tried to make constructive comments. The students were amazingly receptive and their work improved no end during the week. What a joy. Aside from ‘working’ in the forests, we made a short trip to a nearby waterfall and an unforgetable boar trip through the delta to Daylan and the mediterranean, and onward to the Iztuzu turtle rehabilitation centre.
One of the key project aims was ‘cultural cross communication’, and it was a privilege to spend so much time with the students and project teams, and hear about the reality of living in such a huge and complex country. For most (western) Europeans, Turkey means little more than a hot sandy beach, so it was fascinating and a little shocking to hear about life in Ankara and other cities. One of my favourite memories was staying up late (very late) one night with a bunch of students and listening to them singing together. Or another time in the Sweetgum forest, when two old ladies, foraging for leaves and bark, literally ‘stepped into’ one of my paintings. An incredible and awe-inspiring experience.
The whole trip was unforgettable in so many ways. Once the students left, we remained and carried on drawing and painting. One site (Kersele?) was literally full of snakes and scorpions, another (Toparlar) humming with insects and butterflies. Everywhere frogs. I learned so much from my fellow tutors, the students and the forest, and look forward to seeing the publication and the exhibition in London. Hi-res paintings and drawings will be uploaded soon!