Watch my 6 minute PechaKucha presentation

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My fast and furious 6 minute PechaKucha slide-show presentation is now available to watch on-line. I found it hard at first to talk about such a sensitive subject as memorial commissions – with a raised voice to a large audience – but after a faltering start, I find my pace and cover many points.

**If you like my PechaKucha presentation, please click the black hand symbol by the slide-show – my commissions come from all over the world, and ‘applauding’ my work will help reach a wider audience.

Many thanks! :>)

If you haven’t already, you might like to read the post I wrote about how preparing for the presentation prompted a huge and useful stock-take of my work and the direction I’m going. I thoroughly recommend that everyone should take part in such a distilled presentation of themselves!

Fallen – the ongoing story of Chris Seeley’s memorial

Polar Bear in situ with flowers

You might recall an earlier post about the Sassy Bear memorial honouring my  school friend, inspirational artistic innovator Chris Seeley.  Alas, last week’s wild storms brought great trees crashing down throughout the country – and one fell directly on to the memorial wreaking much damage.  The bear’s strong and sturdy neck was broken off, as was her outstretched paw.

Fallen

Luckily, I am able to call in the services of another friend, the very able conservator Sarah Healey-Dilkes! With much experience under her belt, (for the V&A and as a free-lancer) Sarah is confident that Sassy Bear will soon be put to right and sashay onward, head held high, for years to come.

Chris’s husband Geoff suggested that the Japanese art of Kintsugi might be used… That is, making the repair itself visible and precious by using an adhesive material  mixed traditionally with powdered gold, silver or platinum…It treats the breakage and repair as part of the ongoing history of an object, rather than something to play-down and disguise.

Of course, many issues need to be considered when repairing an outdoor stone object (such as the effect of weathering over time), so Geoff and Sarah will have to weigh up the different methods of conservation.

In the meantime Geoff, who is a professional storyteller,  has woven fine gold out of this sad accident..  I’d like to share the beautiful poem that he has written in response:

Fallen
When the tree fell in the night,
did your bear-heart tremble
at its terrible declension?

When it struck your broad neck,
did you cry out in reproach
at nature’s sacrilege?

Did the forest weep for sorrow
as your magnificent head
crashed to the floor?

And what of those who love you,
brought to disbelieving tears
by your shattered limbs?

We remember the old songster:
there is a crack in everything,
that is how the light gets in.

So we will tend your wounds,
and make you whole again
with seams of gold.

The beauty of brokenness
is the only poetry
I care for now.

Geoff Mead  |  Kingscote  |  22 November 2015

Autumn update – the early stages of my new commission

I haven’t uploaded images of my ‘Mother and Daughter’ sculpture, nor my carvings over the summer.  But instead of catching up now I shall leap-frog on and post some photos of the early stages of my next commission – a pair of sculptures for the foyer of a hospice.

Under wraps

Here is tantalising glimpse of one of my maquettes…She’s wrapped in moist cloths as I am having to put her aside while I hold a Stone Carving Workshop in my studio this weekend. And below are samples of the red sandstones that I have been considering.

Sandstone samplesStone sourcing involves a lot of phone calls to quarries and stone suppliers to check the availability and quality of their stone. Quality and availability can change from month to month, depending on the geology of the patch of ground being quarried. A new seam of rock at the same quarry might yield stone  of a radically different appearance – bands of different colours and textures can criss-cross a block, a bed of shells might appear, or dark speckles scattered throughout what was previously pure and uniform.  Yet both stones are from the same quarry and are sold under the same name. So asking the stone supplier for a current sample is essential before deciding which stone to use for a new commission.

Having fallen in love with a particular shade of stone the next step is to find out whether that particular stone is quarried in blocks of sufficient size – sometimes a stone might only be available in shallow strips (whereas a few months previously it might have been available in large blocks).

I was very keen to use a warm-coloured stone, with interesting natural qualities, for my new project. I generally tend to avoid Portland (that star-of-availability, consistent texture and vast bed-height) because it can seem too cold and formal, (too ‘noli me tangere’ for my taste) – though for many reasons it is the perfect choice especially for large, outdoor commissions). I don’t like carving sandstone because the dust is bad for the lungs so one has to wear a dust-mask throughout, and the rough grit blunts tools in the bat of an eye. However, it comes in beautiful shades that just can’t be found in limestone.  I’ve plumped for a warm, rosy red which sparkles in the sunlight…

Watch this space…  :>)

I was very moved by the New Rhythms exhibition at Kettle’s Yard (Gaudier-Brzeska and co)

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If you possibly can, make every effort to go to Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge this weekend to catch the  New Rhythms exhibition.  It shows the influence of dance and wrestling on artists in London immediately  prior to the First World War.

The Dancer 1913, cast 1965 Henri Gaudier-Brzeska 1891-1915 Presented by Sir Edward Beddington-Behrens 1965 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00762

Gaudier-Brzeska – The Dancer (1913)

The exhibition is brilliantly curated  –  even though I was familiar with the artwork on display I saw it in a dramatically new light. Well-known sculptures by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Jacob Epstein and Alexander Archipenko are shown alongside hastily scribbled sketches of movement and Futurist paintings by a number of their contemporaries.

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Gaudier-Brzeska’s Dancer, study (1914)

However it was the inclusion of a stunning film shot in 1912, ‘La Danse des Apaches’ that (I felt) brought the whole exhibition together.  At one point I put my hand to my chest, concerned because my heart was pounding so hard – it took me a moment to realise that I was just experiencing a rush of pure excitement.

images129315452858047051_58a103e8-2571-4b08-82ba-05839a69dda1_205123alexander-archipenko-dance-1912posthumous-cast-1967-artsy-1387735270_org
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lexander Archipenko’s The Dance (1912-13) needs to be seen in the round to be appreciated fully – the internal space between the figures is as interesting as the forms themselves, and changes with every new viewpoint. It’s worth going to the exhibition for this piece alone.

The grainy, black & white film showed Beatrice Collier and Fred Farren in a dance that was sometimes passionate and rhythmic like an impromptu Tango, and at other times what seemed to be a distressingly brutal fight. Apparently this form of dance was a craze that took Paris by storm in 1908, ‘inspired by the gang culture and sexualized liaisons of the Parisian underworld’.  It made the posturing of Punks such as Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen in the 1970’s look limp and half-hearted.

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The extraordinary dance footage gave a glimpse of the strange energy and sense of unrest in Europe prior to the First World War. It increased my appreciation of the angular forms on display, and also why many artists flocked to experience the drama of war on the front-line. When you look at the work on display it seems utterly inevitable.

See: http://www.kettlesyard.co.uk/events/new-rhythms-henri-gaudier-brzeska-art-dance-movement-london-1911-1915
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My friend Chris Seeley, and the making of her memorial.

Polar Bear in situ with flowers

Chris was an amazing woman whom I was privileged to know as a teenager and young adult. She was boundless in her energy and enthusiasm, and in her skills. From the start Chris always loved soft toys and made many of her own. I admired one that she had with her when we first met (I joined my mum – a teacher- and her pupils on a trip to Germany), and shortly after our return was given one of my own; a Snoopy, beautifully modeled and sewn, dressed in dungarees and a hand painted t-shirt. In the pocket of the dungarees Snoopy had his own hand-made passport. Marvelous craft skills for anyone, let alone a 14 year old.

I met up again with Chris when I went to do A’levels at the High School.   I felt a bit intimidated anyway, coming as I did from the local Secondary Modern.  Chris was the star of the school, a real all-rounder, who even the teachers spoke of with moist eyes and hushed tones. I felt shy and kept my distance, but our friendship was re-ignited on a school trip to Amsterdam. Chris’s boundless energy and voracious interest in all things made her a perfect traveling companion. At the end of the trip we were inseparable, laughing, laughing, laughing so hard on the bus home – In retrospect I wonder whether the teachers suspected us of smoking grass, but we were just heady with the joy of life.

Chris Seeley Amsterdam

Sunshine and laughter in Amsterdam. Chris kneels above me as I sit on the ground.

After Sixth Form we spent a year together on an Art Foundation course in High Wycombe, which was a great release from the constraints of school, and much fun. However Chris and I lost touch when she went to Bristol to study Graphics, and I to London for a Three-Dimensional Design degree.  The truth is, I took on the mantle of an 80’s feminist and didn’t approve of her boyfriend at the time.  He was a biker, who (I felt) treated her just like ‘a blonde on the back of his bike’. Now I think back on it, I realise that that was just what Chris wanted, or even needed, at that point. After years of people marveling at brain, she just wanted to live life for a while with the wind in her hair.

Chris got in touch with me again several years ago, having seen me carving on an episode of Time Team. It was great to see the woman that she had become. Her work was an intriguing blend of art and business,  using art to resolve problems in the workplace.  My reaction was to think ‘This sounds bloody mad….but knowing Chris, it’s brilliant’. And it was.

Our next encounter was much sadder and stranger; An unexpected email to say that she had a brain tumour and wanted to commission a memorial for herself.  It was a big shock, and a very curious experience. I have carved many memorials   (that’s my bread-and-butter) but never made one with and for a friend -still very much alive, and yet dying.

When I carve memorials I focus very much on the person; the person who is being commemorated,  and also the person who has commissioned the piece. There is much dialogue between the commissioner and myself so that the final artwork is the distillation of their memories, a simple statement of their love. On this occasion it was Chris who wished to leave a statement to those she left behind, and I think to have done so is a wonderful  and powerful gesture.

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Although we initially discussed installing the memorial in her local cemetery, Chris soon concluded that a conventional headstone would be ‘too Munster-like’ to suit her taste and character.  The conventional rectangle of stone wasn’t the parting gesture that she was after.  She considered her own cottage garden  (an increasingly popular choice which allows the memorial to be part of family life), but in the end chose a lovely site, a short distance from the home she shared with her husband; The Matara Center, a place of retreat and celebration in the grounds of an 18th century manor house, where Chris and Geoff had recently celebrated their own wedding.

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Chris had a lifelong passion for bears so it was obvious that a bear would feature somehow within the design. She sent me a photo of a small greenstone ornament of a polar bear, given to her by her husband. The small carving had great presence – striding forward, it looked like a strong, sassy mama-bear going purposefully about her business. It was such a great emblem for Chris that we decided to let this bear do the talking, and keep the rest of the memorial simple and uncluttered. On one side of the block of stone was written ‘CHRISTINE SEELEY – artist’, and on the other her dates, as in my layout below.

Sassy bear Dave Crowe's lettered backSassy bear front view with lettering scan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I suggested that my colleague Dave Crowe should undertake the lettering. As a graphic designer Chris had always admired the work of Eric Gill and Dave was apprenticed to Gill’s apprentice David Kindersley.  Christine loved this connection.

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In the end Dave Crowe carved the bear too – Chris wanted to see the memorial before she died and I, unable to put aside other commissions, asked Dave to push ahead. Having worked with him for many years I knew the memorial would be in expert hands, and he skilfully translated the design into stone. All that was left for me was to soften the edges of the base and to whittle some of the features.

Unfortunately we were too late and Chris died without seeing her memorial.  I am very happy that it is now in situ, ready for the ceremony that will be held later this month.  This will be a two day event attended by two hundred people who will celebrate Chris’s life with art, storytelling, music and dance (- and mayonnaise making).

Chris was, and always will be, an original and inspirational figure.

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To see the full glory:
Chris’s professional website: www.Wildmargins.com
The Matara Center: http://www.matara.co.uk

And read the story of breakage and resolution

Work in progress on my next commission: Mother and Daughter sculpture

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Here are some photos of the maquette I’m working on for my next commission –  a commemorative sculpture based on a photograph of a mother and daughter hugging.

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This model shows the work in progress.  As it’s in clay I have the chance to try out ideas and work out proportions before I cut into a block of stone. I still need to sort out the left arm, but as a whole the sculpture is more or less in place. The hair is smooth like a hood here but I’ll add texture to it in stone – it’s not helpful to try and show such intricate details at this stage because clay handles so differently to stone.  From experience I know that features like this resolve themselves in the carving, and that it’s important to leave some room to play – this stops the final sculpture from looking like a mere reproduction and gives it a life of it’s own.

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This maquette shows the top half of my sculpture. I’ll use a tall block of stone and leave the lower half uncarved so the square base will work as a plinth. Proportionally this will mirror the size of the carved area and accord with the natural size of the figures.

My next step is to make a mould of this maquette and cast it in plaster giving me a more durable copy to work from. And then onward in stone  :>)