Unfortunately, we had to postpone the March meeting as many of our regular attendees had other commitments this month!
We're planning to reorganise the meeting before the May date however, and hope to check out Ziferblat as a possible meeting place in the near future.
New dates will be sent out to the mailing list, so make sure you're registered using the contact form on the main page if you'd like to be kept informed!
January saw our first meeting for 2015, being the second of a revised bimonthly schedule and it was good to be back at MadLab proper, albeit still a ‘work in progress’ affair that saw us climbing slightly unfinished feeling stairs and avoiding the brick dust!
Renate has also been making the most of access to a black and white darkroom at Start in Salford, where she has been volunteering, to revisit these skills. She shared a self portrait with us, as well as some photograms designed to function as bookmarks (she likes work to have a purpose, she explained) and talked about ideas for moving in to the area of contact prints. ‘Get yourself some good quality acetate!’ advised experienced photographer Kevin!
As I have recently been in the unfortunate position of being unwell and not in work, I have had time to be gently flexing some other creative muscles and so shared with the group a recent collation of old and new poems (I even read one out!) as well as the fruits of my other labours in the form of baking; a gugelhupf in this case! I explained that I find cooking a very soothing activity, as well as actually quite creative and this certainly fed in (no pun intended) to the whole ‘what is art anyway!?’ debate. I’d already responded to this by describing Scott McCloud’s suggestion that art is any human activity that cannot be directly related to a need to survive, (as Renate pointed out, you can survive by eating the berries from the bush but do you need to spend time and effort turning them into jam?) and it was equally relevant to earlier conversation about art as therapy; where does mental and emotional survival fit in to the definition and how does that support or refute each perspective? Renate had explained that her voluntary work brought her into contact with people who had actually been prescribed a course of creative activity to help treat various mental health conditions and it didn’t seem entirely random that our conversation had come at least in some respects, full circle.
This month was the first in our new bimonthly schedule (meeting once again in MadLab’s temporary home at New Federation House) and it seemed appropriate that our conversation focused on the idea of getting back into the swing of things following a change of pace or circumstance.
Again, we discussed the source of these pressures, be that expectation from institutions or the wider art world, or whether they come from a more personal, self-driven perception of value. I thought how funny it is that we can apply different questions, principles and clarity to the work of others that we find it so hard to bring to our own. This, I suppose, underlines the importance of placing your creative practice within a wider context of peers and accepting the questions or challenges that they bring to such debate.
The conversation eventually swung back round to changing focus or direction, and how sometimes it can be that in the long term, taking a break from practice can in fact be the most productive thing to do. We do not always have to be at our most prolific and pausing, reflecting, rebuilding energy levels and exploring other interests or expressions of creativity can be vitally important in giving a practice the time and space it needs to grow and flourish.
A seasonally relevant observation as we parted with best wishes for the winter festivities. The next CRITgroup meeting will be on January the 28th, 2015(!). We may, or may not be back in MadLab ‘proper’ for the start of the New Year, though I have every confidence it will be full of spring promise, regardless of the location!
Following our summer hiatus, we met this month in MadLab’s temporary home at New Federation House, currently managed by Castlefield Gallery. The primary aim of the meeting was to review recent feedback from CRITsurvey 2014 and make some key decisions on the future of the group to make sure it continues providing motivation, support and social contact for those pursuing a creative visual practice in Manchester.
Our main concern is that we want to continue to see regular involvement in the meetings; not necessarily huge numbers or the same people coming every single month, but enough to provide varied and meaningful feedback discussion for those who do attend. We had previously tried to achieve this consistent interest by running collaborative and research projects, one of which culminated in a group show, as well as hosting a series of speakers. Whilst these had been successful in many ways, it was noted that numbers were starting to drop off throughout 2014. Feedback from the survey and analysis in our discussion tonight suggested that aside from practical reasons like timing, this might be because the format had become a bit too formal and structured. We also felt that some people who had dropped in to see what we were about found it difficult to engage with a group who was already involved in a project spanning several sessions. The main thing we concluded was that due to our focus on these additional activities, we had started to run out of time to for informal critique on practical work; the very thing we originally set up to achieve. Without wanting to make accidental political references, it was unanimously agreed that the key to the ongoing success of the group was in going ‘Back to Basics’ and refocussing on this critical discussion as the primary function of the group. One suggestion was to have less frequent but longer sessions, possibly meeting for a full day every 6 months; however it was decided that meeting for the same length of time but at only slightly longer intervals would be more practical. As such, we shall be moving to a bimonthly schedule. We hope this will allow those who wish to attend a bit more flexibility in meeting other commitments as well as feeling that they can still be fully active in the group, at the same time as giving everyone a bit more space between meetings to make progress on their projects or develop their practices.
We also plan to be less rigid in formatting any other activities. Whilst we intend to continue supplementing our critical conversation with events such as speakers, topic specific discussions and skills sharing workshops, we will arrange these in a less structured fashion on a month by month basis. The bimonthly move should also make it easier for us to organise things such as gallery visits at times outside of the established meeting pattern. We agreed to stick to the Last Wednesday of the month 7-9pm standard as it was generally felt that there was never going to be a time or day where everyone could be present anyway and there was not a significant bias towards any other specific option in the survey feedback.
We ended the discussion on a positive note and considering there to be ‘no time like the present’ to act on our new convictions, we then spent a bit of time looking at some new developments from those present! James Sharp has been developing an extensive range of distinctive textiles products that he sells at crafts events in and around the Greater Manchester area. He is very responsive to feedback from his customers and has recently developed a leather-bound book to supplement his art journals range. He brought one of these to show us and we were pleased, but not surprised, to hear that they have been selling well from his stall. These are also available from his online shop.
Given our agreement to adopt a bimonthly format, the October meeting will be skipped and we will next get together in November. We'll also give December (our December meetings tend to be all about the mince pies anyway!) over to more festive engagements and shall then begin a new year of alternate months in January. The January meeting will be the first in the fourth year of CRITgroup and it is with optimism in relation to our refocused intentions that we look forward to welcoming many new and old friends to our conversations. We hope you will be a part of it!
I have been looking forward to this evening’s meeting for some time now, in fact arguably for as long as CRITgroup has existed, as I have been trying to tempt our speaker along for a good couple of years. I first met Peter S. Smith in 1997 when he taught me as Head of Department at the Kingston College School of Art and Design. In later years it was his guidance and support that gave me my first opportunity to begin my own career as an arts educator but we have since established an ongoing and mutually respectful creative friendship. To say he has been influential in my arts practice and teaching career would be nothing of an understatement.
Peter originally studied painting in Birmingham and discussed how he considered himself to be primarily a painter who had been ‘side tracked’ into printmaking. I found this especially interesting as I had always thought of him as a printmaker who occasionally strayed into painting, though he pointed out that this was probably because he had only just completed his MA in Printmaking at Wimbledon when he was first teaching me. Since retiring from Kingston College he works from a studio at the St Bride Foundation in London and continues to maintain a practice exploring print and paint, as well as embracing digital technology to realise new applications of his traditional skills.
Peter’s accessible style of presentation lent an informal ambience to the group, however this did not undermine his characteristically unassuming intensity, nor betray his passion for his subject. He began by recounting the receipt of a questionnaire that asked him to explain how he felt his work promoted peacekeeping. No doubt the Edinburgh based researcher did not get the clean-cut response he had hoped for when Peter replied that he felt that was rather the wrong question to ask and that sometimes art work is simply trying to understand the world with any causal change being incidental rather than an express aim of the piece. He stated his view that one must guard against discussion becoming the focus, with the work itself reduced to performing an illustrative role to support the verbalisation of the idea.
This drawing 'lay fallow' in the sketchbook for a couple of years before eventual development into a print, the process of which included the creation of a series of secondary drawings before the potentially expensive and certainly time consuming committal to the process of wood cut. Peter recounted various aspects of this fascinating process and I think most of the group were especially impressed to discover that the Albion Press can detect and will respond to the variation in pressure achieved by even a single layer of tissue paper applied to the back of the printing block when required to manipulate the delivery of ink to the surface of the paper.
Peter was clear that in his experience constraints are, somewhat counter intuitively, what give you creative freedom and was very open in discussing his use of tools to navigate various processes. He brought along a small piece of box wood that, it was explained, has a particularly tight grain as a feature of being a very slow growing hard wood. When felled, it takes a further 3 years to season before the long process of preparing the surface can begin. Peter estimated that this in itself had taken an hour so far for just the tiny piece we were invited to handle. We were also treated to a rather self conscious glimpse into his quest for ‘the perfect mechanical pencil’ that had culminated in the use of a particular model that is no longer even made but still just about available online. He explained that this had been as much about eliminating excuses not to draw by utilising technical processes such as self-feeding lead and non-detachable rubbers, as it was about how this affected the actual drawing itself!
Despite this love of and respect for the process, Peter was clear that he is purposeful in using marks that relate to his communication of the subject matter, not marks that reference the history of printmaking. He identified that the tradition of Thomas Bewick 'weighs heavy' on wood engravers and that one should be careful not to fall into a particular kind of visual device simply because it is associated with the medium.
It was true to my memory of his teaching style that Peter could not resist placing his work in this wider context and he also spoke knowledgeably on the tradition of the empty chair as a visual device. Van Gogh's chair, he explained, was rooted in inspiration from English wood engravings and that Sir Luke Fildes illustration of an empty chair for a Charles Dickens story had influenced the painter as much as had his contemporaries. He also recounted that he found many poems about empty chairs, also symbolising loss and recognised that he hadn't necessarily done anything particularly new. This is in part why, one assumes, he is keen to state that he has learnt over the years that it is best to keep quiet and let the 'truth' that exists in the work be the truth that resonates in different ways with whatever individuals bring in their own perspective of it. It was, however with an air of satisfaction, yet not a hint of pride, that he shared an excerpt from a review that identified an ‘anxious anticipation' in the image, confirming in his opinion some success in achieving his intentions. It is always gratifying when strangers respond to your work positively (without the assumed obligation of friends and family) and Peter told us he finds it especially encouraging when this includes sales of his work!
Peter also recently engaged in a commission to produce wood engravings of places in the Peak District. One of twelve selected engravers, his chosen locations included Dovestones Reservoir in Greenfield (below) and features in the landscape of Thursbitch, described by Peter as 'Thors Dog', a ‘weird’ area of standing stones and pagan legend near Macclesfield. Continuing to relate this to his topic of meaning behind works of art, he recounted how the interest of the commissioner sparked his own enthusiasm for the subject matter but explained that despite his knowledge of the local stories he did not set out to specifically illustrate them. He continued to be inspired by the local tales during the engraving and adjusted his mark making accordingly as previously discussed. One example was rendering blades of grass to reference part of a tale involving snakes in the grass. Peter discusses this particular project further in this article for the Society of Wood Engravers.
One aspect of the Brushes programme that Peter enjoys is the ability to play back and then analyse how you constructed a piece; a dash of colour in one corner, a hasty reworking suddenly on the opposite side of the composition. We then discussed the relative importance of the process and I was surprised that despite the endless joy that he clearly finds in making, he is still resolute in asserting that it is the destination and not the journey that is of importance.
Returning again to intended meaning, we discussed the influence of the selected music on how the work is read and understood by the viewer, especially in the case of the shadow drawings. Though some care is taken in these pieces to match the visuals to the soundtrack, there is much that is left to be incidental. Humans habitually make connections even when these are coincidental or imagined but I wonder if that then becomes as much a part of the work as any original intention, simply because the artist has accepted those possibilities in ‘marrying’ the two components, however randomly.
Despite these playful excursions and happy accidents, Peter’s work is intensely purposeful and it occurs to me that his portfolio is an almost perfect example of a body of work positioned at the centre of the Venn diagram around which so many CRITdiscussions have fractiously circled; the tug of war between art and craft. If ever there was an example of a practitioner to whom this debate does simply not apply it is Peter S. Smith, who has apparently achieved an enviable balance between the two, calmly and intentionally applying a refined craftsman’s skill to the process of artistic expression in a quiet yet persistent voice. That he is willing to let go of his personal perceptions and allow the work freedom to represent an audiences’ own interpretation with the simple faith that it will speak its own truth puts me in mind of the Buddhist mantra that ‘you only lose what you cling to’ and it is not without recognition of an almost Zen like calm in the work that I make this comparison. Though I know that this is not the religious background from which Peter approaches his work I wonder if there is still some connection here; or maybe I am simply making a connection where none exists. Either way, it is with deep respect and much gratitude that I thank Peter on behalf of CRITgroup for travelling from London to share his work with us this evening. I especially hope that in this case he feels the destination justified the journey!
Humans have always been creatively inspired by the night sky, as common names for constellations and the associated myths and legends demonstrate. Tonight, Dave Wilkinson, one of our newest contributors, took the time to share with us some of his own stellar creativity in the form of recent work in astrophotography.
Dave first got into this in 2012 after an hiatus from sports photography, having been inspired by an e-book titled Seeing the Unseen about photographing landscapes at night. As he had been interested in astronomy as a child, it was a natural progression for him to combine these interests.
He started simply by experimenting with his camera and tripod to see what he could achieve. He began capturing star trails (made by using long exposures to photograph the perceived movement of the stars across the sky as the earth rotates) and then the moon. It wasn’t until his first successes capturing the rings of Saturn however, that he really got hooked!
When progressing further to start to imaging the Milky Way during a trip to the Southern Hemisphere, he started using ‘frame stacking’ techniques, by which multiple photographs are layered in special software to produce a final and much clearer image. Producing these stacked photographs is a lengthy process and one image he showed us was compiled from no less than forty 30 second exposures. As the kit requires time to cool down between each of these exposures (minor temperature fluctuations caused by the electrical components of the camera equipment can cause tiny but critical expansions in the hardware that distort the photograph), some images will take in excess of an hour to capture. This time scale seemed fairly trivial however, when Dave explained that the objects he is photographing are over 21 million light years away, which means that the photons hitting the sensors in the camera have taken 21 million years to get to Earth! This is a fact that fascinates Dave and has clearly influenced his enthusiasm for the subject!
Spurred on by some very successful images using minimal kit, it wasn’t long before he was investing more cash in these projects and soon began using the camera body on telescopes to experiment with magnification. He also started using a tracking system (this moves the camera at the same rate as the apparent movement of the sky as the earth rotates, allowing sharp images of individual objects and eliminating the ‘default’ star trails). In addition to this, Dave was now utilising video, from which he could then select individual frames at their sharpest to create even more refined stacked photographs. Use of video in this way makes it possible to negate the effect of atmospheric distortion and achieve the highest possible detail from the captured footage. He has since progressed to imaging sun spots and flares (Health and Safety note; do not attempt this without a filter!) as well as some impressive detail on photographs of the Moon and planets.
When talking about his work, Dave makes it clear that he is very competent in using some quite advanced equipment and techniques despite his ‘amateur’ status, however his passion drives him to emphasise that anyone can get out and having a go with very minimal kit. He took pains to explain that using just a standard camera and tripod (or even just balancing the camera on a steady surface) can yield surprising results and reveal more of the sky than is possible to see with the naked eye. He also explained that these images can even have value on a professional scale as casual observers are increasingly discovering events such as supernovae more often than scientists due to more combined man hours and observing times, as well as less budgetary pressures one imagines!
One thing I particularly enjoyed about Dave’s talk was his conclusion that expressly referenced how talking about his work to other ‘CRITters’ had helped shape, inform and inspire his recent outcomes. Having discussed that much of his work was a little scattered and amorphous, his CRITgroup visit inspired Dave to devise some specific projects, these being planetary imaging, especially Jupiter due to good viewing conditions, and photographs taken using the telescope at The Godlee Observatory (the home of Manchester Astronomical society). It was exciting to see his most recent photographs taken from the Godlee at the end of April, in which he had captured details in the rings of Saturn and the polar icecaps on Mars!
A refreshing change from the standard arty fare that CRITgroup enjoys exploring, this work reminded me of the Renaissance roots of many modern artforms, where the arts and sciences were very much less distinct areas. These boundaries are being increasingly challenged in a variety of ways but Dave’s work seemed a very simple and honest way of revisiting the relationship between the disciplines and reminded me that the arts and sciences are really just two languages communicating our drive to explore, understand and recording the world (or universe!) around us. I hope the inspiration Dave has found at CRITgroup continues to fuel many more exciting images and look forward to seeing them in the near future (though I hope that will be on a global, not universal scale and they don’t take 21 million years to appear)!
Next month we will meet on May 28th to welcome artist Peter S. Smith who will share his paintings and prints, as well as some new work on the iPad.
Last month, with only a couple of Crafting by Committee participants able to attend, we had deferred our reflection on the project to March. Though it was still a small group, as everyone who came along tonight had actually worked on the project it was much easier to have a chat about how we felt it had gone. The general consensus was that it didn’t seem to have had a conclusion like our last project and hadn’t gone so far in allowing us to address our aim of questioning the difference between our respective practices, especially those of ‘Artists’ and ‘Craftspeople’. It was also agreed that having had a couple of participants drop out, though unavoidable, had affected the group and played a role in some lost momentum. Finally, we felt that ‘committee’ feedback had been taken quite a lot more personally than in Creative Whispers, possibly a little too much so in some cases, though some did say this had been personally useful in providing an arena to push work forward on an individual basis. Despite this being the case, it still hadn’t really performed the role we had hoped for.
The next question to address was in deciding what to do with regards to our proposed third and final project in the series of collaborations. As this would be largely a performance based investigation, we have agreed to pop it on a back burner for now until we have had a bit of time to reconfirm ourselves as a critical reflection group as our discussion of the Crafting by Committee project had led us on to question other issues, including recent low turnout. It was suggested that one cause of this is that some people were now finding Wednesdays difficult as it seems to be a favourite night for a variety of groups to meet, including other arts groups in Manchester, such as the Castlefield Gallery Associates Scheme. I asked if it was possible that the group had simply ‘had its day’ and that whilst we had got a lot individually and as a group from the sessions in the first eighteen months, that people had moved on with their practices and no longer found the sessions to be as relevant. Of course, this was part of why we had initiated the collaborative project in the first place, to keep things fresh and encourage enquiry in to a range of issues, however we agreed this may have eventually become a bit too rigid, rendering the meetings less useful to some regular members and off putting to those new faces who had come along and found us half way through a group project.
One potential solution was the suggestion to begin having bi-monthly sessions instead, though we will of course be looking forward to the next two meetings in April and May when we have guest speakers. We have agreed to revise where we want the group to go at the June meeting. Especially considering the very low turnout last summer, this may be a good time to reduce the number of scheduled meetings. Without wanting to sound too negative however, we did look forward with the intention to continue the group in some format and agreed it may not need wrapping up entirely, as long as we can devise a way of making it useful to members and possibly attract new contributors. We are quite keen on looking into organising another group show for October or November, though we would not link this to a specific project and actually just invite people to show work from their own practice. If we do go ahead with this, we agreed that an alternative venue might be more appropriate than MadLab for this sort of show. Though MadLab was excellent for the culmination of Creative Whispers, which became very much an interactive and workshop based event, it’s not really set up as a gallery space, or for the particularly successful display of work. We’ll discuss this further in June too.
Following this open and honest review of our current status, for which I was very grateful, we spent the second half sharing recent work. When Christine Wilcox-Baker arrived at the start of the evening, I had strong suspicions that this was going to be an interesting discussion courtesy of a busy and dynamic artist and was certainly not disappointed! First, she shared with us her most recent completed projects; work for Bollington Town and Cheshire East Councils. Christine designed and managed the construction of an ornamental arch for the entrance to Coronation Gardens, Bollington, Cheshire; a park with children's play equipment, storytelling and picnic areas. The park was opened in 1953 and re-designed in 2013 to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth 2nd. She also designed and produced pencil illustrations for a story board in the park that tell a short history of Bollington and the site of the children's play park.
From this work followed the opportunity to collaborate further with Cheshire East Council to produce an entrance gateway for Elworth Park. Christine enjoyed close dialogues with a blacksmith and his team to produce the work, with imagery and symbolism informed by intensive research into the parks' history including the original benefactors and local environment. This included reference to wheels of steam and truck engines and musical notation from a piece titled Alpine Echoes, which was played at opening of the park by Foden’s brass band. The work also makes visual references to the local cricket club’s fox emblem, salt crystal images inspired by local business and depictions of birds that inhabit the local marshes.
As if this wasn’t enough, she is now working on a sculptural bench for another country park and looking at ways of presenting information in an alternative format for a touring exhibition about village life affected by World War One in Holmes Chapel. This project involves working with local school and MMU media students to make a film investigating personal rather than political stories and she has been looking into the history of the local area, including why there seem to have been so many Belgian refugees!
To wrap up, I briefly shared the completed canvas that I had shown as a ’work in progress’ in February. I reflected that I still wasn’t too sure of where this new tangent was taking me, continuing to encounter some issues with whether or not the work is bit self-indulgent and whether that matters anyway! It was noted that it’s refreshing to a practice to have time to be a bit experimental and work on things that you really want to do for personal reasons rather than feel driven to do for reasons of maintaining or developing your practice. I acknowledged that the new work came at a time when I had been experiencing some frustrations with a lack of opportunity to drive other work forward but also recognised that perhaps I hadn’t been pushing these areas as much as I might once have done partly because I felt drawn to produce some newer work. I have now started a second canvas inspired by the Peaceful Places photographs and have given this new thread the working title of The Serenity Series.
My questions about this work led then into a discussion on our intentions for our work, be that a show, representation by an agent or direct sales, and how this might affect outcomes when we begin to question where we ‘fit’ in the current art world. Those here these evening felt that attitudes may be changing as increasing financial pressures are placed on artists and institutions and that Conceptual art is not really going anywhere as a result. Maybe, it was suggested, the role of craft and skills in successfully realising the conceptual, as well as the onus being on the artist to produce work that can generate an income for itself (such as through sales of paintings and drawings) is coming back into focus. We also noted the role arts education has to play in this and that teaching practical skills may become increasingly important again in contrast to conceptually focused courses which lend themselves to a system of a conveyor belt get ‘em in, get ‘em out format.
Well, that’s your lot for March! We are looking forward to welcoming back Dave Wilkinson in April who will be sharing his work in astrophotography with us! Hope to see you then!
This month I was really looking forward to the opportunity for a freer session for a change, less constrained by attending to the specifics of the latest collaborative project, which we completed last month. I wasn’t disappointed! Though I have enjoyed the collaborations, both participating in them and being part of the discussions they generated, it was really refreshing to get ‘back to the roots’ of the group and just spend a couple of hours sharing and talking about recent work and ideas. It was good to see Colin Binns again, who fresh from a drawing session with Manchester Urban Sketchers, brought his sketchbook along.
The sketching meetings occur every three to four weeks and are connected with a worldwide network of similar groups aiming to connect and share places. They fix a location for an afternoon and get together to spend time drawing in the urban environment, sharing and discussing the outcomes at the end. Today the group met at the Manchester Museum, where many people focussed on drawing objects and artefacts, however Colin found he was looking out of the museum to the street scenes and other local buildings. He felt this was related to his architectural background and connecting back to previous practice, instead of some of his more recent painting work. When Colin had mentioned to me what he was doing in the afternoon, I decided to bring along my own recent sketches from the museum. It was interesting to compare styles and approaches, especially as we had both had very different purposes for the drawings.
Resident CRITter Kevin Linnane and Dave Wilkinson, who has been on our mailing list for some time now but for whom this was a first meeting, were especially interested as photographers in the relationship between sketching and accuracy (or lack) of detail. This led us on to a discussion about the role of the visual arts in interpreting and depicting reality as well as the artist’s decisions in emphasising certain features. It was agreed that though this might be less apparent in photography, the expressive is still present, especially when considering that the photograph is not the subject (think Magritte’s Treachery of Images). We discussed how this is sometimes achieved in post-production in photography as opposed to directly during the sketching process, which led us on to the comparative immediacy of film and digital photography, planning images and editing en situ as well as back in the studio.
Colin identified that his drawings are a method of investigating how to develop a balance between an architecturally accurate drawing style and his abstract paintings. Comparing his drawings with my own sketchbook work (completed partly as a demonstration to students and partly as ongoing research development), we agreed that though the outcomes are very different in style and approach, they exist for essentially the same reason. Colin will be using his sketches in moving towards mixed media work involving silkscreen.
As we had been looking at my sketchbook as a playground for new ideas, it was natural then to turn the discussion to my own recent, if unexpected, developments. Last week, I was delighted to hang the Peaceful Places prints at the Earth Café and I shared the selected prints with the group. I explained that as much of my work recently has been focussed on participatory events displayed (mostly) in online galleries, I had almost forgotten just how enjoyable it can be to get work out physically into a public display and that in the short time I was in the café hanging the work, I received very positive feedback which had been refreshingly welcome. This changed my thoughts around the project too; though the Peaceful Places series has been something of a tangent from my recent practice, I have enjoyed working with the images so much that I had already begun to consider making some paintings from them, and having experienced this response at the café I had been motivated to start a new piece.
The painting is a reasonably direct representation of a lotus in a Japanese Buddhist temple and I have been exploring the ‘peace’ theme further through the application of paint by employing calm, soft, almost meditative brushstrokes. I went on however, to question my motivations for this work, worrying that it was bordering on the therapeutic and explaining that I felt self-indulgent in producing it largely for personal pleasure. Though I feel strongly that I don’t want to put this new ‘tangent’ down and am enjoying making for makings sake, I also find myself questioning the purpose of it, uncertain of what it could be achieving in a wider context. Having said that, I am not able to explain why this matters and fully appreciate that the purpose of visual art is not easy to qualify, nor is it always appropriate to do so. Despite this, I seem to be challenged in applying this to my own practice. Kevin suggested that this may be partly due to education though I suspect a lot of it has to do with my wider aspirations and self-expectations as well as it being quite a shift from my other recent work.
Kevin also commented that he noticed a similarity between my recent ‘discovery’ of a new element of work within an existing theme (funnily enough, also concerned with the concept of place) and his own recognition of a previously unarticulated key thread in his work. The group all felt that there were examples present in our work of deviations occurring before we returned to a core subject. Kevin described this as being part of a process of finding out what it is you do, a recognition of things clicking into place, feeling right and thinking ‘I can just get on and do it now’.
He has recently been looking at issues relating to place and space but after looking back through some older projects has realised an ongoing interest in rituals. This is especially apparent in two projects he shared with us exploring acts of pilgrimage and performance . He is now working collaboratively on a series of photos of pillboxes in Bury St Edmonds and is currently working out the relationship between the new and old work. The pillboxes are positioned in defensive lines along the railway and I commented that this seemed to relate back to Kevin’s previous interest in ley lines while it was also noted that there were links to military rituals. Kevin hopes to open the work up following this rediscovered direction and plans to look at military bands.
In summary, February 2014 wasn't our biggest gathering, especially with the notable absence of a few familiar faces but the content of the discussion more than made up for this and it definitely felt good to get back to the CRITgroup roots in an open and meandering discussion inspired by the new work of those involved! I am certainly looking forward to seconds in March!
We were then delighted to view work by our new visitor; Colin Binns. With a background in architecture, Colin currently works from his studio in Preston and is currently engaged with developing abstract mixed media work based on an exploration of the Bridgewater Canal for an exhibition at the Bank Quay Gallery, Warrington in November 2014. Colin starts with photographic references and develops these through drawing and print media into a series of canvases. He also shared some older work with us, much of which had references to specific cities. Of particular interest was a series completed as a portrait of Blackpool, in which Colin had associated different areas in the region with the concept of Chakras. These had particularly influenced the colours used and environmental features represented in the work. Those of you who have often attended meetings, or kept a close eye on the blogs will remember the work of regular attendee, Kevin Linnane whose work has also been inspired by the canal networks in Manchester. Colin and Kevin found they had still more in common with an interest in the application of dowsing techniques to respond to the environment that inspires their work.
_Creative Reflection and Investigation Talk Group is an
informal network for local artists and designers. The group meets every other month aiming to facilitate a pooling of
professional skills and knowledge to provide motivation, support and
social contact for those pursuing a creative (visual) practice in