30 April 2014


CQ has come up with a good title for the latest challenge! It's 120cm x 50cm and the deadline is 1 July. A handling sample must be made...

Ideas for this undertaking were like buses - you wait for ages and then two come at once -
One involves hand embroidery and arose from this sample -
This piece, if finished according to plan, threatens to be too simple - dark marks on light cloth. With blue lines and red lines. And of course the dislocation (breaks in the overall pattern). And slight variations in the cloth, and possibly in the threads. That might make it less simple, more worth a closer look.

Making the "handling sample" will be instructive. If that doesn't go in the right direction, it's on to Plan B.

The other idea, Plan B, arises from sequences of museum-maze photos -
taken in the British Library foyer
taken outside Tate Britain cafe, lower floor
It would involve screen-printing the floor pattern on squares of cloth, then painting different legs on each square. Possibly there would be flecks of colour in the form of fingernail-sized bits of cloth added, sort of confetti effect ...why? I see those as energy, to match the "purpose" in the legs. How do energy and purpose relate to "dislocation" ... well, any sort of movement from here to there is a personal dislocation, is it not?

29 April 2014

New term, new courses

This term's City Lit courses were booked last summer, when April seemed forever away - the classes are "large sketchbook" and "american tap beginners". Both constituted personal challenges, to work large and to dance at all ... so it's surprising to find that "large" no longer has quite the terror it did (the portraiture course, with its larger-than-life drawings of heads, helped with that!). Which is not to say that the sketchbook course won't have its challenges along the way...

Sketchbooks were supplied and I wasn't the only one to find the size - A4 - disappointing, but it turned out that they were the wrong size, thanks to a mix-up. We had no choice but to do what we could with what we had  until an emergency airlift of larger books appeared, just before tea break, at which point we were able to razor the used pages out of the little book and paste them into the larger one. All is well, and everyone has an extra sketchbook.

The session started with charcoal drawing of an object placed in the middle of the table, and other objects were gradually added - to the table and to our drawings -

After the charcoal, layers of ink wash - at first very dilute to cover everything but the lightest areas, then gradually darker -
The books were left to dry during the tea break, leaving less than an hour (of a 3-hour class) for the cutting, gluing, drawing, ink-washing, and rejigging that was to come.

First the drawings were glued into the larger sketchbooks, leaving a few pages blank at the start -
Then we chose a section to cut out and glue to the page below. The original drawing looks the same, apart from a slight "edge" round the cutout section, but the effect when you turn the page can be surprising -
I also cut out from the other page, having drawn in the rest of the red teapot ... which led to a desire to fill in the other side of the drawing, which showed through the hole in the paper -
first spread in the big sketchbook
The original drawing, enlarged -
second spread in the big sketchbook
 The original cut-out, with the still-life redrawn from a slightly different perspective -
third spread in the big sketchbook
I really liked just following instructions, not knowing what is to come. Maybe the drawing wasn't as free as I would have liked ... something to keep in mind next time. Because you're working to instructions, you have other things to focus on than the usual things that niggle (and stop) you - and having to work fast to get to a satisfactory stopping point (or to get "as much done" as you want) before the end of class is also good for not fussing and for generating surprises.

After a break, much trepidation on going to the tap class. It turned out to be a workout for legs, and for my ailing, failing, flailing movement memory. And both my left feet thought it was quite fun.

Jolly hard work it was, though - without being able to write anything down, I have little idea of what happened - as soon as another new thing was presented, the previous one went out the window! It seems impossible that by the end of the course we'll be doing a routine something like this -
City Lit American tap, one of several videos of former classes
New vocabulary - time-step, ball change, shuffle, a few more step names I can't exactly remember... Fortunately there are lots of basic tap steps videos out there (of varying quality of course) for quiet, self-paced revision - and note-making.

28 April 2014

Monday miscellany

150 years of John Lews - the third floor of the Oxford Street branch will be showing an exhibition of the history of the firm from 3 May for seven weeks. The roof will be open to the public. More info here. Things have changed since the times in the picture - the store was hit by a bomb in 1940 and most of the street has been rebuilt -
Much the same view (via)


The Advanced Style blog, launched by Ari Seth Cohen in 2008, is much loved for celebrating the fashion flair of ladies of a certain age. Its influence has, at least in part, led to brands ranging from Lanvin to American Apparel using older models. This spring sees a documentary film to accompany the site, following several AS favourites as they pull together their outfits. [The film premiers in the UK at the Curzon Mayfair on 6 May.] One woman makes eyelashes out of her own hair; another designs trousers to put over her leg brace. They are united in their determined pursuit of personal style – something that is to be admired at any age.

Scene from Advanced Style's documentary
No age limit: scene from Advanced Style's documentary (via)


Daily painting - a 64-day project by Christopher Baker -

See some of the results via youtube or on his website. The exhibition is at the Kevis House Gallery, Petworth, 3-17 May and at the nearby Moncrief-Bray gallery, 4-24 May.


30 years since the Aids virus was discovered, the public seems not to know much about the disease, especially men aged 16-24, finds a survey by the National Aids Trust. People's understanding hasn't kept pace with medical advances, for instance emergency treatment PEP. If a sufferer is doing well on treatment, the chance of passing on HIV through unprotected sex is virtually zero. Nearly 100,000 people in Britain are living with HIV, more than a fifth of whom are unaware that they are infected; in 2012, there were 6360 new HIV diagnoses in Britain - and of the 35 million people worldwide living with HIV/Aids, 69% are in sub-Saharan Africa.


Cheap food - what's the real cost? 90% of the world's soya and a third of cereal is fed to factory-farmed animals - whereas these crops could feed millions of starving people. Cows and sheep release more than a third of the world's methane, which is 23 times as warming as CO2 ... industrial farming is causing ecological meltdown. In May, Friends of the Earth is running a Meat-Free May campaign - information and fundraising packs will be available soon from their website. As the saying goes, "every little helps", including just cutting down on meat consumption - a quarter of adults in the UK say they eat less meat now than a year ago, and one in six young people doesn't eat any meat at all. The internet is stuffed full of vegetarian recipes - here, for instance -


"This was believed to be a sheep grown on a plant from a melon-like seed.
Introduced to England by Sir John Mandeville in the fourteenth century,
an example of this legendary 
zoophyte can be found at Lambeth P

Adam Dant's "Vegetable Lamb of Tartary" is part of his set of chiaroscuro woodcuts, "Ten Creatures of London Legend". 
The phantom chicken has been seen as recently as 1970 in Pond Square, Highgate.
Other subjects include a 12 foot fossilised Irish giant and spring-heeled Jack.


Beginner's guide to north london cultural gems - here - useful for residents who haven't been out of doors for some years, too. (There's a south london guide as well.)

For instance ... the Zabludovicz Collection has been within walking distance since 2007, and has a cafe, and this is the first I've heard of it?


(via The Londonist)

27 April 2014

Stationary video?

If you wiggle the wheel on the computer mouse back and forth, the pictures seem to move - whereas if you use the slider bar, you don't get that "exciting" effect -

They were taken at London Print Studio on the Harrow Road - I liked how the "strange" black figures inside the window linked to the black street furniture, to the variety of people passing by, and to the colourful shops beyond.
One of Ron King's characters from Anansi Company, Circle Press, 1992
The current exhibition (till 14 June), Circle and Arc, shows work from Ron King's Circle Press, which was set up in 1967 and has been at the forefront of the development of artists book publication for over five decades. Members of Arc, Victoria Bean, Karen Bleitz,, Sam Winston, worked closely with Circle before branching out with their own press.
Work by Ron KingVictoria BeanKaren Bleitz, and Sam Winston, from Circle Press and Arc Editions – and their collaborations with artists, writers and poets.

Outing to Hampstead

It was Easter Monday and kids in punch-out-and-fold-together paper helmets were being Eggsplorers, hunting "eggs" in the grounds of Fenton House, in its blossom-laden, bluebell-carpeted, 300-year-old orchard for instance -

Fenton House has several art collections, including Stuart embroideries, which you can see here, and is also known for its musical instrument collection (concerts are often held in the house). This lute was made in 1580 and repaired recently and it was decided to leave it open - how often do you get to see the inside of a lute?
From the balconies at the top of the house you get a marvellous view across Hampstead and London - how different it must have looked from the very top of the hill when the house was built, at the end of the 17th century - were there large trees then?
Inscribed bricks from various eras can be seen - perhaps workmen came up to the roof to have their lunch, and couldn't resist leaving their mark. The earliest have survived the best - 1693 at top right -
On the way down the hill, we found this tile under the bar of a pub -
and a sign on quaint little Flask Walk stating the obvious? -
"This is a window display"

26 April 2014

Walking around London

With the upcoming tube strikes, Londoners will be walking more. If past experience is anything to go by, getting a bus at rush hour will be tricky at best. But London carries on...

 A new tube map shows the walking times between stations.  It's handy to have them line by line too -
How did they work out the walking times ... possibly from the fast-walker times given by tfl journey planner? The journey planner helps you find walking routes between tube stations, between postcodes, between addresses, between places of interest.

Trying this out for a journey I've had to make several times in past tube strikes, from home to BMA House, I see there's now a way to get to Euston Station from here by overground - it involves 3 changes and the journey will take 1 hour 14 minutes. Experience proves it can be walked in 1 hour 5 minutes, so why not get some healthy exercise instead, and feel virtuous striding through the gridlock rather than being sardined into trying-to-cope trains?
To find walking routes via the journey planner, unclick various transport options under "travel preferences" on the right -
Then click the "Cycling & Walking" tab and fill in the box with your maximum walking time, and choose your walking speed -

In trying to research that how they might have worked out the walking routes, I came across an app called City Mapper - "so slick it makes oil jealous":

"CityMapper is essentially what official app ‘My TfL’ ought to be. Plug in any journey, and it’ll generate a plethora of ways to travel. Want to walk? It’ll show you a route, estimate the time it’ll take and how many calories you’ll burn. It’ll do the same for cycling, offering you both ‘fast’ and ‘quiet’ routes – or if you’re feeling lazy, an estimated taxi fare is also provided.

"For public transport, it colour codes the tube icons and embeds bus route numbers in the overview, so you can see at a glance the journey routes it’s suggesting."

It's free - and it's now on my new phone. Very 21st century, wot?

Which brings us to another question - what's in it for the developers of free apps? Is this simply an act of generosity ... are they building up karma? Or is there a hidden agenda?

Daily painting continues - the square canvas

It's about trying things out ... but I'm finding it slightly difficult to think  of what to do once one "phase" has come to an end. In a way, it's easier having a subject to grapple with. Playing is hard work!

Materia medica

Everyone has their favourite folk remedy for a cold or its symptoms. Mine is steam - inhaling steam. But not the clumsy, wearying way ... the large bowl of boiling water and towel over the head - that's too steamy, too claustrophobic ... no picture is used here: they are all too depressing... 

My steam inhalation is portable and (almost) discreet - all it needs is a cup of steaming liquid, held in one hand and covered by the other -
Lift cup, insert nose into aperture, take several deep breaths. Rest a bit (have a sip of the tea or coffee?), repeat. (Have tissues handy.)

A systematic review in 2006 found "insufficient evidence" for the efficacy of steam as a treatment for cold - the review included a grand total of 6 studies, some with positive results and some negative. The review concluded that steam treatment is "not recommended" - but hey, it costs nothing and has no adverse effects (unless you spill the hot liquid, always a risk with a cup of tea or coffee). And if it makes you feel better, who's to say it's not working?

25 April 2014

Revisiting "Seepage" and erasure

"Seepage" was the result of many hours in the letterpress room at Camberwell, wrestling with keeping turned-over type properly upright so that the blanks would print cleanly - onto tracing paper, which is not very receptive of ink, making it slow to dry. I printed lots of pages, each by each, and put together a handful of books.

It - or rather, all my remaining copies - came out of the drawer in order to be entered for an exhibition about "text". Of course, with books, one big question is always - "If people can't pick them up and look through them, how do you display them to show them to advantage, to give a sense of what's inside?" I got as far as realising the spines could be clamped upright so the pages fell open, and my son suggested getting a block of foam and slashing it to hold the spines, which works brilliantly -
Pity the photo isn't as lovely as the real thing ... this is about my fourth try, in different lighting conditions. And there always has to be an artist's statement; I tried to be straightforward and use short words -

As the text of “Seepage” itself gradually reveals, its obliteration doesn’t obscure its meaning but rather is a kind of bandage for preserving it. Instead of being blinded, the obliterated words are kept safe, and the words that remain on the page are those “that have seeped out”.

Printing started with a page of blanks (the underside of the metal that carries each letter), which were gradually turned over to print subsequent pages. As the blanks are turned over and the letters are uncovered, the words seep in, developing different meanings as they become more plentiful.

The text is by Mary Reufle, a poet whose book work consists of erasure - obliterating text to derive new meanings.

When not displayed, each "Seepage" book fits into a sleeve that is also made of translucent paper.

Working with the book format both sculpturally and conceptually, Margaret Cooter subverts the function of "the everyday book" with arrangements of text, erasure, or over-writing.

(Actually that last para, written somewhat tongue in cheek, could happily be the agenda for a good few years' work.)

It was the fickle finger of fate that put Mary Reufle's essay on how she works into my bag on the day I went to the letterpress room to start a project. I was just fooling around, using this text, and it turned out to be perfect for this process - was it the text that led to the format, or was I planning to do some other sort of erasure? It's all of two years ago (only?) ... who can remember?

In any case, it still intrigues me that the work is self-referential - rather like having a camera on view in a photograph. So I dug it out and sent it along, without great expectations, but with pleasure of revisiting it - and discovering the recent work of Mary Reufle, an erasure called "Melody", which you can see here (which also talks about other artists using erasure):

"To flip through the pages of Melody is an intimate experience. The hand of the artist is in evidence on every page–in the smears of white-out, the fingerprint smudges, the playful, colorful swirls, the vexed, heavy black marks that transform text into a gaping void."

24 April 2014

Poetry Thursday - Peridot by Mary Reufle

I awoke in an ecstasy.
The sky was the color of a cut lime
that had sat in the refrigerator
in a plastic container
for thirty-two days.
Fact-checkers, check.
I am happy.
Notice I speak in complete sentences.
Something I have not done since birth.
And the sky responds.
by Mary Reufle; from bostonreview.net, which in a review of her "Trances of the Blast" goes on to elucidate the poem:

"A clich├ęd scene of lyric immediacy, an awakening to ecstasy, gives way to a comic comparison of the sky’s gem-like hue to moldering produce. Jackson cites Michael Warner’s description of lyric as an “image of absolute privacy,” self-contained and inviolate, and it would be hard to imagine a scene more freeze-framed than this one. But the “fact-checkers” throw us off the lyric scent. Self-expression reduced to its simplest emotional form—“I am happy”—becomes a syntactic joke: the injunction “Notice I speak in complete sentences” is immediately followed by a fragment, a dependent clause. Meanwhile, the fact-checkers propel the poem into the realm of public discourse, where they testify to the veracity of the speaker’s recollections about decomposing limes. It is an odd and seemingly trivial conversation, aware of the responses of the readership and the sky alike, with no discernible emotional end."

Who made your clothes?

Fashion Revolution Day is a commemoration of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013 - it aims to raise awareness and catalyse change

"Who made your clothes?" is the basic question. The website prompts you to
-Be curious
-Find out
-Do something

It seems important to do "one small thing - today". I decided to Be Curious, and Find (something ... what?) Out.

First I asked google "where are marks and spencers clothes made" and got this answer -
Their clothes are manufactured by Dewhirst, whose many factories were moved to new plants in Indonesia and Morocco to protect margins after many challenges hit the textile and apparel industry.

The company's site has a page on "social compliance", including this information -
"We provide each worker with free nutritional meals and medical support. Via a community health clinic founded in conjunction with Marks & Spencer, we have pioneered projects to cut rates of tuberculosis and to reduce infant mortality through education and support for female employees."

So far so good. Same question about John Lewis ... Seems they are looking to bring back textile manufacture to the UK as part of their "made in the UK" campaign - aiming to increase sales of British-made products to 15% by next year.

(This move to "onshore manufacturing" is as much due to rising labour costs in the far east as to a change in consumer preference, though the clothing factory disaster must have gone some way to raise social awareness. One of the problems with bringing manufacturing back to the UK is a skills shortage... but Jaeger - a very British firm that has been manufacturing offshore since 2000 - too is planning to do so for some garments, moving most of the rest out of China to countries closer to home, such as Portugal and Tunisia.)

All very interesting ... as was the trawl through my collection of labels saved from recycled garments, finding ones with "Made in..." for the photo. The jeans I'm wearing today were made in the USA and the top was made in Austria ... but under what conditions?

Ethical shopping ... what a minefield ... the more you look into it, the fewer easy answers there are...

23 April 2014

Colour on a grey day, thanks to Matisse

Within days of the exhibition opening we went to see Matisse's Cut Outs at Tate Modern. It was wonderfully colourful - of course - and quite lifted the spirits on a rainy day!

The famous book Jazz - which was based on theatres and circuses, not on music - was laid out around one room, with the original papercuts above. Matisse was disappointed with the way the printing lost the contrast of different surfaces layered on top of each other; he said that printing "removes their sensitivity", and it's interesting to be able to compare and try to see his point of view. The book has 20 illustrations, and 146 pages - the rest are filled with large script, his hand-written notes, made as he worked -
page-spread from Jazz (1943) (via)
That falling figure appears in other work - for instance my favourite of the prints available in the shop -
The Ascher scarves seen in the Artists Textiles show at the Fashion and Textile Museum were also at the Tate -
L'escarpe (1947) (via)
Matisse would compose his cut-outs directly on the wall of his studio in Vence, southern France, and he originally conceived of this group as one whole composition. In the exhibition they were framed separately, most shown together on one wall.

The Blue Nudes have a room of their own. Four were made quickly, but one was the result of lots of experimenting.
Cut 'in a single movement' (via the BBC's review, where you can see a video of the show)
"The Bees" (summer, 1948) though made of little squares, has the sense of captured movement and flow that exists in his freely-cut works -
"There are Matisse miracles here, some of them surprising" says this review
Some of the works are very large, "Mermaid and Parakeet" for example -
All of the works are wonderfully colourful, and the negative space is easily overlooked but crucial.

After getting an eyeful, we headed over the Millennium Bridge, only to find our eyes fixed on the colourful umbrellas among the crowd of black ones -