Painting the Tiles

This year, the fabulous Made in Roath festival have received funding from the Welsh Arts Council, and invited artists to apply to run workshops or exhibitions throughout the festival. I decided to expand on the theme of my last year’s workshop, using one of Picasso’s quotes: ‘To draw, you must close your eyes and sing,’ as a way to encourage visitors to overcome inhibitions about painting and drawing.

I will be using the backs of old carpet tiles that were in my studio when I moved in, as, when primed with emulsion, they make ideal painting surfaces. So that is what myself and a fellow artist have been doing in preparation for the big weekend of 21/22 October. We will be inviting visitors to take a tile and paint it with eyes closed while singing. We are hoping to create a colourful Art Path around the space, continuing outside into the community.

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Ibrahim El-Salahi: A Visionary Modernist

I first came across this artist at Tate Modern in 2013, surprised that this was the first exhibition there dedicated to African Modernism. Ibrahim El-Salahi has recently had a solo exhibition at the Ashmolean, Oxford where he now lives.

Ibrahim El-Salahi, ‘Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams I’ 1961–5

I stood in front of this 8 foot square painting: Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams I

(1961–5) for a long time, entranced by the otherworldly beings that coalesced into a haunting, multi-layered composition. It reminded me of elements of abstract expressionists and surrealists I admired, but with a potent style of its own. There seemed to be an integration of Islamic, African, Arab and Western artistic traditions, with the utilization of spaces and forms in Arabic calligraphy that I read were woven into memories of El-Salahi’s childhood in Sudan where his father ran a Qur’anic school in his house.

Interestingly, working closer with text brought a breakthrough for El-Salahi. As he began breaking down the letters to find what gave them meaning, animal forms, human forms and plant forms began to emerge from the once-abstract symbols. “That was when I really started working. Images just came, as though I was doing it with a spirit I didn’t know I had,” he says.

An early work, exhibited at the Ashmolean, represents the time when the artist was finding his own visual narrative, developing his own artistic identity. In Untitled, 1957 (below), he paints his own face, influenced by abstract writing and African and European visual culture, continuing to develop this style in his 1961 portrait  Self-Portrait of Suffering.

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                                                                                                     Self-Portrait of Suffering,1961

Other figures in El-Salahi’s works come into existence through an intuitive artistic process relating to the artist’s inner self rather than the outer world, the faces suggesting a spiritual dimension where human existence is linked to a world of dreams and meditations.

 

Pen and ink drawings on watercolour paper.

Meditative drawings that El-Salahi has made on envelopes and medicine packets when suffering from physical pain.

 

In the Oxford exhibition, El-Salahi’s works are placed in dialogue with specially selected ancient Sudanese objects from the Ashmolean’s collection that reflect El-Salahi’s use of rich earthy tones, a conscious attempt to create a Sudanese aesthetic.  Examples of pottery, decorated with images of the people, plants and animals of the region, were chosen together with the artist.

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                          ‘Untitled’, Ibrahim El-Salahi, 1967                ‘No shade but his shade’, 1968

The exhibition also featured works from El-Salahi’s Tree Series, the tree being a major motif in his work. He became interested in the haraz tree, an acacia indigenous to Sudan that grows in the Nile valley, when exploring the nomadic nature of Sudanese identity. The haraz becomes a symbol of the Sudanese and their resilience. It is uniquely contradictory, remaining leafless and bare during the rainy season and being the only plant that blossoms in the dry season. El-Salahi uses the tree metaphorically as a link between heaven and earth, creator and created.

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https://www.ashmolean.org/event/ibrahim-el-salahi-a-sudanese-artist-in-oxford

Inspiring Lines

4th – 28th September 2018

Cardiff Print Workshop have collaborated with local poets Will Dean Ford and Hilary Griffiths to create an exhibition for Llandough Hospital’s HeARTh Gallery. Workshop members have chosen a poem or line to use as inspiration for their prints which include linocut, collagraph, cyanotype and monoprints.

Opening is: 5th September 2018 at 11am. Exhibition continues until the 28th September 2018.

sallywilliams.All Sweetness and Light

sallywilliams.Jekyll and Hyde

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creative Sessions at the YMCA

Recently, I have been asked to run a couple of taster sessions for YMCA Cardiff Design For Life. The learners were keen to work with clay, as this is something they hadn’t tried before.

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Clay is so tactile, soothing and grounding. Several learners commented that they had come reluctantly to the session, thinking it would be ‘boring’, but they had actually found it ‘relaxing and enjoyable’. The time passed very quickly, and seemed to open up a space for discussion about significant things. I asked the participants to create something that represents them, and one man sculpted miniature versions of the tools that he had used as a woodcarver. He included a mallet, two types of gauge with handle, and his unfinished sculpture.

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Another learner had the use of only one hand due to a stroke, but was able to create two pieces that were meaningful to him. An ashtray, signifying his struggle to give up smoking, transformed into a clam shell into which he inserted a perfect pearl.

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we pass the clay from hand to hand, raw and smooth,

shaping something unseen, something buried.

something is bypassed, something is regained:

an ashtray becomes a clam shell with a pearl,

a woodcarver recreates his tools.

the sea washes up a shoe, stones for skimming,

a rabbit’s remains

Exhibition: Pioneering Abstract Artists

The exhibition Surface Work (11 April – 16 June 2018 at the Victoria Miro, Mayfair) was a rich feast, with abstract work by more than 50 artists, all women, from five continents, spanning every decade between 1918 and 2018.

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I knew of some of the artists who have “shaped and transformed, and continue to influence and expand, the language and definition of abstract painting”: Helen Frankenthaler, Yayoi Kusama, Lee Krasner, Agnes Martin, Mira Schendel, Gillian Ayres to name a few, but the majority were new to me, and it was revelatory to ‘discover’ so many artists who had been there for years, producing fantastic work in obscurity.

The exhibition gave me the opportunity to see work I had only seen small reproductions of in books such as one of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Nets.  Kusama began painting the Nets in the early sixties shortly after she moved to New York, living in poverty until she began to sell work through a dealer. I love the intensity and repetition of the repeating loops that seem to expand and contract like a murmuration. There is a tension between a random and systematic aesthetic. Apparently, Kusama would paint the Nets for uninterrupted sessions of 40 to 50 hours as a way to channel and contain her mania. She has repeatedly revisited and expanded this body of work throughout her career.

 

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Infinity Net (HNBKY) made in 2012

 

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 Kusama with early ‘Infinity Net’ paintings in her New York studio, 1961

 

Also immersed in the tradition of the sublime is Loie Hollowell’s work. Link Lingam (yellow, green, blue, purple, pink) 2018, has an intriguing undulating surface that folds into the design giving it a sculptural element.

Loie Hollowell

 

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Jessica Warboys’ large canvases are ‘painted’ by the sea shifting and scattering mineral pigments into them. The coast and landscape are a source of inspiration and influence for Warboys, who draws upon pagan history and folklore in her films and performances. She had a solo exhibition at Tate St Ives recently that included Hill of Dreams, a film that draws from Welsh fantasy writer Arthur Machen’s book of the same name.

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See here for the online catalogue with overview of every artist.

 

 

Processions

The Women’s Arts Association has collaborated with Oasis refugee centre, Women’s Aid, and other groups to produce 31 squares for a banner to be carried through the streets of Cardiff  on Sunday 10 June. PROCESSIONS celebrates the fight for suffrage and expresses what it means to be a woman today. I’m proud to be a part of this inter-generational project that celebrates women’s progression towards equality, strength and cultural representation.

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My square with cyanotype centre.