Breathing Space

Recently, I have been working with the charity Valley and Vale Arts on their Social Prescribing project Breathing Space in Pontypridd.

It is a free, weekly, person-centred creative session for adults experiencing stress, anxiety and/or depression. Short mindfulness exercises help individuals to relax and find their creative flow. The work created can be about a real life experience or abstract. Meeting other people with similar experiences helps group members to not feel judged or isolated. In the sessions participants become artists, and leave their diagnosis behind, have fun and remember who they still are. It offers a strength-based approach with the focus on wellness. The group supports each other in finding their own solutions, and by celebrating each other’s success.

 

 

This week, we created a collaborative poem, each participant contributing a line after free-writing on the theme of Journeys.

Challenges, meeting new people

In my heart I feel the forest call me

Emotional through life with many ups and downs

today will be OK.

Calmness, support and love.

Going there to find here

Through falling, I see your light.

I’m listening to my heart.

I’m learning that the journey never ends

because the journey is life.

Sometimes we don’t know the way ahead,

but we keep moving. Step by step.

 

 

 

Exhibition in the Hearth Gallery

Opening of the Kings Road Artists exhibition in the Hearth Gallery in Llandough. It’s wonderful that there is a gallery in the hospital that patients, staff and visitors can visit on their way to work or appointments, or as a break from the ward environment.

 

 

My three paintings in the exhibition.

 

For contributing artists see here.

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In the Studio

Two new pieces that are to be exhibited in the Hearth Gallery, Llandough from 9th July – August 1st, along with work from the other artists working at Kings Road Yard Studios.

Working on the backs of reappropriated carpet tiles, I begin with some expressive mark-making using gloss house paint. This is viscous enough to ‘write’ over the canvas using an old paintbrush to dribble the paint Jackson Pollock-style. When dry, a layer of dark paint is applied, and then partially scraped away to reveal the final, textured shapes. This sgraffitio technique is more widely used in pottery, glass and candle making, but surrealist artists such as Max Ernst experimented with it in the 20s and 30s as a way to explore freedom of expression, randomness of gestures and creative use of materials.

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Spirit Horses  – Mixed Media on Tile 50×50

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Guardians  – Mixed Media on Tile 50×50

Intuitive Collages

In this week’s Creative Wellbeing session, I asked participants to look though piles of old magazines, choosing and cutting out images that appealed to them, while trying not to think too much about why. The collection of images and/or words, could then be arranged and stuck down in a way that is pleasing to each individual.

One participant kindly brought in a pile of wallpaper samplers she got free from a home store. Being of light plywood, these were ideal for creating the collages on, and provided a bold background that may or may not have influenced the choice of images.

 

Samples of participants’ collages

The cutting and gluing and arranging of images was conducive to relaxation and general discussion, whereas going straight into a writing exercise can be inhibiting. Time seemed to pass remarkably fast, or rather, was forgotten about; a good sign of absorption and enjoyment.

Towards the end of the session, participants reflected on how they felt about the images chosen when they were assembled, and how themes had emerged, sometimes quite surprising, and sometimes providing fresh ways of looking at the self. It was suggested that the collages could be added to, and reformatted over time, and agreed that they would make a great stimulus for free writing if there had been time.

 

Artists Apart

Two exhibitions in Swansea this weekend: Sarah Poland who has a residency in GS Gallery, and Frances Richards at the Glynn Vivian.

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Sarah Poland’s mark making using inks made from oak galls has a zen-like quality. I love how she combines this with photographic images she calls ‘moon-drawings’, made by using a long exposure on full-moon nights in the woods.

Oak Gall Ink – nick-named Ink of poets and Kings – is a very expensive, beautiful, indelible black ink. But for me, the process from start to finish, from gathering the oak galls in an ancient woodland in west Wales, to making the ink, to using it in my work is an important process in the work. At the very least because I can control and play with the viscosity and texture of the material. The work is about exploring drawing through making and using oak gall ink as much as it is about the place and the experience of where they were found. I am working it on paper, canvas and gesso panel.

-Sarah Poland

Moon drawings and oak gall ink.

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Sarah Poland with work made during the residency

Frances Richards: An Artist Apart at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery – 15 June – 1 September 2019, concentrates on this visionary artist’s  embroidery collages, drawings and monotypes, executed during the war and previously unseen until now, as well as the figurative and flower paintings of her later years.

Richards studied at the Royal College of Art from 1924 to 1927, specialising in tempera and fresco painting. She admired the early Italian renaissance painters Giotto, Piero della Francesca and Fra Angelico; the British artists Samuel Palmer, William Blake and David Jones; and the poetry of the Psalms, the Song of Solomon, George Herbert and Arthur Rimbaud. On display at the GV gallery is the collection of her Les Illuminations – illustrations to prose poems by Arthur Rimbaud lithographs.

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Dawn
1973–5

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Bottom
1973–5

Bottom 1973-5 by Frances Richards 1903-1985

Bottom
1973–5

An Artist Apart highlights the perspective of a hugely gifted female artist and how she responded to the dark mood of wartime Britain.

 

 

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Frances Richards, On Being Alone, 1963, Watercolour on board

 

Chance and Creativity

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Using the notion of chance in art and writing  has been a useful and popular tool in creative wellbeing sessions. Participants like the way feelings can be expressed indirectly, for example by using pre-existing text and cutting it up to form their own poem, or drawing with eyes closed.

This group piece was created from pages of a picture book. All participants were given the same photocopied page and circled words they wished to use, blacking out the rest of the text. On another occasion, a dice was used to choose a word from each sentence on the page.

Using these processes introduces an element of fun as well as chance, allowing artists to bypass inhibitions of the conscious mind. It was interesting to see the way that different people working with the same limited text produced different tones and moods depending on how the words were placed.

The technique was promoted by Tristan Tzara, a Dada artist in 1920s Paris. Here are his instructions:

To Make a Poem

Take a newspaper
Take a pair of scissors
Choose from the paper an article as long as you are planning to make your poem
Cut the article out
Next carefully cut out each of the words that make up the article and put them in a bag
Shake gently
Next take each clipping out one after another in the order in which they left the bag
Copy conscientiously
The poem will look like you
And there you are — an infinitely original author endowed with a charming sensibility though beyond the understanding of the vulgar.

Hans Arp was another founding member of Dadaism. The Dada artists experimented with new approaches to art that could undermine the existing cultural mentality and confused logic that had led the world to the edge of annihilation. “Dada aimed to destroy the reasonable deceptions of man and recover the natural and unreasonable order.” – Arp.

Arp used chance through methods such as circling words at random in a newspaper, or drawing them from a hat. Similarly, William Burrough’s use of cut-up composition, and some of Bowie’s lyrics.

“What I’ve used it for, more than anything else, is igniting anything that might be in my imagination. It can often come up with very interesting attitudes to look into. I tried doing it with diaries and things, and I was finding out amazing things about me and what I’d done and where I was going.” – David Bowie

Bernadette Mayer is a wonderfully innovative contemporary poet using chance techniques. Mayer’s record-keeping and use of stream-of-consciousness narrative are two trademarks of her writing, though she is also known for her work with form and mythology. In addition to the influence of her textual-visual art and journal-keeping, Mayer’s poetry is widely acknowledged as some of the first to speak accurately and honestly about the experience of motherhood. For examples of her writing experiments see here.

Emma Kunz – Visionary Drawings

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The Serpentine gallery in Hyde park is currently showing 40 rarely seen drawings of visionary artist, healer and researcher Emma Kunz (1892–1963).

This is an important exhibition because it showcases the work of one of the pioneers of abstract art, providing insight into extraordinary, and largely unacknowledged creative innovations that were occurring in the middle of the nineteenth century.

In 1906, Hilma Af Klint from Sweden verifiably created her first abstract painting – at least four years before the ‘founding fathers’ of modern painting  (such as Wassily Kandinsky.)  Georgiana Houghton in England, and Emma Kunz in Switzerland were also developing their own abstract visual language, highly charged with meaning. All three women strove to make manifest immaterial messages from higher, spiritual realms. As Althaus et al state in their introduction to the new publication: World Receivers:  “the analysis of their spectacular work, challenges us to question previously binding narratives about the genesis of abstract art in the modern era.”

 

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Emma Kunz in Waldstadt

Emma Kunz used radiesthesia as a drawing technique, where she would pose a question to her divining pendulum and discover the answer within the geometric drawing she made from recording the pendulum’s swings, starts and stops onto graph paper. She was known to work continuously on each drawing for periods that could stretch over twenty-four hours.Kunz sought to gain a greater understanding of nature and the world through these drawings, and her questions to the pendulum ranged from the political to the philosophical and personal.

Emma Kunz is the only one of the three artists mentioned above who did not receive any artist training. It was not until the age of forty-six that she began to produce large scale drawings on almost square-cut graph paper. She drew to explore the laws and forces of nature’s regularities. The starting point was her own body, as well as her concentrated attention to nature. She approached her healing practice in the same way. By completely surrendering herself to the energy flows, she directed the damaging forces onto herself, and transformed these into healing energies. There are astonishing reports of her healing successes. (World Receivers).

She used the pendulum as a stimulant. She often recounted that ordered systems of points had appeared before her inner eye. In tireless work, she expanded on a basic pattern, enriching it, consulting the pendulum and inner visions. At times it seemed as if the picture was completing itself outside of her own consciousness, as if her hands were being guided. When a work was finished, the painter stood in front of it filled with wonder and described what had been found – returning from distant depths, curiously astonished. That interaction between consciousness, conscious behaviour, and almost unconscious listening to the primal roots of existence (Muttergrunden), which is only found among genuine artists. (Henry Widmer: in Du Die Zeitschrift der Kultur)

 

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