Gorgeous summer venues

I recently drove to the other side of the country – almost into France – to install some work in Godinton House & Gardens contemporary sculpture exhibition ’12, Ashford, Kent TN23 3BP.  An annual exhibition in a very grand setting, the gardens are extensive and beautifully landscaped by Head Gardener, Viv Hunt.  It was a long round trip, but probably worth the effort to show in such a gorgeous venue.  The show runs until August 12th, open daily 2-5.30pm.  (Entrance £5 per adult,, children free).  Yesterday, I set up at another great venue in the opposite end of Southern England – Binham Grange, Old Cleeve, Minehead, Somerset TA24 6HX.  Below are details of the Binham Grange Exhibition.  A mixed exhibition by Gallery4Art (of which I’m a member) set in two large barns and gardens filled with a range of contemporary art, it’s a visual feast in a lovely location – well worth a visit.

Update 19/8/12

Having been manning the show and running a workshop there last week, I took some pics of Gallery4Art’s Summer Exhibition at Binham Grange:




I’ve been a bit obsessed with Diatoms of late.  Sucked into their microcosmic world, it’s become a running theme – versions of diatoms floating and not floating – made of recycled steel, wire, plastic, twine, bottle tops and other found materials.  I was thinking about an interesting form for a prototype I wanted to make for a Scraptors project late last year.  I had also been previously donated some beautiful large pink glass baubles – cast offs by Sonja Klinger (a glass artist I know) and was looking to incorporate these in a set of work.   Something nest-like, primal and related.   I was looking at some Ernst Haeckel illustrations I’ve always loved, together with old sketchbook drawings.  Haeckel’s intricate drawings of strange and fantastical plant forms and microscopic creatures have inspired me in the past in my own work and art teaching projects with children, though I hadn’t fully investigated their scientific content.  The diatom illustrations struck me more than ever before – colourful, ephemeral, sculptural, primal and reminiscent of so many simple life forms and my growing collection of scrap bicycle wheels, tyres and bottle tops etc – a perfect union.  After researching the topic, I was hooked – endless possibilities of woven, kaleidoscopic forms.  Diatoms live up to their name, with diametrically opposed characteristics and dichotomies that are fascinating.  They have inspired others, but still more have never heard of them.

Diatoms are microscopic organisms living in aquatic environments, now sadly becoming endangered, yet essential to our survival as they provide over 35% of our oxygen.  Beautiful, primal structures hailing back to the Jurassic era, if not earlier, they are symbols of nature’s cyclical persistence, though threatened by man’s intervention.  Just yellowish algae to the human eye, close up they are living glass sculptures, coated in iridescent silicate shells, similar to glass.   Shaped mainly as circular, ribbons, zig zags or stellates, their shells display the most incredible range of raised frustules and cavities.  They are single celled, yet multiply by splitting in two.  Because their shells are heavy, there’s a risk of sinking, yet they need to be on the surface to photosynthesise, so they blow themselves up like helium balloons, to counteract this and to float.  Some can move via flagellation.  They provide food directly or indirectly to numerous animals.  When they die, their shells float to the bottom and become diatomaceous earth – forming a major part of the earth’s limestone, and used by us as diatomite (and here’s another twist – this is used as insecticide and a component of dynamite).  We use diatoms to monitor environmental conditions…

I offered a diatom-based design, amongst other drawings/ideas of cocoons, nests and eggs, to our Scraptors group as one of a set of prints to try to raise funds for a planned ‘Scraptorzoic Era’ eco sculpture installation at The Magdalen Project.  This led to more diatom drawings and sculpture designs incorporating the pink glass baubles.  The first floating diatom prototype sculpture I made (using recycled materials) had a tractor inner tyre tube as its basis for floating.  However, the Magdalen Project felt it wasn’t appropriate as it contained friable plastic  – not condusive to their eco farm – and the tyre would need maintenance in future years.  Having taken several days to make it and with the agreement of Rachel Macleay (fellow Scraptor who’d added some wire & plastic tentacles as a collaborative piece) and her partner Paul (Scraptor) I put it forward for Bristol’s Big Green Week, rather than let it lie listless and wasted in my garden, together with newer alternative designs utilising recycled materials.  Accepted as a Capital Green Week Artist, I was kindly offered several orange life rings by Bristol’s Harbour Master and ended up making 8 more floating Diatoms and 1 non-floating (with glass bauble) for part of my exhibition, amongst other new work.  Initially exhibited on the harbour by the Arnolfini, these Diatoms are now floating in London’s various Canal Festivals this summer as part of the Rubbish Art Project – being moved to each site in turn.  I’ve just made 2 more Diatoms (a little sketchy due to time limitations) to complete a set of 3 non-floating ones – each with a central pink glass bauble for the Devon Recycled Sculpture Trail – showing at Teignmouth seafront until September.  I may build on these in the future.  The glass baubles seem appropriate – silica being in intrinsic element of diatoms.  I will hopefully be making others – different and exclusively suitable for the Magdalen Project requirements (with no plastic content) – later this year for the Scraptors’ project.

London Canal Festivals – floating sculptures

This week I went to London with a packed truck filled with 9 large Diatom sculptures, Anthony Wilson’s Egret sculpture, my dog and a friend to install the work for a series of London Festivals over the summer.  My Diatoms will form part of a collection of floating sculptures along the canal for the ‘Rubbish Art Project’ – work made from recycled materials.  The work will travel along the canal to different sites to tie in with each Festival.  Initially installed at The Art Pavilion, Mile End for the big launch this evening (Friday 13th…), the itinerary is:  

14-15 July, Regent’s Canal Festival (see map below – my Diatoms will be at site 7)

 21-22 July, Shoreditch Festival

24 July – 29 August, London Pleasure Gardens (near Olympic stadium)

 02 September, Angel Canal Festival

 16 September, London Wildlife Trust-Camley Street Natural Park

Some of the life rings were donated to me by Bristol’s Harbour Master, after my Diatoms were displayed at Bristol’s Big Green Week in June, in which I was a Green Capital Artist in Residence.  The largest Diatom includes some wire and plastic tentacles added by Rachel Macleay – a fellow Scraptor.

Here they are being installed at their first London site – The Art Pavilion, Mile End:

Frome Festival – The Blue House

I made a new Large Nest for The Blue House sculpture exhibition – on now as part of the annual Frome Festival.   The Festival has a great line up –  I will try to make it to some of the events this year.  The Blue House Exhibition runs until 15th July.

Workshops making a Dragonfly sculpture at The Downs School

I ran some workshops over two days at The Downs School, near Bristol, last week for their Art Curriculum Enrichment, resulting in a vividly coloured steel and wire Dragonfly sculpture for the school’s permanent collection.  Various groups of years 5-7 – about 75 pupils – worked with me constructing all the sections, some of which I then welded together between the two day period.  Everyone worked hard individually and as a team, and it was great seeing the sculpture develop so quickly – with a final massive effort at the end bringing it together.

See also video


Another artist recently said of my work:  “Rather fun organogenesis going on”.   I wish I’d coined that term myself – what a great new word.  Thanks ReTech for that (maker of inventive reclaimed sculptural lamps with a difference – have a look).

It suggests notions of taking things back to their basic elements, reconstructing primal life forms, vitalism, rebirth (an essential part of life’s cycle), idealism as a more primitive, spiritual concept.  The wonders of what’s going on amidst all our ‘sound and fury’.  Micro in tandem with macro.  A simple ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ message.  Let’s appreciate and care for the real things in life more (and do less blogging!)  Construct not destruct.  Mend the world and return to a new beginning – a Utopia.  That would be nice.

So many of us are caught and wrapped up in modern life’s pressures.  I’m happy to be doing what I feel is my calling, but I do wonder where time goes, how to balance a hectic workload with quality time enjoying life’s greats – and earn a good crust.  Fast and furious… I guess we are just ants keeping busy.

I’ve installed more exhibitions this year than ever before and it’s only half way through.  Last week I set up some of my work in Bishops Palace Gardens, Wells for their Summer Show.  (Exhibiting with Ian Marlow, Jo Jones and Cathy Judge).  The venue is one of my top favourites in Somerset.  Adjacent to Wells Cathedral you enter via a drawbridge.  Huge earthy red ruins are surrounded by a moat, waterfalls, stunning views from well pools to the Cathedral and a rose garden with scents from Eden.  My cocoons are now hanging from the ‘Tree of Heaven’.  Going back to Organogenesis – it seems appropriate.  The Exhibition runs from 1st July – mid September, open 10-5.  Normal admission charges apply.

Just need a little more sun for the summer please…