Oh, The grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men,
He walked them up to the top of the hill,
And he walked them down again.
And when they were up, they were up,
And when they were down, they were down,
And when they were only half way up,
They were neither up nor down.
Just like the grand old Duke and his men, we all face our ups and downs in life. Now unlike the Duke and his men, I rarely get to enjoy the middle ground, instead I have the unenviable ability to sublimate directly from high to low and back again in a heartbeat, completely skipping out the wonderful moment of being centred and experiencing serenity, harmony and tranquillity. So I was intrigued to explore how our very own, 2014 West Midlands Open, artists handled their own personal highs and lows and how they balanced them whilst creating their various works.
Robert Neil indulged my intrigue by meeting up with me to discuss his entry for the 2014 WMO ‘John’ and some of his other inspirational works.
Robert is an inspiration in himself, he comes across as a very pragmatic and rational soul who radiates confidence and belief in himself but in an extremely demure, charismatic, convivial and natural way; and this is reflected in his approach to his art.
Robert explains that his own journey of creating art has been one of growing confidence and comprehension in his work. Initially Robert found that he would accept more of his work because it was nice rather than right, but as his confidence and capabilities grew, he found he was able to sacrifice works that were not quite right for him. Robert admits that at the start it was difficult to make these sacrifices but goes on to enlighten me that his growing confidence enabled him to appreciate when to stop, when to go back and when to ‘scrap.’ Robert kindly laughs in endorsement of my paraphrasing him when I say, ‘so it’s like when you are less experienced; you don’t know what you don’t know.’ ‘Yes’ he retorts, ‘You have to forget about moments that have not gone right.’ ‘I used to get frustrated when things were not going to plan but now I am more confident to turn it against the wall and come back to it.’ I am intrigued and ask Robert if he literally ‘turns his art against the wall’? ‘Yes.’ He says. ‘I really do turn it against the wall. Actually, I now prefer to turn it upside down to get a different perspective, I can still see the general composition but not the detail, that way I can look at it as a whole and focus on the overall colour, texture and balance.’
Conrad Pack (‘9 collages’) agrees, ‘If I get stuck on a piece I just walk away, I will leave it alone and go and read.’ ‘It makes it worse if you keep on trying. Leave it and come back to it, then it will come around naturally.’ Conrad continues in his astuteness ‘Don’t stress if it goes wrong, if you do it all goes to pot!’ ‘You can get lost in your own anger and it becomes a vicious circle if you keep on trying.’ Conrad explains that he doesn’t work on just one piece at a time so if one piece is not working he leaves it and works on something else. That way he gets inspiration to perceive a different direction or angle to take and returns to it.
Enlightening me with her own personal outlook, Barbara Gibson (‘Streets of my City #1’) divulges, ‘What frustrates me the most is when I see others copying my work or ideas. It has happened to me a few times and it was not actually something I enjoyed.’ However Barbara still manages to find consolation in this. ‘It is not something that makes me feel angry, it is rather something I take into consideration. I can understand that my work has inspired others and even though I do not necessarily like to see my work being copied, I always take it as something that allows me think of new and improved ways in that my own work could be done and presented.’
Finally, Nita Newman (‘Far above the clouds #1’) affably amuses me when she discloses that she finds it worse when people like her work that she didn’t think was any good! Even with Nita’s intense passion for her work, she does sometimes resort to, also, ‘dumping’ some work she is not entirely happy with. Nita, however, is still valiant and prepared to show her works she is not fully happy with, just to get a reaction and feedback, facilitating her development and next step forward. Now that, I feel, is inspired! Nita enthuses that her work ‘feels like a friend or pet’ and she knows when to keep going in order to get it right. When it’s right, Nita knows it is right by illuminating expressively, ‘You just know when it is right, you just get a feeling, you know, that moment you go, woo woo!’
So it appears that our 2014 WMO artists, at least the ones I have spoken to, have an innate aptitude and talent for being pragmatic and level-headed when it comes to their emotions regarding their work.
These artists are successful in consciously vetoing their vexes and focusing on the practical and positive. They rebuff the path of despair and carve a new course to success. They recognise their frustrations and use this as nourishment to fruit new opportunities.
Perhaps if I spend long enough with these artists, I can climb that peak of potential along with them and absorb some of this optimistic sanguinity through osmosis! Now where are my boots?!…
By PDB Mellanby
(Phil is a volunteer with Birmingham Museums Trust as a fund raiser and house guide at Aston Hall. He has a penchant for West Midlands arts and heritage.)
The West Midlands Open exhibitions is free to visit and is on from 25th October – 15th February 2015 at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, more information: http://www.bmag.org.uk/events?id=3425
My final week as Artist in Residence at the Museum is now over, the past month has gone so quickly, packed full of new sights, events and meeting new people. During my residency I have been researching pieces within the collections, this research will now be used to create a new piece for BMAG to go on display in January. Continuing with my own practice, interested in the act of looking, the residency has encouraged me to focus on the history behind ‘the gaze’ concerning Women and their image. This is something that became prominent during my research where many of the prints and drawings I looked at depicted women carrying out private acts, often within interior settings, documenting these for the viewer to enjoy. My progress and the ideas behind my new work and its development will be documented by the BMAG team in the coming weeks, please keep an eye out!
I have now moved out of my studio, a space I have made my own during my time here. Not only used as a space for my daily practice I have held workshops for the public and opened it every Wednesday afternoon for visitors to come in and see what I have been up to.
On Friday the 17th of October I held one final printing drop in session, visitors were invited to take inspiration from the woodcut prints of Sir Edward Burne Jones I found in the collections and create their own Lino printed bookmarks.
Here is my own finished bookmark:
It was great fun to help others create something that they could take home and use, everybody enjoyed the Lino method of printing and made some great finished bookmarks.
The public facing studio has provided me with a wonderful space suited to my practice, through the glass panel I was able to watch passers by enjoying their visit as well as watching them watch me work. I thought I would play with this idea of the watcher and the watched by covering the glass with semi opaque plastic with peep holes cut away.
I invited the audience to peep through these observing stations to view inside my studio and view myself, in the process photographing this action. It has encouraged me to question the act of looking within a gallery setting, where looking is actively encouraged. This is not limited to the artwork on display alone but it can also be a place to watch other visitors too! I became aware of this within an engraving called The Exhibition at the Royal Academy, 1787 engraved by Pierto Antonio Martini (from the painting by Johann Heinrich Ramberg), where the focus of the viewer is not purely on the gallery display but on the characters themselves within the exhibition.
Thank you everyone who participated, here are some images of those who decided to have a peak:
I would like to work with these images further, the blurred outlines of the viewers interests me as you have to fill in the missing information. I have experimented with these few images digitally, as seen below, but I would like to eventually turn them into prints.
Looking through the peep holes visitors could observe me inside my studio:
I keep returning to this circular shape to frame my images, over the coming weeks I will explore how I can create a sculptural structure that forms this shape on which I hope to print upon. For now, here are some previous experiments into this form:
Finally I want to thank all the staff at BMAG who have given their time generously to view works, arrange events and help me to develop my ideas for this residency to produce a new commission for the Museum. I can’t wait to get started and look forward to its completion.
Whitworth Wallis Artist in Residence
It is my third week at the Museum, and it has been a busy one before I leave on the 17th of October. This week I visited the Museum Collections Centre in Duddeston, home to all the objects not currently on site at Museums across Birmingham, I ran a ‘Big Print’ workshop on the 4th of October in my studio as one of many activities taking place within the Museum as part of Fun Palaces, and I have been working on my ideas for the Final work.
During my time at the Museum I have been carrying out research into pieces held at the Museum to generate a new piece of work in response to what I have seen. Taking inspiration from artists such as Hans Sebald Beham and Helen Chadwick who have used a circular shape within their work, I have been playing with this circular form as a basis to my work. When looking at these artists I became aware of the effect the circular form had on me as a viewer, the shape draws your attention into the image having associations with an old fashioned peep hole of which to view others through.
Here is a piece I am working on that incorporates this circular frame:
I have been playing with the use of coiled newsprint paper to form a circular surface on which to screen print upon, I am interested in the distortion of imagery to create a closer inspection from the viewer. During my residency I have seen many images that observe women carrying out certain actions from bathing to changing to sleeping, all private and quite intimate acts however, they are on display for us to observe. It is the subject of women and their image which I think I will focus on as the basis to my piece.
I wanted to learn more about how other artists have used photography within their work to stage certain acts and how they use technology to distort the images they work with. Two artists that do this are Mohammed Bourouissa and Semyon Faibisovich, artists who have pieces held at the Museum Collections Centre (MCC). It was a great opportunity to view the pieces in person and see the techniques used by the artists.
Semyon Faibisovich’s images examine contemporary urban life in his home town of Moscow and particularly the lives of those at the bottom of the social ladder. Using a mobile phone, Faibisovich takes photographs of people on the streets and uses these low resolution images to make his oil paintings, enlarging the images to life size and then painting over the image creating pixelated distortions. This was clear when up close to the works entitled Repose, from At the Stop series, 2009 and Sick on the Way?, 2008 from the same series.
Mohammed Bourouissa is an Algerian photographer who uses staged photography to create images that appear real, often depicting moments of physical or emotional tension through the careful arrangement of people and their gestures. They leave you questioning what has happened in the image or what will happen, I like the suspense he creates leaving you wanting more. I saw La rencontre (The Meeting) and Le toit (The Roof), 2005-2007 during my visit to the MCC and both looked at this tension between the characters depicted.
After viewing these specific pieces I spent the rest of my time exploring the vast number of objects and works stored within the centre, it is very easy to get carried away! These are just some of the things I came across:
The Museum Collections Centre (MCC) has a huge natural history collection, with examples of taxidermy ranging from delicate butterflies to a brown bear! Although not relevant to my practical work it was fascinating to see such an array of animals dating back from the 1800’s.
The MCC holds open afternoons for the public on the last Friday of every month and are open for pre-arranged tours and study days, for more information or to make a booking visit: www.bmag.org.uk/Museum-collections-centre.
Finally, thank you to everyone who came to ‘The Big Print’ drop in session to have a taster of what you can achieve through printmaking. From 11-4pm the studio was full of people experimenting with polystyrene prints and mono printing, some fantastic work was made which people could take home or add to the ‘Big Print’ wall in my studio to remain till the end of my residency.
Next week will be my final as artist in residence at BMAG, it has gone so quickly! I am keen to hold one last printing workshop, this time with adults, taking place on Friday the 17th of October between 12.30-2.30pm. We will be making bookmarks inspired by Edward Burne-Jones intricate woodblock patterns I came across in the collections using a Lino print.
Here is one of Edward Burne-Jones’s designs in the collection originally made for the boarder of a book to get you started:
Whitworth Wallis Artist in Residence
It is coming to the end of my second week here at the Museum and half way through my residency. I have managed to do and see a great deal inside and outside the studio, I’m really enjoying the fast pace of being right in the midst of the gallery meeting visitors, viewing new pieces and trying new things.
On Saturday the 27th September I ran a print making session with the Art class held at the Museum, for children aged 6-11. It was great to show the children all the exciting possibilities of print and see them enjoying the processes, making great finished pieces. We tried three techniques, mono print, a type of Lino print using polystyrene tiles instead of thick Lino and Foilography. Here are some examples of both the children’s and the parent’s pieces who seemed to enjoy it too!
For the second time I visited the print and drawing collections held at the Museum with Fine Art curator Victoria Osbourne. On this occasion I asked to view pieces that focused on the act of observing, I tried to narrow my research upon certain pieces that document an act or tell a particular narrative. I also wanted to look at examples of printing techniques used by artists and how different print methods produce differing images.
I saw a variety of works by Frederick Sandys who was an English Pre-Raphaelite painter, illustrator and draughtsman (1829-1904). Within the collection there are a few of his wood engravings that depict people watching over others. I love his piece entitled The Sailor’s Bride, the image was originally created to illustrate a poem by Marian James. The piece depicts a grieving man who turns up too late, arriving once his beloved has passed away.
Victoria showed me the uncut wood block with Sandys drawing upon, once Sandys had drawn his design onto the block he would give it to W.H Hooper to engrave. It was unusual to see the block as an object itself and gain a sense of how the process works.
This is another of Frederick Sandys wood engravings called Sleep (1863), the tender gaze between the two characters intensifies the melancholic tone of the image which again focuses on death.
These prints are by Edward Burne-Jones, they are wood engravings and tell the story of Psyche and Cupid. The myth tells of the tasks Psyche had to pass so she could be with her true love Cupid. The images are less detailed compared with Sandy’s engravings but I like the use of bold lines that suggest depth and movement.
Finally, one of my favourite prints within the collection is a drypoint etching called Changing by Laura Knight (1926). The subject matter of a woman being observed changing relates to my own interests in documenting those unaware they are being watched, the very personal act of undressing is captured beautifully through the etching process.
In response to this piece I have experimented with creating my own screen prints focussing on the act of undressing.
Next week I am visiting the Museum and Collections Centre with Modern and Contemporary Art Curator Lisa Beauchamp, I will be looking at staged photographical works by Mohamed Bourouissa and paintings by Semyon Faibisovich. Both artists create works that observe the general public using new technologies to capture these characters and situations that unfold.
Come and take a closer look at my work on Wednesday afternoons in my studio, situated in the activity zone, between 1pm – 3pm. Feel free to pop in and ask me about what I am researching or working on as I am keen to talk to visitors to hear their opinions on voyeurism and the act of looking when in the gallery.
Whitworth Wallis Artist in Residence
It’s been a busy first week as Whitworth Wallis Artist in Residence at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, I’ve been moving into my studio, viewing the collections and meeting many members of staff and visitors. My studio is situated in the activity zone on level two, the space itself really suits my practice of observing others although, with the large glass wall I can now be easily observed too sometimes feeling like an artwork myself.
For the next four weeks I am going to be researching, gathering images and experimenting with ideas to make a new piece of work inspired by the collections held at the Museum. I have already had the chance to engage with the vast collection of prints, drawings and paintings held at the Museum and can’t wait for another visit.
My work focuses on the act looking, I like to make pieces that question the viewers participation in this act of observing others becoming aware of our own nosiness when it comes to viewing what people are doing. I stage photographs of people within interior spaces carrying out their everyday actions and turn these into screen prints upon sculptural steel structures that playfully distort the image further making the viewer work to see what is happening.
During the residency I am keen to look at how people interact with the artwork on display as well as each other within the gallery and how they engage in the act of looking. I have been working with some images taken from inside my studio of visitors as they walk or sit outside the glass wall. Here are two quick pieces (see images above) combining digital prints, ink and pencil, can you see the figures?
The images are formed of many horizontal lines similar to contemporary printmaker Christiane Baumgartner’s woodcuts entitled Asphalt 1 and 2, which are currently held in the Museum’s collection. I went to see these pieces with Modern and Contemporary Art Curator Lisa Beauchamp, it was great to get up close to see the time consuming technique which Baumgartner uses to capture quite mundane landscapes.
I have a keen interest in printmaking of all kinds always wanting to learn more and try out new things, this week I have visited the huge print and drawing collection at the Museum with curator of Fine Art Victoria Osbourne. One of the pieces in the collection that struck me was a wood cut by Hans Sebald Beham entitled The Woman’s Bath (1530). The piece shows the private act of women bathing being captured by the artist for the viewer to enjoy, what I liked was the circular shape of the print which makes you want to look closer drawing in your attention.
Next week I will be spending more time researching drawings from the collection that have a narrative, I am interested in those moments where an event between people has been captured by the artist, leaving the viewer to guess what has happened or possibly what will happen next.
My studio is open to the public every Wednesday 1-3pm, feel free to pop in and see what I have been up to. This will also be posted on the blog at the end of every week.
On the 4th of October I will be holding a free print workshop called ‘The Big Print’ between 11am-1pm and 2-4pm. This is part of Fun Palaces, a scheme of cultural events for all to join in across Birmingham – participating venues include the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, the REP and The Pen Museum. We will be trying a variety of prints that you can take away on the day, open for all ages. More information can be found on the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery website: http://www.bmag.org.uk/events?id=3422
Whitworth Wallis Artist in Residence
Are you a fan of art? We’d like you to join us to play ‘The Curation Game’ at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.
‘The Curation Game’ lets you have a go at curating your own display, whilst at the same, helping to shape the future appearance of the galleries.
The ‘Game’ is very simple: choose as many paintings and objects as you want, and arrange them into your own exhibition. Group works by theme, colour, place, date – it’s up to you!
Next choose your interpretation – do you want facts and figures, or videos and photographs? This is your chance to tell us what makes the perfect display.
By playing the ‘Game’ you will help us with our re-display of the 17th Century galleries. We want to figure out what people like and dislike about 17th Century art, and what helps visitors to make the most of their experience here.
You can play ‘The Curation Game’ in Gallery 25 at BMAG on:
Friday 22nd August, 2pm-4pm
Thursday 28th August, 11am-1pm
Come along and play, or just pop by for a chat and find out more about the 17th Century project.
More information can be found on-line at http://birminghambaroque.wordpress.com/
National Gallery Curatorial Trainee at Birmingham Museums
Recently Birmingham Museums Trust staff organised an ‘Edible Masterpieces’ event to raise money for the Art Fund; a charity which supports museums and galleries in the UK, and has aided key acquisitions and staff posts at Birmingham Museums.
Staff were invited to create delicious cakes and bakes inspired by their favourite works of art. The results were pretty impressive – from Old Masters to the Pre-Raphaelites, Contemporary art to the Staffordshire Hoard, Birmingham Museums diverse collections could be both admired and consumed!
There was also a competition, and the entries were judged by the Art Fund’s Birmingham representative Celia Potts. The top spot was awarded to a sponge version of Modigliani’s Madame Z, created by our multi-talented Curator of Fine Art, Victoria Osborne.
Competition was tight, so please comment below to support your favourite bake. Also, if you feel inspired to create your own edible masterpiece after the Birmingham Museums collection, we’d love to see your pictures! Also remember it is Museum Cake Day (#MusCake) on 25th June, so get baking!
Maria Alambritis (HLF ‘Skills for the Future’ Curatorial Trainee) and
Helen Hillyard (Art Fund and National Gallery Curatorial Trainee)