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
How do you deal with rejection? Some, enviably, accept it, shrug it off and move on. If, however, you’re like me at the other end of the scale, you not only throw your toys out of the pram, but hurl them with indignation across the room and anyone in the vicinity should duck and cover! But that’s me, an emotional ‘pick & mix’, you never quite know what you’re going to get next, but you can be sure it’s always going to be something interesting!
I was initially inspired to write this article by Dan Auluk’s work, ‘”I am sorry to inform you…”’, showcasing his crumpled 2010 West Midlands Open rejection letter. I was perversely excited to envisage Dan on the day he received his rejection letter, crunching it up and hurling it in the bin in a frenzied act of emotion. Only later, pensively feeling remorse, retrieving it, tenderly smoothing it out and truly reflecting on the words.
But upon meeting Dan and listening to his story, how wrong could I have been. Dan explains to me how, from the age of 18, he used to keep all his job application rejection letters, taking pride in watching the pile grow, knowing he was being productive in applying for job opportunities rather than wasting his time procrastinating. So keeping his 2010 West Midlands Open rejection letter was a natural reaction to him. In fact, Dan kept his 2010 West Midlands Open rejection letter in pristine condition, right up to the week prior to the 2014 West Midlands Open, when he was inspired to crumple it up, fully embracing his enactment of frustration by actually throwing it in the bin, before finally submitting it as his entry.
Dan continues to explain how surreptitiously, he longed for another rejection for his 2014 West Midlands Open entry as Dan now ironically feels that the message of his work has been negated, simply in the act of being accepted into the exhibition. Go figure! The inspired mind of an artist is always a marvel.
Rejection is ‘part of life’, says Dan and should be ‘collected’. He never gets overly concerned about rejections for his art, ‘as at the end of the day it is solely down to the choice of the selectors’ and not a reflection of his art. As rational as Dan is, he does, however, admit to me, a slight feeling of hurt, when upon seeing a review of his work in the 2014 West Midlands Open he suddenly became aware that the 2010 West Midlands Open rejection letter was simply addressed as ‘Dear Artist’ and left unsigned. It took four years for Dan to notice that one, which he now finds rather amusing; as do I! Did you notice the cold, soulless style to such a potentially emotive letter? Go take another look.
I also met with Nita Newman (‘Far above the clouds #1’) who exudes absolute passion for her work as she explains the inspiration of viewing the world from so many different perspectives with multifarious layers. Despite her enthused and effusive fervour, Nita still does not allow rejection to affect her. Nita is surprised when people get upset about a rejection to a particular exhibition, ‘It’s not because your work is bad, it’s just not appropriate for them’ she explains, ‘just take it with a pinch of salt’. Sometimes Nita does feel that her work would fit into an exhibition she visits but has the positive outlook of ‘hey ho, there is another day!’ ‘Is art important?’ she asks rhetorically, ‘not in the greater scheme of life, family and friends are more important’, ‘it’s better to focus on the best bits in life’. I love this about Nita; passionate yet practical.
John Thirlwall (‘Rockface – N. Spain) enlightens me with how ‘rejections make me feel a wee bit low, but it passes quite swiftly. It’s not important enough to worry about, it’s just someone else’s (misguided! – he say’s tongue in cheek) judgement after all’. ‘Acceptance and rejection goes with the territory, it’s a case of ‘c’est la vie’ in my case’.
One of our other amazing artists, Steve Evans (‘Shadows) describes how he has also experienced his work being rejected for open exhibitions but reveals that ‘whilst I found it disappointing, I didn’t have an overly emotional reaction. During my engineering career I had been involved in countless bids and interviews, some successful some not. So, I guess I realised that you just have to dust yourself off and carry on.’
So where are the ‘Drama Queens’, Van Gough ear slashing, crazed Salvador Dali, eccentrically emotional kind of artists I expected to find? Well it appears that our artists are still deeply passionate about their work but have developed a much more peaceful, pragmatic and positive philosophy for towards rejection, which I very much admire, respect, envy and now aspire to.
I came away from my encounters feeling humbled by these artists progressive and sanguine attitudes and in a nice way, somewhat chastened! So come on Phil, time to put this learning into practice; deep breath….. aaaand, relax!….
By Phil Mellanby,
Phil volunteers at Birmingham Museums Trust as a fundraiser and house guide at Aston Hall. He has a penchant for West Midlands arts and heritage.
The West Midlands Open is a FREE exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery from 25th October 2014 – 15th February 2015, for more details visit: http://www.bmag.org.uk/events?id=3425
Contributing artists websites:
During a trip to Northern France in June 2014, I visited the graves of some men whose stories we are featuring in an exhibition about Birmingham and the Royal Warwickshire Regiment during the first world war. The family photograph and letters reproduced here are part of the collection of Dave Vaux.
Bill and Alan Furse
Bill Furse and his brother Alan lived in Moseley, Birmingham. When war broke out Lord Kitchener put out an appeal for volunteers, and many white-collar workers joined the so–called ‘Pals’ battalions. Bill and Alan both joined the 1st Birmingham battalion (also known as the 14th battalion) in September 1914. In this photograph Bill is seated to the left hand side, and Alan is standing.
The Furse brothers were middle-class and their background and education would have qualified them for advancement. Both were commissioned to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. Alan’s letters home give a vivid picture of life in the British Expeditionary Force. He describes the conditions in the trenches: ‘Whilst on your tour of duty round in the front line you are floundering knee deep in mud and both sides are slimy with mud so that you have nothing clean to steady yourself by and when you get back to your dugout to rest you have the slimy walls and at least a foot of mud on the floor. You soon learn not to drop things as of course they are useless afterwards and the great trouble is to find somewhere to put something down’.
Alan also writes to his teenage brother Claude, who was an Army Cadet. These letters present the war as a great adventure: ‘It is a grand sight to see the anti aircraft guns firing at an aeroplane, little puffs like bunches of cotton wool suddenly appearing all round the plane until he gets out of range…Whilst we were walking back to the wood today a couple of shells fell about 100 yds away and kicked up a devil of a row…They are called Whizzbangs because they are of such high velocity and you get no warning of their arrival, just the whiz thro’ the air and then the explosion…’.
Tragically, Alan’s brother Bill was killed on the first day of the battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916. He was 25. Alan was not far away, but he did not hear the news of Bill’s death until several days later when his parents informed him by telegram. Alan’s response to his parents is a prime example of ‘stiff upper lip’, but his grief can be read between the lines: ‘Thus goes the finest pal I have ever had and one of the best and most straightforward men who ever lived. Of course the shock has been bad for me but what you must feel at home having to sit still I can’t imagine but you must not give way more than you can help. Try and bear up. God grant you all His help at this awful time and give you strength to bear the loss of such a splendid man’.
I visited Bill’s grave in June 2014. By the time he died Bill had been transferred to the Tyneside Scottish Brigade, formed of ‘Pals’ battalions of the Northumberland Fusiliers. Bill was temporarily buried where he fell, but was transferred to Bapaume Post Cemetery near Albert after the Armistice.
Alan Furse was discharged on medical grounds later in 1916 and survived the war.
James Edward Weeks Rance
Many men who served in the first world war also went on to fight in the second world war. One example is James Edward Weeks Rance of the 2nd battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery during the first world war.
In May 1940 Major Rance, now aged 42, was part of the British Expeditionary Force once again. During the retreat to Dunkirk, he was among those fighting to defend the town of Wormhoudt. During the retreat to Dunkirk, he was among those fighting to defend the town of Wormhoudt, where he was killed. Following this battle, 80 Royal Warwicks were taken prisoner by the Waffen-SS division, the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. They were locked into a barn and murdered.
Rance is now buried at Wormhoudt Communal Cemetery. A small number of Commonwealth war dead from both world wars lie among civilian graves. It was quite moving to see war graves scattered among the tombs of the local townspeople.
Our exhibition ‘Soldiers’ Stories: Birmingham and the Royal Warwickshire Regiment 1914 to 1918’ opens on 19 July 2014.
Read the first part of this blog: First World War – Private Fred Andrews
Photographs 1-3 courtesy of Dave Vaux.
Here at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG) we are all excited about the opening of our latest exhibition ‘STATIC: Still Life Reconsidered’. The exhibition explores the art of still life so we want to see your still life creations!
Whether through photography, paint or sculpture, whether you’re a budding artist or a professional, we want you to share your still life artwork with us! Simply snap an image of your very own still life and post it with the hashtag #staticstilllife on Twitter or @STATIC_STILL_LIFE on instagram!
Selected work will then be featured on the plasma screen to the entrance of Waterhall throughout July to September for all our visitors to see. You can check out your piece as well as many others at @BM_AG and @thinktank.
The ‘STATIC: Still Life Reconsidered’ exhibition is on at the Waterhall Gallery, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, from the 26th July- 31st December. For more information visit; www.bmag.org.uk/events?id=3304
We look forward to seeing your still life creations!
Images hashtagged #staticstilllife will be featured in the slide show. The still lives featured will be chosen by the marketing team at Birmingham Museums. No correspondence will be entered into about the choice of the Still Lives featured.
The entries to the slideshow will be chosen from twitter and Facebook at the end of each month. We may also feature entry images on the BMAG Pinterest page. You retain all rights in, and are solely responsible for, the content you post. When you send your images to Birmingham Museums, it still belongs to you but we can show it to people and others can share it on different social media platforms.
For more details see full terms and conditions.
We have been preparing for an exhibition about Birmingham men who served in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment during the first world war. I had the opportunity to follow up some of these individuals during my recent trip to Northern France. It’s hard to believe that the gentle countryside of the Somme has been the scene of death and destruction, but the reminders are everywhere, not only in the form of military cemeteries but also road signs indicating the front line at various dates during the Somme campaign. This is the first of two blog posts in which I will look at the stories of three men who lost their lives in this area.
Private Fred Andrews
Private Fred Andrews served with the 1/6th battalion of the Royal Warwicks and took part in ‘the big push’ on the Somme in July 1916. He came from a working-class family in Ladywood, Birmingham. He was an officer’s servant. In our collection we have a set of letters written by Fred to his mother and sister, which give an insight into Fred’s life on a training camp on Salisbury Plain and later as part of the British Expeditionary Force in France.
On Easter Monday 1916, Fred writes: ‘Dinner time we had biscuits instead of bread. We shall have them every Monday and Thursday. They are hard, but very nice, I can eat them all right. One man has put his wife’s address on one and a 1d stamp, on one side, and on the other he put, This is what they give us on Easter Monday, at Salisbury Plain. He sent one just the same last year from the trenches. If I was the post man I should eat it’.
Fred only writes two letters once he reaches France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. In one he says: ‘The Officers, and N.C.O’s [non-commissioned officers] are very good to us here. We can get two green envelopes a week, so you will get the letters pretty quick. Dear Mum, Will you please give Ollie [Fred’s girlfriend] my love, and address when you see her. They are a very nice lot of chaps that I am with now. And we get plenty of food to eat. I will close now with very Best Love to you all, and Ollie. Do not worry I hope the war will soon be over now. Things are looking up here. Love to all, Fred xxx’. The last letter from Fred was received by his mother on 30 June 1916.
The final letters in the series are from Fred’s mother. She writes to him repeatedly during July 1916, pleading with him to write to her: ‘oh son I do hope you are all right I have not had a line for nearly three weeks the last I had you wrote the 30 of June and now it is the 19 of July my own dear boy I am quite sure it is not your fault I do not know what is preventing you from writing if I could only get a line in your hand writing I should feel better’. Mrs Andrews’ letters are returned to her, the envelopes marked ‘missing’.
Fred had been killed on the very first day of the battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916. He was 21 years old. Mrs Andrews eventually received this photograph of his grave (see image above). Fred still lies in Serre Road Cemetery No. 2 at Beaumont-Hamel, but he now has a permanent headstone.
I visited Fred’s grave in June 2014. Serre Road is one of the many Commonwealth cemeteries designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. It was completed in 1934. The Commonwealth cemeteries are now maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and are beautiful and peaceful places to visit.
During the 1920s and 30s many relatives of the dead visited their graves in France, some with the assistance of veterans’ associations. We do not know whether Fred’s family ever had the opportunity to do this.
Our exhibition ‘Soldiers’ Stories: Birmingham and the Royal Warwickshire Regiment 1914 to 1918’ opens on 19 July 2014.
Read the second blog: First World War – Bill Furse and James Rance
It’s over a week since ‘Marvellous Machines: The Wonderful World of Rowland Emett’ opened in the Gas Hall, and after a month of hard work from the museum’s team and a host of other people, particularly the Rowland Emett Society, it’s fantastic to see people of all ages enjoying the exhibition.
With so many large working machines, the installation had challenging elements, not least getting all of the machines into the museum. They were delivered in several large lorries and the crates containing the machines needed to be offloaded using a forklift truck. So if anyone passed through Margaret Street a few weeks ago and saw a forklift going down the road with a large crate, that was probably us!
You can watch the film below to see the machines arriving and being installed into the exhibition:
There have been some lovely discoveries along the way, particularly seeing all the machines up and running for the first time. I’ve had a great time picking out all the tiny details in them – one of my favourites is the cheese-grater auto-pilot in the Featherstone Kite! And Emett’s Punch cartoons are beautifully drawn and full of humour.
I was new to Emett but I’m certainly a fan now and I hope that lots of people will be able to discover and rediscover his wonderful work over the summer.
‘Marvellous Machines: The Wonderful World of Rowland Emett’ is on in the Gas Hall at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery from 10th May – 21st September 2014. Ticket prices are £5 Adult, £3 Child (3-15 years), £3 Concessions (Students, Seniors), £2 Unwaged (proof of eligibility must be shown), £10 Family Ticket (4). For more information visit: www.bmag.org.uk/events?id=3160.
Grayson Perry’s tapestry series ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’ arrived from Manchester Art Gallery on Tuesday. The only way to move the very long crates into the museum was by carrying them in through the front doors and up the stairs. Hard work as you can see from the pictures! They’re all safely here now and we can’t wait to hang the tapestries with the Arts Council Collection next week.
To find out more about ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’ tapestries you can also download the Grayson Perry app (£1.99 from the app store). This lets you see the tapestries up-close and listen to Grayson Perry talking about each one, exploring the symbolism and making of the works. It’s a fascinating insight into the artist’s thinking.
We’ll also be installing the Grayson Perry pot in our collection, ‘Who Am I?’, and the fabrics that he designed for Liberty’s. Both the pot and the fabric design are typical of Perry’s work, having a deceptively attractive appearance which contrasts with their often subversive or challenging subject matter.
‘Grayson Perry: The Vanity of Small Differences’ opens on 14th February and is on until 11th May in gallery 20 at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. The exhibition is free to visit, for more information visit: http://www.bmag.org.uk/events?id=3073